8 Bad Habits – Creating and Maintaining Your Project Schedule

I have always believed that you can learn as much or more from challenges and problems on projects as you do from successes. It is amazing how much you as a project manager contribute to the project’s challenges (in a bad way). The project schedule is a good example of where a project manager can have the best intentions in the world, and yet they create a schedule that is difficult to understand and nearly impossible to maintain. The bad thing about a poorly constructed project schedule is that it is something you have to live with the entire project life cycle. I have been on more than one project where we decided it was best to have a “do over” on the schedule than continue to struggle along with the one we were using.

There are a handful of traps that project managers fall into when creating a project schedule, either because at the time it seems like their approach is a “shortcut”, or they don’t understand the scheduling tool well enough to know any better. These bad habits make the schedule difficult keep up to date to reflect progress on the project, as well as changes in the work to be performed. In addition, these bad habits make the schedule difficult to understand by key stakeholders (sponsors and team members), which usually results in the need to create additional tools and reports to communicate work assignments and provide project status updates. Below are the 8 bad habits that I most frequently encounter.

The 8 Bad Habits

1. Failure to Use MS Project – This first habit seems obvious, but it is amazing how many project managers use tools other than MS Project to create and maintain their project schedule. Many project managers create visuals of the project timeline using tools like PowerPoint or Visio for stakeholder presentations and believe this same visual can be used effectively to manage progress/work on the project. In addition, some project managers feel that MS Project represents “overkill” for their project, so they use tools like Excel or SharePoint Task Lists to maintain project tasks and work assignments. These tools are fine until you need to understand things like task dependencies, resource utilization, or overall progress (% complete).

2. Poorly Structured WBS – Many project managers start entering tasks into the project schedule without taking time to think about how the tasks should be organized in the context of a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS). The Work Breakdown Structure is what provides you with the ability to roll-up activities and track/report effort and progress by major project components. It is a good practice to ensure that the WBS is organized based upon the way work is planned to be completed throughout the project life cycle. A strong WBS allows you to closeout large segments of the schedule as your move through the project life cycle.

3. Unnecessary Constraints – Inexperienced MS Project users will often insert unnecessary constraint dates into the project schedule. Their logic is that they should just enter the date the task will start or finish. The problem with this logic is that when dependent tasks change, the task with the constraint will not move as well. There are times when a constraint is appropriate (e.g., external dependencies), however overuse of arbitrary constraints results in a lot of manual intervention when maintaining the schedule (or worse – incorrect reporting of task start/end dates).

 


 

4. Dependencies Tied to Summary Tasks – One of the “shortcuts” that project managers will use is tying a dependency to a summary task. This approach eliminates the need to maintain dependencies for each of the individual tasks in the group of tasks. The problem with this “shortcut” is as soon as one of the tasks in the group has a different dependency, the dates for the individual task will be incorrect because the summary task dependency takes precedence over the individual task dependency. In addition, it is difficult to understand where the actual dependency exists when there are dependencies tied to summary tasks.

5. Lack of Clearly Defined Milestones – Milestones represent events or points in time that are critical to the success of the project. A milestone is established in the project schedule automatically by creating a task in the schedule with “0 days” duration. It is a good practice to focus on milestone status in executive sponsor project reviews. It is difficult to understand significant planned project accomplishments without clearly defined project milestones in the project schedule.

 


 

6. Incorrect Resource Loading – Many project managers load resources into the project schedule to assign resources to tasks, with no attention paid to the work effort established for the task. Loading resources at 100% utilization for the planned duration for each task results in significantly overstating the overall work effort for the project. The work effort can be adjusted by entering the estimated work hours for the task or the allocation % for the resource.

7. Improper Set-up of Schedule Options – The Options maintained in the project schedule establish the default behaviors of the project schedule. Many project managers do not understand why certain information does or does not change when other fields are updated in the schedule. In most cases, the update behaviors are tied back to the default Options that have been established for the project schedule.

 


 

8. Poorly Organized Views – MS Project provides the ability to define views that are used to track different information maintained in the project schedule. In addition, these views can be defined in MS project templates to ensure that projects are reported in a consistent manner across the project office. Unfortunately this is functionality that most project managers do not use very effectively. Project managers attempt to overcome poorly constructed views by creating visuals of the timeline and resource utilization in tools such as PowerPoint.

Benefits of Good Practices

Applying good practices to create and maintain your project schedule will save you time and ensure that you are presenting the right information in an accurate manner to your stakeholders. The following are the specific benefits associated with good schedule management practices.

  • On-Going Schedule Maintenance – You will spend less time updating a project schedule that has been well constructed.
  • Presentations to Stakeholders – You will have the ability to present information to stakeholders as a byproduct of maintaining the project schedule (without using separate visuals of the schedule in other tools).
  • Understanding & Communicating Resource Requirements – Resource utilization information is available to understand and manage over or under allocation of critical project resources.
  • Enterprise Enablement – Use of good schedule management practices is a prerequisite of successful implementation of enterprise project management tools (e.g., Project Server).

Note from the Author:

First of all, I apologize to my readers for not posting new content on my blog for a little over a year. I don’t really have an excuse, other than you tend to go through “seasons” where you are more passionate and motivated to write about the things you see and do as a project manager. Writing a blog is like cutting your grass or cleaning your house. If you keep up with it on a regular basis the work is not too difficult, but as soon as you let it slip a bit it becomes much harder to get motivated to take on the bigger task at hand. I have recently been exposed to some new project management approaches and tools, so I am hopeful to keep up the momentum and post more regularly.

Secondly, my good friend, Tom Hoffmann, and I frequently joke about his less conventional approach to project management. In fact he takes great pride in frequently practicing bad habit #1. It is with a smile on my face that I dedicate this post to Tom’s Worst Practices (TWP).

PM-Foundations – Planning & Conducting Effective Project Meetings

Project meetings can easily become the nemesis of your project success. Some of the things that I overhear when team members talk about project meetings:

“My day is fully consumed by meetings. I have no time to do my real work.”

“That meeting was a waste of time. Not sure what we were trying to accomplish.”

“We talk about the same things in every meeting.”

“The only decision we made today was that we need another meeting.”

Do your project meetings have a regular cadence (timing, content, and attendance)? Do the project meetings have an established purpose and objectives? Do the meetings drive positive project outcomes in terms of information sharing, problem resolution, and tracking and planning of work? Are action items regularly captured, and follow-up actions proactively initiated and tracked? If the answer is “no” to several of these questions, your project meetings may be a source of project churn. Project meetings that create churn ramble on, and provide limited benefit to the project team. In many cases, ineffective project meetings will actually be the source of confusion and misunderstandings on the team. It is a strong indication that your project meetings might be creating churn if you discuss the same issues/problems meeting after meeting, and team members become disengaged in the conversations — or do not show up at all. Communications within the project team, the ability to remove roadblocks, and the tracking and prioritization of project work are all negatively impacted by meeting related project churn.

