Your Project Just Got Hammered by the Media…

Most likely, the majority of projects we manage in our careers will be low profile or possibly high profile only internally to our companies.  However, as noted in class, there are high profile projects that are visible to the public and media which adds complications.  

We see in the news how the 2012 London Olympics has been plagued with issues.[1]  Having the public eye on every detail of a project can be a hard issue to deal with.  In my job function, we sometimes have to manage projects that are very public to the communities.  Performing real estate for a large manufacturer has been an interesting experience in that we deal with environment issues, decommissioning of plants, and acquisition of land for new buildings or other projects. 

The public isn’t always going to agree with projects that have public visibility.  In my role specifically, there could be labor disputes based on decisions to move a plant or warehouse.  There could be environmentalists that disagree with how or where a building is built.  Being a publicly traded company, these are real concerns for my company.  While we’re tasked to complete projects within budget and within time constraints, political opposition may change how this is done.

Assessing political risk can also be a guessing game.  It may be difficult to gage how a community is going to respond to different projects.  For instance, my company planned on redeveloping old and vacant manufacturing sites in the community into space used for additional housing, community centers, and tourist attraction.  It turned out that some of the neighboring communities disliked the project because it wasn’t going to accommodate all levels of the society.  While redevelopment of vacant and falling down manufacturing plants in our community seems like a no-brainer to some, not everyone agrees.

Companies that have public projects need to assess the political risk involved and weigh whether or not to continue.  Companies need to consider whether completing the project is worth having issues with the surrounding communities or they should find ways to compromise with those that disagree with the project.  Mass communication is making this topic more and more important as it is now easier for individuals to spread news on Twitter, Facebook, etc.

Does anyone else have any experiences they want to share regarding the management of public projects?  Do you agree that public projects require more risk analysis?  Can you share an example of a poorly managed political issue of a company?


Losing team members

Every project has its own unique risks.  Some of them involve cost overruns, others may focus on lack of participation or turnout and many risks revolve around getting tasks completed on time.  Recently, however, I was reminded that the biggest risk that could affect any given project could be the loss of core team members.  During a recent trip to Germany, I learned that many of the issues my firm encountered with a major project over the past few months were due to severe illnesses.  This year two team members have been out with illnesses for multiple months, one of them for most of the year.  The team in Germany has been coping as best they can, but due to the nature of the illnesses, they were never sure if the two coworkers would come back one week to the next.

One of the many questions this points out, is how in the world can a project manager actually plan for the risk of someone being gravely ill?  Or to take a less somber approach – how would a project manager handle a key team member quitting halfway through a project?  For some teams and organizations, the answer might be easier than for others.  For example, perhaps there’s a suitable backup or fill-in available, which may very well be the case in large organizations.  But of course that person has other responsibilities or projects too.  Another option may be to hire a replacement, which sounds like a good solution if the project still has some time until completion, but in reality, we have all seen how long the hiring process can take (not to mention training).  Other options could include having different team members pick up part of the slack.  As long as the skillset isn’t proprietary within the organization to that single individual, this may be the best short term option.  But if the skills are not seen within other team members, then the project manager is forced to look at outsourcing or hiring contractors to fill in.

Both of the latter choices were pursued by my company in our example, with other team members filling in for the business process side of the project, and contractors hired on for pure coding / development work.  Thankfully the other team member’s had some amount of knowledge in the missing area, and my company had already worked with outside contractors on an ongoing basis.  Neither of the options were ideal, but the team has struggled along as best they can.

So although it’s impossible to anticipate these types of risks, the loss of key team member for any reason should be considered when assessing a project and managing risks, especially for longer term projects.  Even if an ideal solution isn’t available, the next best alternate for each key player should be known at project start.

How have you dealt with losing team members in the past?  How would you deal with something as difficult as an unknown illness affecting your team?

A Simple Communication Fail

I have always been curious about how ideas become reality.  Perhaps that is how I ended up working in marketing and advertising, but I am always intriqued by the process in which ideas are executed.  For example, as a child, I would watch television commercials and wonder how they were created, how the idea was pitched and how it was ultimately executed.  Did a group of people sit around a room and just toss out ideas?  Did some top executive come up with the idea and required the execution and development of that idea?  How did it all happen logistically?

As my career progressed in the field of property management, I quickly realized that not all projects have a defined beginning and end.  Sometimes a project is on-going and the “execution” takes consistent communication with key stakeholders. In my current role, as the marketing director for a residential property mangement company, I oversee the marketing of 43 properties in my region, it is very easy to consider each property as a separate, ongoing project.  We manage for institutional investors and report back regularly on our operation of the property. 

