Autocratic or Participative Project Manager: Which Type Are You?

There are as many types of project managers as there are projects, so any attempt to create the ultimate classification of project managers would equal chasing rainbows. However, since a project manager is essentially a manager, I’ll talk about the two main types of project managers classified according to the style of management they are adopting: autocratic and participative.

Autocratic Project Managers

Autocratic management strictly means the manager makes all the decisions, without involving the team members. But such a project manager would obviously be a bad project manager – imagine planning a project without involving the team, estimating the duration of tasks without the team’s input, making all decisions without considering the team. So by autocratic project manager, I mean a project manager with a tendency towards autocracy, not autocratic in the purest sense of the word.

You can think of this kind of project manager as the traditional manager – not the “whip in hand” manager, but one who makes most decisions unilaterally, with minor input from the project team. Such a project manager is able to make quick decisions and, if he or she is technically competent and experienced, those can be good decisions. When you have a newly formed team, unwilling to express their opinions or give their input, an experienced project manager with an autocratic tendency may be what the team needs. Also, in a crisis requiring swift decisions, an autocratic project manager is what it takes. Nevertheless, such project manager imposes authority rather than solves problems through negotiation with the team, and on the long term, the project may suffer from poor team coherence. Read the rest of this entry »

Preparing for the Inconceivable Risk—Are You Ready for Black Swans?

Black swan riskWhen rare and extreme events never observed before occur, they have major consequences and sometimes even global impact. World War I, AIDS, 9/11, but also the advent of Internet are all black swans, or extremely rare, unprecedented events with inconceivable consequences. The term black swan was coined by the philosophical essayist Nassim Nicholas Taleb in the book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. Taleb uses the term black swan to refer to extremely rare, very difficult to predict, and massive-impact events. Zooming into the realm of project management, when negative black swans (unconceivable risks, extremely unpredictable, and improbable) occur, they lead projects to failure.

How can Managers Plan for Black Swans?

Inherently, black swans cannot be forecast—they are unique events that are not in statistics and their total impact on a project is impossible to predict, which makes them most dangerous to any project. While managers cannot plan for such risk, simply taking no action and hoping a black swan doesn’t strike their project is not the wisest thing to do. But if they cannot plan for the unplanned, what can they do?

Grey Swans vs. Black Swans

First, managers can learn to distinguish black swans from grey swans and prepare for these. Not all project failures are due to black swan events, but to grey swans, which are rare but predictable risks. Professor Elisabeth Paté-Cornell from Stanford argues in an article in Risk Analysis that black swans are extremely rare, but people in industry and finance often use black swans in the aftermath of a disaster as an excuse for poor planning. In my opinion, this may also happen in many major IT projects that fail, for example those going over budget by 200 percent and over schedule by 70 percent—surprisingly, a situation that strikes one in six projects according to the authors of a Harvard Business Review article. Although managers blame black swans for such project failures, often their risk analysts have failed to factor in grey swans. Identifying and mitigating grey risks should be part of effective risk management. Read the rest of this entry »

RationalPlan 4.9 – Better Mac OS X Integration and Improved Printing

Stand By Soft is pleased to announce the release of RationalPlan 4.9. Current version offers better Mac OS X integration, improved printing mechanism and many other features.

RationalPlan suite started as a desktop application designed to run on all major operating systems – Windows, Linux and Mac OS X – but it evolved into an embedded management system that is now available even as a project management cloud service both for individuals and for companies that need a distributed solution with concurrent access from multiple users.

Important changes for this version:

  • Comply with Gatekeeper’s restrictions on Mac OS X
  • More printing options
  • New status values for projects: “Awaiting approval” and “Awaiting closure”
  • New filters
  • Improved support for reading Microsoft© Project files

Starting with Mac OS X Mountain Lion the Gatekeeper was introduced that by default does not allow users to run applications downloaded outside of the App Store. In this situation were also RationalPlan users. The good news is that now RationalPlan products can safely pass the Gatekeeper restrictions.

