Sunday, October 14, 2012

Is Your PMO As Great As It Can Be?

Here is one simple way to find out.

Ask all or a sampling of your PMO clients (your project managers,  client and project executive management) to rate how satisfied they are with your PMO, on a scale of 1 to 10.

If the average rating is not 9 or 10, then your PMO is not meeting your clients needs as effectively as it might.

We can help you in assessing and improving your PMO with a PMO Health Check assessment.

We work with you to assess the health of your PMO against over twenty seven PMO best practices covering the following seven key areas:
-  PMO Governance
-  Portfolio Management
-  Project Management Methodologies and Training
-  Project Performance Reporting
-  Project Initiation
-  Project Resourcing
-  Project Health Checks and Audits

For each best practice we can provide you, where needed, with the appropriate tools, templates and methodologies to raise the performance of your PMO and make it great.

And of course, if you do not yet have a PMO, we can help you build a great PMO, in as little as ten weeks.

Contact or call us at 352-321-7845 to arrange a PMO Health Check for your PMO.  We can conduct the PMO Health Check remotely via our web conferencing and collaboration software, or on-site, as you prefer.  An investment of only a few hours will pay very high dividends!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Conflict Resolution - Is There An App For That?

Conflict is a common and natural event in any project environment.  Conflict can even be healthy to a certain degree, if it is the result of creativity and a diversity of views, but soon becomes unhealthy if left unresolved to fester and breed animosity and distrust between project team members.

Conflict can occur between all project stakeholders and during all project phases.  Sources of conflict typically vary during the project life cycle but can be caused, for example, by disputes and disagreements over priorities, processes, schedules, roles, budgets, resources - to name just a few.

Of course, the best way to resolve conflict is to prevent it from occurring in the first place. 

Two good approaches for preventing or reducing conflict are:
Focus On Goals (Not Particular Solutions).
By making project goals the focus, conflicts can often be easily resolved or avoided by asking a simple question: Which solution is going to get us to meet our project goals more quickly and effectively?  Quite often conflicts tend to arise over trying to implement a particular "pet solution", but when examined in the light of what is most expedient and practical to meet the project goals, the pet solution may be deemed less practical and the resolution becomes very clear.

Foster Trust And Teamwork On Your Project
To do this, the project manager needs to lead by example:
-  Listen to and trust your team.
-  Be open to all ideas and suggestions.
-  Foster a fun and collaborative work environment for your project teams (and yourself).
-  Praise and encourage more, criticize less. 
-  Collaborate with your project team to develop a Team Operating Agreement, to include their  suggestions for team values and team operating principles - and adhere to it.

To resolve any conflicts that do occur, the following are some approaches you should consider:

This is the approach most often chosen by project managers, who feel they have no recourse but to jump in and make a judgement call to resolve the conflict, but it is my least recommended approach.  If the project manager happens to be not only the mediator, but also one of the parties involved in the conflict, then you can see how this might not be a satisfactory approach.  Even if the project manager is not one of the parties in the dispute, the "losing" party will inevitably feel that the project manager has unjustly favored the other party, and resentment (hidden or otherwise) will accrue. 
Depending on the type of conflict, external groups such as HR or external mediators and facilitators can be helpful in mediating and resolving some conflicts.

A project manager can never delegate too much, and delegation is particularly beneficial if one of the parties in the dispute owns the responsibility for the task or solution under dispute.  In this case, the owner of the task or solution should be given the authority to proceed with his/her recommended approach. 

Ignoring a conflict is a good approach if both the conflict and consequences are minor, or not directly related to the project.  In this situation, the project manager getting involved could only make the conflict bigger.   However, ignoring a serious conflict will also be more difficult to solve as positions get entrenched over time and project delays and impacts increase.  

Toss A Coin
Don't laugh.  Here's a true story:
Many years ago, I was Director of one of the two large Data Centers for my company in Toronto.  The company had an identical Data Center building in Montreal, but over the years differing computing facilities and operating procedures had been implemented.  My counterpart for the Montreal Data Center and I made the strategic decision that we would move towards achieving equivalent computing facilities and operating procedures, so that in the event of a disaster, one Data Center could serve as the backup for the other. 

Every now and then we would be approached by one of our managers, indicating that they wanted to use a particular solution or software tool, but that the other Data Center wanted to use something else, and they of course assumed we would side with them and try and convince the other Data Center to use our solution.  So the other Director and I agreed that when this situation arose we would "toss a coin" to pick the solution. The main point, of course, was that the particular solution was less important than the goal, and since both solutions would work, pick one and let's move on.

Well we only had to do this once, and were never approached again.  The managers realized that they could toss the coin themselves, or better still, make their case to each other, give and take appropriately and resolve it amicably.  A few years later, when we did have a major fire in one Data Center and had to recover our applications in the other, having a good working relationship and identical operating procedures was "priceless".

Is There An App For That?
Of course!  Tossing a coin is so last century.  And what do you do when you are confronted with three or more choices, all of which can work?  Just push the green button (or spin the wheel) and let the magic of technology decide.  Your managers will be impressed (or not), and will be less likely to come to you to make these decisions, when they can make the decisions themselves, using the same technology (or not).

There are a variety of "Decision Maker" apps that you can customize for yourself, but I used the Decide Now! app, available for the iPhone, iPad or iPod touch (sometimes free, but currently $0.99).

What techniques have you used to resolve conflicts on your project?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Upgrade Your Project Management Skills And Earn 17 PDUs

Our latest series of fourteen Project Management Webinars is scheduled to start at 12 noon EDT on Tuesday September 4, 2012, and will then be delivered every subsequent Tuesday. 

All webinars may be taken live and/or as recordings.

Over 85 people are taking advantage of our program and team low pricing and have already signed up for this series, but there are still some seats available.  (Maximum 100).

