Delegation, is it an Art or a Science?

More than often project managers are swamped with too much work and still refuse or procrastinate in delegating some of the work to one or more of the team members in the project team. This is not specific to project management and fear of delegation is known to be present in all sectors, professions and all positions within corporations and firms. Here below it is listed the most common reasons why project managers do not delegate, properly, timely or not at all and when they do, how should they go about it:

Barriers from the project manager

–        Not enough time to properly explain the work to be performed and how

–        Fear of losing control of the task delegated and that the result will be disastrous

–        Fear of not getting credit for the quality and success of the delegated task

–        Fear of losing tasks that are enjoyed and getting stuck with the unwanted tasks

–        Fell that he/she can do it better and that the result will not be as perfect as it could

–        Fear of delegating-self out of a job as the senior management sees others with competence

–        Lack of confidence in team members with the fear that they will completely fail

Barriers from the team members

–        Not enough time to understand and assimilate the task to be performed

–        Not enough experience to execute such a task without asking too much and looking incompetent

–        Fear of failure and that such a failure can have serious consequences

–        Not their responsibility since tasks were not theirs in the first place

–        Fear of being a scapegoat and that the PM is just setting one up for failure

–        Reactions from other team members who may think you have some type of preference from the PM

Barriers from the situation

–        Constrained resources, when money is the biggest concern in the organization and failure is not an option whatsoever

–        Unclear hierarchy, when it is difficult to understand the lines of authority in the firm or corporation

Reasons not to delegate

–        When there’s lack of clarity, if you cannot understand it yourself do not expect others to understand it either

–        When you need the learning, so the delegation will prevent you from learning some core competence intrinsic to the task to be done

–        When the project is too high stakes and it is best that you get it done yourself and are in control all the time

To whom should the PM delegate

–        The experience, knowledge and skills of the individual

–        The individual’s preferred work style

–        The current workload of this person

How should the PM delegate

–        Clearly articulate the desired outcome

–        Clearly identify constraints and boundaries

–        Where possible, include people in the delegation process

–        Match the amount of responsibility with the amount of authority

–        Delegate to the lowest possible organizational level

–        Provide adequate support, and be available to answer questions

–        Focus on results

–        Avoid upward delegation

–        Build motivation and commitment

–        Establish and maintain control


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How to know you’re doomed! (Not just for the nerds.)

Computerworld published a list: “11 signs your IT project is doomed”. Linked here. Interestingly, all 11 apply to normal-world projects as well. I may be biased because I have had my fair share of IT projects. My experience has been that most of them fail because of “Red Flag #4: Users have had little/no early involvement”. Around my parts, our IT department tries to solve problems we don’t have with solutions we don’t need. Lately I have spent hours in meetings sorting out the misdirection and miscommunication months after implementation has gone awry! In a parallel world, I have also been in a lot of meetings with Customers and Sales folks sorting out project details. My exact words in many of these meetings, “Guys, we cannot deliver it in the time-frame you are asking. Why did you sell that without asking me first, I need another 2 months before we even started.”

How many of these sound familiar to you Project Managers? Has your project…

  • Started without Sr. Management approval?
  • Started without a detailed project plan
  • Had Project Meetings scheduled without the key players involved (ignoring scheduling conflicts)
  • Had End Users not involved in project definition
  • Used minimum specifications as the project requirements
  • Tested as an afterthought
  • Never put a recovery (risk) plan is in place
  • Taken expert input and simplified/tweaked without understanding outcome
  • Committed to a Go-live/deliverable date that is on is on a holiday / vacation day / unrealistic time-frame

If you can say that one or more of these look familiar, there is a good chance that your project is going to struggle if it hasn’t already. But why?

I really want to answer ‘why’ with a simplified summary… but I don’t think that I can. Project Management has been the most difficult and yet most rewarding task that I have ever faced in my career. There is an incredible amount of complexity involve in any given project, with thousands of unknowns and an infinite number of outcomes. There is not one solution, there is no single answer. Project Management (IT or otherwise) is as complex as it is fluid. As a result there is no simple summary of what to do right.

That said; there are solutions and there are proven ways to work through the complex problems. There are best practices that each of us can apply to our field, there are take-aways and lessons learned. In my world, we have Lean/Six-Sigma. It’s not the end-all-be-all solution, but it could address many of the ‘red flags’ that the Computerworld article lists out. The five steps below are the standard steps which address many of the above issues:


Following a rigid process blindly is a waste of time, but following a broad and robust process intelligently can save time, money and headache. What do you think of these ‘red-flags’? Do they sound familiar? How have you addressed or avoided them in your experience?



