Your Project Team Does Matter! and so does their experience

As a project manager I deal with a diverse set of team members that are not under my immediate supervision. By this I mean that I am a project manager, and not a functional supervisor. When I need team members for a project, I pick from a pool of employees with available time. One of my current projects employs approximately 20 team members. One team member specifically has had a few personal hiccups (extreme life events) causing missed work and on some days poor performance. This particular employee, however, is a 9 year veteran of our organization and a superb performer (normally).

The problem comes in when this individual had a conversation with management about some needs and individual consideration. During the conversation, she was continually denied simple requests that were not out of the ordinary. When inquiries were made after explaining the value she provides, it was stated “it doesn’t matter if you’ve been there 1 year or 9.”

Damaging words!

The truth is, it DOES matter. Losing this employee would cause a backlog in development. Not just a backlog of a single person, but it would take two to three people to develop as much as this employee does. The experience and knowledge she has is not interchangeable with just anyone, let alone a new person or someone here for only a year.

This kind of statement WILL destroy workplace morale. This employee then came out, continued her work as normal, but subsequent conversations quickly turned to that statement. Now many employees have heard it, including veterans of 20 plus years. It is no longer a single employee that feels an “inch tall” but an entire department. With current lay-offs, it has everyone looking over their shoulder, including top performing veterans that should have nothing to worry about.

Words like this kill relationships with top employees. These relationships are hard to build up to begin with and are even harder to rebuild once they’ve been told they do not matter. The truth is, they DO matter and so does the experience they bring in. Take care of your top performers and build up your sub-par performers. Who cares if they’ve had a rough year (medical, death in family, or even other personal matter). Be compassionate at the very least. Take care of them and they will take care of you. Don’t let that experience walk out the door over careless words.

Invest in your relationships.

Accountability

A while back, ok a LONG while back, I wrote a post on integrity. I am one who believes that all or part of integrity goes right into accountability.

Accountability is a word that a great number of people tend to overlook, especially those in leadership positions. This “issue”, however, is widespread to all ranks. I believe leaders should be held to a higher standard so, I want to write about it here, in that context. What does it mean to be accountable?

ac·count·a·ble [uh-koun-tuh-buhl]
adjective
1. subject to the obligation to report, explain or justify something; responsible; answerable.

Wow, that is a strong definition. It uses words like “obligation” and “justify”. My favorites, however, are “responsible” and most of all “answerable”. As a leader, I have to answer to every decision that I make. That is important to remember when making financial decisions or even when reporting project statuses to the project sponsors. All too often, we hear of leaders that seem to defy accountability. Millions of dollars are lost, misappropriated, stolen or even misreported. Some are honest mistakes, some are not so honest. Regardless of the origin, you as a leader, are responsible.

Since accountability is such an important subject; I will be writing more about it soon. Tell me what you think about accountability. What failures or successes have you seen?

Strong General Leader vs. Weak Leader with Industry Experience

I have been confronted with this question a lot lately. Is it be better to have a strong leader from outside an industry or a weaker leader from within an industry? I have an opinion on this that seems to be a bit different from the local markets, but wonder what it is like elsewhere.

In my opinion, it is much better to have a strong general leader from outside the industry rather than have a weak leader with industry experience.

Why?

Project management is project management, regardless of the type of industry that you are going into. There may be a few learning curves early on when creating cost models and other proposals, but those are learned quickly. True leadership, however, is not learned as easily.

I have seen many examples of poor industry leaders destroying projects or departments. At the same time, however, I have seen strong leaders lead projects to great success while knowing very little about the product or industry itself.

What do you think?

Project Communication

Communication is such a broad word. What exactly do you think of when you hear the words “project communication”?

Who do you think of?

There are different types of communications from the face-to-face verbal communications, to non-verbal facial expressions, to email and even project websites such as SharePoint.

What I think of is communicating with project sponsors and other stakeholders. What information do they need in order to carry on with their own daily functions? Of course, there is different communication for different types of stakeholders. For example, a project sponsor probably does not want to hear about a specific task that you are assigning another team member, nor should they. At the same time, it isn’t appropriate to submit a full financial breakdown intended for the sponsor to the whole team.

