Why Completed Projects Aren’t Cause For Celebration

It’s true, some project management professionals don’t look forward to the day their project moves from “in progress” to “complete.” While most project wrap-up activities bring with them a sense of relief and accomplishment, there are aspects of a project’s completion that can sometimes make the event less than festive.

 

What is it about completing a project that could possibly put a damper on the occasion? We compiled a short list of what periodically bugs PMPs about finishing a project.

Just when you think the project is finished, a whole new round of requests start to trickle in. When stakeholders get pushback on requests mid-project, they’re likely to file them away for future prodding. Once the project is complete, those wants and needs rise to the surface again. Sometimes the leadership team has new market data and wants to refine aspects of the original project. In other instances, stakeholders were just waiting for the earlier project to wrap up because they assumed your team would now have lots of free time to do other things (they don’t). Very often, it seems like you can barely get one project done before a companion or expansion project comes along. This leaves little time to celebrate the team’s accomplishments and that’s unfortunate, because looking back on successes is a big help when the pressure is high and the team needs a boost.

Your project was completed according to the scope everyone agreed upon, but now users are claiming they thought things would be different. The communication was excellent, the achievables turned out according to the plan, your stakeholders seemed pleased all along, and mid-project user surveys didn’t point to any potential disconnects. So how did this happen? You could be dealing with a complainer extraordinaire (they do exist, unfortunately), but it’s more likely the user is truly surprised by the project’s outcome. Simply put, some people have a very difficult time envisioning how the final implementation of the project—or sometimes just parts of it—will actually look and/or function in the real world. Your team should always strive to provide as clear and complete a picture as possible of how the project’s final outcome will impact workflows, operations, processes, physical footprints, costs, revenues, and everything else, of course. But once in a while, there’s bound to be a question no user thought to ask, a concern that didn’t arise until they saw the project in action, that will assuredly make its way back to the project team.

You were diligent about following up on everything, but somehow a punch list item pops up months after the project is closed out. It’s an old story, isn’t it? Somewhere lurking in that project was a piece of equipment with a faulty switch or a chunk of software with a glitch. Even after diligent and vigorous testing was conducted, nothing was found when the project was originally closed out, but here it is—bringing that old project back to life, at least for a little while. Any number of factors can contribute to this scenario, many of which are difficult to predict. User error is responsible for some portion of punch list items that come in long after the project was wrapped up, either because users didn’t take the time to let someone know an item was outstanding during the closeout phase or because they didn’t notice that something still needed to be done. Software updates may also be an occasional culprit when it comes to punch lists, both on general equipment receiving off-the-shelf patch releases as well as customized equipment that’s supported by the manufacturer directly.

Project management training tips provided by PMAlliance Inc.

AVOID THESE CONTINGENCY PLANNING MISTAKES

Developing and working with contingency plans is a routine part of project management. Additional funds, alternate material or equipment options, revised workflows, and shifted timeframes may all be part of contingency planning efforts, and a well-crafted plan can enable a project team to be extremely nimble while ensuring the project’s success. Continue reading AVOID THESE CONTINGENCY PLANNING MISTAKES

DEALING WITH POOR PERFORMERS

A frequent concern among project management team leaders is how best to manage strong performers. How can their potential be maximized? Where can their strengths take them? Is it possible to get their talents to rub off on others?

The flip side to this concern is managing those team members whose performance isn’t quite up to par. It’s an issue that’s less common, thankfully, but it’s much more pressing when it does occur. Poor performers have the potential to spark significant havoc within even the highest-functioning PMOs and to create a measurable drag on progress.

It’s important to understand how much damage a poor performer can inflict, and what that damage typically looks like. Being able to quickly spot and address lackluster performance is crucial to keeping the rest of the group on track.

poor project performance

The leadership team must remember that early intervention is key. At the first sign of sagging performance, the employee involved (or employees, if it appears the problem may include more than one individual) should be contacted. Immediately work to identify any downstream effects, such as impacts to timing or resource allocations, that may be caused by reduced performance. Devise a strategy to bring progress back on track as quickly as possible, either by resolving the existing performance issue or by adjusting how the rest of the team supports the current project plan. This will not only help in the short term by providing poor performers with a path back to a normal working level, it will also ensure the PMO isn’t hampered in the long run by trying to fix a problem that’s already snowballed.

Initial discussions with anyone whose efforts aren’t up to par should focus on determining the facts. Has performance really dropped? Something as innocuous as a change in how metrics are gathered or measured can give the appearance of waning performance, even if that isn’t what’s actually happening. Are the employee’s efforts being stymied by new processes within the organization? Is the team member simply dealing with the ripple effects of another person’s drooping performance? Are external factors causing internal performance to fall? Have a candid conversation so everyone is aware of the causes. This will also help to determine if there are effects that haven’t yet been spotted.

It’s vital to protect other team members from being affected by the issues. Poor performers can be toxic to the rest of the project office. They have the potential to sap morale, derail progress in other areas, even disrupt the sense of team the PMO has worked so hard to achieve. While personnel issues should remain absolutely private, it may be prudent to bring the team together to work through any effects that are impacting overall progress. This will help speed the recovery process if the problem has trickled into other areas. Another strategy to consider is an increase in team-building activities designed to reinforce the good working relationships and mutual respect the team has already built.

Sticking to conventional approaches may leave the individual without a truly effective solution, so be creative when looking for ways to fix the problem. Poor performance can have its roots in any number of factors (and often a combination of several factors), many of which have little to do with the employee’s desire to do well. Training may be one option if the individual is being asked to take on tasks outside their area of expertise. Mentoring can also be helpful if a good understanding of the organization’s culture and philosophy—and being better able to navigate its processes and political nuances—is part of what’s missing.

