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Project Management Systems

2016-07-26 at 20:25


Project management is the science (and art) of organizing the components of a project, whether the project is development of a new product, the launch of a new service, a marketing campaign, or a wedding. A project isn't something that's part of normal business operations. It's typically created once, it's temporary, and it's specific. As one expert notes, "It has a beginning and an end." A project consumes resources (whether people, cash, materials, or time), and it has funding limits.

Project Management Basics

No matter what the type of project, project management typically follows the same pattern:

  1. Definition
  2. Planning
  3. Execution
  4. Control
  5. Closure

Defining the Project

In this stage the project manager defines what the project is and what the users hope to achieve by undertaking the project. This phase also includes a list of project deliverables, the outcome of a specific set of activities. The project manager works with the business sponsor or manager who wants to have the project implemented and other stakeholders -- those who have a vested interest in the outcome of the project.

Planning the Project

Define all project activities. In this stage, the project manager lists all activities or tasks, how the tasks are related, how long each task will take, and how each tasks is tied to a specific deadline. This phase also allows the project manager to define relationships between tasks, so that, for example, if one task is x number of days late, the project tasks related to it will also reflect a comparable delay. Likewise, the project manager can set milestones, dates by which important aspects of the project need to be met.

Define requirements for completing the project. In this stage, the project manager identifies how many people (often referred to as "resources") and how much expense ("cost") is involved in the project, as well as any other requirements that are necessary for completing the project. The project manager will also need to manage assumptions and risks related to the project. The project manager will also want to identify project constraints. Constraints typically relate to schedule, resources, budget, and scope. A change in one constraint will typically affect the other constraints. For example, a budget constraint may affect the number of people who can work on the project, thereby imposing a resource constraint. Likewise, if additional features are added as part of project scope, that could affect scheduling, resources, and budget.

Executing the Project

Build the project team. In this phase, the project manager knows how many resources and how much budget he or she has to work with for the project. The project manager then assigns those resources and allocates budget to various tasks in the project. Now the work of the project begins.

Controlling the Project

The project manager is in charge of updating the project plans to reflect actual time elapsed for each task. By keeping up with the details of progress, the project manager is able to understand how well the project is progressing overall. A product such as Microsoft Project facilitates the administrative aspects of project management.

Closure of the Project

In this stage, the project manager and business owner pull together the project team and those who have an interest in the outcome of the project (stakeholders) to analyze the final outcome of the project.

Time, Money, Scope

Frequently, people refer to project management as having three components: time, money, and scope. Reducing or increasing any one of the three will probably have an impact on the other two. If a company reduces the amount of time it can spend on a project, that will affect the scope (what can be included in the project) as well as the cost (since additional people or resources may be required to meet the abbreviated schedule).

Project Portfolio Management

Recent trends in project management include project portfolio management (PPM). PPM is a move by organizations to get control over numerous projects by evaluating how well each project aligns with strategic goals and quantifying its value. An organization will typically be working on multiple projects, each resulting in potentially differing amounts of return or value. The company or agency may decide to eliminate those projects with a lower return in order to dedicate greater resources to the remaining projects or in order to preserve the projects with the highest return or value


If you’ve led even one major project you are undoubtedly aware of the critical link between communication and success. In spite of the fact that project managers spend more than half of their time in meetings and 70%-90% of their time communicating, communication is cited as the #2 cause of project failure. Even if you have crystal clear goals and metrics of success, chances are that very few people on your extended team share your clarity. Unfortunately, your lovingly prepared project documents and urgent emails are likely skimmed through -- or skipped over -- by your overworked, deadline-driven team. In order to be heard above the roar of the communication blizzard, you must send a clear and compelling message, repeating yourself frequently.

Welcome to the communication blizzard! We now encounter more information in a single Sunday newspaper than a person in the 17th century encountered in an entire lifetime. On a project of any complexity, the information overload can be downright oppressive.

What project manager doesn’t have a big old stack of email in their in-box, a giant pile of unread documents on their desk, and an incessantly flashing "message waiting" light on their voice mail? Paper information is typically "filed" geologically, heaped layer by layer upon the pile until critical project documents are found somewhere in the Mesozoic era. Email tends to become a reminder of the bottomless pit of action items that awaits us if we ever do get caught up. Faced with an onslaught of undifferentiated information and the impossible task of keeping up with it all, we are forced to make tough choices, prioritize, and flat out ignore much of it as a matter of self-preservation.

