Category Archives: Project Management

The 10 Most Read LiquidPlanner Blog Posts of 2017

With 2018 just around the corner, it’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy of resolutions and new year planning.

But, before we say goodbye 2017, we’d like to take a moment to look back at our most popular blogs from the past year.

1. 5 Ways AI and Automation Will Change Project Management

Automation, big data, and the Internet of Things were hot topics in 2017. In our most popular post, Andy Crowe looks at how emerging technologies will impact project management, now and in the future, and how project managers should prepare for these changes.

2. Need to Know Stats from the 2017 State of Project Management in Manufacturing Report

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. This post highlights the most interesting findings from the report.

3. Engineers, This is Why You Need Project Management Skills

Fifteen years into his career as a civil engineer, Christian Knutson began studying for the Project Management Professional (PMP) course. In this post, he talks about how his newfound PM skillset has benefited him and why engineers need to seek out project management education and development.

4. Boost Your Productivity with Kanban Boards

Have your standups been turning into sit-downs lately? You may want to try Kanban boards, says PM expert Andy Makar. He walks through the Kanban philosophy, the benefits of using Kanban boards in daily stand-ups, and how to visualize your tasks using LiquidPlanner’s Card View.

5. How to Run an Effective Meeting: Lessons from Pixar, Apple, and Amazon

Ed Catmull, president of Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney, invites candor and controversy to his meetings. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos invites only the most essential people. Check out this post to borrow meeting strategies from some of the most successful companies in the U.S.

6. How to Get Buy-In for a New Project Management Tool From Your Executive Team

Have you found a new project management tool, but first you need to sell the idea to your executive team? Kevin Crump walks you through how to do just that.

[Further Reading: How to Build a Business Case for a New PM Tool]

7. 6 Top Project Management Books for Engineers and Manufacturers

If you’re an engineer looking to grow your project management skillset, this post is for you. We perused review sites, blogs, and forums to find engineers’ most recommended books about project management.

8. Good Questions to Ask in a Project Management Job Interview

Interviews are two-way streets. While they’re trying to figure out if you can do the job, you also need to ask the right questions to ensure you want the job. PM expert Elizabeth Harrin shares her favorite questions to ask and what to watch out for during an interview.

9. 43 Resources for New and Experienced Project Managers

This is an exhaustive list of our favorite podcasts, books, blogs, websites, courses, and MOOCs about everything project management. Whether you’re an experienced PM or just beginning, you’re going to find something interesting and valuable on this list.

10. 6 Simple Ways Project Managers Can Improve Their Writing Skills Today

You may not have the word “writer” in your job title, but I’m willing to wager that you spend at least an hour or two every day writing. Read this post to learn six easy ways to improve your writing game.

Thanks for reading!

Thanks for being a loyal LiquidPlanner blog reader! As we prepare for another year of blogging, we’d love to hear what you’d like to see covered in 2018. Leave us a comment or shoot us a note if you have an idea. We’d love to hear it!

Happy New Year from all of us at LiquidPlanner!

Recruiters Reveal Their Favorite Project Manager Interview Questions

You’ve memorized answers to the “Tell me about a time when…” questions. You’ve practiced your STAR stories. And if anyone asks about your spirit animal, you’ll be ready for that too.

And so have the other candidates. If you want to stand out from the competition, you need to prepare for the curveballs and the PM-specific questions.

We asked recruiters, hiring managers, and talent acquisition specialists for their go-to project manager interview questions. Take note of what they’re asking and what they’re looking for in a response, and you’ll be ready to ace your next interview.


What do you do when you realize a project is off deadline?

“This question will be 90 percent of my evaluation. I want candidates to walk me through, in detail, the steps they take to alert the stakeholder and make a plan to get the project back on track. Hitting deadlines is the most important issue in my industry. In fact, it’s the first, second, third, fourth, and fifth most important thing.”

Cody Swann, CEO of Gunner Technology


The project team is clearly not working well together. What are three different ways to address this?

“Every project is full of the unexpected. A critical skill for project managers is the ability to solve problems flexibly and with agility. Thus, asking project managers to present multiple solutions to a challenge is a great interview question!”

Eve MacKnight, Lead Consultant at littleowl.us


Tell me something you have never told anyone else.

“When recruiting for project managers, I’m looking for sound communication skills. Asking this fun question and hearing the candidate’s response allows me to recognize what the person in front of me is actually like.

If the interviewee comes up with an interesting answer, I know they are creative and can communicate well. Their response obviously shouldn’t be negative, but needs to be something honest and interesting enough to remember.

It also allows me to see if the candidate is a quick thinker, which is another important skill required from a project manager. As this is not a particularly common question a candidate would expect to be asked, it’s fascinating to see what they come up with.”

Steve Pritchard, HR Consultant for Cuuver


What do you do when you are overwhelmed by all the moving parts in any given project?

“I love this question because it allows the candidate to show if they are aware when they are overwhelmed. You can learn if the candidate gravitates toward being tight (follow the blueprint, no matter what) or loose (wait too long to address their own confusion). Lastly, it shows whether the person knows how to ask for help, whether that’s for coaching or resources.”

Joyce Wilson-Sanford, Executive Coach and Author


Who would you put on your personal Mount Rushmore?

“It always gets a laugh and creates a comfortable mood in the room. It’s also enlightening to hear who they choose and why they value them enough to have their heads immortalized on a mountain.”

How many stacked pennies would it take to equal the height of the Empire State Building?

“The candidates that use critical thinking as opposed to dismissing the question as silly are the ones you want to keep around. I once had a candidate jump up to the whiteboard and mathematically find his way to an answer that was within 100 feet. Needless to say, he was the type of person that we wanted on our team.”

Sean Killian, People Operations Lead at Enola Labs Software


What’s the most critical or difficult issue you’ve had to deal with while managing a project?  How did you solve it?

I ask this question all the time because it allows me to understand what kind of problems the candidate feels are critical. What is difficult for one person might be all in a day’s work for another. It also demonstrates their thought process, creativity, and sense of urgency.”

Karla Pooley, Head of Talent Acquisition, Blue Spurs


If the rest of the members of our PMO were in a bus accident tomorrow, what would you do? How would you handle it?

“I think this gives us insight into two key areas. First, the candidate’s ability to think on their feet. Very few candidates expect a question like this, especially junior candidates. Second, it gives us a little bit of insight into what kind of leader they are. Would they start by collecting data? Would they immediately take action? Would they delegate or try to do it all on their own? There are a million possibilities in this kind of hypothetical.”

Jonathan D. Rogers, Operations Director and a Certified Scrum Master at AndPlus


What do you do when your project is in trouble?

“Most project managers will say they’ve never failed on a project, and they easily steer things back on course. But, in reality, a lot of projects fail based upon original estimates in budget, time, resources, market conditions, and stakeholder time/expectations.

This question allows for further investigation and probing.  I like to hear how a project manager adapts and deals with tough situations; their thought process and level of humility; dealing with difficult and unreasonable stakeholders. All these are part and parcel with being a project manager.”

