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Six Tips to Learn More About Project Management

There are many great ways to learn more about project management. Read about six suggestions below.

1. Get serious about leaning more

Whether you’re a beginner or novice, you need to invest more to boost your project management skills. Get serious and take the first step. For example, enroll in a formal training course, read a book or take an e-learning class. Then set aside at least two hours every week to sit down and read books, materials, articles and white papers about project management. By immersing yourself in the topic, you will spark ideas for your own projects that you can use to improve your success.

2. Widen your scope

Don’t just stick to the classical theory of project management. Instead, widen your scope by reading materials that also cover managing people, money and equipment as well as suppliers, procurement and communications. Read about Agile, Critical Chain and other interesting aspects of project management.

3. Write it down

Do you find that much of what you read will go in one ear and out the other. So every time you think “That’s a good point!” write it down. Writing it down helps you remember it. Create your own “Learning Guidebook” and record every tip that you’ve learned along the way. Then you can read your own guidebook as a refresher. Even better, you can use it to impart the knowledge you’ve gained to your team. Who knows, you could even publish it as a book!

4. Get specific

When you’ve spent a couple of months improving your knowledge of project management, you’re ready to get specific. Write down the areas that you’re weak in and get detailed materials on those topics. For example, get more in-depth knowledge of scheduling, estimating or risk management if those areas are weak for you. Remember that project managers are generalists. They need to know a lot about ALL of the topics in the management discipline. So if there are topics that you’re weak on, learn more about them now.

5. Vary your learning sessions

There are lots of ways to learn more about project management. You can take in-person class or e-classes, but there are many other options. Listen to paid or free webinars. Read magazines, books, blogs, articles and tweets. Look for mentoring. Start a discussion group. Join PMI or another project management society. You might be surprised how many sources contain project management information if you think about it.

6. Apply your new knowledge

The purpose of learning new things is to make you a better project manager. So, you need to apply the knowledge that you have gained so you can actually be a better project manager. Not everything of course. Some new theories and techniques may not be practical in your current position. But look for ways that you can implement as much of your new knowledge as possible.  

Scale Down Your Processes to Manage Small Projects

Scale Down Your Processes to Manage Small Projects

Project management processes should be applied scalably based on the size of the project. Large projects need more rigor and structure. Small projects don’t need very much. 

Small projects cover many types of modest work efforts. In most companies, these small projects are not actually viewed as “projects” at all. Your company may call these enhancements, service requests or work orders. One reason many companies don’t consider these small efforts to be projects is because they are typically executed in the support or operations organization. In general, small projects can include the following:

  • Unique work efforts that are clearly projects but have short durations and small numbers of effort hours
  • Enhancements to existing operational processes and systems
  • Errors in operational processes that require a lot of work to fix. This may move the work from being operational or support in nature, to being a project. 
  • Small process improvements
  • Discovery or fact-finding work that may lead to a project later

These types of small work efforts are called small projects because they meet all the criteria of a project. The work is unique, has a beginning and end-date, results in the creation (or enhancement) of a deliverable, etc. It’s just that the work effort is small and so the project management processes will be small as well.

Let’s take an example of how the project management processes scale down for small projects. All projects need a schedule – even small ones. However, you are probably not going to have a rigorous process to build a schedule for a small project – including work breakdown structure, estimating activities, sequencing, critical path, etc. Small project schedules can be created more easily by mentally laying out the steps that need to be performed and the order the steps need to be performed. There are probably only one or two people involved, so it is not hard to figure out who does what. For a small project, you can use a spreadsheet, a table or even a piece of paper to document the schedule.

Other project management processes scale down as well for small projects. Communication is easier, there are fewer risks to deal with; you will have smaller problems to deal with, etc. Since the variances are small and the consequences of your actions are small, the processes you use will be minimal and light.

The bottom line is that you still use project management practices for small projects, but the processes are light and informal.

Agile 101. Are Two Programmers Better than One?

Agile 101. Are Two Programmers Better than One?

One of the most interesting aspects of Agile methodologies is the technique of pair programming. This is specifically described in the Extreme Programming (XP) model.

When I mention pair programming for the first time I am usually met something like “Dude you can’t be serious.”. On the surface, this seems counterintuitive. After all, isn’t programming the bastion of the lone wolf? The typical programmer receives design specs and then sits down at the terminal to code, code and code. It does not seem to make sense that one programmer would code and another would look over her shoulder.

I first heard about pair programming at a company I worked at in 2001. At that point it was cutting edge. Now – not so much. Even though it may not be intuitive, the technique has been shown to work. In fact if it did not work, it would not be considered a staple of Agile development. Pair programming has a number of advantages.

