Posts Tagged ‘project’

New Release of Project Administrator project management software

Monday, January 20th, 2014

We have just released version 7 of our Project Administrator project management software. The main changes are:

  • Improved navigation with most screens being changed to make moving between records easier
  • Ability to link any action item to a meeting item
  • Enhanced PDF functionality for emailed reports
  • Minor changes to the 64 bit functionality to remove a few bugs we discovered recently

For those who have not used PA in the past, there is a 30 day fully featured trial version available.  If you decide to buy, a single user license only costs Australian $50 which is about US$44.

Project Administrator manages issues, risks, actions, meetings, schedules, roles and responsibilities, budget and expenditure, checklists, timesheets, diary notes and even a glossary.

To download a trial version Click here

To read more about Project Administrator Click here

My Project Is Not Failing

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

Maybe we are all reluctant to accept that our project might be failing but with high project failure rates in many industry sectors we should make sure we are able to spot the main warning signs. And then act on them rather bury our heads in the sand and hope it will “be alright on the night”. That approach will never lead to a successful project or a successful career in project management.

Just because things might not be going to plan doesn’t mean a project is doomed – managing problems and risks is all part and parcel of a project manager’s role and a risk management plan should be in place that will help to mitigate the very risks that might be causing problems. If a risk plan has not been prepared, don’t worry it is rarely too late to review the real and potential risks that might be threatening your project and to deal with them effectively. Problems that materialise in a project, whether expected or not, are inevitable in many industries and with a controlled approach they can usually be mitigated.

The very fact that problems so often arise in IT projects, for instance, is what led, at the beginning of this century, to the creation of the Agile Manifesto, with its values and principles designed to help project managers work constructively to solve problems rather than either being defeated by them or trying to ignore them. An agile approach recognises that many projects are simply unsuited to the traditional “waterfall” approach and offers an alternative where deliveries are made in small stages allowing for user feedback to be incorporated into the next stage. Increasingly both waterfall and agile methods are recognised as appropriate for different types of projects and in some cases they are being combined on a single project.  All projects have their ups and downs so it is important to remain optimistic in the low periods and remember that things will change.

It is reassuring that the formalisation of project management methodologies over the past 20 years has led to a significant improvement in project success rates. Increased used of the internet has also helped by making status reports quickly and easily available so that problems don’t drag on undetected for too long.

 So what are the warning signs of a project that could be destined for failure? If your know how to spot these and act on them you already have the means to turn a potential disaster into a success. Warning signs of pending trouble are usually relatively easy to spot – here are some typical ones:

 1.      Lack of Buy-In

When those working on a project have been pressured into becoming involved they will never be fully committed to its success and will not give 100% of their time or energy to the project.

2.      Poor Communication

Communication takes many forms; there are the informal team discussions, regular meetings, emails, phone calls and various written reports and other documentation. If any of these areas are lacking then there is likely to be a problem looming.

3.      No Visible Progress

If it is not possible to see what has been achieved to date then it is difficult to convince stakeholders and the team that success is possible. A lack of visible progress (or “velocity” in Agile project management) is de-moralising for everyone involved.

4.      Long Hours

If the project team are having to put in long hours just to stay on top of the scheduled activities then this is a classic indicator that all is not well. Either the original estimates were badly wrong or the scale and scope of the work was not clear.

5.      Milestones Missed

Milestones should deliver manageable chunks of work to the customer on a frequent basis. If this is not being done, or the deliverables cannot be tested by the customer, there is no opportunity to get feedback for the next phase to know the project is on the right track.

6.      Changing Scope

Every project’s nightmare is scope creep – adding to the requirements during the project – it is usually an indication that requirements were not fully documented or the customer did not understand the aim of the project. But often a more serious warning sign is when features are being removed from scope and the end-product is being scaled back.

Remember that warning signs such as these give you the opportunity to rescue a project from failure so should not be ignored but treated as part of the project management process. By looking out for warning signs and using your experience and personal skills (supplemented with the right project management courses) a project manager can avoid project failure.

Author: Michelle Symonds

Lessons on the Wrong Resource

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

Here is a lesson I learned when doing a project review.  I guess I knew it all along but it was certainly brought home to me when I did the review.

A large public corporation had just finished a project.  It had been difficult to say the least.  It was well over budget and time.  The deliverables were not in line with the original scope statement and there was already talk of a “Stage Two”.  The project had been particularly political and I was brought in as an independent person to review the project and identify any lessons learned.

In preliminary discussions it was hinted strongly that the problem was the project manager.  He had not taken control of the project, and many things had not been done properly.  He set adventurous deadlines and did not manage the business staff well.  I kept an open mind but there was certainly a perception that the project manager was to blame.

I reviewed the project documentation before starting interviews and it did appear weak.  The risk assessment was only done once, and appeared superficial.  There was little follow up on mitigation strategies.  There was no documented process for managing variations.  The schedule updates seemed to be sporadic.  There was no Project Plan.  Some of the content you would expect to find in a project plan was scattered through a number of other documents and some just missing.  It was evident from the documentation project management was weak.

