A Risk Management Lesson from “Silicon Valley”

The video clip linked below is from HBO’s “Silicon Valley”. This television program follows a group of software engineers as they launch an innovative app and their associated start-up company (both named Pied Piper). This clip focuses on Pied Piper’s primary competition, a tech conglomerate named “Hooli”. The clip shows a speech by Hooli’s CEO, followed by several discussions between members of a project team.

HBO’s Silicon Valley on Risk Management

This scenario highlights several instances of risk management failure which are tragically relevant to the workplace. Some of the failures I observed are lack of communication within the project team, lack of escalation within the project team and larger organization, and absence of risk planning and mitigation planning early in the project. In today’s hyper-competitive, fast-paced marketplace proper risk management is critical to project success. Has anyone observed this type of situation at their workplace?

Recently I encountered a scenario where the customer made a significant design change late in the project. The product was nearly qualified, but was deemed unacceptable due to reliability and performance requirements. The team was faced with a tough decision: kill the project or redesign.

As the contract manufacturer in this arrangement, I raised concerns regarding the potential risks this design change could have on the project. Any delay or high defect rate would result in lost revenue and profit to my organization as well as the customer. I was reassured there would be no issues and no change to the product ramp/launch dates and product cost.

As we built increasing numbers of the product the failures began to pile up. Both customer and manufacturer turned to firefighting mode and additional resources were dedicated to expedite resolution. In my customer’s organization I could see finger-pointing among several teams as each department tried to cover themselves and avoid being the next bearer of bad news to upper management.

Eventually the product was fixed and had a successful (yet slightly delayed) launch after several weeks of many stressful meetings. Could this situation have been prevented? I believe so, but only if the correct tools, controls, and planning were put in place at the beginning of the project at both the customer and manufacturer. The following article details such risk management best-practices:

Risk management and project management go hand in hand

Some noteworthy items include ingraining a risk management culture/mindset in the project team, frequently analyzing the project status and forecasting new risks, developing and agreeing to risk response plans in advance, and assigning an owner to each risk who can drive corrective actions and track progress. Although you cannot predict every possible risk in a project, I’ve seen how important it is to conduct this planning at the beginning of the project to avoid firefighting late in the project.

Does your company have a formalized process for risk management? Are these successful, or would you suggest alternate approaches? Do you have any horror stories similar to mine? Please share your experiences!


Are you an unofficial project manager?

I have just the blog for you! The article I found includes six project management skills taught by FranklinCovey (“7 Habits of Highly Effective People”).  The article is dated, but hopefully you will find the skills still very relevant. I have provided the six skills (paraphrased) and included my thoughts.

1. Implement foundational behaviors to master informal authority. Respect all stakeholders that may affect the outcome of the project, and you will receive the best work. Showing you value the stakeholders helps you inspire following, without formally establishing authority.

  • Thoughts:  One easy way to develop this skill is to lead a meeting.  This informal leadership is accomplished through organizing the discussion, seeking feedback, and keeping the meeting focused. If there is someone else who wants to lead, you always have the final say to end with a summary and a list of next steps.

2. Initiate. Identify and interview a project’s stakeholders. It is best to avoid the question “Why didn’t you check with me?” when verifying stakeholders. Planning ahead ensures you do not make the wrong assumptions about key people, and helps to set expectations and results.

  • Thoughts:  This skill takes time because you have to learn who to seek for information. From my experience, you may not know a key stakeholder at the beginning of a project. Based on issues raised, you may have to reach out to someone you had not previously worked with. It has been effective to include that person in the middle of the project, and explain that a new issue may require their feedback.

3. Plan. Identify risks, and create a plan to manage them. It is strong wording, but the article mentions failure if you do not have a schedule, in writing.  Also, what is your number one risk?

  • Thoughts: I found this one to be the most straightforward. A great practice of risk is to ask “if I do nothing, will it get worse?”

4. Execute. Holding people accountable is the article’s main focus. The leader should not embarass anyone, but ensure support is given to complete a task.

  • Thoughts: This may prove most challenging to a project manager. What has worked for me is to ask questions like “what can I do to help?” and “where do you see the bottleneck?”