6 THINGS TO DO WHEN A COWORKER LEAVES

In addition to the standard exit interviews most organizations carry out, there are also a handful of additional items the project team should close the loop on whenever a project management professional or other key PMO member leaves. By working through the following 6 items, the project office will be ready to continue moving forward after a valued coworker departs.

project management decisions

1 – Identify delegated activities. Project team members delegate any number of items, from routine tasks to approval powers. Before the PMP leaves, talk with them about what’s been delegated and to whom. Specific items to consider include technology-related delegates, such as an administrative assistant or other team member who has the ability to access calendars or e-mail accounts. Look also at delegated capabilities within any document management or project tracking systems to ensure workflows won’t be interrupted.

Not only may the exiting team member have delegated tasks to others, they may have had activities or authorization powers delegated to them. If possible, discuss the status of these relationships before the coworker leaves. This allows the team time to transfer responsibility to another person in the group or notify the delegator that the task is being returned to them for action.

2 – Understand system usage. It’s prudent to confirm which systems the team member used on a regular basis, both internally as well as outside the company (perhaps via a consultant or vendor). Something as simple as knowing the worker routinely used a material supplier’s online portal to confirm parts availability could be tremendously helpful to any team member who will be taking on some or all of the exiting employee’s responsibilities.

3 – Be aware of upcoming activities. Most of the team member’s tasks should already be captured somewhere in the project timeline, but other activities may not be included on the list of critical path items. Were they scheduled for training? Did they have any upcoming presentations on their calendar? Were they part of a mentor program? The PMO may not decide to continue with all of these pre-planned activities, but knowing they’re on the radar will be useful in assigning tasks and fine-tuning workloads once the worker leaves.

4 – Look at credentialing. If the exiting group member held certifications necessary for project execution—credentials that facilitated regulated activities, for example—the team will need to make arrangements to either have someone else certified or to contract with an outside partner who holds the required certifications. It’s not uncommon for only one team member to hold niche credentials, so be sure you do your due diligence and set the PMO up for continued success down the road.

5 – Ask about memberships. PMPs frequently belong to any number of professional, industry, and networking groups. Find out if the individual was a member of any associations or other organizations, and determine if their membership will transfer with them (some do) or if the PMO now has an opportunity to place another worker into their spot.

6 – See if there’s a prodigy waiting in the wings. Inquire about any fellow team members the worker may have been grooming for bigger things. Is someone particularly qualified to move into the exiting person’s role? Senior-level PMPs often know not only which PMO members are interested in opportunities for advancement, they’re also keenly aware of who’s motivated enough to step up when a position becomes available. If the exiting individual knows of anyone internally who has either expressed an interest in the job or who has received specialized mentoring or education to cover some of the duties, now is the time to gather that information.

 

IS YOUR PMO TOP HEAVY?

A common problem in project offices is a lack of experienced senior-level staff, but PMOs can sometimes find themselves heavy on leadership but short on other workers. Rather than being a dream scenario, it can actually have the potential to disrupt existing workflows and hinder the team’s ability to achieve success.

One concern is that the art of leadership brings with it an array of tasks needing to be done. This can leave little time for other day-to-day project activities, from following up on the availability of needed materials to maintaining thorough reference documentation. If the PMO experiences a staffing shakeup or significant reduction that eliminates a number of frontline positions, those who have historically focused on orchestrating the activities of others must now transition into a different set of competencies.

PMOs with an overabundance of top-level staff must quickly change tactics if success is to be achieved. Several strategies can help them do that in the short term, and some can also be leveraged to round out the team’s capabilities in the long term, too.

top heavy PMO

Launch an internship program. Bringing a select group of interns into the mix can be hugely beneficial for everyone involved. Your PMO gains the advantage of high performers with baseline skills who are eager to learn all they can about project management, and the interns get the opportunity to hone their skills and pull knowledge from your team’s senior level leaders.

Adding interns to the project office is a particularly attractive solution for PMOs with lean funding, as the cost to set up and maintain internship programs is often very low. This may also be a good approach if the PMO anticipates only intermittent needs for additional support, or if staffing levels haven’t been guaranteed over the life of a long project. Internship durations can be established to coincide with these variances, giving the project team support when it’s needed and freeing it from expensive labor obligations when it doesn’t.

A strong internship program can also help the PMO maintain a reliable flow of new talent. As interns progress through their educational track, they may eventually choose to join the team on a full time basis.

Partner with a consultancy. It may seem counterintuitive to bring in even more senior level collaborators, but working with an objective outside expert can actually be a very effective way to balance out the team’s existing skills and available resources without stepping on toes or injuring egos. Experienced project management consultants can be useful in developing a new structure for leadership responsibilities and determining how to assign tasks within it. With the consultancy’s help, members of the team will also be better able to redefine their roles—even if it’s only for one specific project—and embrace a revised way of working.

Some consultancies offer staffing programs to provide ongoing support in the form of frontline professionals with good on-the-ground experience. These PMPs can then fill in when the PMO’s internal resources are stretched too thin.

Gain assistance from internal partners. It may be possible to more heavily leverage the organization’s other inside resources on a limited-time basis. Look for ways your team can take advantage of help in administrative and support areas first, as that’s often where leader-heavy project offices need the most assistance. Is the Purchasing team able to facilitate more of the team’s price comparison duties during this project? Can the Legal department take on additional contract oversight in the short term? The organization’s resource levels often prevent this from becoming a viable long-term strategy, but PMOs may be able to gain some needed near-term relief.

