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Oct 19 17

Where Does the Time Go?

by admin

How often do you ask yourself this question? Are your projects getting done on time or are they consistently late? Do task delays multiply in a domino effect? Are you profitable or are over-budget tasks digging deeply into your margins?

These questions frustrate us as managers, project managers and front-line leaders. The most common time thieves are interruptions and non-project work. Even minor interruptions are very disruptive of workflow and can cause errors and rework. Protecting the worktime of our team is a fundamental priority for team leaders. This may involve negotiating with other leaders and managers. Techniques such as “no-meeting Tuesday” and the “cone of silence” can be employed to promote concentrated creative time.

If your team is bleeding time and most tasks are over budget or taking longer than anticipated the best answers will likely come from the employees themselves. What reasons are they giving? Is there a time management problem or an estimating problem? In our experience there is usually a combination.

Here are some contributing factors to consider when meeting with your team to discuss the issue:

  • How well the team is working as a team. An assessment may help determine this answer.
  • Employee engagement and satisfaction. Again, an assessment may be in order.
  • Operational workflow efficiency. Is there a process? Is it being followed? Is it effective and efficient?

Reliable predictions are possible! Yes, you can reliably predict your project outcomes in terms of time and budget. It requires using techniques that are appropriate to your industry and size. It involves continuously updating and improving your methods to keep pace with the changing dynamics that make up your particular business environment. Here are some questions to consider about your cost and time estimates:

  • What techniques are being used in the estimating process?
    • Is the precision too granular or not broken down enough?
    • Are you using range estimates?
    • Do you know and understand the probability of success within the estimates?
  • Is risk contingency built into the plan?
  • Are there shared resources? If yes, then these resources need to be managed at the next level up, the portfolio level. Resource leveling and smoothing will be needed to eliminate over-allocation of shared resources.
  • Is the work estimated by the person executing the task? This is known as the golden rule of estimating! This probably needs to be done on a project-by-project basis because, as much as we’d all like to think of projects as similar and able to be templated, this is generally a myth. Remember that analogous, or top-down estimating, while the lowest cost estimating technique, is also the least reliable and accurate.

A template is most useful as a checklist reminder of tasks and risks to look for when planning a project. However, projects are not like widgets moving through a production line. Creativity, innovation and complex problem solving require variation and flexibility in scheduling and will introduce uncertainty into the development lifecycle which must be accounted for with contingency planning. Otherwise, time spent thinking or waiting for information or other downtime will result in low output efficiency and when projects are planned sequentially, then project delays are likely to become the norm.

There are performance factors that must be considered when planning and estimating a project. For larger projects with many team members, time off has to be taken into account. When you add up the number of days each person is allowed for personal time and holidays, and multiply that by the number of people on the team, the number can be quite significant! For example, many companies have 10-12 holidays and 2-3 weeks of time off including sick and vacation time. Let’s use the low side and say that each individual is allowed 10 holidays and 10 days of personal time. That’s 20 days or 4 weeks out of the 52 available. That means for a team of only 13 people we lose one year of productivity.

Speaking of productivity, how many productive hours are there in a workday? Some estimates have it as low as 3 hours per day. Most people estimate this generally at 5-6 hours per day. That means each week we lose 10 hours of productivity per person. Is this reflected in our schedules? Is it accounted for at the shared resource level? Often it is not, and the result is that our highly motivated employees work 60-80 hour workweeks to get it all done! Result? Stress. Mistakes. Injured relationships. Health problems. Road rage. Climate change. Wait…maybe not that last one.

We also need to account for the efficiency of the individual and their availability to a specific task. If the estimator is not the producer of the task estimated, how does the productivity or proficiency of the team member compare with the estimate?

Finally, we should consider the data itself. Here are some questions about the work performance information:

  • How accurate is the time reporting?
  • Are there any trends in the data?
    • Project types or duration
    • Individuals or specific pairings/groupings
    • What was good on the best projects?

If your projects are habitually late, there are a couple things you should know.