5. Monitor and control. The most important thing here is managing changes in scope. The Project Manager has to have that conversation if change occurs, and discuss results of a change in scope in dollar value or other measure.

  • Thoughts: I read about team projects from the blog and listened to 2 students in class as they shared what can happen with “project creep.”  Project creep is costly in time or resources, so it’s advantageous to stay focused.

6. Close. Review lessons, and recognize accomplishments.

  • Thoughts:  There is a sense of excitement to completion!  Celebration is necessary and also creates an environment to do it again!

I most identified with skill numbers 1, 3, and 5. What skills do you most identify with?



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Misericordia in Motion – Team 5

Misericordia Logo


Project Description:

The goal of our project was to partner with Misericordia Heart of Mercy and provide donations and service to help bring awareness and further contribute to their cause. Our team participated in two service events for Misericordia as well as raised donations and awareness through social media and online outlets. We hosted an event with a family-friendly movie for residents and the general public which also included other activities such as yoga, dancing, face-painting and a silent auction to generate monetary donations to Misericordia and also interact with and engage the community. Four of our team members also volunteered at the Greenhouse Inn for Sunday brunch at Misericordia’s campus restaurant. Our group maximized online donations through the implementation of social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. This social media exposure and personal networks brought significant online donations through our FirstGiving.com page as well as provided valuable awareness to the work done at Misericordia.








Charity Information:

Misericordia is a Chicago-based not-for-profit corporation serving persons with developmental disabilities.  Misericordia serves more than 600 people through a wide variety of programs.  The Mission Statement of Misericordia is to “support individuals with developmental disabilities in maximizing their level of independence and self-determination within an environment that fosters spirituality, dignity, respect and enhancement of quality of life. We promote development of natural family and community support, community awareness, education and advocacy.”  Misericordia offers a continuum of care based on the needs of the individual.  They also offer peace of mind to the families of residents since they know their loved one is cared for in a way that will enhance their life.  Donations allow Misericordia to offer more than just room and board for residents and offer them exceptional programs, such as intervention by physical therapists, occupational therapists and speech therapists.


Success Metrics:

Goal #1: Generate $3,000.00 in revenueDSC_0718

Our group was able to produce $2,795.00 in revenue and we reached 93% of our intended goal.  This was amazing as approximately 70% of our revenue was generated entirely online through our personal/corporate networks and social media outreach. Through many in-kind donations and resources we were able to minimize expenses to $30 and the entire remaining balance will be donated to Misericordia.

Goal #2: Provide 48 hours of service

Our group was able to produce 58 hours of service to Misericordia through two service events. The first service event had a family-friendly movie for residents and the general public which also included other activities such as yoga, dancing, face-painting and a silent auction. At this event we had approximately 60 attendants including 45 Misericordia residents. Four of our team members also volunteered at the Greenhouse Inn for Sunday brunch at Misericordia’s campus restaurant.


Goal #3: Have a social media reach through 4,000 impressions

Our group was able to produce over 175,000 impressions! Our original objective was to produce 750 likes and 3,000 reach on Facebook, 25 retweets on Twitter, 25 hearts on Instagram, and 10 snaps on Snapchat or approximately 4,000 impressions. By combining all of our social media exposure through the listed social media outlets, including LinkedIn, our group was able to far exceed our original goal by producing over 175,000 impressions. Each impression provides awareness and recognition for the valuable work Misericordia does.


Advice for Future Teams:

  1. Defining individual responsibilities and workflows is key. By having individual ownership, everyone was held accountable and felt that their contributions were part of a collective goal.
  2. Decide on a goal or mission and stick to it. It is imperative to have a clear and attainable scope for your project. Scope creep can be easily overlooked and before you know it you have a completely different project.
  3. Have an online presence. With the various conflicts people have whether it be family, other classes, work, etc it is very difficult to get everyone in one physical location. Our group utilized Google Docs and Google Hangouts to make sure that more people are able to participate no matter where. In addition, our group took advantage of online donations as part of our online presence.

