Thursday, 26 September 2013

5 Signs Your Project is in Trouble – Part 2

In Part 1 of this two part series on five signs that the project you are managing may be in trouble, we covered the first two items on my personal list of five. These were…



  • Poor client communication – this may be a sign that your client is becoming dissatisfied with the project manager and team or something involving the project.
  • New resources are being assigned – new resources are being assigned to your project from within the organization…and you didn’t request them.  This could be a sign that senior leadership is concerned with the health of the project and are taking their own measures to fix things….be concerned.
  • Many change orders – may be a sign that requirements were ill-defined and you’re going to continue down this painful path.

In this Part 2, I’ll go into detail on my final three top signs that our project may be in trouble:  the budget is constantly off, the client is disengaged, and the project is experiencing many change orders.  Let’s look at each of these in more detail…



Budget is constantly out of alignment

If you can’t seem to keep the project budget on track, that’s a big sign that your project is in trouble – at least in trouble of being deemed somewhat of a failure.  From my experience, an overage of 10% is often correctable…and it is usually within the ‘acceptable range’ when evaluating success at the end of the project.  But when the budget starts approaching 20%, 30%, 50% or beyond over budget…then you know you have real problems and it’s basically going to be impossible to correct it.  They key is to be monitoring the project budget every week throughout the engagement to ensure you never are too far out of alignment.  The earlier you can raise the flag and let everyone know there are financial issues on the project, the sooner you can take corrective action and the more likely you are to be able to rein the budget back in.


Poor client sponsor engagement

This one sounds similar but is very different from poor client communication.  Problems with communication can mean your client is upset with the project manager or team.  Poor engagement means they have lost interest or involvement in the project.  And that one is more scary. The poor engagement may be a sign that the project has lost most or all of its importance and priority with the customer...meaning the next step may be a cutoff of funding and a swift cancellation for the project.  

And finally, if your project sponsor becomes less involved or disappears because other work priorities are taking all of his time then where does that leave this project?  And what happens when you need access to him for weekly status call participation or for that quick decision that needs made on a moment’s notice?  A disengaged customer – while it may sound like a luxury to not have them breathing down your neck – is actually a bad thing and can cast a shadow of uncertainty over the entire project engagement.


Abundance of change orders

No one likes change orders – except maybe the execs in your organization because change orders often add revenue to the project.  Change orders usually mean more revenue for the delivery organization and possibly even an increased profit margin.  However, historically they are not something the client is fond of.  If your project begins to experience lots of change orders, then it may be a very clear sign that you started work on the project too early with requirements that were not fully defined.  Is it time to revisit scope – possibly even go back to mind mapping software - and see what was omitted and discuss what other changes may be needed in order to truly meet your customer’s needs?  A never-ending stream of change orders have frustrated more than one customer in the PM world enough to just cancel the project outright.  I’ve seen it  happen, so address the gaps as soon as possible.


Call for response

How about our readers?  What signs have you noticed to be indicators that your project may be in trouble?  What actions did you take to try to correct the situation?  How successful were  your actions?


Brad Egeland is an IT veteran of 27 years having worked as an application developer, manager, project & program manager, consultant and business strategist and is the author of BradEgeland.com

5 Signs Your Project is in Trouble – Part 1

Projects fail for so many reasons and the likelihood for true project success has routinely been documented as being less than 50%. While we can't generate a list that is comprehensive enough to encompass all possible signs, causes, and reasons for our many project failures - there aren't enough minutes in the day to do that - we can focus on and be aware of some of the more common signs that our projects are headed south. 


Over my 20+ years of managing technical projects and playing various roles in project management offices, I've seen - and experienced - my fair share of project issues, near failures and, yes, failures.  As a result, I've mentally compiled my own signs that a project is in trouble - mostly so I can be aware and take timely, corrective action or advise colleagues when I see it in projects being led by others.  For me, it comes down to a list of five signs or categories.  In the first instalment of this two part series, let’s look at the first two signs on my list:  poor client communication and new resources being added to your project…

Poor client communication

Whenever client communication goes south it’s a huge cause for concern for me.  To me, the first thing that comes to mind is that the customer’s satisfaction level has decreased and they are planning a response of some sort that may not involve a discussion with the actual project leader – you may soon get called into the CEO’s office and that’s never fun.

