Category Archives: Project Management

5 Reasons Engineers Need to Develop Project Management Skills

Here’s a lesson I’m thankful I learned early in my career:  successful engineering projects rely more on non-technical skills than technical skills.  It’s not that the technical skills aren’t important – they are.  One can’t design a building without knowledgeable, skilled structural, MEP, and fire engineers.  An airplane isn’t safe unless there are skilled aeronautical engineers involved.  You can’t rely on the quality of electricity unless there are smart electrical engineers involved.

The project a skilled engineer might be working on, however, won’t be successful unless there is an equally skilled project manager involved leading and managing the engineering project.

Think I’m wrong?  Project Management Institute’s (PMI) 2016 report The High Cost of Low Performance: How will you improve business results? cited that $122 million was wasted for every $1 billion invested due to poor project performance. Other studies from Gallup and Harvard Business Review report equally grim statistics for project timeliness, cost overruns and scope creep.  For those familiar with project management basics, you’ll quickly recognize these as the infamous project management triangle.

While there are smart, talented engineers involved in engineering projects that go sideways, why do these projects still fail?

 Because engineering projects aren’t just about technical issues and rational factors, they are often more heavily influenced by non-technical and emotional factors.

Why Engineers Need to Care About Project Management Skills

I know that my undergraduate work in civil engineering didn’t include any courses on project management, let alone communications or leadership.  While I did have an engineering economics course, I recall that it was more about net present value calculations and internal rate of review, than it was about cost estimating, earned value management and how to develop effective cost controls for a construction project.

My project management skills were learned through on-the job training, or OJT. Most engineers who move into project management roles get there via the OJT path. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however, if it isn’t bolstered with legitimate study of project management fundamentals, then it can become a bad thing in the right situation.

I gave little thought to the study of project management until fifteen years into my professional engineering career. In an attempt to give my career skills a boost, I began studying for the Project Management Professional (PMP) course. Only then did I begin realizing that my OJT project management skills were inadequate in terms of the processes, procedures and general vernacular necessary to deliver successful projects. While I wasn’t a slouch in managing a project with regards to scope, schedule and cost, I was lacking in my ability to visualize how leadership, communications, strategic guidance, and even personal emotion, factor into the management of said project.

Engineers who think they don’t need to care about developing their project management skills will one day run into a situation where technical and rational means of solving a problem won’t work.

The technical/rational skills of engineers are useful for solving technical or rational problems on engineering projects, such as cost estimation and adjustments, forecasting, quality assurance or scheduling. These skills aren’t useful, however, when dealing with problems linked to project team members or stakeholders.  The reason should be obvious: project team members and stakeholders are humans or groups of humans.  Humans aren’t always rational, they tend to be emotional. So, the technical/rational approach to many issues faced in project management won’t always work.  In some situations, they will never work.

Benefits of Developing Project Management Skills

Spending time on project management skills development may be the last thing you want to add to your already busy schedule.  With the normal churn and demands of life and work, you’re likely not jumping up and down to throw another requirement on to the calendar.

However, I’ll give you two specific reasons engineers may want to reconsider priorities and extend the effort to develop project management skills on top of the on-the-job training or organizational project management training:

Career Advancement

I don’t simply mean climbing the engineering firm latter to partner or VP. Even if you aren’t interested in a leadership position in an engineering firm, you must continue to advance your career via advancing your skills. Engineers already know that maintaining one’s engineering mojo requires consistent study, reading of trade journals, and attending training courses.  Each of us does this to advance our career by advancing, or growing our skills.

William S. Boroughs had something to say about consistent growth: “When you stop growing you start dying.” If you stop advancing your skills you won’t literally die, however, you run a good chance of killing your career.

Studying project management will provide you with the processes, procedures and lingo to enhance your planning, delivery, controlling and hand-over of projects.  It will also begin to posture you for the other type of career advancement – movement into leadership positions.

Some of us are interested in progressing forward into positions of increased responsibility and yes, salary.  There are various salary surveys accessible on the web, so go take a look at the median salary variance between engineering and project management positions.  As a civil engineer, I’m looking at a median salary of $82,000 in the U.S., contrasted with a median salary of $91,000 for a project manager.

Even if you are truly altruistic and position, title, and compensation don’t matter to you, then the second benefit from studying project management should suffice as a reason to crack the books.

Increased Benefit for Your Organization and Clients

A situation I’m experiencing currently is a lack of qualified engineering project managers in the building and infrastructure sector.  Why the lack of such experts? My speculation is twofold: (1) engineers not interested in moving into project management roles and developing the skills needed to make that move; (2) retirement of engineers who have developed strong project management skills and no qualified engineer project managers available to fill the void.

