There are countless resources, guidelines and tips on how to successfully manage projects. But one topic that’s not often covered involves project failures. Not many project managers are ready to admit failure. However, it’s still all too common to see projects fail and that’s why it’s essential to identify and analyse the potential risks and challenges before the project kicks off. By understanding the risks associated with the project’s goals they can more than likely be better managed.
In this article, I’ll identify 4 primary ways to help successfully manage them. Understanding them will hopefully better prepare you for your next one.
Take time to plan: Successful project managers know that they significantly increase a project’s success when they allocate sufficient time to planning. They know the outcomes the project needs to deliver and how its success will be measured. They pay attention to detail and break down big goals into smaller ones. They identify the financial and human resources they need and share their expectations with their project team. They research the costs involved and then set and manage budgets. They know that inaccurate cost estimates can quickly exhaust funds causing parts of the project to be abandoned.
Regular progress and milestone management: Managing milestones and tracking progress towards them helps to identify which parts are off course and allows corrections to be made before it’s too late. Successful project managers assign and prioritise tasks and know that it’s critical to be able to manage people. They know which warning signs to look for and when the project is failing.
Good governance and leadership: Often project managers become so busy that they “don’t see the wood for the trees”. Allocating a project sponsor or senior manager to oversee progress and to ensure that the project manager has support and the resources they require will greatly benefit. Equally, they should be given responsibility for ensuring that the project’s scope and goals are fully understood. Often financial and human resources are scarce and many projects run concurrently and compete with each other. The project sponsor should be someone who has the authority to make decisions on which projects to fund and which ones to delay. They often can cut through red tape and remove obstacles.
Assign experienced project managers: Often projects are allocated to people who are very competent in their jobs but have little or no project management experience. A project manager may be assigned to a business critical or strategic project and will take on significant responsibilities. Successful projects are assigned to individuals who have the experience and have demonstrated they have the capabilities to successfully manage assignments.
These tips are just four basic means to help improve your project’s likelihood of success. Beyond them, there are countless other ways for developing greater value from your projects. But by implementing some of them in planning and executing your projects, you’ll be on your way towards delivering better performance and outcomes.
As a project manager, there are many times that you have to draw up a schedule from scratch. Sometimes, you may be stuck as to how to go about the schedule or not but often you will be handed a a schedule and told to just use this as a template. (Note: I use template in his article for schedules from previous projects and also standard departmental issued templates.)
This may seem like a great idea at first because a lot of the stuff is right there for you. All the tasks seem neatly laid out. You think to yourself: This is just what you needed. This will save a whole lot of time. But beware. Not everything is as easy as it seems.
Here are just a few reasons as to why you should not automatically take that schedule and run with it, tweaking here and there.
Problem #1: MS Project Does Some Funky Stuff
I don’t even think the people at Microsoft have figured out how delicate and intricate their software really is. I can’t even count the amount of times, I have slightly modified a task on my schedule and then something really odd happens. And I mean really odd. So odd that a few times, I was going in circles so much, I just deleted the task and added it back so that it all worked again.
Now take someone’s old schedule and start modifying it for your own use and you lose a lot of control as to the amount of funky stuff that can happen. This may be a risk you can live with on a small schedule but I’d rather not take that risk on a large project.
Problem #2: Try to Follow That Predecessor-Successor
Predecessors can be so tricky in a schedule unfamiliar to you that may think you just followed that rabbit down the rabbit hole. Change one duration and the whole schedule may go out of whack. You can attempt to follow those predecessors to find what just happened but then that was just for one change. If you have to add more tasks to the template, then you are quite at a loss without breaking some relationships. This is a task that can become frustrating especially if you are well into your project.
Problem #3: Try to Make Sense of the Template
Then there are a whole lot of other problems that can get you into trouble when trying to make heads or tails of a previous Project file. These can include such things as: Deadlines, Resources, Task Types, Date Constraints, etc. A whole slew of MS Project “features” can truly drive you crazy trying to figure out why the schedule doesn’t seem right. You can go individually and clean these all up depending on the size of the project file but you have to look for each item first and that will take a lot of work.
So, What to Do
Okay, now I am not saying that templates are not worthwhile but you have to be careful about how you use them. A template should be a guide. Look at it as: here are some items that I should consider in my project. A good template covers a full blown project. Your project may be smaller so you don’t need all those elements.
