When the Customer Can’t Push “Go”

when the customer can't push goI am usually very energized by a new project. After all, there is a customer out there who is waiting to get started, eager to meet with me, and may have already left a couple of voice mails for me before I ever get the project officially handed off to me. I had one – US Airlines to be exact – who wanted a finish date for a software implementation I was going to be doing for them before we even met by phone so that they could put it in some airline industry publication. Talk about enthused. Or at least being pushed by someone higher up to look and act enthused.

When you are used to that type of anticipation from the customer – or something close to that – it’s no wonder we can become frustrated when the indecisiveness – or lack of availability from a project sponsor gets in the way of forward momentum on an engagement…or even just getting it kicked off. When that indecision is coming from your direct customer, it cannot only be frustrating, but also very detrimental to the project. Every project manager knows all too well that delays caused by waiting on key decisions and input can cost time and money – two things that few projects have extra of.

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Focusing on the Stakeholders

project stakeholdersWhat skill must every project manager possess in order to be successful? Communication. Good, effective, efficient communication. Going into any engagement who the project manager will be communicating with is a question mark because the project itself can be more far reaching than originally imagined. And even if it isn’t much of who will actually be involved – in terms of stakeholders – will get finalized during the kickoff session (although more will usually be added along the way). At a minimum, that communication will be with the project manager’s project team, his senior management, the customer sponsor, the customer project team, possible senior leadership at the customer site, and possibly third party vendors. There even may be more stakeholders than what’s included – they do tend to get added along the way. They may even come and go throughout the project. The constant, though, is that those communication skills must be there and remain engaged throughout the project.

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Tracking Project Progress

As we work on our projects we often find it necessary to be able to track how the project is going.  In the best case scenario we would be able to input exactly how tasks occur, letting us see how it may affect other tasks in the project.  In FastTrack Schedule 10 we can easily track progress on any single task, and when using dependencies, the program will automatically show us how these changes will affect other tasks down the line.

In FastTrack Schedule 10 there are 3 levels of Progress Tracking. The first level is Scheduled Dates, this is where we enter in the original plan for the schedule or how we expect the project to occur.  When working with Schedule Dates we enter this information into the Duration, Start Date, and Finish Date columns.  As we do this a basic schedule is created and displayed in our Timeline Graph.


Scheduled Dates


After you have planned your project you always have the option of making changes to the original dates and durations you just entered.  When doing this, however, we will not be able to see how the project has changed from what was originally scheduled.  In order to track how the project was originally scheduled versus how it is now scheduled we can use Revised Dates. Revised Dates allow you to make changes to the plan before progress has started, to see how these changes will affect the flow of the project. The best place to work with the Revised Dates is the Tracking Layout. 

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Should We Say Yes to Every Project?

should we say yes to every projectI am a consulting project manager rather than one working directly for an organization. So this article may be a bit more applicable to the consultant who has more options to turn down projects (although income is essential and nice). Working as a W2 employee – or even as a contractor within the organization – I don’t think I’ve ever really had the option to say no to a project that was assigned to me…but then again I don’t think I ever tried to say no. If you’re not a consultant and do have the right of first refusal when assigned new projects, then this article is also for you. Independent consultants can say yes or no – but if you want income and don’t want to burn bridges with potential clients in the future, you want your no’s to be for good reason….and infrequent.

So how do we decide which projects to take and which ones to pass on? There is no magical formula, but I contend that there are signs we can look for that may give us an indication of how things might go for us with a given client on a project or consulting engagement? However, we have to listen carefully and sometimes read between the lines. Here are a few signs that I always try to look out for:

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Mentoring on the Fly

mentoring on the flyYou’re an experienced project manager with many project success stories under your belt. Likewise, you’ve had enough failures…or brushes with failure…to be able to understand that side of the coin. You have the ability to talk about what works well on projects and what doesn’t work so well. What makes project clients happy and what makes them not so happy. You’ve done things right…and you’ve occasionally done things wrong…and learned something from those poor choices, decisions and actions. Overall, these PM experiences…both good and bad…make you a good mentor for a junior project manager or perhaps an aspiring project manager from inside your organization.

So, you have these individuals who want to be project managers or who already are but have little to no experience in the profession. How do you get them ready to take on large projects of their own? How do you instill confidence and leadership in them when they’ve never led even a small project before? Do you push right into the fire with a small project and let them sink or swim? Do you let them shadow a more experienced project manager on a big project (and if so, do you bill the customer for their efforts?)? Let’s consider these options and others…

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Adding Text Labels to Bars

In a past “FastTrack Schedule Tip” post we looked at how we can easily define Custom Bars and Milestones for our projects.  In that post we also went over how to assign items such as a color, pattern, or border to the different bars in your project.  Not only can we change the physical appearance of the bars but we can also apply different informational labels to each bar; this information will thus be displayed directly within the Timeline Graph.