If you notice that communication with the client has dropped off significantly, take immediate action to engage the project sponsor and discuss the situation.  Be direct…is there a problem, an issue, are they upset about something?  It may just be that they are temporarily busy or experiencing some sort of re-org or change internally that doesn’t affect this project, only your project sponsor’s immediately availability for project involvement.  That’s ok…you can work around that.  But if there are real issues on the project side with how the project is going, make it clear that you want to discuss it with them and try to address any issues as quickly as possible.

New resources are being assigned

This one is scary because it starts to happen without your knowledge.  I’ve not had this one happen to me, but I’ve seen it happen to colleagues and it’s definitely a sign that there is some uncertainty concerning the project at a high level.  Either your executive management has concerns or your customer has concerns and has gone around you to voice them to your senior leadership…or both.  But either way it’s a bad sign for you and shows that there is some concern about your leadership of the project.  You must take action fast – the wrong action is to do nothing.  Immediately ask why and be ready to respond with your list of project issues and project status and how you’re currently pro-actively attacking any concerns on the project.  Sit down with your team and use a tool like mind mapping software to map out the issues on the project in a visual manner so you have something to show your executive team. Your executive management may be completely unaware that you are working pro-actively on whatever might be ailing the project and this will be a great time – and your only chance – to let them know that you are ‘on it’.

In Part 2 of this two part series, we’ll examine my next three signs that your project may be in trouble and potential actions to take in each case.

Brad Egeland is an IT veteran of 27 years having worked as an application developer, manager, project & program manager, consultant and business strategist and is the author of BradEgeland.com

Prioritizing Requirements for the Project – Part 2

In Part 1, we began to look at a workable five step scenario for setting up a requirements prioritization process, prioritizing project requirements and then managing those requirements with the help of the assigned priorities throughout the course of the project engagement.  We examined the first two steps in the five-step process.  In Part 2 we’ll examine the final three steps and I welcome your thoughts and feedback on if you find prioritization helpful or necessary and how you go about prioritizing requirements if you do incorporate that as part of your process. 


Resolve inconsistencies.  Once everyone has had a chance to do their prioritization, resolve the differences.  Start by throwing all of the requirements that everyone has ranked the same into the appropriate bucket.  That is, if everyone prioritizes requirement A as a 1, it’s definitely a 1.  Then, move to building a consensus on the requirements that different people prioritize differently.  Get the stakeholders together, and show them the requirements that they agreed on and then the ones that they ranked differently.  Often, people will find agreement after some informal discussion.  If not, note who is disagreeing.  When you are managing development of a product for a particular customer, that customer’s prioritization should usually carry the most weight in the discussion.

If a strong disagreement continues over a particular requirement’s priority, put the requirement in the higher class to stop the debate.  If you have a single holdout insisting that requirement D is a 1 while everyone else thinks it’s a 2, go ahead and put it in class 1, with a note to put it behind the other priority 1’s in the schedule.  Keep the process simple and speedy.  At this stage of your product, you don’t know enough to find a perfectly optimized solution anyway.

Create a priority-based project schedule.  After you have a set of priorities, use them to create priority-based development schedules.  Show everyone where work begins and ends on each requirement.  This information helps you define intermediate products or “releases” containing the high-priority requirement implementations.  These schedules will also help your developers synchronize work on particular requirements.

Maintain the priorities throughout the engagement. Throughout the development effort, you must maintain the priorities.  You don’t finish with prioritization until you finish the last version of the product or implement the last phase of the project.  Revisit them as the team – with the customer as needed.  Go back to what you laid out in your mind mapping software and see where adjustments may need to be made along the way.  You may find that tradeoffs will have to be made along the way during design and development of the solution to make sure that the priorities are still driving the effort on a realistic overall project schedule for the solution.  When the customer brings new requirements (and they always do) that require deferring some old requirements, you will need to work with the team and customer to review and re-assess the priorities given to key requirements to be sure that the most important requirements are kept on the critical path and the lesser prioritized functionalities are the ones pushed out or potentially discarded altogether.  