And there is also a converse. It is a good idea that if you have a project with more complexity or other items than the template shows, you should add those to the “template” for future reference.
A template also does not bypass the steps for creating a project schedule. You should always have a Work Breakdown Structure and a Resource Breakdown Structure; and you should still develop a schedule on your own. However, the template provides some backup help and also should provide assistance in developing a proper WBS. So, word of advice, be careful and try to avoid reusing old Project files. Even developing a “standard” template to be reused can get very difficult to manage. But, have a template, definitely!
Without good communication, very little of quality can get completed, as it is the foundation of a strong and healthy relationship, partnership or friendship. In particular, within the realm of Project Management it is the way projects work as well. For without good communication, things can become over complicated. Even with an airtight project plan, it will be difficult to achieve the first milestone without proper communication management.
Project communication is the process of identifying key information that will be shared with team members and stakeholders throughout a specific project. This includes listing out stakeholders and identifying team members that will be on project communications. It’s key to outline out how communication recipients will receive project updates, the frequency they’ll receive it, as well as the points during the project they’ll receive it.
As the project plan is developed, the communication plan should also be developed along with it so everyone has the necessary context and can do their job effectively at each step. The points of communication, along with the contact list, will be in between each of those steps as they would need to get edits, comments and ultimately, approvals.
Communication management is everything, a project plan cannot be created and then hope everyone sticks to it. Once the plan is created and everyone is on board, a resource should be allocated as the key contact to manage the plan throughout the entirety of the project. This could either be the Project Manager or another resource, normally someone who has a good sense of communication. For example, a project manager can manage the deliverables on the agency side, and an account manager can manage all communications on the client-side, working as a tag-team to make the project successful.
To ensure solid communication management throughout a project, a communication management plan should be created. The benefits of a communication management plan are five-fold:
- A written framework that both client/stakeholders/team members can reference. This can help in case there is any need for mediation. There is a written paper trail which can be referred to, should it be needed. It can also be beneficial for accounts payable to reference in case there are gaps in time tracked for the project.
- The plan itself will manage expectations from stakeholders to not anticipate a finished project before the deliverables have been tested for quality assurance.
- The points at which communication is shared allow both stakeholders to provide valuable feedback to the project process as well as the final product, and give team members a chance to brainstorm ideas together, bridging the divide between the two groups.
- It allows all involved to better discover risks and issues early on.
- It helps to eliminate the need to hold unnecessary meetings on the books, saving both time and money.
Understanding why communication management matters might sound like a normal requirement for any organization, it’s not always accomplished well.
Communication can be bolstered by having an online project collaboration tool, like the ones found at Projectmanagementcompanion.com. Online Project Management tools allow managers to roll out project plans, and then disseminate information to team members at the right time for the right task. Tasks allow for comments, attachments, embedded links, descriptions, to-do lists and more, so everyone gets the directions right the first time.
How is communication achieved in such a way that it effectively cuts down on lost productivity time?
The following are some tips and techniques to ensure communication management plan is performing at optimal levels.
- Include a description of the project landscape in the original plan: Give the project a background including the organization’s short-term and long-term goals, who the stakeholders are, who the team members are, how much budget will be involved, what resources will be needed and how much time the project is expected to take. Include objectives as well as the project vision to ensure that the background isn’t just an outline, but a robust, fully-developed and communicated plan so that it can better generate project buy-in.
- Assign an owner of the communication process: Depending on the size of the organisation, this could be divided between the Project Manager who is focused on delivery and the Account Manager whose job it is to communicate.
- Include a review process: Setting up a formalized review process will ensure that no one will miss a beat when it comes time to assess the project.
- Set up a system for messages to be delivered: Determine if a project management software or Microsoft Excel is to be used. Is communication occurring via Slack, Skype, or just email? Include all of this in the plan so that everyone knows the best way to make contact.
- Meeting Management: This pairs along with creating a stakeholder management plan. Meetings can be a waste of time (and a lot of the time, they can be better said in an email). Make sure meetings only include the stakeholders who will be involved in the decision-making process and then create an agenda for each meeting for everyone to follow. This will help the group to stay on task and on topic.