MAINTAINING TRANSPARENCY DURING DIFFICULT PROJECTS

Project management teams work hard to be transparent in their actions. They’re well aware that stakeholders and the executive team are watching each project, and sometimes outside partners and even the public may also be observing. This transparency occasionally encounters challenges but there are sure fire strategies PMOs can use to stay on track and maintain clarity in every task, recommendation and decision they undertake.

Year-End Tasks Pmo Overlook

Communication. This is by far the most powerful tool the PMO has at its disposal when it comes to maintaining transparency. Communicating with stakeholders is crucial, whether it’s disseminating the schedule for work disruptions or providing an update on material availability. But communications need to be a two-way street. Stakeholders must have a way to ask questions, express concerns, and request additional information.

To streamline communications coming into the PMO, it’s often a good idea to provide a clear mechanism for submitting inquiries. In addition, the team must respond to questions as quickly as is feasible. If the information stakeholders want isn’t available or can’t be released due to confidentiality concerns, say so. It’s better to divulge what you can than to plant suspicion or mistrust in stakeholders’ minds.

Consistency. Assuring stakeholders that your team is transparent in its actions becomes nearly impossible if your team isn’t consistent in its communications and other messaging. Though this may happen innocently enough, such as when updated information hasn’t yet been relayed to all members of the team, the damage it’s likely to inflict on the group will be difficult to repair.

One good strategy to avoid inadvertent inconsistencies or miscommunications is to designate a few key team members to handle distributing information and routing any questions that come through to others in the group. It may also be prudent to have someone in this capacity review materials—graphics, charts, drawings, etc.—prior to release outside the PMO. This helps to bring the entire range of communications under the same messaging umbrella and also adds another layer of scrutiny for any dates, budget numbers, or other data that may still be tentative or in flux.

Data. In many instances, the data your team uses to make strategic decisions and guide its planning efforts will be key in allaying stakeholders’ doubts and concerns. Everyone from the leadership group to end users wants to know that actions (especially those they may not agree with) are based on sense and reason.

The solution is to make as much information available for review as possible, so others outside the project management team are able to scrutinize—and hopefully understand—why the datasets support the PMO’s conclusions and recommendations. Remember to provide sources for your information, too. If data is coming from outside the organization, denote this for context.

Determination. No, this isn’t resistance to change or a hesitancy to allow those outside the PMO to participate as true partners. Instead, it refers to the need for the PMO to push back against the external pressure that may be aimed at influencing how decisions are made, schedules developed, budgets created, or priorities set. There are often stakeholders—some who hold authorization power over resources the project team requires—who would like to see their needs at the top of the priority list.

Adherence to best practices and a proven planning and control methodology is the best way to resist this kind of potentially destructive pressure. Good project management protocols will keep the team from compromising its efforts or agreeing to compress or skip critical steps. They’re also instrumental in guiding the team on decisions related to where activities can reasonably be compressed or modified.

Project management training tips provided by PMAlliance Inc.

DON’T PANIC! STEPS TO STEM THE TIDE OF WORRY

Panic in a PMO is a terrible thing. It crushes productivity and saps morale. Helping project team members confront and deal with frightening situations can be difficult, particularly if the senior leadership group is facing the same concerns. Fortunately, a set of baseline steps can bring the team together to address the anxiety in front of them and help get everyone back on track.

Get informed. Panic is often driven by one of two things: Misinformation or no information. If you have a feeling of dread when it comes to a project (or perhaps a particular task or issue), take it as a cue that you probably need better information. If possible, go straight to the source. A trusted vendor may be able to answer your questions, as might another internal team member with direct knowledge of the situation. Avoid simply asking around inside the PMO, as you’re likely to receive details of the same dubious origin you have now. Gathering the facts allows you to tackle the problem from a real-world perspective.

Communicate. If you suspect others in the PMO are shifting into panic mode, consider what information you may have that would be useful in helping them better understand the current lay of the land. Even if you don’t hold the key to quelling the team’s concerns, bringing everyone together to discuss the project’s status and provide a progress review can be immensely helpful. It encourages other PMPs to ask questions in a safe environment (sometimes team members don’t know who to ask or feel it’s inappropriate to dig for details) and also shows those who are worried that they probably aren’t alone. Camaraderie can be a powerful tool in times like these.

Look for solutions. Continuing to sit around and worry is rarely an effective way to address panic. Instead, pull the team together and begin brainstorming. Talk about potential fixes and evaluate if additional help—either assistance from another department or perhaps an experienced outside consultant—might be needed. Openly discuss the triggers behind the team’s concerns. These conversations may be uncomfortable (fear of failure usually is), but reassure team members that they should speak candidly and without fear of reprisal. Finger pointing solves nothing, and you’ll need to be ready to shut it down if it occurs. Keep the focus on finding workable solutions.

Focus on avoiding panic next time. Falling into panic mode is nearly guaranteed if the PMO repeats the same steps that led team members to become concerned in the first place. Improve communication channels within the team as well as with stakeholder and external partners. Maintain tighter focus on milestones, resource management, and activity planning. Employing a proven project control methodology is a wise approach. Not only will it keep the current can’t-fail project on track, it also allows the team to carefully manage their time and resources, ensuring that future projects don’t stumble and push the team into panic mode again.

