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Some tips and tricks to help get certified

Taking exams can be nerve racking at the best of times, regardless if you are looking at obtaining project management certifications such as PMP, Prince2 etc., or furthering your education in any field. The one aspect which cannot be denied is being prepared and that goes for most things in life. There can be other factors which can assist with being prepared to take that exam and the following are some tips and tricks which you may consider using before taking that test.

Reading through some of the tips and tricks may seem like common sense, and you will work out that most things normally relate to what is common sense, but we are all different and there could be some elements which may have not been considered as an opportunity to remember an answer to a possible question. To that end, the following are a few tricks which have been of assistance to people I have spoken to over the years, and you may find them useful, and possibly apply to certification exams.

Attempt the easy questions first, don’t spend too much time working out the answer to the complex question first, save the time. No matter the question, there are always some clues and sections that are easier than others. Possibly use those to help answer harder ones and to build confidence. Leave answers blank when unsure, and only lightly pencil in those partly known.

So when applying this method during a certification exam, skip hard questions and leave them blank the first or second time through your exam. Exam creators like to put hard questions near the beginning to test understanding. It is easy to spend 10 or more minutes on early difficult questions, which leaves precious little time for the remainder. Skip them! As, difficult questions are easier the second or third time through.

When an answer is not evident, then rely on patterns to figure out the answer. So applying this in exam conditions, look for distracters (e.g., oxymoron like “assumption constraint”) to spot incorrect answers. Look for answers that have 3 commonalities between them and one that does not (odds are good that is the correct answer, but not always.) Wording from one question can help you with others.

Ensure that the question has been comprehended correctly, so interpretation is extremely important. Exam writers want more than someone who can recall the answer, but think of it instead. For instance, suppose a question is encountered that makes common sense but contradicts your understanding. An example of this can be, and this during preparation to take the PMP exam, a question regarding paying bribes to get a project approved in a foreign country where the practice is common was asked. That option would not be the correct answer because it violates the PM Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide®).

Consider using multiple iterations to complete answers, unless you love doing tests, and it is a common occurrence for you, this is not the case for the rest of us. Prepare by doing two or three iterations of reading through and answering questions on the exam. Follow rule number one that is leave blank every hard answer encountered on the first read-through. Flag any questions partly sure, as mentioned in rule number 2. Doing practice exams also enables discussions, and it is during these discussions that you work out that changing an answer or two can lead to discovery that the first answer was correct after all. Ensure this does not happen to you during the exam. Leave answers blank until you are sure of them.

The best guess, not very scientific, but at times a fall back, especially when time is almost up and there are still unanswered questions. There is no penalty for guessing, only for not answering a question. Try to pace yourself, so time management is a must so you don’t have make an educated guess on too many questions. If you are seriously close to the end, put down any answer. When in serious doubt, and this may be a myth, but the answer “b” occurs most often in exams. Not entirely sure if this is true but putting answer “b” on say five blank answers probably ensures you get one or two of them correct.

It is understood, that one common denominator among virtually all students is exam anxiety. It is very common, and if nothing else this was to provide you with more than one approach in combating it.  It would be great to hear from you and please share your own tips and tricks that have worked.

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Work Management and managing a team’s workload

Work Management

Work management helps managers improve how they balance workloads, communicate goals and track progress. Overlooking the importance of work management is a common managerial mistake. Project management spends a lot of time on the work that must happen before any project can be executed. Researching the feasibility of the project, planning for its success, scheduling tasks, organizing resources and building a budget are all important.

Then comes the execution phase and often much of a project manager’s attention is focused on monitoring, tracking and reporting on progress and performance. While this is happening, overlooking the team can occur, when it shouldn’t.

Getting the most out of the team, making sure they have the necessary resources to match their capacity at a specific point in the project is key to maximizing productivity. To create that optimum workflow structure requires a work management methodology.

Work management is the intersection of business and team processes to structure workflow so that teams work more efficiently. It’s a way to manage the team and the way they work to assist with increased efficiencies.

This can be applied to the scope of the project or the organization of the project’s operations. Either way, the goal is to streamline these processes to better schedule tasks, meet the expectations of stakeholders, manage resources and evaluate performance to further improve productivity.