Ken Kwan, Founder of Career Prophets


More Resources for PM Interview Prep:

10 Killer Interview Questions for Project Managers, LiquidPlanner

Project Managers, Here’s What to Ask the Hiring Manager, LiquidPlanner

9 Must-Ask Questions When Hiring a Project Manager, HubSpot

 

7 Actions to Take When Joining a Project Underway

Many of us dream of becoming the director for a major program with numerous projects, a staff, and an opportunity to create something from nothing. In this dream, which I know I’ve had on more than one occasion, you get to select your team, develop the processes and procedures that will be used by the team, and shape the development of the Project Management Office. The ideal situation.

Unfortunately, this dream is just that for most project managers—a dream. More often than not, you won’t be able to pick your team, establish the processes, or develop the PMO. Instead, you’ll find yourself doing bits and pieces of these at the same time you’re scrambling to deal with a program that’s already under way.

Over the course of my career, I’ve had the good fortune of initiating a program one time. The remainder of the programs I inherited during the planning or the benefits delivery phase. Far from ideal, becoming involved in a project or a program that is already underway requires one to focus more diligently on a few key elements.

Taking Lead of a Project Underway

Project management is challenging regardless when you assume the leadership role. There’s a mountain of literature written about the skills effective project managers leverage when leading a project and it all seems to assume that you’re in the game from the start. This won’t always be the case. For example, maybe you’re hired into a new project manager role on an already awarded contract or you’re called on to replace a non-performing project manager.

7 Knowledge Areas for Leadership on Projects Underway

Taking lead on a project already underway relies on the same skills that you’d call on if you’d been on the project from the beginning. However, there are seven specific knowledge areas that are most important and will require your attention.

1. Evaluate the governance framework.

One cannot assume that every project or program will have a well-defined governance structure in place by the time it gets underway. Regardless of what phase you join a project, make sure you evaluate the governance framework to determine if it’s properly structured.

This means that the right stakeholders are involved at the right levels; the right meeting frequency is in place; there are clear terms of reference spelling out roles and responsibilities of each echelon of the framework; and decisions are being made at the appropriate level. On complex projects, it’s vitally important that governance is appropriately structured so that senior stakeholders are informed at the right time and in the right fashion for making timely decisions.

2. Discover the lessons learned.

A project underway will have generated some lessons learned, so find out what these are. Talk with project team members and key stakeholders who have been with the project since initiation to determine what the key positives and negatives have been on the project. Looking at lessons learned while the project is still underway will help determine if there are possible adjustments to be made that have been missed by the staff.

You can also bring in lessons learned from other projects you’ve successfully managed, or best practices used by other project teams, to bolster performance on your project. In short, don’t assume that performance enhancements have been applied by the project team. Look for opportunities and work with your team to implement them.

3. Develop relationships.

Project managers spend the vast majority of their time communicating with other people and developing relationships. When you’re involved on a project from concept onwards, you have the opportunity to develop relationships with other stakeholders while the project is taking shape.

When you join a project underway, however, you have to insert yourself into relationships that have already formed. The longer a project has been underway, the more difficult this is, as team members have more shared experience together.

Take time to identify the most influential stakeholders. Then, focus on developing relationships with each of them. The process for doing this will vary, so you need to apply your emotional intelligence skills so as not to make any social or professional mistakes.

I like to start with informal office calls in one-on-one or small-group settings. I follow this with working lunches or group dinners. The main goal is developing rapport with the most influential people outside of formal project meetings. The benefit from doing this is a more cordial working relationship during formal meetings and a greater likelihood of collaboration when challenging situations arise.

4. Establish yourself in meetings.

Early in my Air Force career I heard the saying, “Never let your lack of experience keep you from speaking with authority.”

I’m not entirely certain, but I don’t think this was a joke. As a second lieutenant, you lack real-world experience in leading people and dealing with situations. Yet, there you are, the officer in charge with people looking at you to lead them through the situation.

I think this saying applies for the project manager that joins a project underway. You’ll immediately be looked at as the person in charge and depending on the situation, you may be called on to make key decisions right away. This requires you to establish yourself quickly in meetings and other venues so that everyone knows you’re on the task.

This doesn’t mean you need to be overbearing or not listen to other people! Quite the contrary. You’ll need to really listen to others and take their inputs for consideration (see the last point below).

5. Lead the change.

Regardless of what you do as the new project manager on a project underway, you’ll initiate change. The very fact that you’re now in the project manager role is a change, so any adjustments you make in process or procedure will be a change from business as usual.

To ensure your changes are successful, be cognizant of the environment under which the project is functioning and adjust your leadership style to accommodate this. You want your changes to make a positive impact on the performance of the project, so you can’t afford to have them derail because of delivery.

Change management is an essential part of project management. It’s also a key component of effective leadership on projects already underway.

6. Focus on providing value.

As you assess the project’s performance and the state of your project team, look for opportunities to provide value. This means looking for underserved areas of expertise or leadership. Perhaps the project has lacked someone with a strong sense of project management fundamentals; here’s an opportunity to engage your team in applying standard processes and procedures. Maybe your team hasn’t been properly recognized for successful performance; here’s an opportunity to gain senior stakeholder recognition and develop team confidence.

Don’t invest time adding value to activities that are already well-served by your staff or other stakeholders. It’s not only inefficient, but may very will alienate some of the very people you want to build relationships with because you’re perceived to be taking their role! Consistently look for opportunities to serve.

7. Listen and observe…then act.

I’ve saved the most important skill for leading a project underway for last. If you’re successful at accomplishing this, you stand a better-than-even chance of being successful on the other six. Effective project managers tend to have a penchant for taking action. That’s what makes them successful when others are paralyzed by indecision.

When you begin leading a project that’s already underway, however, you need to take pause before acting. Most issues that arise will have a history preceding them and you need to know that history to act effectively. Just as important, project team members and influential stakeholders will develop a more positive assessment of your leadership if you’re perceived to listen, observe, and then act.

Face it, none of us are impressed with someone who steps into a leadership role and immediately acts without the full picture. There are only a few situations where this is warranted and you’ll know it if you’re in one.

Lessons Learned as a First Time Medical Device Project Manager

In 2001, I joined Calypso Medical as employee number 18. Our goal was to create a remarkable medical device that could track the location of the prostate to a millimeter of accuracy during prostate cancer treatments.

This level of accuracy is important because the prostate has a tendency to move unpredictably during normal bodily functions, like coughing, going to the bathroom, or passing gas. This makes it difficult to direct the radiation to the correct spot. Healthy tissue may accidentally receive the radiation, which can lead to increased side effects.

We called it GPS for the body. Rather than satellites whizzing around the earth to pinpoint your phone’s location, a sensor array the size of a pizza box hovers directly over the patient’s abdomen. This sensor communicates with three transponders, about the size of a grain of rice, that had been implanted in the prostate in an earlier procedure.

During treatment, the radiation technologist (RT) monitors the location of these transponders. If the prostate moves outside of the radiation beam, the RT is immediately alerted and can reposition the beam so that it is once again focused squarely on the tumor. If you know where the device is, you know where to target the radiation.

For this to work, we needed another system that could determine the location of the sensor array. Figuring out the best way to solve that problem was my job.

Walk a mile in your users’ shoes.

As is typical in small companies, everyone wore multiple hats.  If I wanted to understand what was happening during treatment and how it would constrain my system, I would need to figure that out myself.

