Sunday, August 17, 2008

August 18, 2008 - Stand up and act like a... PM?

For the past few weekends I have been pulling together training material to cover Project Initiation, Tracking and Reporting for HP’s Project and Program Management tool (PPM). Not the most inventive of names but it seems to be a fairly robust system that integrates Financial and Project Management at the corporate level with add-ins for QA and other project pieces.

For that reason all of my creativity has been sapped and I have been unable to blog. However, during last week’s PMI Orange County dinner meeting we had an interesting speaker. Listening to Lee R. Lambert, PMP ( was like getting a slap in the face to wake you up.

He began by asking how many people had the job title “Project Manager” and then gave us the stunning news that we weren’t. By PMI’s definition a project manager has the right and responsibility to make decisions. Very few of us actually make decisions. We supply timely information, analysis and recommendations for people that do. By PMI’s definition that makes us Project Coordinators or Project Expeditors.

Our responsibility then is to present clear truth, backed by evidence with solid analysis and delivered in a timely manner. Over the next couple of weeks I plan to revisit the basics of how to obtain that information. Far too often we fall under the hypnosis of management’s instructions to add scope, reduce costs and get it done sooner with fewer resources.

We say “oh, well” and back down with half hearted pleas for sanity to reign…but it doesn’t. Then we complain the entire life of the project, pushing the team beyond their limits and try to deliver something...anything…that resembles what was required impossibly soon.

As professional project managers we need the ability to say “Yes, we can do that and here is what it will take.” Then present a solid estimate, realistic timeline and honest cost for what they asked. State the case and let them make the decision.

So, tune in next time and we will get started.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

August 4, 2008 - Failure to Manage

Our house recently went through some medium size renovations. It began with replacing the hot water heater with a tankless model. During the installation the plumber explained that our galvanized pipes were badly corroded. In some places the rusty build up was seeping through to the outside of the pipe and in other it was clogging the water flow.

Scope change #1: add $5500 to re-pipe the house using copper.

Since they were taking the shower wall apart we opted to rip it out and tile the entire bathroom.

Scope change #2: another $3500 + materials.

It finished with the “Since We’re Here” special: I was in the process of digging up my front lawn to install sprinklers and they offered to run the pipes.

Scope change #3: $800 + materials. Good thing we recently refinanced!

Instead of going with a company, I hired a couple of independent contractors. They did a great job with the work, but there was a lack of basic project management from the beginning. That failure to manage caused disappointment, minor frustration and more work for me:

  • The hot water heater went in smoothly, but the promise to run the wire and mount the thermostat went unfulfilled.
  • The bathroom and shower look terrific, but when they said they could raise the shower head above 6 feet, I thought they were actually going to do it.
  • Refitting the house with copper was a success except for a minor design change. They originally planned to come up through the floor instead of the wall. Evidently they changed their minds and now I have big holes in my walls were the pipes come out. Evidently they don’t do drywall so now I have to.
  • Removing the old shower and other trash evidently wasn’t in the plan, either.

Technically, I got more than I paid for. They charged quite a bit less than they could have, did a solid job and the bathroom alone increased our house value by more than the cost of the whole project. But if I had it to do over again I would have applied more project management myself by:

  • Defining the Scope. There were several items I assumed were in scope that I ended up doing: wiring an outdoor electrical box; removing old pipes from under the house; disposing of garbage; and filling the holes in the walls to name a few. I’m sure it would have increased the cost of the project but at least communicating it up front would have prepared me for it.
  • Identifying all requirements. As the “sponsor” this one was my fault. When they replaced the main water line to the house they dug under the sidewalk to connect it at the meter. Had I told them I was looking to add a sprinkler system we could have used that same hole and saved some digging.
  • Documenting Changes. A potential problem was averted by writing down the prices quoted to me and verifying my understanding.
  • Establishing Timelines. It seemed to take forever to complete all the projects. There were scheduling conflicts on our side and theirs that stretched the duration.
  • Tracking Commitments. Every time I take a shower I will likely think, “I should have reminded him to raise that pipe.” As for the thermostat, I finally hung that to the wall today.
  • Customer Satisfaction. The ultimate item a project manager would have brought to the mix was a better customer experience. Small details matter, like placing a runner on the floor to minimize tracking dirt across the floor; letting us know arrive and departure times; and setting expectations.

With the help of a project manager, I have no doubt these guys could double their work load and obtain great referrals every time. Then again, I’m probably biased.