There are many ways in which good communication management can save a project from disaster and keep everything working at optimal levels. But what happens when leadership (or the project communication owner) displays ineffective methods of communication? The project can quickly fall into peril.
Here are some communication management mistakes to avoid:
- Don’t be passive-aggressive: Refusing to speak directly to a co-worker, team member or stakeholder can limit the project’s progress entirely. Passive aggression can also look like one is avoiding a task or a project because of the people involved. Passive aggression in the workplace can be the cause of missed deadlines, wasted time, lost revenue and more.
- Don’t micromanage the project process: Micromanagement is damaging for any work environment in a myriad of ways; it increases health risks, affects employee turnover, decreases productivity and slows down project progress. Trust team members and stakeholders to deliver results on time and on budget, this should make for a happier, more effective product outcome.
- Don’t rely on electronic communications: A lot can be lost over text or email. As facial expressions, tone of voice can be missed, and can thus misunderstand what is being requested. Additionally, while meetings slow down workplace productivity, a deluge of emails can have the same effect. Remember that the best ways to communicate, especially during project milestones, are face-to-face.
- Don’t forget to document everything: The only way to properly review the success of a project is by looking back at the data via documentation. With documentation, it can be determined who did what, which tasks were delivered when, and how much the project cost overall.
Managing communications for the duration of a project is never an easy task. The assistance of a reputable project management software tool can assist in helping teams collaborate effectively across multiple platforms. Sign up for a free 30 day trial and see for yourself.
Managing conflict during the course of a project is natural, so many people involved all with differing opinions and attitudes. The difference for a project manager being burnt by those conflicts or resolving the dispute is what separates the real good project managers from the rest. Anger often surfaces when one strong opinion differs from another and hence an opinion fight occurs.
One of the most critical skills for managing conflict is the ability to go beyond anger and allow the right degree of reason to moderate emotions in order to steer the mind towards greater understanding. Greater understanding leads to more effective conflict management resulting in better decisions, healthier relationships and optimal solutions that seek to satisfy the needs of all parties.
Within a project context, a conflict is any issue that keeps people from coming to an agreement. It might be called a dispute, disagreement, issue, problem, or any number of other things, depending on its complexity and the intensity of the differences among the people involved. Managing conflict is more of an art than a science. It seeks to reach a resolution or the acknowledgement that no resolution is possible. It requires balancing mindful awareness, emotions, intuition, rational thinking, empathy, and effective communications to creatively navigate the relationships among the parties to the issue. An intention to act with compassion, to reach win-win resolutions, plus an attitude of mutual respect is important ingredients for effective conflict management.
Interpersonal relationships are at the heart of effective conflict management, which can be complex at best. The ability to trade anger for understanding is a great skill to have, but this doesn’t come by easily, as at times it implies that one is more likely to be successful in resolving conflicts if one avoids the knee jerk reaction to convince the other guy. Instead, one turns attention to finding out what he or she is thinking and why he or she is thinking it. To understand requires stepping back, opening the mind and objectively “listening.” Not just listening with the ears but with all the senses.
We as humans have a capacity to process cues, some obvious, like words and overt behaviours, and some more subtle, like body language, eye movements and tone. To better understand where another person is coming from and why, cultivate that capacity and the mindfulness and concentration to enable objective observation. Then, fold understanding into the decision making and conflict management process.
Anger, ranging from mild frustration to rage, is a common emotion when dealing with conflict. Anger arises out of the fear that we won’t get what we want. Fixation on the desire to have things just as we want them closes the rational mind. Anger is a powerful emotion; an energy being sensed in the body and mind. Anger is both understandable and not to be suppressed. However, left unchecked it blocks reason leads to division, poor decisions, and verbal abuse and at time possibly worse. It makes understanding more difficult, if not impossible.
Anger breaks down the conflict management process. It is more damaging to the one who is angry than to the subject of the anger, particularly when the cause of the anger is in the situation itself. For example, anger at a system that throws up political and bureaucratic obstacles to getting projects done on time and within budget can damage individual and team morale. Anger channeled skillfully can fuel sharp thinking. Use it as an alarm to signal over attachment to ‘the only way’. Transform anger into crystal clarity and wisdom. Use the energy of anger to seek understanding.