[Further Reading: A Look Inside Project Management at StarFish Medical]

Luckily, a local hospital was very helpful and let me hang out with the RTs as they did their job. I watched how they aligned the patients and moved about the room and spoke with the medical physicists about how they calibrated and aligned the equipment. I needed to design my system to work with what was already happening. Ideally, it would be invisible to the RTs and patient.

Build prototypes to simulate products in real-world settings.

After exploring several options, I settled on a ceiling mounted camera system that would see the array and could figure out its location. I used three cameras, even though two would be enough, so that the RTs could move about the room and not worry if they were blocking one of the cameras.

I developed simulations and was confident the system would work. But a prototype is much more convincing and can test errors in your assumptions that a simulation might miss.

I built the prototype with commercial-off-the-shelf tripods and cameras and software that I wrote. In testing we showed the concept worked even if you blocked a camera or the targets.

I then installed my prototype in an unused treatment space at the hospital, and we were able to simulate realistic usage. This work convinced the company leadership that I was on the right track.

Choose your partners carefully.

Once everyone agreed that my concept would work, I was directed to select a partner to implement my concept in a way that would pass muster with the FDA.

The perfect partner would have certain features:

  • An existing solution that could be leveraged for our needs
  • Their team had the desire and ability to customize their solution
  • Their solution had been through the FDA regulatory approval process
  • Geographically close to our office in Seattle
  • Reasonable business terms
  • A team that would be easy to work with over the long-term
  • A company that was stable enough that we didn’t have to worry about them going out of business

Not surprisingly, no such company existed.

One company had an FDA-approved camera-based solution, but the solution didn’t have the resolution we needed and wouldn’t work if someone walked in front of a camera. Any solution they created would have to be built from scratch.

Another company was a spin-off of a university in Munich, Germany. Their solution was technically solid, but they were a startup with no other customers and definitely not geographically desirable.

A third company had a technically solid solution and several customers in the movie business. They were a leading company for motion capture and had worked on movies like “The Hobbit”. Their location in California was not ideal, but at least they were in the same time zone and a single flight away.

The only missing element was that their device hadn’t been through an FDA approval process. We worked with a regulatory consultant and the company to develop an approach that worked for everyone. It’s been over 15 years, and this partner is still providing the camera system for the Calypso tracking system.

Anticipate and prevent product failures using failure mode and effects analysis.

When designing a medical device, it’s critical that it works as it’s supposed to. The alternative can be the death of the patient. One of the tools that we used to accomplish this was failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA), a structured way to analyze how a product might fail and what you can do to prevent it. In this context, failure means the product doesn’t deliver the required performance, not that it stops working.

For instance, if your requirement is accuracy no worse than 1.0 mm and a condition results in a location error of 1.1 mm, that’s a failure.

FMEA typically starts with a brainstorming session where you identify ways that failure might happen. Our failure modes included:

  • Changes in the room temperature causing the camera mounts to move, pushing the system out of calibration.
  • The radiation environment in the treatment vault (both gamma rays and neutrons) causes cameras to fail.
  • Partial obscuration of the targets on the array, leading to an inaccurate location solution that doesn’t trigger an error condition.

For every failure mode we stated a severity (how bad would it be if this happened) and an occurrence (how likely would it be to happen). For example, a failure mode that shuts down the system (like a dead camera) would be high, but not the worst. The most severe failure mode is one that could lead to accidentally targeting radiation to the bowel or bladder, resulting in serious side effects.

[Further Reading: Ask a PM: School vs the Real World]

An interesting failure mode that we discovered was exposure to neutrons, sub-atomic particles with no charge.  The process of creating the beam of radiation used to kill the cancer cells also created a flood of free neutrons that might damage our electronics.  I flew our cameras to one of the only two neutron test sites in the U.S. and exposed our camera to 10 years’ worth of neutrons in a few hours.

From that test, we learned that one component was sensitive to neutrons and needed to be replaced.

If we hadn’t done the FMEA work, our cameras would have started failing in the field. Until we figured out the pattern of failures, the cameras would have just been replaced. Once the root caused was determined, we would have needed to replace the part and recertify the cameras, delaying new installations. This would have hurt our reputation, which can be the death knell for a small company.

Take pride in your work.

There’s a special satisfaction of playing on a game system I helped design or seeing drilling equipment I worked on in action.  But nothing matches the satisfaction of talking to someone whose father’s cancer treatment was improved by a product that I worked on.

It’s even gratifying that the photos of the system never include my camera system. It’s a sign that I accomplished my goal of making my part of the system invisible. That helped prepare me to become a project manager, where our contributions are typically critical, but invisible.

44 Learning Resources for New and Experienced Project Managers

We’re entering that slow time of year for businesses. Unless you work in the retail or hospitality industries, November and December usually bring a quiet calm to the office. Clients go on vacation. Emails go from a torrent to a trickle. Desks are cleaned and reorganized.

And that’s why the end of the year is the perfect time to brush up on your skills.

To help you end the year on a strong note, we’ve put together this list of training resources. Because project management is such a multifaceted role that works with many different stakeholders, we’ve included both PM and non-PM resources. These resources range from free to thousands of dollars. The time investment also ranges from a few minutes each day to several months.

We’ve broken this list into five sections:

  • Books
  • Podcasts
  • Massive Online Open Courses (aka MOOCs)
  • Certificate Programs
  • Websites

Books

Results Without Authority: Controlling a Project When the Team Doesn’t Report to You by Tom Kendrick

It’s hard enough to lead a project when you’re the boss. Leading a project team that doesn’t report to you is a whole new challenge in itself. Kendrick walks through how to motivate a team to contribute to a project’s success.

Alpha Project Managers: What the Top 2% Know That Everyone Else Does Not by Andy Crowe

Using data from a survey of more than 800 project managers from around the world, Crowe looks at what traits and practices make the top 2 percent of project managers rise above the rest. Readers will walk away with actionable steps they can take to rise to the top.

Delivering Bad News in Good Ways: Turn Difficult Conversations into Purposeful Dialogue, Positive Outcomes, & Focused Results in 3 Easy Steps by Alison Sigmon

While there are a lot of books out there about the proper ways to deliver bad news, this one is directed at project managers. Sigmon gives project managers a defined process to not only break bad news, but also improve communication over the long-term.

Project Management for the Unofficial Project Manager by Kory Kogen

Are you expected to organize and lead projects without any formal training to draw from? You’re not alone. More and more of us are being asked to PM. This book helps build a foundation, walking through the essentials of people and project management.

Making Things Happen: Mastering Project Management by Scott Berkun

Drawing from his years leading technology projects at Microsoft, Berkun offers readers field-tested philosophies and strategies for defining, leading, and managing projects. If you’re leading technology projects, this is a must-read.

Adaptive Project Management: Leading Complex and Uncertain Projects by Andy Silber

Silber presents a new methodology, Adaptive Project Management, in this book. He explains how to succeed or fail fast for projects that are too uncertain to use waterfall project management and too complex to succeed with agile project management.

The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done by Peter F. Drucker

An oldie but a goodie. Don’t let the title dissuade you from reading. Drucker’s lessons about time management, prioritization, and effective decision-making can be applied to any knowledge worker.

Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen

The book that started it all; this is the definitive guide to GTD. In the age of multitasking and information overload, Getting Things Done is the book we need to find focus.

Principles: Life and Work by Ray Dalio.

Over 592 pages, the hedge fund titan Ray Dalio explains the principles that have led to the success of his firm Bridgewater Associates. The book reads partly like a memoir, partly like an instruction manual for life.

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande

Gawande, a renowned surgeon and New Yorker writer, is a proponent of the simple checklist. At first glance, the subject matter sounds like it could be just another dry how-to book, but Gawande’s anecdotes and writing skills take this one to another level. He expertly blends storytelling, science, and productivity.

The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy by Chris Bailey

After college, Bailey turned down two lucrative job offers and instead funneled his energy into chronicling productivity experiments on his blog. This book contains the results of these experiments, plus interviews with leading productivity experts and 25 takeaway lessons that the reader can apply to everyday life.

Podcasts

The Project Management Podcast. Hosted by Cornelius Fitcher, the PM Podcast has more than 300 free and paid podcasts available for your listening pleasure. He brings in PM experts to talk about a wide variety of topics, everything from how to become a PM to managing unknown risks. Bonus: You can earn 60 free PDUs (Category C) by listening.

The People and Projects Podcast. Andy Kaufman interviews experts on PM, productivity, and management on his People and Projects Podcast. A new podcast is released every three to four weeks. Like the PM Podcast, you can earn free PDUs by listening.

The Lazy Project Manager. Hosted by Peter Taylor, this podcast began in 2013 after he published his best-selling book by the same name. Taylor has been described as “one of the most entertaining and inspirational speakers in project management today.” Topics and themes really run the gamut on this podcast, with new podcasts being released at least once a month.

PM for the Masses. Cesar Abeid brings a wide variety of guests onto his popular podcast. Topics cover everything from public speaking to methodology to careers. While Abeid hasn’t released a new podcast since 2016, the archives are still worth exploring.

Beyond the To Do List | Personal Productivity Perspectives. Hosted by Erik Fisher, this podcast explores different aspects of productivity, getting the work done, and living a good life. He invites real people to talk about how they implement productivity strategies in their professional and personal lives.

The Tim Ferriss Show. Hosted by Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Work Week, this podcast was the first business/interview podcast to pass 100,000,000 downloads. He brings on well-known personalities to dissect what tools, techniques, and tactics they used to get where they are.

Getting Things Done. Is your copy of David Allen’s Getting Things Done dog eared and full of notes? Then you’ll love his podcast. Allen talks with people who are in different stages of their GTD journey and offers practical tips for building your own GTD systems.

Back to Work. In this award-winning podcast, Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin discuss productivity, constraints, tools, and communication. Mann and Benjamin offer a nice balance of clever banter and teaching in every one hour episode.

The Moth. A storytelling podcast? Yes yes yes. Two reasons: 1. All work and no play makes for dull project managers. You need some fun listening between all of these business and productivity podcasts. 2. Storytelling is being called the new “essential skills” for business leaders. Listening to The Moth can help you learn to build a narrative that keeps your audience wanting more.

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)

Coursera: Introduction to Project Management Principles and Practices Specialization

If you’re brand new to project management, this intro course is for you. Over four weeks, you’ll walk through the foundations of project management. This course is intended to prepare you for the fully-online accredited Applied Project Management Certificate from the University of California, Irvine.

Cost: $196

Coursera: Applied Project Management certificate

In this 6-month, online course, you’ll have the opportunity to attend instructor-led virtual sessions, receive expert feedback on projects, and access career coaching services. This course fulfills the educational requirements of the Project Management Institute’s Project Management Professional (PMP)® credential. By the end, you’ll be prepared to take the PMP® exam. This course is offered through Coursera and the University of California, Irvine.

Cost: $2,980

Start date: December 4, 2017

Alison: Diploma Course in Project Management

This foundational course is offered by Alison, another MOOC company that offers free education online. This course covers the basics of project management, from methodologies to documentation the phases of a project. Most users complete it in 10 to 15 hours.

Cost: Free

Start date: On-demand

Master of Project Academy

Master of Project Academy offers both free and paid courses that cover a wide variety of topics. We recommend checking out the “Project Management Training Bundle”, which gives you access to the PM certification courses, as well as the Agile and scrum certification courses. Master of Project Academy offers monthly and annual subscriptions. The courses are self-paced and can be started and completed at your choosing. Not happy? The academy offers 30-day money back guarantee.

Cost: Varies. The PM Training Bundle is $62 per month or $307 annually.

Start date: On-Demand

Oxford Home Study College: Project Management Course

This is another introduction course, great for those who are new to the PM world. This 3-part course covers: an introduction to PM, role of the PM, and the project lifecycle.

Cost: Free

Start date: On-Demand

PMI: Essentials of Project Management

This online, self-paced course will benefit anyone interested in learning the fundamentals of managing projects, with a focus on preparing for the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)® credential exam.

Cost: $400

Start date: On-Demand

American Management Association: Improving Your Project Management Skills: The Basics for Success

AMA currently has 64 in-person sessions scheduled across the US between November 1, 2017 and August 6, 2018. While they provide an overview of PM fundamentals, this course is designed to focus on practical application of PM skills. The course is designed for those new to PM, the “accidental” PM, and knowledge workers who are interested in upping their management game.

Cost: $2,095 for members/$2,345 for non-members

Start date: Varies by location

Coursera: Agile Development Specialization

This course provides a beginner overview of the Agile methodology, specifically within software projects. You’ll learn to coordinate all aspects of the agile development process, including running design sprints, managing teams, and fostering a culture of experimentation.

Cost: $49 monthly Coursera subscription

Lynda.com

The online learning platform Lynda.com offers more than 90 courses related to project management. Many of these courses qualify for PDUs through PMI.

Cost: Free for the first 30 days, then $19.99 per month

Start date: On-Demand

Courses and Certifications

Certificate in Project Management (University of Washington)

This three-course certificate program is offered by the continuing education department of the University of Washington. The program is designed for both professional PMs and those looking to enter the field. UW has been approved by PMI® to issue professional development units (PDUs) for these courses, which fulfill the education requirements for the Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification. This certificate is offered both online and in-person at the University of Washington campus in Seattle, Wash.

Cost: $4,790

Format: Offered in four different formats: Online self-paced; online group-paced; classroom; and classroom accelerated

Start date:  January 2018, March 2018, September 2018

Certificate Program in Project Management (UC Berkeley Extension)

This program from UC Berkeley comprises 3 required courses and 8 additional semester units of electives for a total of 14 semester units. The nice thing about this course is that you can start the program at any time and progress at your own pace. Most complete the program in one to two years.

Cost: $6,250

Format: Online, accelerated; classroom, daytime, classroom, evening

Start date: Continuous

Project Management Certificate (Colorado State University)

Colorado State University offers both in-classroom and online options for their certificate program. The five-module certificate follows the guidelines from PMI and provides a solid overview of project management principles.

Cost: $3,395

Format: Online; classroom

Start date: January 11, 2018

Certificate in Project Management (Georgetown University)

Georgetown also offers both in-classroom and online options for their certificate program. The program includes four required courses and two electives.