Comments from my blog on Project Churn: In the workplace, churn represents the counterproductive discussions, emails, and actions that create a “drag” on generating positive business results. In the context of project delivery, churn represents the “negative energy” within the team and the overall project environment that prevents your project from progressing at the planned rate, or successfully completing project milestones. Churn is manifested in a stakeholder’s negative communication, a team member’s non-productive actions, or project delivery processes that are slow or ineffective. At its worst, project churn can paralyze a project team, and overwhelm a project. You will find project churn at the heart of many challenged or failed projects.

How Meetings Impact Your Project

On the surface, project meetings seem pretty harmless. How can getting people together to discuss topics and collaborate have a negative impact on my project? Below are several tangible ways that ineffective project meetings can have a negative impact on project outcomes:

  • Consume Time – Project meetings represent an investment in people’s time. If team members were not attending project meetings, they could be completing project work assigned to them. If project meetings do not contribute positively to project outcomes (e.g., sharing of information, making decisions, resolving issues), then they represent non-productive project overhead. Churn.
  • Do Not Result in Action – Project meetings without a defined purpose and agenda do not drive decisions and actions required to achieve project milestones. In many cases, action items are identified or decisions are made in meetings, however there is no follow-through or accountability established to ensure that the actions are completed or decisions are implemented (and the desired results achieved). Churn.
  • Create Confusion – Ineffective project meetings often generate confusion or misunderstandings within the team. When a project meeting is not facilitated and summarized in an organized manner, team members tend to take away very different perspectives from the meeting. The confusion resulting from the meeting can cause team members to communicate inappropriately, and/or work ineffectively. Churn.

In other words, meetings can consume a significant amount of your team’s time, do not drive productive decisions and/or actions, and in many cases are the source of confusion and chaos on the team.

Start With Why You Have Team Meetings

In my experience, the place to start when creating a foundation for effective project meetings is establishing an understanding of why you need meetings on your team. If the meetings do not contribute to one or more of the reasons for having a meeting, they should be transformed or eliminated. Below are the reasons I generally utilize when establishing project meetings:

  • Project Status Updates – Meetings represent an effective means to establish a common understanding amongst the team of where the project is at, and where the focus of the team needs to be. This includes knowing where the team is against plans, and what corrective actions must be taken to get the team back on track. It also includes establishing or clarifying where dependencies exist within the team, and how these dependencies impact achieving upcoming milestones.
  • Forum for Making Decisions – Decisions are required throughout the project life cycle to keep projects moving in the right direction and at the planned pace. In many situations, the decision requires collaboration of key stakeholders, and either a regularly scheduled meeting or an impromptu meeting is utilized to drive the decision.
  • Review Project Content – As milestones are achieved, it is important to ensure that the product(s) delivered meet the expectations of key stakeholders. Meetings are utilized to review project deliverables, resolve issues associated with deliverables, and gain consensus on the approval of a deliverable.

5 Ways to Improve Your Project Meetings

1. Create a Regular Cadence – It is important to establish a well-defined meeting schedule throughout the project life cycle. The meeting schedule includes core team meetings, steering committee meetings, and deliverable/milestone reviews. The meeting schedule establishes both expectations and constraints in terms of team member involvement and investment in team meetings (including both frequency and length of meetings).

2. Target the Audience – Team member involvement in meetings should be established during the definition of team roles and responsibilities. Identifying the target audiences for scheduled meetings includes forming the core team and steering committee, as well as defining stakeholders involved in reviewing and approving deliverables and/or milestones.

3. Establish the Appropriate Approach & Content – The team should decide on the appropriate approach for conducting each type of project meeting, as well as the scope of the content to be covered in the meeting. Does the meeting represent a facilitated discussion, or a sharing of specific information? Do materials need to be prepared or reviewed in advance of the meeting? Most regularly scheduled project meetings have a “standing” agenda that is tailored for each meeting occurrence based upon the current phase/status of the project.

4. Proactively Manage Meeting Follow-up – The wrap-up of each meeting should include a summary of key decisions and actions. These decisions and actions must be documented (as efficiently as possible), and reviewed in a systematics manner (to ensure that they are completed/implemented). I will generally start each regular team meeting with a review of key actions and decisions from previous meetings.

5. Keep Track of your Meetings – Tracking of project meetings helps teams ensure that they are getting the appropriate payback on the investment. For each type of project meeting, I will track the following information:

  • Attendance (including total hours and cost)
  • Decisions made and actions resolved (including deliverables reviewed/approved)
  • Value derived from the meeting (primarily based upon periodic input from meeting participants)

 

Your comments on this blog are appreciated. What experiences have you had with project meetings? How have you improved the effectiveness of your project meetings?

Using MS Project to Manage the Critical Path

The critical path represents the longest (in duration) network of tasks between defined start and end points. The critical path is what determines the total duration of the project. Therefore project managers often draw the logical conclusion that if they diligently manage the series of activities on the critical path, they will ensure that the project is delivered on-time. In my experience, the critical path is a great place to start in terms of analyzing and understanding the project schedule, however there are several pitfalls associated with becoming too focused on managing the critical path:

1. Secondary Paths – Within most project schedules there are alternative networks of activities that are almost as long as the critical path. All it takes is a few adjustments to the plans (i.e., new tasks, or changes in activity sequencing), or variances within the actual execution of the plans (i.e., delayed start of a task, or extended duration of a task), to cause one of the alternative activity networks to become the critical path.

2. Where is the Work? – The critical path represents the longest series of networked activities, but it does not necessarily represent the one requiring the most effort (work) to complete. Generally the network of activities that requires more resources and effort to complete has more risk associated with it. It is not prudent for the project manager to ignore project components that require significant resources and effort.

3. Critical Path Changes – As discussed in pitfall #1, the critical path will change throughout the planning and execution of the project. Changes to any one of the three key elements of the project schedule (tasks, durations, and sequencing) will have a potential impact on the critical path. As a result, it is important that the project manager has the ability to identify and track the critical path on an on-going basis throughout the project life cycle.

These pitfalls highlight the fact that the critical path represents an important data point to monitor and manage throughout the project life cycle, but not the single data point to manage when performing schedule management related functions.

Using MS Project to Identify the Critical Path

As the project schedule is created and updated, MS Project will calculate the critical path, and flag the tasks on the critical path (using the “Critical” field to flag the tasks on the critical path). MS Project provides multiple ways to view / track the activities that it has calculated to be on the critical path. Below I describe the ways that I find the most valuable to manage the critical path throughout the project life cycle.

Filters – One of the filters available within MS Project views is “Critical” tasks. Selecting this filter limits the tasks displayed within the view to the tasks on the critical path.


