Project Management vs. Project Leadership

Project Leadership vs. Project Management

Being a project manager has been a very rewarding experience for me over the last 15+ years. Whether practicing the science of project management, learning about it, writing about it or talking/tweeting about it, I have truly enjoyed almost every aspect of it.

I see a transformation coming, however, and no, I’m not talking about Agile vs. Waterfall or the newest release of the PMBoK. The transformation I am witnessing is a movement to project leadership.

The science of managing projects is fairly straight forward.  No, I did not say easy, with good reason. Project management requires a specific set of skills and talents to take a project from conception to close within a specific timeframe and budget. Practicing the art project leadership, however, goes much deeper, into the realm of relationships. If you dig in and form solid, working relationships with your team, you will allow them to be rewarded as much as you are.

Consider these attributes:

  • Give all the credit: It is critical to remember that you are the project leader, not the team. Your team is who is doing the work. Your team has the expertise. Give them high praises when they do well. Praise individuals, praise small groups, and praise the entire team, and praise publicly.
  • Take the blame: Troubles are going to happen; it is a given when it comes to projects – regardless of what they are. Budgetary items will come in higher than expected, delays in the schedule are going to occur, and quality may come in sub-par. Don’t throw Bill under the bus for that typo in the code, or Jack for misunderstanding the requirements, or Sally, who forgot to get a quote on a critical piece of infrastructure. When reporting, state the facts – but leave names out of it. When asked, put yourself in as a shield between management and the team. By doing so, you will build and environment of trust, not only with your team, but with management as well.

Don’t get me wrong; if a correction needs to be made, don’t wast the opportunity for a teachable moment.

  • Equip Them: Your team already has a tough job. Each team member was brought in because they have a specific skill-set that is necessary to fulfill the requirements. As a project leader, you need to do everything you can to make sure the team has the tools they need in order to fulfill their duties. We’ve all heard the phrase “the right tool for the right job.” That saying goes beyond building a house or working on a car. Having the proper software, adequate hardware, the right saws, a working micrometer, is all critical to the success of any team. If you fight for your team to make sure they have what they need, they will perform well; not only because they have the proper tools, but because they want to! Even if you can’t get everything they need, they will work harder for you because they know you are on their side.

This is only scratching the surface. What other qualities do you think would be great project leadership traits?

This post was originally posted to my LinkedIn Pulse page. It has been modified and updated for this site.

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 :

What is a Leader?

What is a leader? A while back, I wrote about the difference between a leader and a manager. I still firmly believe that there is a difference between the two. I did not, however, actually get into the nuts and bolts of what a leader really is.  First let me share with you a couple of actual definitions: ( defines a leader with the following:

  1. a person or thing that leads.
  2. a guiding or directing head, as of an army, movement, or political group.
  3. Music: a conductor or director, as of an orchestra, band, or chorus.

Merriam Webster ( breaks it down a little bit differently, but still has the same basic definition in regards to the human aspect: [Note: my quote below is actually definition #2 from]

Definition #2: a person who leads: as

  1. guide, conductor
  2. (1) : a person who directs a military force or unit (2) : a person who has commanding authority or influence
  3. (1) : the principal officer of a British political party (2) : a party member chosen to manage party activities in a legislative body (3) : such a party member presiding over the whole legislative body when the party constitutes a majority
  4. d (1)  conductor c (2) : a first or principal performer of a group

One definition that caught my eye when starting this entry was a music conductor as in an orchestra, band, or chorus. This is partly because I have always been around music, and also because I love the analogy that comes in to focus.

Have you ever seen a conductor’s score? What an amazingly complicated document. Each page contains the scores for every part played by every instrument. Even the simplest of musical pieces can get complicated very quickly. It is the role of the conductor to ensure that everyone plays their part at the appropriate time, and to make sure everyone is paying attention to the various marks on the page.

