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Best Practices of Online Project Management

  • The Round PM Peg in the Square Slot

    It is almost laughable what companies will refer to as a project management role these days. Short-term projects and contracts, long term consulting gigs, contract to hire and direct hire positions. It doesn’t matter. What one organization calls a project manager another organization may call an office manager with nothing in the job description about managing a schedule in project management software.  Seriously…as well defined as the true project manager role really is or should be, there are still organizations that are posting or asking for the PM role for what is really an assistant, office manager or sales person.

    On the flip side there are companies who want this person to be a jack-of-all-trades. What they seem to be looking for is a technical application developer who can lead a team, manage a project and work closely with the customer…all at the same time. Good luck finding that – or even finding a developer who really wants to handle the PM tasks and manage web-based project management software schedules, too. Here’s what most of these organizations that want crossover developers/managers don’t seem to understand: most developers don’t want to do that.  I’ve talked to a lot of application developer friends of mine and believe me, most of them want out of management as soon as they get into it. The bottom line is, the best developers are usually happier as developers. That’s what I’ve witnessed, and that’s what they’ve told me. There are a few out there, but they are usually ones who are no longer interested in continuing in the tech guru role. They want out…they want to lead a project. 

    But back to the real problem – too many organizations are looking for someone to do everything for them – basically a one size fits all scenario. And it’s not really just that. Everyone everywhere is supposed to be a jack-of-all-trades for as little money as possible. I think that statement probably sums it up best.

    So what I am getting to based on the title is this…organizations are trying to fit real project managers into a do everything role and it is often failing…especially if the PM lacks the true hands-on technical skills that the leadership in the company is truly seeking. Or, they end up bringing on a highly skilled developer who is forced to fit the mold of project manager handling status reports and schedules in online project management software when they lack that skill and experience. They also often result in failure. So many job postings, consulting requests, and – my favorite – Craigslist postings – are asking for a project manager in every field. Project managers can be everything. Data entry people are now project managers. Web developers are also project managers. Sales people are project managers. Don’t get me wrong, those are all great professions – and necessary professions. But project managers? No. Not that project managers are better, just very different. The title has been cheapened, unfortunately, and I’m not sure what, or if there is anything that we project managers can do about it. I do know that educating the workforce population needs to take place somehow and at some point. But even more so, if hiring managers want the right person to lead their engagements and handle the technical aspects, they need to prioritize what they are truly looking for and what their top need is…what their secondary need is, etc.  I have too many PM friends out there looking for assignments who are jumping into roles they aren’t ready for and being blocked from roles that they are perfect for.

    Summary

    The key is to try to stay true to your profession and to what it is you want to do.  Ask the right questions before taking on a consulting gig or interview for a position that sounds like they want you to handle every aspect of the project. If you are a project manager seeking a PM position and they are asking for every technical skill under the sun…skip that posting and move on to the next one. Do yourself a favor – it wasn’t meant for you. The job market is improving a bit and roles will likely go back to the standard that they were in the past…we just aren’t fully there yet. So avoid wasting your time on gigs and postings that aren’t a good fit…the experienced project manager with key qualifying projects under their belt will find the right position, the inexperienced project manager eventually will, too and the company who really wants a hands-on technical developer will eventually find what they want as well.

     

     

    Brad Egeland is an IT/Project Management consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience leading initiatives in Manufacturing, Government Contracting, Gaming and Hospitality, Retail Operations, Aviation and Airline, Pharmaceutical, Start-ups, Healthcare, Higher Education, Non-profit, High-Tech, Engineering and general IT. Brad is a married, Christian father of 7 living in Las Vegas, NV. Visit Brad's site at http://www.bradegeland.com/.

  • Handling the Project Pressures – Part 2

    In Part 1 of this two part series I asked our readers the question: What is your boiling point? When does the pressure become too much that you start to lose control. My guess is that most of us can’t answer that – because we will know it when we get there. And, in order to avoid actually getting there and losing all control of our project management software schedule, we need to stay focused on four areas as we manage our high-pressure project engagements. In Part 1, I covered the first two of my four suggested areas: focusing on the basics and best practices and practicing good communication even when the chips are down and we are basically operating in emergency mode. 

    Let’s consider the last two on my list of four…

    Avoid the unnecessary risks. Sometimes, when we are stressed or under great pressure on one or more projects that we are managing, we may have a tendency to divert from our normal routine or normal decision-making and take certain risks that we would not otherwise take thinking this is the right way to react to issues with our online project management software schedule. Don’t do this. I repeat, do not do this. Unless the project calls for some drastic measures, don’t go crazy. Slow and steady still nearly always wins the race. Certainly kick it up a notch or two if you must. But flying into emergency mode, throwing more resources at issues without taking the proper time to analyze the costs and benefits of such an action, and taking action without enough information just because you think you need to act quickly are all examples of bad ideas. Taking unnecessary risks or drastic measures can kill the project budget, cause concern among team members and the customer and usually is somewhat detrimental to the forward progress of the project.

    Document, document, document. As stated in Part 1, critical situations like this are not the time to cut corners on communication. It is also not the right time to cut corners on documentation for the same basic reasons. When we are running in emergency mode sometimes we think the fundamentals can take a backseat and everything will be ok. I say that this is exactly the time that we need to document everything. When there are problems on the project, if the worst case scenarios become a reality and you end up being – heaven forbid – sued by your client, having the proper documentation in place showing due diligence on the project will definitely work in your favor. And even if we’re not talking about a situation that dire, it’s still best in the name of good project management and good customer relations to continue to provide and produce appropriate documentation for deliverables and status situations on the engagement.

    Summary

    We can’t all perform like James Bond 100% of the time, but we can remain as calm as possible, staying focused on the progress, performance and success of the projects that we manage. The calmer we are, the calmer our project resources will also be. And it will be much easier to stay on track, manage the web-based project management software schedule and keep our team member resources and customer resources focused on the tasks of our schedule as well.  Remember, slow and steady wins the race. Well, slow may not always win the race (or ever), but steady and consistent does. So keeping a calm head and focusing on best practices while working smarter – and not necessarily that much harder – will help us bring the project out of whatever pressures and issues are being encountered and get back on track for the remainder of the engagement.