The cycle of managing work starts with identifying that work, planning and scheduling it, and then executing the work. Management of this work is important as can it improve performance.

Better performance is one of the reasons for work management, which leads to more quality deliverables on time and within budget. But work management also streamlines processes not merely to improve their performance but to reduce any redundancies that are unnecessarily taking up valuable time and money.

In short, work management is known to reduce waste. Getting rid of those activities that serve no purpose creates better projects.

But there’s more an active work management plan produces, such as fostering collaboration on tasks to work better together. Communication is the essence for all project management processes and so better communications are part of a work management program. It speaks to collaboration, but also clear direction.

Work management is about taking many of the different parts of managing a project as they relate to the team and integrating them into a system that boosts productivity. Therefore, work management touches many aspects of project management.

The elements of work management read like the features of a powerful project management tool. They incorporate resource management, collaboration, time and task management, budgeting, reporting and more. In a sense, work management is the hub around which all these spokes turn.

There are some common aspects to detail regardless of where you work. Collect these elements with the team’s involvement. The secret to a successful work management system is not to have it rigidly defined. It must be a living process that is constantly being reviewed and renewed.

Being transparent with the plan ahead, also seek feedback. This will lead to a happier, more creative and accountable team due to a building of mutual respect. Clear communication goes hand-in-glove with transparency. Good communication builds collaborative and productive teams.

Being open to feedback builds trust and retains employees, which leads to greater work productivity. Make everyone feel an integral part of the process and that their opinions are valued.

Giving the team, the tools to better collaborate is a driver to greater productivity. It also helps to solidify teams and boost morale, which in turn leads to greater productivity. This leads to trust, resources are hired for their skills and experience.

Factor to always consider is a team’s burn out, when delivering project the attrition rate of a team can be overlooked, always maintain a work life balance, without compromising the project time frame. Choose a mechanism to avoid burnout that works for the team, social events for example, collaborate with the team and determine what works.

Another problem is not dealing with issues as they arise in the project. This can be project or personnel-related. Either way, ignoring the issue will not make it go away. On the contrary, it will fester and grow, often to the point that it disrupts work.

Project Managers shouldn’t get in the way of their teams, but also need to have transparency in their work. To have access to a team management page which lists everyone, their tasks and the task percentage complete is a great help. This workload page can be used to determine if anyone is not performing because they’re over allocated. Then reallocate to free them up.

Having the tools to get a high-level view of the project with a real-time dashboard can assist. By automatically tracking project metrics and managing a team’s work load is no easy task, but following the steps mentioned should assist. Let us know your approach to managing a team, we would like to hear from you. All the very best on your project management journey.

Project Management and Cyber Security

Project Management and Cyber Security

Protection of services seems to be the way of the future, and as a project manager how do you deliver a Cyber Security related project successfully? The answer no different to any other project, the process is the same, planning doesn’t change and stakeholder management should be paramount. Although Cyber Security is everybody’s business, it is still relatively new when it comes down to delivering these related projects within an enterprise. Convincing those affected of spend, time and the impact takes skill, providing facts helps immensely.

Although there are many intricacies when project managing a cyber security project, we will only look at high level factors to consider when delivering a project of this nature. It is paramount for cyber security strategy to be embedded within the business process, rather than be something that stands alone. Strategies will differ across industries and businesses, and share critical elements. The outcome should be how cyber security protects and enables value to the business by;

  • Basing strategy to align with business goals.
  • Cyber security issues should be communicated in simple business language.

The project strategy should be driven from the top. A strong cyber security strategy is part of the organizations core message and is set by senior executives. It’s always easier to implement cyber security earlier rather than later. It should be embedded in every project, and every activity, from the beginning. Cyber security is more than just IT, as it affects supply chain, human resources, finance and more.

The project team should include resources who have an understanding of cyber security. As the project manager, there has to be a level of understanding from your part to separate fact from fiction when surrounded by particularly skilled resources. The cyber security project team has an appropriate mix of skill sets, including organizational change management, crisis management, third-party risk management and strategic communications.

