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.