Select “Critical” Tasks filter


Display only the tasks on the critical path. The “Yes” / “No” flag identifying critical path tasks is maintained in the field named “Critical”.

Group – The Group feature on the view menu provides the ability to group the critical and non-critical tasks.


Select Group by “Critical” Tasks


Tasks are grouped based on those identified as critical vs. non-critical.

Network View – The network view provides a Pert Chart depicting the activity sequencing, and has the ability to highlight the critical path activities within the overall network diagram. I find this view a bit cumbersome to use for projects that are of significant size and complexity. Note: The engineers I work with seem to prefer this view.


Critical tasks are highlighted in Yellow within the Network View.

Gantt View – There are a couple ways to modify the Gantt View to highlight tasks on the critical path. Because this is the view that I use the most when creating and updating the project schedule, I find this technique to be very useful. Critical tasks can be highlighted within the Gantt view by adjusting either the text styles or the Gantt Chart format.


Select Critical Tasks, and change the text color, style, size or background to highlight the tasks on the critical path.


Critical tasks are highlighted based upon the text options selected.


The Gantt Chart tool provides the ability to highlight critical tasks on the Gantt Chart (timeline).


Critical tasks are highlighted in Red on the Gantt Chart (timeline).

Using Slack to Identify “Hidden” Paths

The slack field is utilized to identify tasks that are “close” to the critical path. Slack represents the float associated with each individual task – the number of days the task can slip without impacting the end of the project. Slack is captured within MS Project for both the Start Date and the Finish Date, but I find it is only necessary to track Finish Slack for purposes of managing “alternative” network paths within the project schedule.

In this example task #46 is 5 days from the critical path, but this task requires significant duration and effort to complete (and is likely rated as a high risk task). In reality, my coaching for this project manager would be to break task #46 into multiple tasks with more manageable work efforts and durations.

4 Tips to Effectively Manage the Critical Path

Based upon my experience, managing the critical path is not an exact science. The project manager must continuously take a “holistic” view when creating and updating the schedule, and not become too focused on managing the tasks on the critical path. However, the critical path does provide valuable insights into the tasks that are driving the current project end date. MS Project provides tools that make it easier to identify and understand the tasks on the critical path. Below are 4 tips that I leverage to more effectively manage the critical path and improve project delivery outcomes.

1. Tracking throughout the Project Life Cycle – As previously mentioned, the critical path can potentially change every time you update future plans or actual results within the project schedule. Therefore processes and tools should be put into place to track and manage the critical path every time the schedule is updated. I will generally create a Gantt view that highlights the critical path tasks (either within the task list, or the Gantt Chart). This approach provides the ability to at a quick glance understand the impact of schedule updates on the critical path.

2. Assessing the Critical Path – After each schedule update, the project manager should analyze and rationalize whether or not the tasks listed as “critical” in the project schedule are indeed the tasks that will likely drive the end date of key milestones and/or the project end date. Key questions during this process include:

  • Are tasks on the critical path tracking on-schedule? Are corrective actions required for critical tasks?
  • Are tasks close to the critical path tracking on-schedule? Are corrective actions required for any non-critical tasks?
  • Are there other there other tasks that are of concern (due to effort or risk)? Are the appropriate risk mitigation plans in place?

3. Actively Mitigate Risk – As risks are identified during the schedule analysis process, ensure that risks are effectively mitigated within the project schedule. This mitigation process may include adding/updating schedule contingencies, updating estimated durations or work efforts, modifying resources, or changing activity sequencing. The risk mitigation process may impact the critical path. I will often implement risk mitigation actions to purposefully place a high risk task on the critical path and provide a higher level of visibility and scrutiny to the task.

4. Managing to Milestones – The focus of critical path analysis should not necessarily be limited network associated with the beginning to the end of the project. In fact in most of my project schedules, the end of the project (e.g., Project Closeout Complete) is not the most important project milestone (e.g., “Go Live” Complete). Therefore it is important to understand and manage the critical path to specific milestones (instead of, or in addition to the project end date). This can be accomplished by creating and linking multiple project schedules, or by performing manual analysis to identify/update the critical path for interim milestones. In my humble opinion, this is an area that could be supported more effectively within MS Project.

 

 

What has been your experience with managing the critical path? What techniques / tools have you utilized to understand and manage key tasks and improve project delivery outcomes?

 

PM-Foundations – “H” is for Humble

A few weeks ago I listened to the eulogies at my father-in-law’s memorial service and reflected on the fact that it was not what he had accomplished in his lifetime that was so important, but rather how he accomplished it. My father-in-law was an accomplished mechanical engineer who during his time a McDonnell Aircraft was involved in testing the first Mercury space capsule prior to its flight. He moved with his family to Dayton in 1960, and was employed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, where he spent 30 years as a Structural Test Engineer. During his career, he was responsible for conducting full-scale tests and is the author of many technical reports describing these tests. He received numerous awards and letters of commendation for his work during his career. During all his years as an engineer, he was most known for the dedicated and unassuming manner in which he led these mission critical tests. This humble and committed approach carried over to his personal life as a husband, father, and grandfather. He was the person that would quietly “step up” and solve problems, whether it was finding the missing homework, or picking up the grandchildren from a band competition.

I share these thoughts about my father-in-law because I think they are very relevant in the context of the role of a project manager. The project manager role is responsible for leading the team to achieve specific project goals and objectives. Team members tend to more clearly remember and describe how the goals and objectives were achieved, vs. if they were achieved. Traditional project leadership involves a command and control type of approach, with the project manager monitoring and directing activities. In contrast, the servant leadership style puts the needs of the team member first, and the project manager’s role is focused on supporting project activities and removing roadblocks. I am not saying that there is one “right answer” to the appropriate project leadership style, but I do believe I would prefer to be remembered as a hardworking and humble project leader, than a hard-driving and demanding project leader. The servant leadership style creates a high degree of engagement and participation of team members in decision-making, as the project manager encourages and supports team members to leverage their full potential and abilities. Below I highlight several ways that a project manager can take a more humble and supportive approach, while still leading the team to successful project outcomes.

7 ways to be humble while leading a project team

As a project manager, there are a number of tangible things that you can do to establish a servant leadership approach to project management. This approach places heavy emphasis on creating a fully engaged team, establishing a positive project environment, and focusing on supporting vs. directing project activities. These 7 tips represent a combination of applying servant leadership based skills, and implementing practical techniques to enhance the project environment.

1. Articulate the Vision & Emphasize Teamwork – I spend a lot of time making sure the project team understands that they are a team working towards a common objective, and not a bunch of individuals assigned to a project. Establishing a group that works as a team starts with making sure the team understands what we are trying to accomplish, and what success looks like. It also includes ensuring that everyone has internalized what their role is on the team, and how their role connects with the success of the overall project. There are things you can do to make sure the group feels like a team. Schedule regular team interactions (team meetings), provide meaningful project updates, and promote collaboration / interaction. Unless this group has worked together before, it takes some real work and focus on your part to make the group feel and interact like a team. Do not be discourage or give up as the team traverses through the forming and storming phases of creating a team. Your leadership can make a significant difference in terms of how the team works together.