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Process Flow and the use of Project Management at AOL Advertising

AOL Advertising is a service-based organization offering various types of online advertising campaigns. Advertising campaigns offer clients customized audiences, brands and platforms that help advertisers reach their digital marketing goals. Whether the goal is to maximize brand exposure, increase online ROI or recruit a certain number of online registrations, AOL has a number of tools to help clients reach their online targets and goals.

Project Management is incredibly important to the bottom line of how all departments function at AOL. The digital online environment requires employees to manage multiple simultaneous processes that must all work together to create the end result: an online advertising campaign. Every advertising campaign experiences an assembly line of departments start to finish. First, a Sales representative pitches or responds to a request for proposal (RFP). Then an Account Manager plans the business with internal AOL systems, determining if there is enough inventory at the right price to meet a customer’s needs. From there it moves to the Launch & Traffic Department to begin the implementation phase. Launch & Traffic members receive an advertiser’s physical ad and sets up the campaign parameters (how and where it will run) through AOL’s back end data systems. After the Launch & Traffic team sets the campaign live, the post-launch process begins. Post-launch the campaign is reviewed by the Business Analyst team, who monitor the campaign’s performance to ensure that the campaign is running and performing as intended. Then Account Management works with the Billing department to bill for and finalize the campaign. Overall, each piece of the process has a number of key operational procedures that together allow AOL to successfully pitch, sell and execute multiple online ad campaigns simultaneously.

All of the departments listed above (Sales, Account Management, Launch & Trafficking, Business Analysts and Billing) engage in project management techniques and procedures on a daily basis. How does your organization execute project management through its operational processes and procedures?


How to decrease chances of a project failure?

There is nothing more rewarding for a project manager than a successful completion of a project.  There are many factors that contribute to such an outcome. Successful projects need to be well planed, managed and executed and each of those phases has to be carefully prepared, implemented, and performed. If everything goes according to your plans, great… mission accomplished, but what if things turn up side down?

As a project manager you may encounter situations when some of the projects you were involved or led did not return the outcome you had expected. Sometimes, although you think that every aspect of the project has been thoroughly analyzed and prepared, the overall project outcome is a failure.  You start to think where the mistake has happened? What was missing or omitted?



One of the most common reasons for the project failure is actually inexperienced project manager(s).  In many situations, managers work under stress. Do they know how to handle it? Can they well understand and make right financial decisions? Can they run appropriate negotiations, solve unexpected issues, communicate required information to appropriate project group? Although it may sound ease, some especially young projects managers, may have problems with stress management and poorly perform under such situation. In critical moments, they may loose the objectivity and start to use false assumptions or just start to force things through.

Another common reason for a project failure may be lack of resources. To successfully complete any project the appropriate resources such as personnel, equipment, tools, etc. need to be provided.  Project resources are key to achieve the project’s goal. What is going to happen when we promise the project delivery on certain time with limited or inadequate (skillset) resources? How that goal can be achieved? Without required resources, the project delivery will be delayed, poorly completed, or completely fail. Often, to save money on the project, managers try to deliver the product on the minimum resources involved. In many occasions that saving turn out to bring more expense at the end than expected.

Poorly defined requirements are very well known reason for the project failure too. It is very important to clearly document what are customer’s expects and needs. It is crucial for any project to make sure that both sides of the contract understand the requirements. Additionally we need to make sure that those requirements are agreed to and signed off by the client before the project implementation phase. What would happen, if there were a situation in which the customer expects something different than what we believe they want?  What would happen if we started to implement the project, which was never approved and consigned by our customer?

Have you ever experienced a project failure? What was the cause of it? If not, what in your opinion are other reasons for the project failure?





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?


Wanted: Competant Project Managers

Over the past few years there has been a significant push, especially in the United States on the importance of math and science education for the young.  There has been an understanding that emerging nations like India and China have passed the United States in graduating engineers and scientists from the university.  The math and science shortage has been felt in places like the UK, U.S. , and even Australia.  The latest stories have spotlighted the skills shortage overall in the Project Management field.

The shortage in very good, and competent project managers has significant implications for large scale projects moving forward.  The downside of having issues with project management is the reality that project overruns and extending time estimates on projects have negative effects for progress in building and other projects.  Scope creep is an effect that starts to affect large scale projects.

The article spotlights some findings that they studied in India with the help of PMI India and KPMG.  India is in a building phase in their country life cycle.  Lots of new infrastructure is needed to handle the more than 1 billion people that inhabit their country.  People will start to expect certain amenities as people start to gain a little bit of wealth and move towards the middle class.

There is an expected 1 trillion dollars in infrastructure that will be spent in the next four years.  80% of the developers of the different projects are unable to find good project managers to execute this increased infrastructure build.  The study that KMPG facilitated found that “some projects are delayed by external factors such as land acquisition or regulatory approvals which are beyond the control of the executing agency, a majority of projects are delayed by factors that can be controlled at the project level through proper planning and project management.”

