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Projects affected by Social and Governance factors

Projects affected by Social and Governance factors

Project performance can be influenced by factors in projects which address social and governance issues. There are protests around the world, and the growing number of pandemic cases pays more attention to the importance of healthy social and governance concerns. Given these factors it is no longer sufficient to just meet the project objectives, unless the objectives include long term impacts on the environment, social fabric and the way we manage ourselves, projects and organizations.  Projects are aspects of the overall organization, in turn organizations are aspects of society overall. The way we behave and perform in our projects may reflect the way we behave within relationships, families and communities.

Within this context social concerns address diversity, human rights, animal rights and consumer protection. From a practical perspective, there is the value of the “power of difference.” Diversity is valuable because it promotes agility and innovation, it enables getting the right people for the job. At the project level, we value the diversity of ideas because the confrontation among diverse perspectives can result in better solutions, designs and plans.

The benefit of the power of difference is only achievable if the decision-making process is healthy and there is open-mindedness among the stakeholders. There can be no real change without a commitment from the highest levels of organizations, and the willingness on all levels, to confront issues in society in general and to acknowledge the value of diversity.

One of those factors is human rights concerns which include but are not limited to consideration of the impact by decisions, products and services on local communities.  Covering aspects of health and welfare of employees, which do not just stop at the project or organizational boundary. The entire supply chain is subject to scrutiny.

It is a continuous challenge to increasingly stand up for human rights when the value and the requirements of the organization differ. Is it detrimental to speak out and stand up for values by refusing to make or support decisions that are contrary to one’s values?

Over the years there has been an increasing recognition of the responsibility of organizations to protect the lives and well being of consumers. At the project level we have seen instances in which hitting deadlines or keeping costs down have resulted in damages to consumers because project managers and their leadership have ignored quality control and assurance concerns raised by project performers.

While animal welfare as a social consideration is controversial, investors are increasingly seeking information regarding the practices of companies and communities that abuse animals in the pursuit of profits. At the project level this concern can influence supplier decisions, the design of research projects, and the treatment of animals in farming and food processing.

Governance influences the ability of organizations and projects in particular to value and promote healthy environmental and social policies and practices. Effective governance considers the long term and accepts the reality of uncertainty. On the project level, risk management and the degree to which it is performed remains a controversial activity. Some stakeholders become certain of a desired outcome and dismiss the reality of adverse conditions and alternative outcomes. Without effective and open-minded risk management, projects and organizations suffer avoidable costly and damaging consequences.

While the future is uncertain, there is evidence that awareness of both Social and Governance factors is essential. Arguably, it has impact on profits, as investment criteria will lead to a future that is increasingly livable. Filtering down to the project level, being aware of social and governance factors can lead to more effective decisions and more successful projects.

Management Strategies for Project Managers

Management Strategies for Project Managers

There are a myriad of projects being conducted on a daily basis within most organisations which carry their own inherent risks and issues when it comes down to successful delivery. How, as project managers, are strategies implemented to ensure that the best management approach is achieved to ensure the goal is reached. That is completed on schedule, remain within the predefined budget, and show little to no disparity between the actual and calculated quality of work. Needless to say, projects are an extensive undertaking.

So what are the best strategies to manage projects? , One of the fundamental reasons why a project falters relates to resources. The people involved who understand the project scope and as a team are able to gel.  Choosing the right resource means the best option for each particular task or sub-task that allows delivery of sub-goals and main objectives in less time, cost, and better quality. Resource options should be evaluated and pick the people who are able to reduce the time taken to complete tasks, are less expensive, and deliver the standard of work that is expected.

Achievements should be celebrated, regardless of how small, motivating team members and keeping them high spirited through the project is very important. During the course of a project there are milestones to achieve before completion, their identification is important, and this is where the project manager needs to do their part. So once the milestone has been achieved then it should be celebrated, this allows the team members and the workers involved to blow off some steam as well as rejuvenate themselves. Projects can be long and tedious, positive reinforcements in between keep teams enthusiastic and passionate for the duration.

Thorough planning is required, pinpoint all the necessary details and get them in writing. This will allow good accurate record keeping for safekeeping as well as a line of reference before the initiation of the project. Having items written down also offers a solid position to look back, in the event an issue arises which deviates from the actual pathway, this will easily redirect the project and team back onto the right track.

