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…)

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…)

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.” (more…)

Is the Project Management Iron Triangle Obsolete?

By | April 22nd, 2014|Project Management Methodology|Comments Off on 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. (more…)

CAPM® Exam – How to Pass It and Is it Worth It?

By | November 8th, 2013|Project Management Certification, Project Management Methodology, Project Management Training|Comments Off on CAPM® Exam – How to Pass It and Is it Worth It?

As any internationally recognized certificate from a reputable institution, CAPM® is not just a piece of paper, although if it were, it would be the kind that can get you shortlisted for an assistant project manager position.

CAMP®, or Certified Associate in Project Management, is a certification you can obtain from the PMI institute if you are a beginner in project management, you had some formal project management training and/or experience, and you need a proof that you understand the fundamentals of this discipline. If you already have many years of experience in project management and want to certify that, there are more advanced certifications than the CAPM®, like the PMP® or PRINCE2®. In some cases, you may not need any certification at all, unless the organization you work for, or want to work for, requests it.

To obtain the CAPM®, you need to pass an exam with 150 multiple-choice questions, not very complicated, but not simple either, based on project management theory. To sit for the exam, you also need to have a bachelor degree and to have completed at least 23 hours of formal project management training or have at least 1,500 hours of demonstrated work experience in project management. These prerequisites may vary, and to get an updated list, it is recommended to have a look on the PMI institute CAPM® website.

The exam is not the simplest, nor the most difficult you will ever need to pass. Probably, the best strategy is to enroll in a great project management class if you need formal training and get a good textbook. Here are some tips, some of them more obvious than others:

  1. Only register for the exam if you really need the certification. If the organization you work for requires it, your employer should offer to cover your training and/or examination costs. Neither the exam nor the training is free.
  2. If you are a job seeker, especially a fresh university graduate, the CAPM® might be the thing that distinguishes your CV from the rest of the applicants with the same degree. Many organizations, especially research and governmental institutions, conduct projects and require staff with some knowledge of project management. (more…)

PM 1.0 versus PM 2.0. What Is Next – Project Management 3.0?

There are certain individuals nowadays, mostly “project managers”, that decided to add version numbers to the notion of Project Management… And they created PM 1.0 and PM 2.0. More than probably the numbering idea came from the software domain: different tools and different versions for various needs.

A Little History Background

Since ancient times man created spectacular structures. The Great Pyramid of Giza around 2550 BC and The Great Wall of China around 206 BC are just two of them. Both survived to the test of time and even now are still standing. For this to happen it required a well done preparation, knowledge and workforce. These are clear proofs of an extraordinary construction engineering. Can we talk about project management at that moment? Perhaps not under this name but in reality it was exactly that.

The notion of Project Management as we know it today began to take root around year 1950. At that time organizations started to systematically apply management tools and techniques, developed in earlier years, to complex engineering projects. A famous tool that is being heavily used even today is the Gantt chart. One way or another businesses and other organizations began to see the benefit of organizing work around projects. So it was not just management anymore but it was also about projects: Project Management.

The Software Era

Managing projects on paper, as it was done at that time, is a time consuming process, prone to errors and costly. Obviously all these are true for medium to large projects and not for the small ones where the management is a lot easier to be done. But with the technology advances between 1970 and 1980 the first few project management related software solutions were created. This was an incredible increase in the performance of managing projects: faster computation, more reliable data and all the advantages that came from using a computer.

Over the years from users feedback better and better project management tools were created. Some solutions became deprecated and died while others evolved. However there is one particular point in time that can be considered a milestone: the evolution of Internet and the appearance of Web 2.0. All the fuss around the new World Wide Web aka Web 2.0 started around year 2000. The new way of dynamically rendering pages over the Internet offered an increased flexibility in using web application as a team as opposed to desktop ones. The gate to collaboration between team members directly through project management software was opened. And starting from this people created the term of Project Management 2.0[1][2][3].

How did that happen? Simple: the traditional way of managing projects (this approach was renamed into PM 1.0 at a later stage) was lacking in one regard they say – collaboration – and the new approach came with that. It is a hard thing to believe that before Web 2.0 there was no collaboration between stakeholders when managing a project… Maybe not through the use of PM tools but there were other means like email, chat, phone etc. So is it right to say that PM 2.0 = PM 1.0 + collaboration? (more…)

Is There a Project Management Methodology for One-Person Projects?

By | June 13th, 2013|Project Management Methodology, Project Management Software|Comments Off on Is There a Project Management Methodology for One-Person Projects?

If you are an employee of a small organization or of a research institution, or just a freelancer, you are likely dealing with one-person projects. You are the team, you are the project manager, so you are responsible for all project documentation, communication, and, of course, project work.

Before you start looking for the right project management software and methodology, make sure you were assigned a project and not just a task or a set of interrelated tasks to accomplish a goal. A project has a definite beginning and end, and its aim is to create a unique product or service. It also has definite resources and usually its timeframe is defined by the organization. If indeed you were assigned a project, it is useful to approach it from a project management perspective in order to complete the work in an efficient manner, taking advantage of the knowledge, tools, and techniques of project management.

