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Project management and firefighting

Background on this post

This post started from a tweet that resonated with me. I realized that if we spend all our time managing emergencies, we leave the project at a standstill, without a leader or a vision.

Project management and firefighting

One thing most bloggers won’t admit to is how
they often find inspiration for their posts: in other blogs and tweets.
Anywho, I found my inspiration for today’s post from this Tweet: “Why do so many professionals say they are project managing, when what
they are actually doing is fire fighting? – Colin Bentley” from

  1. It’s a vicious circle.
By |2009-08-26T12:51:00-04:002009-08-26|

Take the risk of trusting your team

Background on this post

I wrote this post as a bit of a manifesto. I often have the impression from project managers that, while they expect their teams to trust them, they are not giving the trust back to the team. And it occurred to me that this really was about taking a risk, and managing that risk in the project.

Take the risk of trusting your team

From the part of the person who gives it, trust is hard. It requires
a leap of faith. It requires that we believe the person we trust is
worth it.

From the part of the person who receives it, trust is energizing. It
means that someone was willing to take that leap of faith for us. It
means we are worth it. Trust also carries responsibility: if we want to
keep that trust, we must prove the giver right. This means delivering
on that trust.

Project management requires a high level of trust

  • The project manager must trust the team to do quality work on time and on budget.
  • The project team must trust the project manager to lead them […]
By |2009-08-19T12:51:00-04:002009-08-19|

The fisherman’s take on project management

Background on the post

I wrote this after a fishing weekend. A bad fishing weekend. As it turns out, there are a lot of project managers that also like fishing! This post was the starting point of several very interesting discussions on LinkedIn about risk management!

The fisherman’s take on project management

I went fishing last weekend. It was a beautiful (yet a little cold) weekend in the woods. We were on a good lake for fishing: our quota was 15 catches per person. That’s a lot of fish!

We were thinking: if the outfitter allows 15 catches per person, there’s got to be a lot of fish in this lake. And there was. As we arrived the Friday night, we could see the bass jump at flies on the surface of the lake. We were stoked for a good day of bass fishing on Saturday!

Well, it was not a good day of fishing. We caught a total of 10 fish between the three of us. This was underwhelming.

Here’s why we didn’t get the fish we were hoping for

  1. The fish was jumping at the flies, […]
By |2009-08-12T12:51:00-04:002009-08-12|

Summer reposts: Project metrics: earned value management with a 6-function calculator

Background on the posts

I wrote these two posts because I got tired of reading how complicated it was to compute project metrics. Project metrics are NOT complicated, it’s simple math! So I thought if I wrote my understanding of those metrics, it might help some people.

It turns out these two posts are the most popular ones on the blog!

I hope you enjoy them 🙂

Project metrics: earned value management with a 6-function calculator

Project metrics have a bad reputation. Things like Earned Value and Schedule Performance Index are presented as complex calculations that only experts can master.

Nothing could be further from the truth

Actually, most project metric calculations can be done by anyone with grade-school math skills. The challenge in project metrics calculations is not in the formulas themselves, but in mixing project management concepts with mathematical operators.

Still, these concepts are basic to project management. Every good project manager should understand them.

Start with the basics: Earned Value, Planned Value, Actual Cost

These three are not really formulas. They are the three figures project metrics use to create all the other ones, like the Cost Performance Index […]

By |2009-08-05T12:51:00-04:002009-08-05|

Making project decisions: Guts or data?

We make decisions all the time. As project managers, we make decisions not only for ourselves, but also for our project teams, stakeholders, and sponsors.

There are two ways that people make decisions: they trust their intuitions (their guts) or they analyze the information available. Analytical people (those who trust data) and intuitive people (who trust their guts) are often not very compatible. Analyticals feel intuitives make decisions too lightly. Intuivites feel analyticals get lost in the details of data and take to much time to decide.

There’s two sides to this coin

Both analyticals and intuitives have a point there.

Strengths Weaknesses
  • Always know the facts.
  • Understand the consequences of their decisions before they make them, every time.
  • Never base a decision on impulsive emotions.
  • Usually take time to think about their decision before they make it.
  • Tend to be more reactive than proactive.
  • Decision-making can be a lengthy process.
  • May suffer from analysis paralysis – when too much information actually prevents decision making.
  • Make decisions fast.
  • Have a keen sense of unquantifiable information, like non-verbal language.
  • Firmly believe in their […]
By |2009-07-23T11:48:00-04:002009-07-23|

That pot is not calling that kettle black: project budgets and estimates

We were sitting at the table in the conference room, discussing how we’ll implement the new cost tracking features in AceProject. And I realized the difference between budget and estimate was not clear at all to everyone sitting at that table.