     

     

     

    Brad Egeland is an IT/Project Management consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience leading initiatives in Manufacturing, Government Contracting, Gaming and Hospitality, Retail Operations, Aviation and Airline, Pharmaceutical, Start-ups, Healthcare, Higher Education, Non-profit, High-Tech, Engineering and general IT. Brad is a married, Christian father of 7 living in Las Vegas, NV. Visit Brad's site at http://www.bradegeland.com/.

  • Handling the Project Pressures – Part 1

    We all have that point where we just can’t – or won’t – take it anymore. That sort of boiling point that – when reached – is the end of the line. I reached it the other day with a contractor on our house as he was trying to extort more money out of us….mainly out of my wife…for work he hadn’t yet even performed while he was way beyond on what he should be done with. I said no more…so he quit in a huff and now we are ready to take legal action, but that’s really information for another article at this point…I will let you know how it turns out. He definitely had fallen outside of the timeline of my project management software schedule, that’s for sure – and they were dates that he gave me and agreed to.

    So, where is that point for you? How much can you personally – and professionally take? We all – at some time or another – reach that point where we just can’t take it anymore. And where it is depends on us. It may be too much distraction. It may be too much interruption. It may be too much stupidity (you know what I mean, don’t you – read my statements in the first paragraph again?). Or it may be too much pressure. How we handle hitting that breaking point may say a lot about who we are and it may have a big impact on how we’re managing our projects and it may even have a big impact on our careers if the stressor or issue is big enough.

    In the project management world it is critical that we actually stay in charge and maintain the perception of remaining in control. Especially in stressful or critical situations. If the customer senses that we’re losing control of our project team, or the project, or any part of the engagement, then their satisfaction will likely dip and their frustrations will grow. Soon, they will start to question our leadership.  They should. That’s why we must remain in control. But how? When the walls are caving in, issues start to mount, and impossible deadlines are looming, how do we remain calm? How do we maintain balance and control? Fake it? Well, yes…maybe….to some degree. But most of all we breathe deeply, count to ten, and do the following:

    Stick to basics. Always remember to stick to the basics – and that usually mean the basic project management best practices that you employ when you are not operating under extreme pressure. Even if you feel you have to take some drastic measures, you must still stick to the project basics and best practices. Continue with the regular status meetings, keep producing the project status report and delivering it with pinpoint regularity. Stay up on the online project management software schedule and keep your team and customer up to date on its status. This is particularly important during problematic times on the project so that you don’t add to customer frustration and dissatisfaction.

    Communicate well and often. During times of critical issues on the project, when things seem stressful, the web-based project management software schedule is slipping and issues are mounting, you may have a tendency to huddle frequently with the project team. Never – I do mean never – leave the customer out in the cold. Over communicate, do not under communicate. The customer needs to know what’s going on. A customer who is out of the loop will feel like you’re not telling them everything, they’ll think you’re being deceitful, they’ll become frustrated, and they’ll likely be on the phone with your CEO – which is not good.

    That’s the first two of four areas to keep in mind when we try to keep calm and keep our team and customer focused under pressure. In Part 2, we will discuss two more areas that we need to keep focused on…risks and project documentation.

     

     

    Brad Egeland is an IT/Project Management consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience leading initiatives in Manufacturing, Government Contracting, Gaming and Hospitality, Retail Operations, Aviation and Airline, Pharmaceutical, Start-ups, Healthcare, Higher Education, Non-profit, High-Tech, Engineering and general IT. Brad is a married, Christian father of 7 living in Las Vegas, NV. Visit Brad's site at http://www.bradegeland.com/.

  • Flexible PM Methodology

    What is your organization's tool of choice? And by tool I mean methodology. Do they have one? Have those in charge gathered and said, "This is how we will run our projects"? Have the laid down the law on how project status reports will look? When project meetings will take place. How formal project knockoffs will happen?

    If they have then you may be lucky. The structure they have built around what you do everyday may be extremely beneficial to you and allow you to reach your greatest potential as a project manager by not having to think at that level of detail...just do it. Then again....you didn't get to your position of project leadership by just being there and running a project off of a bunch of templates. If you’re a good project manager – and you’re reading this so you either are or aspire to be – then you know you have to shoot from the hip from time to time. And on some projects you have to do it a lot. And, if you’re an independent consultant like me, you may do it even more and that creative, entrepreneurial behavior, attitude and leadership style may be exactly what is getting you the project gigs you’re managing anyway. Don’t forsake that – it’s a personal quality your project customer may be specifically seeking out.

    So, if you’re working off your own PM methodology or have considerable freedom to run projects in your organization however you see fit or your customer desires – as long as you experience a good deal of success – then what are some of the core competencies that you still must bring to the table? And what are some of the basics you still need to be aware of – things that have to happen no matter what you do in terms of methodology…rigid or flexible? 

    Regular project status updates and reporting

    The heart and soul of project management is the regular status reporting we do as project managers. We create status reports that tell our customers and project team members what’s going on with the project from week to week. We revise and distribute an updated online project management software schedule that drives regular discussions with our key stakeholders and participants so that we can all be on the same page with task assignments, task progress and resource workloads on a weekly basis. The project manager that doesn’t provide regular project status reporting to his customer, team and management is not long for a career in his chosen field.

    Strong leadership skills

    I’ve always said that the project manager must possess strong leadership skills. There are a few things that a new or aspiring PM can fake it till they make it on but this area isn’t really one of them. I do believe that some people are born leaders. And from that subset comes project managers.  It takes a good, honest, hardworking PM with solid leadership capabilities to get a skilled and diverse – and often geographically dispersed – team to follow them and do what he says in order to achieve success on the engagement. The web-based project management software schedule alone will not do the trick.

    Regular customer meetings and interfaces

    Part of any PM methodology – however flexible it may be – must be regular meetings with both the project customer and project team. I use the weekly team meeting to make sure we are all on the same page for the weekly customer meeting. And weekly is important. And REGULAR is even more important. Don’t cancel these meetings even if there is little or nothing new to discuss for that week. If your meetings become irregular, you wont be taken seriously when you go back to regular meetings as things get busier. Meet weekly no matter what.  More often if necessary for the engagement.

