About Cristina Neagu

Cristina Neagu, PhD, is a freelance editor and proofreader, and a Certified Associate in Project Management. She loves creative writing and managed a virtual team of writers for three years. When she's not working, she likes to read, spend time outdoors, and travel. Visit her website, www.languageediting.com, or contact her on LinkedIn.

5 Tips for Coming Up with Great Project Ideas

By | May 11th, 2016|Business Management|0 Comments

Some organizations, including small businesses, may want to start side projects to supplement their revenue, invest parts of their capital, or simply keep their employees occupied full time while waiting for a larger project to start. Coming up with a great project idea is not impossible, as not all great ideas have already been discovered, but it is not a simple task that a person alone or even a team can do over the weekend. Here are some tips for coming up with great ideas for projects:

Define what “great” means

Define what a “great” project would mean for your organization. A great project is one that is not too small, as the deliverables may not be valuable enough to worth the investment of resources, but not too ambitious either because such project would mean high investment, too many risks, complicated project management, and even not enough resources available. A great side project is one that is possible with the resources available in the organization right now. A great side project is one where employees feel that they are creating value and that they own the project. So, as a first step, great project ideas should come from the project team members themselves.

Take your time to find ideas

Give your team enough time to come up with great project ideas. In general, great ideas are not exactly “Eureka!” moments; it takes time to find them. But many people and many organizations are not willing to put up that much time, which makes great ideas, when they do surface, even more valuable. (more…)

The Portrait of a Project Manager

You study to become a project manager, accrue experience as you lead project after project, update your management skills by attending workshops, exercise leadership each day, and learn from your mentors. But have you wondered what personality traits you need to become an effective project manager or, ideally, a leader? Find out which personality traits are especially useful for a project manager.

Generally, an effective project manager is:

  • Honest
  • Open
  • Diplomatic
  • Assertive
  • Persuasive
  • Able to see the “big picture”
  • Able to handle uncertainty

Probably the most appreciated quality of a leader is honesty. Always keep your promises if you want the team to trust you as their leader. Being open with your intentions and open to suggestions is also something you want to be known for as a project manager if you want to gain your team’s trust and maintain it. Being diplomatic is essential when managing people, as you’ll be managing a palette of personalities, some contrasting with yours or with each other, and you’ll have to make sure the team functions harmoniously as one entity. You’ll have to resolve conflicts, motivate the team to do what they don’t feel like doing, communicate bad news to the key stakeholders, negotiate budget and schedule extensions, and more—all tasks requiring diplomacy. Along with diplomacy, you’ll need to exercise assertiveness and persuasiveness to convince others to support your decisions.

A project manager who cannot see the forest for the trees will be far from an effective manager, and likely lean towards micromanaging. The project manager has to be able to see the big picture at all times, not get lost in details and letting the project’s budget slip while focusing too closely on the tasks being done perfectly according to schedule, for example. Of course, as a project manager, you cannot know everything about every aspect of the project at any time, and this is why you should learn to delegate tasks. This allows you to focus on the big picture of the project at any point along its lifecycle so that you are able to make swift and good decisions should a crisis arise. (more…)

Project Management Risks – Questions and Answers (Part 2)

By | July 2nd, 2015|Risk Management|0 Comments

Risk managementIn my previous post, I’ve addressed the first three questions on risk management and here I address the other two and, at the end, provide a list of take-home messages.

4. How many risks should be on your risk log and for how long?

It depends on the project size, type, complexity, and any other factor that could influence your project. However, in order to be on your risk log, a risk needs to be identified, analyzed (its probability and impact quantified), and mitigation measures applied. Assign a risk owner to each risk. This person is responsible and accountable for monitoring that risk and for defining and implementing mitigation measures.

As you can imagine, not all identified risks will be worth of listing in the risk log, as some risks are just too minor to be worth the cost, or time, of mitigating them. In general, the cost of mitigating a risk should be lower than the cost of the risk consequences if the risk does occur. Importantly, you should never delete risks from the risk log. Even a risk that has occurred can occur again, if not in this project, then in future projects of the organization. In this second case, the risk log becomes a lessons learned piece of documentation.

5. How do you manage project risks?

Risk management is something that needs to be done continuously, throughout the project, not only at the beginning. A project’s success depends on commitment to risk management. Make sure everyone is aware of risk management and appoint risk owners for each risk in the risk log. Regularly review risks, as any change to the project can add new risks or modify the impact and probability of the risks you previously identified.

Manage risks systematically using risk management techniques:

  • Avoid risks. If the project is too risky, the sponsor might decide to cancel the project altogether or modify it to remove the major risks. For this, make sure the sponsor is aware of the risks to the project. Take into account that some sponsors might decide to accept the consequences of some risks.
  • Soften the negative risks’ impact and maximize the positive risks’ consequences to the project.
  • Transfer the risk to a third party (by insurances, guarantees etc.). The risk will still be present, but you’ll have mitigated its consequences by transferring it to another party, usually for a cost.
  • Accept minor risks (those with low probability and low impact) and their consequences if the cost of mitigating them is too high.

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Project Management Risks – Questions and Answers (Part 1)

By | May 11th, 2015|Risk Management|2 Comments

Project Management RiskTo save all we must risk all”, Friedrich Schiller once said. If he were a project manager today, he might say, “To save all we must manage all risks”. Books, journals, corporate websites, YouTube, and discussion forums burst of information on risk management, because risk is inherent to every project just like uncertainty is inherent to any risk. Risk management is essential if you want your project to succeed. This article answers five questions on project risk management:

  1. What is the best definition of project risk?
  2. What’s the difference between a risk and an issue?
  3. How do you identify risks?
  4. How many risks should be on your risk log and for how long?
  5. How do you manage project risks?

