PDA’s for Program and Project Management Productivity

44_-_PDA_for_PMs_FINAL_DISTrIbute_UPDATE_0806

The three of us embrace new technology, though it is fair to say that none of us can claim to be mobile technology experts. For that reason this article, in which we discuss some of the current initiatives in mobile devices and apps for project management, is written with a project management rather than technology focus.

Nowadays, it seems everyone has a cell or mobile phone. A recent survey estimated that globally, there are 4.1 billion cell or mobile phone users, and that number is expected to climb. More and more cell/mobile phone users have a ‘Smartphone” which, depending on the product, may be called a ‘PDA’ (Personal Digital Assistant) or a ‘Smartphone’. Tablets are increasingly popular as well. For the purposes of this article, we refer to all devices collectively as “mobile devices”. Devices such as the iPhone, iPad, Droid, Galaxy, Blackberry, etc., allow us to connect to the Internet and have data storage for Applets or ‘Apps’, programs accessed by touching the on-screen icon that provide information and/or services from GPS Navigation to playing a game of Solitaire. There are 60+ million ‘Smartphone’ or device users in the USA alone. As of this writing, there are close to 400,000 applications available for various devices with prices ranging from free to over $400.00 USD for special Medical and unique Apps; most cost between $2 to $10. Each device has the memory to store hundreds of apps which, in most cases, can be upgraded to expand the storage capability even further.

As professional project management practitioners, it is incumbent upon us to embrace new methodologies and technologies to improve our productivity and effectiveness to our customers and stakeholders. That statement can translate into numerous actions and the use of a PDA (Personal Digital Assistant), or Smartphone, or Tablet can be one of them. Let’s mention some of the obvious benefits these mobile devices offer to project managers:
- As a mobile phone user, you can make or receive a call from anywhere; several also have phone conferencing abilities. The speakers on many modern cell/mobile phones are good enough to use in a conference room with multiple people. These devices also have the capability to store 1000’s of phone #’s, speed dial, or use voice commands, but please don’t do that while driving a motor vehicle.
- With an Internet-connected mobile device, you can send and receive either text messages or email including, with additional security (required by most companies), the ability to receive your company / business email. Therefore, you can respond to an inquiry immediately. Attachments can also be downloaded and viewed for immediate changes and/or approvals.
- With access to the Internet, you can search for information when needed.
- A recent trend is the notepad or notes applications and, now, word processing and spread sheets on mobile devices, with which one can perform the same functions on a “roaming device” as with a laptop or desktop computer. As tablets provide a larger keypad than a Smartphone type of device, we see them being efficiently used more and more frequently in meetings in lieu of a laptop. As most weigh less than even the slimmest laptops, they are quite convenient.

We are particularly interested in the applications or ‘Apps’ that are available for purchase and download by you, the device owner – assuming you have a mobile device that can use them. As we mentioned earlier, there are 1000’s, with new ones coming on stream every day. In our research, we found many applications that are of interest to project managers.

Below is a screen shot of a few Apps that we found – there are more; this is just to give a “picture”:

We are intentionally not providing the App name, description, or price as it is not our intention to advertise or endorse any of these; rather, we wish to advise on the diversity, type, uses, and benefits of using them. We have categorized these mobile Apps into three types:
1) Information & Reference
2) Interactive Informational
3) Tools

Information & Reference
Essentially, this is information (words, diagrams, and pictures) made available in the app. This is information logically data-mapped for quick access and reference. These apps are usually available in color and repaginate themselves to fit into the size of a typical screen size for a mobile device. Whilst there is a variety of content available in the “Information and Reference” category of apps, some of the best are designed to assist in exam preparation for various Project Management certifications/credentials. Overall, we found them to be ‘good’ as a convenient way of getting information and honing up on your PM basics. We look forward to seeing how they develop.

Interactive Informational
Although these are really tools, their overall use is currently akin to ‘flash cards’ where one reads a question and then provides the answer. Some of them provide a ‘test format’ that responds to your answer with an explanation of why it’s correct or incorrect. Basically, they are similar to “Information and Reference” apps with added interactivity or a condensed version of many online exam prep sites. Overall, ‘fair’, and great if you are travelling.

Tools
Some of the tools for mobile devices are very good and are ‘handy’. The level of sophistication will no doubt increase with time. For example, some are already able to provide PERT information with calculations and Standard Deviation. It’s a given that using any complex processing tool such as a scheduling tool requires time to calculate and input the necessary data. (Using the scheduling analogy, for example, we need, at a minimum, data such as Start, Finish, Type – task or milestone, Task Name, Duration, Predecessor and Successor link.) Be aware that for these apps, it is necessary to be patient and trial their usage on a mobile device to see how you get on with it. With a mini-HTML cable, you can upload your schedule file to your laptop or desktop just as you would a photograph. These complex apps are still works in progress and worth reviewing as they progress technologically.