Summary

That’s my five-step process for prioritizing project requirements.  I admit that I don’t use it on every project – just the ones where I feel…and the team feels…that it will be helpful.  Any lengthy project really needs this type of process incorporated and complex projects that run the risk of several change orders, potential scope issues, or very tight budgets that are going to be difficult to keep on track are all candidates for this type of oversight.

How about our readers – do you use a process to prioritize requirements?  Do you do it for all projects or just a select few?  Please share your thoughts and experiences.



Brad Egeland is an IT veteran of 27 years having worked as an application developer, manager, project & program manager, consultant and business strategist and is the author of BradEgeland.com

Using Mind Mapping To Get Paid For Financial Planning Shadow Work

Mind Mapping Software is being extensively used in the Financial Planning industry to help identify client goals, values and objectives, capture, structure and document financial data, and to improve the entire client engagement process.  Michael Kitces is a high profile expert and commentator in the Financial Planning industry and he explains below how using mind mapping creates an opportunity to create a more genuinely differentiated experience from the competition, and can lead to a far more engaging client experience.

The article below is an excerpt of a full article that can be found at Michael's blog.

As financial planners seek out differentiation in an increasingly crowded environment, a new trend is emerging towards the use of more interactive software tools to provide a more engaging client experience. While many of these new approaches revolve around the use of financial planning software live with clients - replete with quick data entry support and sliders for clients to manipulate the goals and see immediate impact - the reality is that even the old-fashioned data gathering meeting represents an opportunity to use technology to better engage new clients, and the tool of choice appears to be the mind map.

Although mind mapping has been used in other business contexts - from keeping personal thoughts organized to creative team brainstorming meetings - the tool may be especially appealing for financial planning, as it not only visually captures a lot of client information that is otherwise hard to see all at once, but it does so in a manner that provides a tangible deliverable to what others is some of the most intangible "shadow work" that we do for clients. Whether as a way to justify fee increases, or simply to increase the firm's value proposition, adopting mind mapping becomes an appealing way to create perceived value for work that is ultimately useful for clients but also time-intensive and often unrecognized.

However, the mind mapping tool doesn't have to be used in a purely business context. It can also be effective as a way to complete the data gathering process in a financial planning context. For instance, imagine the template below on a large monitor in your conference room, visible to both the planner and the (new) client. Ultimately, the branches below simply represent areas in which the planner might ask typical discovery questions, from technical areas like tax and investments to more personal questions around communication issues, the family's estate plan, or their goals for family education.

 
As the conversation progresses with the client, the information from the client's answers is not merely scribbled down by the planner on a yellow pad for only the planner to see; it fills out the mind map with the client directly engaged in the process in a more build-a-plan oriented experience. Imagine it from the client's perspective - the client actually get to see his/her financial life take shape in the form of a mind map before their very eyes!

A key aspect for the value of mind mapping in financial planning...Read the full article, including information on how to get training for Financial Planners at http://www.kitces.com/blog/Using-Mind-Mapping-To-Get-Paid-For-Financial-Planning-Shadow-Work/

MindGenius 5.1 Now Available to Download

MindGenius Ltd are pleased to announce the release of Version 5.1 of their mind mapping software, MindGenius. This release is a maintenance release and a free update for all MindGenius Version 5 customers and can be downloaded from: www.mindgenius.com/Support/Downloads.aspx.

We have also taken the opportunity to include some small enhancements in this release including the ability to multi-select tasks in the Gantt View, copy & paste MS Excel cells directly as map branches, the addition of Categories to the left hand Properties Pane and added some new templates to the WBS and Schools sections of the Templates Pane.

If you are an existing V5 customer, simply download the latest trial version of MindGenius from www.mindgenius.com/Support/Downloads.aspx. This will automatically update your installation. There is no need to uninstall earlier versions of MindGenius 5 and your product will still be activated.