The program covers a wide range of important project management topics, and is suitable for all project managers and their teams who would like to learn easy and effective ways of applying project management best practices, tips and techniques and would like useful and practical tools and templates they can apply on their projects.



APM01 Project Management Lessons Learned From The Movies
APM02 How to Build A Great Project Plan

APM03 How To Keep Your Project On Schedule And Within Budget

APM04 Scope Management And Work Breakdown Structures Made Easy

APM05 Risk Management Made Easy

APM06 Earned Value Management Made Easy

APM07 Start Your Project On The Right Track With A Successful Kickoff Meeting

APM08 How To Build A Great Project Management Office

APM09 Project Health Check Workshop (four hours)
APM10 GO-PSAC Project Success Factors

APM11 Project Management Lessons Learned From Aviation

APM12 Quality Management Made Easy

APM13 Project Dashboards

APM14 Project Management Best Practices, Tips and Techniques

-  Total duration of all 14 webinars is 17 hours (17 PDUs).
-  The recorded webinars can be taken whenever you wish, and there is no time limit or restriction on the number of times you can access them
-  You can claim the same number of PDUs (1 PDU per webinar hour in Category B – Continuing Education) for the recordings as with the live sessions.  There is no limit on the number of PDUs that you can claim in this category
-  Presentation materials, a Certificate of Completion and relevant tools and templates are provided with each webinar
-  If you take a recording, you can still ask any questions or discuss any topic in the Webinar as you would at each live session - just call or email us as you prefer
-  All webinars are 1 hour in duration (1 PDU), except for APM09 which is 4 hours (with 4 PDUs) in duration.

There are three pricing options:
1.  Sign up for each webinar individually - $25 per webinar hour
2.  Sign up for the complete program - $200 (save over 50%)
3.  Sign up in a group of five or more - $100 each (save over 75% - less than $6 per webinar hour and PDU) 

We also offer three great Workshops that are ideally suited for your PMO or Project teams:
-  Project Health Check Workshop
-  PMO Health Check Workshop
-  Leadership and Team Building Workshop

To register or get more information on our webinars and workshops, please go to or contact

“Tony is a superb presenter with an engaging presentation style and his accompanying Webinar materials are excellent, containing materials that can be immediately applied. I highly recommend his Webinars for those seeking project management training.”  Brad Blunt, PMP

“Tony is an excellent instructor! Tony is highly enthusiastic and energetic in propagating Project Management principles and techniques.  He also brings many practical examples from real business case studies. That really helped me to understand how I could apply these principles in real business scenarios. The templates he provided us were extremely helpful. Most importantly he was always helping us to answer any project management related questions and provided me solutions from his long-term project management experience. I highly recommend his webinars to any project management professionals.”  Fumie Piontkowski, PMP, CSM

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Life And Death Leadership Lessons From Two Explorers

The Race to the South Pole
Following years of preparation and establishing supply depots en route, two teams of brave and hardy explorers from Norway and Britain set out within days of each other to race to become the first to travel the approximately 850 miles to reach the the south pole.  National pride and glory was at stake.

The Norwegian team of eight, led by Captain Roald Amundsen, left the Bay of Whales on September 8, 1911 with a caravan of sledges and ninety North Greenland sledge dogs, the best available.  However, within days, the temperature dropped to -57C(-70F) and the dogs and men were getting frostbitten.

Amundsen decided to return to base and left again for the pole on October 19, this time with only fifty-two dogs.   From the beginning, the Norwegian team paced themselves and their dogs, resting regularly each hour and only traveling five to six hours each day.

The British team of sixteen, led by Captain Robert Falcon Scott, left Ross Island in four parties of four each.  The first party of four left on October 24, 1911 with two motorized sledges full of supplies to be taken to the Beardmore Glacier, about 200 miles away.  The other three parties with the dogs and ponies left on November 1 and caught up to the motor party at the glacier on November 21.

Scott's Journey
Amongst the many challenges and problems Scott's team faced:
-  The motorized sledges broke down after only 50 miles of travel, so the 740 pounds of supplies had to be man-hauled the remaining 150 miles to the Glacier meeting point.
-  Scott realized only whilst on his journey that skis would have been a better option for his team, but blamed his team.  As he wrote in his journal:  "Skis are the thing, and here are my tiresome fellow countrymen too prejudiced to have prepared themselves for the event".
-  A blizzard forced them to camp for five days and break into rations intended for the next stage of their journey.
-  The ponies were soon frozen with ice and in an advanced stage of exhaustion and had to be shot.
-  Scott had brought only one thermometer needed for an altitude measurement device, and became enraged when it broke.
-  Scott only flagged the supply depots and left no other markings on his route, leaving himself vulnerable to missing the depots and not knowing more precisely how far away they were. 
-  At the last minute, Scott added one member to the final four man party going to the pole, which used up more of their rations than planned.
-  Scott had allowed no contingency in supplies, so missing even one supply depot would be disastrous.
Scott attributed most of the problems he encountered to "bad luck".

