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Risk Management Tools and Techniques

Risk is normal within any project, how it is mitigated needs to be the focus, when a risk is not controlled it can cause no end of project pain. Welcome to risk management, which is as important as planning to making sure a project comes in on time, within budget and of quality. The better a project manager identifies and responds to risk, the better the outcome. That’s why there are never enough risk management tools and techniques to have at your disposal when planning for a project.

The following are some of the best risk management tools and techniques that professional project managers use to manage their projects against the inevitable risks, issues and changes.

Brain storming is the first, to begin the brainstorming process, there must be an assessment of the risks that could impact the project. This starts with reviewing the project documentation, looking over historic data and lessons learned from similar projects, reading over articles and organizational process assets. Anything that can provide insight into issues that might occur during the execution of the project. Once research has completed, start brainstorming with anyone who might have insight.

A variant of this is the Delphi technique, which is when a request is sent to experts and they reply anonymously. Or the project manager can interview experts, team members, stakeholders and others with experience in similar projects.

Another tool is the root cause, or another way to say the essence of something. Therefore, root because analysis is a systematic process used to identify the fundamental risks that are embedded in the project. This is a tool that says good management is not only responsive but preventative.

Often root cause analysis is used after a problem has already come up. It seeks to address causes rather than symptoms. But it can be applied to assessing risk by going through the goals of any root cause analysis, which ask: What happened? How did it happen? Why did it happen? Once those questions are addressed, develop a plan of action to prevent it from happening again.

The SWOT process, or strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats, is another tool to help with identifying risks. To apply this tool, go through the acronym.

Begin with strengths and determine what those are as related to the project (though this can work on an organization-level, too). Next, list the weaknesses or things that could be improved or are missing from the project. This is where the likelihood of negative risk will raise its head, while positive risk come from the identification of strengths. Opportunities are another way of referring to positive risks and threats are negative risks.

When collecting SWOT, illustrate findings in a four-square grid. The top of the square has strengths to the left and weaknesses to the right. Below that is opportunities to the left and threats to the right. The left-hand side is helpful to achieving the objective of the project and those on the right-hand side are harmful to achieving the objective of the project. This allows for analysis and cross-reference.

The risk assessment template for IT although primarily developed for IT projects, it can be expanded to speak to any project. An IT risk assessment template offers a numbered listing of the risks, to keep them in order, and then an out that risk is and the control environment. It basically provides a space in which to collect the risks of a project, which is also helpful when executing the project and tracking any risks that become reality.

One of the aspects of the risk assessment template for IT is that the spreadsheet has a built-in calculator that figures out the likelihood of a risk in fact occurring and then multiples that against the impact it would have on the project or the organization. This way, a project manager knows the potential harm of the risk and so can prioritize their response to it if or when the risk happens.

The risk register, is similar to the risk assessment template for IT. It also is a list to track risk, a tool that can be as simple as a spreadsheet or as dynamic as project management software. Basically, what a risk register does is identify and describe the list. It then will provide space to explain the potential impact on the project and what the planned response is for dealing with the risk, if it occurs. Furthermore, the risk register allows a project manager to prioritize the risk, assign an owner responsible for resolving it and gives a place to add notes as needed.

The risk register is a strategic tool to control risk in a project. It works to gather the data on what risks the team expects and then a way to respond proactively if they do show up in the project. It has already mapped out a path forward to keep the project from falling behind schedule or going over budget.

Another tool for project managers is the probability and impact matrix. It helps prioritize risk, which is important, as time should not be wasted chasing a small risk and exhaust resources. This technique combines the probability and impact scores of individual risks and then ranks them in terms of their severity. This way each risk is understood in context to the larger project, so if one does occur, there’s a plan in place to respond or not.

