How Important is Domain Knowledge for the Project Manager?

By | October 10th, 2013|Project Management|1 Comment

knowledgeBeing able to communicate effectively, manage people, quickly solve problems, or be organized are essential skills for any good project manager. Being a leader is even better. Knowing how to employ project management tools and techniques is key. But having domain knowledge, or a broad understanding of what the project is creating, is not usually considered an essential skill even though it can be crucial for planning a project properly, creating realistic schedules and work breakdown structures, and understanding the complexity of the team’s tasks.

What is Domain Knowledge?

Importantly, domain knowledge should not be mistaken for technical knowledge; one can have domain knowledge but not be an expert. It is true that sometimes it is not a good idea to have a project manager that is also a technical expert because a project manager needs to manage the people who manage technical tasks, and not perform the tasks in their place. But domain knowledge is essential considering the bulk of a project manager’s job is communication.

The Need for a Common Language

Communication is what takes up most of a project’s manager time, and effective communication is likely the common trait of good project managers. There has to be a common “language” between the team and the project manager, and this implies domain or even technical knowledge. First of all, the project manager needs to effectively exchange information and ideas with the team members. This would be impossible or just ineffective without domain knowledge. Second, the project manager needs to keep all key stakeholders updated with the project’s evolution. Knowing the technical terminology helps the project manager gain the stakeholders’ credibility.

Benefits of Domain Knowledge

From another stand point, a project manager that has first-hand knowledge of what the team is doing should -at least theoretically- earn the project team’s respect or trust more easily than a project manager who is an alien to the project domain. A project manager with solid domain knowledge is able to quickly grasp if the team’s schedule estimates are realistic, although this would be more a question of being a good project manager: earning the trust of the team and using historical data, like lessons learned, to back up the team’s estimates. In many cases, estimates are optimistic; other times, some team members might come up with overestimates just because they assume the domain-alien project manager has no idea of the tasks’ complexity and how long they take to complete. (more…)

The Voice of Project Managers Around the Globe Through Social Media

By | September 24th, 2013|Contests, Project Management|Comments Off on The Voice of Project Managers Around the Globe Through Social Media

It all started some time ago when I heard about a project management related podcast hosted by Cesar Abeid. I am talking about Project Management for the Masses podcast. I did not give too much credits to it until an interesting episode caught my attention: “Stop Hiring Project Managers!” and decided to listen to it.

Now the fun part is that although initially I wanted to listen to the podcast intrigued by the title, in the end I got to hear about an initiative of Shim Marom, a PM in Australia, in which he was trying to get a number of PM bloggers to write a blog post with the same title, to be released on the same day, at the same time: a PM Flash Blog. The interesting part is that it is the first PM Flash Blog.

Participants are from all over the world and the theme selected  is “What does project management mean to me – a Project Manager’s sermon“. Publication date has been set to 25 September 2013 at 01:00 GMT and posts will be tagged on social media with #pmFlashBlog.

Happy writing everyone!

Project Team Performance – Beyond Appraising and Reporting

By | August 29th, 2013|Project Management, Resource Management, Team Management|Comments Off on Project Team Performance – Beyond Appraising and Reporting

project team performanceOne of the project manager’s main responsibilities, team performance management is more than evaluating, monitoring, and reporting how the team is doing. It implies planning and creating the right environment for performance, monitoring performance, providing team members with constant feedback on their performance, finding solutions for below-expectations performance, and rewarding good performance.

Is Team Performance Evaluation a Good Thing?

Appraising team’s performance using the appropriate metrics remains an important, though not essential, part of performance management. The objectivity of performance evaluation is a soft spot. Some claim that no evaluation of an individual’s performance, whether done with the right metrics or not, is objective since performance is not a quantitative measure. Others claim that evaluating individual performance instead of team’s performance is detrimental to the team’s morale and productivity, as well as the quality of the project’s deliverables. Comparing one team member to another can destroy team cohesion and trust, but not comparing team members to each other can allow some to take a free ride.

Is it Necessary for a Project Team?

In most cases, team performance evaluation needs to be done, whether it is to satisfy program management, to identify and reward top performers with a pay increase, or to identify and address any deficiencies in the team’s performance, which, if left unattended, may pose risks to the project’s schedule. But evaluating team performance is not only done for the sole purpose of creating a report for the upper management. A good project manager informs (in private) each team member of the outcome of his or her performance appraisal and works with each team member to find ways of improvement. (more…)

Dynamic Project Planning For Increased Productivity and Flexibility

By | August 15th, 2013|Project Management, Project Management Software|Comments Off on Dynamic Project Planning For Increased Productivity and Flexibility

Every project starts with a well-defined plan and schedule. But the reality offers a lot of uncertainty so the project may very well not evolve according to the initial plan. The result is that measures are required to adjust the state of the project to reflect the new reality.

