Wednesday 23rd April 2014
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How to share the secrets of project management

17 April 2014
By Phil Vale


Project managers are not wizards

Project managers can often be mistaken for wizards in the business world – the ones that, when there is business change, swoop down Merlin-like with big complicated charts, PC’s and frightening words like Risk, Resources and Critical Path. Then, as if by magic, make it all happen.

In truth though, project management is not wizardry. It relies on a methodical approach to planning, executing, monitoring and amending the original plan. Those that practice the art do not possess super human powers.

They are, however, specialists in their field. When change is to be effected it is these skills, combined with all the necessary expertise in the business, that are brought together to provide the sum total of knowledge about how things are done today, as well as how we want them done tomorrow. In other words, facilitate business change.

Take for instance the introduction of a new computer system to manage the workflow of a department, and the following groups within the business that could be affected:

  • The end users – their day to day work is about to change.
  • Human Resources – they may need to negotiate changes in working conditions.
  • IT department – they will have to act as frontline support.
  • Training department – they will need to carry out upgrade training for existing staff as well as training new staff.
  • Corporate Communications – they will need to dispel the FUD factor (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) and help ensure smooth changes, while maintaining business as usual.

On the face of it, even a simple change can have far reaching impact within an organisation. With this potential level of impact, it’s no wonder things don’t always go to plan.

A project for any business is, by its very nature a temporary organisation set up to carry out change. It gets disbanded once the change has been implemented and bedded down to become business as usual.

But each of the areas in the example above can be considered a small project in its own right – and staff can make a positive contribution by understanding the project management processes, and in an ideal world, even get involved and support the project manager (who would never turn down genuine offers of help and support.)

So it is well worth sharing the secrets of project management, such as learning what a critical path is and how to construct one – or even better, undertaking some fundamental project management training.

While it might not be necessary to know the full range of risk management and Monte Carlo analysis techniques, an understanding of what a clear requirement is and how to plan and link a set of dependencies will go a long way to help and support the project manager, as well as realising the impact on other parts of the business.

Organisations that allow their staff to practice this wizardry won’t guarantee success, but they certainly won’t prevent it.

There are also beneficial spin offs. While project managers might be required for large changes, some of the smaller projects can be given to other members of staff, for example:

  • The HR Manager who needs to plan a recruitment campaign.
  • The Marketing Manager who needs to organise a successful conference.
  • The Training Manager with a new programme to implement for key staff.
  • The Office Manager with a new system to implement across the company’s different locations.
  • The Production Manager who needs to get a special order out for a client.

All these would benefit from knowledge of the tools and techniques that today’s project managers use.

For more information on the skills and standards needed to become a project manager, watch the ESI Managing Projects video.

Author bio

 Phil Vale is an ESI instructor, specialising in managing projects, scheduling and cost control, project leadership and risk management.

How to be a project leader not just a project manager

14 April 2014
By Robert Kelly


Follow the leader

Throughout the year I speak with hundreds of project managers from around the world about their experiences with their respective PM colleagues.  

I also have the opportunity to speak with dozens of potential clients about their experiences, expectations and frustrations with regards to the role of a project manager in the enterprise.  

As expected, there are some variations in their responses, but one common denominator among them all is the reference to leadership.

Leadership is one of those broad topics that I think is easier to describe than it is to exhibit, teach and measure – similar to ethics or management.  

People like to think they understand it and can often talk a lot about it, but have a difficult time putting together a leadership training plan. Worse yet, everyone just loves to sprinkle it in every business conversation, along with strategic, ROI and so on.  

My latest pet hate is the increased use of thought leadership. With that said, when someone tells me they want to see more leadership from the project manager role, I am going to drive a little deeper on that and not let it sit at the high-level, catch-all phrase.

Here are some of the responses I get when I dig in further:

  • “Project managers tend to delegate things out and when the responsible team member doesn’t hit the date, they say “well it was in the meeting minutes and they told me the date!”