If you are new to Version 5, visit www.mindgenius.com/Business-Download.aspx to download a free trial. Even if you have downloaded a trial of previous versions of MindGenius, this will give you another 30 day free trial version. Visit the MindGenius website for additional information on features included in MindGenius 5.

Tasks – Staying On Track

It’s what we all do… regardless of our title, job role or where we’re placed in our business or organisation, the productivity and efficiency of the day-to-day business depends on everyone taking responsibility to ensure that everything they are tasked to do is done to the best of their ability and on time.

Sounds simple, doesn’t it? And, of course there’s a lot more to it than this rather simplistic view.

So why is it then, if it’s such a simple concept, that we continually come across missed deadlines, uncompleted tasks, lack of clarity on priorities, ownership and timescales, etc, etc…..

But firstly, back to basics…

Let’s first consider the definition of “Task”. The most common themes are “a piece of work assigned or done as part of one’s duties” and “a piece of work to be done or undertaken”. In project management, a “Task” is “an activity that needs to be accomplished within a defined period of time or by a deadline”.

“Task Management” is widely defined as “the process of managing tasks through its life cycle”; also “a formalised process for achieving an identified result”. I particularly like this one: “a cohesive, clear and visible approach to ensuring important activities are accomplished to achieve individual and team goals and objectives”.

You could probably come up with other variations. We may all have different phrasing and our own way of describing Tasks and Task Management, but I am sure you’ll agree that it’s all about the essence of all of the above.

Also worth emphasising is that effective task management results in individuals, teams, and indeed whole organisations, achieving objectives, goals and targets.

All the more reason that we should take task management, in all its forms, seriously and adopt a “cohesive, clear and visible approach” to plan, prioritise, assign, perform and complete all tasks required to deliver our organisational objectives.

I have created a MindGenius map of what I see as being an overview of the key elements of Task Management.

Within a business environment, effective task management is very much dependent on a variety of dynamics and a mix of individual skills, knowledge, expertise; as well as, within a team or organisational context, clear and effective communication, collaboration, etc.

However, in terms of a process or model, key aspects may be, for example:
  • Plan – Create a task list, be clear on the specific objectives for each and visualise them (e.g. map) to aid clarity, focus and understanding
  • Categorise – For lists of multiple tasks it may be helpful and provide further focus if tasks are categorised or grouped (e.g. nature of task / activity)
  • Prioritise – For multiple tasks, it is invariably a case of “first things first”, so decisions have to be made on order, sequence and priority. Parameters such as complexity, importance, urgency, etc, may need to be considered
  • Ownership – for multiple tasks requiring contribution from more than one person, effective communication of the allocation and ownership of tasks is crucial
  • Timescales – linked in with ownership and responsibility for tasks is the agreement of timescales for each task – particularly crucial in the multiple task and potentially complex interactions required within projects
  • Perform / Execute – the stage of “doing it”. Requiring all tasks to start on time, keep momentum, adhere to urgency and deadline and be monitored and managed through to completion – as effectively and painlessly as possible! Within all of this having the ability and flexibility to adapt to any necessary change
  • Completion – ensuring all tasks are monitored and managed through to a completion – on time, on budget and fulfilling all the criteria and objectives outlined at the outset
MindGenius enables effective task management – each task identified, clarified, visualised, right through to the easy-to-use functionality that keeps all your tasks monitored and managed through to completion. From brainstorming individual or group tasks, mapping out action plans at meetings, through to mapping a project work breakdown structure, MindGenius effortlessly enables the process outlined above to become alive, visible, non-complicated and totally manageable.

MindGenius Ltd provide an extensive range of tailored training and consultancy solutions for individuals and teams. If you need to improve the way tasks or projects are planned, executed and managed the MindGenius way, contact your Account Manager or email info@mindgenius.com – we’d be happy to discuss your options.

What process do you follow for task management? How does MindGenius fit into that process?

Author Bio: Jamie MacDonald, Head of Client Development at MindGenius. Jamie is a highly experienced trainer, facilitator and coach with over 20 years’ experience in training, development, HRM and business improvement.