Don’t Forget to Plan for Risks

don't forget to plan for risksRisk planning…most tell you they hate to spend time on it and often just do a cursory amount of real risk planning. We often find that it’s easier to act now and ask for forgiveness later. Risk planning is like life insurance…great if you need it, but most of us don’t need it before it becomes too expensive to have or we really don’t need it anymore…and all we’ve done is spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on premiums that will never be used. Ouch! I think most project customers would probably agree as well – while grimacing at the thought of their hard-earned dollars floating away when the indestructible Titanic hits that iceberg that no one saw coming.

While it is true that it’s almost impossible to avoid all issues and risks on a project, it is possible to practice wise risk management to either avoid most risks or be prepared to mitigate those risks that cannot be avoided no matter what. Let’s consider some simple steps to follow – some risk management best practices to engage in – during the early phases of your project that can greatly increase your project’s chances for success and minimize risk impacts.

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Can this project be saved?

can this project be savedSome projects experience some disastrous situations and you wonder, “Can this project be saved?” Maybe not out loud in front of the project client, but you do wonder it. Some can be fixed, some can’t and some take some alternate routes to get back on the road to success. The act of actually throwing in the towel is hopefully one of the last things on your mind. Or at least it should be.

The average project manager and/or strategist is likely going to want to consider all possible angles to save the project. It’s painful, but often with careful planning and creative thinking you can get back on the road to project completion – but you may need some negotiation and cooperation with and from your project customer to get there.

I’d like to propose these five possible actions to take to get through whatever is troubling the project and to some light at the end of the tunnel. Please consider your own strategies and thoughts on these types of situations and be prepared to share and discuss…

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5 Things I Wish I Had Known Earlier In My Project Management Career

5 things i wish i had known earlier in my pm careerAs project managers there will always be those things that we wish we had known or things we thought we could do but we were too confident to see that we were actually failing. You’ve heard the term “fake it till you make it” right? You’ve probably even read that phrase from me in a few of my articles. I am a firm believer in it because few people – actually no people – start out as real “experts.” They become good…but often the start out as inadequate.

And as project managers, we’ve all been given advice along the way – some of it good advice, and some of it bad. We make mental notes of what worked and what didn’t and move on. Often we become mentors to new project managers who are seeking to gain a foothold as they start managing a portfolio of projects and customers and keep everyone happy in the process.

What I’d like to discuss are five things that came up during the earlier phases of my PM career that I wish I had known or considered, but didn’t or remained too confident to think it could happen to me…these are in no real order, but please be considering your own list and feel free to share…

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What if Things Don’t Go Off According to the Project Plan?

what if things don't go off according to the project planDoes your day usually go exactly how you planned it would go when you hit the shower in the morning? Does it ever? Why should we expect something different from the projects that we manage? The teams that we manage? T/he customers that we engage? So many variables. So many things that can go wrong or different or even better than originally planned.

This happens to me nearly every day…I’m sure it’s happening to you as well. Some days I go to bed and realize I didn’t even get to touch what I planned to do.

Why is this? Because we plan based on our own thoughts of how we ‘want’ things to go. We plan based usually on a best-case scenario. But, as we all know, life gets in the way of these best-laid plans and reality hits us like a ton of bricks.

Like life, our projects often don’t go as planned either. In fact, I can honestly say that I’ve never had a project go completely as planned. To go as planned would mean that I never had to make changes to the project schedule, or resource plans or the budget. That has simple never happened. And I would imagine it’s probably never happened for any project manager in the history of project management.

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A Good Business Analyst Can Make You a Great Project Manager

a good business analyst can make you a great project managerYou can be the most talented and organized project manager there ever was, but never underestimate how much a talented business analyst brings to the table on your technical projects. They are essential for success, in my opinion. With a great BA in place you get better requirements documented, have better oversight of the technical development team on the project, gain valuable assistance on the daily interaction with the project customer, and are virtually guaranteed that user acceptance testing will be pulled off with as few glitches as possible.

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FastTrack Schedule Best Practices: Defining Dependencies

As we saw within our last FastTrack Schedule Best Practice post, there can often be many different ways of setting up features within a schedule. After creating the activity bars within a schedule, typically the next step is to define the dependencies between them. Just like with creating the bars themselves FastTrack Schedule 10 will offer users several options for defining the dependencies.

The first method to create a dependency between activities is to manually draw the dependency. When we draw the dependency we can place our cursor on the point of the bar where we want the dependency to start and can then click and drag to the location where we’d like the dependency to end. To draw a dependency between activities we must first select the Draw Link Tool which is the third tool in the bar tools list. Once we have this selected we will place our cursor at the end of the bar which will be the predecessor then click and drag to the bar that will be the successor. As we can see below, when we release the mouse a link is drawn between the selected items.