Settle on the methodology which will be used for the project, popular methodologies for project management include Agile, Lean, Kanban, Scrum, Six Sigma, and Waterfall. Each methodology focuses on different aspects of a project, undertakings, and apply various approaches to get things done in an orderly manner.

Definition of roles, outlining each team member’s role and responsibilities, by using a RACI, overcomes possible confusion and keeps the team in-line with their duties. Team members should be held accountable and responsible for the different tasks they have been assigned. Also defining roles helps set the hierarchy and the line of command within the team. This means irrelevant communications and wastage of time in being idol can be avoided. Roles should be clearly defined so that they relay important information for every member and worker who is taking part in the project. 

Milestones, must be tracked, as validation is required on how far the team has come since the beginning of the project. It offers reassurance when following the right track and keeping up with the predefined schedule for the project’s sub-tasks and main tasks. It also assists to increase the intensity of efforts when lagging behind. This will dictate when to work hard and when to give the team some time to recharge energies, knowing the difference between the two matters to keep things functioning in proper order. 

When measuring team’s performance, it is best to create a criteria to compare efforts. Monitoring and controlling the team’s input and output allows an understanding of the day to day operations. This provides an overview of various strengths and weaknesses.

The big one in any project, one which is scrutinised the most is project budget against the scope. The budget allows for catering of financial needs and requirements for completing the project. In contrast, the project scope defines the parameters and boundaries. This can include various tasks that need to be completed which can be combined. Not only does the project manager have to keep in line with the predefined budget, but also make sure that initially planned project’s scope remains unaffected. 

Managing the stakeholders, not many projects get momentum if the stakeholder is not thoroughly engaged. The stakeholder has certain expectation of the project and if directions are taken from the stakeholder ensure they are extensive and detailed. The more information received, the less disparity there will be at the end when the project is completed. If this approach is followed make sure that the stakeholder’s expectations is gratified.

Finally there must be a step to analyse and evaluate the projects performance via Project Implementation Review (PIR). This should be an essential step, as the outcome from lessons learnt from a recently completed project will definitely assist with the next similar project. Which should include risk, financial, and PERT amongst other items. During the PIR include if possible evaluations, apply the Internal Rate of Return, Net Present Value, Payback Method, and Profitability Index apart from various other techniques. 

It’s never easy managing projects, especially when there are many moving parts, thus not making every manager necessarily a good project manager, it takes a special person to take up this mantle. At times a lot of financial investment and risk are involved in projects, which is why it normally takes a professionally mature individual who has a proven track record, to be asked to undertake this huge responsibility. Stakeholders can be difficult to work with if the project does not deliver according to their expectations and fails to meet their requirements. It would be good to find out your perspective on strategies, and possibly other strategies not mentioned here which make your projects successful.

Management Strategies

How to accurately cost estimate projects

Cost Estimation Analysis

To keep a project within or under budget, being able to accurately estimate cost is a vital part of the process. There are many different costs which can emerge during the delivery of a project. Hence, an accurate estimation method can make all the difference between a successful plan and ones that fail. For seasoned campaigners, it is understood that projects bring their own risks, and risks add unexpected costs.

The estimation of cost, is a process that takes into account many different factors. Project cost estimation applies to everything from constructing a building to developing software. As with most things in life, money is required. The more clarity on how much money is require to complete a project and where it is coming from, then the more likely your objective will be achieved.

There are 12 steps involved in the cost estimation process, which are outlined below;

