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5 Reasons Why Project Work Plans Fail and How to Avoid Them

We’ve all been there. You’re trying to kick off a new project work plan but the team’s less than enthusiastic. Kinda brings to mind all those challenging high-school group projects, doesn’t it? Teamwork means somehow getting a cast of characters who all have different ideas, communication styles, and investment in the project to work together and that can be a challenge — whether you’re in high school or the professional world.

The truth is, work projects can be even messier than school ones. In fact, there’s more at stake with poor project performance in the working world than a poor grade. The Project Management Institute reports that 9.9% of every dollar invested is wasted due to poor project planning. On top of that, the Standish Group Chaos Report finds that only 29% of IT projects are successful and 19% are considered utter failures. That sounds like a lot of time — and money — wasted.

With teams collaborating across the globe and between organizations, it’s more crucial than ever to master the project planning process. Having a clear project management work plan saves you loads of time and money by setting your project up for success. But first, it’s helpful to understand where most project work plans fail and how to ensure yours gets an A+.

1. Misaligned vision and a lack of stakeholder buy-in

According to Forbes, 25% of technology projects fail outright, 20% don’t show a return on investment, and 50% need reworking by the time they’re finished. That’s not a very promising statistic! According to executive leaders, a lack of clear goals accounts for 37% of project failure. Without clear goals, you’ll find that requirements, tasks, and deadlines have nothing to tie them together. If you think about your own projects, aren’t the ones without clear goals or where you aren’t on board with the vision usually the ones that fall off your radar as other, more pressing projects come your way?

If the project you’re leading doesn’t have clear goals and the team can’t see the value, they won’t be invested in moving the project along when it hits a snag — especially if they’re already feeling pessimistic before it starts. Either they won’t know what to do to get the project back on course, or they won’t feel motivated to.

Avoid this pitfall by clearly defining the goals and specific values the project brings

Empower your team by providing them the full scope of documentation to help them understand each step of the project. Project plans help map out their responsibility, the checkpoints, how they’ll be measured, the end goals, and the value they’ll see upon completion. By painting a clear picture for the team, you can make sure that everyone buys into the vision and understands their commitment from the start.

Wondering how to write a project plan? One of the easiest ways to ensure a great project kick-off every time is to use templates. Create a template with tasks, timeline, tools used, deliverables needed, who is assigned to each task, and hard deadlines. Once you have that template, you can duplicate and simply adjust it for your next projects.

2. No clear communication process

Have you ever been on a team where one person preferred email, one preferred Slack, and another liked to walk over to your desk and weave in updates via a quick chat? Projects fail when managers get stuck in the minutia of tasks and disorganized communication. It’s important that your project work plan includes a standard process for communication, setting a rhythm of updates and a process for requests. Inefficient communication and collaboration are two of the top causes of stress in the workplace. When stakeholders have to dig through pages of emails or constantly ask for updates, they get frustrated and their motivation dips.

Avoid this pitfall by establishing where, when, and how the team should communicate

Providing your team with efficient and easy-to-use software to help them communicate decreases friction and helps your project succeed. Choose a tool and process that will fulfill all your communication needs, and stick with it throughout the project. This means you’ll have to sit down as you create your project plan outline and consider all the forms of communication you’ll need throughout the entire project.

The most helpful tool is one that integrates with your other tools  — like Slack or Salesforce — so communication, collaboration, asset storage, and sharing is fully visible to the entire project group. This will ensure that everyone has access to the resources they need.

3. Unrealistic goals and deadlines

Hitting deadlines is one of the biggest problems faced by project managers. And sharing information across teams isn’t far behind. If you think about projects you’ve worked on, waiting on someone else to complete their tasks or share critical information is one of the biggest bottlenecks. The overall project deadline doesn’t change just because one person missed their task due date. When a project comes to a screeching halt, people are quick to point fingers, become frustrated, and begin to push through less-than-stellar work to make up for lost time.

Avoid this pitfall by plotting out team bandwidth and adding cushion to tasks

The truth is, there will always be speed bumps, so make sure you build padding into tasks so you can accommodate them. When creating your project work plan, map out how the tasks are dependant on one another so team members know who they need to collaborate with and when.

One way to map out your project and avoid setting unrealistic expectations is by using a Gantt chart. A Gantt chart is an interactive timeline that gives you a complete view of the project’s progress, work scope, and dependencies. This helps you spot potential bottlenecks that can cause operational inefficiencies. Using Kanban or Scrum boards can also help you plan your project by providing a high-level view of team responsibilities. 