All projects have scope, deliverables, resources, and budget. For one-person projects, you are in charge of planning, executing, and monitoring your work, and you are accountable for the project’s outcome. Almost any project management methodology can be applied to one-person projects, with some exceptions. For example, applying Scrum is arguably not possible because there is no Scrum Master or Product Owner. But if you have volatile project requirements, an agile management approach is likely to fit your project, so you can use Scrum or other agile process as a basis to create your own version of the methodology and tailor it for your specific project. (more…)

Project Management Software for Traditional vs. Agile Environments

By | May 7th, 2013|Project Management Methodology, Project Management Software|Comments Off on Project Management Software for Traditional vs. Agile Environments

Agile vs. Traditional project managementHow much does an agile project management software differ from a traditional project management software? On short: pretty much. But on the other side both types of products have many things in common.

Many say that agile is not a project management methodology but rather a product development methodology. But in many cases the companies prefer to treat the development as a project and hence the notion of agile project management. Now the agile and traditional approaches are totally different so the first thought would be that the software used to manage each type of projects to be different. The idea is that agile PM is not a method per se, but rather an umbrella term for different processes. In turn, agile processes are very different among them.

In Scrum there are small teams, usually collocated, no project manager, and very often there is no need for a software for the managing the project. The team is self organizing, team members are doing daily meetings, and the project is split in iterations that take maximum one month. At the end of each iteration it is decided the next one and so on… No one wants to loose time by updating a plan that keeps changing or to monitor the daily progress of the team with a project scheduling tool.

In other agile processes the iterations take longer but the main idea is that the project plan, the requirements and the product specifications are subject to change. So a traditional project management software does not solve these needs. Indeed it is necessary to have a monitoring process for the project and the team, a system for client communication etc. but due to the dynamic nature of the processes there is no needs to have fancy or complicated features. An agile product should be light in functionality, easy to use, easy to access and highly portable. (more…)

Scrum – Quick and Easy

By | April 30th, 2013|Project Management Methodology|1 Comment

Scrum is an agile project movement process. Agile project management, as opposed to traditional project management, is an iterative approach, suitable for projects where there is a high level of uncertainty. The project progresses in iterations, the team works closely with the customer to define the deliverables of each iteration, and the entire project team shares responsibilities of a traditional project manager. Scrum is a popular process for software development projects, and distinguishes itself from the other agile processes in many aspects.

Project Iterations

Generally, in Scrum, the project iterations are up to one month long, and there is a partial deliverable completed at the end of each iteration. As in other agile processes, the customer’s feedback is needed in each iteration, and the emphasis is on collaboration among the team members and between the team and the customer. The teams are cross-functional, work together, and are accountable for the failure or success of each iteration and of the project in general. The project team has daily meetings, which means that Scrum requires collocated teams. Importantly, in Scrum, planning, controlling, creating schedules, and establishing responsibilities are decided by the team members.

Key Roles – Scrum Master and Product Owner

There are two key roles, the Scrum master and the product owner. The Scrum master is sort of a coach or mentor, helping the team apply the Scrum process to the project in the best way possible. The Scrum master should not be mistaken for the project manager or the team leader. This is because the role of the Scrum master is not to lead the team, since the team is empowered to make decisions, but to act as a mediator if there are issues, and a counselor for Scrum process, when needed. The product owner should not be mistaken for the customer, who is the owner of the deliverable created at the end of the project. In Scrum, the product owner’s role is to assist the project team in the creation of the project deliverables, according to the customer’s specifications. The product owner can also be seen as a mediator between the customer and the project team, or as a representative of the customer. (more…)

Traditional and Agile Project Management in a Nutshell

By | March 20th, 2013|Project Management Methodology|2 Comments

Project Management in a NutshellThere is no standard project management approach that works for all projects. The choice of the right approach for managing a project depends on various factors, ranging from the complexity and type of project to the experience in conducting projects of the organization, the customer’s willingness to be involved in the project, and the norm in the industry.

Traditional vs. Agile Projects

Essentially, there are two approaches: traditional and agile. Typically, traditional project management works for most construction projects, for example, where the whole project can be completed in one sequence, and the success is defined by completion of the deliverables in time and below budget. Agile project management is better suited to volatile and innovative projects, such as software development, where there are many risks, where the scope of the project is likely to change, and where an iterative methodology is needed so that risks are mitigated and opportunities fully exploited.

Traditional Project Management

Traditional project management is an established methodology for running projects in a sequential cycle: initiation, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing. For each of these five project steps, there are tools and techniques, such as the ones defined by the PMBOK®, the standard methodology for traditional project management. Traditional project management approaches include other methodologies, for example PRINCE2, adopted by the UK government organizations, but also by private organizations, such as Vodafone or Siemens.

Be Agile to Adapt to Changes

More and more projects have requirements that are subject to change as the project progresses, sometimes to keep up with the market conditions. In these cases, a traditional project management approach, in a single sequence of five processes, is not possible in order to take full advantage of the opportunities that may arise. Any projects associated with a high level of uncertainty (such as research and development, software development), or in highly volatile industries (such as IT or oil and gas industry), can benefit from an agile approach. (more…)