In conclusion, we believe the availability, use, and application of project management tools for mobile devices are a great productivity gain – when used effectively. We look forward to seeing how they progress, particularly those used as ‘tools’. They are tending to be free to $10 USD and seem to be a good value. We advise that you first try the free version if one is available and, if usable, then purchase the pay-for version/licence. If you are studying for a credential or certification and need to optimize your study time, the availability of a mobile device can be convenient while waiting or travelling. We will continue to scan for new PM type applications and monitor the volume and diversity of them as a demographic of the app market.

Measuring the Value of a Program Management Office

Many organizations have contemplated or implemented program management as a means of managing inter-related projects within their organization, with varying degrees of success. For the purposes of this article we refer to a Program Management Office (PgMO) as a vehicle which can be used to manage the life-cycle of a specific program or, if a permanent body, have the purpose of achieving strategic benefits that are not available by managing projects as separate efforts. Some organizations may refer to PgMOs (or other types of Program/Project Management Office) as Centres of Excellence.

Critical to the success of setting up a program management “practice” is gaining agreement from stakeholders on what constitutes that success. Think of it as the “why it will exist” factor. This step sounds obvious, but it is very easy to give it inadequate focus early on, and like many things, it can devolve bit by bit into providing “interesting but ultimately low-value advice or guidance.” It should always be remembered that “people make projects” and experienced project campaigners know how to get their projects across the line. A PgMO should provide experienced practitioners with an appropriate service, just as they should focus on slightly different needs of inexperienced practitioners.

Industry standards offer a good source from which to define success. Use them to specify what you will do to justify your existence. As or even more critical to having measures of success is ensuring you can measure them without adding needless bureaucracy. Capturing the wrong set of measures wastes time and could lead to the failure of the program office.

PgMOs have different purposes based on their longevity, the characteristics of the organization and the industry, the maturity of organizational processes and the scope of power with which they are endowed.  Regardless of these dynamics, one of the primary goals of any PgMO should be to ensure benefit realization on behalf of the organization. One thing they need to be seen by key stakeholders is a value-adding function, rather than as bureaucratic overhead. The specific actions undertaken will depend on the scope of the PgMO but may include:

  • Integration of deliverables plans to ensure a “Just in time” availability of needed resources.
  • Planning, taking and measuring actions to increase expected benefits.
  • Establishing processes and procedures for the effective management of projects (and project resources) and where necessary, standardizing routines and processes.

The level of success organizations ultimately attain through PgMOs will vary. Organizations that have efficient and mature project management processes, for example, will usually incur less risk in implementing a PgMO structure and returning benefits to the organization. Organizations new to project management or lacking mature project processes will often struggle with program management and implementing a PgMO. Having insufficient project management processes should serve as a warning sign of underlying issues, and it may therefore be inadvisable to attempt to implement a PgMO until the root cause of project management process issues are uncovered and addressed.

Given the complexities and variations in PgMOs, measuring the value of a PgMO is not always simple – but you should aim to make it so. The value measurement could be as unique as the projects/programs the organization manages, but several key measurement topics should be considered in all PgMO measurement strategies. These include:

Planning for Measurement:

Just as with a new project, a PgMO should not be undertaken without a plan, so one of the first steps should be to create a strategy that identifies the mission, role and structure, and the measurements for evaluating success. The measurement strategy must consider stakeholder priorities. That is, the measurement plan should be able to tell the story not only from the perspective of the PgMO, but also provide key metrics of interest to its primary stakeholders. Establishing the right measurement plan early is critical as it will serve as the basis by which success will be determined.

The measurement plan should allow for change. This doesn’t mean modifying the metrics (what is measured) because they are not being met or are otherwise not providing a positive light, but could include changes to the targets (e.g., what constitutes “acceptable”) or the frequency for collecting and reviewing metrics. For example, the percentage of troubled projects (those not considered “green” in the standard amber, red, green reporting process) may initially be set at 95% for the green metric. If, after a few reporting periods, it is found the average is found to be 90% percent, consideration may be given to changing the green metric to 90%, as long as one continues to measure and will increase the threshold as processes and resources mature. 95% could have been too aggressive of a metric for a specific organization at the start.

Risk/Issue Management:

Risk and issue management is a critical aspect of any PgMO and any program or project, and your metrics should include these factors. Merely measuring the numbers of risks and issues is not an effective indicator. The number of issues escalated to the PgMO from the projects could be a useful indicator of either a poor interrelationship between projects managers and the Program Office or an understanding of risks and issues and inter-dependencies across projects. The PgMO is not designed to micro-manage project risks and issues, but metrics capturing, at the Program level, the effective management of Risks and Issues at the project level, as well as those managed by the PgMO, should be considered.

