Archive for March, 2009

Professionals’ characters are made up of two components; the Technical Skills and the Human/Managerial Skills. These two categories of skills are competing against each other. If someone becomes more of a technical style professional, his managerial style will be affected, I would say, adversely. So, what do we think is the right composite of a successful project manager? Are employers recognizing this important composite character in any Project Manager they seek to employ? And how a technical person can be converted into a good Project Manager?

“A Technical Expert Wanted” is what some job postings should be titled nowadays rather than “A Project Manager Wanted” especially for employers who do not appreciate the 80/20 skill composite of a Project Manager. To me, it is disappointing to see a posting seeking a project manager while more than 90% of the job requirements are in technical specialties and only 10% are of human or managerial skills! If the first and foremost job requirement is someone who has 15+ years of experience in a technical specialty, then you need a technical expert or a SME who will be inundated with solving and dealing with technical issues during the project lifecycle. Well, then who is going to manage your project; manage your team, manage your stakeholders’ expectations, and balance your project’s competing demands of scope, time, cost, quality, HR, and risks? Who is going to keep integrity and harmony amongst team members to achieve project goals? Who is going to communicate and report on performance? The answer is “Mr. Project Manager” but not the one you are seeking in your posting. Both PM and SME would never exist in one person. So, if I were one of these employers, I would seek two posts; “A Technical Expert” and “A Project Manager”, but I would never jeopardize the success of my project by asking for a Project Manager to play both roles.

Best practices show that a successful project manager has to have his skills composed of at least 80% human and managerial skills and at most 20% technical skills. I believe that bringing a project to success is a collaborative effort in which all stakeholders are involved. If stakeholders do not find the Leader to inspire and integrate them to achieve the project’s vision, the project would fail. This challenge for a PM is not achieved by sitting for hours and hours in a closed room solving a technical problem in the project, it rather is achieved by living the project with team members. Hence, communications is the paramount skill a PM should possess.

Having said that, a technical person can be a good project manager by acquiring the right managerial skills required to lead his project team. On the other hand, he should be kept away from being involved in technical issues, and even not leaving a room for him to be attracted to technical issues. Some good employers assign each project manager up to 4 projects at a time rather than having him manage one project and doing other technical tasks. By this they help him build up his human and managerial skills that are precious to their projects success.

Any individual or organization whose interests may be affected positively or negatively by the completion of a project is called a Stakeholder (SH). He could be a positive stakeholder such as the customer, the sponsor, the supplier, the project manager himself, and he could be a negative one such as the competitor. But how the involvement of these people affects the success of a project, and how they influence the cost baseline as the project progresses.

When I think of stakeholders in any project I immediately link it to the GIGO phrase (Garbage In, Garbage Out). A project is initiated, planned, executed, and closed around the requirements stated, and implied, by project stakeholders. In other words, the project’s success is heavily dependent on stakeholder’s input and involvement. If their input is weak, little, rare, or late in the project lifecycle the end product or service would be a costly ‘Garbage’ gathering dust on the shelf.

SH influence in a project diminishes over time due to the increasing cost spent as the project progresses. Hence, it becomes more difficult to introduce changes as we spend more in the project. So, the Project Manager (PM) should involve SH as early as possible when the cost spent is low.

The earlier and more intensive SH involvement in a project is, the more likely the project successfully finishes within the Triple Constraints (Scope, Time, and Cost) achieving a high quality end deliverable. SH Analysis is a vital tool to be used by the project manager (PM) throughout the project lifecycle, especially in the planning phase, to guarantee meeting his SH needs. With this tool the PM identifies SH influence, interests, and needs. Then he prioritizes and quantifies the needs and then translates them into project requirements stated in the Scope Statement. This is a repetitive activity that should be done throughout the project and according to the Change Management Plan so as to prevent Scope Creep.

Not only does SH Analysis prevent deviation from project objectives, but also it minimizes the risk of cost overrun. If a key SH’s need was not detected early during planning, it may cause rework as well as going behind schedule. It becomes much difficult and costly to rework some activities during Executing due to a missing key SH requirement. Because of that it is a good, and may be a must-do, practice to spend considerable time in planning processes, especially the Scope Management ones to compile a comprehensive list of SH’s needs.