    Planning

    Finally, that dirty word called planning. Yes, planning is important…essential.  What that means for your specific methodology may very.  But don’t forsake planning.  Build whatever planning tasks you need to into your project management software schedule and make sure everyone knows that those are critical tasks. Requirements are the lifeblood of any project and requirements definition – good, thorough, complete requirements definition – is part of the project planning process. Without them, project scope is nearly impossible to manage and keep in check.

    Summary

    No matter what your project management methodology is, there are still some key things that have to happen…some key elements that must be there and some important things that the project manager must still do every week (every day?) to maintain good control of the project, keep the customer engaged, keep the team informed, and provide the type of oversight and leadership that is expected – and needed – from a solid project leader.

    What are your thoughts? Do you follow a rigid PM methodology? If not, what are your thoughts on what I’ve discussed here and what are some other key competencies and concepts that must be included when you’re managing projects large and small for organizations as either a PM, hired contractor or independent consultant? Lets discuss.

     

     

     

    Brad Egeland is an IT/Project Management consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience leading initiatives in Manufacturing, Government Contracting, Gaming and Hospitality, Retail Operations, Aviation and Airline, Pharmaceutical, Start-ups, Healthcare, Higher Education, Non-profit, High-Tech, Engineering and general IT. Brad is a married, Christian father of 7 living in Las Vegas, NV. Visit Brad's site at http://www.bradegeland.com/.

  • Taking Things for Granted

    I think we all tend to take a lot of things for granted.  I don’t mean everyone everywhere. There are many people who have lived very difficult lives who likely take very little, if anything, for granted. But for many of us – especially here in the USA as I can’t speak for other areas – we have it pretty good and we take so many things for granted that we don’t even stop to consider them…ever. 

    The sun

    I thought about this the other day as I heard a song mention something about what if the sun was no longer there. In reality…what would that mean?  We take so much for granted – I know I take the sun for granted daily. The reality of a statement like that is this…if the sun’s last rays were being emitted right this second as it was burning out, those final rays would reach us in about 8 minutes…about how long it will take you to finish this article. Within a week, the average global surface temperature would drop below 0°F. In a year, it would dip to –100°. Apparently moving to Iceland would be the only real option because there they already heat 87 percent of their homes using geothermal energy and people could continue harnessing volcanic heat for hundreds of years. But building homes in -100˚F temperatures would be pretty difficult. In general, our outlook would be pretty grim and the changes would be felt drastically and almost immediately.

    9/11

    Remember 9/11? That changed a lot of things for us. I was affected on both sides of the coin though nothing even close to as devastating as the families of those who lost their lives. I worked for a very large aviation and engineering firm and lost my job as a huge percentage of the staff – especially project managers – were let go due to a drop-off in business as a direct result of the events of 9/11. And in my next gig as a consultant I got the eerie task of leading a project to recover data from heavily damaged disks from a leading financial institution that lost their entire New York office staff in that tragedy.

    What does any of this have to do with my project?

    The bottom line I’m getting at is we take many things for granted…our jobs (although not so much any more), our environment, our personal lives, our marriages, our children’s’ health and we take for granted many daily things that happen on our projects. We put together detailed project management software schedules assuming that everyone cares about the project and everyone is doing their job. And we are surprised when we put the project on autopilot only to find a few weeks later that people aren’t always doing their jobs and that our web-based project management software schedule is now a joke because it’s way off track. 

    Apparently several managers did the same thing with remote workers at Yahoo before Marissa Mayer stepped in and made everyone come back onsite to do their work. People weren’t being productive. While I don’t agree with her mandate – I think it could have been handled differently – at least she took action when no one else was minding the store very well before her.

    Monitor daily using best practices

    It’s critical that we track our projects every day. The more we let things slide, the farther out of hand issues can become. A 5% budget overrun because of incorrect project time charges can quickly turn into a 40% overrun that you many never recover from. A series of canceled meetings with the project client because things are slow on the project can soon become a situation where a disgruntled and uncared for client is contacting your superiors to discuss your handling – or mishandling – of the project and their funding of it because they now feel out of touch and disengaged. 

    Stick to weekly meetings. Stick to daily contact with key stakeholders. Review and revise the online project management software schedule weekly…daily if changes are occurring rapidly. And review and revise the project budget and resource forecasts at least weekly. Don’t ever let too much time go by without paying close attention to your project, project team, and project customer – no matter how busy you are with the other five projects you are managing and no matter how smoothly this one project is going. Tomorrow may be bumpy and you need to have eyes on it to see that – and to see it coming. You won’t know in advance if the sun is going to burn out, but thankfully projects aren’t quite that difficult…and are rarely life threatening.

     

     

     

     

    Brad Egeland is an IT/Project Management consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience leading initiatives in Manufacturing, Government Contracting, Gaming and Hospitality, Retail Operations, Aviation and Airline, Pharmaceutical, Start-ups, Healthcare, Higher Education, Non-profit, High-Tech, Engineering and general IT. Brad is a married, Christian father of 7 living in Las Vegas, NV. Visit Brad's site at http://www.bradegeland.com/.

  • Testing the Waters

    New concepts, new products, new ideas. They are all important...of course. Without them we would never have anything new, we would never have new technology to implement and we would never have new foods to try. Life would be boring.

    This past week I attended CES 2014 in Las Vegas. That show - attended by more than 150,000 gadget hungry industry affiliates, buyers, and industry analysts (like me) - is all about introducing new technology and new gadgets into our lives. Most products are failures and never see the light of day, but many do and become staples in our everyday lives over the next 5 to 10 years.

    I’m certain that extensive testing went into each product before it ever hit the CES showroom floor. Hopefully even before it ever was loaded into the back of a truck or into a jet heading to Las Vegas for the show. And then probably tested again before the show actually started…because no one wants your CEO standing up in front of an entire crowd of conference attendees waiting to see the latest technology from your company only to have something like the blue screen of death show up…wait…didn’t that happen to Bill Gates in April 1998 at COMDEX as was presenting a pre-launch version of Windows 98? Ouch.

    Testing is critical

    So testing is important…we’ve established that. It must be a part of ever project – properly accounted for as tasks built into the project management software schedule on every single project. And that’s not just for technical software projects…although testing is probably considered even more strongly on those types of projects. Actually, every rollout needs some sort of testing and it must be planned for. Not just the actual testing, but also the tasks of preparing for and planning for testing – those must also be part of the web-based project management software schedule.