  • First, you are not alone. There are a lot of people out there with the same problem. We see it every day through workshop attendees and frustrated managers experiencing pressure from all sides.
  • Second, there are solutions to your problems. Basic project techniques are easy to understand and sometimes very difficult to implement. There is no ‘one size fits all’ solution nor is there a magic formula.

The great news is that by applying analysis to your particular situation to understand the root cause of the issues within your specific environment you can determine the best approach for your team to optimize resource allocation, improve operational efficiency and drive your projects successfully!

Jul 24 17

So….you think you can read?

by admin

I recently had the opportunity to help someone filling in an application. I’m going to name him Tom. The specific scenario is not relevant to this little story and I certainly would never intentionally embarrass someone by publicly naming them and declaring them to be illiterate.

The reason that I started helping Tom was because I recognized that he was having difficulty answering some of the questions on the form. Being the sensitive person that I am, I asked ‘are you able to read English?’ I didn’t mean to insult him, and in fact in this same environment I’ve had many people ask me for help and tell me straight out that they couldn’t read English. In some cases, it was because English was not their native language, and in many other cases it was because they never learned to read. I am very comfortable with a person admitting that they can’t read and asking for help. What concerned me in this circumstance was that Tom was insulted by my question because he felt that he could read English.

The most basic definition of illiterate is “unable to read or write”. Well, Tom could read English…at about a 3rd grade reading level. Is that literate? At that skill level most people can read most one-syllable words and for longer words are able to phonetically sound them out and decipher the meaning. On this particular form there happened to be many larger words and Tom was sounding them out aloud. And getting a lot of them wrong!

For example, if the correct word was ‘process’ he might interpret it as ‘positive’. If the word was ‘medicinal’ he might come up with ‘medical’. Close yes, but close enough to understand the real meaning of the sentence? No! It was not! And as I stood there watching him struggle and trying to sound out the words, I really sympathized with him and offered assistance because he was answering incorrectly. And the reason was because as he misunderstood the actual word, he then interpreted the context of the question incorrectly and gave an incorrect answer. Answering this form incorrectly was definitely going to have a negative impact on the outcome for Tom.

When I asked him if he would like some assistance with it, he became indignant and angry with me and refused my help. He proceeded to answer incorrectly and I watched helplessly as he burned this opportunity by submitting incorrect information on the form.

It reminds me of trying to read Shakespeare. I decided one time to become more cultured by enjoying the complete works of Shakespeare. I read a few plays and really thought I understood. Then a while later I re-read one of the plays but this time with footnotes and I discovered that while we will find many words in Shakespeare that are still in use today…the meaning was completely different in the Bard’s time. It turns out I didn’t understand at all! I didn’t get a lot of the humor. I missed a lot of the sex. Darn!

Well…here’s my point. Currently there are around 250 million people able to vote for President. The voter turnout is usually just over half of the eligible voters, so about 140 million people elect the president. Think about your state, or county, or city or town. How many people are voting for your elected representatives. On what are they basing their decision?

Do they only listen and not read? That means they have to make a decision based on someone’s verbal interpretation of the facts, which are almost always represented in a very one-sided way. This person voted for this bill. Why? What else was in the bill? Why did they vote that way? What is their real voting record and how will they vote on the bill that you really care about?

If they are reading, then they are not only dependent on the perspective of the writing, they may be misinterpreting the facts because of a basic misunderstanding of the words themselves, or the context in which they are used.

This leads me to believe that it is increasingly important to have discussions and debates. Unfortunately, the ability to have a reasonable discussion is quickly going away. Civil discourse is replaced by heated arguments. Compromise based on mutual interests is replaced by one-sided positional stances. Talking politics over a glass of wine is replaced by polite, trivial, and meaningless dialog because nobody wants to offend anyone.

We need to learn to disagree without being disagreeable. And we need to continue to learn. Sometimes, a 140 character sentence just isn’t enough…especially if a word is mispelled.