While this article focuses on India, it seems to me that this is a world wide problem.  Just like there is an aversion to math and science all over the world, project managers have become something that has been very hard to find.  Project managers have a lot of responsibility on different projects.  They are forced to be “experts” in statistical analysis, manufacturing, operations, and forecasting among other things.  They need to be able to multi-task on many different jobs to be successful.

The long term effect of a shortage of math and science and project management could be catastrophic.  China is ahead of the curve by having 106 universities that focus on project management and their skills.  All countries need to focus its efforts on these skills in order to keep up with proper infrastructure.  We are getting to a point in America where we need new bridges and roads, and if every project we have continues to have scope creep, we will put our economy into a further tailspin.

Do you think that having a skills shortage for project managers is a problem?  What are the long term implications? How do you fix this problem?

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Global Project Complexities

Global projects are more complex in nature than local project because additional factors are added to it, such as time zone differences, cultural differences, language differences and geographical distance differences. Distance is one of the major factors making global project complex. Distance has direct impact of communications. Lack of communication is one of the major reasons for PM failure. Distance also affects coordination and it does increases the amount of misunderstanding among project team members.

Geographical distance differences have a direct relationship with time zone differences especially in the East west direction. The further the distance the bigger the time zone differences. Time zone difference affects synchronous communication significantly. Project members therefore have to rely more on asynchronous communications which add extra delay to the project time. Asynchronous has it own advantages especially when there is a language barrier.

Language and cultural difference also goes hand in hand. However there are times two geographically separated teams will have similar culture but difference language. A good example will be Brazil and Mexico. In Brazil the national language is Portuguese while in Mexico the language is Spanish. However, both countries have very similar culture. Both countries are heavily influenced by the catholic religion, they both love music and entertainment and soccer is a more than a religion in both countries. However, on a global project involving the two countries language difference still come out. The language difference complexity is worse in situations when the there is no relationship between the languages of the various teams on the project such as English and Chinese. In these situations the language barrier is very pronounced. Synchronous communication is not helpful at all and the project members have to rely primarily on asynchronous communications. For global projects to be successful multiple means of communications are needed so taking synchronous communications out of the project will result in additional delay especially with feedback and clarification of confusing issues.

Cultural issues are much larger than language issues. Cultural issues affect many things such as believes, attitude, values, morals, ethics etc. What is ethical in one culture might be consider unethical in another. A good example is drinking or dressing. The legal drinking age in Mexico is 18 but 21 in the US. Bill Young the past president of AIPM (Australian Institute of Project Management) noted in (reference  5) that “50% of joint-venture project between Western companies and Chinese companies fail”. He then said understanding the cultural differences is one of the keys to the success global project not just between Australian and China.

If global projects are more complex than co-located projects why are companies doing global projects.  In (reference 4) a report by pwc they noted that most financial institutions struggle with the effective execution of large, complex global initiatives.  Others can comment on why global projects and how global projects can be successful today.



FEMA Working to Extend U.S., Russia Relationship

Reports have surfaced recently of the Federal Emergency Management Agency working closely with the Russian government to cross-train and share resources in efforts to build a stronger response to catastrophic world disasters. The article attached came from a very conservatively biased article that uses this partnership to attack the current U.S. leadership. However, taking the political conversation out of the picture, this cases is a perfect example to examine the project management capacities of the United States and Russia.

According to the article, the partnership includes “exchanging of ‘experts’ and ‘experience,’ ‘provision of security at mass events,’ and ‘cooperation in disaster response operations.'”

While to this day there are still several political disputes between the U.S. and Russia, there are also several glimmers of hope. Both of these countries have, over the years been a part of some of the largest projects ever managed by a world government. In perhaps one of the largest projects of all time, the Space Race captured the attention of the world. As both countries raced to see which nation would land a man on the moon first, the Soviets and Americans sprung forward in innovation and technology until the US landed on the Moon in 1969.

In a free-market, technology and innovation are rewarded, but attacks on innovation seems to create hostility that only hinders the forward human progress. A book entitled Macrowikinomics by Tapscott and Williams underlines this idea in its entirety. Having read Macrowikinomics, I have to disagree with the author’s thrashing of our current administration for partnering with Russia in terms of Emergency Management and other humanitarian causes that have partnered with Russia under the Obama Administration.

While I don’t believe Russia is a nation that can fully be trusted due to a complicated political history between the United States and Russia, the forward progress of humanity can benefit from the best minds in any nations collaborating to bring new technologies and techniques to solving some of the most difficult mysteries known to man, and in FEMA’s case, to solve some of the most challenging projects we face as a society.