Planning a project is not an easy job. It requires some knowledge and an amount of experience. The steps are simple… Create the list of activities that need to be performed, structure them accordingly in phases and sub-phases and establish durations (or amount of work depending on the types of tasks). Next create the project flow by adding dependencies between tasks. This way it is established the order in which tasks are executed.

Up to this point there is nothing related to time and this is the biggest hint to keep in mind: avoid hard constraints. As long as tasks are scheduled to start as soon as possible then every task will depend only on its predecessors and on the project estimated start. This is the perfect project template that can be easily shifted in time by just changing the project estimated start.

It is unlikely that a novice project manager will be able to produce such a scalable project plan… There are situations when it is just impossible to keep a project flexible even for a senior project managers. But this is due to the nature, the requirements and the constrains of the project.

How To Adjust The Schedule

So the schedule is done and the project is ready to go. But it may take no more than one week for the project plan to stop corresponding to the reality: some tasks take longer than estimated, others are executed faster or even worse the project is put on hold for various reasons (lack of funds or personnel, a financial crisis period, bad weather conditions and the list can continue). What now? Synchronizing the old plan with the reality takes some effort and attention.

It is obvious that the already completed or started tasks will remain at their location. The only discussion is about moving the uncompleted ones and/or splitting the tasks that are partially completed. This adjusting process is similar to planning the project but done on a smaller scale. If the initial plan was not time flexible then each particular conflict needs to be manually solved.

As mentioned above the best case is the one when the plan was created with as few as possible hard constraints. This allows an increased flexibility when it comes to shifting the activities in time. (more…)

How to Deal with a Lazy Team Member

By | April 9th, 2013|Project Management, Resource Management, Risk Management, Team Management|Comments Off on How to Deal with a Lazy Team Member

lazy team memberWorking with people is almost never a simple matter, but it can become even more complicated when the project manager has to deal with a lazy team member. In many cases, dismissing the person from the team is not a possible or acceptable solution. As the project manager, you have to find other ways to deal with this problem, and quickly.

Who Labeled the Team Member as “Lazy”?

Determine the basis on which the team member was labeled as “lazy”. If he or she was classified as such by the other team members, they might not be objective. This is why it is important to analyze the performance evaluation reports, which should have clear metrics for monitoring all team members’ evolution.

Lazy or Performing at a Different Pace than Others?

Sometimes, a team member is not lazy at all, but only performs slower than others, while still bringing value to your team. In this case, you need to understand why the team member takes longer than others to perform a task. You may be dealing with a perfectionist, or a person who does not like his or her role in the team.

If, based on documentation, you conclude that the team member does not only perform tasks at a slower pace than others, but constantly underperforms, fails to meet deadlines, demonstrates a continuous lack of commitment to work, it means the person is genuinely lazy and a danger to the project. You need to find a solution fast. (more…)

How to Minimize the Risk of Delaying Your Project by a Customer

By | March 29th, 2013|Business Management, Project Management, Risk Management|1 Comment

How to minimize risksWhen it comes to project delays there are several factors that can lead to such situation. The customer is one of them and there are two issues that can be discussed: what to do when the delay already happened and the other how to minimize the risk of happening such a delay.

Customer delaying the project is a major risk that should not be overlooked in any project. Minimizing this risk is not easy to be accomplished and its probability differs from client to client. But in case it happens mitigation actions must be performed.

Write clear specifications

In order to keep things clear and avoid misunderstandings it is important to create a solid project plan with clear specifications regarding possible project delays and the measures and penalties that apply. When it happens communicate clear factual evidence of the cost and timescale impact of delays caused by the customer. This is very important to keep things clear and to avoid the situation when the customers may argue that it is his fault and the contractor is suspected for hiding other delays behind those caused directly by them. Issues need to be resolved in a timely fashion to minimize risk and loss on both sides.

When dealing with external clients and when creating a contract it is advisable to add a clause that states that the client is responsible for prompt responses to ensure the project is not delayed. If the client provides delayed responses, actions etc. that lead to project delays then it nullifies timeline clauses in the contract. If the contract doesn’t have this kind of specifications then it is preferred to get a lawyer, or a better one in case a lawyer already exists.

In return when dealing with internal team the project manager has to take the same actions. Although there are no contractual terms that can generate a direct financial penalty, it will get noted at review time and possibly no raise…

Know the customer management

Avoiding the project delay problem is not a healthy thing to do. Escalation might reveal there are issues on the customer side where their project manager is not communicating clearly enough internally. This is why when contracting a new project it is good to know the customer and almost a must to know his management team. Knowing what to expect from them can decide whether to accept the new contract or to reject it. And even if the project is accepted contractual terms can be added to compensate the lack of professionalism on the customer management side. (more…)

How To Increase Productivity – Choosing The Right Project Management Software

By | January 16th, 2013|Project Management, Project Management Software|Comments Off on How To Increase Productivity – Choosing The Right Project Management Software

Every person at some point in his life starts to feel the need to get more organized for a better productivity. Some have this revelation sooner, others later and a few of them will never have such needs… Depending on each individual a better organized work style may be reflected in the use of different productivity tools: pencil and paper, To Do lists, task management software and even project management software.