Governance shouldn’t change because it is a cyber security project, establish a cyber security steering committee. Having a steering committee that needs to approve all security projects is essential for an effective cyber security governance program. Have the right security stakeholders on board to help with the implementation as part of the organizations culture. Advocates help spread the cyber security vision across the enterprise.

Cyber threats are always changing, establishing controls to provide adequate protection in order to minimize the risks or impact of any threat. Risk management is project management 101, and understanding what they are and how to mitigate them is very important. Threats need to be continuously monitored and make sure security posture is improving every day. It is critical to quickly detect and react to cyber threats. Using multiple threat intelligence sources, assists in anticipating a threats next move.

Although the project is allocated, resources will come and go as required but a core team should be established. Focus the resources on the business critical assets. Base resource allocation on risk assessment finding, placing efforts where the business is most vulnerable.

Unfortunately, organizations cannot be 100% secure, elements of risk remain. As the project manager all should be identified and mitigation put into place as mentioned earlier. A strong incident response capability is essential in case something undesirable happens. Incident response is not just a technology issue, but needs both technical and management involvement. An incident response plan should be developed and tested regularly.

In most organizations there needs to be a cultural transformation, as people are the core of a business, so cyber security is everyone’s responsibility. Cyber security should be made relevant to each business area and factored into all business decisions. When each component in the information security management system, the people, processes and technology, come together and works in harmony, there will be pay-off from the cyber security investment.

Let us know your experience with Cyber security projects, the tools you use, your approach, we would like to hear from you. All the very best on your project management journey.

Project Portfolio Explained

Portfolio Management

Project portfolio management lets managers leverage and optimize investments and initiatives across multiple projects to better achieve the overall goals and objectives of an organization. Finding synergies within a portfolio and acting upon them can seem daunting at first. Project portfolio management requires a balance of time, skill, budgeting and risk mitigation, but when pulled off successfully, can reap massive rewards for an organization.

Project portfolio is a collection of projects, programs and processes that are managed together and optimized for the financial and strategic goals of an organization. A portfolio can be managed at either the functional or the organizational level. Unlike a project, which has a defined end goal or deliverable, a portfolio represents a more structural commitment to continuously optimizing the allocation, prioritization and scheduling of resources across many projects.

Project portfolio management (PPM) is the analysis and optimization of the costs, resources, technologies and processes for all the projects within a portfolio. Project portfolio management is typically carried out by portfolio managers or a project management office (PMO).

The key focus of PPM is to make sure that all the outcomes in the portfolio support the strategic goals of the organization. The portfolio manager or PMO does this through business analysis, reviewing budgets and forecasting while minimizing risk and managing stakeholder expectations.

The Project Portfolio Management Process, has four steps, which are;

  • Define the priorities and strategic concerns of the organization
  • Collect portfolio data to discern insights into its management
  • Model and analyse data and review it carefully
  • Synthesize what your learned and communicate it to stakeholders

Project portfolio managers oversee the management of the project portfolio. They are responsible for getting a return on investment and meeting the goals and objectives of their organization. The project portfolio manager can be tasked with managing one or more portfolios.

The job is done by working with various financial algorithms and models to help the project portfolio manager align the projects to strategic goals of the organization. They are further guided by a set of standards that help when they are taking a high-level look at portfolio metrics.

Project portfolio managers are often involved with the PMO, which also sets the processes and standards for the portfolio. The project portfolio manager and PMO can also provide direction on what methodologies are used, whether traditional waterfall or an agile framework, when managing the project.

In the hierarchy of business management, project portfolio management is the link between project management and enterprise management, which deals with the overriding vision, mission and strategy of the organization.

To understand where project portfolio management and project management differ, there must be an understanding of each. Put simply project management is the management of a project. A project is a temporary endeavour that results in a product or service. It has a beginning and an end. Project goals are defined, and tasks are broken down into a schedule. Cost and budgets are set; resources are assigned, and reports to stakeholders.