Amundsen's Journey
Amundsen and his team faced very similar problems and challenges, but he had prepared for them well:
- He had trained and planned extensively for polar expeditions, by bicycling two thousand miles from Noarway to Spain to build his endurance, eating raw dolphin meat to determine its usefulness as an energy supply and living with Eskimos to learn how they survived the snow, ice, winds and extreme cold.  He learned how they used dogs to pull sleds and wore skins and loose clothing and moved slowly to avoid sweating that can quickly turn to ice.
-  Even though Shackleton, another famous Arctic explorer had previously deemed the ice at the Bay of Whales unstable, Amundsen studied  Shackleton's records and concluded that the Barrier there could indeed safely support a site.  This gave Amundsen the valuable benefit of a 60 mile shorter journey than Scott.  
-  Amundsen used dogs, who don't sweat like ponies and were much more suited to the extreme conditions and snow than the ponies and motor sledges used by Scott.  The weaker dogs were also able to be killed and used as food for the remaining dogs, unlike the ponies who do not typically eat meat. 
-  Amundsen brought four thermometers to cover exactly the kind of accident that Scott had.
-  Amundsen flagged not only each supply depot, but placed 20 black pennants in precise increments for miles on each side, giving a wide target in case he was slighly off course on his return  journey.  To further mark his course, Amundsen left packing case remnants every quarter of a mile and a black flag hoisted high on a bamboo pole every eight miles.
-  Amundsen recruited a team of experienced skiers, including a champion skier as a front runner, who was also a skilled carpenter and ski maker.  Others chosen were veterans of previous expeditions, expert with dogs, and in at least one case an expert cook.
-  Amundsen provided for almost ten times the amount of supplies per person than Scott, and carried enough supplies so that his party could miss every single depot and still go another hundred miles.
-  Having been first mate on a failed voyage (on the Belgica) before, Amundsen learned many lessons there, including the importance of keeping up morale.  Accordingly, he planned for leisure time with a library of around 3,000 books, a gramophone and a large quantity of records and a range of musical instruments. 

The winner (and loser)
The Amundsen team reached the south pole on December 14, 1911 and made a successful journey home, with all men returning safely to home base on January 25, precisely as he had planned.

Scott's final party of five reached the South Pole on January 17, 1912 and were of course dismayed to find that they had been beaten to the pole by 33 days.  Due to extreme conditions and a lack of adequate supplies, they all perished on their journey home.  Scott and the remaining two survivors of his team were found dead in their tent, just ten miles from their next supply depot.

"Amundsen’s expedition benefited from careful preparation, good equipment, appropriate clothing, a simple primary task (Amundsen did no surveying on his route south and is known to have taken only two photographs), an understanding of dogs and their handling, and the effective use of skis. In contrast to the misfortunes of Scott’s team, Amundsen’s trek proved rather smooth and uneventful.

In Amundsen’s own words:
"I may say that this is the greatest factor—the way in which the expedition is equipped—the way in which every difficulty is foreseen, and precautions taken for meeting or avoiding it. Victory awaits him who has everything in order — luck, people call it. Defeat is certain for him who has neglected to take the necessary precautions in time; this is called bad luck."
— from The South Pole, by Captain Roald Amundsen."  Source:  Wikipedia
Leadership Lessons Learned
There are many useful leadership lessons that can be learned from these two brave explorers and their expeditions under very similar circumstances but with vastly different results, among them the importance and value of:
-  Focussing on the key goal and avoidance of distracting and less important goals
-  Thorough planning and preparation
-  Providing reserves for contingencies
-  Thoughtful and measured implementation
-  Selection of the most appropriate resources and team for the job
-  Detailed risk management (and not taking foolhardy risks)
-  Learning from your mistakes (and those of others)
-  Keeping up the morale of your team

And here is one final leadership lesson from Amundsen: Be flexible and adaptable.

When Amundsen started his journey in 1911 with his full crew on the ship Fram, he was not planning to go to the South Pole at all.  He had planned to go to the North Pole and received funding and access to the Fram for only this journey.  When he learned that Cook, then Peary had both just reached the North Pole he switched his goal to the South Pole, which he only announced to his crew when they reached port in Madeira, Portugal.  By staying flexible and adaptable, and re-planning thoroughly and executing diligently, he was able to replace the older and now worthless goal of reaching the North Pole and achieve the new renowned and even more worthwhile goal to be the first to reach the South Pole. 
What are some of the leadership lessons that you have learned from your own experience and that of others?
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The following books are good sources for information about the Amundsen and Scott south polar expeditions, providing an interesting variety of perspectives:
The Last Place On Earth by Roland Huntford
Race to the Pole by Sir Ranulph Fiennes
The South Pole by Captain Roald Amundsen
Journals: Scott's Last Expedition by Captain Robert Falcon Scott

If you are interested in developing leadership skills and building teamwork with your project team, contact to sign up for or learn more about our new AlphaPM Leadership and Teamwork Workshop. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

How Late Can Your Project Be Before You Push The Panic Button?

In my previous post, I discussed this formula for success:

Success = Motivation + Knowledge + Commitment + Perseverance * Action.

Let's assume we are strongly motivated to bring in our project within budget and on schedule. The easiest way to achieve both goals is to just focus on bringing the project in on schedule.  If we can do that, then we will also come in within budget.

Make the commitment with your project team that your project is going to finish on schedule and then take the actions that will facilitate achieving that goal.

This raises a question - how late can a project be before you need to push the "panic button" and take dramatic and remedial action?  Let's say your project is one year in duration, and after the first month the project is a few days behind schedule.  Surely you can catch up.

As we know from experience, work on projects (like climbing mountains) never gets easier with time, only harder.  If you are a few days behind early in the project, then you are going to be weeks or even months late by the end of the project.

So my answer to the question is that your project should be "Not A Day Late".  As the sun sets each day, your project should be on schedule.

How can we possibly achieve this?  Here's one way.

Set the goal with your project team that every activity on the critical path of your project has to come in on schedule and if they find that they are going to miss a target, they need to notify you as early as possible, but no later than 3 pm of the day that the activity will be late.

At that point, this is what I recommend you do.  Immediately call an emergency meeting of the whole team and work out an action plan using all the resources and experience of your team to get that activity back on schedule by the end of the next day.

This may sound dramatic, and it is, but you will only need to do this two or three times, before the objective and importance of coming in on schedule will be very clear to your team and you will find the occurrence of missed targets becomes few and far between.   No-one wants to stay behind, whether for their late activity or for others, so you will find more attention is paid to anticipating issues and addressing them earlier, before they cause activities to be late.

Try this approach out on your project, and let us know how well it worked towards bringing the project in on schedule.