  1. Defining the purpose of the estimate: Determine the purpose of the estimate, the level of detail which is required, who receives the estimate and the overall scope of the estimate.
  2. Develop Estimating Plan: Assemble a cost-estimating team, and outline their approach. Develop a timeline, and determine who will do the independent cost estimate and then create the schedule.
  3. Define Characteristics: Create a baseline description of the purpose, system and performance characteristics. This includes any technology implications, system configurations, schedules, strategies and relations to existing systems. Support, security, risk items, testing and production should also be included. Deployment, maintenance, and any similar legacy systems should be considered.
  4. Determine Estimating Approach: Define a work breakdown structure (WBS), and choose an estimating method that is best suited for each element in the WBS. Cross-check for cost and schedule drivers; then create a checklist.
  5. Identify Rule and Assumptions: Clearly define what is included and excluded from the estimate, and identify specific assumptions.
  6. Obtain Data: Create a data collection plan, and analyze data to find cost drivers.
  7. Develop Point Estimate: Develop a cost model by estimating each WBS element.
  8. Conduct Sensitivity Analysis: Test sensitivity of costs to changes in estimating input values and key assumptions, and determine key cost drivers.
  9. Conduct Risk and Uncertainty Analysis: Determine the cost, schedule and technical risks inherent with each item on the WBS and how to manage them.
  10. Document the Estimate: Have documentation for each step in the process to keep everyone on the same page with the cost estimate.
  11. Present Estimate to Management: Brief decision-makers on cost estimates to get approval.
  12. Update Estimate: Any changes must be updated and reported on. Also, perform a post mortem where you can document lessons learned.
Cost Estimation Overview

There are however challenges to cost estimation, as there are many factors that remain uncertain when estimating their cost. This could be due lack of experience on what to expect in a project if it is not similar to ones you have done previously. The longer the project’s duration, the less in focus cost estimations are, and the level of skill and experience available within the team is also going to have a big factor on overall costs of the project.

The techniques required for project cost estimation are impacted by different factors. This can be alleviated by techniques to provide a more accurate cost estimation.

It is best to seek the assistance of experts in their field, a Subject Matter Expert (SME) or historical data. If historical data is available this is known as analogous estimating, which show precedents that help can define what future costs will be in the early stages of the project.

Statistical modelling, or parametric estimating, also uses historical data of key cost drivers and then calculates what those costs would be if the duration or if an aspect of the project is changed.

A granular approach would be bottom-up estimating, which uses estimates of individual tasks and then adds those up to determine the overall cost of the project.

The three-point estimate, comes up with three scenarios, they are most likely, optimistic and pessimistic ranges. These are then put into an equation to develop an estimation.

Reserve analysis determines how much contingency reserve must be allocated. This approach tries to wrangle uncertainty. There is also cost of quality, which uses money spent during the project to avoid failures. That is the money applied after the project to address failures. This can help fine-tune overall project cost estimation. And comparing bids from vendors also help figure out costs.

The use of dynamic tools to estimate costs, it helps to use an online software to collect all of your project information. Project management software can be used in unison with many of these techniques to help facilitate the process. Online software can be used to define project teams, tasks and goals.

When estimating individual tasks, costs can also be collected and tracked on an online Gantt chart. This can be refined by using the online tool of your choice. This is also the case when estimating resource cost. When planning a project with a source management tool, an account for employee schedules, equipment rentals, holidays, office space and other factors that have an impact on budget can be considered. The distribution of project resources is one way to balance a budget.

Create a resource plan by scheduling the dates for planned resources, how long they will be needed, and who will be involved. That includes any equipment or site rentals. Also, break that down into the amount of resources needed for each activity on a daily basis. Then create a schedule with detailed resources, including duration and estimated costs.

These components and factors should be considered when estimating a project budget. Ensure to use the available resources and tools available to refine the budget estimate as best as possible. If there are components which you use and not mentioned here it would be great to hear from you.

Perception Project management and the influence on outcomes

Perception Project management and the influence on outcomes

Seasoned project managers may have encountered this, and those just starting out in the game will definitely need to come to grips with it. That is the reality and challenges faced with project delivery and managing stakeholders. Being a project leader, there has to be a level of understanding on how to influence a project outcome both upwards and outwards.

What this really means in a fast paced dynamic environment is the ability as project professionals to use skill and experience to influence positive outcomes directly linked to how well they have been able to engage and influence others within an organization.

There are many articles relating to the different type of stakeholders which will be encountered during your project management journey. The traits they exhibit, as this will be different between stakeholders who have been involved in many projects and are seasoned, and those who have only just delved into the situation. Regardless on the maturity of the stakeholders experience or how they have been engaged, there is a question as project professionals need to ask themselves, how influential am I or can I be in this organisation?