  • “The project manager doesn’t really know the details – they are just managing the team.  If I really want to know what is going, I need to go to the respective subject matter expert on the team.”

  • “They are just going to ask someone else to do something, so it is easier for me to get it done and chase it myself.”

  • “I don’t really know who owns it.” And this last one comes in various flavors, but is by far the most common.

I don’t have fancy studies to back up my claims or quotes from popular CIOs, so you are going to have to trust me on this.  If you want to be a value-added (another business term shifting to overuse) member of your organization, then you need to become a leader that manages projects well – a Project Leader.  

Focus on the following two areas and you will certainly move in the right direction:

1) Own Your Project 

Project Managers very rarely have dedicated resources that they manage or have direct responsibility for.  

Almost everyone I speak with describes a matrix environment, in which they have assigned resources from another manager that ‘owns’ that resource.  (I know some are getting bothered with the use of resource and owns, but these are just terms, not how I view my colleagues).  

Also very common; project managers will explain that they are not subject matter experts and rely on others for that knowledge.

These two, very true concepts have too many project managers simply running weekly meetings and completing project documents.  They meet week to week (I know, Agile evangelists can relax… during dailys) and simply ask “How is it going? Are you on track? Do you anticipate any issues? Need any help?” and so on and so on.  

The problem is, they are not truly taking time to understand the issues, the effort, the dependencies and when questions come up from various stakeholders, the stream of emails start.  

You respond, include subject matter expert on the string and were off to an email marathon.  Even if you didn’t know, you should have gone to said subject matter expert, got the answer or understand what else is required and then gone back to that person with a response.  

You need to own your project… be the single throat to choke.  Of course there are times when a deep dive, tech conversation may require your SME to join but you need to own it.  

Of course you want to give credit where credit is due e.g. great question – I spoke with Mrs. SME and she confirmed that A, B, and C would resolve the issue.  I have that added for my weekly, to validate the progress, and will circle back with you next week.) but you must own it.

2) Drive Your Project

Everyone gets it, you aren’t the subject matter expert and even if you could be, it isn’t your role on the project.  Unfortunately, when project managers do not know enough about a particular department/function on their team they tend to back off and not really question/push that person.  

However, within reason you must stretch your team to ensure they are not being ‘comfortable’ with their estimates and delivery.  This is one you want to be careful with, as most people want to do good work and will push themselves.  

On a more serious front, project managers need to be more diligent in following up with team members, vendors and yes – clients.  

If someone owes you something next week, then you should send an email or call them towards the end of that week to remind them and ask if you can help in any way.  

Too many project managers simply show up the following week, open the project plan, and ask for progress; only to hear the person say: “Sorry, I am running so hard with so much on my plate.  I will get it to you by end day tomorrow.” 

Send meeting minutes with call to actions and owners, call them a few days later to ask how you can assist, send an agenda 24 hours ahead of the meeting with details of who will be asked to provide updates.   

Considering ROI, thinking strategically and exhibited thought leadership really are important, but as a project manager there are few things more important than owning and driving your projects.  

Save yourself a lot of grief and be seen as a project leader by owning and driving your projects.

For more information on leadership training take a look at ESI’s leadership courses.

Author bio
Robert Kelly is a Managing Partner at KPS, a project management consultancy. Robert is also the Co-Founder of #PMChat, a global community of project managers and business leaders that discuss best practices and lessons learned via Twitter.

Follow him on Twitter @rkelly976

How future project managers should manage their expectations

10 April 2014
By Rebecca Leitch


A little fish in a big pond

It has been said that young people are now being educated in such a way that there are no winners or losers, that no matter how they perform they will still get a ‘trophy’.

Add to this the constant supervision from parents to ensure they go to a good university, get a good degree, and therefore a good job, and you get a lot of students who are deprived of the ability to make mistakes and learn from these.

