What is Business Analysis?

  • Business analysis is a set of tasks and techniques used to work as a liaison among stakeholders in order to understand the structure, policies, and operations of an organization, and to recommend solutions that enable the organization to achieve its goals.
  • Business analysis is performed to define and validate solutions that meet business needs, goals, or objectives.
  • The business analyst is responsible for eliciting the actual needs of stakeholders, not simply their expressed desires.
  • Business analysts often play a central role in aligning the needs of business units with the capabilities delivered by information technology, and may serve as a “translator” between those groups.

Top Project Management Twitterers (Updated)

As social media become more and more important to the lives of project managers, I thought I would provide you with a list of project managers and project management subject matter experts to follow on Twitter. Click on the links below to explore their Twitter profiles. My profile can be viewed at http://twitter.com/cmcspiritt.

Project Management Advice

Project Management Software

If you have any others you think I should include in the list, please let me know.

Lessons Learned About Lessons Learned

Just got off of a lessons learned conference call for a volunteer project that I participated in. The project was run by the local chapter of the Project Management Institute and therefore benefitted from having several professional project managers on the team. The project was a success and everyone was happy with the outcome. The last component of the project was to conduct a lessons learned meeting. This call was a relatively quick call, but it served as a nice closure point for a successful project.

I am sure most project managers have participated in their share of lessons learned meetings, but how many of you have actually thought about the rationale for those meetings. Below are some of the questions that came into my mind as I prepared for tonight’s meeting.

What is the purpose of a lessons learned meeting?

A lessons learned meeting (also known as a project post-mortem) is designed to help the project team learn from their project so that they can improve their performance on future projects. The meeting can also serve as a bonding experience for the team as they get to feel the sense of accomplishment for completing the project.

How can a team analyze their project?

The most common method of analyzing the project is to ask the following questions during the lessons learned meeting:

  • What happened during the project?
  • What did we do well during this project?
  • What can we do better next time?

What does answering these questions do for the project team since all projects are by definition unique?

While it is true that all projects are unique, they all tend to share common components. Project teams often work on similar projects for the company or clients. Finding ways to improve their daily operations can help future projects run smoother.

What can you do to help make the lessons learned meeting a success?

To facilitate the lessons learned meeting, you should do the follow:

  • Prepare for the meeting
    • Send an agenda to the project team – this will allow the team to begin their processing of the project prior to the meeting
  • Conduct the meeting
    • Welcome the team.
    • Introduce the lessons learned process.
    • Put the team at ease. Make sure they understand that the purpose of the meeting is to improve future projects, not to judge individuals.
    • Ask the questions and elicit responses from all team members.
    • Close the meeting and thank the team for their time and effort.
  • Document the meeting
    • Create and distribute meeting minutes

Who benefits from the lessons learned process?

Everyone who is a stakeholder benefits from a lessons learned process:

  • Project manager – learns potential pitfalls to avoid during the next project
  • Project team – can devise process improvements that will help future projects
  • Client/Sponsor – gets more insight into the process and the future improvements they will benefit from

Remember, the lessons learned meeting is one of the most valuable meetings during the project for you and your team. Take the time to ensure that it is a successful one and do not overlook it because the major deliverables of your project have already been delivered.

Rule of Thirds

Reading other posts around the blogosphere and talking to fellow project managers, there seems to be a common, well-known theme. This theme is that IT projects “always” take longer than expected. While there are many causes for this problem, there are also many ways to prevent this. In future posts, we will tackle some of the more in-depth methods.

In this post, we are going to talk about one way to prepare a more accurate high-level project schedule.  This method is called the “Rule of Thirds”. Basically, the Rule of Thirds states that for a given development effort, you can evenly divide the time needed to finish the work into three phases. These phases are:

  • Analysis and Design
  • Development
  • Testing

Developers often lament that they were not provided with adequate design documentation which results with them having to guess what is needed. By following the Rule of Thirds, you will ensure that you designate enough time for the analysis and design phase of a project. This will give you the opportunity to conduct a thorough analysis. Some stakeholders may push back saying that the requirements are already known, but spending the appropriate amount of time in this phase will make the development phase easier as well as help to ensure that your project delivers a product your stakeholder will actually benefit from.

Also, those of you who work on projects can attest that testing often seems to be rushed so that delivery dates are met. This often results from not designating enough time for this necessary and worthwhile activity. By following the Rule of Thirds, you will make sure that you designate enough time to test the software and to ensure that the product will satisfy client requirements.

So, for your next project try to start the scheduling process by adhering to the Rule of Thirds. While this rule alone cannot prevent schedule overruns, it can help you to set realistic expectations in terms of schedule and provide you a good starting point for constructing your WBS.

Colocation

One of the main themes of Scrum is the belief that project teams should be colocated. This belief is based on the idea that teams communicate better when they are colocated. We can all attest to this from experience in our own lives. Ever been on a call where one team member states something and everyone else seems to have no idea what they are talking about? While there may be several reasons for the confusion, one contributing factor is the lack of face-to-face communication.