If you are interested in learning some good project management best practices and techniques for keeping your project on schedule and within budget, sign up for our recorded APM03 webinar "How To Keep Your Project On Schedule And Within Budget" at  Our next AlphaPM Project Management Webinar Program starts Tuesday September 4, so this webinar will also be available live at 12 noon EST on Tuesday September 18, 2012.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Formula For Success Is Really Easy - Except For That Pesky Little Bit At The End

The formula for success is indeed really easy - at least easy to understand and remember:

          Success = Motivation + Knowledge + Commitment + Perseverance * Action.

Let's apply this formula in the context of the goal of getting our project in on schedule and within budget.

In my previous post, I discussed how success starts with motivation.  The probability of success is directly proportional to how badly we need or want to achieve a goal.  We must strongly want to bring in our project on schedule and be confident that we can and will achieve that goal.

The next ingredient in the formula is Knowledge.  What does it take to achieve the goal?  In our project environment, we usually know the processes and best practices that should be followed (e.g. Change Management, Risk Management, Quality Management etc.), even if we don't always follow them, so knowledge is not usually the factor that limits our success.

We now need to make a commitment with our team, that we will work together to achieve that goal.  Achieving the goal should be seen as a team responsibility and success will be a team success.

Perseverance * Action
Now this is the hard part - actually taking the actions necessary and persevering with or modifying those actions until the goal is achieved.

Here's an example of how difficult this is.  Many of us decide at the beginning of every year that we are going to lose weight, strongly motivated for reasons of health and/or appearance.  The knowledge of what we need to do is well known.  If we do even just one of three things (eat healthier foods, exercise more or eat less) and keep the others constant, we will lose weight.

We typically make our  commitment to lose weight through a documented New Years resolution, followed by signing up for health clubs or some daily regimen of exercise and dieting all supported by diaries and charts to track our expected progress.  But the follow up actions (persevering in actually eating less, eating healthier foods and/or exercising more) is where we tend to come apart.  It is easier to put off the actions for another day - what difference is one day going to make?

So if we are to be successful, we need to address and maximize every part of the formula, but particularly focus on persevering with the actions and project management best practices that will facilitate our success.

We usually know what these actions and best practices are, or can easily learn them.  We just have to do them.

What are some of the special things you do on your projects that help them to be successful?

If you are interested in learning about the project management best practices and techniques that will help you keep your project on track, sign up for our recorded webinar APM03  "How To Keep Your Project On Schedule And Within Budget" at  Our next AlphaPM Project Management Webinar Program starts Tuesday September 4, so this webinar will also be available live at 12 noon EST on Tuesday September 18, 2012.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Success Starts With Motivation

I am often surprised during my project management training workshops, webinars and consulting engagements, to find that there is generally very little real interest in keeping a project on schedule and within budget. 

This is most likely because most project managers and their client and  executive management have become so used to seeing all projects delivered late and over budget, that getting projects in on-time and within budget is not seen as even achievable.

This mindset is untenable.  Unless we at least strive to manage within our budget and schedule, and work to constantly improve our skills and processes to achieve that goal, then we will never break the cycle of bringing in projects late and over budget.

Success in this area all starts with one key ingredient - and that is motivation.  Only once we are fully motivated to do everything in our power to bring in our project successfully, can we succeed.

But unfortunately it is not just the project manager who has to be so motivated.  All project stakeholders, from our clients, to our management and project team have to be similarly motivated and therein lies the challenge.  But we can certainly set the goal and expectation of delivering on time and within budget, make this goal very visible and reinforce it through our plans and actions and through a myriad of project management best practices such as Change Management, Risk Management and establishing Contingency Reserves.

Motivation is only one of four ingredients in the formula for success, albeit a key and very necessary ingredient.  In my next post, I will share the formula and remaining ingredients.

If you are interested in learning some good project management best practices and techniques for keeping your project on schedule and within budget, sign up for our recorded APM03 webinar "How To Keep Your Project On Schedule And Within Budget" at  Our next AlphaPM Project Management Webinar Program starts Tuesday September 4, so this webinar will also be available live at 12 noon EST on Tuesday September 18, 2012.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Never Underestimate The Power Of A Project Dashboard

In 2003, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) introduced a web based Dashboard for their construction projects. 

This Dashboard became a powerful tool for VDOT Executive and Project Managers, showing instantly whether projects were on track, falling behind schedule or going over budget.

The Dashboard was soon made public, and citizens were invited to view the Dashboard online and share their comments.  The performance improvement achieved by all VDOT projects was dramatic.

Prior to the introduction of the Dashboard in 2003, less than 20% of all projects were on time. By 2005, this number had improved to 75% and currently, as you can see from the VDOT Dashboard above, 97% of all projects are on time - an outstanding improvement in a very complex and challenging construction project environment.  Similar improvements were achieved in the other areas measured by the Dashboard.

As you can see from the VDOT example, a Project Dashboard can indeed be a very powerful and effective project management tool.

To be effective, a Project Dashboard should follow these following eight principles:
  • Use a standard dashboard format across all projects - in this way, the performance for all projects can be fairly and effectively compared.
    Information displayed should include the Project Schedule, Project Budget, Client Satisfaction Index, Project Resourcing Index and Project Health Check Index metrics.  A summary of the key Project Milestones and Project Risks and Issues should also be displayed.  (See the sample AlphaPM Project Dashboard tool layout above)
  • Ensure the dashboard is easy to understand - it should be easy to determine the performance of the project by using Green/Yellow/Red icons to show the performance of the project through the various key metrics.  Avoid clutter, and keep metrics and information displayed to the minimum useful set.
  • Ensure the dashboard is easy to complete - the metrics on the dashboard should be easy to measure, collect and present
  • Provide background information through a "drill down" capability - detailed information (such as the project schedule, risk register, project health check detailed results, project repository, status reports and change requests) should be linked to the dashboard, so that they can be referenced as needed. 
  • Make sure all information is timely and updated at least weekly - if it is not, it will be ignored.
  • Provide maximum visibility of the dashboard to all stakeholders - this will motivate the project team to keep on track and also ensure that the Executive and all other project stakeholders know if a project is in trouble, so that they can promptly assist in addressing problem areas. 
  • Show the project's business goals and objectives -  add a short section with a few bullets on the business goals and objectives for the project.  This helps to reinforce the importance and value of the project and keep all stakeholders focused on meeting the project's business goals. 
  • The organization must have a supportive culture
    Now here's the most challenging part of ensuring that Project Dashboards are indeed successful.  The organization culture (starting with your Executive and Client Management) must be proactive and constructive in their support of projects who show red or yellow metrics on the dashboard.