Admit you may not be able to address every worry immediately. There are times when panic descends for reasons that simply can’t be fixed right away, even by seasons PMPs. Rumors of staffing cuts or lost contracts, for example, can easily spread terror through the team. Rather than searching for solutions (which the PMO may not be in a position to provide) instead bring the group together to evaluate existing workloads and discuss how best to deal with potential impacts. You might not be able to formulate a solid plan to deal with every issue on the horizon, but the PMO will be prepared to tackle unpleasant realities if necessary.

Pitfalls o fBig Projects

Project management training tips provided by PMAlliance Inc.

KICKING OFF A NEW PROJECT? DO THIS FIRST

It’s always exciting—as well as hectic—when a new project receives the green light. Last-minute discussions are often held with stakeholders to finalize the details, and as the organization turns its attention to making the project official (usually in the form of assigning capital budget numbers and similar internal machinations) there’s often a lag between when your project management team knows the project is a go and when you can actually begin working on it in earnest.

Rather than waiting for all this to happen before your team turns its attention to the new project, there are things the PMO can do right now to increase efficiency and ensure success.

new projects

Set up a master project file. Establishing a full-fledged project folder—in a file cabinet, on the PMO’s intranet, etc.—is a crucial piece of infrastructure for projects large and small, but teams often hold off on this step until the project is “real.” That’s a big mistake. Yes, the executive team could still kill an early-stage project because of funding or other concerns, but it’s far easier to delete the project in your team’s internal systems than it is to play catch-up once the project is in full swing. Begin populating the file with the relevant information and the team will be one more step ahead.

Alert outside partners. Unless this project is on the super-secret hush-hush list, there’s little reason to keep vendors in the dark. You don’t need to reveal every last detail, but notifying them of an upcoming need will help everyone in the long run. Your partners will be able to begin earmarking resources to be sure they’re available, and you’ll have a much better chance of getting exactly the supplies and support you need. If the project has components that are new or uncommon to the PMO, this is a good opportunity to seek out and evaluate new vendors.

Look at staffing levels. Though some of the finer details of the project may still be in the works, even a rough idea regarding the type or amount of people resources you’re likely to need is a help (and hopefully something you’ve already estimated as part of the project’s planning phase). Whether you need to recruit a new team member or hire a consultant, both often require some lead time. Don’t put the PMO in a bind later—immediately begin gauging your needs and work with HR or an external consultancy to fill those gaps as quickly as possible.

Seek out opportunities for savings. Now is the time to consider what impact existing projects will feel once things get underway and how you can make the best of it. If there’s a potential to combine your team’s purchasing power or to consolidate tasks across multiple projects, start putting together preliminary plans right away. Work with your organization’s purchasing group to determine where deeper discounting on materials may be available. Contact the legal team to see if it’s possible to simply expand or extend existing contracts for labor resources and supplies. The time you save later will be well worth the effort.

Get people excited. As soon as the new project is official enough to be announced, do it. Let stakeholders and everyone else likely to be affected by the project know that efforts will begin soon and offer them with as much information as you can on details such as scope, timing, achievables, etc. Assure them that you’ll be providing regular updates as the project moves forward, and give them the name and contact information of the person who can answer any questions they may have.

Project Management Training Tips provided by PMAlliance Inc.

TECHNOLOGY CAN INCREASE PMO PRODUCTIVITY AND IMPROVE PROJECT RESULTS

Technology has done wonders for the field of project management. From enabling our penchant for anytime, anywhere communications to the need to track burgeoning sets of detailed benchmarking data, technology tools help teams boost productivity and improve results. But there are still areas where technology isn’t always used to its maximum potential. See if your PMO is getting everything it can out of technology in these five key areas.

project management technology

Communication. Using smartphones and tablets for phone calls and e-mails is a no-brainer in today’s hyper-connected world, but that’s just the beginning when it comes to capitalizing on how robust the current crop of communication platforms has become.

Video conferencing, for example, has improved tremendously in recent years. Picture quality is better, increased frame refresh rates have all but eliminated herky-jerky feeds, and in-room hardware is less obtrusive and also lower in price than it used to be. In addition, many video platforms now support mobile devices, meaning workers can fully participate in video-based team meetings no matter where their projects take them.

Another communication platform that’s showing its worth in the project management arena is social media. Teams are using it to stay connected with each other as well as stakeholders and collaborators. Project photos and infographics can be quickly posted and distributed across the entire PMO without filling everyone’s inbox.

Data storage. Sure, project teams already know they can save documents and other project information electronically. Now it’s time to make storage even more efficient. A number of platforms are available that enable file sharing across the entire team (and all of their devices, too). This can help to eliminate the multitudes of duplicate copies floating around while also ensuring everyone is using the most up-to-date version.

Some storage solutions even offer per-file access privileges, automated destruction schedules that follow the team’s retention policies, and powerful versioning options. For PMOs working under regulatory oversight, these technology platforms may help with compliance and other issues.

Knowledge transfer. Expanding the knowledge and skill base within a PMO may be a mostly face-to-face effort, but technology can give it a measurable leg up. Intranets are just one example. They allow project teams to establish wiki-like repositories for information specific to the group, where anyone on the team can search for and locate exactly what they need.

Project management training, too, can be made more effective through technology. Video feeds of educational sessions can be stored for later viewing and training modules can be offered online to remote workers. New hire orientation and similar recurring presentations are also excellent candidates for digital archival and playback.

Brainstorming. Technology sits nicely alongside the conventional big piece of paper and felt pen when it comes to brainstorming. Platforms are available that facilitate mind mapping, task dependency planning, organizing thoughts into logical structures, determining actionable items, and sorting follow-up activities.

