Tuesday, July 31, 2007

July 31, 2007 – Cultivating a healthy Project Schedule

About a month ago my wife and I went out and purchased some plants, dug up one of the flower beds and replanted it. All the weeds and crabgrass were pulled and all the dead or dying plants removed. We followed the directions and placed the plants the recommended distance apart. We even added topsoil! The results were favorable. The new flowers filled in nicely.

When I walked by it this morning I realized that I have neglected it. Weeds have started sneaking in among the plants and the crabgrass is back. Some of the grass is even taller than the plants. It reminded me of project schedules I have attempted to revive. Neglect resulted in over allocations, missed deadlines and busted budgets. They were all things that should have been taken care of when the weeds first appeared instead of ignoring them.

When I review a schedule there are 5 questions that help verify its health.

1. When was the last time it was updated?

Weekly works the best. The Actual hours expended by the resources should be entered at the task level and a new Estimate to Complete (ETC) given for each task. Ideally this information should come from your team through the time reporting tool but I’ve had to do it by hand from printed individual timesheets, too. Finding out that the most recent schedule is three weeks old flashes a red light immediately.

2. Does the Estimate at Completion equal the Baseline?

The Estimate at Completion (EAC) is the sum of the Actual hours expended plus the ETC. In MS Project it is Planned Work. By comparing the EAC to the Baseline values for each task you can tell if any effort is being put into realistic forecasting.

The temptation is to add Actual hours to the task and allow the tool to subtract it from the original estimate. For a common example assume I worked 15 hours on a 20 hour task. I have 5 hours to go, right? Probably not. I could be done with the task or I might need another 20 hours.

If an individual is reporting that she needs 20 additional hours for a task that ought to be complete, ask questions. Why is it taking longer than anticipated? Do you need assistance? Are you the right person for the task? Do you need more training? Has the scope changed? Get to the root cause of the problem and solve it.

3. Is the remaining effort appropriately distributed?

For this I flip to a resource allocation view and check to see if everyone has just enough work to fill their timesheet for at least the next month or so. This should take into account holidays, vacations, training and other out-of-office factors.

Then I make sure there aren’t any major hills or valleys beyond that. The effort should average across the weeks to their maximum allocation throughout the remainder of the project. Beyond a month it can alternate a little low or high and be adjusted as the tasks get closer. If there are several resources that are over allocated, you may need to add more people in order to meet your deadlines.

4. Are you hitting the milestones?

A schedule that shows a history of missed deadlines is in trouble. Check to see if the misses are getting further apart or staying constant. Usually a project will miss the first on by 1 week, the second by 2, the third by 4 and before long all hope is lost. If they are staying fairly constant there was probably just one deliverable that threw it off.

If predecessors are established that link tasks based on order of completion you can see the impact of missed dates on the remainder of the effort. This is valuable information because you can see where to take corrective actions to bring things back into line.

5. Is the project projecting to be in budget?

With the updated ETC for the tasks and resources added to stay within schedule, odds are the budget has taken a hit. If it isn’t within reasonable tolerances you need to identify areas to reduce costs. Look for activities that can be combined. Consider juggling resources to different tasks. Perhaps a more senior resource can cut the development time in half, offsetting the per hour cost difference. Reassign lower cost resources to perform the testing. Moving work forward to fill in down time (ex. System documentation) may allow individuals to roll off to another project earlier. Get creative.

The answers to these five questions will help you find the weeds in your schedule and keep them from choking out a perfectly good project.

Monday, July 23, 2007

July 23, 2007 – Random Quotes, Sayings and Definitions

I’ve started collecting sayings and words of wisdom having to do with project management. Some of them may eventually become entries on their own, but most of them are just a little too random. So today I’m going to pull a bunch of them together and run with it.

Getting it in writing is a key concept in project management. Here are a few sayings about the importance of the written word.
· Verbal approval isn’t worth the paper it is written on.
· A meeting without minutes didn’t really happen.
· Unwritten, unsaid.