  • The code is of higher quality. One programmer writes code and the other programmer watches and provides immediate feedback on the overall design and accuracy of the code. Logic errors tend to be caught quickly since the thinking of one programmer is immediately validated by the second.
  • More code can be written. Programming in pairs results in more code than if only one person is involved. This is because each person takes turn writing code. In fact, between the two programmers the coding can continue almost non-stop.
  • The code is cleaner. A lot of faulty code gets written when a person is fatigued. Pair programming keeps the pair fresh by alternating the roles of the coder and the reviewer. This results in fewer programming defects. Logic and syntax errors can also be caught immediately by the observer.
  • Requirements can be validated sooner. If one programmer misinterprets a user story, the second programmer can catch the error immediately.
  • Code reviews are not needed. Code reviews allows the code from one programmer to be reviewed by peers. The need for code reviews is eliminated since the code is validated by a peer at the same time it is written.

“Programming” includes the initial code development, testing, and the time for defect correction and rework required to ensure the code is complete and correct. Teams that use pair programming have found that the technique actually results in increasing programming productivity by twofold or more. In other words more then twice as much clean code gets implemented with pair programming as compared with two programmers working independently on different programs. 

Use These Six Tips to Improve Project Meetings

Use These Six Tips to Improve Project Meetings

It seems everyone dislikes meeting – except when it is your turn to call one. Your job is to keep the meeting focused and make it as valuable as possible to the attendees. Here are the six tips to help you.

Tip 1. Start with the end in mind

First understand the purpose of the meeting. Is it for status? Is it for a decision? Is it for brainstorming. Make sure you and the attendees know the desired outcome of getting together.

Tip 2. Plan wisely and use an agenda

To make sure you get the most out of your meetings, you need to plan them wisely. Your meeting should have an agenda that shows the flow of the meeting, the timing and how you are going to the desired outcome. This should be shared in advance with the attendees. There is a saying – “no agenda – no attenda”. (Regularly scheduled meeting do not need a customized agenda. They use a “standing” agenda that stays pretty much the same from week to week.)

Tip 3. Open and close thoughtfully

Open and close your meetings carefully. When you open the meeting, state the purpose of the meeting, what you want to get out of it and why it’s important. This gets their attention and sets the scene. When you close the meeting, tell them what has been agreed / achieved in the meeting and the next steps going forward.

Tip 4. Control the meeting

You need to be in complete control of the meeting to ensure that:

  • The meeting follows the agenda
  • You do not get stuck on a single issue
  • One person doesn’t dominate
  • Everyone can contribute as needed

Raise your voice a little to add presence. Jump in frequently when people talk too long. Be polite but strong. If possible, ask someone else to record the minutes to give you time to facilitate the meeting.

Tip 5. Park it

Often in meetings, a single item can consume too much of the meeting time. If the item is not related to your specific meeting goals, tell the team to park it and move on. Record the item on a whiteboard or paper and address it with the relevant team members separately after the meeting. This keeps your meetings short and focused.

Tip 6. Go short

Keep your meetings short so that they stay focused. You will often find that a 60 minute meeting can be easily compressed to 30 minutes. Thirty minutes keeps everyone focused. Try it. For the next 30 days do not schedule any meetings longer the 30 minutes. You might be surprised that you can still accomplish your meeting purpose.

Broad Advice to Be Successful Managing Projects

Broad Advice to Be Successful Managing Projects

There is so much to learn to become a great Project Manager. You have to juggle time, money, people, equipment and materials. To do it all, some people feel like they have to be a miracle worker! But it’s not the case. Just take these essential steps.

1. Plan carefully

Plan the project before you immediately jump into execution. Define the process by which you’re going to manage your project from start to finish. Be sure to adopt and define the project management processes as well as the project lifecycle processes. You will need to do the following activities.

  • Define the work, including project objectives, scope, deliverables, risks, constraints, assumptions, organization, etc.
  • Lay out a baseline project schedule
  • Estimate the cost of the project and prepare the budget
  • State how you will manage the project, including communication plan, risk plan and any other plans needed

2. Execute swiftly

The next step is to execute your plan quickly and efficiently. This is the part of the project where you are building deliverables, while at the same time managing the work itself. This is the longest part of the project, but there never seems like enough time. From a project management perspective, this work includes:

  • Manage the baseline schedule and budget
  • Focus on initial scope of work, and manage scope changes when they occur
  • Communicate and engage stakeholders proactively
  • Identify and manage risks and issues
  • Make sure quality meets the customer expectations
  • Manage the project team to get them to perform their best work for you

3. Close and learn

When you’ve produced all of your deliverables and handed them over to your sponsor or customer, you’re ready for closure. Do this by releasing project staff, contractors, suppliers and equipment. Then hold a lessons learned meeting and circulate the results so that they can be leveraged by projects ion the future.