As a result, the soon-to-be graduates can be uncomfortable with the unstructured world of work, unless opting to work in industries in which the boundaries are very clear.

Also, once they move into the workplace, they need concrete, well-structured tasks and constant feedback. Graduates today may be hard working but they need explicit direction, as well as constant praise due to so many adults hovering so closely over their lives, for so long.

In actual fact, the job market has changed so dramatically over the last few years that university graduates need to understand that having a degree is not going to cut it in the workplace the way it used to.

The working world is more competitive than ever before. Since the recession, practical work-based experience rather than academic knowledge are what employers find more valuable.

Rather than caring where their employees got their degrees, potential employers want field-specific knowledge and the proven ability to adapt these skills to the workplace.

The academic world would do well to encourage students to seek more practical experience to help them enter the workplace – and cope once they make it in – so they don’t expect it to replicate the cosy environment of education.

The good news is students with any form of work experience are far more likely to get a job and be successful once in work – and workplace skills can be attained relatively easily while still at university.

Future project managers

For those interested in project management, there is no excuse not to learn about it and gain some valuable experience by actually taking on and running some projects, with results that are tangible.

Lindsay Scott, director of project management recruitment company Arras People, has found that this is far from the case, however: “We are seeing that graduates are frustrated about getting into project management when they finish their degree, indicating that something with expectation setting is going wrong somewhere.

“Organisations only have a limited number of graduate jobs, so most students need to be sure of what they want, understand that the onus is on them to find something and take any opportunities they can.

“Our Project Management Benchmark Report for 2014 shows that this is not happening however, that instead they tend to have a ‘world owes me a living’ attitude.

“We don’t sugar-coat how it is out there – we prefer they get the real story – that they are not going to leave university and walk straight into a project manager job.

“One of the main hurdles is they are not up to it in terms of work place skills, never mind the fact they want a job in a management position.

“First they need to prove they are a good worker. They don’t realise this, or think about this when they are in their university bubble – the things that will differentiate them from the rest of the graduates, like admin, time management, interpersonal, being able to work well with their peers and managers, internet and social media skills.

“Specifically, with project management, they need to understand that they are not going to be a project manager from day one, probably not even a project co-ordinator. (Read the previous blog, Five steps for getting into project management.)

“Plus there is always competition, so regardless of whether they are a graduate or not, the best thing they can do is get a role within an organisation that does at least do projects, and from there build up some work and business skills that allow them to think about how they can manoeuvre their way into it.”

Help yourself

For a generation that is characteristically used to being helped however, helping themselves will not come easily.

There is an expectation that once you are in an organisation they will train you, but this is often not the case. That there will also be somebody more experienced to learn from is also often unrealistic, particularly among project managers whose time is scarce as it is.

It is therefore important to be curious, ask questions, understand and use that knowledge to do something useful.

Having the right drive will be key to this, as Lindsay Scott explains: “Graduates need a way of knowing there are end results for those who start at the beginning.

“For those that want to get into project management, the best bet is with a large organisation because the way they do their projects are more programme form. If you have large pieces of work with multiple projects, there is often more work for an assistant.

“On a large project you will also have different work streams and it is these work streams that are often given to a less experienced person because they are reporting to that project manager, but only managing something that is small value, which is a great way to get in the experience without it being risky for the business.

“The new generation of project managers will have to start doing things differently to a lot of people in project management today.

“We have found that a lot of project managers are led very much by what their organisation thinks they should be trained in – they are apathetic to their development, whereas we know that they need to take a more proactive approach.

“The recession has taught a lot of people that you really don’t work for one organisation all your life, so why would you only take what you can from that one organisation? Not to mention the way they do project management and the way they think you should be taught and trained.

“In the last few years we have seen project managers who are in fact project co-ordinators, but don’t realise this until they hit the market and find it difficult to step into another position.