Project portfolio management, on the other hand, is a higher level approach that orchestrates, prioritizes and analyses the potential value of many projects in a portfolio. The goal is to manage and leverage the life cycle of investments, initiatives, programs, projects and outcomes to best reach the overall goals and objectives of an organization. Therefore, project management is a subset of project portfolio management. It leads to the ultimate objective, which is meeting the strategic goals of the organization.

Project portfolio management requires a balance of time, skills, budgets, risk mitigation and running the projects in the portfolio frugally and expediently without sacrificing quality. Managers do this through the use of five key processes.

  • Change Control Management: Identifying and prioritizing change requests. These can be feature requests, operational constraints, regulatory, etc., based on demand, financial and operational constraints.
  • Risk Management: Identifying risks in projects that make up the portfolio, and developing contingencies and risk response plans in order to mitigate uncertainty within the project portfolio.
  • Financial Management: Managing financial resources related to the projects in the portfolio and demonstrating financial value of the portfolio in relation to organizational strategy, goals and objectives.
  • Pipeline Management: Ensuring project proposals are in the pipeline and determining if they’re worth executing.
  • Resource Management: Efficiently and effectively using an organization’s resources, from materials and equipment to people and technical skills.

Projects are hard enough to manage, and a portfolio of them even more so. It’s many times more complex and requires robust project portfolio software, must should provide the requirements needed to manage a portfolio effectively. Having goals and objectives for project portfolio is important, as it gives managers a target to hit when trying to increase their return on investment and keep risk at bay.

Grouping projects in a portfolio and creating reports around them collectively, rather than individually, gives managers the data they need to make better business decisions about costs, resources and more.

Milestones mark the end of one major phase and the beginning of another. They can be easily inserted on the Gantt chart, where they’re represented by a diamond symbol.

Set milestones and break up the project into more manageable parts. This boosts the team’s morale by giving them a series of successes as they work through their tasks. Managers can use milestones as a means to measure progress.

Tasks are not all the same. Some can’t start until another has finished, or must start or finish at the same time as another. It’s important to know which tasks are dependent to keep the portfolio healthy.

When managing a portfolio, it’s important to keep the big picture in sight. Keep goal-minded with the roadmap tool, which places all the projects in the portfolio on one Gantt chart.

Workload represents what the team has been assigned, in terms of their tasks. By overburdening one team member, they may not be as productive and morale will suffer.

A dashboard is a tool that graphically depicts various project metrics, so it is easier to determine how a project is performing.

Status reports are a way to measure the current state of a project. They communicate important data to stakeholders, keeping them updated. They also maximize portfolio performance.

Collaboration means working together to increase productivity. This can be at the task level for teams, or on an executive level. Ideally, it’s practiced throughout every department in an organization.

PPM leads to better decision-making, helps with risk management and creates a faster turnaround time for projects by streamlining processes and getting more investments.

But it’s not only that projects move faster and cheaper. Project portfolio management also increases product delivery success. PPM streamlines data and that makes for a more efficient collaboration.

All these factors and more make it clear that project portfolio management is a methodology that can serve any organization with a portfolio of projects. Let us know your thoughts and if you manage a portfolio, all the very best on your project management journey.

Workplace Productivity how can it help PM’s?

Workplace Productivity and Project Management

Increasing productivity in the workplace greatly improves chances of delivering a project on time and within budget. Therefore, understanding all about workplace productivity is key to success. There are benefits to increasing a team’s productivity which can be measured. By establishing a benchmark setting and with the use of specialized tools, all assist in bringing the project home.

Productivity is how to efficiently measure how work is done, in general completing tasks efficiently and working consistently is how to measure business success. Therefore, understanding all about workplace productivity is key to success.

Some of the productivity issues to consider are;

  • How to increase productivity in the workplace
  • What software solutions can help work more productively
  • How productivity can be stymied
  • Ways to increase team’s productivity
  • If too much process stands in the way of productivity

Workplace productivity is measured by how quickly and efficiently a team can produce goods and services over a certain period of time. It’s a key metric that economists use to measure productivity.

It shouldn’t be confused with employee productivity, which measures the amount of work that an individual can accomplish over an amount of time. Statistically, tracking the efficiency of a larger group is more accurate than measuring a single person. That doesn’t mean productivity in the workplace is regulated strictly to those who work in an office. It can be applied to those who work from home and remote workers.

