A Case for Lean Project Management

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Have you ever heard the phrase, “Death by paperwork,” or “Death by process?” Better yet, have you ever experienced either of these? If you have worked for any reasonable amount of time,  chances are that you have. In this day of red tape  and CYA, paperwork and processes have become the norm and they can really kill your project delivery date. It isn’t always enough to simply schedule  time to complete these tasks. How about you look deep into these processes and determine their actual value and eliminate the ones that may be somewhat superfluous? After all, at some point, the work has to actually get done – and I’m sure you have plenty of it!

For those of you running a PMO with strict process guidance, please hear me out, but give me your thoughts at the end.

Here are a few items to consider: 

  1. Define the project type. It is important to understand what is truly required to complete your project. Software development projects differ greatly from a BYOD initiative or an infrastructure refresh project. Differences may include architecture reviews or design documents that would be appropriate for one project but not another.
  2. Consider the actual size of the project. There are several attributes that must be considered here including number of end-users impacted to size of project team and of course,  project budget and duration. A small project that impacts 100 users and lasts 3 months with a cost of $25,000 should have different document requirements than a multi-million dollar software implementation that takes two years.
  3. Determine actual requirements of the group you are working with. Business facing projects will typically have fewer process requirements than a typical IT project. At the same time, some business entities such as accounting or audit, may require additional processes. If the project doesn’t warrant a process for SOX compliance, for example, why even create a document for it?
  4. Simplify some of the documentation that you will use for every project. Project charters, for example, have a full gamut of length and complexity. In reality, the project charter really should be a simple document that gives a brief description of the project as well as a list of the high level roles and responsibilities that the PM would be accountable for. Anything else really belongs in other standard documentation.
  5. Make some documents standard. Think about a communication plan for a moment. What is defined in the communication plan? Types of communication with definitions of each as well as expectations that each project will have regarding all types of communications. When you think about it, most of these types of communications are the same across every single project. Team status meetings, stakeholder meetings, leadership meetings, status reports, RFPs, etc. will be the same. Sure there is some customization for each one based on the team and requirements, but create a well defined template that irons out each type and basic expectations. Don’t re-write every document every time.

It is time for the project bureaucracy to start swinging the pendulum the other direction a bit. It is possible and smart to cut out some of the formalities for some projects. If it is required, don’t cut it out, but make it a requirement if it has no value. Documents with little to no value that get created are simply expensive time wasters. Resist the urge to require a check box for every little thing. Here are some high level suggestions

Need to define but don’t go overboard:

  • Charter – keep it simple
  • Scope – sometimes a high or medium level scope statement is all you need. Detailed scope statements get very complex and can cause you to get lost in the weeds
  • Schedule – build your schedule so that it is manageable. You don’t need every little detail documented in the schedule. If you aren’t careful, you will spend all of your day trying to keep up with the schedule updates and changes.
  • Status reports – here everyone rolls their eyes. Often times status reports aren’t even read. Keep these simple – and automate some metrics for easy reporting. Hint: use the Unique Task ID in MS Project to export into MS Excel for simple, automated updates. You can also create categories in your financials to report high level metrics as well.

Make some plans standard

  • Communication Plan – meetings are meetings – set expectations here for all projects and stick to it. Remember, sometimes a phone call can take the place of a meeting – meetings are expensive. If you don’t believe me … do the math yourself. I find it very interesting that certain level of employees have limits on the amount of money they can approve on an expenditure but anyone can call a meeting. If you are holding a leadership meeting that runs an hour . . . it can cost thousands of dollars just to have everyone paying attention to you.
  • Change Control – Change processes are important, but are also the same for all projects in an organization. One document for every project will suffice. Simply reference that document in your project management plan
  • Risk and Issue Logs – make a SIMPLE template and follow it for every project. This also helps leadership to see the same type of information across all projects.

Of course, there is much more that can be put here, but I’ll keep it simple myself and wrap this post up. Remember, sometimes, less is more. If you are mired in process, your project is slowly slipping away, or your life outside the office is. Either way, you don’t want that to happen.

Lead lean! Lead smart! Lead on!!

Have a great rest of your day!

I value your opinion and would love to hear from you. What do you think about lean project management? Please comment below.

I’ve Failed

How many times have we said that?

How many times SHOULD we have said it outloud but didn’t?

Well, I have failed, and if you’ve read any of my “recent” blogs, you might already know it. We all know that new year’s resolutions are “destined” to be forgotten, and pushed aside. Exercise plans come and go. Expensive equipment sits in the corner of the room and either has an enormous pile of clothing on them or so much dust that we wouldn’t put clothing on them. I recently purchased a house that has a nice “Universal Home Gym” in the upstairs that was left there by the previous owner. He spent a ton of money on it, spent 6 months putting it together, then sold the house, weight machine and all. For the record, no, I do not use it either, but that is a different story. I’m not talking about your average, every day resolution, and I’m not trying to beat up on the previous owner of my house either. I’m talking about the #ONEWORD approach. #ONEWORD was supposed to be different. #ONEWORD was supposed to be revolutionary. #ONEWORD wasn’t supposed to go the way of the stereotypical new year’s resolution. Afterall, I only had to focus on ONE SINGLE WORD, right?