Understand several things about the players in the conflict, including you. What is their motivation? What are their needs and wants? What do they believe winning means? Who are they trying to please by winning? What do those external players (sponsors, executives, managers, clients) really want? What expectations, biases, cultural norms, external constraints, values and models do they bring to the table? What is their conflict style – Forcing, Avoiding, Collaborating or Compromising? Are they more likely to be driven by their emotions or are they more inclined to be caught up in their analysis to the exclusion of emotions and intuition?
When we understand others and ourselves, we recognize that we are not so different from our adversaries. Compassion emerges to fuel mutual respect and a desire to reach win-win outcomes.
Conflict is a fact of life. Managed well it is a critical factor in successfully achieving objectives, including the objective to make relationships as healthy as possible, both in the short and long terms. To manage it well goes way beyond bias and insisting on “my way or the highway.” To do that, cultivate the ability to step back and understand the dynamics that are in play. Avoid reactivity to maximize responsiveness. Rely on intuition and analysis based on understanding.
Get more done with Time Management techniques, which will assist with rework, refine activities and get the project completed on time. Mastering the time management technique in these modern times can be a challenge. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the constant barrage of emails, memos, Slack and Skype messages, and other office distractions.
The most important thing to remember when looking for the best time management strategies is that being organized equates to being productive. If time is an issue, or understanding how to manage time so moving from project to project can be achieved without distraction and loss of productivity, then the strategies mentioned below should be of assistance.
An Organized Task List
The single most powerful thing you can do to better manage your time is to organize your task list. There are several different ways to organize your list.
Organize Tasks by Due Date
This is the most popular way that managers and employees choose to use task management software. Simply add start dates and due dates to each task in your to-do list and sort them by due date. This way, you can see which tasks need to get done today, and which tasks are coming up in the next few days or weeks.
Organize Tasks by Priority
Some people prefer to work in a less structured way, and using priority levels instead of due dates. With this strategy all you need to do is assign each task on your to-do list a priority (very low, low, medium, high, very high, or critical). You should take care of critical tasks in the beginning of your day, then move on to less pressing tasks after lunch. This strategy is great because once you knock out the critical work in the morning, the rest of the day becomes easy!
Organize Tasks by Progress (with Kanban)
The third way that will help you better manage your time is to organize your work by progress. The simplest way to do this is to open your to-do list in a Kanban board. Now you can see the tasks that are backlogged, in progress, or finished, all on one screen. Organizing by progress is a favourite method for agile teams that want to quickly move on tasks and complete projects efficiently.
Keep Detailed Notes
Nothing slows down your work day like having to stop to figure out where you left off on something from yesterday or last week.
The easiest way to overcome this stop-and-start problem is to keep detailed notes about every task you may be working on. When you are working towards completing a task on your to-do list, leave a note to yourself so you can quickly pick up where you left off. Some examples include:
- “Emailed Steph, waiting to hear back.”
- “Ordered supplies, delivery scheduled for next Tuesday.”
- “Per Jason’s instruction, pausing this task until further notice”.
These little notes to yourself will let you quickly pick up where you left off, saving you precious time throughout the day.
Get Help from Your Team
Sometimes the biggest time waster is our inability to recognize when we should ask for help, instead of taking on every little thing that comes our way.
This can be a hard thing to learn, but saying “no” to a project can be the best thing you can do for your company. If a task comes your way that will require lots of research, Googling, and headaches, stop and think about who might be better suited for this project. It might be as simple as reassigning this task to your co-worker who is more equipped for this type of work.
Additionally, sometimes it’s better to outsource work to a professional outside of your team to get the task finished quickly and professionally. Professional contractors can be expensive, but if they save you your precious time, then the value is worth the cost.
Pivot Quickly / Avoid Commitment Fallacy
Another huge time waster pops up in projects when teams fail to recognize that it might be time to pivot.
There can be a fear in the modern workplace of walking away from failing projects, even when we know they are doomed. This fear is sometimes referred to as the commitment fallacy, where we refuse to walk away from a project because we’ve already put so much work into it. This becomes a problem when teams end up working on tasks in because they are committed, even though it might be better to walk away and work on something else.
