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!



Gantt chart

Lori Benson, who is an specialist contract manager, in her article for the PM Times for Project Managers, “4 Key Project monitoring steps to help you succeed”, talks about a critical aspect of a project Control and monitoring of a project. She starts her article with a short but important statement “Trust, but verify”

In the first couple of paragraphs she explains “why” she wrote the article, affirming that Project Monitoring is necessary in all Project Management Plans, verification should take place frequently trough the lifecycle of the project, and results of that control should not only be shared to supervisors, managers and top executives, but also they should be shared with the project participants. Helping you to get a successful flow of information, results, feedback and advice throughout the project. The 4 steps are explained below.

  1. Begin with a plan for project monitoring

Just like the milestones exercise that we applied in class, planning how to monitor could give the project a backbone and short term objectives. Project managers have to plan for how, when and what project they want to monitor, based on realistic targets and metrics. And it have to be regularly monitored Bi-weekly or worst case scenario monthly. Monitoring is often not linear, it will have ups and downs and inevitable change throughout the project, and therefore it will have to have requested monitoring, results reviews and feedback.

Pros: You will have an efficient control of the project and you will have the opportunity to adapt and change throughout the project to mitigate risk, take advantage of positive risk and have an inside view of the project provided by feedback

Cons: I think that it could be dangerous and you could enter into micromanage your employees and that can have negative impact. Also you have to analyze the quality of feedback obtained in order to apply it efficiently into the project. Parallel you could over stress your employees like the bell example in our noodle/marshmallow exercise.

  1. Reports to management

The reports written or not have to have a regular schedule, weekly, monthly or bimonthly showing the progress during that period. That enables project managers to identify actual or potential problems earlier so you can make adjustments, adapt and move forward. Top managers have to be alerted if problems arouse, or if the project is having problems meeting a milestone or objective. “When reporting to organizational leadership, project leaders should focus on results that indicate whether a strategy is relevant and efficient or not”

Pros: It can help you seize opportunities of the positive side of risk, and it will help you maintain flexibility towards future events

Cons: Depending on the type of company you may have to develop a “language” to communicate effectively with Top managers. In case of public companies you may alert investors that a strategy will bring a hit in the 1st quarterly earnings but it will have a positive impact in the long term.

  1. Recommend actions to improve on the project

As a Project management you have to avoid recommendations without previous foundation of planning and feedback from management, communicate based on budgeting and goal-setting without sustention. Recommendations and feedback should include corrective actions, preventative actions or changes in the plan or the project execution. Guidance should be as specific as possible. “Keep in mind the team’s own health and feedback: offer constructive criticism and praise when it makes sense to strengthen the goals of the project and the team individuals’ work too.”

Pros: Feedback, guidance and adaptability can be critical to the success of a project. Applying concepts recollected from feedback can motivate employees to, like Walt Disney said “Plus it”
Cons: You have to be aware that different “qualities” of feedback and as a project manager you will have to filter information in order to have better results.

  1. Confirm that actions are being followed

After getting feedback and correcting the strategy, Project managers have to confirm that the changes actually are being made. Verifying also that the project as a whole is staying on track.
The author also recommends to use automated tools and technologies to track member’s performance and response, like shared documents, feedback, forecast, Gantt Charts, etc. “At the most basic level, the project leader must track the differences between what was planned, and what is actually happening to ensure that project objectives are being met”

Pros: It can help you reassure that the measures are being taken and the project is still on track. It can help you understand the stage of the project in the current time.

Cons: It could be tide back to cons of number 1 you have to be very careful with micromanaging your employees.

References: http://www.projecttimes.com/articles/4-key-project-monitoring-steps-to-help-you-succeed.html

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.

If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late.

In business, the phrase time is money is extremely accurate. Project Managers (PMs) want projects to be of high quality and completed as quickly as possible. Oftentimes, project deadlines are extended and over budget. If time is so valuable in the world of business, why do projects continue to come in late and over budget? The brightest project managers would have trouble answering this question. To counteract this phenomenon, project managers can reduce the amount of time allocated to a project by efficiently utilizing their time.

The text and slides from our course says that project deadlines or critical dates are put into place for several reasons, including but not limited to time-to-market pressures, unforeseen delays, overhead costs, and incentive contracts. Unfortunately, these dates often lead to rushed, low-quality deliverables, produced to obtain bonuses. Every project manager wants to be able to complete a project with high-quality deliverables and move on to the next opportunity. The difficulty arises when project managers are required to present high-quality work with less time. Although the aforementioned concept can come across as unfathomable, it is not. There are techniques that project managers can utilize to reduce a project’s duration. First, a PMs can implement a process known as fast-tracking. Fast tracking is simply working on aspects that are along the critical path as opposed to working on overlapping activities in sequential steps. However, this process can increase cost and is quite risky. Another technique PMs can use is project crashing. This is pouring more resources into the tasks along the critical path. Once again, this process is costly and risky. Lastly, PMs can look for alternative methods such as reducing the scope or increasing staffing to finalize deliverables.