I’ve also found some definitions that should be used more often.
Yellow Pad Session – informal requirements gathering meeting where notes are taken on a yellow legal pad. This is a term used quite often on the east coast of the US but no one here on the west side seems to have heard of it.

Double Whacking – hitting someone up for information or action from 2 or more directions. This can be effective if the person historically doesn’t respond the first time. It needs to be applied carefully so that the person being whacked doesn’t strike back.

Overkill – taking follow up or actions to an extreme. It invokes the idea of using a bazooka to kill a fly. Usually it happens when you react to something like an email. You end up shooting one back that starts a fire storm. Another example would be calling a company wide meeting to give examples of inappropriate dress instead of a simple email reminder.

Some quotes just need to be repeated.
“Do you think he plans it all out or just makes it up as he goes along?” When I heard this line in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End it struck me that the same thing could be asked of some project managers. With the good ones the planning is obvious, but every project needs a bit of improvisation and luck.

“If you really believe it, it isn’t a lie.” A friend of mine reported hearing a manager say this as he was preparing for a status meeting. I guess reality takes a break for some when it comes to status reporting.

“I love it when a plan comes together.” This was always my favorite line from the TV show A-Team. Hannibal always had a plan and managed to pull it off.

Finally, here are a few famous last words. If you hear these coming from your mouth, it may be time to run…fast.
· Sure, we can do that. What is it you want?
· It doesn’t look that big. We don’t need a Change Request.
· Risks? What risks?
· We’ll make up the time during the testing phase.
· It’s just changed a configuration file. We don’t need to test it.
· Everyone knows that isn’t our responsibility.
· Just one more minor change.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

July 19, 2007 – Authorized to Manage – in a Projectized Organization

This is the last in a series looking at authority. To wrap up we will focus on the projectized organization and give some practical tips for leading in this environment.

Control is but an illusion.

Projectized Organization.
In a projectized environment teams are formed of resources that, if not hired directly for the project, are assigned almost 100% to it. You, as the project manager, are given nearly total control of the resources, budget, scope and schedule. You are in control.

As a leader in this environment, the first thing to remember is that all authority is temporary. Your positional authority is highest at the beginning of the project. By decree of the Charter you have been crowned project manager. Use that formal authority as a basis to quickly build other types.

You can increase your referent authority as you get to know the team members. Understand their individual strengths, goals and motivations. Are they glad to be on this project or do they see it as a side step in their career? As you ask questions and interact with them they will begin to see your character and decide if they can trust you to lead.

Throughout the project, exercise your reward/penalty authority by offering additional training or better opportunities to your strong performers. Review the budget and see if there room for team lunches to mark major milestones. Address poor performance as it is identified. Do this by focusing on the performance (ex. Quality or Schedule), not the person.

Your project management abilities and organizational knowledge are part of your expert authority. By keeping the team informed of the big picture and how they fit in to it you can build their trust. This is especially true as the project moves toward completion. In a projectized organization there is no functional group to fall back to when finished. Resources tend to get nervous as they near the project end. Let them know well in advance when their end date is. If possible, work with them to identify the next project they will be working on. To address potential employee retention problems toward the end of a project you may want to consider monetary incentives to keep them through the end.

In the final analysis, the key to successfully managing any project is to recognize where the real authority lies, how much you personally have and where you derive it from. In the final analysis, project management is as much a position of dependency as it is one of authority. If you can’t convince the team to follow, you can’t lead. Understanding Positional, Referent, Reward/Penalty and Expert authority offers you the necessary tools to manage successfully.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

July 16, 2007 – Authorized to Manage – In a Matrix Organizational

This is the seventh in a series looking at authority. Focusing our attention on the matrix organization we’ll look at some practical tips for surviving in this environment.

You have officially lost control….