This lack of skilled engineer-project managers means that engineering firms are not able to deliver, let alone realize, benefits internal to the company or more importantly, to their clients. What do I mean by benefits?  To keep it simple, I’ll highlight the big three we’re all familiar with: scope, schedule and cost. According to the PMI’s report I cited earlier, 32% of assessed projects experienced scope creep, 47% were over budget, and 51% were late.

What this translates to is a loss of money to a client, and most clients see cost avoidance or savings as a benefit.

Project management study develops skills that you can put to use in ensuring that a project is maintained within scope, kept on schedule, and controlled within the budget.  Yes, you can pick up skills from on-the-job training, however, you’re certain to miss some critical pieces of knowledge that you can only gain from a concentrated effort to build your skills.  I know this from personal experience.

Both clients and your organization want projects to be properly scoped and kept within that scope; controlled to a realistic schedule; and constrained to the planned budget.  Developing the skill set needed to make this happen will take experience, but it will also require study.

Here are five more benefits that engineers, their firms, and clients can realize from development of project management skills:

1. Improved Efficiency. One benefit I’ve experienced from developing my project management skills is increased efficiency in moving from initiating the project to closing it out.  Specifically, this means that I have a mental model for each of the five phases of a project, standard operating procedures, flowcharts and templates developed, and a general understanding of how the project will unfold. Taking the guesswork out of the simple items frees me up to put my cranial energy onto the not-so-simple issues – the reason projects have project managers.

2. Enhanced Effectiveness. The project manager is responsible for control of a project so it remains within scope, on schedule and in budget.  It is also to lead and communicate with project team members and a universe of stakeholders.  A project manager’s effectiveness is pegged to the individual’s ability to understand that 80% of what they will be doing day-in/day-out is non-technical work – communicating with someone; managing expectations of a stakeholder; handling a personnel issue on the project management team; etc.  Ones effectiveness in handling any of the myriad of issues that will arise will be determined by their skills and experience.

3. Can Help You Replicate Success. I love standard operating procedures, checklists and templates.  One reason is they help to increase efficiency and enhance effectiveness by eliminating the time needed to create them.  Another reason is that when an SOP contributes to a successful project, you increase the likelihood of replicating that success by using the same SOP on the next project. Experience will help you develop SOPs that become enduring, as well as understanding which ones must be modified for a specific project.  However, if you can standardize even 60% of activities from one project to the next, you open up a lot of time that can be spent on monitoring and controlling a project’s key performance indicators, managing risk and fulfilling a client’s expectations.

4. Helps You Learn Leadership and Communications. Project management, as you’ve read repeatedly in this article, is less about technical issues and more about non-technical issues. Developing project management skills provides you with the foundation for developing the other skills required to be effective: leadership, communications, and strategic assessment.  We don’t learn these skills in engineering school and many engineers will move through their entire career never learning them.  OJT isn’t entirely effective for building the repertoire of skills one needs to be an effective engineering project manager.

While I came into project management with a strong dose of leadership and communication skills from fifteen years as an Air Force civil engineering officer, it’s not likely you will be so fortunate. Study project management and develop your skills in these areas – and more.

5. Common Operating Language and Picture. The study of project management, especially if it follows the structure outlined by PMI or the U.K.’s Association for Project Management, will provide you with a common operating language and picture for how project management is supposed to be conducted. Once you have this foundation, you can make educated adjustments to fit your industry, organization, or unique situation.  You will also be able to look back at past projects and identify where the application of the body of knowledge of project management may have yielded a different, better result.  Why does this matter?  Because introspection and development of skills and knowledge is what professionals do.

Ask a Project Manager: My Boss Doesn’t Get Me

“Dear Elizabeth: My boss wants a lot of work done, and he’s put me in the project management role. But I don’t think he really understands what a project manager does.

I have previous project management experience in my old job, and I’d love to be able to run this project properly. But it’s hard to get time with him. On top of that, there isn’t the executive interest in good practice, software tools, etc. even though I know these would make it easier for the team to do what we need to do successfully.

How can I gain buy-in from a boss who isn’t interested in managing projects effectively?”

Wow, there are quite a few problems there! Let’s unpack what’s going on.

First, your boss isn’t available to you.

This is an issue. It says to me that he just wants you to get on with it and not bother him with the details. I get that. Everyone is busy. But you don’t want time. You want support. That’s very different but equally tough to get.

Be specific. What is it that you want from him but are not getting? Once you have truly questioned this, can you go to him (schedule a meeting so he isn’t cornered or too busy) and spell it out. It’s highly likely he thinks he doesn’t need to do anything because you have it under control.

This is even more of a problem if he is your project sponsor. An absent sponsor is never a good thing for a project because it slows down decision making. Thus, you lack the directional steer and vision that helps the team move forward.