The matrix is a box, broken up in probability on the left, ranging from rare on top to very likely on the bottom. The top is the impact, going from trivial on the left to extreme on the right. The individual boxes then are coloured, so that the top left corner is green for low risk. The middle, rising from the bottom left corner to the top right corner is yellow for medium risk. The bottom right corner is red for high risk. This provides a road toward reaching a priority list that gives project managers the head’s up as to when to act and when they can keep a risk on the backburner of a project.

With a risk data quality assessment technique, project managers use data that has been collated for the risks they’ve identified. This is used to then find the level to which information about the risk is relevant to the project manager. It helps the project manager understand the accuracy, reliability, quality and integrity of the risk as related to the collected data about it.

For each risk listed, the risk data quality assessment requires that the project manager determine the extent of the understanding of the risk, collect what data is available, what the quality and reliability is for that data and its integrity. It is only by examining these parameters of the risk can an accurate assessment be reached.

Whichever of the above tools or technique are considered, they are exponentially helped when using one of the available tools found in Projectmanagemenetcompanion.com. Having the risk assessment and tracking tool in a larger project management software keeps everything under one roof and accessible to the whole project team.

The importance of a project road map

It’s natural to jump right into a new project without a plan once it has been allocated, this can be due to pressure or excitement.  It’s essential to set the goals before work begins so the project manager, the client, and team are all on the same page. Starting without good goals is an invitation for failure. Good goals need to be realistic, clear, and measurable.

  • Realistic– Are time frames realistic and resources available.
  • Clear– Is the scope of the project understood?
  • Measurable– Are there quantifiable indicators.

There’s no way to know if a project is a success without set goals, with good goals as the foundation of a project roadmap, there is an understanding that the project is headed in the right direction.

Many project managers have a mental picture of exactly what needs to be done and how. The problem is when it remains a mental picture. A vision contained in just one person’s mind can’t be realized by a team of people. There are multiple stakeholders in any project– the client, the company, the team, the end users, and sometimes the larger community. All of these people have questions that need to be answered and even concerns that need to be addressed. A project roadmap can help with that.

Without a clear roadmap, each member of the team is left to interpret the vision of the project for themselves. No matter how skilled the individuals are, every team needs the direction of a clear project plan. Beyond clearly defined goals, the team needs deadlines, communication guidelines, and a way to track their individual progress and that of the project. Lack of direction can result in de-motivation, poor performance, and even high turnover, all of which are bad for both short and long-term outcomes. Without direction, the team and the project outcome may end up in chaos.

Project management involves resource management because the team and company have a finite number of resources to work with. Good resource planning often includes taking other projects into consideration to ensure that the resource demands of one project aren’t in conflict with any concurrent projects. It is common to conduct financial resource planning to cover for human resources, physical work spaces, outside vendors, and any knowledge or skill gaps within a team. Including all of these factors in the project roadmap from the beginning will help avert collisions along the way.

Scope creep is when, over the course of a project, the vision is expanded to include things that were not part of the original scheme. It’s a common cause of project failure, but having a clear plan can prevent it. Scope creep happens when either a) the parameters of the project were not well-defined from the outset or b) there’s pressure–either internally from the team or externally from customers or bosses. If you’ve drawn a good roadmap for your project, you can point back to the plan any time someone suggests an idea that would expand scope and possibly derail of the project.

In the realm of projects and processes, transparency means creating a system in which all team members can access all relevant information about a project easily and efficiently. While some managers feel that providing transparency poses risks to the project, the benefits of transparency far outweigh these risks. Some of those benefits include clear communication, establishing collectively recognized expectations and standards, and improved motivation on the team and individual levels. When combined with a clear roadmap in the form of a string project plan, project transparency leads to better outcomes for both the team and the project itself.

With a clear roadmap from the beginning of a project, advantage can be taken of the power of automation.