    For example, say your Executive meets you in the hallway and has noticed that your project has some red metrics on your Project Dashboard.
    Bad:  Executive says to you "Why is your project in such a mess and when are you going to have it fixed?"
    Good:  Executive says to you "I see you are having some challenges on your project.  Is there anything I or my management team can do to help you get back on track?"

    Without a supportive and collaborative executive and organization culture, project managers will resent having visible dashboards, and start to fudge metrics and cover up issues and problems, thus making them even more difficult to eventually solve.

Let us know your experiences and best practices with Project Dashboards.

Webinar:  APM13 Project Dashboards
If you are interested in learning more about Project Dashboards, and would like the AlphaPM Excel based Project Dashboard tool, sign up for our one hour APM13 "Project Dashboards" webinar at

For further information on Client Satisfaction metrics and Project Dashboards, please see these previous posts:
Client Satisfaction Surveys the Easy Way
Six Best Practices For Managing Multiple Projects

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Try This Exercise At Your Next Project Kickoff Meeting

Here's a great exercise to do at your next Project Kickoff Meeting.

Seat people in two rows facing each other, with each person on one side holding one of the suggested nine key stakeholder roles shown in the chart here.  Adapt or add roles as necessary to match the roles that you have on your project.

On the other side, each person will hold the role of the Project Manager, paired with the person across from them representing one of the nine key stakeholders .

It is best for everyone to participate, so if you have more than eighteen attending add to each group as appropriate.

Now assign each paired grouping one of the key stakeholder/project manager roles and ask all groups to take five minutes to ten minutes to come up with what they expect from the other party.

For example the "Client Sponsor" group will define what they expect from the Project Manager (e.g. "I, the Client Sponsor will expect you, the Project Manager to get the project in on time and budget, keep me informed of progress, issues" etc)

The paired Project Manager group in turn will define what they expect from the Client Sponsor (e.g. "I, the Project Manager, will expect you, the Client Sponsor to provide clear project requirements, obtain the necessary project funding, support Change and Risk Management" etc).  

Now the nice benefit from this exercise is that it will help all the project stakeholders realize that every stakeholder group has quite different expectations of the Project Manager and that the Project Manager in turn has quite different expectations from each of the stakeholders.  This exercise will help in team building by driving home the point, that for the project to be successful, all these different needs and expectations have to be met and each stakeholders needs are only a small but important part of the project.

But here's a most interesting additional benefit of this exercise.  By encouraging everyone to "see through the eyes of others", project problems and issues are more likely to be addressed and resolved in a win-win manner.

The next time you are faced with a project issue, look at it through the eyes of the stakeholder(s) involved.  You are more likely to come up with a viable win-win resolution, than by just trying to address the problem from your own perspective to satisfy just your own particular needs.

Try this simple problem solving approach out on your next project issue and let us know how well it worked for you.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

What Makes A Project Successful?

After working many years in a wide variety of organizations in several different countries, I one day asked myself - why are some projects successful, but many others are not, even within the same organization. 

Certainly a lot of effort has by now been placed on providing sound project management  methodologies and training in most organizations. And project managers are typically very smart and capable.

Yet, according to Standish CHAOS and other studies, more projects fail (or are over budget and/or behind schedule) than succeed.

Why is this?  After much reflection from my own experience on what makes some projects (and project managers) succeed and others fail, I came to the conclusion that there are five key factors at work here - and every single factor is critical to project success.

These five factors are Goals, Processes, Skills, Attitude and Culture.

Now whilst most organizations have good processes and methodologies and training, and some have also done a good job on developing project management skills, the other factors are mostly happenstance. Some project managers happen to have a great mindset and attitude for managing projects, and a few organizations have a positive and supportive culture.

So let's examine each of these factors and see how each can greatly influence a project's success.

In my second post on this blog, I have already noted my belief that a passion for and commitment to attaining project goals is indeed the most important thing for a project manager to possess to achieve those goals.

Goals should cover meeting project business objectives, schedule and budget commitments while ensuring the complete satisfaction of the client and other key stakeholders with the project.  These goals should be the lens through which every project activity is planned, every project decision is made and every project issue is addressed. 

Sound project management processes and methodologies are important, as they reflect best practices that should enable project managers to deliver projects faster and more successfully.  However, most organizations seem to fall into one of two camps - they either have minimal or poor methodologies, or they have advanced to the other extreme and have a slew of methodologies all of which are expected to be carried out on all projects.

The ideal situation is to have a different methodology set that is tuned to each type of  project being undertaken, with flexibility being given to the project manager to scale and adapt the methodology, tools and templates as they see fit.  In this case, the focus is on achieving results, not completing the methodology which should be there as "a tool, not a weapon".  Methodology training is of course essential, so that all project team members understand the methodology, and the motivation, value and importance of the best practices implicit in the methodology.

There are three sets of skills that a project manager should have, if they are to be successful:
-  Management skills
Depending on the size and complexity of the project, a wide variety of management skills are needed, such as leadership, communication, negotiation and conflict resolution skills.
-  Business skills
It is essential for a project manager to have a strong working knowledge of the project's business environment and the business needs being addressed, if they are to succeed.
-  Technical skills
As well as strong project management skills, the project manager should also have a good understanding of the project's technical environment.  Relying only on technical staff to make some decisions invariably leads to solutions that are in the best interests of the technologies being deployed, not the project.