When you are forced to communicate via other methods you lose the benefits of in-person communication. These benefits are:

  • The presence of non-verbal context clues (gestures, facial expressions, etc.) on the part of both the speaker and the listener
  • Presence of conversation/dialogue (other methods of communication tend to be more one-way)

You may think that simply having all your team members in the same building is sufficient in terms of colocation. While this is an improvement over teams being separated by thousands of miles due to the ability to schedule face-to-face meetings, it is still not ideal from a scrum vantage point.

Scrum preaches the benefits of having a Team Room. This room allows your team to be situated in a common area and benefit from the close proximity to teammates (brainstorming, collaboration, etc.). It also serves as the team headquarters and provides a place to post all the project artifacts. When team members are surrounded by their colleagues they have the opportunity to be more consultative to each other and to self-organize/manage themselves.  Also, having a team room makes conducting the daily scrum much easier due to obvious factors (everyone is already together). In later posts, we will talk about the key features of a Team Room.

So in conclusion, when at all possible you should try to insist that your project team is colocated. It will make things easier for you and the team.

Kick-off Meetings

For many projects (especially those being conducted on a contract basis for a client), the kick-off meeting is the project manager’s first opportunity to interact with the client/stakeholders. It is also your opportunity to begin the project the right way. Below we will look at some basic ways you can achieve those goals.


Prepare for the meeting

  • Review the Contract/SOW/Work Order – allows you to begin the process of creating a high-level scope and preliminary project plan

  • Begin the process of identifying the project team – allows you to make sure that you have all the required stakeholders from your side at the meeting

  • Draft a preliminary project plan – allows you to jumpt-start discussions of timelines with the client as well as instill a sense of confidence in the client.

  • Schedule the kick-off meeting – allows you to make sure that all relevant stakeholders (client-side as well as project team) have the opportunity to attend. Do your best to schedule a time so that all stakeholders can attend.
  • Draft an agenda for the meeting – allows you to control the discussion and direction of the meeting. Also, helps to make you to appear organized and prepared. You can download a sample kick-off meeting agenda here.
  • Send the kickoff meeting materials to all participants – allows the stakeholders to get a head-start in reviewing the documents. Also, helps to facilitate a more open discussion at the meeting. This includes the meeting agenda (with meeting logistics) and preliminary project plan.

Conduct the meeting

  • Welcome the stakeholders to the meeting

  • Introduce participants

    • Cover responsibilities and how each person ties into the project

  • Verify the project, its purpose, and expected outcome

    • Review the Contract/SOW/Work order to make sure that it is accurate and comprehensive

  • Review the preliminary project plan

    • Discuss project assumptions that fed into your preliminary plan development

    • Focus on ensuring all tasks are correct

    • Exact task durations can be updated later

  • Determine communication pathways (weekly meetings, etc.)

    • Determine best day for weekly status updates

    • Determine location to store project files

    • Determine email distribution lists for various communications

  • Ask for questions

  • Present next steps

  • Close the meeting

Meeting Follow-up

  • Create and distribute meeting minutes

  • Update the project plan

  • Document the communication plan

Social Media for Project Managers

I have talked to many project managers who are curious how social media can benefit their career and their projects. Being a fan of social media in general, I have analyzed various social media tools and have some suggestions on how you can best use them in your daily life.

Linkedin – the place to go if you want to network online with other professionals. You create an account, update your profile to include your professional experience, and then begin connecting with professionals you know.

Linkedin has functionality that lets you join online groups of users with similar interests. For instance, I joined the “Project Manager Networking Group” so that I can share advice with other PMs online. This group has over 62,000 members. Discussions are conducted through the groups and users can post job openings as well.

In addition to job postings within groups, Linkedin allows employers to post job openings (similar to CareerBuilder) that you can search and apply for. One distinguishing feature is that you can see how you are connected to the job posting and can ask for connections to offer recommendations.

Linkedin is the site that most people are familiar with, so if you want to get the most bang for your buck you should create an account here.

Plaxo – Plaxo is similar to LinkedIn. They offer the functionality to connect with people that you share an educational or professional relationship with. They have recently offered a “My Career” section that allows you to search for jobs as well.

Plaxo is a little less professional in nature in that you can also send eCards to connections (something that I wouldn’t do, but I know some are into that) or post pictures. In that regard, Plaxo is attempting to blur the line between Linkedin functionality and the functionality of Facebook.

Facebook – Facebook is more personal in nature. I do not go on to this site to expand my professional network, but I do recommend that you connect with some of your team members as it allows you to begin creating a relationship that focuses on more than just the 9-5 shift. Some may say that blurring the line between work and play is a bad thing, but I feel that if I can connect to my team on a deeper level than the risks are worth it.