Our ability to ignore communication isn’t at all surprising. If 50% of all the phone calls you received were telemarketers, would you even answer the phone? The human brain is forced to screen out about 99,999,960 out of the 10 million bits of information received every second. Only 10 to 40 bits a second are raised to our conscious awareness. The rest bounces around blissfully in the subconscious where it is quickly forgotten, or at worst creates an amorphous, nagging angst. We humans tend to focus on things that matter to us, things that have meaning. It is exceedingly tempting to seek shelter from the communication storm in the proven strategies of avoidance and procrastination. We get tunnel vision, focus on what’s right in front of us, and hope that disaster won’t strike as a result.

This snow-blindness can spell difficulty or even disaster for a project. Some examples of the victims of the project communication avalanche follow.

A critical project document, like the goals and metrics of success, is sent to your core team as an attachment to an email message. You ask for their feedback within three days. The predictable response from a blindingly busy team? None. Nada. Zero. What happened? Chances are, most of them never even clicked on the attachment. A few of those who did may send you valuable input, but most of the feedback will fall into the category of "It looks good to me," which translates into "I looked at it and didn’t really have time to think much about it" or "I didn’t even open the attachment. Who are you kidding?" These are the project goals, the committed schedule, the biggest risks, for Pete’s sake! It’s not like you’re asking them to review the boilerplate of a procurement contract.

Critical project documents are stashed on a shared network location, and those seeking the information are referred there with the glib admonition, "It’s on the shared drive." I’m all for having shared project folders where the whole team can stash documents and share information. But this is akin to saying that a car is parked somewhere in the city of Tokyo. Unless there’s a bit more specificity, and a well-organized file structure, this phrase is extremely entertaining to those who have actually visited the shared drive. Those in the know roll their eyes in amusement at the suggestion that they could actually find the information they seek without burning up a disproportionate amount of precious time that could otherwise be spent knocking off some other, more pressing task.

You can compensate somewhat for these behaviors by calling even more meetings where you all sit around together and review these documents, but that’s not a viable option for geographically-dispersed teams. And to be honest, even co-located teams can succumb to over-reliance on electronic forms of communication. Rather than taking the time to walk over and have a conversation about an urgent matter, it’s common practice to send an instant message to a teammate who sits only steps away.

Effective Communication

When you think about it, communication is pretty much the only means that we have to lead. While listening is a big part of that, when we do speak, we need to find ways to be heard above the surrounding din. If you want your messages to get through the widespread commotion in most projects, keep it short, keep it relevant, and keep it fun. Poor communication is yet another avoidable cause of project failure. Let’s wipe it out in our lifetime!

The graphic shows a simple example of a communications map. This kind of chart typically takes less than 20 minutes to create, and is more communication planning than most people do for a project. I say it’s 20 minutes well spent.

Overly Simplistic Version of a Communications Map





So how can you get your messages to be "the chosen ones" that pierce the consciousness of your team? Here are a few creative approaches that have been proven effective in real-world projects:

Goals. Condense all of the requirements documents and success criteria into a one-page "Project Success Scorecard." (See Chapter 2, "If You Don’t Know Where You’re Going, Any Road Will Do."). At the risk of sounding repetitive, let me reiterate that success means far more than features delivered on time and under-budget.

Plan. Use a simple flow chart program to create a one-page schedule that represents the high-level timeline of the project from start to finish. Although this is extra work for those of us who are using Microsoft Project and other such scheduling software, a simplified map of how the team will get from the start to a glorious finish helps people to keep the big picture in mind without getting lost in the details of a 937-line Gantt chart. For added impact, highlight areas of greatest risk with clip art like skulls and cross bones, ambulances, and little time bombs. This always makes an impression on executives who tend to notice these sorts of decorations. One thing’s for sure, they won’t snooze through presentations.

SCRAPPY TIP: When tracking changes in action item due dates, don't ever change the original dates. Just strike through the obsolete date and let the list of changed dates grow to the point of embarrassment. When an item accumulates enough changes in the due date, it will eventually be obvious to even the most deliberately obtuse that there is a problem.

Tune in next month for Part 2 of "Scrappy Project Management."



Wondering how to get your message across? Here are some tactics that, while unconventional -- and in some cases uncouth -- work like a charm.