Well, I failed.

#CONNECT was my word. I was going to #CONNECT with myself, my family, God, and my teammates at the office. #CONNECT was going to take me to the next level of “whateverness.” #CONNECT was supposed to be my revolutionary resolution. Well I think we all see how that worked out for me. So what does this mean really? How does this effect the grand scheme of all things “leadership” or “project management” or “family life” or “spiritual life?” To be honest, it has a huge impact. If I am not connecting, I’m actually disconnecting and that is simply unacceptable. In some cases, being disconnected can push people away, even those that are closest to us.

There is hope, though. You see, we have a chance every day to right a wrong. We have the ability to try again and to start over. Sure, things at home or work may be a little difference because of a failure, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that that those differences are bad. In fact, sometimes, you get the chance to make them even better. Think of a broken bone. When you break a bone, if properly re-set, it heals and grows back together even stronger than it was before. Our communication has that opportunity too. Take a moment and look at how you can reset your communication with those around you. I encourage you to look at any failure that you’ve encountered, and try again. Even if it hurts a little (pride or otherwise), you can make it better and be stronger than you were before. Tell your team that you’ve failed and that you vow to make it better. Check youself every day and try again. Don’t let a failure get the best of you or let it destroy the team you’ve worked so hard to put together.

Get up, dust yourself off, and go!

Happy second chances, my friend!! Thank you for reading.

How have you dusted yourself off? I would love to hear your story and your comments below.

Leadership: Are you Strong Enough?

I was reading a blog this morning on making mistakes, written by the Leadership Freak, Dan Rockwell (So You Screwed Up …). The whole post was great as usual, but one point stuck out to me very clearly. Not only did it make perfect sense, but it is also a point within my own leadership that I struggle with.

By the way, if you don’t follow Leadership Freak, I highly recommend you do so. He is a great read and a top blogger. He is looked up to by many, including myself. (Leadershipfreak.wordpress.com)

As I mentioned, I was reading his blog and his first reason for making a mistake slapped me like a cold fish: 1.) [Trying to] please others while ignoring your gut.

Ouch! For a self-professed people pleaser, this is a very pointed bullet item and it was pointed right at me. It is no mystery why he has that item at the top of his list. Of course, it causes my wheels to turn faster trying to find out why I had such an issue with the statement. I can tell you I didn’t have to think very long, I already knew the answer.

People pleasers do not make good leaders!

There, I said it! Now, let me explain what I mean. Mr. Rockwell’s first point is right on the money. As leaders, we have responsibilities to do what is right, not only for our companies but for our teams as well as ourselves. Our educated gut feelings can provide us with amazing discoveries and decisions. Ignoring that “gut feeling” can mean we miss out on a good decision that can keep a project on track or even turn it around.

So, can you be a people pleaser and an effective leader? Yes, but it will probably take some work. You need to analyze each decision to make sure it is being made for the right reason. Keep in mind, you don’t have to make a decision that goes against your people pleasing tendencies with a tone of harshness. You can, and should, communicate that decision with a servant leader’s heart and be sensitive to those that are affected by the decision.

Are you a “people pleaser”? How do you get past that to make better decisions?

Do you agree or disagree with me?

Dealing with Risk

What is risk? Risk is defined as an exposure to the chance of injury or loss; hazard or dangerous chance.  There are probably other words to describe it, but this works pretty well.

 I recently went on a cruise to the Caribbean. There were two things instantly working against me mentally: the recent sinking of the Costa Concordia in the Mediterranean Sea and the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Don’t think for a moment that my friends overlooked these two facts prior to my departure. They took every opportunity they could to rib me about it. Add to these the fact I have never been on a cruise before and this was a seven night adventure and the fact I was going to countries known for disliking Americans (Honduras and Mexico). Friends also kept telling me how sickness spreads on these ships quickly. Some might say I was taking a huge risk.

 Do you think it was risky?

Perhaps, but I say no. The reason I think it isn’t is because I practiced risk management techniques to minimize these risks or the affects. One, I did research on current vessels to ensure they are safe, looking up sailing to accident ratios. I wasn’t worried and we were not headed into iceberg infested waters. Two I familiarized myself with the ship’s layout including where life vests were located throughout the ship. I knew where to report to in an emergency and how to report one if I noticed it first. I also participated in the ship’s muster drill to find out how I was to get on the lifeboat if anything did happen. I wore a motion-sickness patch and washed my hands often to minimize other smaller risks. I also took into account that even though I was going into countries that were not necessarily great for Americans, I knew we were not going near hot-spots and would be protected fairly well. The consequences could be dire, but the likelihood was low so these were acceptable risks to take.