Can you get a different sponsor? Many project managers find that their line manager isn’t the best person to be sponsoring the project because the client, a senior user in another department, or the product owner is a better fit. So think about switching out your sponsor.

It sounds like you are in quite an unstructured environment, so you don’t have to do this formally. Just switch allegiances to the person who best fits your understanding of who should be the sponsor.

Trust me, bosses soon find time for you when they feel you are overstepping your boundaries. As long as what you do doesn’t make him look bad, his reaction is likely to range from not caring to thinking you’ve done a great job.

OK, next problem. Your boss doesn’t understand what a project manager does.

As a project manager myself, I love it when people get me. I spent a pleasant hour chatting to another project manager whom I’d only just met recently. I couldn’t believe how fast the time went. We clicked, and he completely understood my challenges. But let’s face it, most people, even our friends and family, don’t really understand what a project manager does.

The textbooks will say that it’s your job to educate your line manager about how valuable you are and what you do, and there is some truth in that. But pick your battles!

Maybe right now isn’t the best time to be explaining your role. He’s not going to listen. Let your results speak for themselves at the moment, and think of ways to shout about the team’s successes so that he can see what you do rather than being told what you do. (Novelists call this technique “show, don’t tell”).

Third, you’re lacking the support you need to implement best practice and software that will make your lives easier.

One of the best pieces of advice ever given to me by a colleague was this: “You have more authority than you think you do. Step up and lead.” This is definitely true in your case too.

One of the top benefits of a line manager who leaves you alone is that you can implement best practices. As long as it doesn’t cost anything, set up the processes and use the templates you want for your project. You want to write a Project Charter? Write one. You want a risk log? Keep one. Create reports to your own standards and send them to him monthly. Make them awesome and helpful. Then in three months, explain some of the issues you’ve found.

Talk authoritatively, using experience from your previous roles. Say what you could achieve if you had a project board, Gantt chart software, a collaborative project environment, whatever. Tell him that what you’d like to do next is… and would he support you with time/cash/training etc? It’s fantastic if you can throw in a few examples of where your team has wasted time or worked on the wrong specification document, or didn’t finish something when another team needed it through not tracking dependencies or some other issue that good practice would help avoid.

To summarize: Get the results then make the ask. Sell the benefits of what you want. The benefits are not “because project managers always work like this.”

Professional project management approaches and tools help you deliver faster, work more effectively, avoid duplication of effort, and be more productive. Speak the language of the exec and make project management meaningful, not administrative.

I hope that makes sense! Be aware this is a long journey. Turning someone round from indifferent to supportive of project management isn’t something that is going to happen overnight, but armed with a strategy to get there you will hopefully manage to get him on side and get the support you need.

When You’re the Company’s First Project Manager

In the beginning, project management was formless and empty, and darkness was over the work breakdown structure. The Founders looked over the face of the startup and said all is good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day (metaphorically).

Then the company grew and its teams were fruitful and multiplied.

Projects competed for resources, and everything was late. The Founders looked upon the chaos and were not pleased. They looked upon the multitudes and chose one who was more organized or less busy than the others and said, “It is up to you to be a prophet, bringing order to the chaos and leading the projects to the promised land of on-time delivery within budget. You must quiet the babel of squabbling the offends our ears.”

So you have now been appointed to be your company’s first project manager.

You may have never been a project manager. You may have never worked with a project manager. Your company has no templates, no resources, no software, and, most importantly, no culture of project management.

Where do you start?

Have a clear mandate from the leadership.

I once worked at a small company without project management and was struggling because of that, so I just started doing project management without any training or buy-in from the company leadership.

This did not go well!

I wrote the company’s first requirements document. As we reviewed the document, one of the stakeholders said, “I’m used to just complaining when engineering delivered something that isn’t what the market wants.”

I explained it was easier to build things right in the first place, which made a lot of sense to him. Having a requirements document reduced the constant churn of the product definition and helped the engineers focus on what they should be delivering.

Delivery dates were based on when someone wanted a product and not a detailed plan. I was sick one day, and on my return the scope of a project I was leading had changed significantly, but leadership expected no schedule slip nor did they allocate additional resources. When delivery dates aren’t based on real plans, then management can’t make the cost-benefit trade-offs that they should.

People were moved on and off projects with no warning or notification. No one set priorities among the large number of active projects. Not surprisingly, every project was late.

Without a mandate from the top, I was unable to control how resources were allocated or expected completion dates were set. I could change things around the margins, but not fix the underlying . Quoting from Reinhold Niebuhr’s Serenity Prayer:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Do what you can, make the case to do what you should, but if there’s no buy in, accept that and hope that your example of good management over time will change things.

Always be adding value.

For a salesman, the key is to Always Be Closing. For a project manager, you need to always be adding value, or at least not subtracting value.