Recently, it became very clear to me that our team had failed in the eyes of one of our institutional investors because of a lack of communication.  Typically, we send monthly reports to our investors and provide financial and operational information.  If they specify the need for additional information, we can provide it, but we typically have a standard format that we send.  It became very clear that this particular investor was most interested in maintaining the “high-end” brand of the property more than anything else, but he was not happy with our level of communication regarding the brand.  Unbeknownst to my team, he wanted daily and weekly updates regarding this topic. 

We recently discussed in class that some people prefer email over phone communication, others prefer phone over email.  Some want to be informed of all details, while others prefer only high-level information.  While sitting in class, I had a realization that it’s OK for people to have different communication preferences, but it just needs to be defined. 

So, where did my team fail?   We failed to ask our investor what he preferred.  It is as simple as that.   Had we prepared a communication plan from the beginning, we would have defined this relationship better and set the proper expectations for our success to deliver.  I had this realization two class sessions ago and have since implemented a proper communication plan.   This plan now clearly defines a few key factors and our invester couldn’t be happier:

  • who will receive the information
  • when we will provide information
  • what format the information will be delivered
  • how frequent the information will be delivered

Does your company define this for internal or external projects, even  if they are on-going?  If not, why do you think this simple step is often overlooked?


Don’t Gantt. Strip!

The Gantt chart is one of the most popular tools that project management professionals use today, but would a strip board be better?   Gantt charts have been a robust method of graphically representing a project schedule and the relationships with other tasks in that schedule for a century.  The problem I have found though is they can be difficult to understand.  Unless the person observing it has prior experience with Gantt charts and knows what to look for, the first expression one gets is usually a blank stare, then a look at the beginning and end dates on the left that appears like a spreadsheet and then a question about what tasks are specific to them even if the resources have been entered and appear on the bar in the graph.  So what tool can a project manager use to better communicate a schedule?

One effective alternative to a Gantt chart for a graphical representation of a schedule is the strip board.  Also known as a production board and made popular by the film industry, it shows the sequential order of a film on strips of paper that can then be moved around by the director to make up the scenes in a movie.  For a project management application, instead of a director and scenes, you have a project manager and tasks.  The project strip board can be constructed with the name of each resource across the top and the time sequence along the left column.  Fergus O’Connell provides a brief description and example in his book ‘The Competitive Advantage of Common Sense‘ in chapter 4 on page 65.  By constructing a project strip board, the number of resources, the tasks and the duration of each task need to be identified for the board to be meaningful.  In addition, the board can be distributed to each team member where they can see what they need to do, when and how it relates to other people on the team.  Some other advantages are:

– Can add a column for cost and sum up to give you total.

– Drives the PM to put names to tasks from the beginning.

– Works well with portrait style paper.

As an experiment, I re-created the exercise that we did in class Saturday, ‘A Project Management Decision-Making Game’ using the project strip board method.  Though anything is better than pencil, paper, and losing about half of an eraser, I found the strip board method very easy to construct in Excel and easy to manipulate when changes were made.  The only disadvantage I found was the ease of tracking the relationships between tasks unless it was done by the same resource.  With some additional experimentation though, using different color backgrounds or some of the graphic arrows available in Excel may help.

Has anyone utilized a project strip board on a project?  Do you think it might be a tool that can be used for showing activities during the events that project teams are hosting?

Staying in touch without being smothering.

I recently came across a website/service on a start-up forum that I thought  people might find interesting.  The service is targeted towards project managers, as a tool for staying in touch with a team and opening up team communication.  What the service does is allow you to set up arranged update times, say every week or every day, and then automatically sends out an email reminder requesting the update to each member of the team.  Once each person replies to the update, the statue updates are gathered into a single email and sent out to all the team members in a single email covering everyone’s updates.

As a person who absolutely loathes the rampant spread of the needless reply all use, this seems like an ideal way to be kept informed on a project without having to delete every single person’s update one at a time.  Aside from the streamlined update email, the ability to schedule them across the project lifetime in advance and then set the expectation for response across the team seems like an added benefit.

No one in the work world likes to feel like they’re being micro-managed and constant requests for updates would start to feel like that quickly for many people.  By setting the expectation of scheduled update communication emails, you are able to frame the  situation as a means for keeping everyone involved and informed as well as offering up a means for progress tracking.  The involvement of all team members would also offer and added incentive to keep on track.