2. Focus on Facilitating vs. Directing – Much of what a project manager does involves facilitation – enabling project teams to collaborate to get work done. Project managers facilitate meetings, decision making, and issue resolution (to name a few). Effective facilitators understand the impartial role of the facilitator, ask good questions to promote meaningful discussions, and leverage facilitation tools to achieve the desire results. Facilitation encourages team members to perform project work in a highly collaborative manner.

3. Exercise Active Listening – Active listening is required to understand what people are working on, identify challenges team members have encountered, and capture ideas to improve project performance. Active listening also provides the project manager with better “peripheral vision” (things that are not in the project manager’s direct line of sight) to identify potential problems or risks. Many project managers feel that leading involves a lot of talking, and I would argue that leading involves much more listening.

4. Leverage the Talents of the Team – As the team is forming, it is important to get to know the individual team members. Not only do you need to understand their strengths and weaknesses, but also what are the things that motivate and energize them. If you have insights into team member’s professional development path, you can help align work with the areas where they have talents, are excited about, and/or desire to learn. Aligning work and responsibilities in a manner that gives people a chance to “step up” on the team goes on a long ways towards building a highly motivated team that delivers positive results. The opportunities on the team can be both in the form of specific work assignments, as well as roles (e.g., facilitation of team meetings, coordination of team events).

5. Be Accountable to the Team –The servant leader will quietly take accountability for actions required to remove roadblocks encountered by the team. You complete these actions with the same diligence and urgency that you would expect from other team members. You don’t want to become the “weakest link” that is responsible for an open issue that blocks progress, and impacts project success.

6. Recognize Contributions – It is extremely important to recognize people’s contributions on the team. There are two categories of contributions that I recognize on the team – (1) efforts that help the team achieve its goals, and (2) efforts that demonstrate or promote teamwork. As the project manager, you are recognizing contributions that helped drive positive project outcomes based upon either the work that was performed, or the way in which it was performed. A significant amount of positive energy can be created on the team by recognizing the right efforts at the right time. The recognition does not need to be elaborate, but it must be sincere, and a bit of creativity helps generate a fun atmosphere on the team.

7. Close the Project – When you have come this far with the team, do not forget to bring appropriate closure to the effort. Effectively facilitating the lessons learned process helps the team reflect on what was accomplished, how it was accomplished, and what would the team do differently on the next project. This is the opportunity for the team to have a real impact on how projects are completed within your organization in the form of implementing continuous improvement actions. The other important element of project closure is celebrating success. Facilitate a project celebration that helps team members feel good about was accomplished before they rush off to their next assignment.

This blog post is dedicated in loving memory of Murray N. England (May 7, 1930 – January 24, 2013).

PM-Foundations – That Will Leave a Mark

When working at clients the immediate goal is to meet or exceed the expectations of the engagement. As a project manager this is accomplished by effectively leading projects to successful project outcomes. While being recognized as a team for doing a good job is satisfying unto itself, the ultimate goal is to deliver and perform in a manner that leaves a lasting impression on the project management organization. This lasting impression is reflected in the consistency and effectiveness of the practices routinely used across projects, the ability to measure and report on project performance, and the quality and relevancy of project management processes and supporting project artifacts. In the context of managing projects, there are things you can do that to leave the project organization in a better place than when you arrived – leaving a mark that lives well beyond your time spent at the client.

5 Ways to Leave a Mark on the Project Office

Below are the 5 ways that I focus my energy and efforts during a project management engagement in an attempt to leave a lasting impression on the client’s Project Office/PM competency. Obviously, the level of impact/influence in some of these areas is highly dependent on the scope, length and visibility of your engagement.

1. Become Productive – Clients are often amazed at how quickly a project manager can ramp-up and productively contribute to a project. Quickly becoming productive on a project can be accomplished with limited or no domain knowledge associated with an industry, client, business process or technology. The time to ramp up on a project is largely dependent on the project manager’s experience / expertise, as well as their command of the core capabilities of a project manager. Effective project managers instinctively know how to approach a new project, and where to begin in terms of ramping up and starting to lead the team. Project offices that develop project managers that can ramp up and become productive quickly realize gains in time to market, as well as increase flexibility in terms of moving project managers from project to project. My first job at the assignment is to demonstrate this capability, and then work with the client to make it a core competency.

2. Model Best Practices – My company’s project management services are built around the idea that project management is a very mature competency with many available sources of knowledge, and yet companies still struggle with challenged or failed projects. We firmly believe that the implementation and consistent application of project management best practices is what differentiates successful projects from challenged projects. The more ingrained these best practices are in the project management culture, the lower the dependency on the talents and heroic efforts of individual team members. There are a “critical few” best practices areas that if performed well will significantly improve the team’s performance, as well as the project outcomes (identifying key stakeholders, facilitating the development of the WBS, creating a strong schedule and budget, managing change, and measuring performance to name a few). Throughout the project life cycle, I diligently perform / model these best practices as part of “doing my job” leading the project team. Just when you think nobody is watching, someone will surprise you and comment on how you handled a certain situation. It is in these moments that you know you are leaving a lasting impression on the client based upon the way you are modeling the effective application of the “critical few” best practices.

3. Proactively Mentor / Coach – Part of improving the overall project management competency within an organization is building a project management team that has the capability and desire to effectively apply the best practices in the context of completing “real” project work. I find that having a core of experienced and skilled project managers is a requirement to a strong best practice centric project management culture. Less experienced project managers can “lean on” the core of experienced project managers for professional development counseling, and advice on specific project situations. One of the most enjoyable aspects of consulting engagements is providing “free advice” to other project managers on how I have handled specific situations on other projects (again relying on the effective use of the “critical few” best practice areas). These mentoring opportunities help improve project results associated with the specific situation, and also influence the way that the project manager will handle situations in the future. Effective coaching and mentoring is often represented as “intangible”, but it is surprising the overall impact it can have on the project management competency within an organization.

4. Properly Close Projects – I spend a lot of time on my blog talking about effectively closing a project. The reason I am so passionate about this topic is that project closure is the point in time for project managers to identify / highlight the things done well or poorly during the project, and initiate the appropriate actions to ensure that these lessons learned are reflected in future project efforts. At the end of a project, many project managers are busy preparing for their next project or client, and miss this prime opportunity to leave a lasting impact on the client organization. Project closure starts with effectively shutting down project activities, validating all product deliverables are complete and key product issues closed, and smoothly transitioning resources to new roles. The second aspect of this best practice area is preparing the project closure report (also referred to as the post-project assessment). Creating the project closure report includes gathering input from key stakeholders, and identifying improvement actions to be implemented either as part of the closeout process or for future projects. These improvement actions can have a significant impact on the effectiveness of the processes and tools regularly practiced within the project office.