Before you were anointed as your company’s first PM, things were done a certain way and it probably gave the individual contributors a lot of autonomy. They probably “knew” what needed to be done (and were probably right most of the time). They won’t appreciate you coming in, setting priorities, and “getting in the way”.

For you to do your work (e.g. building schedules and writing status reports), they’ll need to spend time sharing their expertise and knowledge. If they don’t see the value project management adds, they’ll see this as “wasting” their time that should be spent doing valuable work.

You need to be gentle but firm with this pushback. Make sure you get what you need to be successful, but be as accommodating as possible. Maybe you put together a starting point work breakdown structure and ask, “Where is this wrong?”

Listen more than you speak. Before sending a status report to stakeholders, send it to the team. This provides the team with an opportunity to check it for accuracy, helps them understand why you’re asking for their updates, and shows them that their concerns are being communicated up the chain.

Whenever possible, be a resource to make their job easier. One of the best ways to help the contributors is to create schedules based on input and logic, rather than management’s hopes and dreams. Having clear requirements can be a great help to the individual contributors as can going to battle getting resources (e.g. software upgrades, test equipment).

You could volunteer to take on vendor logistics and management. Everyone should know that you want to help and nothing is beneath you. Be careful not to take on tasks that the team doesn’t want you to do.

Methodically build your infrastructure.

You’re starting with a blank slate, which is a wonderful opportunity and a daunting task. You’ll need a task management tool (like LiquidPlanner), bug tracking system, standard-operating procedures, document control, and the list goes on and on and on.

Where to start?

Pick the biggest project management related problem you currently suffer from, and work on solving that. Maybe managing resource conflicts is the biggest problem, in which case I’d start with a list of every project in priority order, which can help manage conflicts.

If that doesn’t solve the problem, try creating a matrix with every project on one axis and all resources on the other. Add how much time each team member is expected to spend on that project over the next two weeks, and work with the managers to update this sheet regularly. If any person is loaded by over 85 percent, gather the impacted managers and negotiate.

If that doesn’t solve the problem, then implement a tool like LiquidPlanner that can balance resources automatically across multiple projects. In every case, implement the simplest solution that solves the problem.

Be a problem solver.

As you help your company eliminate barriers to success, the team will see the value you’re adding and be more eager to help you build strong plans.

When they see delivery dates based on detailed schedules they helped create rather than when somebody wants something delivered, they’ll be happy to contribute to the planning processes.  When engineers no longer feel pulled in five directions by three people, they’ll understand why you’re not just “overhead”.

Every time you solve a problem it makes the next one easier.

What Project Managers Can Learn from the Outdoor Enthusiast

Picture an avid outdoor enthusiast. It’s likely you’re thinking of flannel, heavy boots, backpacks stuffed to the brim, and an SUV with a giant roof rack. With their sense of adventure, they’re prepared for anything and are experts at planning ahead.

While the worlds may feel completely separate from one another, project managers and business leaders can learn a great deal from the adventure experts; our PMs for the outdoors.

Always be prepared: Be ready so you can shift nimbly as changes arise.

Anyone who was ever a scout has recited a version of this countless times. They check the weather, read trail reviews, ask their local REI for the best gear recommendations – all in the vain of being ready for whatever might head their way.

For the project manager, preparedness requires understanding where risks lie and being ready to address them should it become necessary. Inevitably, a resource will get sick or a part will come in late. Small changes can throw off a plan completely. So, how do you account for those issues in an effective way?

To stay prepared throughout a project lifecycle, PMs need to be aware of which resources are stretched too thin and which projects are approaching their maximum budget, as well as accounting for things they cannot control, like outside manufacturers or contractors.

Being ready to quickly absorb those changes and adjust your project plan will enable you to clearly communicate with clients, executives, and project contributors alike.

Only pack the essentials: Cut down on the extras, and get back your time.

Anyone who has ever been on a backpacking trip can tell you a lesson they learned the hard way: don’t take too much weight in your pack. There’s no quicker way to dampen the fun of being outside than struggling under the weight of superfluous items you’ll never use. What is absolutely essential? Food, water, shelter. The gadgets you see in the magazines? They’re just added weight that will slow you down.

The same can be said of time wasted gathering project statuses, spending countless hours in spreadsheets to produce charts that aren’t ever quite right, and updating static project plans that are thrown by the slightest change.

What is absolutely essential? Data. The right data, at the right time, with changes reflected in real-time. Clients want to know exactly when their projects will be finished. Executives want to know exactly where budgets stand and how efficiently resources are performing.