It is beautiful to watch a good conductor at work. Such grace. Such concentration. All of the various pieces come together all at once to turn dots on a page into a musical masterpiece. All eyes are on him, trusting him to lead them the right direction. Any false moves, and embarrassment can quickly ensue, ruining the musicality altogether. The key here is trust. Not only are the musicians trusting the conductor, but the audience is trusting him or her as well.

Business leaders must know enough about what they are doing to be trustworthy. In my current business, I have to know what goes into a repair and maintenance manual. My team looks to me to make good decisions which will allow them the best opportunity to succeed. It is my job to make sure my team has the tools to do their job. That is the role of a leader. A leader is a person who inspires people to achieve great heights despite their own limitations. A leader inspires people to want to achieve more and more every time. A leader is a motivator that people look up to. A leader is someone who people come to for direction and feedback. A leader has many followers, people who want to stay, people who want to succeed.

One final note: A good leader puts his or her followers ahead of himself or herself. I don’t believe there is any room in this world for a selfish leader. A selfish leader steps on the toes of those below him in order to make himself look good. What they don’t understand is that by pushing the team down, they are not really leading or motivating. The selfish leader puts undue stress on a team and fails to give credit where credit is due. A selfish leader misses out on the rewards of seeing everyone succeed. This is the most valuable part. A leader should be like a proud parent, wanting to see the accomplishments of their children grow and grow and grow. A good leader should always be training the next generation.

As always, I appreciate you reading this post. I also covet your comments as they help me grow and give me opportunities to make my blog posts even better.


Leadership vs. Management: Part 2

Ok, this ended up being a multi-part series. Here is more on leadership versus management.

Question: Are you a project manager or a project leader?

I’m not asking what your actual title is, but rather what is your project management style? Do you lead, or just manage? What is the difference?

If you look at my first post (Leadership vs. Management: Part 1) you’ll notice that there is a big difference between the two. This post is more of the same theory, but more pointed toward project management work rather than being so general.

First, let’s define a project manager and a project. Wikipedia states a project manager “has the responsibility of the planning, execution, and closing of any project.” PMI adds two other process groups to this, Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring/Controlling, and Closing. Projects are defined as a single, unique effort with a definite start date, definite end date, and specific budget.

So, how does leadership vs. management come in to play here? Well, the answer is pretty simple. A “simple” project manager can follow the guidelines and processes of any project management methodology. There are good, even great project managers all around the world and their work is commendable. A powerful project manager, however, is one that is more of a project leader than a project manager. As I mentioned in my previous article, leaders can inspire greatness in any situation. Leaders have the mental tools to take their project teams to the next level.

Project leaders equip their teams with all of the tools they need to get the job done on time and under budget. Andy Crowe in his book The PMP Exam: How to pass on Your First Try mentions the project manager being “large and in charge” which is an important part of the leadership recipe. Being large and in charge means having the mental toughness and ability to make decisions. What it also means, however, is something that many leaders forget. Project leaders empower their teams to do their jobs.

Let me repeat that. Project leaders empower their teams to do their jobs.

Empowerment is vital to the success of a good project team. Each team member must be trusted to perform their own jobs and be given the ability to make decisions in order to do so. This does three things for the project: it frees up the project leader to focus more on the threats and opportunities the project faces, it speeds up the decision making processes so that red tape does not get in the way of the day-to-day work of the project, and it also gives the team member additional confidence knowing they add real value to the team.

One thing that cannot be overlooked is the selection of the actual team. Project leaders have done their research. They look for team members that produce consistently and know how to do their jobs. They get the folks that are the best in the business (whatever business that may be) and take advantage of their availability. It is important, however, to bring up less seasoned team members, or even educated rookies, with the veterans so their experience can grow with the best in the business.

Overall, leadership is a vital portion of the project management experience. Those with leadership capabilities have the ability to take their projects to a higher level of productivity. As a hiring manager, you don’t have to hire someone with leadership abilities. You can hire a competent project manager and make a good hire. If you are given the choice, however, a project leader is worth the extra money.

Do you want your project to be good or great. The choice is up to you.

Thanks for tuning in.

Jim Shaffer, PMP