1. What is the best definition of project risk?

One of Oxford Dictionary’s 1000 most frequently used words, risk refers to the possibility of something unpleasant, dangerous, or harmful occurring. This negative connotation of risk is so deeply rooted in many people’s minds that it takes some effort to get used to the project management definition of risk: “an uncertain event or condition that, if occurs, has an effect on at least one project objective,” according to the PMBOK.

Risk can be any uncertain event that, if it happens, will be good or bad for the project. Negative risks become threats to the project, while positive risks become opportunities. Risk management should address both types of risks, minimizing threats and maximizing opportunities.

Project risk is something you can control. You must manage risks if you want your project to succeed. However, be aware that there are risks called black swans that you cannot include in your risk analyses. I’ve explained why these risks are special and what you can do to minimize their consequences in another article.

 2. What’s the difference between a risk and an issue?

A risk is something uncertain, so it will happen or not during your project. An issue is an event that has happened or that you know for sure it will happen, even though you might not know when. A risk that occurs becomes an issue. This might be bad news or good news for you and your project, depending if the risk is negative or, respectively, positive. A positive risk becomes an opportunity for your project—for example, the opportunity to finish earlier than scheduled, or below budget, or anything that you might otherwise consider “lucky”. Both risks and issues have causes and consequences. Risk management is the way to deal with risks while problem solving is the way to deal with issues. (more…)

Brainstorming – Trendy or Not?

By | January 16th, 2015|Business Management, Project Management, Risk Management|0 Comments

BrainstormingIt’s popular. It’s a classic. Those who endorse it say it’s an effective technique for generating many ideas but not a standalone method, so it should be used with other creative techniques. Those who criticize it say it generates mediocre ideas that are likely never implemented as solutions to problems. But this 60-year old technique called brainstorming – whose effectiveness is an evergreen hot topic among researchers, users, and critics – helps to identify project risks.

Brainstorming – The Definition

According to Merriam-Webster, brainstorming is “a group problem-solving technique that involves the spontaneous contribution of ideas from all members of the group; also: the mulling over of ideas by one or more individuals in an attempt to devise or find a solution to a problem”.

Brainstorming – The Story

A technique with a catchy name, brainstorming has been around since the 1950s when Alex Osborn’s book Your Creative Power was published, becoming a best-seller. This book may be “an amalgam of pop science and business anecdote”, as Jonah Lehrer called it in a New Yorker article that triggered lots of e-ink on discussion forums, but brainstorming is easy to implement and generates many ideas. Besides that, it’s a great team-building exercise, which may also justify its popularity with businesses. A brainstorming session emphasizes the quantity, not quality, of ideas and one of the rules to brainstorming sessions is no criticism so that people do not fear their ideas are rejected by the group and, thus, limit their imagination.

Brainstorming Types

There’s individual and group brainstorming, with individual brainstorming being better for problem solving and group brainstorming better for identifying project risks. Group brainstorming draws from the intelligence and experiences of more people but ideas expressed loudly may be biased since people do worry about others’ opinions even if one of Osborn’s rules for group brainstorming is “no criticism”. Online brainstorming—a sub-type of group brainstorming—uses e-brainstorming tools to help remote teams share their ideas in real time. (more…)

Talent Management at Project Team Level

Talent ManagementAny organization thrives or fails because of its people. It is no wonder that so many highly successful organizations, like Samsung, Intel, IKEA, Procter and Gamble, just to name a few, invest in talent management. Talent management refers to “a set of integrated organizational HR processes designed to attract, develop, motivate, and retain productive, engaged employees” according to the staff at Johns Hopkins University. For organizations that carry out projects, talent management also means equipping team members with the right mix of technical, project management, and leadership skills, according to the authors of PMI’s Pulse of the Profession “In-Depth Report: Talent Management.” Here are four reasons why any organization that does projects should invest in talent management:

1. Talent management improves projects’ performance.

According to the authors of PMI’s “Talent Management” white paper, organizations that invest in talent management are more likely to succeed in projects than organizations where talent management is poorly aligned with organizational strategy.

2. Talent management means having the right people for the right project roles at the right time.

Effective talent management ensures the organization has qualified team members and project managers ready for any new project when the need arises. As such organizations will not have to wait to recruit new talent, and delay a project’s start, having the right staff available can turn into a competitive advantage.

3. Talent management leads to motivated, and thus productive, team members.

Giving team members the opportunity to grow professionally and personally by developing their technical skills, project management skills, and soft skills, and providing them with mentoring and coaching sessions can motivate employees. Of course, not all employees will take advantage of those opportunities, but those who do will become even more valuable for the project and the organization. (more…)

Autocratic or Participative Project Manager: Which Type Are You?

By | August 26th, 2014|Project Management|0 Comments

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. (more…)

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

By | August 1st, 2014|Risk Management|Comments Off on 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. (more…)

Why Project Team Composition Changes Affect Performance

By | June 10th, 2014|Resource Management, Team Management|Comments Off on 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.)

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

By | May 23rd, 2014|Project Management, Project Management Methodology, Project Tracking|Comments Off on 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. (more…)