  • Have clear goals– Having measurable goals enables automation reminders and status checks to keep projects on track.
  • Communicate the vision– Automated communication on missed deadlines, task completion, and changes to the project can remove the time burden of composing emails and also prevent lapses in communication.
  • Provide direction for the team– Using automated processes to help guide a team’s activities can take a huge burden off the project manager, allowing only focus on larger issues as they arise.
  • Manage resources– Automated resource tracking helps prevent conflicts among projects and gives time to adjust if resources become delayed or unavailable.
  • Avoid scope creep– With automated process management, there’s less room extra tasks to creep in and disrupt the tasks and goals at the core of your project.
  • Effortlessly promote transparency– Transparency is important, but manually generating and sharing status updates other reports can consume valuable time. Automated reports and updates provide transparency without burdening the team.

Automation and roadmaps go hand in hand. If not clearly defined then automation becomes a challenge, but once there is a good plan in place, automation can take project management to the next level.

How to Schedule Resources across Multiple Projects

It is not uncommon for organisations to have several projects running concurrently. That means thorough project resource planning is important because usually team members are active on several different projects at the same time. This can cause a scheduling issue when the same resources are shared across divisions, with different project managers. Or when different projects have competing priorities from leadership. This can create conflict among teams and have impacts on schedules.

It can also lead to the best resources becoming burned out. They will need to have their tasks actively managed, not just on one project but on all of them together.

The following are 9 tips for scheduling resources successfully across multiple projects:

1. Minimize the Overlaps

Schedule resources so that they are given as much time as possible to focus only on one project. That might mean a few days on one project here, then a bit of time on another project, then a week back on the first project and so on. It will feel as if they are jumping around, but in reality it is avoiding having them multitasking.

2. Schedule for the Busy Times

All projects have times of peak activities. This can be worked out from what the resource demands are – normally there are high demands on the team during the delivery/build stage of the project and also during testing. Then there is another peak just before the project ends as everyone it overly active trying to get last-minute things done.

Look at all the projects and establish where the busy times are. Try to stagger the busy times so that there aren’t two or three projects in build at the same time – even offsetting the schedules by a couple of weeks will make a big difference to the resources.

Watch out for when projects are due to go live at the same time and make sure the resources can be managed over one or more projects needing the same person.

3. Collaborate on Scheduling

Ask team leaders, work-stream leaders and staff themselves about how they would manage any resource conflicts. Work together – they will probably have some great ideas about how to juggle tasks and make sure all projects deliver as expected. This can be done easily with an online project scheduling software.

When working in a culture where employees trust one another to do the right thing and to make the right decisions, then they can be relied on for their responses. If they are overloaded, trust them! Then make plans to adjust their workloads accordingly.

4. Where to Focus Your Resources

Look at the schedules and make sure that e everyone is working on what is important. It’s not sensible to have someone working on a low important task that isn’t holding anything else up on Project A when they could be better place working on a priority task on Project B. When they have completed their Project B task other people can carry on working but at the moment they are stopping the project progressing.

Think about whether projects could slip in order to move more important work forward. Then adjust the resources so they are working on the priority tasks first.

5. The Right Level of Scheduling

No one works at 100% efficiency. Everyone needs a little downtime during the day to get a coffee and a bite to eat at lunch time. People have off days where they come into work feeling under the weather or they have to take a personal call.

When project managers schedule resources to one project there can be an impact on workload and many experienced PMs know not to schedule anyone at 100%. Around 80% is a more realistic amount to aim for. However, when thrown more projects into the mix that approach can get lost and suddenly…resources are scheduled at 100%. Don’t do it!

6. Talk to Other Project Managers

Resources may be working on projects that are managed by several different project managers. In fact, if they are all being managed by one project manager then the job of resource levelling is much easier. As there would be good visibility across all initiatives and tasks so planning for the busy times is easier and applying the right level of scheduling.

But what happens when there is more than one project manager involved?

The best way to deal with this is to make sure the project managers share their plans. Get them to talk to each other. Set up conversations if required, or consider having a weekly (or monthly) resource review meeting where progress and obstacles can be discussed.