Printing mechanism was improved at users request. Along with minor visual adjustments it is now possible to change the timescale and soft zoom for chart based views directly from print preview window. This is very useful when users need to fine tune their printing layout. Read the rest of this entry »

Project Management Glossary Of Terms – F





Facilities/Product Life Cycle




Fair and Reasonable Cost

Fallback Plan

Fallback Position

Fast Track

Read the rest of this entry »

RationalPlan Project Management Software – 2014 Brazil World Cup Promotion

2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil discount for RationalPlan project management software
Stand By Soft is delighted to offer users a special discount for the duration of 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™ for its RationalPlan suite.

All that needs to be done is to use the coupon code BRAZIL-WORLD-CUP when placing an order. By using this coupon code users will have a 20% discount for any of the RationalPlan products except the Cloud solution.

However all new users that purchase RationalPlan Cloud service will be given one free month hosting. For this just mention the coupon code within the Comments section when filling the usage notification form.

RationalPlan is a project management suite that started as a desktop application designed to run on all major operating systems – Windows, Linux and Mac OS X – but it evolved into an embedded management system that is now available even as a cloud service both for individuals and for companies that need a distributed solution with concurrent access from multiple users.

Why Project Team Composition Changes Affect Performance

Team PerformanceWhen a member leaves the project or is added mid-project to the team, that team’s composition changes. Consequently, the team performance increases or decreases. If the team performs worse after the change, the project manager must find a solution. The first step is understanding why changing team composition affects performance.

Sometimes, the team performs worse because the new team members are not skilled or experienced enough. But when they are, the team should perform better; however, that does not always happen. Even adding experienced and skilled members can decrease team performance, at least initially.

Team Development Stages

Team underperformance is likely to be caused by a mix of factors, unique to each team. One of the main causes is the alteration of group dynamics after a member enters or leaves the team. A modified team acts as a newly formed team. To understand group dynamics, Bruce Tuckman (1965) proposed four stages of team development: forming, storming, norming, and performing.

  • Forming – Individuals start to form the group; individuals avoid conflicts because they want to gain group acceptance.
  • Storming – Individuals start competing, and conflicts arise because individuals define their roles and establish the group’s hierarchy.
  • Norming – The group is focused on problem solving and respecting procedures; individuals trust each other.
  • Performing – The group performs well as a team. (Not all teams reach this stage.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Earned Value Management—An “Overhead” View (PART 2: EVM Drawbacks and Benefits)

Earned value management (EVM) is an efficient methodology for monitoring and predicting project performance only if it is correctly and timely applied. Otherwise, it can become a negative risk for the project, as it ends up consuming managers’ and project teams’ time without producing accurate estimates.

EVM Drawbacks or Limitations

Putting an EVM system in place attracts implementation costs, training costs, software costs, and other associated costs. In addition, generally only organizations with a mature project management system – that is, those that use well-defined processes and procedures consistently across projects – rely on EVM. Organizations that have inconsistent project management practices or little experience with projects may have more to lose than to win if attempting to invest their efforts into using EVM, as it requires accurate project planning and effective change management practices. Proper project planning includes, among many others, documenting requirements well and creating a good work breakdown structure – both essential for EVM.

If the project plan is faulty, EVM will result in misleading results, which are not only a waste of time and effort, but may also lead to project failure. Some organizations start employing EVA analyses in their projects, only to find out later that they got no reliable results. Instead, they realize that employing this technique only added to the cost of managing their projects. Usually, in these situations, the culprit is not EVA, but a missing earned value management system, which may well be the case in an organization with little experience in running projects. Read the rest of this entry »

RationalPlan 4.8 – Hungarian Language Support, Ubuntu Adoption and Earned Value Analysis

Stand By Soft is pleased to announce the release of version 4.8 for RationalPlan project management suite. Current version comes with significant changes that will certainly help users: Hungarian language was added, Ubuntu integration, support for Earned Value Analysis, tasks distribution in Timesheet view, improved filtering and many other features.

