Why do we need project management?

The other day I was asked the following question:

Why do we need project management?

Of course, I was a little shocked that anyone would ask why project management is important in the business world. I understand that different people have different ideas on what methodology to follow, but everyone I know realizes the benefits of project management.

Well, I guess not everyone does. As such, I am going to list the most important reasons you should manage your projects:

  • Sets expectations on what you and your team are going to be delivering
  • Helps you define what activities your team will be performing to get to your goals
  • Helps you to efficiently resource your company
  • Helps you to more effectively manage costs
  • Helps to you respond to change more effectively
  • Helps to you share progress updates with your boss and clients

In general, project management processes help you to put some focus around items that otherwise can be hazy. They help to you plan, track, and report on your team and on your projects.

Five ways to build trust as a Scrum Master

How many of you have worked with someone you simply didnt trust? How did this impact your work?

  • Were you less likely to work hard for them?
  • Were you less likely to share news with them?
  • Were you more likely to complain about them?

If the answer to any of the above is yes, then you can see what trust is important in the workplace.

Even more so, trust is vital during agile projects. Projects can ill afford to have employees not motivated to do their best for their teammates. Likewise, they can ill afford to have team members in the dark to potentially important information.

Scrum Masters do not often arrive on a project with the trust of the team in place. You have to earn it. Sounds good, but how do you earn trust. Below are a few tips to help you gain the trust of the team.

  1. Tell the truth – sounds simple, but is often easier said than done. Tell the team the truth even when it hurts you. The team needs to know that they can believe what they are told. You are the primary source of information for the team and they need to know that they are hearing accurate information.
  2. Fulfill your obligations – when you say you are going to do something, do it! You expect the team to do this, so you better be prepared to live up to this standard yourself. This applies to the huge tasks (pushing back on requirements, gathering new resources) as it does to the small and mundane tasks.
  3. Be available – don’t hide from your team. If the team knows where they can find you, they know that you will be there to help them and the project succeed.
  4. Don’t hog the glory – everyone likes to be praised, but make sure you let your team be the ones to be praised. Since you are the one often speaking to the stakeholders (and bosses), make sure that you make it clear that the team did the heavy lifting. This will cause the team to get the recognition and they will respect you for not trying to take the credit.
  5. Be good at what you do – most people think that trust is only your attitude,but it also ties into your aptitude. If the team is to trust you as the scrum master, they need to believe in your ability to perform the job.

Practice these five steps at all times. If you do, your team will trust you more and your projects are more likely to succeed.

Please share other tips you have to build trust with the team.

What is fast-tracking?

What is fast-tracking?

Many tasks in a project naturally occur sequentially. First you complete Task A and then you can complete Task B. Fast-tracking is when you perform these tasks in a parallel manner.

What are the benefits?

The benefit of fast-tracking is that you can potentially reduce the timeline for your project. Instead of having to wait until Task A is done, you can begin work on Task B.

What are the risks?

The risk of fast-tracking is that you are performing tasks before all the predecessors are complete. This could potentially cause errors to occur or may require future rework.

How to use effectively

When your project appears to be falling behind schedule, you should examine the tasks along the project’s critical path. When you identify tasks that can possibly occur in parallel (either completely or partially), work with your team to update the plan of attack to work on these tasks in parallel. Also, ensure that you closely monitor these tasks as the risk does increase for fast-tracked tasks.

How you can improve project communication

As you begin your first, or your hundredth project, you must focus on communication within your project. This one aspect of project management negatively or positively impacts every single projects that you undertake. It is often easy to get hung-up on methodologies and templates when executing a project, but you need to spend just as much, if not more, time and energy focusing on your communication. Communication can, and should, take up the majority of your time as a project manager. I am not proposing you talk for the sake of talking, but communication needs to be your focus during your project.

Why communicate?

Now I hope that this sounds like a silly question to all of you. But it can benefit all of us to think about why we communicate. The main reasons to communicate are:

  • To gather information
  • To disseminate information
  • To improve relationships

We will now look at how these three reasons impact your communication with the various project stakeholders.

Communication with your team

Communication with your team is of vital importance. It can help define project success or failure. And the best part about it…it can be mastered by everyone. Specialized training is not required. An advanced degree is not required. All that is required is the desire to improve. We are now going to look at how the three main goals of communication relate to project team communication

To gather information – the project manager cannot be everywhere at all times. Nor can they inherently know/understand everything. That is why you must lean on your team for information. They are the people doing the work and they know what is really happening. Take the time to ask questions of the team on how the work is progressing. Also, ask the team if there is anything they need from you to make their jobs easier. Getting more information from your team allows you to make more educated decisions….it allows you to make better decisions. You must communicate regularly with your team. The more the merrier!