When issues arise, having a means to manage, track and report is important. An advanced PgMO may consider as a metric the percentage of issues with identified root causes and actions to rectify them (and the progress of such actions).

Detailing the Measurement Processes

The measurement plan should include key definitions for collecting and reporting metrics data, including what is meant by each metric (e.g., the operational definition as well as any normalization/modification required), source of the data, who is responsible for collecting and analyzing it and to whom it must be reported. The communication plan should also detail how the metrics will be delivered to the various stakeholders. Delivering metrics to a stakeholder in a way that isn’t properly understood, regardless of how positive it may be, can alienate the PgMO. Stakeholders can suffer from data overload, and lose the intended message associated with the measures.

Having the proper mix of metrics is important.  For example, both outcomes/results as well as in-process metrics should be developed. The latter are useful predictors (leading indicators) of the results that will be achieved, and allow taking corrective action.  Measurement should look at both effectiveness (meeting primary customer/stakeholder requirements) and efficiency (how well organizational resources were utilized in carrying out the program).

Example Metrics

Having looked at the considerations of a measurement strategy, let’s now turn our attention to some specific metrics strategies based on the concept of PgMO maturity. As has been observed, there is no standard set of metrics that will work for every PgMO.  When planning the metrics for the PgMO, do so with the understanding that the metrics needs to be insightful, strategically focused,  and help to drive decisions rather than “telling people what they already know.” The right metrics for a PgMO will enable decisions which facilitate business strategy, increasing the value of the PgMO. Collecting and reporting the wrong metrics will make demonstrating the true value of the PgMO a challenge. While the exact metrics vary depending on the type of PgMP and other factors, the following are some example categories stratified by the maturity of a PgMO.

For a newly formed (young) PgMO:

  • The number of interactions between stakeholders, project managers, and other key players.  Since these interactions are critical to effective program outcomes, the PgMO can help ensure that they occur, increasing the probability of success (a process metric).
  • Since program outcomes are of course important, the rollup status of projects (e.g., variance in timelines and resource usage, projected outcomes) should allow early detection of critical interface problems (process metrics).
  • All programs, and therefore PgMOs should track and measure benefits. The benefits should be captured and reported based on the strategic objectives of the organization  (outcome metrics).

For an experienced PgMO:

  • More in-depth status of critical interfaces, such as the number of problems encountered and resolved, and estimates of reliability/risks of program outcomes (process metrics)
  • Alignment of program to stakeholder interests, such as stakeholder feedback relative to concerns and satisfaction
  • Cost of operating the PgMO (outcome metric, but efficiency rather than effectiveness)

For a mature PgMO:

  • Value of the PgMO, such as value added and costs avoided, divided by the cost of PgMO
  • Project, program, and/or system technology knowledge/skills developed and deployed across projects and the organization through PgMO efforts (outcomes)
  • Comparison of the PgMO to benchmark PgMOs (could be outcome or process metrics)
  • Percent of issues for which root cause was determined, and the ongoing benefits resulting from resolving the root causes through changes in PgMO processes

Determining the level of maturity of the PgMO is complex, as it may be related to the length of time the office has been in place, the level of standards and/or skills used by the office, the number or complexity of tools used for program  and project management and the number of successful program outcomes.  A measurement system based on audits of the PgMO office processes, guided by a maturity rubric/matrix, can be useful when determining maturity level.

Conclusion

Far too often, measurement systems used in project/program management focus on what has been done, rather than whether the strategic intent of an initiative is being or has been attained.  A PgMO, if properly designed and aligned with your business strategy, should capture metrics that help the organization understand where they are on this trajectory and what ongoing actions will deliver success.  Developing the right measurement system, and obtaining agreement on that system from key stakeholders, is a critical part of the PgMO, since it drives the way in which it operates.

What Employers are asking for in Job postings for PM’s

One of us (Jeff) immersed himself in research for this article by searching open job postings on major sites in order to obtain a picture of the current job market for project management. We took this approach to best simulate the employment search process. It’s a good idea to take a ‘project approach’, the first step being to check a range of program and project posted positions, locally, nationally, and then globally; this will allow you to gauge current employer needs and requirements. When professionals are looking for new work, they will usually want to look at salary and compensation on offer before applying for available opportunities. We also presume people will be actively networking, contacting recruiting firms, updating LinkedIn profiles and such, but that’s not the scope of this article.  Our goal is to provide some commentary for our readers on what is being asked of PM’s in the current job markets around the world (at a summary level at least), and to let you compare this with your own knowledge and experience as a PM professional.