Grab Attention. If you are co-located with your team, you have a fabulous opportunity to capture their attention visually.:

  • Purchase a life-size cardboard figure of the celebrity of your choice (movie star, political figure, Disney character, whatever) and position them just outside of the team meeting room with the top priority project goals or next big milestone in their hands, paws, or tentacles.
  • Create a screensaver that conveys the purpose, goals, and priorities of the project. Make the background picture irresistible so that people can’t help but load it onto their computers. (The CEO playing "Whack-A-Mole" is always popular.) Better yet, have your IT Department make this the default screensaver on everyone’s PC.
  • Post the one-page project timeline -- or any other time-critical project communication -- inside the restrooms in "strategic" places, places you can be sure people will be looking at for at least a few minutes a day. (Common decency dictates that I not provide any further detail. You know what I mean!)
  • Give them a little something "extra" in every email communication. Foster the expectation that your email will entertain as well as inform, via a joke, anecdote, riddle, or inspirational saying. This will increase the likelihood of your messages being read -- or at least opened, which is half the battle.
  • Use poetry to communicate some critical project details. One unstoppably creative project leader used this technique to increase the on-time attendance at a daily status meeting during a critical juncture. People showed up on time to hear the kick-off poem that captured key issues for the day’s meeting.

The "E" in Email. Now let’s talk about the global plague that has hit communication in the 21st century. I’ve had it with project leaders who think that their whole job can be done from a keyboard! I recently helped one of my client companies hire a project manager for a professional services business. The CEO told me they wanted help because "the last three project managers didn’t work out." Yeah, that’s a big warning sign that something’s cookin’ in the project management kitchen. It seems that the last project manager was there for a year and had NEVER been to visit a customer. Now, mind you, this was a professional services firm, and the people working on the projects were pretty much always at the customer site. I innocently asked, "How did this person manage the project?" The answer, of course, was email. Paper cuts all over my body just prior to a lemon juice bath couldn’t have sent me into more intense convulsions.

A project leader with an addiction to email is destined for trouble. Are you addicted? Here’s a quick check-up. Test yourself against these behaviors, all of which I have observed to be epidemic in the stress-fest work environments where I consult:

  • The first thing you do when you walk in the door in the morning is check email and clear out your in-box.
  • You monitor email all day long.
  • You continue to read and respond to email while people are in your office talking with you.
  • You send an email to communicate important news instead of holding a meeting.
  • You send critical documents that require feedback from busy people as attachments to email and expect them to actually read them.

If even one of these statements describes you, give yourself a good slap across the face, splash water over your stinging skin, and seek help immediately! Surf the web for support groups, call Email-aholics Anonymous, explore your relationship with your higher power, whatever it takes! These are not the characteristics of a highly respected project leader. They are the behavior of an administrator and bureaucrat! Project leaders need to lead, not read, and you can’t do that from behind a keyboard.

Now, I know there are plenty of people out there who are going to dash off an email to me protesting that email is a vital project management tool. For years I have been asserting that email is not a form of communication, so I’m familiar with the pushback. But in my opinion, email is a data transmission tool. OK, sometimes it is pretty handy, but honestly, don’t you think we’ve gone too far? Too often the "e" in email stands for:

  • Evasive -- as in a cowardly alternative to a difficult conversation.
  • All too Easy -- as in "the easy way out" of something that deserved a face-to-face chat, or at least a phone call. Or just plain easy for you, and harder for everyone else.
  • Evil -- as in nastygrams that would never have been spoken, and are now preserved forever in some hard drive out there in some server farm.
  • And last but not least, Efficient, but ineffective.

I’m not even going to try to capture a thorough list of email best practices. Jeff Sandquist already did a great job of that. (Have a look at his web site.) But here are a few tips about some particular burrs under my email-chaffed saddle that I’m just itching to eliminate from the
face of the planet.

  • Avoid the "hydra" email -- an email covering several different topics, each of which requires something from the receivers. Limit each email to one topic, clearly labeled in the subject line, and put "Action Requested" in the subject if you need a response. Winston Churchill used this technique with paper memos, but he was much more blunt, writing the phrase "ACTION REQUIRED THIS DAY" on those concerning urgent matters.
  • Don’t even think about sending anything remotely sensitive or emotional in an email. If you must write some emotional verbal vomit in an email, at least have the decency and good sense to delete it before sending it. Or send it to yourself. You probably deserve it more than the poor bastard you addressed it to.
  • Keep in mind that the person who reads your email gets to imagine your tone of voice and interpret your meaning. No matter how carefully you write, you only control a small percentage of the meaning that will be conveyed. The rest will be supplied by the vivid imagination of the receiver.
  • Never use BCC. NEVER! If you must secretly let someone else know about some message that you sent, copy yourself and then forward a copy to that other person. For pity’s sake, this is for your own good. If the person receiving the BCC hits "Reply All" you will be outted for the sneaky rascal that you probably are.
  • Don’t play email ping-pong. After a couple of volleys back and forth, pick up the damn phone, or better yet, pay a personal visit to the other person. They probably sit less than ten meters away from you anyhow, and you can probably use the exercise.