“This is why students today need to think differently to the people who are already working and are being caught short. They need to think in terms of professional and global standards, rather than the organisation that they working for.”

The project management roles crucial for Agile to succeed

7 April 2014
By Rebecca Leitch


The scrum master role is crucial

Both an organisation and its project teams need to overcome challenges, as well as take risks if they are to become Agile (as discussed in part one of this blog).

There is also a significant amount of cultural change that is necessary. Management need to start trusting and empowering its project managers, while project managers need to see themselves less as individuals and more as part of something bigger.

This involves switching from being task-orientated to being accountable and taking responsibility for the end result.

The incentive to adapt to this way of working is the success of the project, and while that in itself should be a big motivator, there are two roles that are crucial not only for the team to succeed, but for selling the project to the team in the first place: the scrum master and the product owner.

Making sure these two roles grow faster than the rest of the team – through training, as well as coaching and consulting - is the key to ensuring organisations become Agile faster, because they hold the answers to a lot of problems.

Peer control

Despite the freedom Agile promotes, there is still the need for an element of control. But with Agile, rather than controlling the people who execute the project, the scrum master and product owner take responsibility for the extent to which their team is doing a good job or not.

Team members must be able to feel that they can assert themselves, and with Agile, there are many opportunities to do this – with daily scrum meetings and reviews that ensure people can be open and honest. It is down to the scrum master to ensure these happen.

The basis of this is continuous improvement through peer control. If no one feels they can say they have a problem, nothing can be improved. Agile is about moving people to a mind-set instead of labelling where you don’t label whether something is good or bad, you look at how it can be improved. 

The most important thing a scrum master can do is actually go through the process of doing things like analysing and improving – to operate in cycles from which you will see results, and then adjust.

When they start doing it more and more, they can then think about introducing any coaching or consulting in order to hone those skills.

Value adding

As well as collaboration, Agile advocates value – specifically adding value.

Ultimately, it is the customer who defines the value, so the faster you go to the customer with something, the faster the customer will say what its value is, and whether it’s good or bad.

Businesses can no longer afford to spend as much time defining the value by themselves without checking with the customer, or spending all their time bringing something to the market which the customer doesn’t like.

So this is where the product owner role is so crucial – connecting the project team with the end customer. The faster you connect this, and the more intimate the connection is, the better chance there is for the product to work.

The only thing that matters is the end result – if the product works but there is no value in it, you might have done a good job but you won’t end up making any money. (The value is how much someone will pay for something, it has nothing to do with the amount of work you put into a project.)

So the product owner is also vital for giving the project team the knowledge that it’s not about building the best product, but to innovate on the business model, such as making something cheaper and more affordable for the customer.

Fortunately, we are in a phase where people are curious and want to know more and are therefore embracing training and consulting.

But being interested and wanting to learn is not enough. You need to be prepared for the next phase – working with customers to actually produce something in an Agile way, go to the next level, implement some projects and resources, and take some risks.

Ideally, you do this when it’s your decision to do it, not because the market forces you to make the switch – as it sooner or later will. It is much better to make the move while there is time to learn – and practice – what you have learnt.

The challenges for project managers to overcome when going Agile

3 April 2014
By Rebecca Leitch


Going Agile can be a balancing act

With Agile and Scrum, the process or framework is the easy part, while the ‘soft part’ – the people and culture, is much more complicated.

This is because they rely much more on people and values, unlike more methodology-driven processes that are learnt until you can do them.

But how good is methodology when it comes to innovation? One key reason for going Agile is it enables people to be creative and come up with ideas – those which won’t then be killed off with process.

With Agile, people are given freedom – but they need to understand what to do with it, as well as what they are expected to produce with it.

Crucially, this freedom comes with responsibility and the need for confidence – a big cultural change which can be daunting and off-putting for organisations, not to mention challenging for the project managers concerned.

The renewed optimism in market forces and resulting pressure from competition might be enough to convince companies to move towards a more innovative, and therefore Agile, direction.