In today’s challenging economic times (acknowledging that the economies of the US, South America, Europe, Australia and Africa are all experiencing different situations), you can’t take anything for granted, including your employment.  Whether you work for a private or public company or a government or not-for-profit organisation, circumstances beyond your control can occur at any time, causing layoffs, downsizing, attrition, buy-outs, mergers, etc.  If you are self-employed, future opportunities could be limited or non-existent. Without wishing to paint a ‘bleak picture’, anyone can be susceptible to job loss, and the best advice we can offer is: ‘be prepared’.  A great example of this can be seen in the film ‘Company Men’, which dramatizes the effects that sudden layoffs can have at all levels.  Keep in mind that the three of us writing this article share a common philosophy of, ‘always be prepared through continuous improvement’.  We are all multi-credentialed and actively volunteer in our profession because we gain numerous benefits, including professional contacts.

PM positions that are listed today range from the project coordinator to a Director-type level. Obviously, salaries vary according to such factors as geography, scope of duties, and the industry in question and, for this article, we choose not to comment on compensation or its variations.  A recent article in US News stated that employers are increasingly seeking workers proficient in project management; 90 percent of executives surveyed claimed that project management is either critical or somewhat important to their operations, and that roughly 1.2 million PM jobs will be created per year for the next 10 years.  This seems to be good news for those in the PM profession, but there will be tough competition for these positions.

PM job postings generally request some technical background and experience specific to the type of business in which the company operates, which is, of course, to be expected – experience will always be a primary factor in hiring process. We realize that background and sector experience are important, but here we are focusing on the pure PM requirements.  Titles and seniority levels aside, we have seen some common themes and expectations (listed below in no order of importance):

  • Provide project updates
  • Conduct project meetings
  • Manage cross-functional teams
  • Coordinate cross-discipline teams
  • Manage all stakeholders effectively
  • Meet project schedule commitments
  • Define and achieve target milestones
  • Manage risks and issues in a competent manner
  • Be “self-motivated” or a highly motivated project manager
  • Know how to lead and influence others without direct authority
  • Successfully manage several projects simultaneously or a large program
  • Deliver projects on time, meeting performance metrics and project objectives
  • Manage resources and deliverables to meet both project and company objectives
  • Strong interpersonal skills in addition to exemplary writing, speaking and presentation skills
  • Experience working with globally dispersed, multi-cultural, multi-lingual teams preferred

Other requirements will often be included – we have not covered each and every eventuality.  It is fair to say that many PM postings today state that ‘a PM type credential or certification is preferred.’  Different industries (construction, IT, etc.) tend to ask for some specific certification or group membership. The wording for the certification required ranges from ‘preferred’, ‘a plus’, ‘highly desirable’, or in some cases ‘required’.  In some cases, postings suggest that multiple credentials would be desirable, but this is not always the case.  Critical as well is the need for relevant experience (we will come on to this later).

Being a professional program/project management practitioner means that you should perform actions that lead to predictive, positive consequences and outcomes, not only in your projects and programs but also in your career.  What is exceptional today is expected as the norm tomorrow, and the second that you rest on your laurels is the day you fully retire. Therefore, it is incumbent upon you to be personally prepared – as the saying goes, ‘only the paranoid survive.’   We have a few suggestions that may help you plan for the time that you need to be ‘competitive’ in the marketplace.   Using the matrix below, objectively score yourself in the appropriate column.  You may also find it beneficial to print or send this to a few trusted colleagues and ask them to score you.  Use the ratings as a baseline; if there are any areas  which you believe need improvement, set a goal to seek out those experiences.

PM Experience Attributes

Requirement

None

Basic

Working

Advanced

Expert

Role Model

Provide project updates
Conduct project meetings
Manage cross-functional teams
Coordinate cross-disciplined teams
Manage all stakeholders effectively
Meet project schedule commitments
Define and achieve target milestones
Manage risks and issues in a competent manner
Be “self-motivated” or a highly motivated project manager
Know how to lead and influence others without direct authority
Successfully manage several projects simultaneously or a large program
Deliver projects on time, meeting performance metrics and project objectives
Manage resources and deliverables to meet both project & company objectives
Strong interpersonal skills with exemplary writing, speaking and presentation skills
Experience working with globally dispersed, multi-cultural, multi-lingual teams preferred

Having completed the above matrix (and perhaps after obtaining feedback from those that you know and trust), review the common PM credentials and certifications we found in various job descriptions (links for details are provided). Decide if there are any that you either need or plan to obtain. Note: we have not listed all credentials possible, but have focused on those that are most common.