    Don’t do it for your customer

    As critical as testing is, and as well as the delivery team knows the product and as poorly prepared as most customers are to actually test out a solution, the temptation is to do the testing for them…or at least walk them through every step of the process. DON’T DO IT. It’s a very bad idea and it is actually a conflict of interest if you really think about it.  There is no question that the delivery team must test the product or solution themselves – thoroughly.  Why?  Because no one wants to turn over a bug-ridden technical solution to a customer to test or implement. Very bad idea and you’ll lose any customer confidence you had once they sit down and start running your poorly designed solution through its paces. So, definitely test. But the purpose is to make sure it works and that the customer will have a relatively uneventful user acceptance test (UAT) experience. 

    And you can help the customer’s test team – or at least guide them – through the process of putting together test cases and test scenarios. All that preparation should also be represented as tasks in your online project management software schedule. You can even – should even – be present throughout their UAT experience to ensure that it goes smoothly and so that you are available to quickly fix any small issues that may come up (because all of the big ones have already been identified and fixed during your own testing experience…right?). 

    Summary

    The bottom line is this: testing is critical for every software implementation and product rollout. No one wants to be like Bill Gates and experience the blue screen of death during a presentation. Or like Michael Bay (the famed “Transformers” director) who was speaking for Samsung presenting their new curved TV screen technology at the CES show last week when the teleprompter failed on him and he didn’t know what to do so he ran off the stage in disgrace. Oops….probably should have tested things out a little more. Now he’s famous for something else…stage fright.


     

    Brad Egeland is an IT/Project Management consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience leading initiatives in Manufacturing, Government Contracting, Gaming and Hospitality, Retail Operations, Aviation and Airline, Pharmaceutical, Start-ups, Healthcare, Higher Education, Non-profit, High-Tech, Engineering and general IT. Brad is a married, Christian father of 7 living in Las Vegas, NV. Visit Brad's site at http://www.bradegeland.com/.

  • Dealing with Those Hard Changes – Part 2

    In Part 1 of this two part series, I introduced the concept of the hard changes we go through in life, jobs, and projects.  And when it comes to projects, we all know that change is inevitable – we see it constantly in our many (did I say many?) revisions of our project management software schedules.  Team members have to be replaced, customers need changes on projects, and sometimes issues arise that force big changes and/or problems on our projects.  We need to effectively and efficiently deal with these in order to keep our projects on course.  It sounds easy, but too often we try to do it on our own and flounder.  Let that go on to long without using those valuable team and customer resources to help you face these issues and you’ll find yourself damaging the project and possibly find yourself out of a job. 

    So, without further delay, let’s touch on the final three steps in my own four-step process of working through handling changes and issues on the project….

    Discuss with the team. Discuss the issue that has come up with the entire project team. If it’s a personnel change, consider how you will onboard the replacement resource or resources. If it’s a customer issue, consider the best way to approach the customer – and which team member you’ll take with you to do it (2 is better than 1 in most cases like this). If it’s a critical project issue – the most common scenario - consider how you can take it to the customer with one or more action plans to discuss with the customer so you can hit the ground running. Any time you take changes or issues to the customer, if you already have a good solution or choices of solutions at the ready, it will definitely serve you well as you try to keep customer satisfaction high. Remember, if you aren’t part of the solution, then you’re part of the problem.

    Face the customer. Next, take the change or issues you discussed above to the customer. This is often the hardest part, but it’s a critical part of the project manager’s job. Avoiding it doesn’t do anyone any good. Keep in mind that every one of your project clients actually wants to see you succeed because it is their project. Your success is their success. So involve them – don’t try to do too much without also engaging the customer on whatever change or issue is happening. And be sure to take the revised online project management software schedule with you so that you can show them the impact of any changes or issues that you are discussing with them so that they are fully informed.

    Implement action. Finally, implement the chosen change or course of action. With the full backing of your team…who you relied on and involved early, and the customer…who you also kept engaged in the process of planning for and making decisions on corrective action or change reaction – you will have a much greater chance of success. Be confident and bold in your decision-making, leadership, and forward progress. And watch your web-based project management software schedule closely to ensure that the change is being properly managed. Those critical times of hard changes are not the time to back down from your project leadership duties. Rather, those are the opportunities to shine.

    Brad Egeland is an IT/Project Management consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience leading initiatives in Manufacturing, Government Contracting, Gaming and Hospitality, Retail Operations, Aviation and Airline, Pharmaceutical, Start-ups, Healthcare, Higher Education, Non-profit, High-Tech, Engineering and general IT. Brad is a married, Christian father of 7 living in Las Vegas, NV. Visit Brad's site at http://www.bradegeland.com/.

  • Dealing with Those Hard Changes – Part 1

    Sometimes we have to make those very tough calls in life. Things happen, changes come into play, and what we originally thought mattered or was relevant or was critical to our lives, our jobs, our careers, our families, etc. or even our online project management software schedules may not be any more. Or they may be, but change has to happen to move forward.

    I know someone who recently had to revisit their attachment to their dog. A very large dog. Life changes had made it necessary for the dog to be re-homed. In several past cases, we were able to help out such individuals…keep the dog forever or for a period of time till we could help find a new home. Since our family has doubled in size (up to 10 kids!) over the past five years, that’s really no longer possible so we couldn’t help this individual out. But a new job, a new boyfriend and several other changes meant that it would be better – however unfortunate – for this dog in need of attention to get a new home. It’s too bad too, because our family knew this dog and had become attached…but the change had to be made or the person’s life could not progress.

    Change is inevitable. Sometimes it’s changes to our personal lives – like our friend above, sometimes it’s our professional lives, sometimes it’s a very cool – or stressful – career change. Twelve years ago, in over the span of one month I had all three – my mother passed away, one job ended and another one started up – oh, and our beloved basset hound was hit by a car. It was tough month. It’s how we respond to these changes and challenges – especially when they hit you from multiple sides – that define us and our ability to come out on the other side better and more productive for the experience.

    Change on the projects that we manage is usually unavoidable, necessary and frequent. Adjusting to those changes can be tricky…especially if you are experiencing a big change on a very critical project. The best we can do is be as prepared as possible to expect and handle change, have good team assembled that will help us understand and respond to the change, and be as open and collaborative as possible (and as necessary) with our project client on any changes that come up and must be dealt with. 