There will always be new applications and add-ons that seem to enhance your process. But are they truly adding value or just adding weight? Using a single tool that can plan, give real-time statuses, communicate with clients, and give executives the specific updates they want to see helps cut down on the burden of managing several disconnected moving parts. Leave the binders and whiteboards behind, get out of constant status meetings, shed the extra weight, and get down to the root of what matters.

Know your limits: How to know when there’s too much to be done and how to prove it.

Perhaps the most important lesson of all from our friends in hiking boots: know your limits. In the outdoor community, limits are definitively finite. If you haven’t hiked in years, your body will certainly let you know on the 4,000-foot elevation gain trail you chose. Don’t have an AWD vehicle? You should probably skip driving through the unplowed winter roads.

Every business has constraints that are equally finite: resources, machines, time, contract value. They can all make it difficult to know exactly what your team can take on and when they can finish their current workload. Using a tool that actually takes into account the priority of your work, availability of your resources, and an estimate of time to accomplish a task that takes variance into account can give you insight into exactly what your team can handle. Ultimately, taking on too much work will obviously cause delays, can completely disrupt your supply chain, and can lead to tension with clients. Conversely, not taking on enough work limits your team’s ability to perform most efficiently and optimize your growth.

So the next time you begin a new project plan, think of our friends in the mountains. Stay prepared, only take on as much as you can handle, keep only the essentials, and use a tool that can help you stay on top of all three in one place.

Ask a Project Manager: School vs The Real World

 “Dear Elizabeth: I am a new project manager in my first internship. I’m out of my depth and overwhelmed with the new jargon. In particular, what I’m finding is that my work environment isn’t exactly like the theory I learned on my project management degree course. What tips do you have for me?”

 

Ah, are you finding out that real life isn’t like the textbooks? Yes, we’ve all been there. I met another intern recently who said to me that he’d learned more in the last 10 months working in the PMO than he had on the previous two years in his business management degree. There’s nothing like a bit of workplace reality for bringing home the skills you really need to make a success of a your career.

First, I should say that the great stuff you learned in your courses is not at all wasted. Please don’t feel so overwhelmed that you start to doubt the value of your education. That has given you a solid grounding in theory, vocabulary, and the concepts you need to be able to work in a project management environment. Even if it doesn’t feel like it right now – trust me, you know more than you think you do.

So, some tips for dealing with the new job.

Learn the jargon.

What you learned in your course might not be the exact terminology that your colleagues are using. There are lots of words that mean ‘risk log,’ and they are virtually interchangeable. However, you’ll feel more comfortable and you’ll fit in more quickly if you use the vocabulary that everyone around you is using.

Start a glossary and note the commonly used terms. If you hear one in a meeting that you don’t understand, write it down and ask someone later what it means. (You can ask in the meeting if you like, but I know it can be difficult to get up the courage to interrupt the meeting to ask newbie questions.)

Find out what your colleagues do.

Everything is less overwhelming when you know who is responsible for what. Then you know who the subject matter experts are when you need assistance.

Ask people to spend 30 minutes of their day with you and talk to them about their job. Where do they fit into the hierarchy? What does their team do? What do they need from your team? And, is there anything you can do to help while you’re here as an intern? Explain that you’re learning about the business and you want to be as useful as you can while you’re there.  I have done this every time I start a new position, and it’s helpful. I have never yet had someone say they didn’t want to talk to me about themselves and their expertise. Reach out. Book five meetings this afternoon.

Do your job.

You are there for a reason, right? At this point in your career, my best advice is to get on with what you’ve been asked to do. Make a good impression and do the work to the best of your ability. If you can offer something more than you’ve been asked to do (for example, an intern I once worked with completely redesigned a tracking spreadsheet I asked him to update, and made it a million times better and less work), then ask if you can do that and deliver it.

The reason I put this point in is that it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the business as a whole. Depending on where you are, you could be a small cog in a team of hundreds. Your day-to-day priority is to turn up and work through your To Do list. When you can break down your responsibilities into smaller chunks that you can do without feeling overwhelmed, then you can see yourself making progress.

It is helpful to understand the bigger picture, and I encourage all project managers to boost their business acumen skills and learn about how the company functions as a system. When you are struggling, it often helps to just think about putting one foot in front of the other.

Besides, you’ll be surprised at how much you absorb and learn just by doing that.

Connect your job to your course.

In no time at all you’ll be making connections between your tasks and what you learned on your course. Try to identify where someone is using a management style you’ve learned about, or what part of the project management process you are in now. Think about how you would identify stakeholders or run this phase, if it was your project, or what tools you would use that you studied that would help you at this point.

You won’t win any friends by going around saying, “In my course, I learned this…,” and, “I just realized your using situational leadership!” But, if it helps to share those thoughts with your mentor or manager, then do. It’s more important to try to associate what you have learned with what you do in the office so you can see the practical implications of using the techniques you studied.