Another important practice to involve SH and to mitigate cost overrun risk is the use of Phase Exit Reviews or Gates in addition to end-of-phase verification process. At the end of each phase in the lifecycle the PM should validate deliverables of the phase against scope baseline and that the requirements to proceed to the next phase have been met. In addition, the PM should seek documented acceptance from key SH on deliverables at the end of each phase through what is known as Scope Verification process.

I would say that sticking to the SH Analysis tool and to Scope Verification process would minimize probability and impact of cost overrun risk and of having a useless end product or service.

A project is defined as a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result. This definition explicitly states two of three characteristics of a project-Temporary (which means it has definitive start and end dates), and Unique (in the end product or service delivered out of the project). However, this definition implies a third important characteristic of a project which is Progressive Elaboration.

If you are reading a book discussing a topic that is new to you, you would start with the preface that gives you an overview about the book’s subject. This high-level synopsis about the book would be clearer to you in more details as you read more through the sequential chapters. At the end, you would find yourself having comprehensive and detailed knowledge elaborated as you progressed in your reading.

Managing a project resembles reading a book in the way knowledge and details are being built up as the project goes on. It means that a project is developing in steps and is continuing by increments. As more details become available as you progress in a project, you update your high-level initial plan and come up with more accurate estimates. For example, if you have a 2-phase project lifecycle (Concept and Design) your first iteration in planning will be some high-level or fairly detailed Concept phase with very few details on the Design phase. As the project progresses you will get more details about requirements that fit into the Concept phase and adds more details to the Design phase, and so on.

Progressive Elaboration characteristic in a project leads to what is called Iterative Processes. These processes result in outputs that feed into other previous processes to update the plan. For instance, when you create the Work Breakdown Structure in the Create WBS process you might end up with some necessary updates to the previously built Scope Statement (during the Scope Definition process). Hence, this output/input update phenomenon from one process to another builds up the progressive elaboration characteristic of projects.

As we can see this feature makes managing projects a flexible and an integrated endeavor. Project management processes work together in harmony to constitute one integrated vehicle that would lead project team to achieving project deliverables within set constraints. However, progressive elaboration should be used with care and according to the Change Management Plan so as to prevent what is known as “Scope Creep” that I will discuss in my coming blogs.

Spirit of PMI

Posted: March 7, 2009 in Project Management
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In an earlier blog I discussed the values of being a PMP Project Manager, and in this blog I will discuss the frame of mind all Project Management Professionals (PMPs) have in common which makes them distinguished in managing projects.

Spirit of PMI (the Project Management Institute) is the frame of mind or the mindset or the paradigm through which PMPs manage projects. It is the hat that PMI requires PMPs to wear when managing their projects in order to successfully achieve project objectives. If you read the PMBOK Guide you can feel this spirit throughout the five Process Groups-Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring & Controlling, and Closing.

As a Project Manager (PM) to be a decision-maker is an essential part of this spirit, for instance. Although a PM should share ideas and get input from key stakeholders in arriving to the best decision to take, he should not wait for others to make decisions on how to proceed with the project, and he is the one ultimately responsible for any decision taken in the project.

In another instance, you can feel the spirit of PMI in Scope Management. Creating the WBS (Work Breakdown Structure) is an essential process that must be performed to manage the scope of project. WBS is one of the tools that make Project Management distinguished from all other industries or areas of expertise. Another piece of this spirit is the emphasis on using historical data as input to any new project. As I discussed in my previous blog about Lessons Learned, historical data could be the lessons learned from previous projects that PMs can use to manage their new projects efficiently and effectively.

Stakeholders and Stakeholder Analysis are important aspects in managing projects. PMI focuses on stakeholders’ early involvement in any project. Stakeholders’ needs must be considered and prioritized then translated into requirements. The earlier stakeholders are involved, the more likely the project closes successfully within constraints.

Prevention rather than detection is an important part of PMI spirit. A PM must be proactive. He should analyze and anticipate problems before they occur then take the proper preventive actions ahead of time. He should not wait until problems or risks become issues that jeopardize his project success.

What I mentioned above along with many other topics in the PMBOK Guide compile the Spirit of PMI that gets PMPs together despite the different geographies, languages, backgrounds, and attitudes.