Draw Link_small

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The Critical Elements of Upfront Project Planning

critical elements of upfront project planningPlanning is a chore. I get that. And believe me, I struggle with chores daily – but it’s a way of life if you want to live an organized productive life. The same is true with the projects that we run. If we want to have productive, organized and successful projects, then we can’t run them on luck and shoot from the hip throughout the engagement.

Upfront project planning is one of the most critical elements of the project. If not enough time is spent really laying out the project, understanding requirements, asking the right questions, and planning the work, then your project is likely doomed to fail. But often it’s that planning time that is looked upon as wasteful, isn’t it?

How often have you heard it said that planning is a waste of time? No sooner is the plan completed than something comes up on the project requiring a change to the project plan. Some argue that the plan, once completed, is disregarded and merely put on the shelf so the team can get down to doing some real work. In people management, the planning activity involves deciding on the types of people resources that will be needed to discharge the responsibilities of the department. That means identifying the types of skills needed and the number of people possessing those skills.

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Virtual Team Management Challenges

virtual team management challengesThat said, running a project virtually is not without its own complexities. It is easy to characterize the types of virtual teams using the same categories as traditional teams. They can, however, be much more complex. The two primary categories of variables that make virtual teams more complex are: (1) they cross boundaries related to time, distance (geography), and organization; and (2) they communicate (share information) and collaborate (work together to produce a product) using technology.

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FastTrack Schedule Best Practices: Creating Activity Bars

In project management, there can often be many different methods for accomplishing project goals. In some cases, there will be what is considered a “best practice” method that will provide the best possible end-result. In FastTrack Schedule there are a wide variety of options when it comes to schedule setup, and in most cases, several options that can be used to modify a single portion of the schedule. Today we’ll take a look at what is considered to be the “best practice” method for creating activity bars.

Creating the activity bars within the schedule is one of the most important steps in planning, as this is when we determine the dates and durations that each task will take to complete. Users have several options for creating these bars, each which can provide a different result as schedule upkeep occurs. The reason these methods may provide different results is due to what is known as a Constraint. Constraints control how activities interact with one another as changes are made to the schedule. For example, constraints can allow activities to freely flow back and forth as updates are made, or they can restrict activities to only occur within a specific start or finish date.


Generic Schedule_small

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Are Project Managers Born, Raised or Found?

are project managers born, raised, or foundWe often say that someone is a “born leader.” Or you argue so well, you need to become a lawyer when you grow up – see the next paragraph… But are project managers pre-disposed to be project managers? Is it something they are born with? Something they grow up to be? Something they are pushed into unwillingly? Maybe all three?

I realize that so many people who show characteristics that should lend themselves well to one profession often end up in a completely unrelated profession. My parents always told me I should grow up to be a lawyer because I always needed to have the last word and I was very good at arguing a point. But, as you can tell, that didn’t end up being the case.

Let’s look at what I consider to be a few key characteristics of the most successful project managers…

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Is Project Management for You?

is project management for youConsidering a career in project management or know someone who is considering such a move? Are you ready? Are they ready? And what does it actually mean to be ready? What steps do you need to take to get to that point?

Other things to consider… Are you being thrust into the role, or do you desire it (and yes, some of us made a conscious choice to become PMs)? Do you have the experience needed? Are you a leader or a follower? Does your background match up well with the types of projects you’ll be leading? Do you have the experience with the proper project management software tools to track the schedule appropriately? Can you make good, quick decisions and then own them?

These are all relevant questions to ask yourself before stepping into the role of project manager. Why? Because it’s an interesting role and it can be a very rewarding role, but it is a difficult role when taken seriously and it puts you in the place of nearly full responsibility for the positive or negative outcome of the projects that you take on.

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Cutting Corners to Get the Project Done

cutting corners to get the project doneEver had one of those projects where you were tempted to skip best practices, the usual processes and templates and just do it your way to get it done? It may be a very short term project, a very low dollar project, a project flying way under the radar, a project where the customer is saying, “Let’s get this done NOW!”, or maybe it’s an issue-riddled project and you’re just trying to shove a working version out the door so you can get it signed off. Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?

For whatever reason, the project didn’t seem to warrant the attention to detail, the frequent status reporting and oversight warranted by normal project management best practices. Risks??? What risks? Resource planning? It’s not going to last that long…so why go into detail? Budget forecasting? It’s a small budget on a straightforward project so…um…why bother? Creating and tracking a detailed schedule through project management software – why bother on such a short-term project? All we’re doing is fixing and testing issues to get to rollout – why follow any best practices…we need speed and resolution! Have any of these phrases been uttered by you or a colleague only to have them come back and bite you later on?

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