Use These Four Steps to Gather Requirements

Use These Four Steps to Gather Requirements

Knowing how to gather requirements is a skill that every analyst, and project manager, – should know. However, it seems to be a skill that is generally lacking in many organizations. Poor requirements gathering is a major cause of project problems in many organizations. 

Gathering requirements is more than just asking a few questions and then proceeding to the next step in the lifecycle. We have a four-step process for gathering requirements that all projects should utilize to some degree. If your project is small, you will go through thee steps quickly. Larger projects may spend quite a lot of time working through the process.

  • Elicitation. The Elicitation step is where the requirements are first gathered. To elicit accurate requirements, the analyst must ask the right kind of questions and then listen carefully to the answers. There are a number of techniques for eliciting requirements and your project may need to use multiple techniques depending on the circumstances. This includes interviews, facilitated sessions, prototypes, questionnaires and more. 
  • Validation. The Validation step is where the “analyzing” starts. The purpose of validation is to make certain that the information conveyed during elicitation accurately represents the needs and expectations of the clients and stakeholders. The work here includes consolidating requirements, rationalizing them, looking for overlaps and gaps and creating models to help visualize processes.
  • Specification. During this step, the analyst prioritizes and formally documents the requirements in a Requirements Definition Report. The requirements are also numbered in a way that allows them to be tracked through the rest of the lifecycle. Finally, they are checked to make sure that they can ultimately be tested.
  • Verification. The final step in the requirements gathering process is verifying that the documented requirements accurately and completely communicate the needs and expectations of the customer. The requirements are reviewed and formally approved. During this step, the analyst can also develop acceptance criteria and start to write test cases for the final solution.

The truth is that all team members need to appreciate the value of good business requirements and should have some fundamental skills in gathering them. Gathering good requirements up-front saves time and money and improves the overall quality of your product.

Five Ways to be Try to Turn Around Marginal Performers

Five Ways to be Try to Turn Around Marginal Performers

One problem that many project managers never get comfortable with is dealing with poor performers. Some people are such poor performers that they ultimately fire themselves. Maybe the bigger challenge is trying to improve marginal performers. These are people that constantly disappoint. The miss a high performance bar, but when you lower the bar they miss that as well. In spite of these marginal performers, you still have to complete your project successfully. You should look at a number of possible causes for marginal performance.

  • Does the person have the right skills and experience? Sometimes people do not deliver up to expectations because they do not have the right skills to do the job. For instance, you assign a person to complete the analysis for a new set of reports, but he is not sure how to ask the right questions or frame a discussion with the clients. If anyone falls into this category, you need to decide whether he could do the work with the right training or whether he should be replaced.
  • Do they understand your expectations? If people have the right skills, ask whether they really understand what the expectations are. For instance, sometimes when a team member misses a deadline, he might come back and say that he did not think the work was due at that time. If there is some confusion on the expectations, you can have the person confirm back to you in writing his understanding of the expectations for deliverables and dates.
  • Are they motivated? Some people are not motivated to do a good job regardless of the assignments and skills needed. You can take one shot at trying to motivate the person. but after that you would need to being this to the attention of the person’s functional manager. 
  • Can you assign them other work? Perhaps the person could do better – perhaps excel – if they were assigned different type of work. Look through your schedule to see if you have flexibility to assign work that is valuable to you and that they can do well.  
  • Are there extenuating circumstances? Another area to consider is whether there are any business or personal factors that could explain a person’s performance. For instance, a member of your team may not be very motivated to work if his spouse is very ill. If you can find a cause, it will give you some ability to respond or at least acknowledge the cause.

If people have the right skills and the right expectations, then the project manager’s options become more limited, and you start to enter the realm of the performance management. It is possible that some team members are not going to do be able to perform up to expectations. They may not be willing to do the job, or they may not be able to do the work regardless of the training and support you provide. If you feel you are at this point, you need to get the appropriate functional manager involved. 

It is difficult and frustrating to work with and rely upon people who do not come through. After you look at the problems and try to determine the cause, you may just decide if there are things that you can do as a project manager or if there is a performance problem that needs to be brought to the attention of the functional manager. 

Three Steps to Formally Close a Project

Three Steps to Formally Close a Project

A project does not end when you implement or launch your solution. Terms like “launch”, “deploy” or “implement” are project lifecycle documents. A project does not formally end until project management “close”. Project closure allows you to ensure all the work is done and all of the project components are put in their place. It is a way to formally “tie a bow” around the project before walking away. There could be a lot of loose ends to tie up, including the following.

Section 1: Validate Completion Criteria

Before you take action to close the project, you need to determine whether all of the project closure criteria have been fully satisfied. For example:

  • Have all the project objectives been completed?
  • Has the project resulted in the stated benefits?
  • Have all of the deliverables been produced?