All things said and done, it doesn’t matter whether you send emails or smoke-signals to convey your messages, just so long as you communicate! Communication is absolutely essential for project success, so make sure you communicate early, often, and effectively. It’s the leader’s job to make sure his message is received and understood. There is no excuse for failing because of an entirely predictable and avoidable problem like communication breakdown. Make no mistake, effective communication is hard work and takes constant vigilance.




When leading a project management office (PMO), one of the first tasks you should consider is establishing the foundation for your organization -- a set of principles under which you will operate the PMO. Why? A good set of well thought out principles for the organization will help tremendously to "define itself" to your internal cross-functional organizations, your executive leadership, your business project sponsors and your project managers. A good foundation based on a set of defined principles should address "how" the PMO will operate. What are the "pillars" by which the organization is founded? By establishing pillars, or principles, you'll be able to provide a lasting impression for those within your organization and those whom your organization provides services for.

When developing your principles, consider ways in which you can articulate them in a manner that's easy for everyone to remember. They shouldn’t have to read your principles in a lengthy document or struggle to memorize the tenets. Keep it to a just a few and then focus on instilling them through the organization. Lead by example. Demonstrate them in the way you operate. Live them. You'll be amazed at how effective this can be in promoting your organization. People like to know what you stand for. Tell them.

Here are the principles by which our PMO operates. I call them the 4 "E’s":

  1. Educate. Improve the quality of project delivery through focused development of project knowledge, formal education and training, and project management qualification/certification processes.
  2. Empower. Increase project success by continuing to create and enrich the project manager’s delivery capability through standard processes and project management methodology and tools.
  3. Encourage. Create a trusting and rewarding atmosphere so the best project managers will want to work for you. Provide ongoing education, mentorship and challenge. Highlight project successes and give recognition to the project team members for their valued contributions.
  4. Expect. Measure project performance using a balanced scorecard focused on compliance to project management methodology, delivery against defined success criteria and financial stewardship of capital investments and operating cost project return objectives.

Your foundation will depend on the goals you're working to achieve as a leader of the PMO. This isn’t something you want to rush into; give it considerable thought. The principles by which you operate should align with your company’s overall operating guidelines. Perhaps your company is focused on being first to market with new software products. As such, you may want to consider building pillars around Adaptability, Agility, Aggressive Scheduling and Altitude (reaching new heights). Perhaps your company is focused on quality and six sigma and really embraces the operational goal of zero defects. In this case, your pillars may need to focus on guiding principles such as Mitigating Risk, Mastering Methodology, Mean Time between Failure and Managing Quality.

As you can see, laying the foundation of the Project Management Office takes thought leadership, experience and knowledge about your business. As you develop your foundation, work with the senior leaders in your company to get their insight and input. Work with your team to get their feedback and suggestions. Once you’ve put the sweat equity in defining your operating principles, be sure to reap the benefits by promoting them and ensuring all your stakeholders are aware of your foundation. You'll find it well worth the time.


History of Project Management


The Whole, Entire History of Project Management in 20 Minutes

Bill Raymond, a consultant with Pcubed, blogger on, and Microsoft MVP, has posted a concise, insightful history of project management.


As he says in his introduction, if you're new to project or portfolio management, you're interested in the beginnings of it, or you just want to get up to speed on some of the terminology, this sub-20-minute slideshow with audio is for you.


After explaining how project management is the "second oldest profession" (think the pyramids), Raymond walks viewers through the development of the Gantt chart at the turn of the last century; the introduction of Pert/Critical Path Management/Network Diagramming/Work Breakdown Structure in the 1950s; earned value management, which surfaced in the 1960s; the move to automation in the 1970s and 1980s; and into the 2000s with the introduction of enterprise project management and program management.


This is better than reading on the topic. All it lacks is a reference to Dilbert. So allow me to supply that.