Most of these software suites save brainstorming sessions for later review and further updating, while also providing access to multiple team members across a variety of devices. With the PMO’s brainstorming data stored electronically, it can more easily be filtered out to other programs, such as task management and resource allocation platforms.

Mobility. Many of the technology platforms project teams rely on now have a mobile component. Resource allocation, budget forecasting, timeline development, and even status updates can now be done through a mobile application, often with the data pulled from and stored back into the same shared storage location the team uses when at their desks. Some platforms also allow for offline storage, so your team’s mobile devices remain an effective tool if they’re out of wireless range.

DOES YOUR PROJECT MESH WITH THE STRATEGIC MISSION?

Seeing a project through from initial planning to completion is a big job. Challenges can come from many angles—stakeholders with ever-changing needs, vendors with busy schedules, and sometimes even executives with competing priorities or difficult strategic objectives to support.

One thing project management professionals know is that overcoming these obstacles becomes monumentally more difficult if the project isn’t tightly aligned with the organization’s overall goals or mission. A disconnect, even a relatively small one, can significantly dampen enthusiasm and engagement. It often leaves the project team on its own, with little meaningful support from the very stakeholders it needs most.

Unfortunately, it isn’t always obvious that the project’s problem revolves around misalignment with the organization’s wider objectives. This is particularly true when an executive has made the project into a personal pet (giving the appearance of support without formal buy-in), or when market pressures or other influences have changed the company’s course and affected the project’s relevance.

If your PMO is sensing support for a project has wavered but the cause isn’t clear, see if these telltale signs sound familiar.

Funding is difficult to secure. Getting money approved for projects is often a tough task even when stakeholders are eager and supportive, however, a PMO that’s constantly bumping up against resistance for even baseline funding should take a step back and figure out why. Projects that aren’t closely linked to the organization’s mission may look good on paper but may not pass the business case test. It’s also possible that stakeholders will express encouragement for the project but won’t be able to prioritize it over competing initiatives (which may be better aligned with the company’s current strategic direction).

You’re repeatedly asked to present the business case for the project. This may be due to other factors, such as a simple lack of understanding on the part of those reviewing the business case, but it could also be a symptom of an organization that isn’t quite convinced the project is worth the effort. Evaluate your communication strategy to see if your approach is lacking. Determine where you can provide more concrete details about how the project serves the organization’s wider goals. It may be as straightforward as asking stakeholders if they’re looking for additional justification points or specific data related to the project.

Your project has been shuffled between different budgets or business units. Sometimes dollars or initiatives need to move to a more fitting home, but this type of reorganization could spell trouble if it happens repeatedly. It may point to a company that believes in the project in principle but can’t quite seem to make it fit in with the current mission. If one or more reshuffles gives you cause for concern, consider working to align the project with the goals of a particular department or functional area. These will sync up with the organization’s overall mission on some level and your business case may be better received by the group you’re directly partnering with on a daily basis.

Scope creep is the order of the day. As annoying as scope creep is, it can be extremely useful as a harbinger of mission misalignment. Stakeholders sometimes begin by suggesting a series of changes to objectives and they’re often unusually receptive to deadline extensions for critical milestones. On the end user side of the project, your team is likely to receive requests for achievables that weren’t discussed during the project’s initial planning phase. Overall, scope creep associated with unaligned high-level objectives may look like the organization is seeking a project that’s nearly unrecognizable compared to the one that was actually approved.

project management team work

Project management training tips provided by PMAlliance Inc.

Benchmarking Blunders

Most PMOs have encountered them: those times when benchmarking data is either lost, doesn’t make sense, or just flat doesn’t support the business case the project team is trying to make. See if your organization has stumbled into any of these benchmarking blunders. We’ve also included tips for finding a resolution to each of them.

project benchmarking

Data sets are lost or incomplete. This could be the result of faulty equipment or misunderstandings within the team about who was going to collect and store the information. Once you’ve determined where the error occurred, consider if there are ways to recreate the data. Depending on the information your team intended to capture, it may be possible to pull the data from paper records or other sources. Vendors might have at least a portion of the information within their systems. It may also be feasible to access a backup copy if the current version of the file was inadvertently deleted or can’t be found in the folder that’s supposed to house it. If you’re not able to completely restore the data set, be sure to note it in any reports your team offers so there are no misunderstandings on what was benchmarked and what wasn’t.

Stakeholders aren’t in agreement on benchmarking data. The most common conflicts arise around the issue of which metrics matter. Project management teams may focus on one set of data while end users are more concerned with another. There’s also a possibility various stakeholder groups simply don’t understand what the benchmarking data means. Providing them with a bit of background along with the report can often clear up any confusion. It’s also helpful to put organization-specific benchmarking data into perspective. Consider including data for your company’s overall industry, or for the type of project (or possibly the operational area) the project supports.

The team’s conclusions aren’t supported by the data. This usually comes as a surprise to everyone and it can leave the team scrambling for answers. First, step back and evaluate the data you captured. Is it complete and were your gathering techniques sound? Did you capture what you thought you captured? Now look at the data in detail. Are there market cycles or recurring patterns that should be taken into account? Depending on the duration of time reflected in the data that’s been gathered, it’s possible the team is only looking at one portion of that cycle. If, however, you find that the metrics just don’t match expectations and initial predictions didn’t pan out, the best course of action is to simply acknowledge it and move forward.