Increasing productivity in the workplace improves chances of completing projects on time and within budget. The following are suggestions to consider in improving productivity when conducting a project.

1. Tracking Tasks: Creating a system of managing tasks enables concentration of work, while creating the boundaries needed in order not to go off schedule and take the whole project off track.

2. Automation: Emails can be automated, to notify when a deadline is approaching, adjust accordingly, and get the work done without dragging the project off-track.

3. Take Breaks: It’s important to take short breaks, especially when working through long tasks, allows the brain and body a chance to rest.

4. Remove Distractions: Turn off personal notifications and other distractions can be physical, like the workspace. Remove clutter; ensure it is clean, in the middle of office traffic, isolated? There’s no hard and fast rule, some people need quiet, while others are more productive in busy environments.

5. Use Technology: While it can be a distraction, technology can also help to work better. There are a lot of great tools that are designed to help improve productivity.

Productivity software is used to organize work, collect data that is accessible quickly and facilitate collaboration with the team. It also allows monitoring and tracks what is in order to find areas that can be improved.

Project management tools have changed managing a project for the better, giving teams features to collaborate and work more productively, while managers are able to monitor and track their work. This means they can reallocate resources to meet their team’s capacity and always have them working efficiently.

Workplace productivity apps can largely be separated into two distinct types—offline and online productivity software. There are pros and cons for each, online productivity software means it can be used anywhere, at any time, which is critical for distributed teams. It also means the data received when monitoring and tracking is in real-time, which lends itself to greater insights and better decision-making.

Offline productivity software is not connected to the internet. That means it is not subject to the power of the connection. Since it only resides in the computer, it’s less accessible to unwanted third parties, which may provide a sense of security in protecting data. Desktop apps tend to be expensive, as they may require installation and a licensing fee for each terminal it is used on.

The benefits of knowing how productive the team is are immense. Armed with that knowledge, plan upcoming work and keep everyone allocated to their capacity without overloading them.

The processes resources are expected to use every day are the ones that will either help with productivity or hinder work. Make a list and find out the processes the team uses repeatedly.

Find out what tasks the team is working on and measure their performance against them. This can be achieved with resource management tools and time tracking. Tacking the lean six sigma approach here assist with minimizing waste or repetitive tasks.

The team can also be asked if they believe they are productive, the results would be interesting on how they measure their own productivity, via the amount of emails being sent or the results obtained within the project. The data from the process audit, the task assessments and feedback from the team can be measured by the amount of time each process takes.

Having carried out process reviews next is to evaluate whether those processes are as good as they could be. Look for these things.

  • Duplication of effort between teams
  • Unnecessary process steps
  • Data capture or input that then doesn’t go anywhere
  • Mapping out processes with a network diagram or any visual aid, will assist with bureaucratic time-wasting steps more easily.

It should then be relatively straightforward to identify and ditch process steps that don’t add any value or that duplicate effort. Review all the data captured in the process and make sure that something happens to it. If no one wants the data or uses it for anything, then stop recording it and save that time.

Too much process can stop a team from achieving their full potential. The more time they spend filling in change requests or logging work orders, the less time they spend actually doing their job.

Without the backing of a project management office, it can be hard to create a cultural change in office politics. If there is a concern about whether processes are helping or hindering a team’s productivity, know that there are ways to change the current paradigm and influence others to do the same.

For this to occur an audit is required, this can be conducting a simple review in order to know whether processes are, getting in the way of productivity. After all, processes shouldn’t be abandoned based on assumptions.

Don’t look for the number of processes or tools, or even a judgement call on the level of bureaucracy in the team. There can be dozens or hundreds of processes and if they all work smoothly, they can help productivity rather than hinder it.

Look for the following instead;

  • A drop in productivity
  • Signs and symptoms of an unhappy team.

Both these are indicators that bureaucracy is getting in the way of getting things done.