While the aforementioned techniques are effective, they are also costly. Risk averse organizations may want to consider implementing these steps:

  1. Monitoring how people are utilizing their time and removing waste.
    1. PMS should monitor how teams are progressing compared to the developed schedule and determine how staffing is utilizing non-project hours.
  2. Develop a schedule and timeline with purposeful meetings built-in.
    1. Often project teams have meetings that are not useful. Meetings should take place when needed. PMs should also make sure all parties are mentally engaged and actively participating in meeting,
  3. PMs should understand how their staff achieves at their highest level.
    1. Some teams need constant support and contact. While others simply need to be told what to do and they can fulfill the obligation
  4. Focus on the project
    1. Projects are drawn out because teams are gathering and not discussing, focusing or even working on the actual project this is a huge waste of company resources. When teams are together the phones, emails and IMs are set aside. Everyone’s focus should be completing the product

Project time reduction is difficult, but with a plan and exceptional time management skills, it can be done. What experiences have you had with attempting to beat a project deadline or simply trying to meet one?




Innovation: A Gift that Doesn’t Come in a Box

In recent years, the siloed organizational structures common in traditional large corporations creating barriers between company functions are being broken down to foster a more innovative workplace. In the Wall Street Journal article “Together We Innovate,” the authors dispel the “Myth of the lone genius.” In essence, studies show that innovation does not come from one or even a small team of brilliant employees. The three problems that inhibit innovation are: lack of communication between functions, leaving decision-making to only a few company experts, and one-on-one contacts between collaborating partners.

Cross Collaboration

An overarching theme is that the divisions of employee expertise via a functional project organization prevent ideas from different perspectives at key points in the project timeline. The article mentions that by the time a new product idea gets to the marketing team, the concept is so developed that the marketers and teams further down the line cannot have any input. Although this may not seem to be big news to younger generations who highly value open networks and collaborative environments, these insights support a project manager’s decision to utilize a matrix organizational structure. Implementation of flat organizational structures has taken off in companies that highly value innovation and creativity. I have seen this in many ad and marketing agencies that have open desk space and a literal lack of physical barriers between offices and communication.

Open Mind

Leaving the big decisions up to only a few, albeit experts, in a particular project or organization can often throw the seeds of innovation into a desert of unrealistic ideas. Due to the knowledge of these decision-makers of what has proven successful, they often turn down out-of-the-box ideas providing vital opportunities for competitors. This lack of reception to new and risky ideas can stifle innovation in any organizational setting. From my experience, working in a team with limitations can be helpful, but working with a closed-minded decision maker or team leader keeps a lot of creativity and motivation for new ideas at bay.

Formal Network

Often times, companies rely on other organizations to produce innovative ideas. The networks created are likely informal and “eighty percent of the interactions between the company and academia were one-on-one.” It can be a project manager’s nightmare when one of these people leaves and the connection with that employee is lost.  A new relationship must be established with the partner organization. This style of communication is inefficient, very risky, and the result of poor management planning. I have seen this happen many times in student organizations at DePaul and know how frustrating this dilemma is and the strain it puts on what may have been an effective and innovative team.

To answer these three major problems, the article lists several solutions and applications. How would you solve these problems? Maybe you have had similar experiences in your workplace, working on a class project, or in an on-campus organization? How did you overcome these barriers to innovation?


Cross, Hargadon, et al. “Together We Innovate.” Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones & Company. 19 June 2012. Web. 11 May 2013.


Image Source: http://www.freshnetworks.com/blog/2012/12/ten-things-businesses-should-know-about-what-innovation-is-and-isnt/

Going Nuclear: Building the World’s Largest Puzzle

An international nuclear fusion project, known as Iter, has been making progress by finally gaining approval for the design of a component that will be one of the most challenging to install. In a forest of Provence in the south of France, there has been the construction of a site that’s purpose will be to harness the nuclear power of the sun and stars. 34 nations have joined together in what is known to be “the biggest scientific collaboration on the planet.” If this project succeeds, then global energy demand will increase by three-fold, and it will change our world that has been struggling with the fight against climate change.

This highly complex fusion reactor will be built with about a million individual parts and each component will come from different regions built around the world. Then it will be assembled “like a giant Lego model” in a building near the site. These individual parts can get as big as small houses, and the building they’re assembling it at is equal to 81 Olympic-sized swimming pools. I already cannot imagine what it will take and has taken to bring so many countries together and decide what is going to be built where. It reminds me back to one of our first classes where we made the paper fortune tellers and how it took majority of the class to work together and complete the project.