Cost: $6,570

Format: Online; classroom

Start date: Varies; see Georgetown website for a full schedule

Scrum Certifications

For project professionals working in tech and software, Scrum certifications are an asset. The Scrum Alliance offers a wide variety of certifications, ranging from practitioner to coach to trainer.

Cost: Varies

Format: In-person, 2-day trainings

Start date: Varies by location

Change Management Accreditation

Change management and project management often go hand-in-hand. Learning best practices in change management can help you prepare for the consequences and results of certain projects. The Change Manage Institute offers several levels of accreditation.

Cost: From $525 to 1,050

Format: Varies

Start date: Varies by location

Project Management Websites

Project Management Institute (PMI)

Everyone’s go-to project management resource is PMI. Their website is chock full of helpful information, including articles, white papers, online courses, and webinars

A Girl’s Guide to Project Management

PM expert Elizabeth Harrin, who is a frequent contributor to the LiquidPlanner blog, writes about a wide variety of project management topics. Her strength is writing about careers, leadership, and teams within the PM space. She also provides free templates and toolkits to help PMs excel at their jobs.

Age of Product

If you work in the software and product development space, you should bookmark this blog. Age of Product offers tools and insights for agile software development, product management, and lean methodologies.

Project Times

A well-curated site of helpful articles, webinars, white papers, and case studies about project management. Project Times isn’t afraid to post the offbeat (i.e., “Why Project Managers Shouldn’t Wear Man Buns”), which makes for a fun read.

How to Manage a Camel

Published by British recruiting firm Arras People, this blog covers topics around PM careers, project sponsorship, PMOs, and more. I’ve heard that the British perspective on PM differs from the American, so watch for that as you read.

Harvard Business Review

While HBR isn’t solely focused on PM, its focus on management, leadership, and careers is beneficial and applicable to any office dweller.

Herding Cats

Glen Alleman writes about a wide variety of topics related to Agile methodology and project management.

The Digital Project Manager

The Digital Project Manager offers how-to guides, tips, tricks, tools, funnies, and jobs in the realm of digital project management.

CIO

I’ve found that the project management section of the CIO website has some great content within the context of IT and tech PM. Articles cover everything from implementing an ERP systems to managing project budgets.

We hope you find these resources helpful! Is there anything you’d like to see added to this list? Let us know in the comments.

Ask a Project Manager: How to Find an International PM Job

Dear Elizabeth: I have been working in project management across several industries for several years – although not formally as a ‘Project Manager’. My spouse (a soon-to-be-retired Army Officer) and I are going through the formal PMP® training now to complete the test by January. We would love to explore some NGO or other overseas work for a few years before coming back to the States and working part time. What advice do you have for us?

Well, it sounds like you’ve got your next moves pretty figured out! There are a few things I would suggest that would support your career goals.

Get Your PMP® Quickly

You probably know that the PMP exam is changing early next year. I’ve been spending a fair amount of time looking at what is going to be new and while there’s nothing particularly radical, there are some technical changes within the processes that will no doubt influence the questions you are likely to see.

Personally, I think the new version of the guidance from PMI is better. It’s longer (it feels a lot longer) but it feels more modern. However, if you don’t want to start your exam prep all over again, book your exam now and take the current version of the test.

This is actually a great time to be getting certified: the change in the 2018 exam is going to really focus the mind! You might find it easier to make the time to revise the material if you know you have a hard deadline to meet.

[Further Reading: Ask a PM: Should I Go Freelance?]

As you know, you need to be able to prove your project management experience in order to take the exam. If you qualify, you won’t have any difficulty with the fact your resumé doesn’t have the job title Project Manager. Your experience, and your PMP credential, will speak for themselves.

Look at PM4NGOs

There’s a whole branch of project management dedicated to NGOs, and there’s a lot on offer at the PM4NGOs website. They have their own certification scheme, but you may find some resources there to help you plan what’s possible for working in a non-governmental organization as a project professional.

Capitalize on Veterans’ Support

I have worked with veterans from the Australian and UK militaries and the people I’ve met with these backgrounds have been excellent project managers. It’s well recognized that veterans can transition their skills into a project management career and there are a number of programs designed to support that happening.

PMI has support available for veterans including being able to join a local Chapter at no cost for the first year (as long as you are a member) and many Chapters have Military Liaison Volunteers. There are Chapters all over the world, so wherever you happen to end up with your overseas work, you will hopefully find one near you.

Be Flexible

Travelling for work as a couple is difficult, especially if one of you gets a job and the other is the ‘trailing spouse’. Having been both the spouse in work and then later the one left at home while my husband worked overseas, I know that it can be tough on both partners.

The ideal for you will be to find an overseas posting that allows you both to work, and work together. That might be possible with NGO opportunities, but is going to be less likely if you decide to take a corporate position overseas instead.

Contract work can be very flexible and well-compensated, so if during your research you decide that a corporate job meets your personal goals for spending time overseas, you could look at contract positions and enroll with some job agencies that specialize in placing managers in those roles.

Be conscious of the paperwork that goes with overseas work. There are visa, permits and all that to work through. Get advice from someone qualified to give it and only choose to work with reputable agencies that have your best interests at heart. And get insurance!

Build Your Other Skills Too

Getting a project management credential is great, but it isn’t the only thing that is going to secure you a job. If you want to work abroad, what language skills do you have? Will that shape where you choose to work?

What tools do you know how to use? You’ve got some project management experience already, so hopefully you’ve been able to use some of the common technologies that help schedule work and plan tasks.

[Further Reading: Ask a PM: School vs the Real World]

Some days it seems as if there are almost as many project management and collaboration tools as there are employers, but there are some big industry players (like LiquidPlanner) that crop up time and time again. Make sure you’ve got some exposure to a few different types of software as that will make you a more rounded potential hire, especially for contract work.

Equally, check out free tools that are commonly used by organizations with tiny budgets for this sort of thing like NGOs such as Google Drive, Skype, and Slack.

Project management is a fantastic career that can open doors and help you change lives. I wish you all the best with your career journey!

To Master Information Management on Your Project, Do These 4 Things

Knowledge is power. However, for many project managers, maneuvering into this position of control can be a serious challenge that doesn’t go away just by being effective in managing email or being able to read a pivot table.

The sheer quantity of data and information that is processed in a day on even a moderate sized project can be intimidating. Scale this up to a major program and the data flow can be simply overwhelming.

[Further Reading: What is Little Data? And Why Do PMs Need It?]

There are plenty of strategies to optimize the use of your valuable time for focusing on the most important issues. Time management is a highly important skill every project manager must master, deciding for themselves which philosophy, skills, and tools they’ll use to maximize productivity. While really important for effective project management, time management doesn’t solve the problem of too much data and information.

Too much data and information is as challenging for project managers as too many meetings. The sheer volume becomes counterproductive and in some situations, dangerous.

An equally important skill project managers must cultivate is information management. Without solid information management skills, a project manager can be buried under input and lose sight of the forest for the trees, a situation referred to as information blindness.

Information Management Skill Eliminates Information Blindness

Information blindness happens when we’re presented with too much information in a format that isn’t easy to comprehend. For example, let’s say that you are used to seeing construction status reports in a quad-chart format with schedule in a Gantt-chart format and a stop-light chart depicting that relative status of key tasks from the WBS. However, on a new project the construction managers are submitting the status reports in written, bullet list format.