And congratulations on your degree, by the way! That’s a big achievement, and if you can do that you can definitely succeed in your new position using the same skills.

What Project Management in Manufacturing Looks Like Today [Infographic]

Manufacturing is essentially a series of sequential steps in a longer process. Because each step must be completed before moving onto the next, even the smallest delay can have a significant impact on delivery. That’s why proper planning, scheduling, and risk management are so important.

We recently asked more than 100 manufacturing executives, engineers, and project managers about their day-to-day project management practices and how these play a role in their work and businesses. To learn what they had to say, check out the infographic below.

Want to read the complete findings? Read our 2017 State of Project Management in Manufacturing report.

 

 

5 Stats You Need to Know from the 2017 State of Project Management in Manufacturing Report

In manufacturing, time is money. Every delay, machinery breakdown, and defective product adds up and, ultimately, hurts the bottom line.

But following structured project management methods can help companies reduce delays, stay on budget, and deliver quality products.

To better understand how manufacturers practice project management, we surveyed more than 100 executives, engineers, and project managers, resulting in the 2017 State of Project Management in Manufacturing report. It details project stats and methodologies, the lowdown on major challenges, and a look at manufacturers’ plans for cutting costs and building revenue in the coming year.

To learn more about the challenges facing manufacturers today, download the free 2017 State of Project Management in Manufacturing report here.

Here are some of the most interesting highlights from the report:

1.) More than half of manufacturers use a combination of project management methodologies.

Waterfall, agile, scrum, critical path—there’s a wide range of project management methodologies, and they’re rarely one size fits all. In fact, 57% of respondents use a combination of methodologies to keep their projects on track. Manufacturing is an industry that’s built on the principle of continuous improvement, and a hybrid approach allows for increased flexibility.

Fifty-six percent of manufacturers use a combination of PM methodologies.

2.) Those who use a combination of methodologies are also the happiest.

Of the respondents who said they were highly satisfied with existing PM practices, three-fourths use a combination of methodologies.

3.) “Work smarter, not harder” could be manufacturers’ motto in 2017.

Sixty-nine percent of respondents said that revenue growth and cost reduction are equally important this year.

4.) This focus on building revenue while cutting costs is leading many manufacturers to invest in new technologies and solutions.

As we move into Industry 4.0, manufacturers need to invest and experiment with new solutions or risk falling behind their competitors.  Supply chain management (56%), Lean manufacturing (52%), and cloud computing or SaaS offerings (47%) are the top three technologies manufacturers are looking into this year.

This focus on building revenue while cutting costs is leading many manufacturers to invest in new technologies and solutions.

Learn more about Industry 4.0 in this eBook.

5.) Deadlines, costs, and communication are the top project management challenges that manufacturers face this year.

Like many project teams, manufacturers’ cited managing project costs (50%) and hitting deadlines (46%) as their top challenges. Sharing information across teams came in at number three (44%).

A-20_State_PM_3

 

Intrigued? This is just a preview of the insights found in this report. Download the free 2017 State of Project Management in Manufacturing report to discover how manufacturers practice project management across their organizations.

Download the free report.

Advice for Project Managers: How do I measure the success (or failure) of my projects?

ADVICE_COLUMNIST-1-1

“Dear Elizabeth: I want to get better at measuring the success (or failure) of my projects. What project management metrics should I be focusing on? And how can I use these metrics to improve project performance?”

OK. I don’t mean to start off by being controversial, but you’re asking the wrong person.

It’s your project stakeholders who decide if your project is a success or a failure. So what you should be asking is: how will they judge me?

Do they care if you are late by a few weeks as long as you deliver something of supreme quality? Is it essential that you hit the delivery milestone by any means possible, even if that means sacrificing a few bits of functionality?
You can measure time taken to fix defects, number of change requests, deviation from schedule baseline, percent complete, burn rate, or anything else you want. These measures will give you some interesting management information and might help you manage the team. But if your sponsor is unhappy in the end, she won’t feel any better by you telling her you were under budget by 1.3 percent.

So, let’s split your question.

First, talk to your project sponsor and the important stakeholders about what they value. What do they want to get out of the project? How will they know if the project has been a success? Typically, they’ll judge on time, cost, or quality, but it could also be customer/staff satisfaction. Or, they might rate something else. When you know what it is, you can measure it, track it, and prove that you are doing it.

The thing to bear in mind here is that expectations will change as the project progresses. The sponsor who thinks he wants you to hit the delivery date at all costs might change his mind when he realizes he can have extra functionality that’s going to boost customer retention by 20 percent — if he’s prepared for the schedule to slip by a month.

You need to stay close to the expectations of your project decision makers. Keep checking in with them and seeing if their definition of success has changed. Talk to them often and tell them how you are doing against meeting the targets they set with you and the targets they think are important.