Setting a Gantt chart up from the beginning will also help your more visual team members see how they personally impact the project timeline. This motivates the team to prioritize their project tasks and complete their pieces on time.

4. Poorly allocated resources and team members

In school group projects, which role did you play? Did you take on all the work yourself? Maybe you agreed to take on certain tasks, but you were overloaded with other projects and dropped the ball.

According to the Project Management Institute’s 2018 survey, 21% of projects fail due to limited or taxed resources, and inadequate resource forecasting accounts for 18% of project failures. Running out of money, time, and bandwidth can easily kill a project. As a project manager, it’s important to consider all the resources you’ll need — including team bandwidth — when building your project work plan. When the workload is optimized, productivity increases. But when it’s not, it can lead to burnout or disengagement.

Avoid this pitfall by balancing employee workloads and plotting out resources needed

The good news is that you can easily avoid these issues by planning resource allocation and mapping workloads out from the beginning. Tools can help you visualize the tasks for your project from a team workflow perspective, giving you the visibility and flexibility to balance workloads. When teams are able to manage their tasks, they can meet deadlines, helping to preserve other resources like time and money.

Setting up your project plan to include a resource tracker allows you to identify potential bottlenecks right away. Since 95% of workers report working with on more than one team or project concurrently, providing your team with workload visibility helps them prioritize their tasks across projects and communicate their commitments with other project managers or teams. This smooths communication, helps team members minimize interruptions, and gives them more time to focus on productive work.

5. Disconnected tools and lack of flexibility to course correct

Technology often makes our lives so much easier, but when your project work plan includes multiple tools and teams who are used to different processes, it can turn on you quickly. While your project might set sail on a sunny day with the wind at your back, all teams face storms.

One of the most important elements of project management is being able to identify and course correct when obstacles pop up. If your tools aren’t connected and the information your team needs isn’t in one place, you won’t be able to see the potential icebergs looming under the surface.

According to McKinsey, employees spend nearly 20% of the work week searching for and gathering information. When tools aren’t connected, teams waste time trying to dig through email chains and direct messages to get all the details they need. Not only does this eat up valuable time, but it can knock a project completely off course if people don’t get the most updated assets or information.

Avoid this pitfall by having a centralized tool that helps you keep projects on track

Your project plan also should include the tools needed for the project, where you’ll keep project assets, and what tools you’ll be using to monitor or measure success. As an example, Wrike integrates with other tools like Slack, Jira, Salesforce, and Adobe Creative Cloud.

These integrations ensure that everything for the project is in one place. Besides saving time, you can create a centralized location for tracking all tasks and their dependencies. This way you can see where each task stands and who might need help moving the project along.

Team: together everyone achieves more

Crafting a project work plan can feel daunting, especially when you’re the one leading a diverse group to success. A clear work plan outline and an established communication process empower team members and stakeholders to align on a common vision. Defining which tools you’re using from the beginning for communication and goal setting helps everyone know what the expectations are. By avoiding these planning pitfalls and setting your team up for success, you’ll do more than save time and money for the company — you’ll make it!

How to Write a Project Plan in 8 Easy Steps

It’s Friday afternoon. You’ve checked in with your team, your projects are on target, and you’re prepared for next week. Your weekend’s looking bright.

Suddenly, your boss comes to your desk with exciting news. You’ll be heading the next major multi-team project with a key client, and the kickoff is next week. This is great news, but now this specter looms over your weekend. You’ll have to get the project organized ASAP, but with so many stakeholders involved, where do you even start?

The project planning process can be tricky, especially as projects become more complex. According to Forbes, 25% of technology projects fail outright, which is a dismal statistic for project leaders. The good news is you don’t need to be a project management expert — or sacrifice your weekend — to plan a successful project kickoff in a short amount of time. You just need to understand the 8 simple steps of how to write a project plan.

How to write a project plan in 8 easy steps…

Step 1: Explain the project to key stakeholders, define goals, and get initial buy-in

The first step in any project is to define the “what” and “why”. Key stakeholders have the influence and authority to determine whether a project is successful, and their objectives must be satisfied. Even if the project comes from the CEO himself, you still need their buy-in.

Use this initial conversation to get aligned, define goals, and determine the value of the project. In this part of the project planning process, discuss needs, expectations, and establish baselines for project scope, budget, and timeline. This creates a solid base for your project work plan.

Questions you should consider reviewing with stakeholders:

  • How does the project align with company goals?
  • What do stakeholders expect? What will be expected from them?
  • How will you measure success?
  • What are your resources?
  • What assets or deliverables are expected out of this project?