PM Credentials & Certifications

Credential /

Certification

Acronym

Credential or

Certification

Name & Link

I

Have

It…

I

Need

It…

I

Plan To

Get It…

I Am

Not Interested…

I Am

Open To

Consider…

CAPM

Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)®

PMP

Project Management Professional (PMP)®

PgMP

Program Management Professional (PgMP)®

PRINCE2 – P

Prince2 Practitioner Level

IPMA – A

IPMA Level A® – Certified Projects Director

IPMA – B

IPMA Level B® – Certified Senior Project Manager

IPMA – C

IPMA Level C® – Certified Project Manager

Six Sigma – G

Six Sigma Green Belt Certification – CSSGB

Six Sigma -B

Six Sigma Black Belt Certification – CSSBB

ITIL – I

ITIL Intermediate Level 

ITIL- E

ITIL Expert Certificate

CPPP

Certified Practicing Project Practitioner (CPPP)

CPPM

Certified Practicing Project Manager (CPPM)

CPPD

Certified Practicing Project Director (CPPD)

PMOC

Project Management Office Certified

PME

Project Management Expert (PME™ )

CBAP

Certified Business Analysis ProfessionalTM (CBAP®) Designation

RPP

Registered Project Professional (RPP)

If you have decided to improve your experience attribute level and/or to obtain a new PM-related credential or certification, set a goal for yourself to do both.  At a minimum, we suggest either improving one skill (perhaps something you can focus on in your continuing professional development at work) and/or obtaining one additional certification which can actively contribute to your self-improvement every year. In this way, you are steadily making real career improvements, learning new skills, and keeping yourself “relevant”, both for the benefit of your current employment and also as preparation for facing an ever-changing and challenging international job market, should you ever be in such a position.

Critical to the decision to hire is the candidate’s experience to match the job required. Individuals always need to bear in mind that they need to continually demonstrate “on the ground experience” that will entice an employer to select them for interview. It is undoubtedly true that “experience counts”. Things you might want to consider are as follows: What is the toughest assignment you have had to manage so far?  How can you prove what you have really achieved to a prospective employer? How will you show that you can perform a prospective job better than anyone else?

In conclusion, as we all know, experience that matches the role is always critical and this requires careful thought when applying for a new role (within the organization you work for or elsewhere). We also think there are some common PM skills attributes and also some appropriate certifications/credentials that are mentioned in job descriptions (recognising that different regional geographies and industries will ask for specific credentials that suit their needs). Regardless of your employment status, if you are a PM practitioner, there is a genuine benefit to be gained by continually improving both your experience and/or obtaining a new PM related credential or certification (ideally, with one new certification/year).  Amongst other things, this will help maintain your competitiveness in the job market should you ever need or want to try something new.

A Risk Management Implementation

As program or project managers, we have our hands full with the day-to-day management of our initiatives, and it is difficult enough to keep a lid on all the tactical actions that are taking place, let alone plan for the future.  Nonetheless, we all know that planning is a key element to success. Most successful program or project managers are effective because they simultaneously balance the immediate challenges and demands facing them with future needs, opportunities and risk-avoidance. In particular, they are able to do so because they identify and communicate these elements at the right levels throughout the organization. How do successful program and project managers remain successful in their day-to-day work while spending only the minimum amount of effort directed towards long term ends?

The focus of this article is a specific risk management strategy which we believe is simple to implement and can directly help to improve one’s ability to identify, manage, and effectively communicate risks.

What are “Risk” and “Risk Management”?

What are risk and risk management? According the PMBOK®, Risk is an uncertain event that can be either positive or negative. Additionally, risk management is, “… the systematic process of identifying, analyzing, and responding to project risk.” Risk management incorporates various processes. Models differ – one example is Risk Planning, Identification, Qualitative Analysis, Quantitative Analysis, Response Planning, and Monitoring and Controlling. While risks are “uncertain” events that have not yet occurred, an Issue is an event that has already transpired. A trigger is an indication that a risk is about to or has occurred, and is usually based on parameters that have been “set off”. This brings us to the following diagram, which depicts Issues arising from Risks.

Before we delve into the details of Risk Management implementation, we want to discuss a few aspects of risk. First, by definition, projects are the creation of a unique entity; therefore, a certain amount of risk will always be present. Secondly, one must acknowledge that risk is not bad and, as we have discussed in a previous article (RISK – the PM’s Best Friend), when managed effectively, risk control can yield positive outcomes for the program or project manager and their program/project. While some consider “risk” to be intrinsically negative, risk outcomes can be positive. Such positive risks, or opportunities, as they are commonly referred to, are the events you seek to act upon to create a net positive impact on your project.

When our goal is the identification of project risks, it is helpful to categorize them; when does this risk arise and where is likely to have impact?  For instance, is the project risk sourced within technical, quality, schedule, or resource aspects of the project? Balancing risk categories can help provide greater assurance that one is being effective when examining various areas of the project.

A Specific Risk Management Implementation

For years, each of us have used and practiced a similar Risk Management implementation (process and tool) which has proven to be quite simple, yet effective.