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At the end of the day, the stakeholders decide if you met their needs and if the project did what they wanted. You can deliver something on time, on budget, and to the specified scope, and they will still be unhappy. I don’t want situation for you. So check it out with them in advance, and tailor what you measure to their expectations.

That will give you clarity on what success (or failure) looks like and how best to track it. But for your project management purposes, you probably want some other metrics to go on.

Performance metrics help you see how the team is doing and let you spot where there might be problems. If this is the first time you’ve really focused on measuring project performance, don’t make it too complicated. People hold up Earned Value as the way to go for the ultimate in performance tracking, but it’s overkill for most projects.

Try these:

Schedule Variance: Plot your baseline project schedule. Then track your actual performance. Measure the difference between where you thought you’d be and where you actually are. This can be represented as a discrete number of days (“We’re 10 days behind.”) or a percentage (“We’re 6 percent ahead of schedule.”).

Cost Variance: This is the same principle as schedule variance. First, establish your budget baseline. Then, track what you actually spend and compare the two. You’ll end up over- or underspent (it’s rare that you’ll be exactly spent in line with your baseline, but good for you if that happens). You can represent this as a fixed price (“We’re underspent by $5,000.”) or a percentage (“We’re 10 percent over budget.”).

Number of Change Requests: This useful measure offers an indication of how good your requirements were at the beginning. When people want to make a lot of changes, it means you didn’t really know what you were doing upfront. That might be an issue for you. It depends on the methodology you are using. Agile methods tend to be more flexible in dealing with change. Waterfall development methodologies are less good at coping with change to the extent that adding more changes late in the project can be very costly. Either way, tracking trends on the volumes of change requests will let you spot if it’s worth taking a deep dive into requirements or your backlog again.

When it comes to metrics, it’s the context that makes the knowledge valuable. Knowing you are six percent ahead of schedule is meaningless without some narrative that explains why. Perhaps you just cut a huge portion out of your scope, so it’s obvious that you are ahead–you have less work to do overall. Perhaps you got a new starter on the team who is picking up the tasks at a rapid pace (but costing you money on your resource line).

Whatever you choose to measure, make sure you can interpret it intelligently and use your professional judgment to help uncover what it really means for your project. Then you can explain it to your team, use the data in a helpful way, and make better decisions about how to manage your project.

I’m sorry if you just wanted a few easy answers! I think it’s better to give you a realistic view of how to manage successfully than a list of bullet points that make an attractive but pointless project dashboard.

Are you grappling with a stubborn project management work issue? Ask Elizabeth! Email your question to: marketing@liquidplanner.com.

About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth Harrin is a project and programme manager with over a decade of experience. She writes about project management and careers at her website, A Girl’s Guide to Project Management.

May the Fourth Be With You: Project Management Lessons from the Star Wars Rebel Alliance

In honor of today’s celebration of all things Star Wars, I thought it would be worthwhile to mine this epic tale for project management lessons. While many have written about the Empire’s challenges constructing the Death Star, I’m interested in what can be learned from the victors, the Rebel Alliance.

Build a Diverse Team

The project team in A New Hope was fairly diverse. (Okay, not great gender diversity, considering everyone but Leia was male). Their ages varied, ranging from 19-year-old Luke and Leia to 200-year-old Chewbacca. Some were biological; others droids. Some were experienced; others less so. Some thoughtful, others prone to action.

Obi-wan was a Jedi master and military commander. Leia, despite her young age, was an experienced diplomat. Han and Chewie had extracted themselves from many a tough situation. And Luke was courageous, enthusiastic, hardworking, and force-sensitive. R2-D2 was a veritable Swiss Army knife of capabilities. His tools and skillset included the ability to communicate with main frame computers, a fire extinguisher, spaceship repair, and data storage. C-3PO was good for comic relief without being too annoying (see Binks, Jar Jar). Everyone brought their unique gifts to the team, and gave 100% (except C-3PO).

Better to have diversity than a team who are all very good at the same thing. Diversity brings different approaches, which makes innovative solutions more likely.

I once worked with a team of smart, young engineers. They were great about asking the experienced engineers for design reviews or brainstorming sessions. They were open about trying new ideas and quickly built prototypes to test their ideas. In a few weeks, they had a working proof-of-concept for a problem that our client had worked months on without progress. A team of just the “grey hairs” or just the young’uns would not have been as effective.

Work the Problem

When presented with a problem, our heroes never gave up. They continued to work whatever problem they were presented with. When Han, Chewbacca, Luke, and Lela were trapped in the cell block on the Death Star, they just kept working the problem:

  • Escape the attacking storm troopers by shooting open the garbage chute and jumping into the trash compactor
  • Shoot the door, which was magnetically sealed, so that it would not open
  • Save Luke from the monster
  • Use material in the compactor to keep from being crushed
  • Call C-3PO and R2-D2, who stopped the compactor and opened the door by talking to the main frame computer

Sure, there was some insults hurled and not every idea worked. But they kept at it until they had a solution.