Step 2: List out goals, align OKRs, and outline the project

According to executive leaders, a lack of clear goals accounts for 37% of project failure. Without clear goals, you’ll find that the requirements, tasks, and deadlines you set for your project work plan have nothing anchoring them. But now that you have a list of key stakeholder needs and their buy-in, begin to assign them to goals and OKRs. OKRs are a planning and goal setting technique made famous by Intel and Google. Your project should align with your team and company’s OKRs.

Try writing down the project goals in a project plan board and connect them to the stakeholder requirements they address. From there, build out the structure, milestones, and tasks it takes to reach those goals. Milestones can define check-in points throughout the project so that everyone is clear about what progress looks like, what the expectations are, and when they’ll be measured.  

Step 3: Create a project scope document

Now that you have the project outlined, your tasks aligned with goals, and buy-in from the team, it’s time to create a project scope document detailing the project elements you’ve listed in step 2.

Look at each deliverable and define the series of tasks that must be completed to accomplish each one. For each task, determine the amount of time it’ll take, the resources necessary, and who will be responsible for execution. Finalize and record the project details so that everyone has a single source of truth. Make the document easily shareable, like in your project management tool, in order to reduce the chance of costly miscommunication.

While preparing project scope documentation should be standard practice, 1 in 4 project managers surveyed in Wellingstone’s State of Project Management Survey said that they “never” or “sometimes” prepare standard scoping documents. Creating one ensures you stand out from the crowd and helps everyone stay on the same page.

Step 4. Craft a detailed project schedule

With your goals, tasks, and milestones already outlined for you, it’s time to start plugging your project into a schedule. A Gantt chart is a handy tool that helps you easily visualize your project timeline. It’s an interactive timeline that gives you a complete view of the project’s progress, work scope, and dependencies.

Dependencies are tasks that need to be completed before other tasks can begin. As you plot out tasks, use subtasks to help you break up larger ones into smaller ones. This can make reporting and resource management easier. Let’s define each:

  • Tasks: The individual tasks that people need to carry out to achieve your goals.
  • Subtasks: No longer than a few days each, these help you take a task and break it down into the smaller steps that will complete the larger task.
  • Milestones: Major phases or events in your project that help break up the project. Use milestones as check-in points throughout the project.

Pro tip: Want in on a little secret? As you set them up, add cushions to key tasks, so you have wiggle room for fire drills or unexpected bottlenecks — for example if a client needs extra time to review or a team member calls in sick. In a perfect world, some tasks might take a day. So maybe you make it two in your plan. No need to give every task a cushion though. Weigh the risks and add it where it makes the most sense. Future you will thank you.

Step 5: Define the roles, responsibilities, and resources

Resources are the people, equipment, or money needed to complete a project. Once you’ve selected your tools and gotten a budget, don’t forget about your people. Even folks who already know how to write a project work plan and have done so a hundred times can underestimate their labor needs. A RACI chart helps you determine specifically who will do what for your project. It’s a matrix of all a project’s tasks, paired with who’s responsible (assigned to complete the work), accountable (has yes/no/veto power), consulted (needs to approve or contribute), and informed (needs to know about the action or decision). Get a downloadable RACI chart template here

As you begin to assign tasks, make sure you take into consideration bandwidth. Clarify the responsibilities and expectations of each person. Keep in mind that 95% of workers report working on more than one team or project concurrently and if projects aren’t aligned, workloads become too stressful for teams. Stress causes about 50% of workers to start looking for another job, and 25% to quit their current jobs altogether, according to our recent report on The Stress Epidemic.

As you plan your project, consider how you’ll filter incoming requests that impact the project’s timeline or budget. For project managers, tools can help you visualize the tasks for your project from a team workflow perspective, giving you the visibility and flexibility to balance workloads.

Step 6:  Define the communication and check-in process

According to McKinsey, employees spend nearly 20% of the work week searching for and gathering information. Adding to that, inefficient communication and collaboration are two of the top causes of stress in the workplace. When stakeholders have to dig through pages of emails or constantly ask for updates, they get frustrated and motivation dips.

Mitigate frustration by housing all project pieces — like assets, conversations, tasks, due dates, updates, reporting — in a single location, like a collaboration tool. This makes it easy to track progress, share updates, and make edits. Define how everyone should communicate throughout the project and keep it in one tool so everyone can access information.

Step 7: Plan for it not going as planned

Even if you’re an expert and already know how to write a project plan, the truth is that all projects have twists and turns — that’s what makes them fun. You’ve given yourself some breathing room during the scheduling process, you’ve made sure everyone knows their role, and you’ve set up communication.