Team members don’t agree on the methodology. Found most frequently when setting internal performance metrics, there are sometimes differing opinions on how and/or when data should be gathered and how the results will be interpreted (or possibly who will interpret them). It’s crucial these disagreements and differences of opinion be evaluated and put to rest before data collection begins, otherwise you’re likely to come out of it with irrelevant data or a sub-group of individuals who disregard the findings. The best strategy is typically a mixture of compromise and informed leadership directive. Bring the team together to discuss the purpose of benchmarking specific performance indicators. Review the various methodologies preferred within the team and the merits or drawbacks of each. Take the time to solicit and examine any concerns. The PMO’s leadership team must then make a final decision on which methodology will be used. Supporting reasoning should also be revealed, so even if specific team members aren’t happy with the decision they can at least understand the rationale behind it.

6 Signs Your Advocacy Program Needs a Boost

A strong culture of project advocacy contributes significantly to repeatable success. But sometimes even savvy PMOs discover their advocacy efforts are falling short. See if any of these 6 warning signs sound familiar. They may signal it’s time for your project management team to double down on developing better project advocacy habits.

1 – Stakeholders express surprise as the project’s approved objectives. It’s common for a project’s objectives to evolve as planning gets underway, and some may be trimmed or eliminated once budget and other operational discussions begin. However, if team members are actively engaged in their role as advocates, stakeholders won’t be surprised by these events. User input and concerns should be solicited throughout the process, with strong two-way communication channels keeping everyone in the loop on what’s expected, what’s possible, and why particular requests have been pulled from consideration.

2 – End users aren’t interested in attending project meetings or presentations. These groups should be eager to know what’s happening, so if they’re dismissive of invitations your team should take notice. They may feel they’re too disconnected from the process or that the project’s objectives don’t match what they were hoping for. End user participation should normally be robust, and it’s something your PMO can encourage at all stages in the project. If this stakeholder group disengages at any point, it may indicate a failure in your team’s advocacy efforts.

3 – Few in the PMO interact with end users. Communication channels are often necessarily constricted—to maintain consistency of information, to streamline operations, to ensure necessary approvals are given before news is released, etc.—but day-to-day interactions should still be the norm, not the exception. Good advocates get out from behind their desks and make a point to reach out to end users and other stakeholders regularly. Even if your PMO has identified one or two point people to act as primary project advocates, everyone on the team should work to engage stakeholders and ensure the project is successful.

4 – Stakeholders are unwilling to accommodate work disruptions. Anytime operations are disturbed or impacted it’s an inconvenience for users. But if your PMO has been doing a good job of cultivating an environment of advocacy, stakeholders should not only be in the know about planned disruptions but should also be supportive of accommodating them. The reason? When the culture nurtures project advocacy, stakeholders are full partners, and are eager to see the project’s benefits come to fruition.

5 – The leadership team micromanages the PMO’s inner workings. Worries may crop up when executives aren’t well informed about the project team’s operations, or if they see different protocols applied to different projects. No matter where concerns originate, it’s crucial the PMO boosts its advocacy role and views the leadership team as another stakeholder group (though one with slightly different needs and expectations). Better communication will provide a starting point, followed by interactive discussions about the concerns, education on how operations are carried out, and ongoing engagement to ensure that any worries have been addressed.

6 – Budget or contract processes are slow-moving or filled with glitches. While this may point to other concerns—lack of project support from the executive team, for example—there’s also a strong possibility that poor advocacy efforts are playing a role. Project advocates should be proactively working with internal partners to ensure all necessary hand offs of go smoothly, that questions are answered early in the process, and that any requests for additional information are addressed as quickly as possible. This keeps administrative issues moving forward and prevents them from interfering with the project’s progress.

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FIXING A BROKEN PROCESS – PART 1: IDENTIFY THE PROBLEM, CREATE THE SOLUTION

Organizations often have entrenched and possibly outdated processes that aren’t as efficient or effective as they could be. For PMOs interested in improving project performance, these flawed processes may be holding them back or limiting how tightly operations can be streamlined. But changing established processes is sometimes an uphill battle. We’ve provided some pointers on implementing changes to those processes in a way that offers solid benefits and maintains stakeholder support.

Identify where the problems exist

It’s a fundamental step but it bears repeating—you can’t truly correct a problem until you know what it is you’re trying to fix. Effectively addressing any problem requires the team to dig down to the root cause and solve the issue at its core. This is where team involvement is crucial, since the organization’s leadership may not see the problem’s origins the same way the employees who deal with the problem every day do.

Gather the details on the problem and its effect on the PMO by pulling the group together and discussing the issue, from its core all the way downstream through the impacts it has on the rest of the team’s operations. Be careful to separate root causes from additional problems that may be caused further down the line, so you aren’t implementing a solution that falls short of success. This will also be useful when setting expectations with stakeholders, since the new process may need to be implemented in phases with follow-on improvements kicking in later.

Create a better solution

Using that same team platform, it’s time to begin brainstorming ways to address the issue(s) you’ve identified. Look first to answers to the immediate problem, taking in suggestions from the group on what a better solution might look like. After one or two preferred plans have been developed and vetted, shift to examining how the new process proposals are likely to impact downstream activities.

With the baseline evaluation is done, project management professionals should next look for changes that may be needed in adjacent areas. A comprehensive solution may involve more than just the project team. Your PMO will probably need to work with other groups—usually internal support teams but sometimes external vendors or other partners—on ways potential improvements within their operations can support the updates you’ve planned. Will purchasing or contract negotiation strategies be affected? Does the current staffing plan need to be revisited? Is this change going to affect how accounting manages capital expenditures or operational budget approvals?