Lessons Learned:

  1. Having a team mission is critical. By understanding what it is your team wants to accomplish makes other decisions much easier. For example, when venue conflicts arose our team knew that the involvement and engagement of Misericordia residents was more important and this ultimately prevented us from changing venues.
  2. Continue to monitor risk and make any updates for new risks that may occur. With so many variables in the field project it is important to have contingency plans. Having an effective risk management plan allows for your team to be proactive in dealing with future issues and have a proper response to overcome the issue.
  3. Utilize an effective communication strategy. There are many applications groups can use to make communication easier such as the app Slack. Setting some rules of communication and having a proper way of communicating allows for the group to work together more effectively. In addition, this will help eliminate some redundancies in communication such as email overload.


I wanted to share some lessons learned about how my company integrated a PMO Platform process.  The feedback and comments during classroom discussions had a mixed bag of positive or not so positive on having a PMO process, so I wanted to share my experience.


My company, along with eight other companies form a portfolio of brands that are owned by a parent company.   Each of the nine total companies have been acquired by the parent company in the last 20+ years, some as recently within the past year.  It is truly a global conglomerate with half the brands based in North American (U.S. and Canada) and the other half based in several countries throughout Europe, including the parent company.  Seven years ago, the parent company made a change in their strategic direction and went from purely a holding company of the brands to a controlling company and essentially wanted all the sister companies to start to implement similar processes, platforms, systems, business structures across the board.  In theory, a new strategy could then be set by the parent company and each of the sister companies had all the right parts and components to implement it versus coming up with nine similar but slightly different strategies catered to each sister company.  Overall, the alignment has created some successful platforms (Finance, IT, Operations, to name a few) while other functional areas are still coming along but given the individual uniqueness of the brands and their respective business it is understandable that there are some bumps in the road.  Enter the PMO Platform…..

PMO Platform:

When first introduced was not very well received as many of the sister companies were still navigating their way on the other integrative platform changes.  Plus, the original PMO process also did not give the brands any additional resources (headcount) and key people with certain functions were asked to take on the additional duties.  The feedback was acted upon and a very much condensed format was later presented.  The initial cumbersome requirements and details were streamlined, as well as a consolidation of how the communication process would flow up through senior management at the brand level to management at the parent company.  The consolidation and simplification of the communication flow, a single page that has just enough detail/signals that any manager through CEO can easily determine how strategic projects are progressing, was ultimately the secret sauce that got the ball rolling with all the brands.

Lessons Learned:

Wikipedia has a sentence that describes PMO as “A group or department….that strives to standardize and introduce economies of repetition in the execution of projects.”  The key word there is standardization and it is not just the execution of projects, but also the standardization of how those projects are communicated.  So in my case, can you imagine the types of responses our parent company would receive when they inquired to the brands as to how certain strategic projects were progressing?  Do you think the European brands and the North American brands would have presented their updates in the exact same way?  Before PMO, it was mess. After PMO, much more standardized.  I will admit, I was initially frustrated with the PMO process, but once I got a better understanding of foundational problem of why it was needed I flipped my stance.  So anyone that has to deal with a PMO, truly understanding “why” it is being implemented is necessary to understand the benefits of it.






Project Communications Plan – The Secret Sauce

Within the aerospace firm that I work, there are dozens of projects being completed on any given day and time.  We have a matrix organization in which PM’s lead projects by utilizing members whom have their own functional manager and have multiple project responsibilities.  Our company, which is small relative to other aerospace divisions whom manufacture similar systems, has made great strides in developing PM tools to be successful; our PM’s are now trained in and utilize MS Project and its toolset, they have developed WBS tools that are utilized across each project being utilized, and most importantly, all tools are standardized so that each PM and project team have a repeatable game plan and tool set for projects which change ALL the time.  However, our company has continued to see wide variation in project success in terms of timeliness, cost and performance.  Even with the added tools, we have only seen marginal improvement.  What could possibly be missing?  Enter the Project Communications Plan!