You’re used to seeing the information in graphical format. Now you’re receiving the same type of information in written form, and it doesn’t make sense. It’s not that you can’t understand the data. It’s that the information is coming to you in a format that you can’t easily comprehend. To solve this problem, you’ll have to either force yourself to digest the long-form version or have the data re-packaged into the graphical/tabular format you’re used to.

A similar situation of information blindness arises when the data is presented in a way that might be understood, but doesn’t generate the correct decision-making knowledge in the individual viewing the data. Imagine a change management panel viewing a project update that uses stoplight charts to depict the number and cost of changes on a portfolio of projects under implementation.

The stoplight charts concisely convey the project information and look great, but they do not convey data that members on the change management panel really need to better understand specific cost and scope variances for individual projects. They may discern general cost and scope trends, but can’t ask the right questions about individual projects. The lack of information quality reduces decision quality.

Information blindness can also afflict us on even the most mundane issues. Ever feel overwhelmed by too many choices when out shopping? I know this from a funny, personal story. My wife and I had just moved back to the U.S. after living overseas for seven years and were visiting a grocery store for the first time. We hit the cereal aisle and were faced with cereals we didn’t know existed or that anyone would even need! In fact, there were so many, we went with Cheerios, a default.

The issue in each of these scenarios has to do with absorbing data and making sense of it. Both engineers and project managers share this problem. We’re blessed with an analytical mind and amazing technology that gives us more information than any one of us can consume.

[Further Reading: How Big Data Gives PMs an Edge in Manufacturing]

Unfortunately, all that information combined with our natural bent to want to make sense of it can lead to shut downs with the data or information isn’t readily consumable in the right format needed for decision-quality knowledge.

Give any of us too much information, too many choices, or package data in way we’re not able to comprehend, and our minds will work to simplify the complex. In some cases, this will be defaulting to a decision choice we are comfortable with, although it may be wrong, or simply not choose at all.

How do you solve the problem of too much information or incorrectly packaged information? You do that be minding the gap. That is, by creating disfluency.

Mind the Gap for Optimal Information Management

Disfluency is essentially reworking data or information in a way that makes it more effectively absorbed. I came across this concept while reading Charles Duhigg’s book, Smarter, Faster, Better. In the book, Duhigg presents various examples of how individuals enhanced their effectiveness in decision making or performance on cognitive tasks by manipulating data and information in new ways in order for it to make sense.

When one is faced with data, information or a situation that is familiar, the tendency is for our mind to default to the simplest response by relying on a script, or heuristic. Heuristics help us move through life without having to consciously think through every single action we take. So, when faced with too much, or ineffectively packaged, data or information, our mind will seek the simplest response…which may be to simply do nothing.

As a project manager, you will definitely be faced with information that is not ready for you to comprehend it. The way to solve this problem is to create a gap – disfluency – with the information so you can more readily absorb it.

To create a disfluency with data or information, you need to manipulate it into a different format in order to put in a format that makes sense to you. Often times this means forcibly slowing down the mind by rolling up your sleeves and getting dirty with the data or information. For example, in any situation I’m faced with where I have to absorb a large volume of important information I handwrite it out.

That’s right, I write.

It may seem archaic to pick-up pen and handwrite out information in a notebook, but the physical act of my writing the information creates the gap in thought I need to absorb the information. I did this when preparing for my professional engineer’s licensure exam nearly twenty years ago, did it in preparation for my PMP exam, and I’m doing it now as I prepare to sit for the Program Management certification exam. For me, I create disfluency by hand writing data and information.

Besides handwriting out data and information, one can also create disfluency by:

Talking Through the Data or Information. Often times talking with a project team member about project data or information can help unlock insights that were hidden. You’re creating a disfluent environment by having a conversation about the information with another person versus simply looking at it on your computer screen or a print out.

Talking through issues helps create a gap because you can’t talk as quickly as you can think. To coherently articulate thoughts, you have to slow down and “make sense” of the data and information. Doing this forces the mind to slow down how it processes information allowing for new patterns or insights to emerge.

Walk, Work Out, or Write. I’ve already touched on hand writing information in order to create a gap, which happens because the process of handwriting is much slower than reading, so the mind has to process the information more slowly than by just reading it.

You can also create gaps by taking a walk or hitting the gym. You may already be attuned to these two tactics and if not, you might want to take them up. I tend to opt for the work out option, hitting the gym mid-day to generate a mental break from the daily grind. However, I’ve also found the walk to be a highly effective way to disconnect the mind from information.

Feel free to research the biochemical and cognitive reasons why each of these tactics work – just know that empirically you’re likely to discover that they do. I lived in Germany for a couple years prior to moving to the U.K. and lived near research centers for HP and IBM. While I’d go for runs midday on the trails in the area, I’d come across scores of people from these centers out for walks or runs, as well. Perhaps these engineers and project managers were on to something.

Give the Information Some Space. You’ve likely experienced a situation where you were working on an information-intensive issue and hit a wall, not able to come to a solution or feeling that you understood what you were looking at. Frustrated, you walked away from the information for the day, week or longer. Coming back to the information you immediately saw the crux of the issue and how to proceed. Success.

The gap created by giving the information space provided your mind with time to absorb the information and subconsciously process it. Returning to it, you were able to immediately have the insight that you lacked when the information was either too new or simply too complex to quickly absorb. Next time you hit a road block in making sense of data or information, let it age like a fine wine by giving your mind a gap between initial viewing and responding.

Mind Mapping. Mind mapping is a process of graphically representing data and information. It allows one to visually organize information into hierarchical or nodal groupings. This activity provides disfluency through manipulation of information from whatever form it may currently exist into a visual format. It’s helpful for identifying relationships between components and developing new insights from how components of information relate to different aspects of a project or situation you are working on.

The intent behind these tactics is to create a gap between the information and the response. This is done in order to allow the mind an opportunity to generate different outcomes or glean new insights. If you’ve ever had an “aha” moment with an issue on which you’ve been wrestling with, then you’ve experienced the benefit of disfluency.

Information management is more than just a skill for how to handle email or where to file documents. It also includes how one works with data and information in order to create decision-quality knowledge.

Project Management Monsters Around Us

Monsters aren’t just for Halloween. The undead walk among us all year round. Only on Halloween do they show their true faces. If you know what to look for, you can recognize vampires, ghosts, zombies, and Frankenstein’s creation (he’s not really a monster, just misunderstood).

In this article, I will teach you not only how to spot these undead creatures, but also how to vanquish those who haunt your nights and bring life back to those who suffered an untimely demise.

This doesn’t take the skills of a slayer, just a disciplined product development process.

Zombies

Zombies are the most common undead creature you’ll see walking the halls of your office. (We’re talking about the slow George A. Romero style zombies, not the fast variety of 28 Days Later or World War Z.)

They continue moving and sucking up resources, but they have no life in them and they never will. They produce nothing, and all they want to do is eat your brain. They need a shotgun blast in the face to put them out of your misery.

I once worked in an R&D group of about a dozen engineers, with about 20 active projects. On average, these projects would have required a couple of engineers to move forward at a reasonable pace. There were no clear priorities, so everyone worked on whatever they felt like or responded to the most recent request. The team’s effort was so diffuse that practically no projects were ever completed.