5. Implement Continuous Improvement – As processes and tools are improved in the context of leading a project, the impact of the improvement is limited to a single project if it is not captured as a “standard” within the project office. Improvements may represent “filling a gap” in the project management processes, or an enhancement to an existing tool. In either case, it is important to ensure that the project office regularly captures and roll-outs these improvements across all projects. As a consultant it is usually pretty easy to introduce this practice, however it takes on-going demonstration and re-enforcement of the practice to “make it stick” – creating a culture of continuous improvement does not happen overnight.

Your comments are appreciated. How have you “left a mark” on the project management organization?

PM-Foundations – Is your project a success?

Many project managers will proudly declare, “This project is a major success – we are delivering on-time and within budget.” When you take time to talk to some of the customers of these projects, you hear a much different story. In many cases, the customer’s version describes a product that was delivered that does not meet their expectations. In other cases, the customer’s version describes processes utilized to deliver the project that were not very collaborative or customer friendly. I refer to cases where you eventually achieve the goals of the project but stakeholders are generally not happy with the way you get there as “winning ugly”.

If there is more to project success than delivering within the boundaries of the triple constraint (time, cost, and quality/scope), how do you judge if a project is successful? In my experience these measures are a good start, but they do not portray the “total picture”. Project success should also take into consideration the impact the project has on the organization, the processes utilized to deliver the project, and how customers feel about the project outcomes.

This post covers my thoughts on what should be considered when defining project success, as well as the project manager’s accountabilities and responsibilities related to project success.

What does success look like?

In the context of project delivery, success is generally defined in terms of attainment of predefined goals. Projects are often judged to be successful based upon more than just the goals/objectives established in the project charter or project management plan – project managers lament this fact. Below are factors I consider when assessing project success.

  • Time & Cost – Is the actual project delivery date and cost less than the baseline delivery date and cost (also taking into consideration the impact of approved changes)? Time and cost are the success factors that project managers talk about the most. These are the factors that project managers are directly responsible for managing. In addition, these success factors are relatively easy to measure and report on.
  • Scope – Did the project deliver the “what” was expected to be delivered? Scope is not limited to the product features and functions. Scope also includes the deliverables that ensure that the product is properly implemented and supported. I have seen my share of projects viewed as failures due to the lack of attention to deliverables such as training, product marketing/adoption, and support processes.
  • Quality – Does the product delivered perform the function it was intended to perform? Many project teams fall into the trap of judging product quality solely based upon the number of defects identified. All it takes is one or two defects to prevent the product from performing as intended. Quality related success measures should be judged based upon the ability to achieve operational goals (e.g., number of transactions processed, average calls per hour), as well as the ability to respond to product related problems.
  • Process – Were processes consistently and effectively utilized to deliver key elements of the project? Processes such as change control, communications, and resource management can significantly influence the perceived success of the project. The predefined goals of the project may have been achieved, but if it was delivered without collaboration or with limited flexibility, stakeholders may not view the outcomes in a positive manner.
  • Significance – Has the project delivered had a positive impact on the organization? Should projects that have limited or no impact on the organization be considered a success? As a project manager, you may say, “It is not my fault the project has not delivered the desired benefits to the organization.” This may be true, however I have seen many examples of projects where what was delivered, or how it was delivered, had a direct impact on the benefits realized. I have also managed projects that were delivered late or over budget, but delivered benefits that far exceeded expectations, and therefore were considered a success.
  • Stakeholders – Are stakeholders happy with the project outcomes? Stakeholders are the people that were involved in or impacted by the project. It is a problem if the overall stakeholder community, or large segments of the stakeholder community, do not speak positively about the project. Feedback can be a very subjective measure of success, but I do believe that how people “feel” is a valid component of the success of the project. In most instances, specific actions can be taken to change the nature of feedback received from stakeholder – do not take this feedback too lightly.

6 ways you can improve the success of the project

I am a firm believer in the fact that the project manager role significantly influences the success of the project. Below are six project management best practice areas that have a direct impact on the success of the project.

1. Project Organization – Forming the project team sounds pretty basic, but it is amazing how many project teams launch the project without performing stakeholder analysis, and defining the project organization. Important elements of the project organization include project sponsors, the core team, and understanding other key stakeholders. Getting the “right” people engaged in the “right” roles has a significant impact on the project teams’ ability to meet the needs of the organization.

2. Baseline Plan – As a project manager you are introduced to new situations all the time (new clients and new projects), and it is extremely important to hit the ground running leading project teams through the planning process. Adapting a consistent planning approach from client to client, and project to project, significantly improves outcomes of the project planning process (both time to market and quality of the plans). Strong baseline plans represent the foundation for a successful project delivery process.

3. Measure Project Performance – This best practice area involves keeping your eye on the appropriate project performance measures to proactively identify potential problems, and engage the team to identify and implement corrective actions. Effective use of project performance metrics helps the project manager identify and implement
the appropriate project delivery adjustments before they become “big problems” that stakeholders are not quick to forget.

4. Collaborate – Stakeholder engagement in project activities has a significant impact on how people feel at the end of the project. Project managers enhance the collaboration on a project by facilitating effective team meetings, implementing collaboration processes & tools, and providing consistent and useful project updates.

5. Manage Change – Change is an inevitable component of managing a project – nothing works out exactly as planned. The project manager effectively manages change by maintaining the appropriate balance between control and discipline to manage to the baseline plan, and flexibility to adapt the plans to meet customer expectations. The level of control and rigor around analyzing and approving changes should be appropriately “sized” to both the organization and the project.

6. Close the Project – At the end of a project, many project managers are busy preparing for their next project or client, and miss a prime opportunity to leave a lasting impact on the client organization. Project closure starts with effectively shutting down project activities, validating all product deliverables are complete and key product issues closed, and smoothly transitioning resources to new roles. The second aspect of this best practice area is preparing the project performance report (also referred to as the post-project assessment). Creating the project performance report includes gathering input from key stakeholders, and identifying improvement actions to be implemented either as part of the closeout process or for future projects. These improvement actions can significantly influence stakeholders’ perception of project success.

 

Your comments are appreciated. What is your experience with judging project success?

Using MS Project Server for Resource Management

One of the consistent struggles of working in a “standalone” project management environment is the fact that you do not have visibility of the “total picture” associated with resources. Resource loading in MS Project provides visibility of resource utilization vs. capacity on your project – not across all resource commitments (e.g., other projects and operational activities). You can utilize the “max units %” to reflect that a resource is something less than 100% available to the project, but this information is only relevant if it is regularly reviewed and updated.