Jun 15 17

Agile: the future has arrived!

by admin

Peter Drucker cautioned that managers need to be concerned less about predicting the future and pay more attention to “The futures that have already happened”. Well it’s happened again; the future is here! Agile is out of the box and is no longer an arcane idea restricted to a radical cohort of software developers who claim to finally have the answer to on-time and on-budget project performance. The wide acceptance of Agile methodologies is evidenced by the Project Management Institute offering the PMI_ACP, an Agile-based certification, and the inclusion of Agile methodologies as a valid alternative on Federal contracts.
The major principle in Agile is to be able to deal proactively with continuously evolving inputs and goals. As requirements are amended, added, and updated…so must the project baseline be amended and updated. Agile is not coming, it is here. Whether you plan to implement a hybrid approach combining the positive attributes of traditional project management with agile concepts or your goal is to become a purely agile environment, you are sure to be exposed to agile over the next few months.
We encourage you to check out this month. The home page leads to a couple of great, albeit short (thus adding to the greatness), articles about the challenges and rewards of introducing agile into a development environment. Is there an area of project management should we not be agile? Can Agile principles be applied in your environment? Definitely something to think about.
I’d love to hear more about your agile implementation. Is it pure or hybrid? Was it easy and well-accepted or did you have to drag your team members kicking and screaming into it? And most importantly – what value-add did the changeover provide?

Jun 13 17

Are you a Happy Project Manager?

by admin

Science indicates that the happier we are, the more productive we tend to be. Reference the work of Professor Wright at Fordham or the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. When we are happy, our lives are more balanced, we do higher quality work and our output is more sustainable. So the question becomes HOW to make ourselves happier? Studying happiness is one way and there are a few tips listed in the attached article. And curious project managers the world over are wondering….HOW DO YOU MAKE YOURSELF A LITTLE HAPPIER AT WORK?



Aug 26 16

The Cost of Doing Nothing

by admin

The cost of doing nothing

While it is a fact that the value of effective project management and impactful leadership training can be measured in dollars and days these quantitative metrics only tell a part of the story. In fact, the direct costs are only the tip of the iceberg when we consider the real costs of ineffective communications.

Studies show that organizations with mature communication processes are as much as 25% more effective in meeting original goals. On-time and within budget execution can be improved by more than 30% through effective communication. (PMI Pulse of the Profession™ In-Depth Report: The Essential Role of Communications (2013)

It’s easy for almost anyone in a leadership position to observe this phenomenon and understand the impact. When effective and timely communications are taking place the team knows what to do. They understand expectations and work together collaboratively to solve problems. The people encourage and help one another. Motivation, innovation, and creativity are evident and abundant as the team holds itself accountable and responsible to deadlines, values, and goals.

While this truth is obvious to all it is much easier to discuss than to implement. Organizations grow and evolve like trees with the trunk being the core values, missions and visions. Branches grow in multiple directions at varying rates depending on their circumstances and environment. Relationships with other branches and in some cases luck (not being on the side of the tree that gets struck by lightning) affect the rate and direction of growth. Smaller branches representing projects and teams each with a set of leaves to enable and facilitate the growth and productivity of those branches.

As organizations grow, mature, and evolve, communication between branches can become obscured. Without an effective communications process and protocol, communications can become strained and even scarce. In the absence of real information, people tend to fill in the gaps with obsolete data. Rumors and gossip become rampant and all of this results in declining team performance.

Effective communications are often cited as the root cause for a plethora of symptoms including low employee morale and high turnover. The ability to facilitate effective meetings, resolve interpersonal conflict, and understand how to get things done quickly and effectively in fast-paced environments is challenging, rewarding, and absolutely essential to marketplace leadership, reduced employee turn-over and excellence in execution.

And so, the cost of doing nothing? 25-50% reduction in efficiency. This means either increasing the size of the staff or risking team burnout through overwork. Using only a 10% improvement attribute, this means that for training investment of $10,000 you get back $100,000 of value for every $1 million dollars of budget. While more difficult to measure, the intangible aspects of the ROI including improved morale and reduced turnover must not be overlooked! These hidden costs can literally bring operations to a halt. There is no question about the value of implementing an effective communications process. The only question is how soon can we begin evaluating and evolving your processes to help your teams achieve new levels of excellence, engagement, and employee satisfaction?