Twitter – Twitter has been all over the news lately. It’s coming out party to many was the way it facilitated communication about the Iran Election controversy. Twitter is a tool that lets you communicate (in 140 characters or less) what you are doing or thinking. The message that you post to the site is known as a tweet and is viewable by the public. The positive to twitter is that is allows instant communication between its users. Since the messages are so succinct you do not have to wait long periods of time between updates (unlike some emails we have all read).

The business application for project managers is unclear to many. Similar to Facebook, it lets you foster a more personal connection with your colleagues and clients, but you need to be careful how much of your life you want to share with them. In addition, you can create a project-specific twitter account and protect the tweets so that only approved users can view your updates. This could be used to send out status updates to your team. I have not heard of many users taking this path, but would love to hear from anyone who has successfully implemented this.

Conclusion
In conclusion, social media is not going away any time soon. The Internet allows us to connect with more people every day and we need to figure out a way to make it work for us. I recommend that you investigate the various tools out there for yourself and being connecting with your colleagues and clients.

Waterfall vs. Agile

Many project managers and companies struggle with the decision of which genre of PM methodology to adhere to.

The debate between agile project management and traditional waterfall may never be fully resolved, but below are some guidelines that can help you to determine which methodology to use for your project.

Waterfall Methodology

  • Definition of all requirements early in the project
  • More project control exerted by the management team (Project Manager)
  • Appropriate when the requirements are set in stone
    Once one stage is completed you move on to the next, there is no moving backwards
  • Appropriate when clients are very risk-averse
  • Appropriate when you are outsourcing the development to a vendor

Agile Methodology

  • Iterative development of requirements
  • More project control exerted by the team
  • Useful when the requirements are likley to evolve
  • Places an emphasis on teams being located in the same location
  • Places an emphasis on the team talking to the business/customer on a regular basis

These trends are all very high-level, but they can help provide some idea about when you should use waterfall versus agile. If you have any other suggestions, please post so that our readers can hear what others have to say on the topic.

Earning PDUs

As a PMP, you no doubt know that you have to earn 60 Professional Development Units (PDUs) every recertification cycle (3 years). There are many ways to earn PDUs, but they do take time and most take some money. Below are some ways I have gained PDUs over the years:

  • Volunteer to serve on a project for the local chapter of the PMI
  • Listen to episodes of the PMPodcast
  • Take online training modules
  • Attend meetings of your local PMI chapter

Now let’s go into a little more detail for each method to earn PDUs.

Volunteering

Volunteering to help run a project for your local chapter is very rewarding. Not only can you earn PDUs, but you also gain a sense of community with your fellow local PMs.

Listening to the PMPodcast

Listening to podcasts is a free way to earn PDUs. I have listened to Cornelius’ podcast for several years and have always found them to be educational and entertaining. I was excited when I found out that I can receive PDUs for listening. He put together a page outlining the details of the PDU process for his podcasts on his website.

Taking Online Training Modules

Taking training online is becoming more and more popular with PMs. This is due to the reduced cost compared to on-site training and the increased convenience of being able to take the training from the comfort of your desk or home. I have taken training modules online that cover MS Project, risk management, and other PM topics.

Attend meetings of your local PMI chapter

I have been lucky enough to belong to a local chapter that is very active. There are monthly dinner meetings that cover topics from risk management to social media for project managers. These meetings are inexpensive and serve two main purposes. They are networking and education. The average meeting is good for earning 2 PDUs.

In addition to monthly dinner meetings, our chapter conducts a few larger annual events. These events are generally a 1 or 2 day function and are good for more PDUs.

Additional Information

The PMI also provides a page that lists the high-level ways that you can earn PDUs. It highlights some of the official PMI training opportunities as well as the informal training and volunteer opportunities. The page can be accessed here.

If you know of any other good ways to earn PDUs, please post a comment so that others may gain from your knowledge.

Scrum Documentation

Many people feel that scrum means that they don’t have to document the project anymore. That is simply not the case. The reality is that the type of documentation required for scrum is significantly different than the type required for a waterfall-driven project.

Below is an overview of the types of documentation that a scrum project requires.

Product Backlog

    • Describes “what” will be built
    • Managed by product owner
    • Translated requirements into user stories
      • User stories = one or two sentences in language of customer
    • Contains rough estimates (in days)
    • Contains priorities, reprioritized after each sprint

    Sprint Backlog

      • Produced from Spring Planning Meeting
      • Tasks can be of the following types:
        • Design tasks
        • Coding tasks
        • Testing tasks
        • Documentation tasks
      • Tasks are not assigned, but signed up for
        • Each person is working on one task at a time
        • Estimate of the task adjusted daily
      • Tasks cannot be added, but can be removed if out of time
        • Velocity will be established over iterations
          • # of tasks that the team can complete in one sprint

      Sprint Burn-down Chart

        • Shows the number of hours of work left to satisfy all the requirements of the sprint