    From a project perspective, when a major change like a key resource loss, a customer funding issue, a major requirements snafu or any other similar issue that has a direct and significant impact on the project at hand presents itself, I follow this process in analyzing and responding to such changes…

    Actually plan for risk. This needs to have happened up front on the project, though we often overlook risk planning and risk management till something bad happens. And even then we’re usually too busy responding to the bad to plan for what might come next. It’s called “fighting fires” and we are all too familiar with it.  Ideally, we would have planned for many of the most common risks – and some far reaching ones as well – when the project first started. It really doesn’t matter how you do this…start with just your team and then include the customer or maybe only perform risk planning with the team (any risk planning is better than no risk planning)…but just make sure you do it. As you’re building the draft web-based project management software schedule to present and review during project kickoff, include this activity. And if you did not do that, then make a point of setting aside formal time in the project management software schedule to perform risk planning at the first sign of a critical – and unexpected – issue or risk coming up on the project. It may be too late to really mitigate or avoid that risk, but it’s not too late to plan for what may come up later in the project.

    Due to my extensive lead-in, I only managed to cover one step in the process in this first segment.  In Part 2, we’ll discuss the final three steps as we figure out how best to meet the changes and issues head-on that threaten to knock our projects off course.

    Brad Egeland is an IT/Project Management consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience leading initiatives in Manufacturing, Government Contracting, Gaming and Hospitality, Retail Operations, Aviation and Airline, Pharmaceutical, Start-ups, Healthcare, Higher Education, Non-profit, High-Tech, Engineering and general IT. Brad is a married, Christian father of 7 living in Las Vegas, NV. Visit Brad's site at http://www.bradegeland.com/.

  • Going Outside Our Comfort Zone – Part 2

    Welcome to Part 2 of my two-part discussion on growing personally and professionally by going outside of our normal comfort zones. Personally, I’m the first person who would say that they usually like to stay within their own comfort zone. I feel most comfortable taking the same vacations every time we take one, visiting them same places, rotating through the same list of ‘date night’ restaurants every Saturday night with my wife and usually leading the same boring life week in and week out. Why? Because it’s safe and I know I can be successful at it. I know I can handle that challenge. Although if it’s just doing what you’ve done many times before, it’s not really a challenge then, is it?

    Since moving to Las Vegas from Iowa City (which was way outside of my comfort zone in the first place), I’ve changed a lot. We’ve adopted five more children – we now have 10 kids total. And now I’ve moved outside of my housing comfort zone by purchasing a ‘horse property’ here in Las Vegas on an acre rather than remaining a ‘tract’ home in a community like most of the homes in Las Vegas…doing this so we can have a big yard for all these kids of course, but it comes with new projects like completely re-doing the kitchen and reflooring the entire house. All outside my comfort zone.

    Professionally, we grow the most when faced with challenges that we are unfamiliar with. Again, you really don’t want your daily professional life to be like that – it’s a lot of stress to take on new challenges every single day on every project. Sometimes it is nice to have a few stress free days of just managing the online project management software schedules and related task activities. But periodic challenges are a good thing. Who wants to just go through the motions on our web-based project management software schedule every single day?  Boring. And there are ways we can approach many issues and challenges that will help us turn them into very positive experiences. I know I’m only touching on the tip of the iceberg with the ones I’m covering, but I presented two such responses in Part 1 and will cover two more in this second segment now….

    Make your executives work for you. There’s no question that your executive management team is higher ranked than you and makes more money than you. But that doesn’t mean you can’t leverage them, too, in your daily work and in situations that present great challenges to you. If you are placed in a situation that becomes difficult with a client, rely on them to attend the next status call to discuss and help work through any issues in the schedule in the  project management software (www.projectinsight.net) with the client. Their attendance can immediately help alleviate customer concerns – depending on the issue – and their involvement can help knock down barriers once you’ve moved them into ally status on your project. Be bold, share the issue or concern up the chain and insist on their involvement. It’s rare that they will refuse since your success directly ties in to the entire company’s success whose best interests are served by having ongoing project successes and happy customers.

    Saying ‘yes’ to the new project. I’m with the rest of you in that I’m sure you’ve been presented with projects that you’ve wanted to refuse. Often times we don’t have a choice – we have to smile and take on the new project. But sometimes we do have a choice – or at least we can present a reason why we should not be taking on the new project (such as sitting down with our leadership to review all of our ongoing project management software schedules). First consider why you don’t want to take it on. If it’s for legitimate reasons like you are truly already overloaded and don’t want to fail, then discuss that with your manager. Don’t say ‘no’ – it likely won’t be well received. But rather state your thoughts on your current project load or ask your PMO director to help you prioritize your current projects in order to be able to take on this new work.

    But if it’s because you’re uncomfortable with the technology, the industry, or the client, then consider meeting it head on. It may be ok to let leadership know that this is one you have some reservations about and state why…thus letting them know you may need some guidance in areas that you normally wouldn’t seek help. But consider boldly moving forward…and remember if you hit bumps you can always go back to my first point in Part 1 – use your team. They are there to help you succeed and vice versa.

    Brad Egeland is an IT/Project Management consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience leading initiatives in Manufacturing, Government Contracting, Gaming and Hospitality, Retail Operations, Aviation and Airline, Pharmaceutical, Start-ups, Healthcare, Higher Education, Non-profit, High-Tech, Engineering and general IT. Brad is a married, Christian father of 7 living in Las Vegas, NV. Visit Brad's site at http://www.bradegeland.com/.

  • Going Outside Our Comfort Zone – Part 1

    I was recently watching the ESPN documentary on Michael Jordan - arguably the greatest basketball player who ever lived. The documentary was about him giving up basketball after his father's murder and taking up baseball traveling around in the lowly minor leagues...all while he was still in his basketball prime. To say Jordan want outside of his comfort zone in an extreme emotional situation would be an outrageous understatement. But he did it and it made me think of the topic for this article.

    [Source]

    How many times have you had to go outside your comfort zone on a project? How many times have you had to take over a failing project, manage a difficult resource, go to a project client with information that you’d rather not be discussing with them, or possible just take on a project using a technology or process that you know little to nothing about? 