What’s the difference, anyway?

Budget is defined as:

  • A sum of money allocated for a particular purpose

An estimate is defined as:

  • An approximate calculation of quantity or degree or worth; “an estimate of what it would cost.”

A budget is often something that is decided before estimating how much something will cost. The organization decides how much they can invest in the project, then they decide on the scope of the project, and finally the project team estimates how much it will really cost to do the project. When the estimate is higher than the budget, the fun begins.

Here’s an example:

  • I want to buy a new car. I know I can afford to pay 15 000$ for the car. That’s my budget.
  • I go to the car dealer and I pick the car I want, with all the options I […]
By |2009-07-08T18:29:00-04:002009-07-08|

eBook Review: Leadership and the project manager

Art Petty writes at Management Excellence. A few months ago, he published the ebook Leadership and The Project Manager: Developing the Skills that Fuel High Performance.

While there is a lot of talk about leadership and project management, Art takes an original approach. Instead of telling anecdotes to illustrate his point, he uses questions. For example, to illustrate what leadership maturity means, he lists the following questions:

  • Does the PM understand the true role of a leader?
  • Can the PM lead effectively without formal authority?
  • Is the PM capable of inspiring and motivating others and leading across silos?
  • Does the PM understand her role in creating a high performance culture?
  • Is she comfortable receiving and delivering constructive feedback?
  • Does she have high credibility as a professional and a person?
  • Does she understand the stages of team development and the changing leadership tasks at each stage?
  • Does she manage upwards and communicate with stakeholders effectively?

Art’s question-based approach creates a book where one stops and thinks at each chapter, and ponders one’s own answer […]

By |2009-07-01T15:16:00-04:002009-07-01|

PMBOK 4th edition: the human at the center

I recently had the chance to sit it on a very informative presentation about the changes to the PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge 4th edition, aka the PMBOK. It’s important to stay up-to-date on profesionnal best practices, and there’s been a lot of discussion on the new PMBOK.

I’ll spare you the details of the new processes and the deleted processes in the system. I’ll spare you the details of the new flowcharts.

Here’s what stuck my about the changes in the new PMBOK: it put more emphasis on the human side of project management. Managing stakeholders is more important.

There’s even a whole section about interpersonal skills, Appendix G, which talks about leadership, team building, motivation, communication, and so on.

“Respect and trust, rather than fear and submission, are the key elements of effective leadership.” – PMBOK 4 th edition, page 448.

I believe it’s the first time the PMI takes a real stance about management styles and personal interaction.

It was not a minute too soon.

By |2009-06-24T11:50:00-04:002009-06-24|

Use the Pareto principle to improve project performance

The excellent post “The Lazy Project Manager” over at pmstudent got me thinking.

A common way to manage projects is management by exception. The rationale behind it is that we should only give attention to parts of the project that are not going according to plan. It makes sense. If parts of the project are going well, there is no use scrutinizing them.

However, if we’re only focussing on what’s deviating from the plan, we may be missing opportunities for improvement. If we use Pareto’s 80/20 principle, 80% of the work in the project is on 20% of the project value. This is no doubt the most expensive part of the project. Even if it’s going well, we may gain significant performance improvement by looking at the 20% most costly or most difficult part of the project, and looking for areas of improvement.

By |2009-06-22T15:31:00-04:002009-06-22|

Agile and project management

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting Bruno Larouche from Génération Agile. He helps businesses implement agile methodologies. We had a conversation on Twitter earlier about AceProject’s compatibility with agile project management.

Bruno gave us a very enlightening presentation. While I had read about agile before, I don’t think I had ever had the chance to talk with someone who lives and breathes agile. One thing that hit me as Bruno was explaining what agile project management was about, is the importance of the human in Agile development methodologies.

What I learned about Agile project management and humans

  1. Agile is about adapting to change. The Agile project team must react to changing conditions in our environment.
  2. Agile project management stresses fulfilling a need. It’s important to manage stakeholders’ expectations well.
  3. It’s crucial to involve the client (or at least a representative of the end users) early in the process. There’s no point in asking for feedback when it’s too late to change anything.
  4. Communication and motivation are essential to deliver early and often.
  5. The project manager is never […]
By |2009-06-19T11:49:00-04:002009-06-19|
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