But before you launch, sit down and identify potential issues like upcoming vacations for team members, holidays, or external teams that might be involved. Set up a clear chain of command and list key contacts within the project. Communicate upfront about risks so the whole team can be prepared to tackle them together.

Step 8: Throw a launch party!

Every successful project needs a kick-off. Set a quick meeting with key stakeholders and have a clear agenda. Your goal should be to get everyone on the same page with goals, roles, process, and timeline. Your agenda should include everything you’ve focused on in the steps above:

  • Define the project goals and value they bring.
  • List out the assets the project is expected to deliver.
  • Draw the connection between stakeholder requirements and the project tasks.
  • Show the timeline (Gantt chart) of the project so everyone can see dependencies and know the expected dates.
  • Describe the roles and responsibilities of each stakeholder.
  • Review how and where everyone will communicate throughout the project, where they can go for information — like your scope document — and who to call for questions.
  • Discuss risks and ensure the team is prepared.
  • Get that final commitment!

Bonus tip: You don’t have to start from scratch every time! Now that you know how to write a project plan that jives with your team, you can copy it into a template to use again and again. As you grow, you can create multiple templates for specific types of project work plans.

Getting to “The End”

Looks like your weekend is saved! You’re welcome. You’re now empowered with the project planning process and, after this, you’ll have a simple project plan template to help you lead your next project to success — and the next one after that. In fact, all these complex projects will become so easy, maybe you’ll start to feel like you’re on vacation. Right?

Now that you’ve mastered how to write a project plan, here are the top project management tips to help your team work more efficiently.

7 Mission Critical Things to Consider When Building Your Project Plan

You’ve just been put in charge of a large, cross-functional project. You’re overseeing different teams, complex tasks and resources, and numerous deadlines — it feels like you’re building a house of cards.

Things are only getting started, and people are already coming to you with questions, concerns, and ideas.

What do they need to do? When do they need to have their pieces done by? Will this project satisfy their own team’s goals? Wouldn’t it be better if they did things this way, instead of that way?

You can already feel the project spiraling into chaos, and you know you need to introduce some structure and order — fast. What you need is a project plan.

7 considerations when building your project plan

Sitting down to write a comprehensive plan that covers every single detail of your project feels completely overwhelming at this point. Your head is spinning with all of the people involved and everything that needs to be done.

Don’t start tearing your hair out yet. As the project planner, the easiest place to start is by identifying the core elements that your plan needs to cover. From there, you can piece them together in a way that makes sense and then fill in any gaps.

So, what are those core elements you need to include? Here are 7 important considerations when putting together your project plan document.

Consideration #1: Project goals

Before hashing out the nitty-gritty details of your project plan outline, you need to first understand the “what” and the “why.” What is the project and why are you doing it?

Let’s assume that you’re spearheading the creation of a new webinar with the goal of adding more prospects to your email list.

That’s a helpful starting point — and it does outline the action and the intended result. But, a truly impactful goal will dig deeper to ensure that all project players are on the same page before any work actually starts.

According to executive leaders, a lack of clear goals accounts for 37% of project failures. So, rather than settling for something general like the above, add more detail and make it quantifiable. That way you can monitor progress and immediately spot when something is off track.

That’s a fairly straightforward example. Keep in mind that projects can have smaller goals that fall under the overarching objective — and those goals might even be different depending on what stakeholders are involved.

For example, sales and marketing might have the goal of adding new prospects, while the PR team is aiming to earn some media, and the product team is hoping for some valuable customer feedback.

Outline each of those goals (the large ones and the smaller ones) right now, so you can keep them in mind as you map out the rest of your project work plan.

INSIDER TIP: It takes some work to craft a goal that’s actually effective. Use the SMART goal framework to ensure that you check all of the necessary boxes as you’re sketching out that objective.

Consideration #2: Roles and responsibilities

Especially on large projects, you’ll have numerous people participating. While that allows for a lot of ideas and innovation, too many cooks in the kitchen can also be confusing.

Clearly detailing who is responsible for what helps to avoid any crossed wires or chaos. It’s also helpful for increasing transparency across the team about who’s doing what, and is important information for you to have as you’re setting deadlines and managing workloads and resources.

Make it explicitly clear who’s handling what portions of the project, as well as who the point person is, so people know who to approach if they run into problems.

Sticking with the webinar example, your project plan should include something that looks like this:

  • You, Project Management Team: Act as the point person and oversee the project, including deadlines and budget.
  • Karen, HR Team: Plan the content and host the webinar.
  • Jason, Design Team: Design the slides and promotional graphics for the webinar.
  • Luke, Marketing Team: Promote the webinar.
  • Madeline, Sales Team: Monitor the influx of leads.