The single status update email could also be beneficial for people only loosely tied to a project.  If a person was informed of what steps would have to happen before they were needed, the status updates would allow that person to plan their time more effectively as opposed to suddenly finding their contribution needed without warning.  Management would also benefit from the updates in that they would receive a single snapshot of the project on regular intervals so decisions on allocating additional resources or adjusting timetables can be made fluidly.

For project managers out there, do you think you would use this service?  As it stands right now, it appears to be free, would a price tag change your decision?  How useful would you have found a single condensed weekly update from all team members in the past?

Predictive Project Analytics

I found this two interesting articles that were written by Deloitte Consulting firm about Predictive Project Analytics.   Predictive Project Analytics  (PPA) refers to the quantitative tools and techniques organizations can use to help properly manage project risk and realize the highest value return from large and complex projects.  It uses a qualitative, data driven approach to assess projects instead of an intuitive or benchmarking approach. PPA predicts the likely success of a project through predictive analysis of key project and organizational attributes. PPA can help to identify a floundering project and to avoid the costs of a late or poorly delivered project or an outright failure.


To break it down in simple terms PPA is an analytical, data driven way an organization can assess a project, weigh all the risk and determine if the project should continue, if the project needs to be modified or if the project should be terminated.  Having a process to determine risk of a project is critical in today’s business environment because recent research shows that 63% of companies have experienced a recent project failure.  Research also shows that projects that do reach completion, nearly half of the projects fail to meet time, budget and scheduling goals.


After reading both articles, PPA seems like it is designed for and it is very beneficial for large scale, multimillion-dollar projects.  This makes sense because PPA was developed by Deloitte and Deloitte is a consulting group that works on large-scale projects.  When I was reading I was thinking how PPA could be applied to small-scale projects that most of us work on?  The backbone of PPA is data collections and analysis to determine how to better execute a project or if a project should be terminated.  But with small projects that are a one-time thing, how do you collect data and how can you justify the cost of collecting the data that might never be used again.  With my experience working for a small company I think data can be used with limited value on a project but people’s experiences is the best resource for projects and project management.  Use what has been learned and has been successful in the past and modify and apply to future projects.

How to get the most from your project team

I read an article from a website (please see below for link to the source) that briefly elaborates on how should a project manager successfully manage the project and the team. After reading the article, I reflected to my role in the recent project I was pulled into at my work and thought about how these points mentioned in the article actually apply exactly as intended. The following are some of the ways to get the most out of the team:

1) Choose the right staff

2) Give them the big picture

3) Have confidence in the team

4) Spend time with the team

5) Set targets

6) Be a good communicator

While it will be of no value to the reader for me to delve into the above points. But my role in the current project at my work is very small in scope and time. I have been assigned just  a tiny piece of puzzle (and immaterial). But even then, the project manager made sure he spends time with me and the rest of the other folks who have been pulled in for support and resourcefulness. We have been give n a deadline to work with and also the consequences of not following the strict timeline. A sense of urgency has been created but this simply proves the point of being a good communicator. It is hard to motivate people who are really not interested in the project but by being good communicators and letting the person know how important his/her role is, a person will be motivated.

My question is, is project manager like a leader, that is born but cannot be trained? It doesn’t matter how much we learn in class, or even at work and with experience, there are some characteristics such as charisma for example, that only some folks possess. Do you agree?

MGT 598: Why it’s worth waking up for class on Saturday mornings…

Besides the fact that MGT 598 is one of the last classes that stands between most of us and our diploma, a recent study from consulting firm Project Management Solutions has concluded that companies gain a variety of benefits by investing in instructor-led classroom training on project management.

The survey results report that “project management training initiatives improved eight aspects of business and project performance by an average of 26 percent.” Categories that were cited include: stakeholder satisfaction, scheduling, decrease in project failures, keeping projects on budget, gathering requirements, quality, productivity, and time to market. While the results are somewhat subjective, the percentage is high enough where I think we can all agree the improvement was significant.

The findings indicate the type of training invested in also makes a difference in the results. According to the study, 69% of respondents rated instructor-led classroom training as the most effective method. I guess we’ve come to the right place!

Personally, I know that I have already benefitted from many of the in-class and blog discussions our group has had. One that is top of mind this week relates to the category called out above related to “decrease in project failures.” It seems that one of the best avenues to accomplishing this objective is employing risk management techniques. While risk management seems like an obvious topic to consider, truthfully, I have never worked on a team where this topic was formally discussed in the planning stages of the project. It hasn’t been until something begins to go wrong where this concept has been addressed.