The specific implementation discussed here includes a tool and its associated processes. The tool or Risk Register (in our case a Microsoft Excel Spreadsheet) provides a mechanism for capturing project risks and issues, yet also covers all of the PMBOK® KPA processes, with the exception of Risk Planning. We suggest Risk Planning can be covered within one’s Project Management Plan. The planning component within the Risk Management plan can be relatively short (summarized within a couple of paragraphs) by referencing the self-contained Risk Register, identifying the methods for updating the Risk tool, and communicating the Risks and Issues from the Risk tool.

As stated previously, we choose to manage some project risks via a spreadsheet template (see diagram).

As can be seen, each of the processes is included within the spreadsheet (or Risk Register), with the exception of risk management planning. The idea is that each horizontal entry represents one Risk or Issue. If it is a risk, the format for capturing it is in a specific format: “IF <event> BY <date> THEN <consequence>.” Because risks are uncertain events, it is useful to state them in this format so that the point at which this Risk may become an Issue is clear. Note: not all risks become issues; that is part of their inherent uncertainty.

As part of Risk Identification, we also capture the date on which the risk was identified and the category to which the risk belongs. Risk identification has been shown to be a significant part of risk management  in that it makes one aware of potential events or issues that may impact the group.

Following this, we want to quantity and qualify the individual risk itself. Many organizations use a “risk matrix” to control this (e.g. magnitude and likelihood). The mechanism employed here multiplies the probability of risk (value between 0.0 and 1.00) by the Impact of the risk if it were to become an issue (values range 1 to 100). This produces a REN or Risk Event Number, a way of ascribing a value (1 to 100) to each risk. Depending upon your organization’s preferences, you may consider color-coding the REN cell (clear, yellow, red) as a means of drawing attention to high-probability, high-impact risk.

Additionally, this mechanism enables us to collectively sort all of the risks, allowing us to recognize at any point how close any particular risk is to turning into an issue. It also allows users to sort and compare project risks.

Continuing left to right, the next field is labeled “Mitigation.” Within this field, we want to capture our Risk Mitigation Plans. This requires that we look ahead, consider and plan as to what we will do to manage our Risks and their potential progression to becoming Issues. We find that having multiple plans in place helps to maintain a balance as to how we’ll manage our Risks. To this end, we prefer to categorize the plans as either MITIGATE, MONITOR, ENCOURAGE, or ACCEPT.

The last two fields include the Risk Owner (who is primarily responsible for the Risk) and a running status of the risk. The latter should be updated each time the risk status is changed, so that one has a history log for all the risks.

Maintaining and Reporting

Through the process of periodic evaluation and review of the Risks (e.g., PM to review Risk Register with entire team on a monthly basis) and updating Issues and Risks individually when necessary, the Risk Register becomes a “living” record. This includes the current potential for a Risk becoming an Issue (via REN), as well as its current owner and status.

Additionally, reporting top risks (via sorting of highest value REN) allows your audience (e.g., team members, customers, and senior staff/sponsors) to quickly notice potential issues that could impact your project, as well as develop plans to deal with associated risks and issues (via the Risk Mitigation Plan section).

Conclusion

This article has provided an overview of a specific Risk Management implementation that can be adapted to most projects. While risk management is far more than maintaining a Risk Register, the tools for making decisions are essential. As a result, it is the hope of the authors that you will find these tools and their implementation useful for providing a framework in which you, too, can be a successful manager of program and project risk.

Calm in the Eye of the Storm

Storm chasers are professionals (or should be) who watch for tornados and hurricanes during the summer months in the southern and Midwestern United States.  Their goal is to get close enough to a storm to photograph and video it without incurring any harm to themselves.  Some do it for the thrill, while others chase storms for legitimate research purposes. Though most are trained and experienced in what they do, they can in no way control the direction the storm will take (without warning, storms can often veer off in a new direction).  One way to view the situation is as a high-stakes ‘cat and mouse’ game, with the participants risking injury or even death if they get caught in the path of the storm.  To mitigate the risks, storm chasers rely on inputs (such as seismic data and weather predictions), using modern technology and expert judgment for the planning and execution of their work.

What does this have to do with program and project management? Well, aside from the obvious dangers that storm chasers face, one could say that these professionals deal with a high degree of complexity and ambiguity, much like many project and program managers.  There is another similarity to which we will draw a comparison, having to do with the internal structure of the storm. Inside the tornados/hurricanes storm chasers are chasing, there is a calm environment known as ‘the eye of the storm’.  As the program or project manager, you must hypothetically keep yourself and your team positioned in a calm environment, even if and when serious issues arise and various chaotic events are ‘swirling’ around you. What steps and actions can you take in order to shield your team from the chaos, and ensure they stay in the calm eye of the storm when times are difficult?