If your project is particularly large, you might not be able to get as granular at this point. That’s OK — at the very least, detail what each team or department is working on so that everybody understands who’s responsible for what piece of the project. A Scrum or Kanban project plan board can help individual stakeholders keep track of their responsibilities. 

Consideration #3: Resources

Project planning and project execution require a lot of different resources — things like materials, equipment, tools, and of course, people.

In one survey conducted by the Project Management Institute, poor resource planning was cited as the second most frequent cause of project failure.

So identifying your project’s required resources up front allows you to better manage and optimize them, as well as avoid that frantic scramble to secure them in the eleventh hour.

To keep this relatively straightforward, let’s break the resources you’ll need, both big and small, into two broad categories:

  • Equipment: Any materials, tools, space, or technology you need to execute the project.
  • People: The team members you’ll require to complete the project — whether they’re full-time employees, agencies, vendors, contractors, or someone else.

Let’s stick with our webinar example and start with the equipment category first. Thinking through the entire lifespan of the project, you know that you’ll require:

  • A reserved conference room or quiet space where you can host the webinar
  • Access to a video recording tool or platform
  • A microphone for professional sound quality

Now, what about people? This is where resources can really start to be spread thin. Make sure that you aren’t overloading any one person or team with the bulk of the work.

Listing the roles and responsibilities like you did above will help you determine who you need to enlist, so that you can secure them as resources from their managers ahead of your project.

It’s also helpful to reiterate that here — and also think through any other “manpower” you might need to make your project a success (such as an IT person to get things set up on the day of the webinar, or the freelance designer who’s going to create the graphs while the design team focuses on the actual slides).

Consideration #4: Budget

Planning in project management isn’t easy — especially when it comes to the money side of things.

You’ve probably heard the warnings that, statistically, most projects go over budget. McKinsey reported that large-scale IT projects, as just one example, run 45% over budget on average.

Much of this is because it’s challenging to pinpoint the exact cost of a project before you’ve even really started. Plus, surprises and unexpected hurdles have a way of cropping up and making those digits increase.

But, even so, you need to start doing some research and estimating costs for the various resources you’ll need as you’re building out your project plan.

What will the video recording tool cost? What about the microphone? Will the marketing team need any budget for social media advertisements to promote the webinar? If you do need to hire contracted help, what’s their project or hourly rate?

Jot those prices into your project plan and then add a contingency to ensure you aren’t cutting it too close to the bone. There’s no foolproof method for just how much you should add, but inflating your estimated budget by 10-20% is usually a safe bet.

Consideration #5: Dependencies

Projects can often feel like one large domino trick. This can’t get done until this other thing is finished, and so on and so forth.

It’s smart to identify those sorts of dependencies in your project planning stages, so that you can map out a schedule that makes sense and doesn’t create any unnecessary bottlenecks.

For example, marketing can’t begin promotions until you have the date and time firmed up. Or, the design team can’t work on the webinar slides until the content is ready.

The critical path method (CPM) can help you pinpoint those connections in a straightforward way by constructing a model of the project that includes:

A list of all tasks required to complete the project

The dependencies between the tasks

An estimate of time for each activity

Doing this before you move onto mapping out your schedule helps you put things in a practical order, while also being realistic with your deadlines for different milestones.

Consideration #6: Schedule

It’s time to start assigning dates to things. Tempted to just throw a dart at a calendar to select different deadlines? We get it — this part of planning for project management is enough to make you cross-eyed.

Fortunately, there’s an easier way to create a realistic schedule: work backward. Identify the date when the project absolutely has to be completed and then work back from there to identify individual task milestones.

As you’re doing that, refer back to the dependencies you identified to confirm that you’re putting things in a sensical order.

And, much like with your budget, it doesn’t hurt to build in a bit of a buffer so you’re not cutting things too close. We all have a tendency to be overly optimistic about how long things will take (seriously, it’s called the planning fallacy), so you’ll appreciate that added breathing room.

With all of that in mind, here’s what a rough outline of your webinar schedule could look like:

  • February 5, 2019: Outline of webinar content completed
  • February 11, 2019: Webinar content completed and sent to the design team
  • February 25, 2019: Designed slides completed
  • March 4, 2019: Promotional graphics completed
  • March 14, 2019: Webinar content and slides finalized
  • March 18, 2019 – April 1, 2019: Promote webinar on social media
  • April 1, 2019: Final call for registrations/EOD close of webinar registration
  • April 3, 2019: Day of webinar

Consideration #7: Communication

Having a communication plan in project management is crucial. Studies show that 57% of projects fail due to breakdowns in communication, so it’s better to be explicit about your expectations.