To improve your time management skills, you should constantly be asking yourself, “what should I be working on that will have the most impact?” By constantly evaluating and re-evaluating your impact, you will learn to quickly pivot from project to project and avoid wasteful work.
Use the 80/20 Rule
This strategy of constantly evaluating where you can have the most impact is often referred to as the 80/20 Rule. The 80/20 Rule simply states that approximately 80% of your results will come from 20% of the work that you do. Therefore, if you can recognize which 20% of your work has the most impact, you can optimize your work day to get more done and be more productive!
So, there it is, some strategies to assist you manage your time more appropriately to finish the project on time, it’s not easy getting into a mindset of structure if it is not part of your DNA, but it is the best way to organise time. For a more detailed description, there is a Time Management eBook, Time Management Strategies For the Knowledge Worker which can be downloaded from the Project Management Companion site.
Project portfolio management (PPM) is the management of many projects, which is called a portfolio. This includes the processes, methods and technologies used by the project managers and or project management offices leading these individual projects. PPM analyzes the portfolio to have the portfolio be as productive as possible, while remaining on schedule and within budget.
Many different perspectives are at play with project portfolio management. Such as the mentioned various schedules, scope and costs of the portfolio must be maintained. But there are also the constraints imposed by customers, the strategic objectives of the larger organization and the impact of external real-world factors that require attention as well.
Managing an organization’s portfolio of projects requires prioritizing projects, allocating resources, tracking performances and much more. Also, data from individual projects is collected, reviewed and analyzed to make sure it’s aligned with the overall strategy of the organization.
In the hierarchy of business management, project portfolio management is the link between project management and enterprise management. Project management being project teams working on assessment, proposals and project deliverables; portfolio management overseeing the resource allocation, project prioritization and tracking performance of those projects; and enterprise management dealing with the overriding vision, mission and strategy of the organization.
To further understand where project portfolio management and project management differ, it’s important to define each and expose the areas where they diverge.
Project management is defined by its name: it’s the management of a project. A project is a temporary endeavor that results in a product or service. It has a beginning and an end, which is planned and monitored through a series of processes, which is project management.
Project management can include the following:
- Defining project goals
- Managing project requirements
- Breaking down tasks into a schedule
- Managing cost and budget
- Assigning resources
- Monitoring, tracking and reporting on project progress
- Communicating to teams and stakeholders
Project portfolio management is a formal approach to orchestrating, prioritizing and analyzing the potential value of many projects, called a portfolio, or many portfolios. 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.
What project portfolio management is concerned with is a high-level view and how the many projects under its wing can rise to meet the larger strategic objectives of the organization. Unlike project management, which is dealing with aligning one project to business strategy, project portfolio management is looking to make portfolios act as one in their ability to achieve the goals of the organization.
Therefore, project management is a subset of portfolio management. It leads to the overriding objective, which is meeting the strategic goals of the organization. Often there is a step between project management and portfolio management, known as program management, which is a related group of projects. Project portfolio management doesn’t have to be comprised of similar projects.
The person in an organization who is responsible for the management of the project portfolio is called a project portfolio manager. They can be in charge of one or more portfolios. They work with different financial algorithms and models to help guide their decisions in keeping the portfolio within the organization’s strategic objectives. They supervise and manage a small team of project management staff and project managers, who report back to the project portfolio manager on project reporting, methodology, application and financials.
The project portfolio manager reports to the program delivery manager or a similar high-level C-suite executive. In big organizations—especially those that are structured, vertical operations—portfolios managers might work for a project management office (PMO) within the larger organization. In some cases, the PMO is managing the portfolio, not a specific portfolio manager.
Again, the portfolio manager is in charge of a portfolio or group of portfolios. The structure of a portfolio is that it’s made up of a number of projects. These projects can be related, as in a program, or not.
Each project is broken down into phases, which are managed by a series of processes. These phases, also called the life cycle of a project, are the initiation, planning, execution and closure. Each of these phases is made up of a number of tasks with the objective of moving the project forward and creating deliverables. The final deliverable being the project product or service.
Project portfolio management doesn’t dig deep into the mechanics of each project, but must manage the overall goals and objectives of each of the projects in the portfolio in order to ensure that they’re all aligned with the overall goals and objectives of the organization.
