Are You Falling For These Project Management Myths?


What do you think you know about project management? As people age, we often realize that the beliefs that we held when we were younger are no longer true. Things change. We grow. Technology advances. So are the beliefs that you’ve held for years about project management necessarily true? Are people today falling for project management myths that are simply flawed?

I was having lunch with another project manager recently and we were discussing the difference between the way seasoned project managers see their role, and the way younger people without much experience see project management as a discipline.

Many young people leading projects today have a completely different mindset. They may be on to something important. Consider the teams of young people who get together and work on a project, with no planning or schedule, and get it done in a weekend. Maybe there is something we can learn from these product launch weekends.

Regardless of the changing nature of project management and the different approaches, there are some dangerous project management myths project managers should avoid falling for. In my experience project managers who tend to fall for some of the most common myths are in two major categories: either a large, bureaucratic background, or a smaller, leaner background. Regardless of whether you fall into these two categories, make sure you're not falling for these common project management myths.

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Can We Focus On People And Process?


One of my projects several years ago felt like a disaster. I still remember the lack of sleep. The people working on the project were working long hours, short on patience, and groaning in misery. The sponsor kept throwing more scope at us. Priorities kept changing, and for every step forward, it felt like we took two steps backwards. Some key project leaders were barely talking to each other.

This “Nightmare” project had a firm deadline that had to be met, but no one was clear about what exactly needed to be finished by that magic date. The project manager was decent. She met regularly with the sponsor and tried to protect the team from the chaos. But when it is the sponsor who is throwing new scope at you every other week, it’s harder to manage the project. We expect the sponsor to be on our side.

From the sponsor’s perspective, he was working with senior leaders who were facing a rapidly changing competitive landscape. There was significant fear that the company was going to lose its shirt. And to make matters worse, there were problems acquiring one of the critical resources. Fear, money worries, and pressure are not conducive to a fun project environment.

There is an expression that we often hear in project management – people over process. I typically agree. But bad processes can make your people problems worse. Strengthen your processes to help your teams. In this blog, I’ll offer some recommendations on ways to focus on both people and process. Had we done a better job of that, things would have been much better.

Bad processes can make your people problems worse. Strengthen your processes to help your teams. Click To Tweet

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Holidays Remind Us to Show Gratitude


Last week, friends and families around the United States celebrated Thanksgiving. It is a distinctly American holiday that I happen to love. Thanksgiving reminds all of us to give thanks, to show gratitude, and to embrace friends and family. In our family, I have a niece who insists that all of those gathered take a turn during dinner to talk about what they are grateful for. It puts everyone on the spot. Some have admitted to planning ahead. Few seem to relish it at the time. But my niece is charmingly insistent. Remarkably, it’s always one of the highlights of our family dinner.

Thanksgiving reminds us that gratefulness needs to be shared. Yes, we can all choose to be grateful in our hearts. We can journal about our gratefulness. We can spend time talking to ourselves about the specific things for which we are grateful. All of those things are good. Science supports the notion that these activities are actually good for our mental health. But how much more powerful it is when we show gratitude? Showing gratitude inspires others and relieves stress. It makes others stop and appreciate things that they may not have thought about.

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Are You Managing Labor Costs On Your Project?


In last week’s blog on project portfolio management, I discussed the benefits of being able to compare projects across a diversified project portfolio. As I said in that blog, the use of project costs as a size measure only works when all projects are consistently tracking the same things. That includes labor. 

If you're doing a fixed price project, it's essential to manage all costs - including labor - to ensure that you can deliver the project and make money. For example, if your outsourced contractors are lazy about submitting their time entries, you could end up in the red before you know it. Unapproved labor costs and labor costs that exceed the budget may not be reimbursed. If your company is dealing with limited cash flows, you need to be watching when large direct project outlays need to occur.

In the business world, there are many projects done in HR, marketing, and accounting, where there is no tracking of labor costs. When salaried employees are completing an in-house project, it's easy to skip the tracking and managing of labor costs. After all, you aren’t paying them specifically to do the project, so why should their costs be associated with the project? There are a few good reasons to do so.

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Do You Have a Grip on Your Project Portfolio?


Every time I talk with a new organization these days, the conversation turns quickly to Waterfall, Agile, their project portfolio management strategies, software tools, and Excel. I hear a lot of the following statements:

  • Our Waterfall people don’t talk with our Agile people (or vice versa).
  • We can’t (or don’t) compare our project investments.
  • We really don’t know how much money we have invested in project work.
  • Some of our project managers don’t engage well with our portfolio director’s team.
  • We have a lot of project managers still using Excel.
  • We typically use Excel for our smaller projects.
  • Different departments have different strategies for selecting their projects.

The list goes on. How can project executives get a grip on their project portfolios?