Your project plan should set some ground rules for communication, such as how often you’ll communicate and what methods you’ll use.

Ideally, your arsenal of project planning tools will include some sort of collaborative work management platform that allows for centralized communication. But, you should also detail things like:

  • Does all project-related communication need to happen in that tool? Are there ever instances where emails or instant messages are ok?
  • Will you have a regularly scheduled status meeting? Who is expected to attend and present?
  • Do you expect updates from certain team members or stakeholders on a routine basis?

It might seem like overkill, but when it comes to project management and planning, it’s better to be too detailed than leave things open to interpretation.

Start with the basics and ace the project planning process

When you’re first figuring out how to write a project plan, the whole thing can seem overwhelming. But, it’s far easier if you start by building an outline with these important elements and then fill in the gaps.

If you want to make getting started even more painless, consider looking into a collaborative work management platform like Wrike.

Having that centralized communication, real-time collaboration, and increased visibility into your resources and workloads, combined with helpful tools like Gantt charts and calendar views, makes it that much easier to build your own project plan.

Before you know it, you’ll kick any potential chaos and confusion to the curb.

Empowering Employees to Drive Continuous Improvement

Written by Vincent Mirabelli

Does this sound like you?

“I want to engage my staff to get involved in improving the way our business operates, but everything I try just doesn’t seem to have an impact”

If so, you are definitely in the majority. Businesses in almost every industry and sector struggle with getting staff involved in their continuous improvement initiatives, and wrestle with how to better engage their teams in efforts to improve business processes. And even if they do get that figured out and off the ground, it often introduces a new set of challenges; sustaining that momentum.

First, the good news. Your employees WANT to be given the chance to improve your business, to have a voice in process improvement. Now the bad news (or at least the harder news); your management team needs to make it easy for their teams to do so.

So then, how can you make the path improvement easier for your teams? Here are my top 10 tips, tactics and approaches to empower and enable your staff (and you) excited about driving business process improvements, and on to becoming continuous improvement ambassadors for your organization.

1. Acknowledge the Room for improvement

Q: Do you know what the biggest room in the world is?
A: The room for improvement.

Dad jokes aside, sometimes just acknowledging to your staff that there are opportunities to improve, not just the business, but their way of working, can be of great help in getting them on board. Every business faces challenges, and ignoring them, spinning them, and sweeping them under the rug does nothing to help. Acknowledge the problems, see them as opportunities, and meet them head on. To really amplify the message, create a safe environment for your staff to bring opportunities forward, and even contribute to solving them.

2. Communicate

One of the best ways to build trust with your team members is to be open and transparent with your intentions, your projects, and your progress. Not only will this keep the idea of continuous improvement it top of mind, but your communication tools can be used as a vehicle to accelerate your efforts and impact.

3. Offer employee training

The impact of offering training to your staff is two-fold. First, it ensures your teams have the proper training, ongoing support and the resources they need to get involved with and contribute to, your continuous improvement initiatives. Second, and likely more important (to them at least), is that it also demonstrates a willingness to invest in them and their careers.

4. Make it a part of everyone’s job

“What gets measured gets done.” While the source of that statement is debatable, the sentiment is not. If you want to drive continuous improvement in your organization, make it personal. Establish individual and team performance outcomes and expectations, including KPIs, to obtain the desired effect. The best way to do that is to include continuous improvement objectives in every job description, as well as annual/quarterly/etc. personal development programs.

5. Have leadership set the tone

Most sustainable business transformations start at the top, and trickle down. So, having your organization’s senior management buy-in to continuous improvement, and in more than words, goes a long way in determining success. Their words must be backed up with actions, and those actions and support should be visible to your entire operation. This ensures a strong and visible network of leaders to generate momentum for process improvement initiatives.

6. Make it fun, but appeal to the spirit of competition

Recognizing that staff engagement in process improvement can be difficult to maintain, many companies have appealed to people’s competitive instincts by holding competitions, both within teams and across their entire organizations. Some businesses have even created games such as process improvement sprints and hackathons, in the spirit of competition.

7. Enable collaboration

Take the “One Company” approach to break down existing silos. The best way I’ve found to do this is to use the customer’s perspective on your business. Do you have a lot of segmented processes, a lot of handoffs, and perhaps overly specific and restrictive job descriptions? Guess what…your customer doesn’t care. They want a problem solved or a need addressed. They see your organization as a single entity, and not a collection of individualized departments and silos.