While the Space Race was something that each country handled their own ways, a full collaboration would have likely brought humanity to the moon sooner than 1969. The same is true with the project management involved in deploying a team to help a natural disaster recovery. Sometimes response time is crucial, and creating partnerships to help with the aid can be the difference between life or death.

In closing, the author mentions that this partnership isn’t a popular one, but I believe if both countries proceed cautiously, they will both benefit from it.

Communication Barriers in the Client’s Workplace and Possible Solutions

Nowadays, as seen in many industries, outsourcing has become well-accepted in the project management area. Reasons for outsourcing can vary from industry to industry. In project management, outsourcing is primarily due to the lower budget that many projects have. Nonetheless, the key area to focus on is the “communication barriers that exist when a project manager works at the client’s location and manages an off-shore team by obtaining the client’s scope.”  From this aspect, the article, “Communication Barriers in the Client’s Workplace and Possible Solutions,” highlights several communication problems along with possible solutions.

Below you will see a highlight of these problems categorized under four (4) processes along with possible solutions. These problems are also defined in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) – Fourth Edition (PMI, 2008).

  1. Identify Stakeholders
  2. Plan Communications
  3. Distribute Information
  4. Manage Stakeholder Expectations


Identify Stakeholders and Plan Communications

–          Stakeholder register

  • In the article, the author suggests to have a stakeholder register for every project. The stakeholder register should include the name of the stakeholder, the roles and responsibilities of the stakeholder in the project, the stakeholder’s expectations of the project, and cases in which the stakeholder needs to be contacted and how.

–          Arrange weekly meetings highlighting the exact agenda

  • The project manager needs to determine frequency of the meetings and media, i.e. face-to-face meetings, conference calls, etc.

Distribute Information

–          Plan and execute the right mode of communication

  • The author suggests to use email communication for complex scenarios, and to use face-to-face communication for quick and immediate responses. As for face-to-face communications, the project manager should also send a “re-cap” email of discussions, tasks, decisions, etc. as a best practice.

–          Access to required information, i.e. client’s network, shared folder, etc.

Manage Stakeholder Expectations

–          Negotiate and influence the stakeholder so that certain critical project meetings can still be conducted in the absence of the key stakeholders

–          Accept the fact of how the client works and try to adapt to such working cultures

(Ramaniah, 2012)

The possible solutions seen above can easily be applied to any project in any industry.  This list can be endless since there are several issues and risks in any given project. Therefore, as a project manager, one should consider all four processes. At the end of the day, as the author stated, “It is the project manager’s responsibility to run the show successfully by proactively anticipating such issues and planning how to tackle them.”

In particular, the biggest challenge for me in the project communications management area has been identifying stakeholders in my projects. This has been a challenge since I was new to the company, and initially needed a lot of support and guidance from my manager.

Overall, what are the current challenges that you are now experiencing in the project communications management area? Have you experienced any communication barriers listed under the four different processes?  Have you applied any one of the solutions?


Communication Barriers in the Client’s Workplace and Possible Solutions



Managers are bringing the project down.

The start of a project is a critical time; a lot of focus is put on budgets, scheduling and risk.  One often overlooked aspect of project is the role the project manager plays.  There are many tools that can help in predicting costs, timing and potential risks of the project.  However, there are few tools to help decide on the project manager other than a ‘gut feel’, or stating ‘I have my best man on the job’.   The way the project manager, manages the project can have a huge impact on the success of the project.   A project manager needs to be able to clearly define milestones and convey these milestones to the project team.  A project schedule and budget often relies on the belief that the team will be efficient throughout the project.  A team without clearly defined goals or confusion within the team will not work to their full efficiency.  In my own experience weeks have been “lost” during a project due to team members working on the wrong tasks or working on tasks that do not help the project move forward efficiently.  Without definition and effective communication all the tools and analysis may not ensure sure the project is a success.

Another important aspect to a successful project is the ability to be able to adjust plans in an effective and timely fashion. This responsibility of decision making often falls onto the project manager.  A project manager that gets bogged down in making decisions can affect the entire project.  The time that it takes to make a decision can affect the schedule; also an improper decision can affect the possibility for a successful project.  Also, during a project a project manager needs to be aware of any changes from the original plan to help the project move quickly and efficiently.  Therefore a project manager that can make critical decisions in a timely fashion increases the chance of a successful project, and can assure the team that the project is well managed and help the project move forward.    A British study estimated that for approximately every 1.5 billion dollars spent on projects, approximately 235 million dollars were at risk due to inadequate project management.

I have seen many instances in my career where the project manager and not the project nature, schedule or budget have had the largest impact on a project.   Many times how the project is conducted and the communication in the project that is most beneficial and often this can be seen by number of successful projects a certain project manager has managed.  These management styles are very hard to be measured often times it is overlooked and not addressed.

How important do you feel the actual project manager has in the overall success in the project?