7. Use Workload Scheduling

Take advantage of the resource scheduling features on an online project management software. Use the workload scheduling tools and reports to see where project resources are overloaded. It’s easy to see who has too much work and who can take on more tasks when shown on graphical reports. Then resource levelling can be applied (adjusting the workload so it’s within acceptable boundaries and no one is overstretched).

8. Use Dashboards

When using workload scheduling tools at a project level, they can be configured to use project dashboards to bring several projects together and compare resource allocations. This is hugely helpful as in an instant it can be identified which projects are the biggest drain on resources when looking at it from a portfolio level.

The great thing about dashboards is that many can be created, so there is a view of all Commercial projects, one with one view for the projects that involve the IT team and so on. It’s an easy way to get the data to manage resource clashes and make sure that everyone has enough time to do their priority work without holding any projects up.

9. How to Manage Absences

The thing that catches many project managers is absences – planned or otherwise. When there is no line management responsibility for the team, it’s not the project manager’s job to approve vacation request forms. Because of this a resources can be scheduled to work on tasks during the time they are actually away. If a resource is scheduled to work on several projects during that time then a hit could be taken on a number of initiatives – it’s not just one project at risk but many.

Remember to build good relationships with the line managers and also constantly remind team members to advise when they are out of the office.

Projectmanagementcompanion.com can manage resource allocations across all projects. The reports and dashboard features show workload across projects, and manages schedules so that everything gets done on time. Upload current plans now with a free trial to see resource allocation in real-time.

Just the facts Ma’am

Never underestimate the strength and requirements for facts when undergoing project delivery, without facts then the truth becomes the victim. As project managers, a stigma can be attached, not only throughout the actual project but your career. Accurate and factual information is the cornerstone and lifeblood of successful project delivery. The ability to gather, analyses, and explain the facts of a situation is the foundation of good decision-making. Without all the facts it is difficult to have a thorough and clear understanding of all the possibilities and consequences that may exist in defining the project path. How it will impact a business or a decision-maker’s ability to make an appropriate decision or come up with an appropriate solution.

Good project management deals with the projects hygiene and has basics like requirements gathering, stakeholder engagement, and setting realistic deadlines as some of the more fundamental things that are part of project delivery. Most project managers have had to, at some point, front a steering committee or the executive to get their endorsement for a complex or major decision. Influencing people that can be peers, senior or even hostile to agree to a contentious decision is not easy. Typically, in this sort of situation, to have any chance of being successful, there are three basic rules to follow;:

  1. Provide all the detail – This is more than just a description of the issue and how the project got to where it is. It also needs to include the details of a proposed solution – pros, cons, benefits, risks, opportunity costs and so on. In essence: bring everything to the table even if it’s buried in the appendices and be prepared to have it scrutinized.
  2. Never go alone – A project manager—or any leader—is not there for their subject matter expertise; they are there to lead the initiative and facilitate an outcome against various measures such as time, cost and quality. They can’t know all of the details and do their job 100% effectively. A good project manager will try to surround themselves with a good team of people that know the content and have the confidence to leverage their expertise at key points. This will include inviting the critical project players to key steer-cos to help explain and influence a decision in a positive direction.
  3. Set realistic timelines – There are many perspectives on ‘reasonable’ timelines, and this is never truer than when trying to get a group of disparate people to make a difficult and complex decision. Driving an aggressive timeline that limits time for a considered review of information will, by design, limit the level of considered input a person can provide. This will, in turn, introduce the significant risk of alienating the very people whose support is needed to have on board, to the point that good ideas can get rejected on principle.

Project managers should not hide the facts but rather do the opposite – bring them out into the open and shine a spotlight for full scrutiny.  Secondly they should be surrounded with people who can explain difficult and complex content in an unbiased, clear way. And finally, always respect the decision-makers by giving them ample time to review the facts and form their own opinions.