Complexity of Iter has been proven through the length it had taken to reach the initial stages of construction. The earliest start time for this project dates back to 1985 with meetings and discussions between the nations. Today, scientists involved have claimed it will still take another ten years of building work and an extra ten years after that for testing the reactor before it can go online. If you were one of the managers on the team for this project, how would you being planning and creating a Precedence Diagram? Do you think there could be multiple critical paths in a project like this? One of my concerns about an enormous project is the time it takes to complete it. Over time, information becomes stale and the technology used becomes outdated because of the changing markets.

A critical phase of the project is injecting plasma, a super-hot electrically-charged atomic fuel, and it is scheduled for November 2020; unfortunately, because we do not live in a perfect world, there have been delays that pushed this phase back to October 2022. An unforeseen circumstance where a worker left a towel on one of the superconducting cables became compressed within the coil causing extra work by scraping off the debris left behind. I believe this is a perfect opportunity for the project managers to consider crashing this project because it is becoming behind schedule. Do you think that crashing a critical path in such a big project dealing with nuclear reactors would be a good idea to enable them to finish the project by the due date?


Links: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/one-giant-leap-for-mankind-13bn-iter-project-makes-breakthrough-in-the-quest-for-nuclear-fusion-a-solution-to-climate-change-and-an-age-of-clean-cheap-energy-8590480.html

Is Microsoft Creating Some Bad Blood?

For almost as long as the company has existed, Microsoft has relied on 3rd party hardware developers like Dell, Samsung, Sony, and Hewlett Packard to use the products they created. Because of this, Microsoft has always dominated the operating system market with many companies like the ones listed making use of the many variations of Windows along with other products like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. However, for the first time in thirty-seven years, Microsoft is releasing a computer.

Microsoft released its Surface, a tablet based computer, on October 26, 2012. Many would wonder why Microsoft would venture into such territory. Microsoft has had such success selling its operating systems to other companies, why would it take such a large risk in creating its own computers? The answer comes down to design.

Companies like Dell and Samsung will run Microsoft’s new operating system, Windows 8. But Microsoft felt that in order to fully display the capabilities of Windows 8, they would need to take design duties in their own hands. “We decided to do Surface because it’s the ultimate expression of Windows,” Steven Sinofsky, president of Microsoft’s Windows division said. “It’s a stage.”

The Surface is designed to come with a magnetically attached keyboard which nearly doubles the tablet as a laptop. By doing this, they are hoping to directly compete with Apple’s iPad. The iPad, due to its ease of use and compatibility, has been adopted by many businesses and schools to be used in their day to day operations. For example, in the article it is mentioned that at a medical technology company 5,500 iPads have been issued to employees for use. Because of this, some have predicted that soon the iPad and other tablets will overtake laptops. Laptops have already lost sales to the iPad and other tablets.

In order to establish itself in the tablet market, Microsoft wants to ensure that the operating system is utilized effectively. By creating its own design for a tablet Microsoft is hoping to take some of those sales away from Apple and make a name for itself in the tablet market. Since most businesses already use PCs, Microsoft should have no issues with compatibility with the computers that companies already use. However, the Surface has not had the time that the iPad has had to develop. Many applications and 3rd party accessories already developed for it. Microsoft will have to hope that the Surface catches on quickly.

As for companies like Dell and Samsung, do you think they should be upset that Microsoft has developed its own tablet that will directly compete with their own? Do you think they feel upset that Microsoft felt that their own hardware would not be good enough to display the capabilities of Windows 8? Or do you think it will help them in the end as more people might by desktops from Dell and other hardware developers due to success of Windows 8? The article seems to suggest that it could be a win-win for these hardware developers but I would like to hear your input on what the future might hold for Microsoft and hardware companies.



Knowing the Future, for the Stability of Present

Knowing the Future, for the Stability of Present

Everything in our daily lives requires a form of forecasting for us to be able to predict what to wear, consume, and safety. Hurricane Sandy, which is forecasted to hit the East Coast, helps people with their safety and precautions we  have to take to secure their lives, family, and home. Many people are planning to evacuate because of the information given about the hurricane in advance. We depend on these types of information for our health and safety. Depending on whether the weather channel says if it will rain or snow, we all dress according to that. Due to the current weather situation, many fliers have to consider their delay and canceling of flights. This delays a lot of business process and other situations and airlines have to consider this when rescheduling flights for the process to run again. Forecasting is a major aspect of our life and the information is depended upon for the present to be as smooth as possible.