Matrix Organization.
A matrix environment can be a difficult place to manage. As we have seen, it is that fuzzy area between Functional and Projectized organizations. Project Managers that have successfully managed multimillion dollar efforts find they have lost all control when dropped into a matrix organization. At best they share control and at its worst they are little more than coordinators begging different departments to work pieces of the project. Because the weak matrix is the hardest to handle, we’ll center our focus on it.

Positional authority in this environment is held by the functional manager. She owns the resources and represents their security. When the project ends or fails they have a home back in her group; a safety net. In order to effectively manage you need to work through the functional managers. Since you lack positional authority you need to build up the other types.

Reward/penalty authority is your quickest option. As members of your team put in extra effort or make significant contributions send an email to their managers and copy them on it. Ask permission to give input to the team members’ annual review process. Do this at the beginning of the project and don’t keep it secrete. Announce it as a positive and tell them how you intend to use it to provide their management with an accurate picture of their contribution to the company.

Check with the functional manager up front to understand the best means to address performance issues and discussions. She may want to handle issues herself or at least be part of the process. Establish an escalation path from the beginning to resolve conflicts.

As you interact with the team you can develop referent authority. Through your actions they should begin to see that you are fair, trustworthy and willing to work through difficulties with them.

You can also demonstrate your expert authority by the way you manage. A solid, well communicated scope builds confidence in the project. Creating and tracking to a realistic schedule based on the resource availability shows foresight. Holding time conscience meetings using agendas and producing minutes lends credibility to your management abilities. All of these add up to the team having more confidence in your ability to lead.

To ensure the success of the project you also need to address two issues from outside of the project. First, without the hierarchical positional authority your project may lack a strong sponsor. If your company uses Portfolio Management, each of the projects will be ranked according to their priority. How does it compare to other projects? Can you leverage the project’s importance to obtain more commitment from the various groups?

The second problem is resource availability. Find out from the functional manager the percentage of time each resource is committed to the project. Then ask the individuals what other projects they are currently working and have them rank the importance of each. Rework your project estimates based on the reality of sharing the resources. Work with the other project managers to determine peak resource needs and coordinate the resource usage to fit everyone’s schedules.

As conflicts arise from resource availability or other areas, inform upper management and allow them to prioritize the projects and help resolve the issues.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

July 12, 2007 – Authorized to Manage – Organizational Types Matter

This is the sixth in a series looking at authority. Here we switch to practical uses of the four authority types within an organizational. This session will describe the difference between Functional, Projectized and Matrix environments.

Understanding your organization
puts the fun back in DysFUNctional

A Functional organization is divided by areas of specialization or function. There is the server group, the web development group, the legacy systems group, the security group and every other group you can imagine. Each group is managed by an expert in that area and their responsibility is to their silo of the company. Projects within a functional organization rely on using people from each of those groups as their individual managers make them available. The resources on the project still report to their functional managers and the project manager has little direct authority over them. When completed they fold back into the group they were in prior to the project.

The Projectized organization focus is on delivering projects. Project managers have full authority over priorities, resources and the effort of the people on the project. The team is created to perform a specific scope of work. When the work is completed it is dissolved. In some cases the same team may move intact to another project but usually they join other projects where their skills are needed. A good picture of this is a consulting company. As a project is awarded, a team is put together to complete it. When done they move on.

Somewhere in the middle of those two extremes lives the Matrix organization. It is a graduated scale authority from Weak to Balanced and then Strong where weak is next to the functional side and strong is closest to projectized.

In a weak matrix organization the project manager has very limited authority. Resources are on loan…and know it. Their loyalty remains with their functional manager and they understand that no matter how the project ends they have a home back in their group. Budgets are generally controlled by the functional manager and the project manager role is usually only part time. Even though most of the variables are out of the project manager’s control he will probably be fully responsible for the outcome. Sometimes the role isn’t even recognized and involves more coordination between groups than actual management.

The strong matrix swings the control more to the project manager. The positional authority level is closing in on high. Resources may still be shared but the majority of their activities are controlled by the project manager. Responsibility for the budget belongs to project manager and the role is full time.