Although every situation on a program or a project is different, below are our principle suggestions for dealing with the difficult situations on projects and programs, garnered from our combined experience:

Follow the plans

At the start of the program or project, under your guidance, your team will have developed several project plans (Risk, Communication, Schedule, Success, Cost, Implementation, Iteration, Quality, Training, perhaps Safety, etc.) that, at the time they were created, were your team’s best assessment of the work to be done and how it should be performed.  We also assume that your customers and stakeholders approved your plans so that you could begin to execute them.  It is important to continually refer to those plans as your baseline for documenting gaps or deviations. Even simple things such as tracking Milestone dates and showing missed or updated milestones are important to managing the plans. For example, if a milestone is missed, keep it in the document but mark it as ‘crossed out’ and insert the new date beneath the original milestone, or rebaseline in the schedule to reflect both the previous agreed date, and the new. This approach will keep all parties aware of and in tune with the plan versus reality.

Communicate Non-emotively

It is widely agreed that communication comprises 90% of project management. We believe how communications are delivered (both the medium, tone, and expression) is just as, if not more, crucial as what is being communicated. When focusing your team and stakeholders, to remain within the eye of the storm, we believe it’s best to follow some key principles which we summarize below:

-        Deal with facts, not opinions.

-        Summarize the detail for appropriate levels of management.

-        Keep it timely, accurate and of a high quality.

-        Follow a pattern – get people accustomed to your updates.

-        Present Program/Project impacts and alternatives to Key stakeholders. (Not just, “here are the issues.”)

-        Don’t focus on blame if things go wrong – focus on solutions (i.e., options analyzed and the recommendation).

Others Will Follow Your Example

At all times, ‘Remain Calm’. If you as the leader of the team begin to waver or fall apart, it will have a ripple effect throughout your team.  Further, your stakeholders and customers will continue to believe in the team’s success if confidence permeates team communications.  Let people vent their emotions when necessary (when appropriate and in the right environment – negativity should be controlled). Allowing time for venting may serve no other purpose but to reduce the pressure or stress proportionally, but it will be appreciated later.

Focus On the Key Milestone Dates

‘Keep the eye on the prize’ (remember that the agreed benefits are the reasons your program or project exists) and continue to drive to the next milestone date.  Getting there will increase everyone’s confidence and you can then do an impact analysis on the changes from baseline.

80/20 Decision Making

Don’t wait on all facts to make an informed decision.  When you have sufficient information – act upon it.  Yes, it’s a bit of a gamble but delaying action can also have the same negative impact.  This is where experience, instinct, and ‘gut’ feel come into play.  However things turn out in the end, it was the right action to do at the time.  Sometimes mistakes may occur as a result, but you will learn from any mistakes made. By keeping focused on what you need to do, you will get there.

Clearly Define Success vs. Time

If the benefits change during program/project execution, advise the appropriate stakeholder and customers accordingly so they adjust their expectations.  Ensure that they want to continue the effort.  Accept discontinuation of the project if it gets to the point at which the costs (not just financial) outweigh the benefits.  Always capture and record lessons learned, and agree on how to share them so that new programs and projects take them on board.

In conclusion, remember that, as the program/project manager, you are the leader and your team will tend to mimic your actions – particularly in a crisis or in times of stress.  Follow the basics of keeping cool under pressure and maintain the ‘calm eye of the storm’ for your team. Remember, your program or project is a temporary endeavor and ‘it too shall pass’.  We hope you take this short article and put a copy in your crisis or risk folder for reference if you ever need it. We would really like to hear from you if you have any feedback or a story to tell us. If so, please email us at Contactus@pmoracles.com.

Were the Three Stooges Really Good Project Managers?

By Gareth Byatt, Gary Hamilton, and Jeff Hodgkinson with Eric Lamond (Larry Fine’s grandson)

Background:

For those of you not familiar with the Three Stooges, they were an American vaudeville and comedy act of the early to mid–20th century best known for their numerous short subject films. Their hallmark was physical farce and extreme slapstick. In films, the Stooges were commonly known by their first names: “Moe, Larry, and Curly” and “Moe, Larry, and Shemp,” among others. The film trio was originally composed of Moe Howard, brother Shemp Howard and Larry Fine. Curly Howard replaced brother Shemp, who later returned when Curly suffered a debilitating stroke in May 1946.  Starting in 1922 until Moe’s death in 1975, the team appeared in exactly 220 films (30 motion pictures and 190 short films).

Some 50 years after their last short film was released, the Three Stooges remain wildly popular with audiences around the world. Their films have not left the television airwaves since first appearing in 1958, and they continue to delight old fans while attracting a new legion of fervent admirers. A hard-working group of working-class comedians who were never the critic’s darlings, the team endured several personnel changes in their careers that would have permanently sidelined a less persistent act. Despite his watching two of his brothers die in a brief span of time, the Stooges would not have lasted as long as they did as a unit without Moe Howard’s guiding hand.