In my opinion, the most significant benefit associated with Enterprise Project Management tools such as MS Project Server, is providing enterprise wide visibility of planned resource utilization vs. capacity. As a by-product of maintaining resource loaded project and operational schedules within MS Project Server, up-to-date resource utilization information is available in a very flexible and easy to access and consume manner.

 

5 Benefits of Using MS Project Server for Resource Management

1. Consistent definition of resources – Maintaining the Global Resource Pool in MS Project Server ensures that resources are defined in a consistent manner across all projects. Without consistency it is difficult to efficiently roll-up resource utilization information from multiple projects. Key elements maintained in the Global Resource Pool are:

  • Resource Name – It is important to establish a standard format for resource names (e.g., first name, last name).
  • Role – The role field provides the ability to view groupings of resources that perform a similar function across projects (e.g., Business Analyst, SharePoint Developer).
  • Base Calendar – The calendar field establishes the appropriate calendar for the resource (e.g., non-working days, working hours).
  • Generic Resources – The generic resource flag provides the ability to create generic resources that are utilized for resource loading purposes prior to assigning a named resource to the project.
  • RBS / Team Name / Department – MS Project Server provides a lot of flexibility to define the attributes/hierarchy specific to your organization (RBS, departments, and teams).
  • Booking Type – This field is utilized to establish the default booking type for the resource assignment. “Committed” represents a firm commitment/assignment to the project, and “proposed” represents a future/planned assignment.
  • Current Max Units % – Max units represents the % resources are available for work that is scheduled in MS Project Server. This field is utilized to calculate the resource capacity displayed on the resource availability charts.
  • Rate – The rate fields establish the standard and overtime rates utilized for costing / billing purposes.

Below is a summary view of the Global Resource Pool. Views can be tailored to meet the needs of your organization in the same manner that views are created in SharePoint.

 

Below are screen shots of the details captured for each resource.

 

 

2. Understanding resource availability across multiple projects – The Resource Availability feature in MS Project Server provides very useful views of planned resource utilization vs. capacity. These views display resource utilization for specified periods (days, weeks, months) for each of the schedules maintained in MS Project Server. The views are available in both chart and table format (depicted below). In addition, you have the ability to view utilization for a single resource or a group of resources.

3. Visibility of Firm vs. Planned Resource Commitments – Within the “build team” function, you have the ability to specify whether resources are loaded into the schedule as firm commitments (committed) or planned future assignments (proposed). The proposed booking type is utilized for planning resource utilization at a high level for future projects/periods.

 

The chart below depicts including proposed hours (in addition to committed hours) in the resource availability view.

 

4. Ability View Availability for Resource Groups – MS Project Server provides the ability to select groups of resources to view total resource utilization vs. capacity for a specific role (e.g., business analysts). This feature is particularly helpful when you have resources that are interchangeable across projects.

The chart below depicts resource utilization vs. capacity by resource for the selected periods (days, weeks, months).

5. Ability to “Drill Down” to View Resource Utilization – From the resource availability views MS Project Server provides the ability to “drill down” to view the detail task assignments for a specific resource or group of resources. The resource assignment details provide resource and project managers with the information required to resolve specific “peaks” or “valleys” in resource utilization.

 

3 Critical Success Factors for Effective Resource Management

The following are 3 factors that are critical to realize the benefits of using MS Project Server for resource management within your project environment.

1. Resource Pool – Data captured in the resource pool must be defined and captured based upon the resource management needs of your organization. This success factor includes standard naming convention for resources, logical structure of the organization and team hierarchy, and meaningful definition of the project roles. These decisions drive how data is displayed within many of the resource management views.

2. Resource Capacity – The capacity line is driven from the Max Units % maintained for each resource. This percent must reflect the availability of the resource to be scheduled on the projects and operational activities maintained within the MS Project Server implementation. For example, if MS Project Server implementation does not include system support activities, then the Max Unit % should be reduced to reflect the time allocated to these activities for each resource. A process should be established for reviewing and updating this information on a regular basis (I recommend monthly or quarterly).

3. Resource Loaded Projects – The information associated with planned resource utilization on projects and operational activities is only as good as the accuracy and completeness of the resource loading within the individual project schedules. This is a very obvious statement, but I have seen many Enterprise Project Management implementations fail because the resource data within project schedules did not reflect reality. Coaching and mentoring of individual project managers is often required to ensure that project schedules are resource loaded and updated accurately throughout the project life cycle.

PM-Foundations – Where do Project Managers Come From?

In my professional life the project management career path has represented a rewarding and challenging destination. In my case, I did not wake up one day and say, “I am going to be a project manager when I grow up.” Project management is a skillset and career that I have developed over many years in the IT industry.

Why is the career path to become a project manager ambiguous? I think the answer to this question is linked to the fact that to become an effective project manager you must do two very different things consistently well:

1. Apply tactical project management related skills. These skills include managing schedules, budgets, and risks (to name a few). These skills must be learned and then applied appropriately in the context of managing projects. Education is helpful to learn these skills, and certifications such as the PMP validate that the project manager has developed the core knowledge base to manage projects. Organization and attention to detail are critical attributes of the project manager to effectively apply the tactical project management skills.

2. Demonstrate the ability to lead people. The project manager must establish a leadership style that is used to form, build, and lead teams to deliver successful project outcomes. This leadership must include specific skills such as facilitation, communication, managing conflict, and building client relationships.

It is often hard to find people that have mastered both elements of becoming a good project manager. Depending on the person’s education and career path, they commonly favor one element over the other. What is the best career path to become a project manager? My opinion is that there is a single correct answer to this question. Below I provide my thoughts on 4 different paths to become a project manager. Many people, including myself, pursue more than one of these paths before becoming a project manager.

Path #1: School to Project Manager

Colleges offer bachelor’s degrees in Project Management. The bachelor’s and master’s degrees are great opportunities to help people with project based experience make the transition to a project management role. However, I struggle with the idea of hiring a person right out of college as a project manager. These candidates may have the “book knowledge” associated with project management, but do not have the experience of applying these skills in “real world” situations, and likely have an underdeveloped leadership style. To me this approach is the same as hiring a person with a sports management degree, and no coaching experience, to be the head coach of a team. My recommendation to people seeking project management roles right out of school is to pursue a contributor role on a project team, or obtain an “apprentice” type project management role (i.e., project analyst or project coordinator) to gain experience and develop into the project management role over a 3-5 year time period. The PMP certification is a great way to validate that they have obtained sufficient experience and practical knowledge to make the transition. It is also helpful for this person to find a senior level project manager to help them develop and manage the appropriate profession development plan.