The way to deal with zombies is having a product development process that includes stage gates. As a project moves from one stage to the next, a review with the stakeholders is held. If the project isn’t on a path to success, this is the time to either rescope to something that can be successful or kill the project.

If a project just wanders around aimlessly without progressing to the next stage, you need to put it out of its misery and apply your resources to projects that can be successful. No project moves on to the next stage unless the resources needed are available.

Vampires and Ghosts

Vampires are projects that suck the lifeblood (i.e. resources) from other projects, preventing them from staying on schedule. Unlike zombies, vampires are worthy projects capable of being successful; they are just consuming more resources than they should.

Ghosts are the opposite, just a whisper of a project, starved of the resources they need to live. With sufficient resources, the ghosts can be resurrected.

I once worked for a company leading a critical project redesigning the flagship product. When I checked in with the engineers, I often found out they’d been redirected to work on a pet project (i.e. a vampire) of the CEO. I was unable to stay on schedule, and my project became a ghost.

Both of these monsters can be slain by agreeing to priorities and assigning your team based on these priorities.  If resources are to be reassigned, the leader of the project losing the resource needs to be engaged and the impact discussed.

Does it make sense to move the resource and delay a critical project? Leadership must understand the implication and make the tradeoffs based on the best-available information.

Frankenstein’s Creation

You’ve probably seen these creations: an arm left over from one project, a leg from another. These appendages don’t go together as part of any design. The result reminds you of what you wanted when you launched the project, just like Adam (the name of Frankenstein’s creation) reminds you of a human being.

When you’re trying to solve a problem similar to one you’ve solved before, it may seem like a good idea to reuse your early work. And sometimes it is. Other times, shoehorning an old solution into a new problem creates more problems than it solves.

To tame the creation, one needs only a solid design process with requirements. Start with the problem you’re solving and build up requirements from there.

If an existing solution meets the requirements, then by all means use it. If it doesn’t, can it be modified to meet the requirements? Whatever solution you use, it must meet the requirements.

Polyphemus, the Blind Cyclops

In Homer’s “The Odyssey”, Odysseus stabs the cyclops Polyphemus in the eye, blinding him. When Polyphemus lets his sheep out of the cave to graze, Odysseus and his men are then able to escape by hiding under them.

Similarly, we are often blind to what’s happening under the surface of our projects. We often don’t ask the right questions because we’re moving too quickly to take the time to pause and ask them. Or we don’t want to hear the answers, like “the customers want something different than what the product manager thinks they want”.

I once worked on a project where the laws of physics suggested that we would likely fail FCC certification testing due to high levels of emissions of radio frequency noise. So the experts in the team did a detailed analysis, which confirmed our initial fear, and they recommended putting the electronics in a Faraday cage, which would dampen the emissions.

Management didn’t want to slow down the project to allow a cage to be designed until we had actual measurements to prove that we needed a cage. Six months later, we were able to build a prototype that proved we needed a Faraday cage, but by this point the design was locked.

The resulting mitigation needed to fit within the space available, increasing cost and putting the schedule at risk. None of that would have been needed if management had looked carefully at the situation when the issue was first raised.

Once again, the weapon of choice is a solid product development process:

  • Risk assessments that force you to sit down and ask, “How can this project fail?”
  • Stage gate reviews, where the stakeholders come in and ask the tough questions before the project moves forward

Many Monsters, One Weapon

We are often in such a rush that we waste energy on a feeding vampires or zombies that are unworthy. We overlook that which is just beneath the surface. We settle for something that’s handy, rather than a solution that solves our problem.

A disciplined product development process can give sight to the blind, strength to the ghosts, and oblivion to zombies.

How to Get Buy-In for a New Project Management Tool From Your Executive Team

In business, change comes with a price. Even implementing a new tool or process that will benefit the bottom line comes with a price.

That cost might be hard dollars and cents, or it might be the time needed to implement the change. But more likely, the cost of change is both money and time. And the broader the implementation is across the organization, the heftier those costs.

You found a new tool! . . .

If you’ve found a new project management tool that you’re confident will solve all of your team’s problems and deliver project success, you’re going to have to sell the idea to your executive team. And, you’ll want to get their ongoing support to motivate everyone to use the new tool during the rollout and beyond.

… and now comes your first hurdle: selling it

The thing is, a lot of managers are good at getting things done, and are strong creative or critical thinkers, but selling? Not so much. And getting buy-in for a new tool is a sales job. Which means, once you find that perfect PM tool, you’ll need to close the sale.

[Further Reading: In-Depth Guide to Getting Executive Buy-In for a New Project Management Tool]

This takes preparation and planning.  You don’t want to end up as the person in Shark Tank who gets destroyed because he’s not sure if the numbers he’s talking about are profit or turnover. To help you out, here are a few best-practice steps to give you the best possible chance of nailing the sale and getting the green-light for your new PM tool.

1. Be the champion for the change.
Own it and drive it. Leaderless initiatives fail. If you just float the idea by a teammate or boss with, “Ooh this tool looks like it might be worth a spin,” and hope that someone else will run with it, the idea will very probably die right there. It’s up to you to bring the idea of a using a new-and-improved tool to life.

2. Do your research.
It doesn’t matter how shiny the prospective tool looks compared to what you’re currently using, you won’t know that it’s a good fit until you actually use it. Sure, on looks alone you’d probably choose a new coupe over a rusty third-hand sedan but what if you go ahead and buy that new BMW only to find it doesn’t come with an engine? Or seats.

When you’re evaluating new software take a trial, request a demo, watch the videos, read the customer stories and know your stuff. If the tool provider insists on money up-front before you even get a glimpse of the product, or only offers a limited feature set to play with, ask yourself what inadequacies they’re trying to hide.

3. Recruit your sergeants.
Chances are, there will be other teams using the new PM software platform that you’ve got your eye on—or at least they’ll be impacted by its introduction in some way. For example, you might have to contend with Graham in Engineering who loves his spreadsheets and might be reluctant to give them up. So to make your sales pitch a success, you need to get those heads of department or team leaders onboard early on in the change process, before you go cap-in-hand to the Executive Team.

These sergeants, like Graham, are the people who will rally the troops to your cause and spread the word on your behalf. Getting these key players on board strengthens your case when you pitch to the Execs. The new tool might be just what your department needs—but less so for other teams, so talk to every team lead that might be impacted; let them know the what and why behind why you think new project management software will make a positive impact; demo the product and tease out the questions and issues.

coworker buy in

4. Have a plan.
Rolling out a new tool is a project in itself, so give it the same respect as your other projects. Product familiarization and training will take up time across the business—time that has to be planned for or it won’t happen. Create a plan and then share it with your other stakeholders (Execs and department heads with sign-off power) and get their buy-in. That alone could make or break your implementation. Do resist pitching an overly-optimistic schedule just to get the yes votes because this will put too much pressure on the process, and yourself.

If you’re not sure about timelines, ask your product rep for advice. If she won’t or can’t tell you, find another tool. Also, when planning, don’t forget about all the required activity that follows the initial rollout: education, additional licenses etc. Rather than a big-bang approach, consider a trial phase with a small or non-critical project. This might be more palatable to the Executive Team and other department heads alike as a means of proving the concept before making a commitment.