By addressing the topic of risk management in our own class projects, it is already easy to see the benefits of risk management can be significant. Including a risk analysis in the early planning stages of the project can help the team think through potential challenges and proactively try to avoid some of the potential obstacles. It is certainly a practice I will continue to employ as I manage projects in the future.

What has been the most worthwhile learning for you so far in MGT 598?


DePaul KSBG Charity Project Summer 2012 – Risk Management

– Risk Management –


One of DePaul KSBG Weekend Program’s project management class’ major requirements is the management of a charity project. Boiled down, it is the creation and successful implementation of a project in which all proceeds go to a specific charity of a groups choice. In talking about Risk Management, many faced their wall early-on, when their project was considered unacceptable by our school board. Whatever planning took place in the first week was simply washed away, and the teams facing such catastrophic risks had to revise their plans from the ground-up to make the best of it.

Our team has officially labeled our project “Grace St. Tap going to the Dogs”, in which we hold a social-networking event at Grace St. Tap on July 28, from 3:00PM to 7:00PM- fun and sociable dogs welcome. Despite the initial set-back of our project possibly being cut due to not falling in line with our school’s guidelines, we were able to recieve approval and continue to work forward.

During the course of our project, we were asked to create a risk-management matrix. This is possibly one of the most difficult things aside from the actual implementation, as risks seem to spring up fromeverything. That’s right, that glass of juice you’re drinking? Melts enamel. You think that’s air you’re breathing? … probably is.

The point of this rant is that as any good risk management teacher or text will reiterate, time and again, risks must be identified, assessed, and continually evaluated. We identified several risks and evaluated them as a group- rowdy patrons, rowdy dogs, lack of donations, lack of attendance, etc. We created preventative measures as well as contingency plans for each. All members reviewed and felt the plan had responses to internal and external disturbances.

With another team-member, we went to visit our venue this past Saturday. The website says the venue is open from 11AM to 3AM on Saturdays. However, we met at 3:00PM at the venue… and the place was closed. Not closed for business, just still closed until 4PM.  Definitely NOT expected.

And for those of you who want to get technical, this spawns a whole load of questions- Is this expected to continue? If so, do we need to change our flyer information? If we expect ‘X’ amount of donations per hour that day, how much will that affect our bottom-line(or segment-leading-to-bottom-line), losing that hour?

While in the case presented, the bottom line for us happens to be a grade, such “wrenches in the gears” can be applied to any business out there- and can cost a company much more than a simple letter-grade and a 3-4 figure max monetary amount.

So I ask the other groups in our 2012 cohort and any other readers- what soft of risks have you identified for your project/for your company and what contingencies have you come up with? And if we have any career risk-analyst readers, any horror stories like ours to share? To be honest, we should have seen this coming- it is an obvious sort of risk… but we are just-now learning to think that way, and we’ll have to let you know if it does affect our bottom-line despite our current revisions to our action plan.


Should you be friends with your coworkers?

My previous blog post  covered the increasing use of Agile development methods in mainstream and large scale projects.  Another trend that L. Leroy Ward of ESI International listed in his recent article on the top 10 trends in Project Management for 2012 is Collaboration.

In this post, I’ll discuss the use of collaboration software as an integral tool for project teams.   Project success depends on timely communication within the project team and sharing of information to get tasks completed.  The ability for teams to easily share information and interact with each other quickly and effortlessly can positively impact project results.

A crucial technology that makes this possible is cloud computing which provides a platform to bring together collaboration tools and a centralized data repository to manage projects.  This technology along with social acceptance of sharing information online has given rise to numerous applications that integrate social and functional aspects into a single tool. Project Management tool vendors have noticed this shift and have created applications that integrate cloud and social networking to provide teams with a powerful set of tools.   Products such as Teambox, ProjecTruf, Teamwork PM, BaseCamp, Huddle and numerous other web-based project management tools are being adopted and used by project teams worldwide.

I work for a large multi-national technology company with global development teams across at least 3-4 different time-zones that work together on various projects.  For years, we have used internally developed communication tools which were not integrated with our project management tool; however, we are now in the process of selecting an integrated web-based tool that will combine project tracking and reporting capabilities of project management along with collaboration tools.   I see a lot of positives in using a tool that seamlessly integrates collaboration with project management. For one, the global nature of our teams and business lends itself to the use of such tools.  Second, the ability to easily access key documents anywhere anytime is essential in an increasingly mobile workplace.  I see this trend being widely adopted by the business community.

Have you used any web-based project management tools?  What are your experiences in using them on small and/or large projects?