For those that do, there are challenges that can make Agile difficult to implement in the beginning, but being aware and mindful of the benefits it will bring to productivity in the long run, help to make the following challenges worthwhile:

Trust

Once a decision has been made to go Agile, people want it to happen on the spot. They might do their scrum certificates and expect that they can now be Agile.

The problem is it involves trust – and this trust has to be earned over time, on both the management and project team sides.

A big issue is with management not trusting people. It is much easier to put trust in a process that is validated, than in people – because you either don’t know them or because they don’t have the right skills – or if they do, there is always the risk that things might happen that they’re not equipped to deal with.

To overcome this, management need to understand that to go Agile they are taking a risk, but that there is a very good reason for doing so.

Empowerment

A big part of Agile is giving the project team the power and responsibility to make all the decisions.

Until this point, management has been making the decisions that the project team executes. So if you suddenly switch, this will be too fast.

It has to be done in small steps, with the first step being to challenge the decisions, then make some decisions with management at your side – so if they are bad decisions, management will be there to help.

People generally want to be empowered, but they are scared of being responsibility and accountable for these decisions. This is a problem if they start reaching for management to take responsibility for their ideas, which can easily kill off the empowerment ideology.

This can be avoided by taking it slowly and by management encouraging people to make decisions – even stupid ones. They should not feel that if they make a bad decision, there will be consequences for them.

It’s all about the process of learning how not to be afraid of making a decision.

By being handed responsibility gradually by management, the project team will soon understand that they are in fact the most skilled to make these decisions.

Self-organisation

Being able to self-organise is a whole different science to that of executing.  Again, it relies on a lot of freedom. Most people are in a comfort zone – when you ask them to do something they are not used to do doing, you are asking them to exit their comfort zone.

With Agile you are asking someone to not only be responsible for doing their job, but for the result of their job.

 Again, this can cause problems, but as long as there is a will and a need to deliver results, it should not be too hard to overcome.

Generalising specialists

Traditionally, people are used to focussing on one particular area of expertise, but with Agile you are part of a team in which you know – and can do – everything.

But being able to do things is one thing – being willing to do things is another. Many people still want to compartmentalise their job, and only be accountable for that job.

People can also think of themselves as overqualified for some of the jobs they are supposed to be doing as part of the team (e.g. a developer doing testing). But if someone doesn’t step in when needed, things might not get done and then the whole team has a problem.

Instead, for Agile to work, everyone needs to be accountable for the result. Once they are aware of this, Agile team members should be much happier to jump in when someone needs help.

Fortunately, there are two roles that can significantly help with this and, if filled properly, can really help Agile to succeed, which will be discussed in the next blog.

How project managers keep calm and stay efficient

31 March 2014
By Rebecca Leitch


A bit of stress is good for your brain

There is no coincidence that top performers are skilled at managing their emotions in times of stress, allowing themselves to remain calm and in control.

Resilience – the capacity to mobilise personal resources in order to deal with adversity, and therefore, prevent or reduce stress – is key to this.

This resilience is crucial for project managers, for whom stress is an inherent part of the job.

Being responsible for their projects’ success or failure – not only for the good of their organisation but for their status within that organisation, their wider reputation and their income means that in many instances, if a project isn’t brought in on time, a project manager can lose pay, or at worst, their job.

While this black and white approach can bring great emotional reward and is a challenge that many project managers embrace – they are at much more risk of stress getting too much – especially when they are the only one responsible for results, and the results are not looking good.

Also, when you consider that change is a big cause of stress, it’s not hard to see how being in a position of driving change and regularly dealing with the unexpected makes stress unavoidable.

The good news is that moderate levels of stress can improve our performance as our brains are designed to respond to the peaks in our emotional state that stress creates – leading us to take action.

Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley have revealed an upside to experiencing moderate levels of stress – as long as it is kept under control.