Most retailers have already forecasted for the sales of fourth quarter, holiday season. They want to produce as much as the demand is suggested for, their revenue depends upon it. Forecasting is a major  aspect of any job. It tells you how many to hire to produce a certain amount, how much of the product will be sold, and this information is critical because competitors thrive on an advantage to do better than you do. Halloween season creates a high demand for candy, which if forecasting did not occur either we would not have enough candy or surplus or either situations have negative consequences on the revenue and growth of the company.

Apple is on top of the technology world right now. Their products are sold and back ordered for months because their demand is incredible. Currently IPad mini in white are completely sold out and even though black ones are still available, their inventory does not have enough for those who demand it. They are losing on business for those that could have been sold if availability was an option. Having a demand forecasted accurately would help the business grow and keep consumers happy. Loyal customers will always stay as long as possible but those who are indecisive about a brand will potentially lose a customer if forecasting is not done accurately.

In what other ways do we use forecasting for our daily lives?



Schools out, do you know where your kids are?

There are plenty of days off during the school year for elementary schools and junior highs. Whether it be for Martin Luther King Jr Day, Columbus day, Election Day, Pulaski Day, or even those teacher institute days– kids are off school. The question though is, what to do on a day off from school? Since working at an indoor trampoline park, I’ve found the answer to that question and that is come to where I work and jump around with friends. However, that’s hard to do if my job doesn’t open until 2pm during the week and a lot of our staff are in high school and still have school on those days. This is where forecasting comes into context. Since being open for a year now, the managers now have a better idea of sales and turnout for special holidays. With that information they can forecast the number of customers on days where the surrounding school districts have days off.

Being the main office assistant, I was asked a couple of months ago to create a spreadsheet of all the surrounding school districts’ days off from school. The task involved me having to look up all the school districts in the area 2012-2013 school calendar and from there create an easy-to-read spread sheet of every non-attendance school day. The project itself took me about a week to do but with the final product the managers were able to use the list as a tool to forecast the following: sales, turnout, number of staff needed, and the cost benefit of opening up the store early. The list isn’t the only thing that the managers look at to forecast for the days off. They also look at the previous year’s (for that specific day off) sales and turnout as well as what day of the week the holiday/day off lands on and how many inquiries we’ve received about birthday parties/group reservations for that day (at an earlier time than we open).

Taking into consideration all those factors, I’ve notice the importance of forecasting and how it can really effect a company’s sales if not done the right way or even at all. I have seen the problems that can occur when forecasting is not done such as under staffing, not opening up earlier when we could/should of, and unhappy customers.

Real World Project Management

Have any of you ever heard of a little thursday party called, “Recess?”

For those of you who have not, I will quickly give you an idea of what this party is.  Recess takes place at a small venue known as Barn & Company (on the corner of Sheffield and Wrightwood).  It is labeled simply as, “the party,” because that is what is it is – a party.  Myself along with a few other young gentlemen began Recess just a few short weeks ago; however, it has been growing and growing each and every week.  This particular event is no where near the size of a nation wide music festival, yet it requires just as rigorous planning.

Every thursday night there is a standard that needs to be met.  This standard would fall apart if proper planning was not set into motion during the weeks prior.  Planning, scheduling, and controlling are three crucial aspects in this process.  When I sit down with my partners and discuss each week, we first begin by planning.  This included assigning specifics roles to each individual involved,  and setting goals (such as how many people we aim to have come out to the event).  After this takes place, we then schedule.  We write out a list of deadlines that we hold ourselves and each other accountable for meeting each week.  For example, this past week we decided to bring confetti cannons to the bar – something to add a little extra kick.  My partner, Max, was assigned the task of getting the confetti cannons.  He was given a specific amount of money, of which we budgeted throughout the planning process, and was to purchase the confetti canons by a designated date.  He carried this task out successfully (if you were wondering).  Following all of this, we began the controlling phase.  This also included monitoring budgets.  Money was initially allocated to each individual for supplies, and the supplies purchased by that individual had to fit within the budgetary restrictions.

This process does not always go smoothly though.  There are times where we in fact fall behind, or a wrench gets thrown into the system.  In these cases we need to restructure our original plans and deadlines.  In these cases, project management techniques help tremendously.  When we initially sit down and write out our list of tasks we note each task that can be done before any other task starts.  For example, when we go to purchase supplies, we set a specific deadline.  However, something such as this has a lot of slack because we just need to ensure that the supplies are purchased before 9:00 pm on a thursday evening (the whole point being though, that we do not wait until the last minute to run around and get supplies).

This event, Recess, has proven to be a prime example of project planning and management.  The phases and techniques will surely help in future ventures as well.