    Most of us probably have to answer “several times” to this. If you’re answer is “always” then either you’re a complainer or you have a very stressful working situation. It would be somewhat interesting, but also very taxing, to always be going into a situation on every project you manage knowing that you’re taking on something unlike anything you’ve ever done before. And if you’re answer is “never” then that’s unfortunate because in order to be continually growing as a person and as a professional, I believe we need periodic challenges that take us out of our comfort zone and allow us to gain new experiences…making us better and more confident leaders.

    If you are asked to go outside your comfort zone on a project, I suggest these steps or processes (and any combination thereof as needed):

    Use your team. That’s what they are there for. Don’t worry about feeling inadequate or inexperienced in an area. You’re not inadequate and everyone is inexperienced in many areas. This is your team – and a close-knit team works well together and helps each other out.  It’s not just about moving on to the next task in your web-based project management software (www.projectinsight.net) schedule. It’s about making everything a collaborative team effort. Bounce questions, ideas, concerns, and tough decisions off of each other in order to come up with the best ideas and solutions for the project and the project client.

    Be honest with your project client. If you’re having an issue with the project client or if you need to present them with bad news….do it. I’ve had PMO directors on two occasions – oh, wait, it was the same bad PMO director each time – tell me to withhold information from the project client and both times it ended with disastrous results. One time it was an extreme situation with the project schedule in the online software and the other was a project funding situation that had gotten way out of hand. 

    On this same topic, I once had to deliver possibly the strangest bad news possible to a large gaming client who I was running about 15 small IT projects for while I was working for professional services organization. I had to share that our CEO was found to be a fraud and had just taken his own life as the FBI was heading to his house to take him in to custody. To say it was out of my comfort zone to share this info with them is an extreme understatement. As our organization started to crumble, their response – thankfully - was to offer me a job so that I could continue leading these projects and managing their IT work through online project management software schedules.  I didn’t take it, but it sure turned out better than it could have – and it was because I confidently (or at least faked confidence) went out of my comfort zone and handled the situation professionally.

    In Part 2 of this two part series, we’ll cover a couple more steps or processes you can follow to help work through issues on our projects that take us outside of our normal comfort zones.

    Brad Egeland is an IT/Project Management consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience leading initiatives in Manufacturing, Government Contracting, Gaming and Hospitality, Retail Operations, Aviation and Airline, Pharmaceutical, Start-ups, Healthcare, Higher Education, Non-profit, High-Tech, Engineering and general IT. Brad is a married, Christian father of 7 living in Las Vegas, NV. Visit Brad's site at http://www.bradegeland.com/.


     

  • Project Pricing: Fixed Price vs. Time and Materials

    Ah, the project and consulting dilemma.

    Fixed price vs. time and materials (T & M). Which is better? Do you prefer one over the other? And do you mix and match on some projects? I know I have on some projects, some consulting engagements and on many large government programs that I've managed over the years.

    I can say that in those government programs it really can't be avoided. As for projects, the customer usually wins if it's a fixed price project. Why? Well, change orders do happen, but some work slips through for free and a majority of projects run over budget - but that doesn't mean the customer is paying more. It usually means the delivery organization is eating the extra costs in the form if a lower profit margin. And it’s even worse if you’re not tracking it well in a web-based project management software (www.projectinsight.net) schedule.

    I'm a fan of the fixed price method myself. I think it's much easier to manage and much easier to bill. And easier to close a deal with the project client or consulting client. They like to know that 'x' is all they will be spending unless, of course, they change requirements on my team during the project. A fixed price deliverable or project doesn't leave the customer wondering if you actually put in all those hours that you are billing them for. It gives them one price to pay and leaves you with the incentive to do good work - meaning no rework or iterations and revisions in a document deliverable - and to complete that work as quickly and efficiently as possible.

    I have to admit that I'm failing on this on a home project. I hired a contractor on a time and materials basis instead of asking for a fixed price bid based on my requirements for the project. I probably wouldn't do that again – and next time on a project this size I would probably even set up the project in project management software. Things change, the contractor comes up with ideas he would like to discuss even in some cases where the requirements have been clearly discussed and our wishes don't include his new ideas. If it were a fixed price project I'm fairly certain the extra ideas would not come up and the project would already be almost completed. Don't get me wrong, he is a very skilled and trusted contractor, I just think a fixed price engagement would have eliminated some of the discussions we've had along the way which have slowed progress a little.

    If you are a project manager who has some say in pricing the original project or if you are pricing a significant portion of add-on work, the cleanest and most easily manageable pricing scheme is to go the fixed price route. It should also make it much easier to manage in your online project management software schedule.   Map out the tasks, get your team to provide solid estimates of effort associated with each task, build in whatever target profit margin your executive team is asking for and then you have your final price for the customer. You'll be fine as long as you stay on top of the budget, manage the financials weekly so nothing can get too far out of sync, and watch scope carefully so you are sure to draw up change requests for your customer when unplanned work is needed or request.

    Brad Egeland is an IT/Project Management consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience leading initiatives in Manufacturing, Government Contracting, Gaming and Hospitality, Retail Operations, Aviation and Airline, Pharmaceutical, Start-ups, Healthcare, Higher Education, Non-profit, High-Tech, Engineering and general IT. Brad is a married, Christian father of 7 living in Las Vegas, NV. Visit Brad's site at http://www.bradegeland.com/.

  • Reaching the Customer Who Doesn’t Want to Be Reached

    Every so often you run into one of those project customers who really wants nothing to do with the project. And I don’t mean hard to get in touch with. No, I mean they are impossible to reach. They aren’t attending project status calls. They don’t respond to emails. They don’t return phone calls. It’s not so bad if they are next door…but that’s rarely the case – especially with the technical projects we manage. We may be doing work for a client who is 10,000 miles away. If they don’t respond, they don’t respond. What do you do? 

    The bad part about it is you go to the status call, get your entire team in the room – or on the phone – and you sit and wait every single week for the beep indicating that they’ve joined the call. You waste a few minutes chatting with the team about personal lives, etc., but eventually you realize that once again the customer is not going to join and so you spend 10-15 minutes going over – just with your own team – the project status report and the web-based project management software (www.projectinsight.net) schedule. That’s still important information to cover and something may have changed since you last met with them during an internal team meeting…which for me almost always would have been only 1-2 days before this call we’re sitting on now. It can get very frustrating. 

