Learning Project Reporting on the Fly

I recently became the project manager for a project that was started this past August. The project contributes to a strategic corporate initiative and has high visibility. Given the project had already been in progress for 2 months, I assumed that much of project plan and reporting structure was already in place. This was not the case!

There was progress being made. However, there was no formal communication/reporting protocol with upper management and the various project stakeholders were not working to an aligned plan. Before I formally took over the program, my manager and I reviewed the overall status and decided we needed to hold a workshop to bring all team members/stakeholders together.

We held a two-day workshop with the goal of formalizing the project plan and WBS to meet the target launch date and shipment quantity. The workshop was very successful and the team left feeling aligned and empowered. However, there was also a feeling of uncertainty.

As project manager I was given the task of developing a dashboard to communicate the project status on a weekly basis: project timeline with key milestones, materials procurement, CAPEX (capital expenditure), and hiring. Being new to dashboard development, I embraced the challenge and compiled the required data.

Much like the examples found in the textbook, my dashboard includes a Gantt chart for project milestones. Within the Gantt chart I also included initial production quantities, weekly spend requirements for materials purchases and CAPEX expenditures, and weekly hiring requirements. Additional tables were included to better quantify the information in the Gantt chart. I was amazed at how much information could be displayed on a single chart!

Once the dashboard was complete, the reason for the team’s uncertainty at the workshop’s conclusion was clear: the project was significantly behind schedule and under-staffed.

How could such a discrepancy exist? No detailed planning was conducted at the beginning of the project. Yes, key milestones were defined along with primary deliverable, but the detailed investments required to support the project were not effectively communicated until the workshop. At this point, the only way to refine the project plan was to proceed like Dilbert:


After working backwards and compiling a daunting list of overdue expenditures, the team leveraged the dashboard to inform upper management of the current project status. Naturally they were not impressed and requested the team to drive improvement. We are now in catch-up mode and working to fulfill the initial plan as much as possible. The team is in a difficult situation as product performance has been agreed to with the customer, and senior management has mandated that all costs be minimized while fulfilling the target launch date and quantity.

We are committing to the realistic schedule/quantity and reporting this as baseline during our weekly meetings. Now we just need to get senior management on board.

Have you ever worked on similar projects that were behind schedule, over budget, and under-staffed? Please share your experience!



One crucial part of the planning phase of any project is resource allocation.  In today’s project environment, there is more demand to shorten project timeframes while increasing quality.  I found two articles I’d like to share on resource allocation.

Project Resources: Guarding Against SME Overload 

Project Management Best Practices: Estimating the Work

In order to meet the overall project deadline, subject matter experts are often allocated less time to complete the tasks identified in the project plan.  Tasks are outlined based on the minimum time required to complete which doesn’t account for other projects and work, sick days, or vacation.  The article, Guarding Against SME Overload, discusses the problem of overloading SMEs and the importance of avoiding it.

Combat Overload: Speak Up!

Many SMEs are involved in more than one project or they are part of a project and they still have other work to do.  The article suggests that “Employees and contractors must have a level of comfort to raise the issue of work-overload to the project manager and their direct manager as well.” [1]  I think it is crucial for Project Managers to create this level of trust with the people working on their project.

No matter how well I think I have planned a project, I have frequently found myself in a position where resources are over allocated. Generally a project manager should be managing the work rather than completing the work. In my case I am both managing my department’s portion of the work while also acting as the main subject matter expert.  The article comments, “Most project managers tend to internalize issues and keep things like this to themselves. PMs are not immune from stress and the implications of being stressed.” [1]  I find it is easier to over allocate my own time than that of another resource, especially since the performance of the project rests on me.

Prevent Overload: Estimate Effort!

In the past, I found it difficult to adequately estimate the amount of time a project is going to take. While one task may not take long, when adding all of the other tasks that are going to be completed within the same week, your time suddenly disappears.  The article, Estimating the Work, has some tips on how to better plan the time it will take to complete project tasks.

The first tip is to estimate the amount of time it’s going to take to do the task in effort hours rather than calendar days.  The author uses the example of a twenty-hour task that could be completed in under three calendar days if that was the only task assigned to the resource.  However, it could take longer if you have to wait for information or stay home due to illness.

The second tip is around translating the task effort hours into calendar days.  He suggests tracking the time the SME can spend on the project on a daily basis and using that to translate the task into calendar days.  He advises, “Typically, the effective project time is only perhaps fifty to sixty percent of the nominal time team members spend at work, far less than the assumed one hundred percent effective time on which so many project schedules are planned.” [2]

How do you prevent resource overload?

How do you determine the time each task in your project will take?

[1] http://www.projecttimes.com/articles/project-resources-guarding-against-sme-overload.html

[2] http://www.projecttimes.com/articles/project-management-best-practices-estimating-the-work.html

Every Project Manager wants the “best” resource – Resource Planning Issues

In many organizations, its very rare for an employee to be dedicated to only one project. Many times, resources are stretched across several projects demanding their time. And when a new project comes along that is requesting a specific resource who may already be fully allocated, conflict may arise. Often times, project managers of the conflicting projects have project plans with a resource allocation on their individual computers, where no other managers in the organization can view the allocation. Or even worse, the project manager may have never done a resource planning exercise on the project.

In the first article listed below, author Donna Fitzgerald suggests the concept of a centralized project resource allocation system. Not having the centralized scheduling system to show the allocation of all resources potentially puts the projects the current resource is working on as well as future projects requesting his time at risk. By having the system in place, the project manager simply would need to go to the system to determine whether or not a resource could be allocated to the project. If a project manager really wants a specific employee on a project but that resource is overallocated, the manager has two options:  either find another resource (either through another team member or consultant), or push the project start date to another date.

Having a centralized system also requires buy-in from all portions of an organization, which potentially could be a difficult task. However, I feel if an organization were to implement such a solution, it would eliminate a lot of headaches at the resource planning phase of the project. Another potential solution to this type of problem would be to prioritize projects, either at the organizational level, or departmental level, or even at the resource level.

M - Project Manager?
M – Project Manager? Who knew!

In the second article, author Daniel Chou uses the James Bond movie “Casino Royale” and Dame Judi Dench’s character M to illustrate the allocation of various resources (e.g. James Bond) on various projects. In the movie, she manages from the top down, in that she is able to add/remove resources from tasks if a project is getting out of control or if it’s going well. Based on the various risks associated with a project, a manager can accommodate for those risks (hopefully seen in advance through the use of a risk management plan) by adding additional or removing resources at that time.

Does anyone in their current employment situation have a centralized location that shows the allocation of potential project resources? If not, how do you go about ensuring a potential project resource is not overallocated?