In the end, it is the durability of the 190 timeless short films the Stooges made at Columbia Pictures that acts as an enduring tribute to the comedy team.  Look for a full feature movie to be released in 2012.

Guest Contributor

We are thrilled that Eric Lamond, grandson of the Stooge, Larry Fine, agreed to be interviewed for this article.  Mr. Lamond is the Director of MarketingC3 Entertainment, Inc, which licenses the Three Stooges.  We asked if any of the original hand drawn production schedules were available for use in this article but, unfortunately, none remain.

So, how did the Stooges work?

Each member was a successful Vaudeville entertainer in his own right; they teamed up in the late 1920’s somewhat by chance to become ‘The Three Stooges’, with a mutual career goal of going to Hollywood to make films. They signed with Columbia Pictures to make feature films; however, because their audience couldn’t get enough of their wit and comedy, they continued to make their numerous 16-minute ‘short films’.  Keep in mind that in the 1920’s, with television still decades in the future, the movie experience to the public consisted of a newsreel, cartoons, a short film, and then one or two feature films. A ticket cost 25 to 50 cents USD and, for another 25 cents, you could get all the popcorn, candy, and soda you could eat and drink.

During their lengthy careers, (from 1934 to 1958), the Stooges released a total of 190 short films, or 8 short films per year. A Master plan for the intended short films was published annually at a rate of eight per year.  This Master plan had to take into account the 10 weeks that the Stooges devoted to public appearances, vacations and such. Each short film had a storyline with a ‘situation’ which was then scripted, edited, final scripted, cast, rehearsed, and scheduled to film (which took 4-6 days). There was a team of writers, directors, supporting actors, props, grips and film editors working on these films. The Stooges contracted with the studio only one year at a time and, toward the end of this period, they made the break into longer feature films. This happened in 1958, just as television became popular and 60 of their short films were released for TV, which helped their popularity soar and resulted in their finally being invited to make full length films.  Films, personal appearances and a cartoon series continued until 1970 at which time Larry had a stroke. Both Moe and Larry died within months of each other in 1975.

Neither Moe nor Larry had any regrets about their career paths, other than their wish to have done more motion pictures versus short films. Keep in mind that during the Depression when the market was only for their short films, they were paid well, lived well and eventually achieved their goal of making only feature films.  They were proud of what they had accomplished and lived by a motto quoted from Joe DiMaggio (a famous baseball player from that era) that “whatever I do, this might be the one and only time people will see me so I have to do my best.”

So, what can we take from this for our program and project management community?

Analysis in Program/Project Terms:

  • Moe was the Program Manager of the team in their 50-year program consisting of 220 projects. He led the overall Masterplan. Larry was the Assistant Program Manager, supporting Moe’s work.
  • For 24 consecutive years, they scheduled a steady eight projects per year. Each project had a lifecycle of Idea, Final Script, Casting, Rehearsing, Scheduling, Set-up, Filming, Editing and Release. That is to say, these guys worked to a controlled schedule.
  • They had a strict budget for each film, as the theatre would pay only so much for short films. Their budget management had to be very tightly controlled.
  • The Stooges had to deal with a diverse group of stakeholders – a project team of writers, directors, actors, managers, camera men, prop personnel, schedulers, and others involved in the making of films. All of this means that they had to deal with different ideas and views. They knew that their key external stakeholders – the Columbia studio executives and the theatre audiences – could make or break their reputation, and they kept them in the forefront of their minds.
  • They had a vision and an end goal, which was to make full length movies. That took the Stooges 30 years to achieve, yet they never lost sight of it; all of their actions took them closer to this goal as they steadily enhanced their reputation.
  • Upon completion of their goal, they had no real regrets and had executed to the best of their abilities over all those years.
  • Their projects have stood the test of time, and, arguably, realised all the benefits they had hoped to achieve.

In Conclusion

People in the program/project management profession would probably not readily identify the Three Stooges as being relevant to their daily work – however, our research and the interview kindly granted to us by Mr. Lamond suggests otherwise. Although we only see the final output of the “16 minutes of buffoonery” in their short films, and their movies for that matter, the amount of project management activity undertaken by the Stooges when producing these iconic pieces of popular culture was tremendous. Keep in mind this was well before the existence of computers, scheduling software, email, mobile phones, and all the collaborative and productivity devices that we PM practitioners use today. They had a plan and they worked that plan. How many of us will be able to say that 50 to 80+ years after the completion of one of our projects, that outputs will still be utilized and enjoyed globally?

We hope this article has given you a different perspective on how to view and appreciate project management. For those readers that don’t agree with us and/or don’t like this article, we can only respond with a time-honoured Stooges quote: “Nyuk – Nyuk – Nyuk”….

The Three Stooges(r) is a registered trademark of C3 Entertainment, Inc