Often when working on a project, things don’t go as you planned: one of your risks becomes an issue, a requirement changes, or a key contributor leaves the team. Focus on the problem that you need to solve, not the one you planned to solve.

It’s also important that your stakeholders know how things have changed. It’s possible that the proper response to the new situation is to cancel the project, and the stakeholders must be given an opportunity to recommit to the new plan or cancel the project.

Share Your Plan

For project managers, creating a plan and not sharing it with the entire team is a common mistake.

In the beginning of A New Hope, the construction plans of the Death Star are uploaded by Leia into R2-D2, and no one else sees the plans until the team arrives at Yavin IV. Until then, R2-D2 is a single point of failure. If he’s destroyed, the project fails. [Spoiler Alert] The Rebel Alliance does not learn of the weakness designed into the Death Star. And, thus, Luke cannot destroy the Death Star.

Why not give everyone a copy, so that if anyone gets to the Rebel base, the project will succeed?

Have you ever worked on a project where the PM has created a detailed plan in MS Project, and the only copy of the plan is on the PM’s computer?

Even if everyone had a copy of the .MPP file, most engineers don’t have MS Project on their computer. Maybe the PM converted the plan to MS Excel. But now the plan doesn’t have the dependencies and critical path clearly labeled. The team can’t interact with the plan and point out where it’s out-of-date.

That’s why I prefer using web-based tools, like LiquidPlanner. It’s easy to share the plan with the entire team and easily get their input in the creation of the plan.

Use the Force (Go with Your Gut)

The most important lesson from the rebels is that sometimes you need to “use the force” to make decisions with incomplete information.

I’m not suggesting we go through our project with the blast shield down, unable to see what’s is right in front of your face. But there are times, especially early in a project when there’s a lot of uncertainty, that even with your eyes wide open there’s no way to be certain what the right path is.

That’s when you use the force to understand what is that best path through the asteroid field.

As project managers, it’s nice to be able to look at a plan, focus on the work breakdown structure and critical path, and know what the most important tasks are. But sometimes things aren’t that clear, and you’ll have to fall back on experience to provide direction. Tools like a risk register can help, but they don’t stand in for being force-sensitive.

Your mission may not be “vital to the survival of the Rebellion”, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important.

Every project deserves a solid team with the needed skills and a “work the problem” attitude. Every project manager needs to share their plan and communicate to meet their stakeholders’ needs.

And sometimes, you just need to set the flight computer aside and pull the trigger like you’re shooting womp rats back on Tatooine. Maybe you won’t get a medal at the end, but neither did Chewie or R2-D2. They understood that success is its own reward.

7 Signs Your Project Management Tool is Working for You

Imagine this. You walk into your Monday morning stand-up meeting. Everyone’s there, coffee in-hand, smiling. Why are they smiling, on a Monday no less? Because last week’s project was completed early and under budget.

Smiles on a Monday morning is just one sign that your PM solution is working. Here are seven more:

Your project schedule is up-to-date and reliable.
When each team member is responsible for updating project progress and communicating changes, your project management solution becomes integrated into your daily work. Your project manager is facilitating the project and working with the team, instead of chasing them for updates.

Priorities are clear.
When projects and tasks are organized by priority, you never doubt what you should be working on. A solution that notifies you when priorities change gives you access to the most up-to-date project plan.

You know what your team is working on.
At any moment you can see what your team is working on, what they have done this week, and what is coming up. You have complete visibility. You never worry about a project slipping due to a communication error because all project information is in one location.

Your project deadlines are realistic.
Your project deadlines are based on ranged estimates that account for uncertainty. At-risk items are flagged so you can react fast. Deadlines are reachable, and you have the data to back that up.

New work doesn’t destroy the plan.
With an agile, flexible project management tool, you can easily see if you have the bandwidth to take on more work and who has the flexibility to work on this project. Or, you can use data to explain why a new project needs to be pushed off.

Resources are not overbooked.
You know how to reallocate team members when deadlines change. You have the ability to look at each person’s workload and decide who has time to take on more work or if you need to recruit more help.

Your relationship with clients and stakeholders is strong.
If you have a reliable project plan, you can give your clients and stakeholders real information. You can show them why a project will not reach a deadline or what will happen if they make a change to the plan. Rather than guessing or giving false information, you are giving them answers based on data.

So, did you find yourself nodding along? Or does your project management tool leave something to be desired?

Take our project management heath check to find out if your project management tool is working for you or against you!