The attitude and mindset that a project manager brings to the project is an extremely significant, yet often under appreciated success factor.  Project managers who are excited about their project and have a constantly positive, pro active, "can do" attitude are more likely to inspire and motivate their team to overcome obstacles and not be overcome by them.

Finally, and even more under appreciated is the importance of the culture of the organization as a factor in project success.  Just look around and you can see the positive impact of a creative and innovative culture in organizations such as Google and Apple.  Some organizations on the other hand are political, risk averse and bureaucratic, making it even more challenging and difficult for a project to succeed.

Once you recognize the importance of each of these factors to your project, you can make an assessment of how you can enhance those areas that need strengthening, and mitigate against others (such as a bureaucratic organization culture) that might be beyond your control.

I look forward to your comments and feedback on any other factors you feel are critical to project success.

Webinar:  APM10 GoPSAC Project Success Factors
If you are interested in learning more about all five Project Success Factors, and would like links to best practice project management methodologies, tools and templates that you may reference or use for all your projects, sign up for the recorded webinar APM10 "Go-PSAC Project Success Factors" at

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Client Satisfaction Surveys The Easy Way

Client Satisfaction is one of the key measures of success for any project.  Yet I find, too often, that project managers do not formally check with their clients on whether they are satisfied with the progress of their project.

In a couple of organizations where I have worked, I suggested that we carry out Client Satisfaction Surveys and the idea was always well supported.  In one organization, a highly detailed and overly complex questionnaire was developed, with poor results, and in the other organization the survey was still being scientifically designed when I left over six months later.

I think Client Satisfaction Surveys are absolutely necessary for all projects, but I also think they should be very simple, for the benefit of both the client and the project manager.

Here is my recommendation for a simple survey that can be completed quickly and easily with your client sponsor, yet will provide you with a valuable gold mine of information.
Let me walk through the various sections of the survey:

Please provide us with your overall satisfaction with the project (check one)

Notice I have kept the satisfaction levels to an absolute minimum.  Your client is either completely satisfied, dissatisfied or somewhere in between.  Don't try and grade various levels of "in between".  It really does not matter - some things need to be fixed and that's all you need to know.   By keeping it simple, you are more likely to keep up the practice of doing the survey, you make it easier for your client sponsor to pick the right level, and you can compare satisfaction levels across projects in a more consistent way.

The levels should be associated with a dashboard indicator icon (green, red, yellow) and the appropriate icon should be shown on your Project Dashboard, with a drill down capability to the details provided in this survey.
Your PMO should aggregate all individual project survey results (using say, 1 for each red, 3 for each yellow and 5 for each green), and then show the average rating for all projects.  By tracking this average on a monthly basis, the PMO can see if they are helping all projects to improve client satisfaction.

What aspects of the project are working well?

It is always a good idea to start on a positive note.  This will help to balance the survey and give positive reinforcement to the good processes being used and good work being done by the project manager and project team.

What aspects of the project could be improved?

The client sponsor should summarize here any areas they feel need to be improved, whether processes, people or results.  Bullet points should suffice.  If the project manager needs more detail, they should discuss this in a separate session.  Again, the purpose here is to keep the process simple.

Are there any other comments you would like to add?

This space can be used by the client to add anything they wish about the project, project manager or project team.  

Some Survey "DOs" and "DON'Ts"

-  DO the survey privately and in person with your Client Sponsor (for example, after a regular status meeting or during a lunch meeting).
-  DO the survey regularly (monthly is good).
-  DO make sure that you address all items raised as needing improvement before the next survey.
-  DO make the results of the survey visible on your project dashboard to all (your project team, your management, client management).  Visibility always help to make sure problems are addressed promptly, one way or another.

-  DON'T try and respond during the survey review meeting to any problem areas being raised (unless to just request any needed background information on the problem).  Any immediate defense of noted problem areas will only raise the ire of your client and serve no useful purpose.  Better to reflect on all the items raised and come back in a separate session to show your client how you and your project team  have addressed or will address all problem areas raised in the survey.

Client Satisfaction Surveys are an extremely easy and powerful tool for building your project's success.  If you are not doing them regularly, I hope you will try one out soon.

Let us know about any Client Satisfaction Survey practices that are working well for you.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Yin and Yang of Project Management and Leadership

Successful project managers not only have to be good managers, but also strong leaders.

Now the dilemma here, is that the skills and attributes of strong leaders are quite different from those of good managers.

It is very important to recognize these differences and maintain an appropriate  balance between the "yin" of good project management and the "yang" of strong leadership.

Let's examine some of these differences and the challenges that a project manager will face in trying to be both a good project manager and effective leader, at the same time.

Create the Plan/Share the Vision
A project manager needs to create a plan for their project and manage to that plan.  To also exercise project leadership, the project manager needs to share a broad and bold business oriented vision for the project.  For example, your project may be to provide an e-commerce capability for your organization, and as a manager, you need to develop and implement a plan for the project.  As a leader, you must  share the project vision at every opportunity, emphasizing (for example) how the project is an important component of your organization's strategy to transform its business model, increase revenue and enable further business opportunities.  

Control Change/Embrace Change
As a Project Manager it is important to control and manage change.  However, as a leader, you recognize that change is not only inevitable, but also desirable, as it generally reflects a more appropriate or more current need from your client.  So as well as controlling change with your "project manager hat", with your "leader" hat, you need to welcome and embrace change.

Be Rational/Be Passionate
Project Managers tend to be analytical and rational, which are excellent attributes for managing projects.  However, as a leader, you need to inspire and encourage your team, be very excited and passionate about your project and its business goals and constantly share your enthusiasm for the project with your project team.  Steve Jobs was famous for his "reality distortion field" whereby he refused to accept that something was not feasible, and in the process significantly raised the bar on what Apple was able to achieve.