The study into why some stress is good for you found that the onset of stress entices the brain into growing new cells responsible for improved memory.

However, this effect is only seen when stress is intermittent. As soon as the stress continues beyond a few moments into a prolonged state, it suppresses the brain’s ability to develop new cells.

Healthy stress

Using well-honed coping strategies under intense situations are therefore necessary to keep stress at a healthy level – and most importantly – the brain alert.

In his Forbes article, How Successful People Stay Calm, Travis Bradberry reveals the well-honed strategies top-performers employ under stressful circumstances to lower their stress levels regardless of what’s happening in their environment – ensuring that their stress is intermittent rather than prolonged.

In a nutshell these are: Thinking of reasons to be grateful; Not worrying about the What Ifs; Finding something positive to focus on when thoughts turn negative; Switching yourself off and spending time away from stress; Drinking less caffeine; Getting a decent night’s sleep;  Separating negative thoughts from the facts by writing them down into more rational thoughts; Putting unproductive thoughts into perspective to see what is actually going wrong, rather than thinking everything is;  Concentrating only on your breathing to let go of distracting thoughts lodged in your brain; Getting help from support networks when feeling overwhelmed.

Stress and productivity

Unlike other more generic areas, the amount of stress in project management is directly fuelled by the economic models of production and delivery – and the ever increasing demands that these put on project management success.

In his article Tangible Tips for Handling the Endless Stress in Project Management, Dr. Steven Flannes describes how project management is inherently stressful due to matrix management, singular problem solving, project unpredictability and trends such as virtual teams and the implicit expectation of a 24/7 work cycle.

More significantly though, he explains how for project managers, dealing effectively with stress is not just about feeling better, it is about maximizing productivity.

Project managers therefore need to be able to moderate their stress levels not just in order to cope, but to excel at high performance and efficiency.

It is the ability to perform at their highest cognitive levels when facing stress that project managers need to strive for.

He explains how addressing stress is key to avoiding the consequences of stress, such as poor decision making, ‘task shedding’ (the dropping of key tasks) and reduced attention span – as well as emotional behaviour such as withdrawing from the team.

Techniques therefore that project managers should employ to help counter-balance the stress include focussing on what is going right with the project, using only facts to make decisions, the effective monitoring of scope and avoiding quick fix solutions.

Other more generic, yet still project-management related ‘best practices’ are to remember that a project can still be good while not necessarily perfect, that your standards might be higher than others, that it is not a perfect world, to feel comfortable with change and ambiguity and to simply take a breather now and then.

Project management tools to boost small business productivity

27 March 2014
By Rebecca Leitch


Becoming more productive

Despite the very best ambition, intention and ideas, there is still a massive hurdle to overcome when it comes to running a successful small business.

Something which can make it really difficult to achieve the number one driving force for any small business – productivity.

That thing is procrastination – the gap between intention and action, which has its roots in the fear of failure, of not being good enough or fear of the unknown.

Putting things off, leaving things to the last minute or not finding the time to do things is the scourge of the small business owner.

This all-too-common condition can vary from a lack of motivation or confidence, to the actual avoidance of certain tasks which are often crucial to the success of a project or overall business goals. 

More often than not this is because the processes which are so necessary are also often the most mundane – and rather than going away, just keep coming.

Performing these tasks certainly isn’t helped by the vortex that the internet has created, or the now essential social media presence, all distracting and preventing you from focusing on what is really important.

But not doing or achieving what you should can make you feel lazy at best, anxious or depressed at worst.

Medicinal purposes

While it’s really important not to let it overpower your desire to succeed, just getting on and doing what you’re supposed to is easier said than done.

Les Miserables author, Victor Hugo’s solution to procrastination was to get his valet to hide his clothes so he couldn’t go outside when he was supposed to be writing.

A less dramatic solution is probably to just temporarily block your internet connection during set work hours.