The decision that the steer-co reaches may not be the one wanted, even if it is for the right reasons. It may simply be that once all the facts were known, they didn’t stand up to scrutiny and thus a different and potentially more successful path is chosen which should ultimately benefit the business. It may not be a picture of a comfortable scenario but once in the open the right decisions can be made, because if misinformation is provided and a project is delivered and has nothing but issues, then this does not bode well for the project manager or the team.

Communication for effective project delivery

Communication for effective project delivery

Regardless of how good a project manager is, it means very little if they are unable to communicate. It is understood that the ability to communicate extends beyond the professional field. The ability to communicate, via the written word, speech and listening should never be underestimated. The adept Project Manager is able to navigate around communication risks by utilizing communication as a tool to forge long lasting, positive working relationships and leveraging them to execute and deliver successful projects.

Which are the points to be considered when evaluating communication skills, they should include;

  1. Understanding the audience and connecting with them.
  2. Be diplomatic
  3. Establishing the preferred communication type
  4. Timing and Anticipation
  5. Keeping Leadership engaged and involved
  6. Managing through a “Communicate, tell, roundtable” method.
  7. Practicing delivery.
  8. Ending Positively.

The Project Manager must have the ability to accurately, astutely and concisely convey project information and details to stakeholders, resources, vendors and third parties. Providing just the right amount of information to each, and avoid information overload. It should be with great care, precision and accuracy that project managers must gather, integrate and disseminate information to those involved and depending on the project’s success.

Understanding the audience and making a connection, people are different, and what one finds humorous, another can be offended.  At project inception it’s a good idea to meet one-on -one with each team member to assess their comfort level with different communication vehicles. Experience has proven that individuals are extremely receptive to this dialogue and quite frankly surprised when PM’s take the time to go to such lengths. Up front planning in this respect establishes rapport and a path for effective, respectful dialogue, and eliminates risks and guesswork that would otherwise exist.

Being diplomatic can take the project manager a long way, by utilising effective communication to establish trust and authority as well as to motivate, influence and control. Political effectiveness begins with knowing key project stakeholders and their goals and motivations. Remember that people respond to and are motivated by positivity.  Be inclusive and ask for suggestions, insight and assistance to solving an issue.

Establishing the type of communication is preferred, would a weekly report suffice as opposed to face to face meeting.  Face to face interactions are preferred for those that value “extras” such as body language, the subtleties of facial expression, etc. Some individuals prefer to work strictly with E-mail messages. Once this is understood, outline these in the communication Plan.

It is best not to procrastinate when delivering information, remember it is best to communicate sooner. As projects occur at a fast and furious rate, and keeping communication relevant and timely is paramount. The ability to anticipate “next moves” and responses is an acquired skill. Consider the audience’s reaction to the information and how this may shift the climate.

Keeping senior leadership engaged and involved is very important; remember to provide updates as to business viability, alignment with relevant strategic objectives, key issues and risks.  Also, while senior leadership should have access to project details, their concern and appetite is generally reserved for higher-level detail and information.

For all meetings, have a specific agenda that outlines what the team will accomplish during the call or meeting. Communicate the topics that will be covered and the overall goal of the meeting. This conveys preparation to lead dictates purpose and direction and provides the opportunity for team members to speak up if there’s a topical question or additional clarification needed.

Consider holding a “round-table” check-out where each team member has a final opportunity to provide feedback, ask questions, air complaints, etc. This is an informal way of making sure there is feedback and participation from all team members.

Post an immediate communication summary of each point discussed, key decisions reached, action items, owners, due dates and overall project team next steps. Key decisions are an important item and may later be used to justify a particular course of action. This can’t miss approach provides a timely and relevant chronological retrospective and mitigates communication risks.

Practice the delivery, in front of a mirror, a few people at a time or consider attending toastmasters or offer to speak at a local chapter meeting on a familiar topic. This will further hone communication and delivery skills. Not being familiar with everyone in the room, should bolster additional self-confidence when nailing delivery.