Path #2: Business Analyst to Project Manager

The business analyst (BA) role plays a significant leadership role on project teams. The BA is responsible for the “what” associated with the project (product content), while the project manager is responsible for the “how” associated with the project (project content). There tends to be more contributor type roles for a BA, and therefore lends itself to a good starting point for project resources. Many business analysts gain project experience and desire to move to the project leadership role. Based upon the ability to exhibit leadership on projects, and gain experience observing the project manager in action, project management can be a natural career transition for business analysts. I recommend business analysts making the transition to project manager obtain the PMP certification to validate they have obtained the knowledge required to perform the new role.

There is often a perception that the project manager role represents a promotion for a BA. I don’t agree with this perspective. Business analysts have the ability to take on as much responsibility, and add as much value, as a project manager. In addition, the BA to PM transition is only for those interested in the opportunities afforded by the project manager role – it is not for those that are passionate about leading the definition and delivery of product content.

Path #3: Technical Lead to Project Manager

Experienced technical resources often take on a leadership role on the project. The project’s technical lead performs some key activities that support the project manager (e.g., task estimating, resource assignments, issue resolution). In absence of a project manager, the technical lead may even be called a project manager. Given the technical lead’s experience working on project teams, and technical leadership capabilities, the technical lead is a logical project management candidate.

In my experience, this is not as common a career path to project manager, primarily because technical resources do not want to give up the technical aspects of their role as a technical lead to become a project manager. Generally the biggest challenge for the technical lead’s transition to project manager is learning and applying the tactical project management related skills (technical leads do not always like this element of the project manager role).

Path #4: Management to Project Manager

On the surface it seems like it would be a “demotion” to move from a management position to a project manager role. However, the scope of a project manager role can be every bit as challenging and fulfilling as that of a resource manager. In my case, I found the role of leading a group of people to accomplish specific and tangible project goals to be more rewarding than leading a larger group of people to accomplish very difficult to measure organizational goals.

This is a great career path based upon the leadership component of the project management equation. The skills and experience of a manager (assuming they were effective managers) translate well into the leadership requirements of a project manager. In many cases a manager will have performed project management responsibilities in the context of fulfilling their management responsibilities. However, in these cases the manager is usually performing the project management function using very informal techniques, many of which need to be “unlearned” when they transition into the project management role. I always recommend that managers making this transition pursue education and certification (PMP) to ensure they have the core tactical project management skills to perform the job. I also recommend the manager find a mentor that has made a similar transition to help them “fill the gaps” from a skills perspective, as well as to make the necessary adjustments to their leadership style.

 

What has been your career path? What have you found helpful or a challenge with that career path?

PM-Foundations – My Favorite Project Management Slang

Part of my leadership style as a project manager is not taking myself too seriously. I find that creating a challenging and fun atmosphere on the team helps improve both teamwork and project outcomes. My use of project management slang is something that makes people smile, but also helps make a point in a not too serious manner. Below are a few of my favorite project management slang phrases, as well as some project management phrases that I do not like as well. For those of you that know me, you will recognize quite a few of these phrases, because I am not afraid to use them during daily team interactions.

My 9 Favorite Project Management Slang Phrases

1. In the Weeds – This occurs in team meetings when the discussion gets totally off topic. I see this a lot when the team tries to solve an issue rather than just identify the appropriate action items. This also can occur when a team member heads the wrong direction on a task, or attempts to make a task into something bigger than it was intended to be. “I think we might be in the weeds” is a nice way of saying we need to redirect the discussion or work to focus on the things that are required to keep the project headed in the right direction.

2. Arthritic Abandon – This phrase is definitely one of my personal favorites. Arthritic abandon occurs when teams seem to be working real hard, but are getting very little accomplished. A symptom of arthritic abandon is when team members talk about how busy they are, but you are seeing very little progress actually realized in the project schedule. This phenomenon usually points to the need to reassess how work is performed, or decisions made (e.g., too many meetings, or too many approvals).

3. Religious Discussions – I had a boss that said to me one day, “Do you know the difference between a terrorist and a methodologist? The answer is that you can negotiate with a terrorist.” His point was don’t waste time analyzing and discussing methodologies to get work done – select one that is appropriate for your project and use it consistently and effectively. Obtaining consensus on methods and processes is like trying to convert someone’s religious beliefs – it won’t happen. When I encounter a discussion where it appears that we have reached the core of people’s belief systems, I will make the comment that we may be in a bit of a “religious discussion” where there is no “right” answer. At this point you need to raise the discussion up a level, and agree on a path forward that is acceptable to the team (or if necessary mandate the path forward as the project manager).

4. Solving World Hunger – “Solving world hunger” occurs when the team is attempting to solve something that is too big. I use this phrase to encourage the team to break the problem down into components and identify actions items required to move forward. Another version of this phrase is, “I think we might be trying to boil the ocean.”

5. The Wedding Planner – I have several phrases that describe types of project managers. I don’t use these phrases to be mean, but rather mentor PM’s on adjusting their focus or behaviors. My personal favorite is the wedding planner. The wedding planner is more concerned with planning events (e.g., project celebrations, steering committee meetings, milestone reviews) than managing project outcomes. The wedding planner likes planning logistics related issues (e.g., meeting rooms, invitations, AV equipment and meals) more than resolving issues and completing real work. A couple other project manager terms that I have encountered are:

  • Clipboard Project Manager – This is the project manager that walks around and “checks” off tasks as they are completed. This project manager is usually so busy with the details that they do not notice when a major milestone is slipping.
  • Content Free Project Manager – The content free project manager wants nothing to do with understanding the product that is being delivered by the project – that is “not their job”. If you have ever tried it before, it is very difficult to help resolve issues or complete work with zero comprehension of the solution your team is working on.

6. Dog Knot – A dog knot is when project issues have brought progress on the project to a complete stop. This is also referred to as “gridlock”. Disagreements or confusion related to specific issues can cause teams to lose focus on the actions required to “move forward”. A dog knot situation usually requires intervention on the part of the project manager to facilitate issue resolution.

7. Pushing a Rope Uphill – This phrase refers to team members that are trying to do something that is very difficult, and is unlikely to have a positive outcome. The team member’s idea or effort does not fit well within the goals or strategy of the project or organization. A similar phrase is “going against the grain”. I will us this phrase to get team members to drop the idea or effort in the spirit of gaining consensus on the team.

8. This Dog Won’t Hunt – I was introduced to this phrase when managing a product development effort. When describing the lack of market acceptance for the product, the product manager said, “I don’t think this dog is going to hunt”. This phrase gently conveys the message that the project is delivering a solution that is not going to meet the project objectives. This phrase is used either to help the team decide on the appropriate corrective actions, or recommend to cancel the project.

9. Feeding Frenzy – A feeding frenzy refers to something that can occur in a team meeting. One person says something and it causes the team to go on a wild tangent. Generally the feeding frenzy is not positive (a lot of griping can occur in a feeding frenzy). I use the phrase in an attempt to get the team to calm down a bit, and refocus the discussion on the topic at hand.