In what follows we shall exclude the classic tools like agendas, pencil, paper, white boards etc. and focus only on the software products. When it comes to organizing their lives things are simpler since the needs are not that big. There are many good solutions on the market to manage your personal list of daily activities and many are even free. All it needs is to be able to create simple items with a start date, completion status, a duration and maybe a priority.

Things get more complicated when someone needs to handle more details for his activities… And now we are talking about issue tracking systems or task management tools, tools that go beyond personal life and intersecting with the daily work from the job.

And at the top there are complex solutions that range from project management software to enterprise resource planning systems. This category of products only apply to business management and are used mainly by companies.

General recommendations when choosing productivity software

No matter what type of productivity tools one needs there is a set of general recommendations that should be taken into consideration. For start it is best to find a user friendly software. The easier it is to learn how to use it the faster you get more productive. Plus there is no need for trainings hence no additional costs. And if still the case, when in need for help a rich user community with active forums or social networks might do the trick for you. (more…)

Creating Budget Or Cost Baselines For Projects

By | October 10th, 2012|Project Management|Comments Off on Creating Budget Or Cost Baselines For Projects

Cost Baseline in RationalPlan Project Management SoftwareIn Project Management, the term project baseline refers to an accepted and approved project plan. Besides the schedule baseline, the cost/budget baseline is the most important part of  a project baseline. The cost baseline is that part of the project baseline that handles the amount of money the project is predicted to cost and on the other side when that money will be spent. It is an approved budget usually in a time distribution format used to estimate, monitor, and control the overall cost performance of the project.

In some cases there can be several intermediary baselines. This happens when either the project was not well planned or when significant changes appear to the scope of the project. However the initial baseline is usually what gets budgeted in the company’s financials. All types of baselines are closely related and changes to one of them will result in changes to the others. If a change is made in the project scope baseline, the schedule baseline gets adjusted and hence the cost baseline will probably have to be changed as well.

How is cost baseline created

When it comes to computing the total cost of the project some estimates need to be done. Once the project schedule is ready and approved, a bottom-up procedure should be used where for each activity of the project it is estimated a detailed cost. This way a total cost for each major phase and for the entire project gets computed. These initial costs of all of the planned activities will become the initial estimated budget.

Cost Analysis

According to PMBOK the cost baseline is a “time-phased budget that is used as a basis against which to measure, monitor, and control overall cost performance on the project.” But many factors can affect the cost performance of a project so the above estimated costs established during the planning phase might not be estimated that well. The true costs of certain tasks may not be well known at planning time. If a given price for materials, trainings or travel costs was taken into consideration at planning phase but at execution time these are increased there is an unforeseen additional cost. (more…)

Project management is a difficult but thankless job

By | July 20th, 2012|Project Management|2 Comments

Project Management - a difficult and thankless jobFor a thankless job the success is not that noticeable while the failure is very obvious and with strong impact. Applying this in project management it results that in the case of success there is little evidence that the manager had any merits while in case of failure the manager gets all the blame.

This is the conclusion that Ike Maboe also reached in a LinkedIn post on the Project Management Expert group. According to him “Project management is a thankless job, everybody wants the glory when the project succeeds and the project manager gets the blame when it fails!” And it is nothing more true than that.

But beside the fact that project management is a thankless job it is also a difficult job. Many problems need to be solved when managing projects and these are not easy ones. It all starts with a good project plan. The planning phase of the project is the most important one and if well done it will make life a lot easier for that lucky manager. At this stage arise questions like: are tasks correctly stated, are there enough resources for every task? Optimized planning is necessary for best results: for example how can we use limited resources most effectively? And this is not an easy job to do although using project management software with resource leveling capabilities helps a lot.

Things go further and can become even more complicated once the project is started. Managers need to control how the progress affects the plan and conclusions must be taken to avoid already encountered problems for the future.

Bottom line is that project management is a difficult job and as a project manager the “thank you” words for your efforts and hard work are kind of missing… But are there just not spoken or they do not exist at all? More than probably everyone from team members, clients, stakeholders etc. appreciate your work just that they do not say it, they forget to mention it. A simple “Thank you for keeping things on track!” would be just great. The strange thing is that they do not forget to blame you when the project fails or goes wrong.

That’s the life for a project manager!