Before noticing a productivity problem, there has to be an understanding of the trends in productivity within the project or organization. Unfortunately, at times it is not obvious which process is hindering the team. The way to identify the road block is by looking for indicators of a gradual decline relative to past measures of productivity.

In order to know if productivity is declining, then there has to be an understanding on how to measure it. Gather all the project data that is available and look for the repeating tasks, as these are often the ones that require processes — such as these.

  • Managing requests for changes
  • Project handovers and internal reviews
  • Meetings
  • Processing payments

Task management systems that allow users to input the amount of actual time spent on a task will allow building up a huge repository of useful benchmark data. If identified that last year the change control process took a week for the change to be logged, assessed and either approved or rejected, it can be compared to current data. If it takes a lot longer today, then the empirical evidence is on hand, that shows process is slower and that could be part of the reason for the drop in productivity.

Don’t underestimate the useful information obtained from the team. Talk to them. They will be able to provide a gut feel for whether they are hampered or guided by the processes and (more importantly) which ones are difficult to work with.

Pinpoint the processes that are causing the most issue. Analyze what about them is creating problems, which could be one or more of the following.

  • They are too time consuming
  • The approval loop goes to the wrong people
  • They require too much information
  • Nothing is done with the information that is provided.

It can take time to recover from the drop in morale that is the by-product of an unproductive work environment, and bringing to mind all that is frustrating the team, it does need to be done sensitively. Be mindful in this process, and be prepared to address immediate concerns. Deal with any quick wins first, such as explaining where the data goes and why the process works that way. Then deal with the practical issues raised by attempting to resolve the process issues they have flagged.

These are quick ways to assess whether the team is less productive as a result of process. Carry out large scale process mapping and do a deep dive into productivity, but it’s easier to start with identifying some quick wins before moving to that sort of time-consuming initiative.

A drop in productivity could be the cause of a morale problem, or a symptom of poor morale in the team. These two issues are closely linked, so it’s worth seeing what can be done to address low morale at the same time.

Ultimately, information sharing and involving the team in the assessment can go a long way to improving morale.

Once productivity data has been analyzed and reviewed with the team morale situation. The lesson learnt is that the issues are definitely related to ineffective processes. Here are four steps to weed out what’s not working.

1. Take a leaf out of the Lean and Six Sigma manuals by stripping everything out of the process that doesn’t add value.

2. Try to avoid falling into the trap of removing too many processes without validating them, however. Someone else in the organization might need the piece of data that has been decided isn’t necessary. Do some sense checking before stripping the process back totally?

3. Delegate the process-related admin tasks to team members to share the load and streamline operations. Remember, democracy is not always the best approach in delegation. Choose team member’s best suited to accomplish them efficiently. There’s no business benefit in having highly paid technical architect do low-value process paperwork if the team administrator could do it just as well.

4. Be the advocate for the team. Many processes will be organization-wide, and probably can’t remove them without some serious negotiation. Bring key leaders together and be armed with the data uncovered in the audit to demonstrate the loss in productivity and its impact on the bottom line. Be sure to demonstrate clear solution-oriented approach that would work just as well, yet is less process-heavy and more productive.

It will take a bit of trial and error to whittle away the old, outmoded processes and streamline new ones. Use a continuous feedback approach with the team to maintain the right balance

In fact, getting team buy-in on all processes helps improve team morale because it boosts engagement when they know they are instrumental to contributing to continuous process improvement. Collaboration will really make a difference; overall immediate productivity improvements should be evident, and tweak processes until they are just right for the whole team.

Use online collaboration project tools to keep project and process work streamlined alongside each other. Keep all internal and project documents stored alongside project plans, and keep the team looped into project communications via a collaboration platform. Let us know your thoughts and how you manage project team productivity issues, we would like to hear from you, all the best on your project management journey.

Milestones in Project Management – What are they?

A project milestone is a point that has important significance in relation to delivery of a particular aspect of the project or financial payment. This is delineated in a point in the project schedule so it is evident to the project team, stakeholders and management. These points can note the start and finish of a project, and mark the completion of a major phase of work. Milestones can be used to symbolize anything that has started or finished, though it’s primarily used as a scheduling tool.