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How Project Leaders Drain Their Team’s Energy

Project leaders

Years ago, I was asked to manage a project for a non-profit. The director of the non-project contacted me, presumably because he didn’t have the time to run the project. I quickly asked for a meeting with him to understand more about the project, and was asked to start meeting with others first. I don’t think I understood it at the time, but my enthusiasm for the project waned quickly. That was just one of several projects where the actions of leaders drained my energy.

Project leaders, including sponsors, managers, and other key leadership stakeholders need to be careful about behaviors which can zap a team’s energy very quickly. In these days, the best team members often get to pick and choose their projects. So, we need to work hard to make sure we don’t sabotage efforts. Project work is hard enough without unintentionally draining your team’s commitment to the project.

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Managing Project Communications Made Easier


Have you ever accepted an invitation to do something, or attend something, and found that you really had no idea what you had accepted? It could be a project that you were invited to run, or a charitable event that you plan to attend. It could be a meeting without an agenda. Regardless, it’s frustrating. Rather than wasting time wondering (or worrying) about the expectations, we should be communicating about them. This is no different when it comes to project management communication.

Project managers are taught to develop a communications plan for every project. The goal is to manage expectations, and the forum for doing that is through communications. Sometimes projects seem too small for the effort, but every project, task, meeting, or romantic date comes with expectations. And, when expectations aren’t met, there is disappointment.

It doesn’t matter whether you're planning the construction of a mile long bridge, the opening of a new school, or a family wedding, communication problems can make your life much more difficult. So, if managing project communications is on your job description, what can you do to improve? To better manage expectations? 

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Align Leadership Personalities With Project Needs

There are plenty of leadership opportunities in the project management world. The work of leading a project requires a lot more listening and documenting than talking, which makes it a field where quieter, more introverted leaders can shine. There can be multiple leaders on any given project team. Each can exercise different skills to move the project forward. The key challenge is to align leadership personalities with your project needs.

People have different innate leadership qualities. There are great listeners, decision makers, and visionaries. And others who are naturally more persuasive or good at getting things done.

We need to find a way to appreciate the skills in these people for the value they add. We need to direct people into the appropriate positions, and communicate with them to minimize the risk that their leadership skills become divisive. A ship can only have one captain. But, that doesn’t mean that everyone on that ship cannot exercise some form of leadership at the appropriate time.

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Project Lessons from Granny

Martha Orr Davenport
March 17, 1918 - October 10, 2017

Last week, my husband’s mother died, after a life well lived. At 99 ½ years, contemporaries are gone. Yet hundreds turned up to honor a remarkable woman who spent her life organizing and working on projects. In this short blog, I want to discuss a few project lessons that I learned from this ordinary, yet extraordinary, woman.

Flexibility is often required.

My mother-in-law was an accomplished collector of children’s books, and particularly interested in Little Red Riding Hood. She once arranged an educational children’s program on wolves at the Richmond City Library. The program featured a visit from Koani, a gray wolf, and his sidekick, Indy. They spent the night at her home, since local hotels were not very accommodating. Wandering through the stacks of an old library and into a program with young children, with a gray wolf and a dog, requires a certain amount of flexibility.

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Activity Duration or Activity Complexity?


Project portfolio managers often talk about the challenges they face when managing large project portfolios. One big challenge is to clearly understand the entire portfolio. Project managers are increasingly using different methodologies to manage their projects, with different vocabularies. This makes it hard to compare the sizes and progress of different projects. And that can complicate resource management.

How much money is being spent on projects not even done under the auspices of the project portfolio director? I frequently meet with people who share with me the different tricks that managers play to avoid working with the portfolio management department.

It’s hard to compare three projects when one is being done in Waterfall with careful scoping, one is using Kanban or Scrum, with almost no scoping, and one is being done in Excel, where no staff time is being tracked. Then, multiply that situation by 10 or 100 or a 1000.

While I can’t solve all of those problems in one blog, I do believe that moving from tracking activity durations to activity complexity would solve a lot of problems. This can be done, regardless of the methodology you are using.

Currently, traditional project managers spend a lot of time estimating activity durations. (The activity duration is how long each activity will take.) Sometimes, there is historical precedent on which to base those estimates. The estimates can range from highly reliable to reasonable estimates. Other times, there is really no way to estimate how long they will take, with any reliability. And, even when there is historical precedent, creative activities can vary considerably. One week, writing this blog will be easy, and I can whip it out in a few hours. Other weeks, I’ll struggle for days.

Project estimating is a hot topic with strong feelings on both sides of the argument. Does it make sense to spend time creating detailed duration estimates in order to create a project schedule when the world around you is changing by the day? My answer is no. But that doesn’t mean that we aren’t managing the project to ensure that the work is getting done in an acceptable fashion.

In this week’s blog, I discuss an idea called Activity Complexity – four benefits that it offers and a four-step approach to using it effectively.

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