You have to come up with a communications plan. This important document in the overall project management plan is key to determining the amount of communications as well as the content and schedule of the communications that you will send each stakeholder.

Communication is vital to the success of your project. Creating a communication plan is vital to the success of your communications. Without the plan, important updates and other information can get missed or worse, ignored.

Goal Setting: 2012

Every year after January 1st, articles pop up on setting goals. Some call it making a new year’s resolution. Whatever you call it, it really is setting goals. This year, of course, is no different. Up until now, I have personally resisted the urges to set out to create a goal or resolution that I won’t stick to. Then, I realized perhaps this is a toxic attitude to have. I asked myself recently what I’ve accomplished by not just setting the bar low, but not setting it at all. Well, the answer is quite simple . . . hardly anything. It is time I stepped up to the plate and set some goals for myself – and you should too! Here are my thoughts:

I look at my goal setting as I would my employees:

  • Relevant
  • Attainable
  • Measurable
  • Controllable (this one is big)

This gets a way from the typical “S.M.A.R.T.” goal setting principles (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely) just a bit but has the same basic principle without the cool acronym. I want to make sure that every goal I set follows these four principles, not only for me, but for my employees for the upcoming year. What do they mean?

Relevant: From a managerial standpoint it must fit with the over-all goals of the department, division, and company as a whole. From a personal standpoint, it has to be pertinent to what I’m doing or what I want to accomplish. “Make a one foot diameter rubber-band ball” is not relevant to other, somewhat life altering, goals that I may have, unless I’m shooting for a personal record.

Attainable: Is this goal something that can actually be done in the timeframe given? “Become a rocket scientist” is not an attainable goal for most people in one year’s time. “Learn Java”, however, is.

Measurable: One thing you have to keep in mind is whether or not you can actually track your progress on accomplishing the goal.

Controllable: This is one I’ve heard a lot about lately in setting up tasks for me and my employees alike. I look at my goal and determine if it is something that can be controlled. For example, “get 100 followers” is not something I can control. Sure, I can try to analyze the topics that get more hits than others, but in the end, you have control over that better than I do.

All in all, goal setting really is a big deal, unless you do not want to accomplish anything. It sets the tone for your year and gives you something to work for. If you fail, try again. Be sure to challenge yourself so you can grow.

I hope your new year is happy an prosperous. Happy goal setting!!

Earned Value Management, Part 2

As I mentioned in Part 1, EVM is not scary. In fact, once the tools are in place it is really a matter of interpreting the data that is presented. As far as analyzing and presenting data is concerned, I would not want to use any other tool. Nothing else can get us the granularity to see how things are really progressing with our projects at any given time. There is one key, however . . . earned value is just that, what have you EARNED. Perhaps better stated is “what have you completed”. If the customer stopped the project today and asked for completed products, what would you give them. A car that has no wheels on it is not a completed product, therefore would not be counted as complete in our calculations.

So, keep that in mind when doing your calculations.

I want to first introduce to you my favorite calculations – The Performance Indices, CPI and SPI. CPI, or Cost Performance Index, is a quick look at how your project is measuring up from a cost perspective. Meaning, how much have you spent to earn what you’ve earned. It is presented as a number that should hover around 1.0. A 1.0 CPI is a “perfect” cost index. Anything above 1.0 is good or under budget. Anything below 1.0 is bad, or over budget. And of course, a 1.0 is exactly on budget. The SPI: Schedule Performace Index is exactly the same as the cost index except it deals with time rather than dollars. Again, anything 1.0 or above is good (on or ahead of schedule) and below is bad (behind schedule).

Take a look at the following graphic. What are some things you notice?

One thing, as you can see, the CPI, or cost performance index, is way above 1.0. This is good from a budget standpoint(way under), but the PM (me in this case) chould probably take a look at his estimating techniques. The SPI has a completely different story. For much of this project, the team was behind schedule, sometimes severely. This indicated that the project was way behind schedule and more money should be spent in order to catch up. Looking back on this chart and thinking about the challenges we had, I know exactly what I would do for the next one (and it involved spending more money on specific resources that would allow for the schedule to be even higher.)

How did I get there? Simple . . .
CPI=Earned Value divided by Actual Cost (CPI=EV/AC)
SPI=Earned Value divided by Planed value (SPI=EV/PV)

Do you remember what EV is? That’s right, it is the % complete based on what deliverables have actually been completed. Your planned value, of course, is what your project plan said you were going to have completed (in % Complete) on the date of the report.