Project portfolio management requires a balance of time, skills, budgets, risk mitigation and finding ways to run the projects in the portfolio cheaply and quickly without losing quality. They do this through the use of five key capabilities.
- Change Control Management: Identifies and prioritizes change requests. These can be feature requests, operational constraints, regulatory, etc., based on demand, financial and operational constraints.
- Risk Management: Identifies risks in projects that make up the portfolio, and develops contingency and risk response plans in order to rein in the uncertainties of managing the portfolio.
- Financial Management: Manages financial resources related to the projects in the portfolio and demonstrates financial value of the portfolio as it pertains to the organizational strategy, goals and objectives.
- Pipeline Management: Gets enough project proposals in the pipeline and determines if they’re worth executing and will assist in the goals and objectives of the organization.
- Resource Management: Efficient and effective use of organization’s resources, from materials and equipment to people and technical skills.
Project portfolio management started as a broad brush in which to paint the selecting major strategic initiatives. It was mostly based around cost, risk and return. These were the decision mechanisms that drove portfolio managers.
Capacity planning then was crowned king of project portfolio management, but it was also too narrow to act as an overall process to control portfolio management. The need for a wider lens on which to view project portfolio management was clear as more senior-level management and executives wanted greater detail and focus on improving process.
While simple software has been in play for years, it wasn’t until the advent of the internet and the personal computer revolution of the mid-to-late 90s that software solutions were able to offer the breadth of features that gave portfolio managers the tools they needed to manage every part of the project portfolio management process.
With software moving from the desktop to the cloud, project portfolio management grew more efficient and effective. Some of the features that serve portfolio managers are the following:
- Online Gantt Charts
- Real-Time Dashboards
- Shared Calendars
- Time Tracking and Timesheets
- Dynamic Reporting
- Collaborate with Remote Teams
There are project portfolio management tools which can be used to make tracking easier. The features that are needed to manage a portfolio are broad and powerful, and can be found within a selection of tools located in projectmanagementcompanion.com, online tools such as Gantt Charts. Planning a portfolio of projects is exponentially more complicated than scheduling one project, which is no small task itself. The online Gantt chart, makes it easy to prioritize and link tasks across all the projects within a portfolio and track their progress.
Any industry that is working on multiple projects at the same time, which collects those works in a portfolio that requires management, benefits from the discipline of project portfolio management. Obviously, that’s a lot of industries and organizations.
Some of the industries and organizations that are reaping the rewards from using project portfolio management include IT, computer software, hospitals and healthcare, construction, automotive, non-profit, financial services and banking, service and staffing recruiting, insurance, telecommunications, government administration and more.
Anyone can benefit by looking at their projects from a higher perspective, which is what using project portfolio management offers as its perspective. PPM leads to better decision-making, helps with risk management and creates a faster turnaround time for projects by streamlining processes and getting more on 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.
Projectmanagementcompanion.com, provides a selection of the best PPM tool in the market, so take full advantage of all these business benefits.
The following is a mini-glossary of project portfolio terms that have been used in this guide.
- Portfolio Management: Controlling a portfolio of projects to make sure they align with the overall strategic goals and objectives of an organization.
- Program Management: Managing a portfolio of projects with the same aim as portfolio management, only the projects in the portfolio are all similar or related.
- Project Management: Planning, executing, monitoring and reporting on one project, from start to finish, including controlling scope, costs and schedule.
- Project Management Office (PMO): Group within organization that’s tasked with maintaining standards for project management within that organization, often oversells portfolio and program management.
- Portfolio Manager: Individual who manages a project portfolio or portfolio of portfolios.
- Program Manager: Individual responsible for managing a program.
- Project Manager: Individual tasked with managing a single project and project team through all project phases: planning, execution, monitoring and closure.
- Change Control Management: Process to identify and successfully respond to change in a project or portfolio.
- Portfolio Reporting: Creating charts, graphs and other reporting documentation to communicate progress and other portfolio metrics.
- Risk Management: Identifying and resolving risk before it happens and after.
- Resource Management: The process of allocating resources throughout the life cycle of the portfolio.
- Pipeline Management: Making decisions for estimating and selecting which projects to fund that align with an organization’s strategy.
- Financial Management: Understanding each project’s unique risk and using this knowledge to make decisions across the entire portfolio.