Gain support from all stakeholders

For the new process to be as effective as possible, it’s crucial to get all stakeholders impacted by the change on board with the proposed revisions before the plan is rolled out. If their input was solicited during the initial solution development phase, then the PMO is already moving in the right direction. If not, be sure to discuss the various proposals (emphasizing their pros and cons) with stakeholders before a final plan is chosen.

Communication is key, even if particular stakeholder groups weren’t asked to participate in developing the solution. At the very least, project teams should begin by acknowledging there is a problem. This is good PR for the PMO, and it lays the groundwork for setting stakeholder expectations on what sort of impacts and improvements the new process will bring.

If the revised process is controversial or likely to face stakeholder pushback for any reason, be prepared with solid information on why the change is a good idea. For example, benchmarking data showing existing inefficiencies can be contrasted with projections about the improved performance metrics the new process is expected to offer.

ChangeAgent

PMAlliance uses a team of highly experienced and certified professionals to provide project management consulting and project management training services.

ELEVATE YOUR PMO’S RISK MANAGEMENT PROFILE

Project management professionals often find it difficult to gain good visibility for the risk management work they do. Unfortunately, executive-level stakeholders don’t always understand the importance of the project office’s risk management function. This makes it tough to garner support when it’s needed and also increases the difficulty of championing the team’s ability to effectively manage project risk.

There are some strategies PMPs can use to help boost their PMO’s risk management profile and the image project risk management has among stakeholders. We’ve put together a few tips designed to make the leadership team aware of the need for strong risk management competencies, and to highlight your team’s prowess in this advanced discipline.

Provide project risk management trainingFollowing the thinking that “informal” could possibly equal “less important” in the mind of someone not attuned to the disciplines involved in project management, creating structure—and potentially requirements—around risk management training will help change the attitude about the competencies involved. It’s also an excellent way to ensure everyone in the PMO is using the same methodologies and best practices, and has received project management training from an experienced instructor. As the team increases its mastery of risk management, the value of their skills will also increase outside the project office.

Formalize the risk management function within the project office. This shift in thinking actually produces several benefits. First, it means that risk management is no longer just an accepted part of everyone’s job—it should now be viewed as a competency of its own and hold a place of importance within the project management responsibility list. It’s a strategy that often raises team members’ awareness of the importance of risk management, which in turn enables them to more clearly articulate the critical role it plays when talking with those on the leadership team.

In addition, formalizing risk management activities allows PMOs to more deliberately employ proven risk management methodologies. Actions such as analyzing and monitoring risks becomes an expected part of the planning function, and it’s more likely that the resources necessary to manage project risk will be properly allocated.

Include data about risk management findings and strategies when presenting project information to stakeholders. Much of the problem with a lack of visibility can be traced back to the simple fact that, if you don’t tell people what’s going on, they probably won’t find out about it on their own. Making risk management updates a normal part of your communication strategy can go a long way in keeping the executive team aware of the function and your PMO’s skillful handling of it.

Explain the benefits of risk management as it relates to the project. Again, the leadership team may not have a good understanding of the upside to strong project risk management. Provide them with details—industry-level benchmarking or even statistics from your team’s past projects—on how properly identifying and analyzing risk allows the PMO to have consistent, repeatable success. Share with stakeholders the basics of your risk management approach and why you believe it’s the best strategy for the projects managed by the team.

Remind stakeholders that risk management competencies aren’t reserved for large, complex, or high-visibility projects. This wouldn’t be a completely unrealistic thing for those outside the project team to assume, so it’s important to help them understand that risk management is something that’s ongoing no matter the type or size of project. Show the executive staff that identifying risks and planning for (or avoiding) any potential impacts that may result from them is an instrumental function regardless of a project’s budget, duration, or the number of users it affects.

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Release of New Project Management iPhone App

PMAlliance continues its position as a technology leader in the project management industry with the release of its first smartphone application titled Status Mobile.  Status Mobile, currently available in the Apple Store, is designed to support the project management reporting needs for PMAlliance client’s most important projects. While keeping team members, project managers and executive stakeholders updated on the latest status of their projects, the app also acts as a gateway to PMAlliance‘s mobile web-update system.

project management iphone appPMAlliance has a long history of helping companies implement successful project management planning and control processes using the Duration-Driven Planning and Control Methodology.  This project management process combines Project Management Institute best practices with proven, hands-on techniques designed to bring projects in on-time, within budget and to specification.  The Status Mobile smartphone application is another value added technology that will help drive teamwork and communication on the projects that PMAlliance supports.

“We (PMAlliance) are always interested in looking for new ways to add value to our clients through new and innovative technologies,” said Troy McKnight, a Partner at PMAlliance.  “We are extremely excited for our clients to gain access to this next-generation project reporting application.  Having the latest project status available at all times through Status Mobile will help executives make the most informed business decisions.”

To learn more about Status Mobile, check out https://status.pm-alliance.com/

PMAlliance provides project management consultingproject management training and project office development services.

BUILDING YOUR PMO’S PROJECT PORTFOLIO

 

Most project management professionals have their own project portfolios—they come in handy during job interviews, performance reviews, etc. But your PMO should also have a portfolio. It’s a great PR tool when your team hosts networking events, and it’s also helpful when introducing your team to a new executive or key stakeholder. We’ve put together a quick guide to get your PMO’s portfolio started.

 

Select a handful of projects to include. You can’t include everything, but look for a variety of projects that showcase your team’s versatility. Include at least one very large project, one high-visibility project, and one project that directly affected the company’s bottom line. Projects with particular significance (improvements to a manufacturing facility, for example) or that demonstrate your team’s expertise in niche areas (perhaps a project completed under regulatory oversight) would also be good additions.