In the balanced matrix responsibility is shared between the functional manager and the project manager. Positional authority becomes less of a factor between the two and there needs to be more give and take, which can become yank and shove if left unchecked by upper management.

Understanding where your company falls on the scale will show you where the real authority lies and allow you to manage accordingly. Trying to exert too much power in a weak matrix organization will cause friction with the functional manager and frustrate you. Fail to “own” your resources in a strong matrix and they end up on someone else’s project.

Monday, July 9, 2007

July 9, 2007 – Authorized to Manage – Expert Authority

This is the fifth in a series looking at Positional, Referent, Reward/Penalty and Expert types of authority, their use, abuse and challenges.

It’s not what you know…
It’s who knows you know it.

Expert Authority.
Expert Authority is based on the respect gained for your abilities. If you can earn the respect of your team and management you have the highest level of achievable authority. No, this isn’t the form of respect demanded by Al Capone or a dictator gained by roughing people up. This respect is earned by successfully managing projects and displaying your knowledge. It results in people wanting to work with you because of your abilities. They perceive you as a success and look to you for knowledge and direction.

In order to obtain guru status you need to consistently demonstrate your abilities. A history of successful projects shows your management strengths. Or, if your expertise is your knowledge you have shown it by always having useful information or offering sage advice.

You can also achieve expert authority by the acknowledgement of another authority. Gaining certification by a governing body adds credibility as offered by the initials PMP, CPA and PhD at the end of your name. Since everyone knows that idiots can get certified, you will need to prove your abilities match your credentials.

Because perception is a big part of this authority type, being published can bump you up on the expert charts. One individual I was attempting to mentor hardly gave me the time of day until he found out I was published in Computerworld. Somehow in his eyes I suddenly became a genius. Even though I was giving the same instruction as before, he was suddenly listening because now I was someone.

Appropriate Uses
I’ve mentioned two different types of expert authority. One is based on your knowledge in an area and the other is based on your success. From the knowledge perspective, share it with those that need it. Mentor people and keep other projects from hitting potentially deadly potholes. This can add referent authority and give you a stronger position. It also highlights your abilities and teamwork. That in turn may result in increased positional authority as more responsibilities are handed to you.

Your success can be used to obtain the best resources for your projects or even allow you to request better projects. People want to work for successful project managers and management wants their best people on challenging projects. To everyone it seems like a win-win situation.

Abusive Uses
There are times when even the guru is wrong but by sheer strength of their expert authority no one questions them. Getting people to blindly do something without question qualifies as abusive use.

Another form of abuse is withholding your knowledge or ability with the purpose of negatively impacting a project, group or individual. Whether you are doing it for personal gain or to just be a pain, your motive is an indication of misuse.

The most annoying challenge with expert authority is another genius. When you have dueling gurus, people look toward other forms of authority to determine who to follow. It is important to remember that there is a chance, however small, that you are wrong. Play your cards accordingly. Expert authority starts to unravel if you mess up too many times.

A change in leadership can also signal problems. When someone comes in that doesn’t know your abilities or history of success they may question your expertise. It just means you have to prove yourself all over again.

One thing to remember, just because someone disagrees with you it doesn’t mean they are challenging your authority. Further discussion may result in an even better solution.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

July 5, 2007 – Authorized to Manage – Reward/Penalty Authority

This is the fourth in a series looking at Positional, Referent, Reward/Penalty and Expert types of authority, their use, abuse and challenges.

The beatings will continue
until morale increases.

Reward/Penalty Authority.
Reward/Penalty authority is the use of both positive reinforcement and punishment to motivate people. Balance is the key. Too much reward and it becomes an expected entitlement and too much punishment causes people to leave. But both the carrot and the stick are required. Without rewards people don’t feel appreciated. On the other hand, a lack of consequences for poor performance or bad behavior will impact more that the disruptive team member. If you don’t address the issues your good performers will wonder why they bother working so hard.