You might have noticed the little “c” at the end of CPI and SPI (CPIc – SPIc). This stands for “cumulative” or the current state of the entire projet, not just a single snap shot. The chart above has data points for each week so I could see any trends developing.

That’s it for this post. I hope you all had a Merry Christmas. Thanks for reading.

Next up: Variances!

Earned Value Management Part 1

There is a lot more to earned value than what should be described in a single blog, so I am going to break it up over several over the next few days. In the PMBoK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) Fourth Edition, Earned Value Management (EVM) would fall under a few of the knowledge areas. Mostly it will fall under: Project Time Management, Project Cost Management,  and Project Communications Management. We can and will dig into these a little deeper, but for now, you’ll just need to know that it covers these three main knowledge areas. Probably the biggest, in my professional opinion, is Project Communications Management.

Why? Simple really . . . the whole reason for EVM is for tracking the actual earned (completed) progress of your project. EVM gives you an in-depth look directly into the heart of your actual progress. The end result, if desired is a graph that you can review for trends or use to report your excellent progress to the project sponsors and other stakeholders. Here is an example of an earned value graph for a project over a year long. As you can see, this project was in trouble from the start but the adjustments that were made will end this project almost perfectly with an SPI of 1.02 and a CPI of well over that (more on those later).

Earned Value

There are a few pieces to earned value which will all be discussed over the next few installments (again, I don’t want to hit you with it all at once). Things that I will discuss are:

  • Planned Value
  • Earned Value
  • Actual Cost
  • Cost Variance
  • Schedule Variance
  • Cost Performance Index (CPI)
  • Schedule Performance Index (SPI)
  • Estimate at Completion (EAC)
  • Estimate to Complete (ETC)
  • Budget at Completion (BAC)
  • And last but not least . . . Variance at Completion (VAC)

Yes, there are a lot of accronyms in there and there are quite a few formulas as well, but don’t let them scare you. The formulas are straight forward and easy to you, especially if you set the up in some sort of tool that you use all the time such as Microsoft Excel. I will give you the formulas and show you when to use them and how to use them. I even have a tool that I’ve setup that I use on a daily basis that I will share with you if you desire. It is somewhat proprietary to my time and cost tracking systems, but we can work together to make it work for you as well.

BTW, back to the numbers that I showed you above, the Microsoft Project plan (not using EVM) shows this project as ahead most of the time. Can you imagine? I would have been telling management that my project was just fine (thinking that the whole time myself) while the project was actually in dire straights from the beginning. Using Earned Value allowed me to make serious adjustments and get this ship back on track. It wasn’t easy though, I assure you, but at least I knew issues existed early on so they could be corrected in time.

More on this topic later . . .

Evolution of a Project Manager

I was reading another blog post on PMI’s official website and came across a post that asked if project management made me happy. The immediate, and overwhelming answer is and has been, YES! but as I read through it, it got me thinking . . .

Searchers – defined as the group who is looking for the next thing, enjoying the freedom. This group is better at starting a project.

Wrestlers – defined as the group of project managers that really works hard to the very end – passionate about doing the job until it is finished.

Balanced – this group is, as the title indicates, a balance of both in equal parts

This got me thinking, where am I in this picture? I absolutely know the answer a year ago. I used to tell people that I love being a project manager because I call myself ADD, loving to start new things, but often not really finishing them. Then, I would LOVE getting them started and would finish, somewhat begrudgingly. Well, this past year and a half, I’ve been working a huge project that has taken most of my time. This project, while great in the grand scheme of things, has been a real eye opener for me. I have learned a great deal about becoming a wrestler and the balance that needs to occur. I guess you could say I have matured as a PM. Do I still love to be the searcher? Absolutely, it really is my first passion and I enjoy the project initiation and planning. At the same time, I have learned to love the end product as well. If done correctly, there is a good pat on the back at the end waiting on me.

How do you measure up?

Here is the link to the original blog by Jorge Valdes Garciatorres, PMP : http://blogs.pmi.org/blog/voices_on_project_management/2011/08/does-project-management-make-y.html