Ending on a positive note by highlighting individual and team accomplishments as well as recognize resource contributions. This will provide the team with hope and a sustained sense of accomplishment.  The goal of the project manager is maintain positive momentum while reinforcing the projects goals and viability.

Make a point to end meetings and communications enthusiastically and on a positive up-swing. Remembering that teams feed off the energy and drive of the project manager and utilizing the ingredients will greatly reduce communication risks and allow teams to benefit.

How to Resource Plan

How to Resource Plan

When managing a project or a project portfolio, it’s critical that resources and workload for each are intelligently distributed. Without proper resource allocation, projects can quickly get out of control in terms of expense and duration.

With the right resource planning techniques, effective planning and management of resources in any industry can set you up for success. But before the break down on how Projectmanagementcompanion.com provides the perfect tools for resource planning and management, there must be a firm understanding on what resource planning is and how to compose a resource plan.

Resource planning is one of the steps required when writing a business plan where all the resources in a proposed project are identified. This is achieved by creating a summary for managing workload that is comprehensive enough to make sure all the resources that are needed to complete the project are clearly identified. This summary is going to help get a buy-in from the sponsor and team.

Resources can be anything from equipment to project sites to people. Below is a short list of some resources which should be identified when planning a project?

  • Type of team needed
  • Roles and key responsibilities for each team member
  • Number of people required to fill each role
  • What equipment  needed and its purposes
  • Job locations or meeting rooms required
  • Types and number of equipment needed
  • Total amount of material needed

All these can be entered and tracked with the tool found in Projectmanagementcompanion.com for more accurate resource planning and management. 

The creation of a project plan is achieved by;

  • Schedule the dates for using the planned resources. That includes when and for how long they are needed, the people assigned to the team, equipment rental, project site rental and anything else.
  • Identify the amount of resources required per project activity. Each day many resources will be used, this part of the plan is used to detail them on a daily basis.
  • Create a detailed resource use schedule. Take those durations and amounts and collect those on a calendar or timeline to make sure the resources are allocated correctly.

In order to include all the information required to have a process in place. Basically, it’s a three-step process of listing, estimating and then constructing. This entire process can be expedited by using tools from Projectmanagementcompanion.com resource planning tools to map out projects. Before this is performed, it is best to go through each of those steps in more detail.

Step 1: List the Resources

Simply start a list in the project management software. Write down all the different resources needed. Use the above bullet points as a structure. Who are needed to do the tasks that make up the project and identify all of those roles. That includes full-time, part-time and contractors.

Equipment should be included, the same steps should be performed as were done for the labour component, and identify all the equipment going to be needed to get the project completed. That list should include anything from office equipment such as computers, photocopies and other devices to telecommunications and machinery.

The next item on the list is the materials. What is the non-consumable materials needed to complete the project activities? These can be materials necessary to build physical deliverables, such as IT devices, wood, steel, and concrete.

Step 2: Estimate How Many Resources

Next is to determine how many of the listed resources will be needed throughout the life cycle of the project. For example, how many hours will be needed from the team? Break that down per role. Do the same for equipment. How many pieces of equipment are going to be necessary?

The same goes with material, estimate what amount of material, in terms of square footage, number of units, etc., is going to be necessary for the project. How much hardware is needed to buy, including the required license software?

Get as accurate an estimate as possible, and enter that data into the project management software. If possible, try to note the date the resources are needed and what the consumption rate per day, week or month is.

Step 3: Construct a Resource Schedule

Use the information collected in the first two steps to build a detailed resource schedule in the workload management tool. Also specify the resources required to complete the project, the time-frames for the consumption of each of those resources and the quantity of time each resource is going to require per week and/or month.

Add up the total quantity of resources consumed per week and/or month. Don’t forget to identify the assumptions and constraints which are going to arise through the projects life cycle. Once these steps are completed, the resource plan is good to proceed and the data can be entered into the preferred Project Management tool.