    Has this ever happened to you? I know it sounds extreme, but it can happen and it does happen…and it feels like you’re performing on a project in free form and no one cares about what you’re doing or what’s going on with the project management software schedule. Sort of like running a race with no competition…no one to push you to excel and no real feedback to see how you’re doing unless you’re watching the track clock.

    The key is to somehow get the customer re-engaged. There’s no guarantee you can do it, but there are a few creative steps you can try that may make it happen.

    Make a crisis

    Create a crisis. It doesn’t have to be a real crisis, but make it sound like one (unless you do, indeed, have a crisis to present). The hope is that the urgent nature of your correspondence will light a fire under this person or person(s) to get re-engaged on the project and show up at meetings. Bring up budget concerns, possible key risks you’re concerned about, or maybe some issues that need to be addressed that could possibly significantly impact the online project schedule.

    Call a face to face

    Reach out urgently and request a face to face. They may not be responding to you, but it’s likely that they are getting your messages. And if you urgently request a face to face – even if it means one or both parties have to get on a plane to do it – then it’s worth it and it should get their attention. And the urgency is really there – even if there are no major issues. Why? Because if they’ve been out of touch long enough then you absolutely must get together to make sure everyone is still on the same page. So state that you’re packing up your project team and coming to their site for a two-day gathering. That should get their attention. If not, then….

    Go to the CEO

    You always hate to go over someone’s head, but sometimes you have no choice. Someone, somewhere in the organization actually did want this project. You would think that the project sponsor or someone closely related to that individual would care enough to step forward, but when this hasn’t happened for some time and you have possibly some decisions that need to be made or you’re at some sort of crossroads on the project, then you have no choice. You must go higher up. And why cut corners, just go to the CEO. At this point it’s either the project sponsor’s job or your head…better to let it be their job at stake because you need your head and you’ve been diligently working on the project. Go to the CEO and express your concerns.

    Brad Egeland is an IT/Project Management consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience leading initiatives in Manufacturing, Government Contracting, Gaming and Hospitality, Retail Operations, Aviation and Airline, Pharmaceutical, Start-ups, Healthcare, Higher Education, Non-profit, High-Tech, Engineering and general IT. Brad is a married, Christian father of 7 living in Las Vegas, NV. Visit Brad's site at http://www.bradegeland.com/.

  • Figure Out Who Your Backup Really Is

    Everyone works best with a right-hand man…or woman, right? Batman had Robin (sometimes). Abbott had Costello. Bert has Ernie. And project managers need to have someone they can go to in the face of quick decision making needs, or to fill in at a critical customer meeting or a variety of other things that can take place or come up during the course of the engagement.

    How do we figure out who that is? How do we know who we can trust to put their best foot forward on calls or face to face with the project client? Who on the team can actually lead the team in the right direction if we were away from the project for a day or a week? It happens – unexpectedly with life emergencies, unfortunately, and with work needs…usually because something happens on another one of our projects that suddenly requires 150% of our time for a short period. What do we do? Who can we go to? 

    Well, there’s no crystal ball for this so we must figure this out – and we must do it early on in the project schedule managed in the online project software so that we have that built-in go-to person throughout the engagement. Because the last thing we want to have to rely on is onboarding a short-term replacement project manager. It would be costly and take too long to get them up to speed and it would be a face that the customer is not familiar with – and on a project that is going well you want to keep familiar faces in front of the customer. Otherwise customer confidence can start to drop and that’s a bad direction to take.

    For me, it comes down to a three-step process. I hadn’t really mapped it out as such until thinking it through for the other day as I was going though it again on a new project…it’s just a process I always go through very early on each project. Now that I’ve thought it through enough to formalize it, let me explain…

    Examine your options. First, assess your team. It may be obvious to you who this backup individual should be. But you still need to consider your options. For me, all of the projects I run are technical and most have a business analyst of some sort on the team. These individuals are usually the closest thing to a project manager without being one and the closest thing to a tech developer without being one. They often have already worked closely with web-based project management software (www.projectinsight.net) and are likely very familiar with project schedules. They’re a great liaison between the project manager and the technical lead developer or developers – basically technical with a business process knowledge aspect thrown in. But then again, many PMs also fit that description. Which, again, may make them the logical choice for the backup PM role. If you have such an individual on your team, you’ll probably look to them first. But assess the background and apparent interests of each team member to help determine who seems to be the likely best fit. Ask some questions that focus on their customer facing experience, interest in leadership, etc. They’ll think you’re trying to help them grow professionally and you are, but for your own selfish reasons, I guess.

    Test the waters. Next, test the waters. Look for some brief opportunities to have one or two top selections take leadership roles on the project. You want to do these test runs because they are critical.  If you just put one team member in this role without being certain, you can cause your customer undo stress and drop their satisfaction level with you and your delivery team unnecessarily and you may not quickly recover from it. Don’t take this step lightly. Find a need to miss a meeting or two and have two different individuals from the team lead each of those meetings. Then circle back to the customer separately to see how each worked out in the leadership role. Did they seem to understand the online project management software schedule well and present updates during the status call? What concerns did the customer have, if any?

    Select. Finally, make a selection. Going with whoever made your customer feel the most comfortable in your absence may be your best call because you want to make the transition as seamless as possible – especially if an emergency were to come up that would allow you very little time to do any training or knowledge transfer. Again, a long-term absence is likely going to require the onboarding of a full-fledged project manager. But for those situations where you’re pulled a way for a few days or even 2 or 3 weeks, the best course of action is to find a temporary fix from your current project team.

    Brad Egeland is an IT/Project Management consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience leading initiatives in Manufacturing, Government Contracting, Gaming and Hospitality, Retail Operations, Aviation and Airline, Pharmaceutical, Start-ups, Healthcare, Higher Education, Non-profit, High-Tech, Engineering and general IT. Brad is a married, Christian father of 7 living in Las Vegas, NV. Visit Brad's site at http://www.bradegeland.com/.

  • 5 Keys to Running a Good Project Meeting

    I'm not sure why, but running a good meeting is like an art form. Not everyone can do it, some never can, and others can most if the time but rarely do you find that individual who always runs a great meeting. There’s more to it than just calling a bunch of stakeholders together to review the project management software schedule.

