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The Magic of Milestones

The Magic of Milestones
By Barry Otterholt

How do you know if your project is on track? What does “on track” even mean?

As a Sponsor, you have other business you need to attend to, so don’t have the luxury of spending a lot of time trying to learn what your project manager knows. You must get the information in a simple and compact form. It must reveal whether the project is accomplishing what was intended to be accomplished, at different points along the overall timeline.

“The safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without mileposts.” – C. S. Lewis

Milestones are magic. They are the mileposts along the journey of a project that let you know if you’re on the right track, and whether you’re on pace to arrive at the destination on time. Having milestones in your project timeline allows you to engage the right way, balancing the need for involvement with the need to give latitude. Read the Complete Article

Project Management – A Culture of Truth-Telling

Project Management – A Culture of Truth-Telling
By Mandy McGill, Northwest University

As a project manager it is you job to create a culture where truth telling is not only encouraged, it’s rewarded. This requires a paradigm shift since you are biased towards positive feedback. It’s only natural as a PM to want to hear “Yes boss, everything is going swimmingly” accompanied by a big smile. But what if it’s not going swimmingly? What if your IT team is running into glitches it didn’t anticipate? Or your garden planning team lead needs more shoveling hands but is afraid to tell you because he knows you are on a tight budget? These are problems that only can be revealed if you have promoted truth telling.

Now that you have created a truth telling culture, you have the ability to very closely monitor change. Change really is just a balance issue. Somewhere within your project, be it budget, scope, or time can change for any reason and confronting that change head on is your best opportunity to prevent a derail. Read the Complete Article

Why Have a PMO?

Why Have a PMO?
By Barry Otterholt

The day of the Project Management Office (PMO) is upon us. Our customers are less tolerant of the delay from the point of investment to the point of value. They are also becoming more impatient with all the issues that seem to crop up. More and more organizations are forming a PMO as a solution.

The potential benefits of a PMO are many:

  • You retain your experience. A project manager needs to know how to be persuasive and resourceful, which they can only be if they learn how to work within the culture of your organization. Letting a project manager move back into the business-as-usual environment is throwing away a significant investment.
  • Continuity. Though each project is unique by definition, most projects share common attributes and can be approached from a common project management framework. Indeed, this belief is what gave rise to the PMBOK as a standard.

Read the Complete Article

My Miserable Life as a Project Manager

My Miserable Life as a Project Manager
By Barry Otterholt

Yes, I’m a project manager. I don’t know how it happened. It’s like I woke up one morning and discovered I had far more responsibility than I had bargained for and much less authority than I needed, and no place to hide.

My staff are nervous because we’ve never done this before. I guess that’s the nature of projects though, isn’t it?

My boss is nervous because she just wants it done and I keep asking her questions she doesn’t know how to answer. I guess that’s the nature of projects too, isn’t it?

And I learned a new word. Stakeholders. These are people that are “positively or negatively impacted by the project or its result.” Really! Is there anybody that doesn’t fit into this category of people that can expect things from me?

I’m starting to remember now. Somebody higher up the food chain had an idea and needed somebody to work on it. Read the Complete Article

The Insanity of It All!

The Insanity of It All!
By Barry Otterholt

You’re a project manager, right? You rationalize what you do as normal, right? No offense to the mentally challenged (I hold that we are all mentally challenged, in some way), but consider the definition of crazy and then go look at yourself in the mirror:

  • Full of cracks or flaws – When is the last time you had a project that wasn’t full of cracks or flaws? Isn’t that were it starts? Aren’t cracks in the plan the root cause of most project failures? Or are your projects the exception? Come on now. Nobody’s looking over your shoulder here.
  • Mad, insane – How many times have you preached something over and over again, even become upset about it, just to get the same results? Einstein is quoted as saying the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Read the Complete Article

Inoculation for the Meetings Plague

Inoculation for the Meetings Plague (#7 in the series A Cynical Perspective on Project Management)
By Barry Otterholt

Meetings are like a plague. Once they get hold, they’re really difficult to eradicate. The maxim “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” applies to the meetings plague. Here’s a simple 4-step approach to inoculate yourself from contracting the plague.