Not My Favorite PM Slang Phrases

Here are the phrases that I am not as fond of. I don’t like most of these phrases because they are too negative about the project or the project team. The other reason I do not like some of these phrases is that they touch on aspects of the project that should be managed / solved by the project manager.

  • Scope Creep –Some project managers fall back on the excuse that the project is over budget or late because there were constant changes, but often cannot quickly explain the changes that account for the primary deviations from the original plan. Projects with too high a percentage of unexplained variances, is usually an indication of a project with inadequate attention to change control processes. In these cases, too many changes are “flying under the radar” and hence the use of the term “scope creep”.

  • 9 Women cannot have a baby in one month – This phrase refers to the fact that you cannot just “throw” more resources at a project to deliver on a target date. This phrase is not my favorite mainly because it is overused. I also do not like it because it infers that there are limited options that will fix the problems on the project, even additional resources. I believe the project manager is obligated to work with the team to find options to get a project back on track, especially when the sponsor is offering to help with additional resources.

     

  • Death March – The phrase “death march” refers to a project assignment that is doomed from the start due to unrealistic commitments/expectations (aggressive deadlines, under-funded, and short staffed). Referring to your project as a “death march” from the beginning of the project becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. Honestly, I have never taken on a project that I felt was a “death march”. If the project commitments truly are unrealistic, the “facts” discovered throughout the planning process can be utilized to help reset expectations.

  • And then there was a miracle – This phase is used when the team feels that the only way a successful project outcome will occur is if something beyond their control happens. As a project manager, I like to believe that the team has been empowered to successfully deliver the project. To say that a “miracle” is required is in essence shirking responsibility for the project results, and/or conceding defeat/failure.

PM-Foundations – Organizing Your WBS

Creating a well-organized Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is always on my list of “critical few” project management best practice areas. The WBS is utilized to effectively define the scope of the project, decomposing the work down into components that can be estimated, scheduled, and tracked/controlled throughout the project life cycle. The WBS makes the scope of the project actionable in the form of a deliverable oriented and hierarchical view of the work. The WBS defines the scope of the project down to the lowest level deliverables called work packages.

One of the most common questions I get when discussing the WBS with project teams is, “What is the best way to organize the project deliverables?” A lot of people think the answer must be obvious, because it does not seem to get discussed much by the team when the WBS takes its initial shape / form. It is not at all a stupid question. There are two very different ways that team members think about the project. One way of thinking about the project is focused on the product that is being created, and the other perspective is based upon how the project work will be completed. Selecting one school of thought over the other will drive a totally different end result in terms of the organization of the WBS. As the project manager, you have to live with the organization of your WBS throughout the project life cycle (it drives the organization of the project schedule, as well as the monitoring / controlling processes), therefore you want to be sure you have purposefully selected an organization approach that works for the project team.

Product Based WBS Organization

For those of us with experience in a manufacturing environment, you are familiar with the concept of the bill of material. The bill of material describes how to build a product from the end product down to the lowest level parts or components. The bill of material is utilized to manage building products in a repeatable, efficient, and cost effective manner (automated utilizing an ERP system). When designing or developing a new product, the bill of material is a logical manner to organize the work that needs to be completed. For product development type projects, organizing the WBS in this manner helps the team think about and visualize whether or not they have effectively accounted for and planned all aspects of the product. This approach also provides an understanding of how different aspects of the product are coming together as the product development effort progresses.

Benefits

Downside

  • Provides the ability to trace the components of the product down to the lowest level sub-components
  • Improves the visibility of the current status of product components (particularly important when working with suppliers)
  • Engineers relate well to the WBS organization structure
  • The WBS is not organized from “beginning to end” of the project life cycle
  • Top levels of the WBS remain open until the end of the project
  • Non-product related deliverables do not fit well in the WBS (unless they are define as part of product’s the bill of material structure)

Project Based WBS Organization

As a project manager, I generally think about the project effort in terms of how the work is going to be completed (based upon the timing and dependencies associated with deliverables). With this approach the work is grouped into work streams (sub-projects), and project phases (defined with major milestones). As you get into lower levels of the WBS the organization of deliverables is based upon the different components of the project or product. This approach allows the project manager to update the project “from top to bottom” as the project progresses (assuming the project progresses in pretty much the same manner as it was planned).

Benefits

Downside

  • The “flow” of the WBS relates closely to the way project work will be completed
  • As work is completed, components of the WBS can be “closed”
  • Generally, easier for project managers to update progress
  • Difficult to utilize the WBS to obtain/communicate the “bill of materials” relating to the product
  • Difficult to highlight the status of specific product components
  • Engineers may struggle with understanding the schedule (and often complain about it)

 

What is the Best Fit for My Project?

There are good reasons to organize your WBS from both the product and project perspective. Below are several factors to take into consideration when you are working with your team to determine the best approach for organizing your WBS.

  • Standalone vs. Dependent Work Efforts – Where are the majority of the dependencies and interrelationships within the separate work efforts? Are the dependencies more focused on the product components or the phases of the project? Are the project milestones tied to the product components or gates in the project life cycle? It is much easier to manage dependencies in a vertical manner within a single work stream, rather than in a horizontal manner across multiple work streams.
  • Wide vs. Deep – Based upon my experience, it is much easier to manage a project that has a WBS that is deeper (vertical) than it is wide (horizontal). Part of this preference goes back to the fact that it is easier to manage dependencies within a single work stream (vs. across work streams). However, I also find that it is easier to manage and measure progress of the overall project (solution) if there are fewer separate work streams that link directly to the highest level of the WBS (the over solution / project summary). For example, if there are 15 major product components associated with your project, with significant dependencies across the components, you should have a good case for organizing the WBS around the project life cycle.
  • Who Cares? – Who are going to be the major consumers of the information maintained within the WBS and the project schedule? Is the effort more product or project focused? If it is a very product focused effort, largely comprised of a team of engineers, you may be fighting an uphill battle to suggest that the WBS should be organized based upon the project phases.
  • What Does Progress Look Like? – How will you be receiving updates on project progress? Will progress updates be organized around separate product related work efforts, or based upon the project phases and upcoming project milestones? Again, the answer to these questions will be largely dependent upon the composition and focus of your project team.
  • Iterative Implications – When the team makes the decision to deliver the project in an iterative manner, they are making the decision that the WBS needs to be organized around the iterations. Iterations are time based, and therefore the WBS takes on a project based organization structure (with the project phases being the individual iterations and milestones for deployments).
  • Either approach will work – As you can tell from my analysis above, I am a project manager and obviously favor one approach over the other. The bottom line is, either approach can work for you and the project team. I can honestly say that some of my most successful project were managed with a product based WBS. In some cases additional steps are required in the WBS definition, and schedule set-up to provide views of the schedule / status from both a product and project perspective. This can be accomplished in MS Project by creating custom fields and special views (using sort and filter functions with the custom fields).