To disseminate information – as the project manager, you have more general knowledge surrounding the project than any other team member. This places you in a position of power, but at the same time it puts your project in a position of weakness. Do your best to keep all team members informed about the project and any outside forces at work. Some may argue that providing too much information to your team can overwhelm them, but I feel that too much information is much less dangerous than too little.

To improve relationships – Think about your friends. Are they the people you share the most with, or are they the people you share the least with. Now think about how you became friends. Did you become friends by keeping to yourself and hiding information about yourself? Or did you reveal what made you tick and this led to some discovery of mutual preferences/hobbies? By sharing information with your team, you are showing that you care about them and that you want them to know about you as a person. This will help the team because people work harder for people they have a true relationship with.

Communication with clients

Along with communicating with your team, communicating with your clients (internal or external) is of utmost importance. The people paying for the project have a right to know what is going on with your project. You have an obligation to inform them about the project and you have an obligation to gather their views on the project.

To gather information – In order to serve your team well, you need to know what is expected of you all. Gathering information from the client lets you know what you have to do and what you do not need to focus on. Also, you can gauge their opinion on the progress of the project.

To disseminate information – you need to formally and informally provide your client with information about how the project is progressing. Some of this communication will be formal (update meetings, status reports, etc.) but the majority will be informal. This involves phone calls, impromptu meetings, and emails. You need to be candid with the client at all times. Do not hesitate to share great news with your client. Also, do not hesitate to share bad news. The client obviously does not want to hear bad news, but they would rather hear if from you than to be blind-sided by it later.

To improve relationships – When you communicate with the client, you are increasing their confidence in you as a project manager and as a person. Let them see how passionate you are about the project and they are going to treasure your involvement. Also, let them know that you truly are committed to their satisfaction.

Conclusion

No project has ever been successful when the project manager doesn’t know what the client wants. Also, no project has been successful when the project manager does not talk to project team members and thus does not know how the project is progressing. Focus a lot of your energy on talking with your team and the client. Remember however, that no project is successful when the communication is not a dialog. You may like to hear yourself speak, but you need to focus on listening more.

What are the triple constraints?

For more than a year, we have been writing about project management on a blog entitled “Triple Constraints”. Shocking then, that we have never written a post about the triple constraints…well that is about to change.

What are the triple constraints?

The triple constraints for projects are:

  • Scope – that which has to be completed
  • Time – how much time is available to complete the task/project
  • Cost – how much money (in money and resources) is available to complete the task/project

Why do I need to care about them?

You need to care about the triple constraints, because they serve as a key guidance in how we manage the scope of a project. When a client/stakeholder asks for changes to the scope, you need to think about how that will impact the timeline and the cost for the project. This does not mean you have to say no, but you have to be cognizant of the impact.

If I successfully manage the triple constraints, and I assured of a successful project?

Not at all. The triple constraints are just the start for a successful project outcome. Many people with familiarity with project management state that there is a fourth constraint – quality. When you don’t adjust one of the constraints to accommodate another change, then you are going to impact the quality of your project.

What is a burn down chart?

What is a burn down chart?

A burn down chart is a visual representation of the work remaining during an iteration. It tracks the amount of work committed to for the sprint along the vertical axis and the time (usually the 3 or 4 weeks of the sprint) along the horizontal axis. This work can be the number of user stories outstanding, but I prefer to use the number of story points that still have to be completed.

Why should I use one?

You should use a burn down chart so that all project stakeholders (team, product owner, management) can see the progress (hopefully) that the team is making. The chart also allows you to easily see how well the iteration is progressing. If the graph is moving from the top-left to the bottom-right, then work is being completed and your iteration is accomplishing its goals. If the graph is staying even, or heaven forbid moving up, then you know your iteration is in danger of not being successful.

How do I create a burn down chart?

The easiest way to create a burn down chart is to leverage one of the many Excel templates that can be found online. These templates allow you to enter the amount of work remaining for the iteration every day of the sprint. Once you have updated the data points, the graph will automatically update.

What is Six Sigma?

Many project managers have heard of six sigma, but many of us are not sure what it is. In this post I will try to explain the basics of six sigma.

What is six sigma?