 

Create a project summary for each project. Viewers of your PMO’s portfolio will want to quickly understand the basic objectives and parameters of the various projects your team has executed, so give them the basics at a glance: a short list of key deliverables, information on the project’s duration or timetable, cost data that includes budgeted and actual figures for expense and capital line items, a list of key project team members and their areas of responsibility, and other notable resource allocations or project details. Keep each project summary to just a single page for easy viewing.

 

Pull some photos together. Few things can help viewers understand the scope and impact of your projects like pictures. But you don’t need many—select one or two large photos that best describe the project’s challenges and final outcome, along with a few smaller pictures that highlight particularly interesting aspects of the project. Any more than that, and your viewers will likely lose interest.

PMAlliance uses a team of highly experienced and certified professionals to provide project management consulting and project management training services.

 

How to Be Successful at Breaking Large Projects Into Many Smaller Ones

Breaking large or complex projects into many smaller projects has quite a few benefits. But there can also be a few pitfalls project management professionals should be aware of—some that can cause headaches for your PMO, and others that can derail a project entirely. Make sure your project managers know about these lurking traps and how to avoid them.

Deconstructing one large project into several smaller components is often a good way to achieve better stakeholder engagement, but occasionally the opposite happens and there is a disconnect between disparate stakeholder groups. When the focus of each small project is narrow, end users and champions may tend to be less supportive of others’ needs, or simply stop caring about maintaining cooperation when their project is complete. Good communication will typically resolve these issues by keeping stakeholders engaged throughout the entire lifecycle of the related projects.

Juggling a number of smaller projects has the potential to create additional overhead for PMOs. Disciplines such as budget management may be duplicated across multiple projects, sapping resources that would otherwise be consolidated. This pitfall is particularly concerning for small PMOs that are already stretched thin. Consider assigning some tasks the way you would if the original large project remained whole. For example, one person may be responsible for managing the budget or allocating staffing across all related projects.

There may be increased competition for resources when multiple projects are in the works. Staging resources efficiently could be more difficult when an array of different demands vie for attention all at once. To combat this concern, strive for tight collaboration between the various project teams. This enables each group to better understand where their demands fall on the overall priority spectrum, and will usually facilitate more effective resource allocation by all teams involved.

Project management training tips by PMAlliance

 

Communication strategies and pumpkin pie

Turkey, stuffing, and pie are Thanksgiving staples, but communication? It turns out that good communication channels are crucial to putting on a first-rate holiday event. Here we’ll look at the strategies Thanksgiving planners use and how they jive with good project management.

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3 TIPS TO ESCAPE A LEADERLESS PROJECT

Earlier we talked about the hallmarks of leaderless projects and some of the issues they bring. It’s crucial to reignite stakeholder engagement, hold one champion accountable for supporting the project, and sidestep a leadership-by-committee structure if you see one looming on the horizon. If you suddenly find yourself knee deep in a project without a champion, what can you do?

1 – Reconnect with your champion. If you suspect your primary stakeholder has (or is planning to) jump ship, don’t hesitate to re-engage them. You may be tempted to start the courtship by e-mail, but savvy Project Managers will opt for a more direct route. Schedule a brief meeting with the stakeholder to bring them up to speed on the project and the challenges their absence may have created.

2 – Know what you need from your champion. As you bring your champion back into the loop, be prepared with timelines and budgets that highlight any problem areas. Also explain issues you anticipate to encounter should the team continue without the stakeholder’s support. Provide the champion with a list of immediate needs, if any—resource authorizations, approvals for action, etc. Even if you don’t get their full attention, you may at least receive the support the project needs to succeed.

3 – Put the leadership back on one champion. If you suspect your project is leaning toward leadership-by-committee, it’s crucial that you place one stakeholder at the top of the organizational chart, and fast. Try to identify a stakeholder with the highest approval authority as well as influence. Have a candid conversation with your champion to ensure everyone is on the same page regarding existing problems, support needs going forward, and expectations on both sides. Close the loop with your team and others impacted by the project by announcing the champion’s formal leadership position.

IDEAS INTO ACTION: WHAT HAPPENS AFTER BRAINSTORMING?

Many project management teams are good at brainstorming new ways to make their processes more efficient and to devise strategies that allow them to have repeatable successes. But sometimes moving those innovations into practice is harder than coming up with the ideas in the first place. How good is your PMO at turning all those good intentions into action? Below we’ve put together 3 steps to help you make sure the seeds sown during brainstorming sessions have the opportunity to grow into real fruit.

1 – Keep track of ideas. Your team is too busy to remember all the great suggestions that come up in brainstorming meetings, so make a record of everything—notes, screenshots, whiteboard postulating, etc. Don’t sell the process short by editing the list too early or too much. And remember that an idea may be introduced before its time, so a periodic review of the list is helpful in keeping things from slipping off the radar.

2 – Assign every good idea to one person for further review. Too many promising concepts fade into obscurity because no one shepherds them along. Rather than allowing useful ideas to fall through the cracks, give them a home by assigning each one to a member of the project team. That person can then evaluate the idea’s real-world viability and identify potential issues that could affect implementation.

3 – Follow up. Project Managers are busy, and the best way to keep good ideas on the front burner is to create a schedule for routine follow ups. These will allow the group to get together for updates on pending ideas. They can then continue vetting the ideas, offer potential solutions to any problems that have been identified, or come to a consensus that an idea isn’t feasible or doesn’t return enough benefit to continue exploring it.

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