  • Start with the assumption that no meetings are needed, and delete them all.
  • If somebody persuades you that one really is needed, give in. But assume that nobody need attend so don’t invite anybody. At this step you can just stay in your office and get other work done, because nobody else will be there.

  • If somebody persuades you that somebody really needs to attend, give in. But invite only one person. At this step, schedule the meeting for only 5 minutes. That forces them to make the point and be done with it.

Read the Complete Article

Know the End Before You Start

Know the End Before You Start
By Barry Otterholt

Most of us have heard the saying “Keep your eyes on the prize.” That’s sage advice for project managers.

When starting a project we are all anxious to get to work and produce results. However, taking time at the beginning of a project to think about the end will pay dividends over the life of the project.

  • Scope management. Ambiguity about the project outcome leaves a broad range of interpretation about how to get there. This can result in a great deal of unnecessary work.
  • Performance management. As a project manager, you want your team to gel and become synergistic. A clear focus on a common goal brings people together around a higher purpose, and both morale and productivity increase dramatically.

  • Risk management. Anything that could alter the direct path to the finish line is waste, and potentially a risk. With a clear understanding of what the finish line looks like, your project team and other stakeholders are more apt to identify and address waste and risks.

Read the Complete Article

Those Darn Users!

Those Darn Users!
By Barry Otterholt

If it wasn’t for those users, I could get so much done!!

Have you thought how productive you could be if the users would just get out of the way? They can be such a distraction!

Here are a few tips for getting rid of the distractions:

  1. Greet them with a cheery “I’m glad you’re here!” They’ll immediately be uncomfortable.
  2. Give them work. Tell them you need a flowchart of all their processes.
  3. Conduct an impromptu worksession with them. Ask them to show draw their business model on the whiteboard.
  4. Talk to them in a foreign language. Project management language usually suffices.
  5. Have a tips jar on your desk, labeled “for a good cause,” and ask them how much they could donate. Having a legitimate good cause seems to make it even more awkward.
  6. Have a pact with co-workers to jump up from their chair as soon as the distraction arrives, and come to you with a great sense of anticipation.
Read the Complete Article

Project Management 101

Project Management 101 (#3 in the series A Cynical Perspective on Project Management)
By Barry Otterholt

Most of us need to learn by our own mistakes, rather than heed the wisdom of others. Here then is the prescription for learning, so you can make the mistakes faster and get to the wisdom sooner.

  1. Start work. What needs to be done will be discovered if we just get going.
  2. Find the right people. Find people that can get excited about something and get along with others. They’ll gain the experience when they need it.

  3. Make sure you have a plan. People want to see that you have a plan. Find someone that knows how to make one and always have it on your shelf.

  4. Make sure you have budget. Let the decision makers feel the pain if they don’t give you the funding you need.

  5. Do good status reporting. Make sure your status reports have nice charts, and make sure you email them out on time.

Read the Complete Article

Inspire Your Team

Inspire Your Team
By Barry Otterholt

There are lots of variables in a project, but none so important as the human sentiment. Remarkable accomplishments are seen from inspired people, and remarkable teams are seen from an inspired leader.

So what can you do to inspire your team? Here are a few tips:

  1. Know them uniquely – Go 1-on-1 with them and learn what matters to them.
  2. Find their gift – Observe what they do well, and not well. Help them understand their natural gifts, and channel your opportunities to align with their strengths.

  3. Promote them – More than just giving them a raise or a new title, call attention to them. Let people around you know what they’re good at and give them your endorsement.

  4. Take risks – As you see strengths, give opportunities that may stretch them. Let them know you won’t abandon them if they fail, but track their progress so they won’t.

Read the Complete Article

Recommended PM App

Recommended PM App

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