I interviewed the project manager and he was very defensive.  He pointed the finger at many people who had contributed to the problems.  He claimed lack of support, and lack of authority.  Decisions were taken without his knowledge and he was later informed.  One example was a major variation that was agreed without him being aware of the proposal.  He was told to just go do it.  Clearly he was not in control.

As we proceeded, I asked about his previous experience.  I was astonished to find that he had never undertaken a project this big.  In fact his biggest project would barely be a tenth the size of this project.  I asked him how it was that he came to run the project.  His answer was that it had been presented to him as a chance to prove his worth.  An opportunity to show people what he could do.  The break he had been looking for to advance his career.  He had no formal training.  He had carried out a few small projects but never been trained in project management.

Once I knew this, I could understand his perspective.  He found:

  • People were not cooperating as he expected them to
  • Verbal assurances were never honoured
  • Decisions of a critical nature were not being made with his input
  • The staff he was given were not up to the job requirements
  • The original estimates he was given were not realistic

The worse it got, the more he found people finding a way around him to run their own agenda.  He was not only out of his depth.  He was set up to fail.

So where did the blame lie?  Most people, including myself, have taken on a task and found it was much more complex than we imagined.  In some cases we have taken it on because we pushed to be there, and in other cases we were pushed into the situation.  In the former case , we may be able to lay some blame at the feet of the person who gave in to our demands to allow us to carry out the task but mostly, we have ourselves to blame.  In the latter case, the main person to blame is the person who pushed us into the situation then set us adrift.  The project manager was definitely the latter case.  He was pushed into the role, his reservations were smoothed over, and then he was set adrift.

My report identified this as the problem, and the person who was Sponsor was the person responsible.  What I couldn’t say in the report, much less prove, was that the poor guy was appointed because the Sponsor wanted someone he could dominate and who would not stand up to him over project issues.  I recommended the project manager be given proper training and continue working in that role but on smaller projects until he built up his experience.

A year later I had coffee with a person from the corporation and asked what had happened.  Unfortunately there was no fairy tale ending.  The project manager had resigned, or been forced to resign.  It was not clear.  The Sponsor had rubbished my report and said I would never work for them again.  Stage two of the project had been outsourced and was now causing bitter disputes within the organisation.

I did work for them again.  After about three years, the Sponsor had moved on, and I was approached to do some more work for the corporation.  Evidently someone had said to the CEO that they needed someone who would “tell it as it is” and I had proved I would three years previously.

The lesson to come from all this is that you need the right resources.  In this case it was the project manager but I have seen the same situation in every project role.  Not putting in place the right person will come back to bite the project somewhere down the track.  The other lesson is to make sure that you have the capability to do the job when it is offered to you.  There is an old saying “beware of Greeks bearing gifts”.  I think it refers to Trojan horses, but in the world of the GFC, it is just as appropriate today.

Lesson on Identifying the Outcome and the Problem.

Monday, March 12th, 2012

What is the problem the project is trying to solve?  Think about your current project.  Can you answer that question?  Why is it even important?

Every project is trying to solve a problem.  The problem may be:

  • We cannot cross a river
  • There is an opportunity to claim a niche market
  • Our software is no longer supported

If the problem is identified, the outcome can be identified.  It is not the solution.  There is a difference.  Taking the first example, the outcome is that we need to cross the river.  The solution may be a tunnel, a bridge or a ferry.  We might select a bridge as the solution, but it may not necessarily be the only or even best solution.  A business case needs to be developed to look at how we can achieve our outcome and nominate the most suitable solution.

Too many people focus on the solution rather than the outcome. In the second example we might say let’s build a new product to meet a niche market.  Perhaps the solution could be to have someone else build the product, or to patent the solution and sell the patent.

This particular lesson came from a review of a project in crisis.  A stockbroking firm were building a new client information and transaction system.  They had employed a company to build a web based solution.  There had been numerous prototypes built but they could not settle on the final product.  The CIO called me in to try and resolve the situation.  My assignment was to last a week.  I was gone in two days – very poor form for a consultant.  This is how it happened.

My first interview was with The Financial Manager.  They were providing the funding and were co-sponsors of the project.  I asked what outcome they were trying to achieve.  The response was that they were trying to provide better customer service and retain their client base.  In fact I think they were trying to keep up with their competitors rather than surpass them.  In order to do this for the minimum cost, as things were tight financially, the solution was to develop a simple interface that allowed customers to undertake basic transactions and see core information.

My next interview was with the other co-sponsor, the Marketing Director.  I started by asking the same question.  His outcome was a bit broader than the Financial Manager.  He also wanted to provide better customer service but also wanted to attract new customers from his competitors.  In order to do this, his solution was to build the best, most sophisticated customer interface in the industry.

In the afternoon I spoke to the company building the system.  It took a while to get to the truth but the crux of it was they built prototype A and showed it to the Marketing Director.  Add more bells and whistles said the Marketing Director.  They did and showed prototype B to the Financial Manager.  Take out the bells and whistles said the Financial Manager.  We can’t afford them.  Back and forward they went from one to the other adding and removing features.  It was a bit more subtle than how I explained it but the software developer was happy.  They were being paid by the day so variations were all paying work.