A milestone focuses on major progress points within a project, which is useful in scheduling. Just as tasks break a larger project into manageable parts, milestones break off components of a project to make it less daunting.

So, when starting a project, milestones can help immensely with scheduling. Milestones are most commonly found in project management software, and are represented as diamonds in the Gantt chart feature. Gantt charts are a visual representation of a schedule, laid out on a timeline, with tasks as points along the path to the successful completion of the project. Milestones divide this timeline into project phases.

Milestones provide a way to more accurately estimate the time it will take to complete a project, making them essential for precise project scheduling. They are often used in scheduling methodologies, such as the Critical Path Method, which can determine major scheduling periods. The use of milestones enables better calculation of the slack in a project by segmenting the project into intervals, or smaller time-frames to control.

Milestones, like tasks, can be linked. That is when the phase of one milestone cannot begin until the completion of the phase before it. That way the team members are not being hampered by having to wait or by not allowing them what they need to move forward with their tasks.

Milestones measure progress by breaking the project into phases. A milestone is a marker that separates the end of one phase from the start of another. There are typically four phases in project management: initiation, planning, implementation and closure. But when exactly is the milestone added?

The simple answer is when everything in that project phase has been completed. For example, completing the project charter is usually the last step in the initiation phase of a project. This would be where the milestone is placed to indicate moving from initiation to planning.

However, the exact point at which the milestone is placed depends on negotiation with the project team members, stakeholders, management. Some Milestones are self-evident and hence no formal discussion is required whereas others may need further input. It’s always best to seek help from experts in the industry and within the organization. A little guidance upfront can save a lot of headaches later on.

Milestones are more a period in time than the specific completion of a task, there can be milestones that don’t relate to project phases. Milestones can be points that are deemed important to the successful delivery of a project. Traditionally, they break projects into phases; a milestone can be created to indicate a major task, deliverable or more.

Part of scheduling a project is being able to monitor and track the progress of that schedule in real-time. Milestones are a way to see how far a project has progressed. By noting the completed milestones, this way the distance for the current point in time of the project to the end can be measured.

This comes in handy when dealing with stakeholders. Stakeholders are not interested in a granular, detailed report on the project’s progress. They want broad strokes that indicate whether or not the project is moving along as scheduled. Milestones are ideal for this kind of reporting because milestones show the major phases completed at this point in the project, according to the plan.

When presenting to stakeholders, they can be shown milestones completed to date and the ones on track to complete for the coming month. Let them know if those milestones were reached as planned or if there were any delays. Remain honest if milestone was late in being achieved, this should not be hidden. By being transparent, stakeholders receive a sense of where the project is. They will understand and appreciate the honesty, and in turn trust the professionalism in managing the project.

Reaching a milestone is a place in time, but that doesn’t mean completion. How is it understood that a milestone has in fact been achieved? Without knowing initially if the objectives planned where reached at the close of a milestone, then it’s an empty victory.

Project reporting assists with this situation, by generating a status report and get a look at the overall health of the project. Were the tasks completed on time and within the budget that was set? For example, a change in project scope may have occurred or perhaps there has been some slippage and the schedule has fallen behind. That’s not a milestone to celebrate.

However, it’s also not a cause for undue alarm. Changes are part of any project. The problems arise when those changes aren’t responded to. By running a status report, there is an understanding of what’s changed and its impact on the project. Work towards getting back on schedule by reaching the next milestone, run more reports to track progress and make sure the project is staying on track.

Milestones are mainly used for the nuts and bolts of scheduling; they are also useful for celebrating project achievements. Obviously, once a milestone has been reached it’s because the team has done something right, like completing a phase of the project or delivering something important, which can be used to congratulate the team.

Celebrate success in whatever manner is deemed fit for the project. It can be as simple as a handshake or a note to the team. Something bigger, like treating the team to a lunch or offer a bonus. Acknowledging the team’s achievement pays off in dividends in the forms of employee retention, team loyalty and project buy-in. It also fosters a positive relationship with the team and building trust, which is instrumental to a productive project.