    The attendees are sometimes diverse, more recently you have remote team members and netting attendees at every meeting, and sometimes key personnel or decision makers just can't be present...which can really have an affect on the success and outcome of the meeting.

    That said, I believe there are 5 basic keys to running a good meeting a majority of the time. Yes, follow these meeting principles and your attendees will walk away from your meetings not feeling like they were and hour of their time that they can never get back. That stings - especially when you overhear them saying it in the hall when they didn't know you we're right behind them. Ouch!

    My five to follow are:

    Plan well.  Of course, always plan well.  Plan out who really should be attending. The least productive meetings are often a result of having the wrong players in the room. If someone can't contribute, don't invite them.  And put together a detailed agenda. You will want to be covering the online project management software schedule, but there will be certainly more items than just that. The best meeting attendees like to know what will be discussed and your detailed agenda sent out to all attendees in advance will help them to best prepare for a very productive meeting discussion.

    Keep it short.  Meetings can be long if they need to be. But it's far better to have two or three shorter meetings than to have one long meeting. It will be easier to get full attendance that way. And it will be easier to ensure that your attendees stay awake and alert. Arrange to have water and coffee available if you can and avoid late afternoon meetings. In fact, avoid afternoons period if you can because people are often sleepy right after lunch. 10am meetings always work best for me.

    Don't cancel it.  Don't cancel your meeting unless it’s absolutely necessary. And for regular ongoing meetings try to never cancel them. It's far better to just have a brief meeting and only do a quick review of the latest web-based project management software (www.projectinsight.net) schedule if that’s all you have to cover in a given week then to completely cancel the meeting. Canceling meetings can give attendees a sense that your meetings may not be critical or that you are a flighty meeting scheduler. People like consistency whether they really know it or not. You'll get you best attendance week in and week out this way...trust me. People will take you - and your meetings more seriously If they always happen.

    Stay on topic.  You set up a meeting usually to cover a specific topic or to gather information to make a key decision. Remember, you have diverse attendees with their own agendas and sometimes you're being several people together who are working on another separate project and they may have been experiencing issues getting these people in the same room at the same time. Don't let your meeting become someone else's meeting. Stay in control, stay on topic, and if someone starts to divert the discussion to another topic, stop it there and ask them to schedule a separate meeting. That should be enough to keep them quiet and kindly let them know that this is your meeting and your topic.

    Follow up with notes. Finally, always follow up with notes.  It's the best way to say, "This is what we covered and this is generally what was said."  And include all assignments and action items. Always send this out within 24 hours of the meeting to all attendees and ask for their feedback, input and changes. And resend with revisions if something needs to be corrected. It's important to ensure that everyone is in the same page post-meeting and this is the best way to do that.

    Brad Egeland is an IT/Project Management consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience leading initiatives in Manufacturing, Government Contracting, Gaming and Hospitality, Retail Operations, Aviation and Airline, Pharmaceutical, Start-ups, Healthcare, Higher Education, Non-profit, High-Tech, Engineering and general IT. Brad is a married, Christian father of 7 living in Las Vegas, NV. Visit Brad's site at http://www.bradegeland.com/.

  • Is a Web Based PM Solution Right for You?

    You are charged with figuring out a new (or first time) project management software solution for your organization. Five or ten years ago your research and selection process would have been much easier because the PM landscape was rather sparse. A few good desktop options, a few good web-based options and that was about it. Now take a look around. There are literally hundreds of potential PM and task management solutions out there for you to choose from. Most of these are web-based, most are pretty full-featured, some come with separate modules to cover other aspects of management, some border on full-fledged ERP solutions and some are going to be real clunkers…at least in terms of what you need from them.

    I’m going to go out on a limb right now by saying I think your best bet is going to be a web-based project management solution – especially if you’re looking for something new or something to use for the first time. However, you need to understand why and what concerns are out there before absolutely deciding on one…so let’s consider…

    The pluses

    As I see it, here are some of the key benefits of web-based project management software...or any web-based software solution, for that matter...

    • Nothing to install
    • Revisions are usually rolled out by the software vendor to all users right away and at no additional cost
    • You pay for a subscription - usually monthly and often per user so you're paying for what you need...period
    • Because it's web-based, it's easier to tie your entire team - and customer if you wish - into the management, input and revision of the software schedule giving you a truly collaborative solution
    • Because it's web-based, often the storage of all project schedules, documents, etc. can be on the web...saving you space and giving team members immediate access to the documents and data in real time
    • Your project customer doesn't have to go out and buy costly MS Project licenses or get a PDF file of the latest project schedule from you just to stay in the loop - they can use the web-based solution
    • It saves you time.  Because of many of the features listed above, if you’re looking for team collaboration and customer participation, the web-based solution will save you – the project manager – time over the course of the engagement.

    The minuses

    I don’t want to be one-sided here…there can be downsides as well. The most prominent ones being stability and security. And if you’re planning on using the online project management software solution on a government contract then these two items – especially the security concern – cannot be overlooked. Many government contracts – and any contract with sensitive dates, resources, tasks, and data are going to present concerns over security and overall security considerations may be a key thread running through many of the requirements laid out for the project.

    Final thoughts

    You're only as secure as your weakest link and you can't be 100% certain that anything is secure. But if you control the servers where software and data is residing, at least you are in control. With anything web-based you're relying on the word of your vendor that your data is safe in the cloud - in their cloud. If you're comfortable with that, and they are a proven entity with high review marks, then I wouldn't be too worried. If they are among the dozens of very new PM web-based project management software (www.projectinsight.net) solution providers, then that can be a red flag if security is a high priority so you'd want to check that out. Have a detailed discussion with the web-based software provider and then make a decision based on your best feel of the situation.

    Brad Egeland is an IT/Project Management consultant and author with over 25 years of software development, management, and project management experience leading initiatives in Manufacturing, Government Contracting, Gaming and Hospitality, Retail Operations, Aviation and Airline, Pharmaceutical, Start-ups, Healthcare, Higher Education, Non-profit, High-Tech, Engineering and general IT. Brad is a married, Christian father of 7 living in Las Vegas, NV. Visit Brad's site at http://www.bradegeland.com/.

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