Further, make sure you don’t squeeze the balloon of pain. In a siloed organization, a lot of problems are solved in one business unit by squeezing the pain up or downstream. Not unlike one of those balloons that clowns use to make balloon animals. When you squeeze the middle, the air doesn’t disappear; it moves to the rest of the balloon. So don’t solve a problem by making it someone else’s.

8. Enforce accountability

Sometimes simply giving your staff the autonomy and resources needed to map, review and ultimately own the processes they have to deal with every day is enough to start them down the road of implementing their improvement ideas. That’s not to say they should have the freedom to do whatever they want, whenever they want, to whomever they want. You should enforce timelines, but freedom, to force accountability. This will help identify who is really interested in contributing. Everyone wants to have a say when there are no consequences, but when I need to own my actions, only the team members that really want to try making a difference will step up. That being said, you want to empower but not abdicate; make it clear when your team should reach out for help or approval.

9. Recognize and reward

As a general rule, good work should be recognized and celebrated. And by that, I don’t mean a party every time someone sends an email. But ensure that you are giving recognition where and when recognition when it is due. For example, I used to hold a “graduation” ceremony from my classes of Lean Six Sigma Green Belts. To me it wasn’t about grad caps and cupcakes, but was more about giving the new Green Belts the opportunity to present their work to their leaders, and be recognized for their efforts. I now make this a mandatory milestone for all training classes. It’s important to acknowledge all of the good work, efforts, failures, and completion of milestones (like completing training). It all creates a virtuous cycle of learning and success.

10. Offer bribes

Consider this one an absolute last resort. It is, at best, a short-term tactic to drive motivation and participation in your staff. Providing small but meaningful incentives like pizza parties, extra vacation days, or event or movie tickets, may give you a boost. But a warning…use of these doesn’t actually solve your engagement problem, and may actually serve to negatively impact it when these tactics go away. And a second warning…use cash bonuses as an absolute last move, as

The thinking on business process improvement has shifted in recent years. It used to be one that focused on the application of rigid tools and methodologies, and that discounted the role of staff, to the more modern approach, which is one that is better at harnessing the real drivers of change in your organization: engaged people and teams, who want to do good work, and are driven to improve and succeed.

When you instill a strong improvement culture in your organization, and equip and empower an engaged staff with the right tools, learning, and attitude, you can turn their efforts into real, tangible improvements that make your business more efficient and effective, and improve the engagement of staff. All that leads to significant, positive changes for your teams, your customers, and your bottom line.

Managing Expectations: The Art and Science of Dynamic Scheduling

Written by George Pitagorsky

Everyone wants to know, with certainty, when a project will be over. 

Sometimes conditions dictate the project end date. The dynamic nature of projects makes managing expectations a necessity.

Of course, people also want to know how much projects will cost, but for now we will focus on the time factor.  

Schedules help to keep stakeholders on track and informed regarding the work to be done, when resources will be needed and when to expect when interim and final deliverables will be ready.  Target dates, deadlines and accomplishments motivate performers.  Schedules contribute to realistic expectations.

However, unrealistic schedules put unnecessary pressure on performers. Overly aggressive deadlines increase the risk of cutting corners and impacting the quality of the outcome.  Scheduling requires expertise, time, and effort across project life. 

Art and Science

Scheduling is both an art and a science.

The science of scheduling says that when you know the scope (requirements), you can identify the tasks and the resources required to perform them. You can estimate how much effort is required for each task and establish how the tasks relate to one another (dependencies). When you add in the availability of resources and their productivity and calendar realities, you can compute the schedule.  

When the right tools are used well, and the project is well protected from external forces (like ever shifting priorities that change resource availability), the scientific approach works fine.  

The art is bringing realistic thinking, negotiation and expectation management into play by applying emotional and social intelligence.  The art is needed when timeliness is critical to success, priorities shift, the availability of resources is fluid, effort estimates are less than perfect, external events get in the way and requirements change.  Some of these challenges will come up even in the most protected projects in the most enlightened environments.  Uncertainty and volatility are facts of life.  

To manage well, based on the nature of your environment, strike a balance between art and science to dynamically manage the schedule and expectations.  

Manage Expectations: Dynamic Process

A schedule is a dynamic representation of events over time.  The key word is dynamic.  The schedule when published is a snapshot as of a moment in time.  It is a model based on assumptions.    

Make sure you and all the stakeholders realize and remember that the schedule will not predict the future with complete accuracy.  You will not know when a project will be over until it is over.