What does all of this mean and how does it relate to project management? Risk Management is an often overlooked part of project management. This brings me back to the definition or at least part of it: hazard or dangerous chance. Yes it is dangerous! It is dangerous to overlook such a simple process that doesn’t take much time or effort, but can save you time, money, or even your job if things go really bad. Negative things WILL happen and if you do not prepare for it, it will sink you and your project.

So how do I do it, how do I practice risk management? Follow these simple steps and at least get started. There are tons of resources available for purchase or even free in various places on the Internet. But whatever you do, don’t overlook risk management ever again. Enough with the doomsday talk, let’s get to it.

 Step 1: Brainstorm a list with your team on every negative thing you can think of that might happen. Sure, this list can be long and sometimes seem a bit trivial, but believe me, it is not. By practicing step one, you have gone beyond what most will do in this arena and it has already prepared you somewhat for what might happen simply by thinking about it.

Step 2: using a scale from 1-10 (or use whatever granularity you wish) rate how big of a deal that risk is. For example, if dealing with a paper cutter at the office, you might rate a paper cut as a 1 (no big deal). Conversely, you might rate losing a finger as a 10 (HUGE deal).

 Step 3: using the same scale as step 2, rate how likely that risk is to occur with 1 being unlikely and 10 being highly likely.

 Step 4: use some sort of math (I add the numbers together) and determine a threshold for what is acceptable and what is not. For example you can have numbers ranging from 2-20. So, you could rate any activity with a total number of 10 or under as minor risks. Likewise, you would consider anything over 11 as more severe risks needing more planning and perhaps scrutiny. Again, create your own thresholds here.

Step 5: Create your action plan. You can:

  • Accept the risk as it is, taking the chance and dealing with whatever consequences might arise (not recommended for risk totals on the higher end of your scale)
  • Avoid the risk altogether, change your plan so that this risk doesn’t even come up on the radar (these are recommended for the risks with totals on the higher end of your scale)
  • Mitigate the risk, how can you make the impact less on your team or project
  • Transfer the risk to another stakeholder or third party to deal with

Step 6: Train your team on the warning signs. Knowing what to look for is another critical part of minimizing the impact from a risk-turned-event. This step is often overlooked as well. Keep in mind, if you don’t train what to look for, the team might miss the risk coming to fruition.

However you decide to put together your plan, the bottom line is do it. I went on my cruise and had a wonderful time. I stuck to the plan, stayed safe, and enjoyed the great vacation with my awesome new bride. We got home safely and brought some amazing memories and photos with us.

 Remember, asking “What if” can help keep you from asking “What do I do now”!

 What do you do on your projects to prepare for risks? Comment below and tell me!

Project Communications

Project communications are perhaps the single most important aspect of your project management plan. It is also one of the most overlooked from a planning perspective. This could be because project managers have a tendency to think they know what to communicate to whom and when. The truth is, communication is something that has to be talked about and planned in advance.

The PMBoK Guide – Fourth Edition (A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge) breaks communications management down into five sub categories:

  1. Identify Stakeholders: Identify all people and organinzations that will be impacted by the project as well as their specific involvement and impact on project success
  2. Plan Communications: Determine what each person or group actually needs to be made aware of and in what form. For example, you will perhaps send daily detailed communications to the project team via electronic communciations, but only a weekly wrap up via staff meeting to a project sponsor or executives
  3. Distribute Information: This means that you actually do what you said you were going to do in the previous item.
  4. Manage Stakeholder Expectations: Pay attention to your stakeholder’s needs. You don’t want to give them too much or too little information. Give them only what they need which may mean removing or even add to the information identified in step 2.
  5. Report Performance: Periodic analysis of baselines versus actuals during the project. This includes analysis of performace, risks and issues, work completed, upcoming tasks, summary of the approved changes, and others.

Communication is a critical piece of the project health. We are always communicating with our teams and other stakeholders. If we neglect to plan the communciations up front, it is almost guaranteed that something will get missed. When things get missed, we lose out on opportunities to make vital corrections, learn of a new direction, or even a pat on the back every now and then.

I know I have simplified things a bit, especially as they relate to the PMP exam, but for daily business, these are the basics. Sometimes, the projects are small and greatly simplified. This doesn’t mean that these steps should be overlooked. It merely means that the steps are that much easier to follow.

Happy Communicating!

Earned Value

I use EVM (Earned Value Management) on all of my projects. The project stakeholders love the real-time look at actual progress acheived.

There is a difference in what percent complete really means . . . Do you want to know more?

If you don’t mind, please take this short poll so I can see where we all stand.

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