RationalPlan is a project management suite that started as a desktop application designed to run on all major operating systems – Windows, Linux and Mac OS X – but it evolved into an embedded management system that is now available even as a cloud service both for individuals and for companies that need a distributed solution with concurrent access from multiple users.

Important changes for this version:

  • Added possibility for Earned Value Analysis – including CV, SV, CPI, SPI, ACWP, BCWP, BCWS related values
  • Better integration with Ubuntu
  • The products are now also available in Hungarian
  • Tomcat 8 compatibility for the On Premise solution
  • Added tasks distribution in Timesheet view
  • More work on filters
  • Also export data to Microsoft Project .xml format when working with the Server
  • Also export the reschedule date to .xls
  • Changes related to email notifications for resources
  • Added information about documents on tasks in the Info column
  • Compatibility with Google Calendar – updated libraries for iCalendar integration
  • Project import into Server should not be done if you do not have rights to add projects, resources, calendars and clients

At multiple users requests it was added the possibility to perform Earned Value Analysis. Users are now able to work with well known entities like CV, SV, CPI, SPI, ACWP, BCWP, BCWS. For those that are more interested on this subject, the team behind RationalPlan prepared some short tutorials on Earned Value Management. Read the rest of this entry »

Earned Value Management—An “Overhead” View (PART 1: EVM Basics)

Despite being one of those topics that put project management students into the doldrums, earned value management remains the most effective way for monitoring project performance. It is a project management methodology used by the U.S. Department of Defense and by many private companies all over the world. Besides a PMBOK chapter and the U.S. Department of Defense EVM Implementation Guide, many other resources cover this topic.

This article—structured in two parts—outlines earned value management in an attempt to provide a starting point for anyone interested in exploring the topic or wanting to decide if it is something his or her organization might use.

EVM, EV, EVA, and EVMS—Not Interchangeable Acronyms

According to the authors of the PMBOK, earned value management (EVM) “integrates project scope, cost, and schedule measures to help the project management team assess and measure project performance and progress.” EVM is a system for project management control that uses earned value as a criterion.

PMBOK defines earned value (EV) as “the value of work performed expressed in terms of approved budget assigned to that work for an activity or work breakdown structure component. It is the authorized work that has been completed, plus the authorized budget for such completed work.” Read the rest of this entry »

Is the Project Management Iron Triangle Obsolete?

One of the first things project management students learn is that a project’s cost, time, and scope are interdependent. These three project constraints form the iron triangle. If one constraint changes, the other two change as well. For example, adding extra features to a product costs more and takes more time. Although the iron triangle was a measure of project success for decades, it is no longer so. Yet the iron triangle is not obsolete.

At the beginning of the project management era and for many decades to come, the iron triangle measured project success. Successful projects balanced time, cost, and scope—they were completed on time and within budget. However, even some completed projects that exceed time or budget can be perceived as successful by project stakeholders. Also, a project completed on time and within budget can be a failure if it leads to team burnout, for example. It is clear that more than just balancing the iron triangle contributes to a project’s success. For example, the PMBOK (v. 4) says a project needs to balance other constraints besides time, cost, and scope, namely quality, resources, schedule, and risks.

However, the iron triangle can still offer guidelines for setting the success criteria of a project. The project manager can continue to use it to understand stakeholders’ most important constraints for that project and help stakeholders agree on what constraint they can afford to “slide.” With that information, the project manager can plan the project better. In almost any project, the iron triangle tends to go out of balance because scope, cost, and time and their interrelationships are complex, thus difficult to predict and more difficult to control.

Scope can change during the lifetime of a project. This is intrinsically true for an agile project, whose scope is only broadly defined at the beginning of the project, but can also be true for traditional (waterfall) projects, due to changes such as market trend variation, domain evolution, and new legislation. For example, in IT, the cost and time of a project are two sliding constraints for about 50 percent of projects, according to statistics. Read the rest of this entry »