The ability to be influential at both an individual and group level is a critical part of either delivering successful projects or leading wayward ones out of the wilderness. A factor to consider is if the PMO leaders aren’t at the steerco, there may well be a perception at C-level about its ability to be effective. If the executive believes that the PMO has become a gatekeeper rather than an enabler, it may be time to reflect on just how influential its leaders actually are within an organization.

There’s a truth for project leaders that requires ego to be set aside: In projects, perception is reality. A project management office, for example, will only remain valued and valuable when it is perceived by stakeholders to be a safe pair of hands that are contributing to the business’s ability to deliver successful projects. The same holds true for project managers.

Being able to influence outcomes requires strong relationships with stakeholders and people within the organization so that when the need for robust and straight-talking conversations come, and this will be a fact for anyone who has had to manage large budgets or very tight time frames or both. Then the foundation has to be laid previously for those tough, brave-smart conversations.

A tip here would be don’t wait until a project has started to seek out conversations with stakeholders and don’t be afraid to seek out the opportunity to connect and build a working relationship with people who will be owning the work. It’s not enough to aspire to be influential; building relationships takes time and effort to get to know the stakeholders, what drives them, and what matters to them.  Being able to engage and communicate becomes much easier after that. This is insight that becomes incredibly valuable when things are going well and critical when things start to go awry.

Minimizing the gap between the desire to be influential and the stakeholder’s perceptions should be the goal before the project gets going. There is little value for anyone trying to influence a stakeholder in the heat of battle when a poor perception of what project leaders bring to the table already exists, regardless of whether it’s right or wrong.

Having the ability to be influential is almost an art which first requires a reality check about your current standing in a project or organization and how possible it is to gain both access and opportunity to engage with stakeholders. Understanding your own mission statement as to the perception that you want stakeholders to have is particularly important here:

  • Do you want to be the ‘safe pair of hands’?
  • Do you want to be an advisor that stakeholders come to for guidance on how to set up a successful project rather than having to inject yourself—unsolicited—into the project when you see issues?
  • Do you want to be the trusted voice in the room when war has broken out and a decision needs to be made to remediate or kill off a project?

These are all great aspirations, but they won’t become reality if you aren’t able to properly position yourself within an organization as someone who is capable of delivering.

Being social, this may go against the grain, as not all of us are natural at being social. Just taking the time to meet the people in and around the project you are joining is valuable for understanding what they need and expect from your role. Especially in terms of time, communication, expectations and raising issues. This is crucial to understanding what works for them and what doesn’t, and it will enable you to form a picture of your stakeholders.

Acknowledging their perceptions are actually their reality and their concerns about what needs to change are important. Demonstrating your willingness to provide value is important but so is understanding that the stakeholder may have expectations of you and your role that are not within your capabilities to provide.

This is the opportunity to flag that and do something about it. The goal is either to shift perceptions of what you do and don’t do or build a case to provide those capabilities where it makes sense. Either way establishing a rapport and a clear understanding of what you bring to the table is critical.

There are always going to be people within an organization that have gravitas and insight and if you watch how they operate, there is a lot to be learned about how they use their position to influence both stakeholders and their project teams. It would be beneficial to spend some time with them. More often than not, there are deep insights and knowledge to be gained by asking the right questions about how they view the issues they deal with, what they see as the real and superficial challenges, and how they have developed their ability to influence.

The important thing is to observe is how they are motivated to serve the project as well as what they bring to the table that captures the attention of their stakeholders. This insight will be beneficial not only in the current project and organization but as you move through your project journey. Let us know if you believe perception in project management exists, and how it is managed.

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.

How to achieve effective communication as a virtual leader

How to achieve effective communication as a virtual leader

Regardless if we are working remotely during these challenging times or in the office face to face with our colleagues, stakeholder and the business.  The ability to communicate effectively is an integral part in being able to get your point understood. It’s just that communicating, even with technologies like Zoom, GoToMeeting, Skype, Webex and others, is a challenge when done virtually. Given even factors, there is a greater chance of successful communications when we’re together. Many of us, though, are working from home, so we need to maximize tools and techniques that will enhance communications during these uncertain times.

The following are some keys to be understood for the virtual leader, which should be used to promote effective communications. The power of community should never be underestimated, teams usually function better when they are together, when they belong to a group whose purpose is to complete a common objective. When there is more focus on what both the team and the organization need to accomplish than our own individual needs, we tend to have less conflict and greater productivity.