Six sigma is a management tool/process which aims to increase the quality of deliverables by identifying, and then, removing the causes of defects that may impact the deliverables. Six sigma relies heavily upon statistical analysis to identify these root causes. As such, it does take a significant amount of time to implement for your project/company.

What process/methodology is used to execute a six sigma project?

Most six sigma projects adhere to the DMAIC methodology. This methodology has become widespread in its adoption and is the one most people reference when discussing Six Sigma. The DMAIC method is based upon the following steps:

  • Define the problem
  • Measure the process and data
  • Analyze the data to determine the cause of defects
  • Improve the process to eliminate the root cause of the defects
  • Control the new process to maintain improvements and prevent slippage

What is a black belt?

Not be confused with Jackie Chan, a black belt is someone who has become certified in Six Sigma by demonstrating knowledge and experience with implementing the methodology. For those of you who don’t have the time to commit to becoming a black belt, many organizations/associations offer other levels of certification (green and yellow belts).

Where does six sigma come from?

Six sigma was developed in 1983 by Bill Smith while he was at Motorola. Six sigma was originally devised to address the manufacturing process, but has since been adopted by those in software development, service fields, and many other disciplines.

How does it relate to project management?

Six sigma augments project management in that it attempts to reduce defects. Project management attempts to do this through risk management techniques while six sigma attempts to do it through eliminating the root causes of defects.

How can it help my project?

By focusing on the root causes of issues that your team is encountering, six sigma allows you to correct the causes instead of simply remedying the symptoms. This will ultimately allow your product to deliver superior products, but it will also decrease costs aimed at increasing quality.

What are story points?

When the team is reviewing the backlog and planning their sprint, they will begin to undertake the process of estimating for each user story so that they can define the work that will take place during the sprint.

Many developers and teams have extensive experience estimating how long coding a requirement will take. Traditionally this has taken the form of estimating how many hours it would take to code each requirement…and traditionally this method did not work very well.

Scrum varies the formula by asking that the team assign story points to each user story. These story points are a measure of the complexity of each story. They do not attempt to assign duration to each story, but instead allow a comparison between tasks.

You may ask why you shouldn’t assign hours to a user story. The reason is simple…each developer codes at a different rate. Having the team assign hours to a story assumes that they all can code at the same speed. Also, by estimating the complexity of each story, you have created a way for the team to analyze the stories from a more abstract vantage point. This can help to reduce bias during the estimating process.

Is it ever OK to tell a client no?

I had a conversation the other day with a colleague who told me that at their company they were told to never tell the client no. I was dumb-founded. Obviously, there must have been times when they were allowed to tell a client no. He informed me that they, as project managers, were never allowed to tell a client no. If they got a request, and the team could do it, then they must say yes and deliver.

I asked what happened when the team couldn’t deliver. He stated that since his old company was a services company, the requests he received could always be solved by throwing additional resources as the task. And thus, he was “fortunate” enough to never have to say no.

However, many people work on projects that can’t be solved by simply throwing more resources at the problem. How are project managers on these projects supposed to respond?

Is it OK to tell a client no?

Personally, I think it is OK to say no. Clients obviously do not like hearing the word no, but as long as you can explain the reason the request can’t be accommodated they tend to be ok with the outcome. As long as you give the client all the information that leads to your decision and rationally explain to them why you have to say no, they will understand where you are coming from.

When is it OK to tell a client no?

It is acceptable to tell a client no in several situations. They are:

  • When the request cannot possibly be fulfilled/satisfied
  • When the request can be fulfilled, but it will put the rest of the project at risk
  • When the request can be fulfilled, but does not help the project at all

What if the request can be done, but is out of scope?

Sometimes, you will come across a request from a client that can be fulfilled and will not put the project at risk. However, the request is outside of the scope of what the client has contracted for. What do you do in a situation like that? Every company has their own stance on this question, but personally I think that each request has to be individually analyzed:

  • If the request requires low effort and delivers low reward, then the request can be fulfilled after all other requests are fulfilled
  • If the request requires low effort and delivers high reward, then it makes sense to satisfy the request
  • If the request requires high effort and delivers low reward, then it does not make sense to satisfy the request
  • If the request requires high effort and delivers high reward, then the request can be fulfilled after all other requests are fulfilled

Conclusion

So, in conclusion, it is OK to tell a client no. If you have analyzed the situation and have determined that saying yes to the request would cause the project harm or would not return adequate value, then you are allowed to and have the obligation to tell your client that the team’s time would be better spent focusing on other tasks.

Feedback

How do you decide if you are going to tell the client no? How do you tell the client no?