For the longest time I didn’t feel I had much of this type of authority. What types of rewards could I dish out? How could I punish someone? As I better understood the role, I found some weapons you can add to your arsenal:
Better (or worse) assignments
More (or less) responsibility
Good (or bad) comments in annual reviews
Recommendations (or lack there of) for rewards, pay increases and promotions

When you think of reward/penalty authority in this light is evident that project managers have something to work with.

Appropriate Uses
Reward/Penalty authority is a tool works best when not overused. Right now I have two annual reviews in the pipeline that need my attention. Reviews are an opportunity to flex this authority but they can’t be the only time you use it. Keeping your people updated throughout the year on how they are doing stops them from being blindsided on their reviews. A “good job” email serves to reinforce their effort. A discussion about poor performance (calm, but direct with specific examples) is as a form of penalty to get them back on track.

Many companies offer standard awards. Look for opportunities to get your team on the list for these acknowledgements.

Remember to reward in public but punish in private.

Abusive Uses
Yelling is not my favorite use of penalty authority. I have seen project managers reduced to tears by directors that thrive on bellowing. If it is a tool you use regularly, stop. The objective is not to degrade the team member.

Another misuse is over applying the reward side. Continuously handing out bonuses, plaques and promotions can result in feelings of entitlement. People may begin expecting recognition and, like a drug, will need bigger doses more often to feel satisfied.

Challenges for this authority type can be subtle but deadly. They don’t come from external sources as much as from a misstep on your part. At the top of the list is sincerity. If you do not come across as sincere when rewarding or even punishing team members you are wasting the effort.

Maintaining equality is another tough challenge. Presenting the corner office to one top producer and offering a handshake to the next will result in rioting. I don’t suggest sharing it with the team, but keep track of what you give and why. It will give you ideas for the future and refresh your memory if questioned.

Finally, be careful not to overstep your bounds. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver as a reward and don’t demote someone without Human Resource’s involvement.

Monday, July 2, 2007

July 2, 2007 – Authorized to Manage – Referent Authority

This is the third in a series looking at Positional, Referent, Reward/Penalty and Expert types of authority, their use, abuse and challenges.

Character matters.

Referent Authority.
Referent Authority is the ability to influence others through your charisma, personality and charm. People are drawn to personalities. They like working for good natured, caring managers that take an interest in them for more than the hours they can bill. Interesting, though, some people are drawn to managers on the dark side. They see it as power and are drawn to it like moths to a flame.

As much as positional authority is about politics, referent authority is social in nature. It is more than your charming personality; it is the way people perceive you. Managers with higher levels of this type of authority are characterized as strong, hard working, just, even keeled or able. Lesser managers are those that appear indecisive, lacking in confidence, angry, hard to work with or easily pushed over.

One way to gain referent authority is to be helpful. One of my resources is working toward his Green Card status. There are very few papers I actually need to complete, but I am able to push the HR personnel and have hand delivered some of the signatures from other managers. Even just calling him to make sure nothing is stuck somewhere in process can show that I value him.

Appropriate Uses
There are many ways to use your personality to make people want to help you succeed. A sense of humor can be used to defuse tension during a heated meeting. A giving attitude may bring donuts to meetings. Level headed managers don’t snap at their team, they address problems. Caring ones make it a point to know their people and handle all that touchy-feely stuff.

Abusive Uses
Some managers use their appearance and allure to try to get people to do things for them. I encountered this once while in the project officer role on an account. For one project manager, whenever an issue came up I received the sad eyed, batting eyelashes, I-didn’t-know-any-better look.

Others may attempt to draw all of the talented resources to their group. There are even those that are smarmy enough to try move up the org chart by personality alone.

The biggest problem to look out for with referent authority is being taken advantage of. Some people think nice guys are there to be used. If you come across as trying to be your team’s buddy instead of boss they may loose respect for you.

Another challenge may come as an attack on your character. Skeletons in anyone’s closet can be used against them, but even false slander can be used to kill your referent authority.

PS. Happy belated Canada Day to those from up North.