It’s easier to establish sense of community when the team is located in the same building or within the same campus than being spread across a city or worse, across regions or a country. If the team is international, it becomes even more difficult, dealing with time zones, for example, make it harder to get the team together frequently. Cultural and language differences can make getting the point across a real challenge. The further apart team members are from each other, the more difficult it is to establish that sense of unity.

However, this difficulty can be mitigated by conducting daily stand-ups, frequently meeting and not only discussing the tasks for the day, but to ask how they are feeling and generally the opportunity to say hello within a community environment. It’s even more important to have frequent virtual team meetings than when the team is together. Team members working from home can find themselves feeling isolated and unproductive.

The purpose of this is getting to know something about each member personally and to ensure everyone understands the project objectives and constraints. It is important to take a few minutes at the beginning of each meeting for small talk about family, vacations, activities, entertainment, etc. However, it’s also extremely important to ensure the project is on track. Sharing status, tasks planned for the day and issues helps reinforce the sense that the team is working together to meet objectives and solve problems. In this instance the leader or other team members will help them move forward should assistance be required.

Solving problems together creates a sense of unity. When a leader steps in to solve all the problems, the benefits are short-term. And not all problems require the involvement of all the team members. Having subgroups solve problems and report back to the larger group is also effective. This can be achieved via meetings with individual team members, during initiation to learn about their individual wants, needs, concerns, issues, etc. Resolve individual issues and conflicts, rather than trying to do so in a group meeting when trying to assess level of commitment. As virtual leaders, we need to emphasize and reinforce this sense of community, keeping in mind that the team itself is part of a larger group.

Being able to establish normal protocols for how we want to engage with each other is important. This should be obligatory for the success of virtual teams, as it helps ensure that the team becomes and stays cohesive and productive. All projects are subject to unproductive time related to resolving conflict among team members. In projects this averages to about 5% of the project total being spent on HR-related issues. Having more communication protocols may not prevent conflict, it would certainly have helped to bring these issues to light sooner.

Ideally, when the team is in the process of being formed during initiation, these norms can be established within organizational and technical constraints. Where possible, the team meets to recommend appropriate protocols. Virtual leaders need to take these recommendations seriously without formalizing them. Effective leaders ask questions about the reasoning behind the protocol recommendations to ensure the team’s goals are adhered. If they do not, then the virtual leader will need to provide direction and guidance without being too forceful.

Communications protocols can include some of the following factors, such as types of meetings. These might include status, celebrations, milestone checkpoints and decisions, and issues newly identified and/or resolved. As for each meeting, it must be clear on how often to meet, keeping in mind that more frequent check-ins are necessary when leading virtual teams. The meeting duration, time and venue, whose input is required, desired, and format. Ensure an agenda is followed, conference video’s and muting to minimize distractions, ensure clarity of point.

It is important to have frequent breaks, when in the office there is an aspect of socialization, this is not the case when working in isolation. Also how to handle questions and interruptions and the preferred technology to use if there are choices. The response time, that is the maximum wait time to respond to other team members and stakeholders.

The virtual leader should discuss and clarify communication preferences with the team, stakeholders and the business. It should be understood that stakeholder and team member stated preferences may not always be practical. If the preferences result in risk or will have a negative impact to the project, they should be discussed and negotiated. Priority, urgency, and importance of resolving issues. An issue, for example, might become urgent if not dealt with by some future date, but the urgency is not immediate.

How to deal with the very nature of conflict, interpersonal conflict requires one-on-one interaction, which can only be dealt with through video or teleconferencing. There are impacts to the project and risks of delayed communications. Being able to effectively communicate is an important aspect to all teams. There are inherent difficulties communicating virtually. As a virtual leader be careful to plan how the team will communicate not just within the team, but with key stakeholders as well. The three factors mentioned above are only but a few ways to establish effective communication during this uncertain period. There was no mention of listening, or note taking which are also other aspects of communication. By focusing on these items the virtual leader can minimize the confusion, contention, and feelings of isolation that often prevent virtual teams from being successful.

If you have a mechanism to establish effective communication as a virtual leader, or someone who has an idea on what effective communication should be administered by a leader, then it would be great to hear from you.