A Project Communications Plan, as described in the text in Chapter 4, highlights the importance of internal planning for communications.  Projects see all types of variance against original plans.  This communication tool ensures a constant cadence in which all functional units of a matrix organization understand their responsibilities and accountabilities as the project progresses and changes.  I felt that this piece of project management was the missing link for our company’s projects; project charters, WBS baselines, RACI charts (responsible, accountable, consult, inform), and weekly project meetings were simply not enough for our team to meet the mega trifecta of project success – on time, at cost and meeting performance requirements.  After doing some searching, multiple sources identified that a formal PCP was the most vital form of team collaboration.  An excellent explanation can be found on TechRepublic’s website: blog 1\Communication plans are key to project success – TechRepublic.html.  The PMI Institute also further quantified the importance of communication via a white paper, and PMI identified that 80% of highly effective communicating project teams met original goals: blog 1\Communications_whitepaper_v2.ashx.

The text highlights (5) important segments of a PCP that ensure a team that is aligned with its internal and external expectations; of which (2) I feel provide singular value above the Project Charter.  I felt that the (1) Information Needs and (2) Sources of Information piece to the PCP offer an excellent way of ensuring team success.  By identifying the “When/Who” a team member receives its information, positive project pressures are applied to each individual.  I feel that positive project pressure is an excellent way to ensure team cohesion and “buy in”.  I feel the best way to implement PCP is to have the team get together right after the WBS and milestones for the project have been defined.  Then, each member can understand upfront, how they are impacting each phase of the project, at a task level, and more importantly, how each individual relies on the other to ensure tasks remains on schedule, on cost and meet performance.

A PM can act as the guide for the PCP and also better understand the flow of information between functional departments (especially when the PM is not the resident expert for any of those functional departments) in order to make sure each task is implemented on time.  Does the class feel that this is true of projects worked in past?  Are other similar applications of a PCP utilized in PM efforts?

It’s all about Communication…

While thinking of what topic to post about, I thought of my personal experience in project management and wondered what key concepts constantly hinders project performance. Communication is the first thing that comes to my mind. Generally speaking, we all know the importance and significance of communication when it comes to our personal relationships. It is really important to understand others and to be understood in order to maintain healthy and strong relationship ties.


Similarly, and given that my professional job revolves around projects, I’ve come to realize that like in relationships, effective communication is key within projects. Unfortunately, communication is usually overlooked and the consequence is reflected through delays in project timelines and increase in number of failed projects. To back this notion, the plus study by PMI revealed that the most crucial success factor in project management is effective communications. The report also highlighted, on an average, one-half of those unsuccessful projects (i.e. 2 out of every 5 projects) are related to ineffective communication, illustrated in the graph below:


When dealing with projects, communication is important at each and every level – from project initiation to closure. Thus, it is important to meticulously outline and articulate project requirements to the intended stakeholders, for example – using a daily encounter – imagine your boss delegates a work assignment to you and you are not properly briefed regarding the exact requirements. This communication gap translates into unmet project expectations and hence unsatisfactory project outcomes. How many times did you find yourself a victim of such a scenario? Now imagine the same example in a project set and on multiple task levels. Devastating, right? This highlights the significance of effective communication to project performance.

Moreover, given that the importance of communication has been established, it is crucial to identify various ways in which we can maintain effective communication within our projects. Below details few ideas that I compiled based on my experience and what we covered in class:

  • Preparing a formal communication plan and using standardized communication reporting tools – particularly within medium to large-scale projects.
  • Ensuring clarity and language of the message; meaning tailoring the message for each stakeholder as per their understanding and using the most preferred communication channel.
  • Making people understand their role and contribution to the project and getting their full buy-ins can help elevate their communication and commitment to the project.
  • Communication is two ways; hence, it is important to keep all the relevant stakeholders informed with the project’s status when necessary to ensure their responsiveness.

Thus, next time you are assigned a project I hope the first thing that comes to your mind revolves around different strategies you would adopt in order to ensure effective communication within your projects.

Remember, “a good communication process helps you to be predictive, that’s important, because if you are always reactive it’s too late. The project is already off the tracks.”


How many times did you find yourself a victim of ineffective communication? what did you do about it?




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?



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?


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?