It also helps to understand what procrastination is, and how you can still be a high-achiever even when you are doing the things you are not necessarily supposed to be doing. That way you can be more relaxed about getting things done.

But project management techniques would be a more effective solution.

Learning how important things like client liaison, planning, costing, briefing, scheduling, hiring and managing talent and resources are to your business is essential. It also means you can start giving them the attention they deserve by introducing time-saving technology such as software tools and apps – or by delegating to others.

Making tasks a routine can certainly motivate you to do them, especially prioritising each task with a level of importance, with action points and deadlines assigned.

Task master

With the right training you can master the following fundamentals of project management, and equip yourself with the tools and knowledge to successfully apply to all tasks, projects and process:

  • How to define and agree on a scope and plan for a project.
  • How to work out a schedule for a project, and keep to it.
  • How to assess the workload for a project, and allocate the required resources.
  • How to accurately predict the cost of a project, and keep within its budget.
  • How to manage the risks to a project, and respond to any changes.
  • How to monitor and report on the progress of a project.

By learning the skills to tackle the above properly, you will have much more time available to concentrate on building a successful business – as well find the motivation to help it grow bigger and better.

Once you start to see productivity increase, there are other, more specific project management tools to learn, such as project requirement documents, project development plans, work breakdown structures, the roles and responsibility matrix and project baselines (to measure the progress of a project against scope, cost and schedule) which can all be customised to suit your requirements – and most importantly, keep improving your business performance.

Getting on and removing the hurdles that prevent you from doing the things you should be doing will also improve motivation, direction and organisation in the process.

How to make project reports more valuable

24 March 2014
By Robert Kelly


Give meetings more value

In an often mentioned study by Industry Week, 2000 managers reported wasting 30 % of their time in meetings, which aligns with the 25-50% found in a 3M Meeting Network survey of executives.  

Given that a Harris Interactive study also found that 67% of workers spend 1-4 hours preparing for these “valuable” meetings, I think we need to consider how we should report our projects in a more effective way to management, in order that they will add value to the organisation. 

Know what you are doing 

I am always interested (well, frustrated really) when I see project managers getting stressed as executive reviews/checkpoints approach. 

Extra meetings are scheduled with team members, documents are requested, presentations created and for some, it turns into a mini-project of sorts.   

If you are managing your projects effectively and maintaining the project plan (schedule, risks, etc) then you should be able to provide an accurate, current update at any given time. 

Pre-wire those effected 

All the planning in the world and the most thought out mitigation strategies are not going to prevent scope changes and risk events from occurring. 

At some point in your project, you will be approaching management with a change request and/or issue event.  If you wait until your status meeting to introduce the topic/issue/change it will shift from a status update to a solution design session.  

However, if you ‘pre-wire’ the managers directly affected, then you can head off much of the debate that could derail your status update. 

The pre-wire is a quick 5-10 minute meeting in which you let the manager know about the developing issue/change.  This provides them with the opportunity to process what you are saying, ask some questions, and discuss a few options. 

If you have some alternatives, it gives you an opportunity to float them by him/her and potentially get some buy-in.  Then, when you go into the status meeting, you are able to explain the latest development (change/risk), without catching the affected manager off guard, and share the recommendation with support from that manager.  

This reduces the ‘design’ discussion, provides confidence to the other managers and also removes the need for that manager to have to go-away, think about it and ‘follow-up.’ 

Be consistent 

One of the biggest mistakes I have seen managers make is their lack of consistency in hosting meetings.  

Across dozens of teams and several clients, the question of “Are we still having this meeting today?” has become all too common.  Even if the meeting is held, no one knows what to expect, the purpose of the meeting, or what they need to provide. 

If you are going to host a weekly meeting or quarterly update, then host it! That said, don’t feel obligated to fill the time if you don’t have enough content.  Don’t waste people’s time and don’t let it turn into a design session. 