With FastTrack Schedule 10 we can add labels to our bars that correspond to any of the nearly 500 customizable columns in the program.  On top of that, we can add up to 100 labels to every bar based on the amount of information that we’d like to see displayed.

To begin let’s take a look at a schedule that has already been put together.  Here we can see we have a few simple tasks listed out and that our Timeline Graph is currently displayed in Weeks.


Schedule Start

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Empowering Your Project Team Toward Success

empowering your project teamControl. It drives professionals to success or an early grave…depending on the individual and the obsession. But there is no question that some of the most successful project managers thrive on it. Let’s face it – there is a lot to manage on a project – including some big egos – so it’s imperative that a project manager be able to maintain control of the project and those egos if they want (hope?) to realize success.

And what about turning over control? It’s hard for that project manager to turn over some power and decision-making responsibility to the project team that they’ve assembled. However, in order to be effective on the project (and other projects we’re managing at the same time) and in order to use our time efficiently, it’s often absolutely necessary. I’ve had several projects – especially in situations where other projects are in turmoil or at critical stages – turning over some power to my project team members has been the only way for me to keep my head above water.

The effectiveness of empowered teams

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Delivering the Right Project

delivering the right project
Delivering on the project is great. On time delivery, on budget delivery. Fantastic. Delivering exactly what your client asked for? Pretty nice. Delivering exactly what your client needs? Even better. Some clients expect more than we are planning to deliver. Some expect less. Setting those expectations properly out of the gate is a challenge and an art form. And it’s something that every good project manager needs to be able to guide his team to do….no matter what the project customer says or expects.

The expectation gap is more the result of a failure to communicate than it is of anything else, and this lack of communication starts at the beginning of a project and extends all the way to the end. This definitely does not have to be the case. It is the project manager’s job to utilize effective and efficient communication to sort out customers needs and to appropriately set customer expectations and team expectations early in the project to ensure the end goals are correct, are attainable, and are what the project customer actually wants and needs. Let’s look into this a bit deeper…

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Adding Generic Timescales to Projects

In most of the projects that we work on we can track time using our “base units” of Hours, Days, Weeks, Months, Quarters, or Years.  However in some projects we need to be able to track time in additional ways.  For example: perhaps we would like to know the exact day into the year a task must start or finish on, or which week out of all 52 a task will occur during.

In FastTrack Schedule 10 we can add additional Timescales to our Timeline Graph which will allow us to track in any type of customized or generic time unit.  Starting from our base units we can add generic options for each and then format them exactly as we’d like to see the time displayed within our project.

By default, in a new project our Timeline Graph is set to show days, with Timescales displayed for Numerical and Alphabetical Days, as well as the Month and Year.


Default Timescales

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3 Tips for Project Kickoff that You Might Not Consider

project kickoffWhen we are assigned a new project there are plenty of things to do, right? First, that frantic wave comes over you as you consider the work that is already on your plate and you think about how you are going to manage to insert this new project assignment into the workload that you are already carrying. Then you start to think about the usual processes you go through to start a project like gathering as much info about the project and customer as you can, how and when you’re going to kick off the project and what your project team will need to look like in terms of skill set and experience.

Yes, we all have our thought processes that we go through and some are our own processes from experience, some are mandated by the policies of the organization we work for, and others are mandated by the projects themselves. What I want to discuss are three things that have come up for me after leading many of these engagements that may be a bit off the beaten path. These are concepts to consider that are a bit outside the norm of what you might usually be planning as you prepare to kickoff a new project with a client.

My three are:

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Who Should Lead the Project? – Part 2

who should lead the project teamIn Part 1 of this two part series on selecting the right project manager for the project, we discussed how it isn’t just about putting the best available project manager in the role. There are many aspects that need to be examined – and how the individual matches up with the specific project customer may be the biggest determiner of all – depending on how picky or needy your project client actually is. In Part 2, we’ll consider some of the organizational infrastructure differences that can affect the project team and project manager making getting the right person in the role possibly even more of a challenge…depending on what they can handle.

Depending on the type of organization your project managers and team members are coming from, there are some advantages and disadvantages that need to be acknowledged. Generally, were faced with either a Task structure or a Matrix structure. Let’s look at the pros and cons of each…

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How to Shift Tasks and Graphical Items in a Schedule

In project management there are often times when we plan all of our projects for the year in advance just to become aware of what the potential workload may look like. When we do this we don’t always set exact dates for when tasks should occur, oftentimes we simply set a duration for how long it should take to finish a task. As the project grows closer to its starting point we need to update our schedule to show the true time frame of when the project will occur. Depending on how the project was created we have several options for shifting all tasks to the newly planned start date. Only one of these methods however will also let us shift any additional graphical data that we have added to our schedule, such as text boxes or images inserted in the Timeline Graph. In FastTrack Schedule 10 we can easily shift our entire project as well as the graphical items in a few simple steps. First let’s take a look at how our schedule currently appears with all of the tasks and graphical items that we have entered at this point.

Original Schedule

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