Avoid Risks/Take Risks
As Project Managers, it is (or should be) in your DNA to anticipate and avoid or mitigate risks that could adversely affect your project.  However, as a leader you will also have to accept that great goals are  usually also accompanied by great risks, and will need to work with your team to conquer those risks with the same level of teamwork, skill and preparation that you would use, say, to climb a very high mountain.

Focus on Processes/Focus on Goals
As Project Managers, we are also trained to apply good processes and best practices in the planning and execution of our projects.  With a focus on processes, we can get mired in technical issues and debates and sometimes lose sight of the original project goals.  We need to quickly put back on our leader hat, and re-focus on the project's business goals.  This can lead us to explore alternate solutions that can often be a better path to those business goals.   

Skills and Knowledge/Values and Attitudes
In an interesting post on 10 Leadership Lessons from the IBM Executive School on a few months ago, the author described how when IBM were establishing an Executive School in the mid 50's, they hired a company to research and determine the skills common to executives so that they could in turn groom and train their managers for executive management.

It was discovered that unlike lower level managers, the executives they examined did not seem to share any common skills and knowledge.  What they shared were certain values and attitudes.

Whilst the project management skills and knowledge you need are fairly common (hello PMI PMBOK® Guide), the leadership values and attitudes you hold can vary quite widely, so look around and see what works for other leaders and embrace and develop those that you feel will be most effective for you.

What are some of the values and attitudes that you feel have helped you in leading your projects?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Six Best Practices For Managing Multiple Projects

In this struggling economy, project managers are often required to manage many projects. It is usually a challenge to manage just one project, so it is inevitable that managing multiple projects will pose even more challenges.

How many projects can a project manager manage?
Now there are so many factors that affect this determination (e.g. project size, type and complexity, resources and skills available, number of clients, location and duration of projects etc.), that it is impossible to quote any useful number.  I think it will be fair to say, however, that you can manage more than you might have believed possible, if you apply the following six best practices.

Management Support
1.  Ensure the support and trust of your management and client management.
Perhaps the most valuable of all best practices is to ensure you have the support and trust of your management, client sponsor and client management.  Their proactive support is essential for the timely resolution of many activities (e.g. scope definition, project budget, resourcing, issue resolution, project prioritization etc.).  Be open about the need for their support, and take advantage of every opportunity to gain it (for example, through your project kickoff meetings, risk reviews, regular status meetings and steering committee meetings).

2.  Ensure you have the appropriate level of skills and resources.
This is easier said than done, but it is essential if you are to be successful in managing your many projects. Identify up front the specific skills and resources that you need for your projects, and persevere until you get them. Look for people who are team players, adaptable and willing to work in many different capacities.

Resources should ideally be dedicated to your projects and co-located.  If you cannot get fully dedicated resources, at least make sure they are co-located on specific days each week. so that you can count on their availability and support.

Performance Reporting
3.  Establish a Project Dashboard for all your projects.

Use a simple dashboard like the one shown here, to  give clear visibility to the status of your projects.

The projects can be sorted by client, so that each client sees the status for only their projects.

A Dashboard is an extremely powerful tool for soliciting the support of your project stakeholders, so ensure that the "Comments" shown for each project reflects the actions you are taking and/or the support you need to address the "yellow" and "red" areas that need resolution.  

Time Management
4.  Ensure you and your team members practice good time management.
Establish with your project team the most effective ways you can maximize your team productivity and build these into your Team Operating Agreement and practice them.
For example:
-  Keep meetings short and focused.  Take individual issues offline rather than trying to solve them at team meetings.
-  Ask your team members to let you know early if they are going to be late on an activity, so that you can take any corrective action necessary to keep the activity from being delayed.

5.  Delegate to the max.
When managing many projects, there is quite often a tendency for project managers to take on more work themselves, since they feel their team members are already overloaded.  Wrong approach! They should delegate all activities, so that they can free themselves to work with their team leads to address issues and provide support, as opposed to being locked away trying to do activities that can and should have been delegated.
Establish a project lead for each project, or set of projects, so that you can act as the overall program manager to ensure all projects are successfully completed.

6.  Apply a methodology that is scalable and adaptable to your project needs.
The methodology that your organization has established may not work well with your set of projects.  It is important that you adapt and scale the key elements of the organization's methodology to fit your many projects.
For example:
-  Use the simple Project Dashboard shown above for all your projects, rather than a one page Dashboard for each project.  This Dashboard can act as your Status Report for all your projects.
-  Do a combined Risk Assessment for all your projects, rather than one for each project.

Are there any other best practices for managing multiple projects that you can recommend?

Webinar:  APM13 Project Dashboards

If you are interested in learning more about Project Dashboards, and would like an Excel based Project Dashboard tool, sign up for our one hour APM13 "Project Dashboards" webinar at

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Keep Your Project Healthy With A Project Health Check

A Project Health Check is a very simple and effective tool that will help you predict whether your project will be healthy (come in on time and within budget).

Just as your doctor can check your health through various tests and diagnostics, so too can you determine if your project is healthy, and likely to remain so, through a variety of checks on your project.

It is very easy to build a Project Health Check tool, using a spreadsheet.  

First, establish the key areas you would like to check on your projects, and then list the processes and best practices that should be applied in each of those areas.