Milestones can be anything deemed important by the project team, stakeholders and management. Remember to consult those involved with the successful delivery of the project to ensure milestones are reflected correctly. Once established they should be placed in a project management software tool for representation, via Gantt charts which provide real-time data, and a collaborative platform to assist with efficient and productive information for the team.

What is Stakeholder Theory and Why It Matters

Stakeholder Theory

Continuing on with our series of nurturing stakeholder relationship for project managers, let’s look at stakeholder theory and why it matters. Stakeholders can influence everything and everyone in a project or organization, including senior management, project leaders, team members, customers, users and many others. With so many ways to sway a project, as a manager it’s critical to prioritize and focus on only the most important stakeholders, those with power, proximity and urgency.

This is the beginning of stakeholder theory. Stakeholder theory addresses business ethics, morals and values when managing stakeholders involved with a project or organization. It seeks to optimize relations with stakeholders, thereby improving efficiencies throughout the project or organization.

Stakeholder theory states that a company is only successful when it delivers value to its stakeholders, and those values can come in many forms beyond financial benefits. Such as the impact on employees and customers, one of the values produced by stakeholder theory includes greater productivity across the organization. If employees, who are considered stakeholders, feel as if they’re being valued, then they’re going to work harder and be more productive.

This also means that companies will have greater retention of their employees, but also of customers. If the productivity is up, then the product or service delivered to the customer is improved. With that improvement comes more customer loyalty, especially as they are one of the many stakeholders the company is considering when making decisions. Customers are also more likely to then refer other customers to the company.

All this is leading to more investment from financiers. They too, of course, are stakeholders. While sometimes they are thought of as the only stakeholders or the most important to a company as they hold their hands on the level of capital, they’re really connected to other stakeholders. As other stakeholders are valued, the value of the company grows, and investors are more likely to add money to production to take advantage of this increased market share.

From there, it’s not only capital that is infused into the company, but talent. Everyone loves a winner, and as the company grows and dominates because of its care for stakeholders, it will inevitably attract new talent to its doors.

Stakeholder theory drives more than profits and productivity. There are ethical benefits of practicing it as well. Companies find that the mental health of the workforce is greatly improved as their job satisfaction increases. It also will elevate the status of the company’s social-economic status in the local community. When one company practices stakeholder theory, it creates healthy competition among other companies, where all can thrive and help benefit their stakeholders.

Some critics, such as political philosopher Charles Blattberg, say stakeholder theory is problematic. They claim that the interests of various stakeholders cannot be balanced against each other.

This is because stakeholders represent such a large and diverse group. You can’t please every stakeholder. One or more stakeholders will have to take a backseat to other, more dominant ones, which is likely to create discord. This will disrupt the benefits associated with stakeholder theory.

Also, who will wield the most influence? Some stakeholders might find that they’re not impacting decisions as much as another group. The different power levels and spheres of influence can be a problem. Even those with seemingly more influence might not feel that they’re getting what they want.

The key principle of stakeholder engagement is communication. Here are some key tips for making sure that stakeholder communication stays strong and efficient:

  • Make sure messages are targeted and delivered timely
  • Consult early and often
  • Know that stakeholders are people with feelings and need to be treated as such to build trust
  • Consider potential risks and opportunities with each stakeholder
  • Compromise
  • Know how success is defined
  • Take responsibility

It’s clear that stakeholders are important to the success of the project and that means you have to manage them and their expectations to keep things moving smoothly. This is achieved by using the available tools in the project manager’s armory, especially communication both written and verbal format. Let us know your thoughts on Stakeholder management, all the very best on your project management journey.

The Art of Project Management, a discipline for initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing the work of a team to achieve a specific goal. A project is a temporary endeavour designed to produce a unique product, service or outcome. The end to end delivery of the project, known as the project lifecycle is affected by resource, time management and a fixed budget. The purpose of project management is to enhance a particular situation through the avenue of delivery and change. The primary challenge of project management is to achieve all the project goals within the given constraints, normally defined in a user or project manual, created at the beginning of the development process. The primary constraints are scope, time, quality and budget. The secondary and more ambitious challenge is to optimize the allocation of necessary inputs and integrate them to meet a pre-defined objective.