You will need to perform a review of the project to determine whether these criteria have been met.

Section 2: Close Outstanding Items

If you’re confident that the project has met all of the completion criteria, then the nextstep is to list any outstanding items. These are typically activities listed as incomplete on the schedule, outstanding issues, punch-list items or general items that require attention. As you list each outstanding item, identify the actions that are needed to fully resolve them as well as who is responsible. Since the project is ending, these outstanding items are usually transitioned into operations/support to be completed.

Section 3: Complete Closure Actions

After determining that the project is ready for closure and listing the outstanding items, you can now complete all the actions needed to close your project. These actions may include:

  • Handing over the final deliverables to operations or the customer
  • Collating and filing all project documentation
  • Terminating all supplier contracts and contractors
  • Releasing project staff, equipment and materials
  • Communicating the closure of the project to stakeholders.

Once you have completed the three sections above, you’re ready to formally close the project.

The Big Three Steps to Manage Project Quality

The Big Three Steps to Manage Project Quality

Being a Project Manager is a tough job! You not only have to produce the deliverables on time and within budget, but you also need to ensure that they meet the quality expectations of your customer. To do this, you need to define and execute a quality management process.

By implementing a quality process within your project, you will not only be able to control the level of quality of your deliverables, but you can also provide your customer with assurance that the project will result in a solution which meets their expectations.

Formal quality management is hard to implement. It takes time and a lot of work. Fortunately there are not a lot of elements to a quality management process. In fact, there are three.

Step 1. Create a Quality Plan

Before you begin to manage quality on your project, you should first create a Quality Plan. The Quality Plan describes how you will understand quality requirements and expectations, quality tools, quality roles, how to measure quality, how to validate process acceptance, and more.

In particulate, the Quality Plan describes the overall quality control and quality assurance steps you will implement to ensure quality.

Steps 2: Control the quality of your deliverables (quality control)

Quality control (QC) activities are those that focus on the overall quality of the deliverables being produced. Quality control is usually the responsibility of the project manager and the specific person responsible for a deliverable. Examples of quality control activities include:

  • Deliverable reviews (also called peer reviews)
  • Product checklists
  • Appraisal
  • Testing

Quality control is also called “inspection”. The deliverable must exist in some form to validate its quality level through inspection.

Steps 3: Assure the quality level of your deliverables (quality assurance)

Quality assurance (QA) refers to validating the processes used to create deliverables. It is especially helpful for managers and sponsors. Managers may not have the time or expertise required to validate whether deliverables are complete, correct and of high quality. However, they can discuss the processes used to create the deliverables to determine if the processes seem sound and reasonable.

Overall, project quality is obtained through quality planning, having good work processes (QA), and checking the results to be sure (QC).

Three First Steps to Deploy Project Management Practices

Three First Steps to Deploy Project Management Practices

Project management methodology is a framework that allows project managers to successfully manage projects of varying sizes. Many organizations do not follow a formal, consistent methodology of any kind. How do you start with an initiative to introduce project management practices within an organization?

From a project management perspective you would probably start the project by identifying stakeholders and formally planning the initiative. But let’s assume that work is done. Where do we start in the actual work associated with this type of culture change?

Step 1. Current State Assessment

When you are planning to change organization behavior it is usually good to understand the current state. This gives you the perspective and baseline to understand what needs to change. The Current State Assessment looks at project management practices, enablers, barriers, roles and responsibilities, tools, skill levels, portfolio processes, etc.? You can uncover the nature of the current state through a formal assessment. The assessment could involve talking to many people in the organization and reviewing evidence from current projects. The assessment could also be as simple as a workshop discussion with a cross-section of staff members that can form a consensus of the current state.

Step 2. Define the More Desired Future State

While you are looking at the current environment, you also need to ask what the future vision would look like. This is usually not so difficult in may areas. For instance, if the current state shows that project managers have weak skills, the future state will probably be that all project managers have a basic skill level, and perhaps a certification. Seeing the weaknesses of the current state will help paint a picture for the more desirable future state.??

Step 3. Define the Gap Between the Current and the Future State

Many change initiatives start off by trying to define what the future vision looks like. However, describing the future state of project management in your organization is not the major deliverable at this point. The ultimate deliverable is a Gap Analysis that shows what you need to focus on to move the organization from where it is today to where you want it to be in the future. This is important because you do not want to spend your time implementing in areas where your organization already does well. At the same time, you don’t want to implement a number of changes and still see your effort fail because you did not address other important areas as well.

Next Steps

Once you have the Gap Analysis, everything else flows from there. You can describe the work required to close the gaps, the resources needed, the priorities and timeframes, etc. You can also define the organizational change management components that are required to move to the organization to your future state. You now at a point where you can move forward with the deployment project.