Change, Risk and Time

Change and risk management are integral parts of dynamic scheduling. With that in mind, manage stakeholders’ expectations by pushing back against irrational deadlines, and keeping the schedule up to date, reflecting the effects of changes and risk. 

Risk management addresses what may occur, how likely and with what impact.   The schedule must consider obstacles as well as the events that can enhance the project’s probability of success.  Among those events are changes to any factor that influences the schedule – requirements, resources, effort and duration.  

Change management addresses the events that occur during the project those impact task durations, resources and scope.  Risk management considers all these events so the schedule will accommodate them with minimal change to the expected project end date.  As changes are encountered, the schedule must be managed to ensure that it is a realistic prediction of the actual outcome.

Iterative Refinement

Iterative refinement manages uncertainty. Consider a project that relies on approval or other work by a department that is unable to or unwilling to provide an end date for its work.  For example, an overburdened legal department, faced with constant priority changes that is responsible for negotiating a contract that is on the critical path.  Until the contract is signed, work cannot begin and, therefore a calendar date specific schedule cannot be provided. 

When the schedule is initially created, there is an iterative refinement process that assesses the various scenarios that can occur during the life of the project and decides on a published project schedule.  As the project proceeds changes are assessed and scheduling continues.

Iterative refinement means that an initial draft or current schedule will be critically reviewed by stakeholders and changed to make it increasingly accurate. 

Skilful use of a project planning tool can make schedule refinement relatively easy since the tool, using dependency and resource availability data can change task start and end dates based on changes to estimates, resource availability and experienced schedule variances.   The easier it is to make changes to the schedule using planning tools, the more the planners can explore what-if scenarios to find an optimal schedule.

Negotiation and Uncertainty

Over the life of the project, schedule refinement involves negotiation of target dates, estimates, priorities and resource availability. 

While the science of scheduling can be tedious, it is straightforward.  A well-managed use of experience makes effort estimating and the setting of dependency relationships relatively easy. Without recorded history, estimates are subjective and the need for negotiation is increased.

Resource assignment is more complex. Resource availability involves resources assigned across multiple projects and between projects and operational activities; the negotiation can be subjective, contentious and require a portfolio management level decision maker.  To make things more difficult, many project environments do not have a comprehensive resource pool to use in scheduling multiple projects and operational activities.  When business operations are volatile and when project performers are multitasking, uncertainty about resource availability makes scheduling ever so much more dynamic and uncertain.

The Bottom-line: Manage Expectations 

The dynamic nature of projects must be understood by all stakeholders.  Experience does not support the expectation that a schedule will be stable for the life of any project. The schedule will change as the project progresses. Manage expectations to make all stakeholders accept that there will be schedule variance while giving them a realistic sense of most likely and less likely scenarios. 

Maintain a historical base for estimates and do your best to promote stable resource availability to make schedules more predictable.

Expectation management and negotiation are part of the art of scheduling.  The require the willingness to accept reality, the courage, emotional and social intelligence to push back using risk and change management when powerful stakeholders expect certainty or dictate project end dates.  Dynamic scheduling also requires the wisdom to know when to accept the reality of irrational expectations and to do your best to minimize negative effects.

Project Manager as an Asset Not Taskmaster

Several months ago I participated in a lecture panel discussion at the Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Design.

My role on the panel was to bring a project manager’s perspective on design projects, specifically for development of software applications in the healthcare sector. One of the key messages I shared with the graduate students was to treat their project manager as an asset or resource, not as a taskmaster.

Rightly or wrongly, people often think of project managers as the “person in charge”. They see this indvidual as juggling timelines, schedules and checklists, and handing out task assignments. However, I wanted the graduate students from the School of Design to understand that their job would be easier if they treat their project manager as a partner and a resource.

In my opinion, a good project manager helps his or her team remove roadblocks and open new paths to help the team members achieve their goals. For example, if a software developer needs a new software license or a certain piece of hardware, their project manager should be the one championing the procurement of the new resources. Or if the UX design team needs to obtain feedback from certain customers, salespeople, or product users, the project manager could make those initial introductions and assist the designers to gain access to key stakeholder groups.

What if the business analysts and designers wanted to know the current set of feature priorities or the worst-offender bugs? How about what the latest data teaches us about a new product feature? The project manager should be able to provide the data or at least connect the analysts and designers with the right people who have the data.

It is our jobs as project managers to shield our teams from as much administrivia and unnecessary distractions as possible. This will allow your team members to do their best and most meaningful work.

I encourage project managers to inform your teams that they should treat you as an asset and not a task master.

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