5. Sell yourself first.
You’ll stand a better chance of selling your idea to the executives if they know you and respect what you’re capable of. The more people trust you, the more they’ll trust your recommendations. This is why the ground work is key; it helps you stand tall and present with confidence.

Also, consider your audience. You could be addressing people who don’t know or aren’t aware or even interested in the specific challenges you’re trying to address with the new tool. This is why it’s important to style your pitch so it will have meaning to everyone on a larger scale: more productive teams, improved profitability, more predictable cash flow through improved delivery to schedule, happier customers, etc. Demonstrate that you know all the benefits the new platform can offer—for the business as a whole, not just your department.

6. Demonstrate the tool.
As part of your pitch, show the Exec Team how the product works, and how it will work for your specific needs. This way you’re not just throwing abstract concepts around. Demo the tool with everyone you need to appeal to in the room, so they all have an opportunity to share their concerns and ask questions. Do not just email everyone asking them to download the software or visit the provider’s web site ahead of the meeting: they won’t.

 For your show-and-tell pitch, try and find a time slot that’s sympathetic to the Executive Team’s commitments. Chances are their days are meeting-heavy already, so try and find a morning slot and catch them when they’re fresh. It doesn’t hurt to throw in some snacks or treats too. I’ve seen the timely offer of a cherry Danish secure some sizeable change budgets!

7. Present a business case for implementing the new tool.
Pitch hard figures, not just over-eager optimism. Top management will be looking at ROI and little else initially. Of course you might get some interest if you throw in phrases like “improved efficiency” or “more accurate scheduling,” but drop in statements like “forecast savings of up to $70,000 a year compared to our current solution” and ears will prick up, trust me. You’re making a business case, so be business-like. Prepare for the tough questions, like:

  • What’s the downside if the new tool just doesn’t work out?
  • How long are we committed for? And at what cost?
  • Can we go back to the old system if this one doesn’t work out?

These are questions you should have already asked yourself and answered long before scheduling the meeting. You may have some anti-change die-hards, so make sure you have strong, concrete answers for them beyond: “Well, it’s just better; you know?” State tangible (and genuine) benefits. It doesn’t have to be all about the money. Maybe the new tool will improve what you can offer your customers, or make your company more competitive.

business case for buying new project management software
Selling change

Making change happen in business is a challenge—whether you’re looking to implement a new PM tool or trying to start an in-office fitness challenge. If you’ve discovered a piece of software that you think is the best thing since sliced bread, do your prep so you come across as passionate yet credible and informed. Remember, there’s a lot of sliced bread devotees out there. But just because change can be tough, don’t let fear of failure stop you from trying. In the end, everyone wants to make decisions that positively impact the organization.

Using the 5 Whys Method to Get to the Bottom of Your Problems

When something goes wrong, people always want to know why. Why did this happen? Why did this go wrong? It’s a logical question, but stopping there is likely to lead to a dead end.

To get at the core of why the unexpected event or challenge happened, you need to dig deeper. Instead of stopping at one, you need to ask why five times.

The 5 Whys

The core idea of the 5 Whys system is exactly what it sounds like: ask the question “Why?” five times to understand the root cause of an issue. It was developed by Taiichi Ohno, the father of the Toyota Production System.  “Observe the production floor without preconceptions,” he advised his staff. “Ask ‘why’ five times about every matter.”

Ohno used a malfunctioning welding robot as an example:

  1. “Why did the robot stop?”
    The circuit has overloaded, causing a fuse to blow.
  2. Why is the circuit overloaded?
    There was insufficient lubrication on the bearings, so they locked up.
  3. “Why was there insufficient lubrication on the bearings?”
    The oil pump on the robot is not circulating sufficient oil.
  4. “Why is the pump not circulating sufficient oil?”
    The pump intake is clogged with metal shavings.
  5. “Why is the intake clogged with metal shavings?”
    Because there is no filter on the pump.

If the questions had stopped at the first or second why, it would be tempting to think the problem could be solved with a new fuse or pump. But, the problem would have reoccured in a few months. In this case, the issue was caused by human error. Someone had forgotten to attach a filter to the pump.

By asking and answering “Why?” five times, you can drill down to the core issue, which is often hidden behind symptoms. “The root cause of any problem is the key to a lasting solution,” Ohno said.

When to Use the 5 Whys

The 5 Whys system is most effective when used to solve simple to moderately challenging issues. If you’re using 5 Whys for complex issues, you need to be more careful. With complex problems, there are often multiple causes. Using the 5 Whys could lead you down a single path, causing you to ignore the other underlying issues.

Because the 5 Whys is relatively easy, it can be a great tool for kicking off brainstorming around a problem before you take a more in-depth approach.

A Few Limitations to Keep in Mind

The 5 Whys method does have some limitations.

  • The person leading the 5 Whys must have expert knowledge about the problem and possible issues. If the cause is unknown to the person doing the problem-solving, the method may not lead to the true cause. In the earlier example, it’s unlikely that someone with zero mechanical knowledge would have noticed the missing filter on the pump intake.
  • The success of the method relies on the skill of the facilitator. One wrong answer may completely throw off the questioning, leading to a wrong conclusion.
  • An assumption of the 5 Whys method is that there is that presenting symptoms all stem from one cause. For complex problems, this isn’t always the case. A 5 Whys analysis may not reveal all of the causes that are tied to these symptoms.

How the Process Works

Ready to try it? The 5 Whys method follows a very simple five-step process.

1. Assemble your team.

First, invite people who are familiar with the issue and the process you are trying to fix to the 5 Whys meeting.

2. Select a facilitator for your meeting.

The facilitator will lead the discussion, ask the 5 Whys, and keep the team focused on the issue at-hand.

3. Define the problem.

Discuss the problem with your team, and then focus on creating a clear and concise problem statement. To get started, answer the questions, What is going on, when did it happen, where did it happen, and who found the problem.

Write your problem statement on a whiteboard, leaving enough room to answer the 5 Whys below.

4. Ask why five times.

The first why should cover why the problem is happening. The method will work best if your answer is grounded in fact. No guessing allowed. Avoid going down the path of deductive reasoning, which can muddy the process. Answer each question quickly to avoid going down rabbit holes and jumping to conclusions.

Continue asking why until you feel that you’ve examined each path and can go no further. If your first why generated more than one reason, you can now go back and repeat the process until you’ve explored those routes, as well.

Note: As you go through this process, you may find that someone dropped the ball along the way. Instead of placing blame, the goal is to ask, Why did the process fail? This line of questioning will show what organizational processes need to be fixed.

5. Address the root causes.

By now, you should have identified one true root cause. With the group, discuss what countermeasures can be taken to prevent the issue from happening again. The facilitator may assign responsibilities for these countermeasures to the group.

6. Monitor your countermeasures.

The process doesn’t end there.

It’s important to monitor how effectively your measures solved or minimized the problem. If nothing has changed, you may have identified the wrong root cause and need to repeat the process.

That’s it! While the 5 Whys method was originally developed for use in a manufacturing setting, it can be beneficial in a wide range of applications. Do you use the 5 Whys in your work or personal life? If so, how was the method worked for you?