If it is going to be a status meeting, then it should remain a status meeting.  Too many project managers become lazy and just ‘wing it’. (Refer to my first point.) 

If there is a lull in the project or everything is going well then you can cut it early, but you should still host it.  People will come to know what to expect. 

Most managers have multiple projects and daily operations to worry about; they hired you to handle the details.  

The status update is not your opportunity to walk the managers through your entire project schedule. Of course they may want to dive deep at the outset of the project and may need one for significant changes/risks, but those are not status updates.  

Most managers think about dates and dollars, while preferring dashboard type views.  Keeping that in mind, I have found the following has proven useful with my clients: 

A status update

Author bio
Robert Kelly is a Managing Partner at KPS, a project management consultancy. Robert is also the Co-Founder of #PMChat, a global community of project managers and business leaders that discuss best practices and lessons learned via Twitter. 

Follow him on Twitter @rkelly976

How project managers should manage requirements

20 March 2014
By Rebecca Leitch


A lack of vision can damage reputation

One of the biggest reasons projects fail is due to a lack of commonly agreed – and commonly understood – requirements.

Without effective planning, communication and testing in the early days of the development process, project teams are vulnerable to requirement defects, and will therefore only discover problems when they are at the testing stage.

This can have a significant impact on the development costs, resulting in the need for time and resources for rework, not to mention damage to reputation.

The Millennium Dome is a high-profile example of the damage that can be done to reputation when the requirements are not managed properly, as ESI’s Requirements Management course instructor, Phil Vale explains:

“From a building point of view the project was a success, but from a vision point of view there was no clear understanding of what it was trying to achieve. When it came down to what its purpose was, there was no clear direction or message for the people designing the inside exhibition space. Because they had no sense of a common purpose, neither did the Dome itself, which caused long-lasting damage to its reputation. In contrast to today, the Dome is now the O2 Arena, which has a very clear sense of purpose as a music venue, and an excellent reputation as a result.”

Defined intentions

These costs to reputation can all be avoided if project teams improve their requirements management process – and therefore raise issues early on in the project lifecycle.

Effective requirements management sets out a clearly defined intention of what needs to be done. Made visible, it gives all in the project team an exact view of the project scope, and its appropriate implementation.

Understanding the project goal – e.g. how a project meets the business needs up front – is crucial because of the impact it will have on the way in which a solution is built.

By asking the questions: ‘Why are you doing it?’ and ‘Where are they looking to get the benefits?’ early on, project teams will at the very least be able to understand what they are doing – and crucially, why they are doing it.

There are also great advantages in centralising requirements because this helps to keep communication channels as open as possible – crucial when it comes to satisfying customer needs. 

Not only will this allow the relevant stakeholders to view, assess and contribute where necessary, it also enables the client to confirm the product is exactly what they want, as the project goes along.

A requirements management strategy is therefore about understanding what you are doing, defining this through manageable requirement processes, and responding to how these requirements change during the development process.

Additional benefits

The fact that requirements are subject to inevitable change throughout the development process does not need to cause problems if the development team knows enough about the purpose of the project, and the business case that the project was signed off on.

Because problems are much more likely to be detected during the requirements gathering stage, this will not only reduce time spent on fixing them, it will also enable project teams to deliver higher-quality software more quickly and with fewer resources.

This allows additional benefits to be reaped, by allowing project teams to remain competitive, maintain their reputation, and most importantly, build more innovative solutions.

The more innovative a product is, the more attractive it will be. Given that the key to innovation is collaboration and creative thinking, the best way to ensure this is with time – something which can only be achieved when inaccurate or defective requirements are avoided.

Finding errors early on in the development process will keep budgets on track, save time and effort and ultimately, boost productivity.

ESI’s Requirements Management training course takes you through the whole process, from identifying the factors that influence project problems, to the project requirement process including requirements identification and derivation, stakeholder assessment, critical success factors, evaluation and approval, change management and closeout procedures.