For example (please note that this is not a complete list):
Business Case and Project Initiation
- The project is fully aligned with the business strategies and goals  of the company
-  Business measures of success have been identified and measurement processes established
-  A Project Charter has been produced and approved, authorizing the project.
Project Planning
-  A Scope Statement has been produced
-  A detailed Project Budget has been produced and approved to cover all phases of the project
-  A Project Contingency reserve has been allocated for the project
-  A Risk Management Plan has been produced.
Project Execution and Control
-  Personnel resources are available on time to execute project activities
-  Project Deliverables are formally reviewed and accepted by the appropriate parties
-  Project Quality is controlled through the implementation of a Quality Management Plan.
Project Team Organization
-  The Project Sponsor is fully committed and available to support the project
-  A facilitative Project Management Office supports the project
-  A Project Kickoff Meeting has been/will be held for all key stakeholders at the start of the project
Project Methodology
-  A formal, documented, scalable and adaptable Project Methodology is followed by the project  team.
-  A Project Repository/Extranet is used to maintain all project documentation
-  Lessons Learned are reviewed, documented, disseminated and acted on accordingly.  
Project Performance
-  The project is on schedule
-  The project is within budget
-  The Project Sponsor is satisfied with the project and project team performance
Project Risk Management
- A Risk Management Plan has been produced
-  A Risk Register is maintained for all significant project risks, with appropriate actions, target dates and owners for each risk.

Once you have built your Project Health Check tool, you should check it at the following key points in your project:
-  Project Initiation (quick scan to confirm that you will be implementing all the best practices listed)
-  Project Planning (formally complete the Health Check before your project is baselined, so that you can ensure all best practices are incorporated in your project).
-  Project Execution (re-visit with your PMO as a Project Audit, if your project "goes red"; i.e. more than say 10% over budget or behind schedule). 

Use a simple scoring system for measuring project compliance with each best practice in the tool:
For example:
Score 5 (Green) if you are (or will be) following the best practice
Score 3 (Yellow) if there is some improvement needed
Score 1 (Red) if that best practice is not being followed at all.

A Radar Chart (like the one shown at the beginning of this post) can be produced as a summary and posted on your Project Dashboard.  The blue line in the chart represents the average score for each area, so the health of your project can be seen at a glance.

The Project Health Check is a great tool for project managers to facilitate the success of their projects by embracing the complete spectrum of project management best practices.  As noted earlier, it can also be used by the PMO to work with project managers when their projects are in trouble, to pinpoint and improve the processes that are determined to be the root causes of their problems. In this case, a joint presentation should be presented to executive management identifying the findings from the Project Health Check and the proposed actions needed to address any problems identified.

An ounce of prevention is indeed worth a pound of cure!

Let us know about your own experiences with Project Health Checks.

Webinar:  APM09 Project Health Check Workshop
If you are interested in learning more about Project Health Checks, and would like an Excel based Project Health Check tool that checks against over fifty project management best practices for your project, sign up for our four hour APM09 "Project Health Check Workshop" at  In addition to the Project Health Check tool, you will get practical guidance and all the tools and templates you might need for each best practice.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Ten Best Practices For Managing Global Projects

In an increasingly global economy, projects are also becoming more global.

Your project team, sponsor and key stakeholders can be spread across many continents, time zones, organizations, languages and cultures.

But while there are challenges imposed on global projects, due to all the factors noted above, these challenges often exist at least to some degree on any project, global or not.

For example, you might well have team members several time zones away, or living in your city but recently from different cultures and with English not their native language.

So here are some practices I recommend, that are especially important on a global project, but could be applied to any project.  At the beginning of your project, go through this list and pick out and apply the best practices in each area that you feel would most benefit your project.

 I hesitate to say that any area is more important than the others, but can make an exception with this one, both because I think it is the most important, and also because the issue of communications is inter-twined with most of the other areas.  How you communicate, how often and to whom and with what media will all have a significant impact on the success of your project.

1.  At the beginning of your project, establish a Communications Management Plan.  This can be a simple one pager listing all the key stakeholders and methods and frequency of planned communications.
2.  Establish a Project Repository, using a tool such as SharePoint, to make all project deliverables, tools, templates and communications readily accessible.
3.  Subscribe to a web conferencing facility, if your company does not already have one.  These can be  relatively inexpensive, with high payback and benefit, making it easier to identify and show the person talking, and facilitate the sharing of documents and presentations.  Meetings can be recorded for those who miss a meeting, or would like to replay them to ensure they understand key points made in the meeting.
4.  Early in your project hold a Project Kickoff Meeting, outlining project objectives, roles and responsibilities, project methodology and the team operating agreement.  Give all team members a chance to present a one page slide about themselves (picture, roles, hobbies, "What is the most interesting thing you have done").  Team building and ice breaker exercises will be particularly beneficial.

5.  Accept (and embrace) the diversity of cultures on your team, but avoid any stereotyping. The best way to address this area, is to let the people on your team in each location identify what they think is different and special about their culture, and how they would like to see the team operate.  This feedback can be incorporated into the Team Operating Agreement presented at the Project Kickoff Meeting.

6.  If English is the common language to be used on your project, as is most likely, then assess the fluency of your team members in all team locations.  A good solution, to address issues of both fluency as well as the challenges of managing remote team members, is to have one senior person fluent in English act as the "lead" for each location, with the overall responsibility of coordinating all activities assigned to people in that location.

Time Zones
7.  It will be close to impossible to find a time that is convenient for all, so do not make the mistake of picking a time that is only convenient for you, the project manager.  Better to try and find a few times where no-one has to attend before 7 am or after 7 pm their time, and rotate meeting times so that everyone "shares the pain" about equally.  Again, the use of a "lead" in each location, and the availability of the project repository and recorded meetings will alleviate some of the communications problems caused by different time zones.

8.  The Project Manager should travel at least once to each location that will be providing a significant contribution to the project, and to the extent your project budget permits, each lead should also travel to be physically present for key activities and meetings. 

9.  Where possible, give each location an important deliverable, capitalizing on the particular skills and capabilities of that location and team.
10. Recognize the contributions from each location as they are made, and ensure they are well publicized in newsletters, Steering Committees etc.

While managing global projects can certainly be a challenge in many respects, it can also be an opportunity to learn and benefit from the diversity of cultures and the creativity and innovation that can result from global collaboration.

What has been your experience and insights on your global projects, and are there any best practices you can add?