Monday, June 1, 2009

PM Thought of The Week: When Issues Become Risks!

About a year ago, my director posed this question to his team, "What's the difference between and issue and a risk?"  It did not surprise me that of the 10 or so people in the room there was no agreement on these definitions.  Some thought that issues and risks were the same; some thought that they were different and that one could morph into the other and vice-versa; and, some people thought that issues and risks were totally independent of one another.

Experience has taught me that there is a clear relationship between issues and risks.  When dealing with these two terms, there is a matter of semantics that must be understood.

My Definitions
  • Issue: A problem uncovered within the project that can adversely affect the project if no mitigation strategy is implemented.
  • Risk: An issue that has now adversely affected the project schedule, budget, resources, quality or any project constraint.
I realize that some Project Management professionals will say that my definition of an issue is really what's known as a risk trigger (see the Project Management Body of Knowledge).  I would agree with that statement. An issue is essentially a problem that could be a much bigger problem if nothing is done to shrink or alleviate it.

A Real World Example
On my current assignment, I am managing the implementation of new Call Center telecom technology from cradle to grave for 7 locations in the Midwest.  I was recently told that one of the Call Centers will need to upgrade all of their PCs within weeks of the telcom upgrade.  A mitagation strategy must be implemented such that the PC upgrade does not affect the telecom upgrade whose schedule can not change at this point.

In this example the issue (risk trigger) is the PC upgrade must occur during the final implementation stages.  The risk is the telecom implementation schedule could be delayed if the PC upgrade is not completed on time.  Clearly the risk in this example is to be avoided at all costs.

In summary, I do not think it's important what name you give to an issue since it's the risk that that you're trying to prevent.  I made this point during the meeting with my director and team last year.  From my project management perspective, I never want an issue to become a risk!
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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

PM Thought of The Week: Manage The Schedule, Not The Tool

Experimenting with new software tools can be extremely fun. When Microsoft releases a new version of MS Project, I enjoy tinkering with the product in my spare time until I learn all the new features without looking at a manual. I rarely look at the help pages too. The benefit for me is that I can quickly become proficient with MS Project and similar tools. The danger is I must always remember not to spend too much time managing the tool. Instead, I must focus on managing the project schedule.

Why should I be concerned about spending too much time on the tool rather than the project? Well, as a project manager my motto is the needs of the project come first. With a sophisticated project management tool, I might be able to easily produce a highly efficient, award-winning, well laid out project schedule. However, if it will take me significantly longer to produce the schedule than what's necessary, more than likely some other area of the project will be neglected. The question that should be asked is: Will it be worth it to have a near-perfect schedule or a schedule that is reasonably close and took less time to produce?

The amount of time you spend using project management software and other tools is totally dependent upon the project complexity, risk, available time, etc. As a result, it's imperative for a project manager to spend his/her time wisely. A project manager should be focused on creating and managing the project schedule. Spending too much time using the tool to perfect the schedule can be hazardous to the project and the team.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

PM Thought of The Week: Manage Your Tasks

A while ago I read David Allen's book "Getting Things Done" and was impressed. In his book, Allen documents a personal management system that categorizes one's tasks as items that should be: 1) done immediately, 2) deferred to a later date, 3) transferred to someone else, or 4) dropped.

I incorporate a similar management system into my personal and professional life. If you find you do not have enough time to get all your work done in a day, consider this simple 4-step process:
  1. Incorporate a good task management tool: There are plenty of free task list tools on the market. Spend some quality time looking for the tool that will work well for you. I use the iPhone product "TouchTodo" to manage and synch tasks with my Google Calender. Using TouchTodo along with Google Calendar, I always have my task list at hand!
  2. Review your tasks in the morning: Try to focus on no more than 3-5 of your most critical tasks each day. If you a lot of overdue tasks, declare the day a "catch up day" and don't add new tasks to your list.
  3. Complete your tasks: Cross off tasks as they are completed and move on to the next item on your list. Challenge yourself to get through your list before the day ends. I am less stressed when I make some sort of game out of completing tasks too.
  4. Update your task list at the end of the day: Review your task list to ensure tasks are completed, categorized and prioritized correctly. Reviewing tasks at the end of the day builds a sense of accomplishment and gets you motivated to complete tomorrow's tasks.
In summary, don't overwhelm yourself with tasks. You may have a lot to do, but you can't do everything at once. As I create tasks, I move them to a bucket of "no due date" tasks unless a due date is absolutely necessary. As I review tasks in the morning or evening, I look for tasks in my "no due date" bucket that can be completed in the next day or two. This helps me keep my day much more manageable.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

PM Thought of The Week: Emphasize Strengths, Develop Weaknesses

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses, including project managers. But how many of us periodically take a "hard" at what we do well and what we don't do so well? If you're someone who doesn't review your strengths and weaknesses, consider this 5-step plan:
  • Identify Your Strengths
    What do you do best? What's the best way to incorporate your strengths into your career? If today's plan gets off track, how can your strengths help get back on track?
  • Identify Your Weaknesses
    What are your challenges? What's a good plan to help improve your challenges? How can you turn your challenges into strengths?
  • Get Feedback from Your Support Group
    What does your support group think your strengths and weaknesses are? What would they suggest you do to take advantage of your strengths and develop your challenges? How can you incorporate feedback into an action plan?
  • Emphasize Your Strengths, Develop Your Weaknesses
    Implement your action plan to exploit what you do well and improve in the areas where you are challenged. Make adjustments as needed.
  • Review Strengths & Weaknesses Monthly
    Each month, repeat the plan starting at step 1. Add a monthly task to your to do list today as a reminder.
The bottom line: Always seek to make yourself a better Project Manager and a better "you".