By the end of the first day I went back to the CEO and said this.

“The problem may be that you risk loosing existing customers.  In this case the outcome may be to improve services to existing customers.  The problem may also be that you need additional customers to build the business.  One solution may be to attract customers away from your competitors by offering more attractive services.  Both have a potentially different solution so until you decide the problem and outcome, you cannot set the path forward. “

Day two started with a meeting between the CEO, Financial Manager and Marketing Director.  The two co-sponsors explained their perceived problems and desired outcome independently.  There was considerable discussion on which problem was relevant, and it was decided that for this project, we only wanted to look at the problem relating to retaining existing customers.  We then matched where the outcomes were the same and highlighted where the outcomes were different.  Different included outcomes where only one of the co-sponsors had a desired outcome.  It took several hours of debate, and a few directions from the CEO before they had an agreed, common outcome.  That outcome did not include stealing customers from their competitors.  We then worked on the best solution, and by lunch time we had an agreed solution which formed the scope of the work required.  We invited the development team in, and matched their work to the scope statement.  By the end of the day, a conceptual prototype was agreed.  It was in fact a stripped down version of the most recent prototype.

Ready to go home at the end of the second day, I was drawn aside by the Marketing Director.  He asked “If we have another project, and the outcome is to attract our competitor’s customers, what would be the solution?”  I had to point out that there were many solutions.  He had to identify the solutions and evaluate which of those had the best business case.  It may be to enhance the basic customer information system or it may be a new product to attract those investors.  I think the lights finally came on.  He got it.

I did hear from him a few months later when he asked me to facilitate a meeting of his key managers.

“We want to talk about outcomes” he said.  “I want my team to brainstorm solutions and then we can go away and develop business cases for them.”

I asked him how the new customer information system was going.  It was in place, and getting good feedback from the existing clients.  He said he couldn’t understand how it had taken so long to get started.  Sometimes you think you have broken through and then the person confirms there is still some way to go.

Lesson on Managing Variations

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

A lesson I learned many years ago from a very experienced project manager related to managing the changes in a project.

The project was nearing completion but was over budget and over time.  I was not managing the project.  It was being managed by a colleague from the same company I was working with at the time.  He was asked to attend a board meeting to discuss the project.  He suspected it was an ambush.  The CEO was going to try and put the blame on the project manager and possibly fire him.

The project manager seemed unconcerned.  He told me that it was all under control and no action would be taken against him by the board.  I did not understand his proposed defence but he was adamant that he could convince the board of the quality of his project management.  He was one of the best project managers I had ever encountered so asked what my role would be.


The meeting unfolded as expected.  The CEO spent some time outlining the cost and time overruns.  He detailed how the board had approved the appointment of the project manager but the project had now run out of control.  As CEO he pointed out he had many responsibilities and had not had the time to become intimately involved in every detail.  He had sought reassurance from the steering committee that in spite of what had seemed warning signs, all was well.  They had assured him it was.  Finally he had heeded those warning signs, stepped in and found the situation worse than expected.  The budget to complete the project was some 50% over, and it was running several months late.  Our company should be called to account and made to share the cost of the failing project.

There was one board member who knew the project manager well from a previous engagement.  He had in fact recommended this person lead the project.  During the tirade by the CEO, the board member was looking curiously at the project manager as if to say

“Aren’t you going to defend your actions?  Surely this cannot be true.”

I must admit I was feeling uncomfortable but the project manager looked calm and relaxed.  Finally he was asked to respond.  The response went something like this.

“You guys run a tough company.  It is hard to get recognition for a success.  Yes we are 50% over the original budget and yes we are three months over the original schedule.  If you look at the papers I have here you will see that every variation has been estimated in time and cost, and approved by the Steering Committee and CEO.  In fact if you add them all up, you will see we have added 60% to the original budget in terms of cost, and four months to the schedule.  I am actually under the revised budget, and ahead on delivery.

I also have a file of rejected variations that would have put the project another 50% over budget.  Every change is costed, evaluated, considered by the steering committee and approved or rejected.  Nothing that will impact the original scope is undertaken without approval.”

He sat down.  To say there was silence would be an understatement.  It was beyond silence.  It lasted about a minute.  The only sound was the wheels turning in the head of the CEO as he tried vainly to find a way to dig himself out of the hole.

Finally the friendly board member spoke.  He said to the CEO.

“So how is it you were not aware of the cumulative impact of the changes?”

Much stuttering and stammering followed.  In the end the project manager was congratulated by the board for the process and control he brought to the project.  The CEO was reprimanded for wasting the time of the board, and not being across details he should have known.

The lesson I took away from this was that every variation needs to be quantified and submitted for approval.  More importantly there needs to be a strict process in place for this to happen.  It is always easy for the project manager to say yes.  Nobody will thank you for saying yes when the fan takes on a brownish hue.