The Power of Communities

I realize you haven’t heard from me lately.  It is not that I have been hiding out or busy fighting with villains of project management.  Actually, I have been working hard on a project that has been secret until now.

Over the course of the last few months I have had the honor of working with ODTUG in the 2016 Leadership Program.  This has been a great experience that has given me opportunities to meet amazing people.  In addition, I have been able to tap into a wealth of support and resources that have helped me to grow my EPM knowledge.

I am excited to share the work that has been going on in the Leadership program with the launch of ODTUG’s new Career Track Community.  This community is 2 fold.  First, it is targeted at recent college graduates that are starting out in their careers and looking for resources on Oracle products.  Second, it is for those who may find themselves in a career change and are looking to expand their knowledge of Oracle products.

If you or someone you know fits these scenarios then please check out the new community site at http://www.odtug.com/career .  You can also follow the community at #orclcareer on Twitter for new information.  This community is a must have for those in Oracle careers.

Don’t forget to share with others in your network who could also benefit by adding  #orclcareer to their tool belt.

 

 

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Episode 123 – Battle the Dark Side – Delivering Bad News

How to deliver bad news to project stakeholders

I often meet people who tell me that they would be good project managers because they are good at organizing.  I agree, organization is a core competency to project management.  It’s great to be in a career where you can play to your strengths. But hold on. Before you give your 2 weeks’ notice and start a LinkedIn search for “project manager”, I encourage you to consider the dark side of project management.  Oh yes, there is a dark side of project management, and it doesn’t get much focus.  The dark side of project management consists of delivering bad news to project stakeholders – it is addressed as part of communication and not an easy superpower to master.

Darkseid an evil villain in DC Comics, had developed a plan to destroy Earth by attempting to brainwash Superman. However, Darkseid’s evil plan was stopped before Earth met its destruction.  Aided by Darksid’s army, Superman was ultimately able to defeat Darkseid and once again save the Earth from peril.

As a project manager, you may get stuck thinking that you were paid to make sure everything is always green.  Attempting to avoid the negative stigma that may come with bad news.  You may think as a project manager that you dare not say the schedule has slipped or the project is about to go over budget. On the contrary, just as Superman had to battle Darkseid, project managers must battle the reluctance to deliver bad news in difficult situations – often times with difficult people in order to save the project.

The following are some tips I have learned for delivering bad news to stakeholders on projects.

  • Realize bad news is hard. It’s okay to be nervous.  We are just humans but don’t let it get the best of you.  Be prepared for what you need to say and the best format to present it.  It will not help the situation to hide behind email.  If a conversation needs to occur gather the facts and be prepared with what news needs to be delivered.
  • Don’t delay the communication. Don’t think the situation is going to get better or that somehow it will magically correct itself.   On the contrary, waiting will mostly likely make the issue worse.  Communicating the issue as soon as it occurs gives the team an opportunity to react and make mitigation plans.  In most cases, you will find everyone is willing to help correct the issue and will offer alternative solutions.
  • Make the audience comfortable. Often difficult conversations will put people on the defensive.  Be sure to give attention to where you deliver the information including being aware of others in the room.  Speak slowly and clearly to the audience.  Be thoughtful to how the person is reacting and when they need to speak.  When the audience is comfortable they will be more willing to offer solutions and be apart of the action plan.
  • Use inclusive language. Your bad news is much more likely to be received in a constructive manner if it is not presented as an “Us vs. Them” situation.  Use words that avoid excluding others instead of us and them use “team” to show everyone is in it together.  It’s important to remember projects are delivered by teams and not individuals.
  • Make a bad news sandwich. Here is a little trick to make that bad news just a little bit easier to swallow.
    1. Start with something positive
    2. Put Bad news in the middle
    3. End with something positive (such as potential solutions)

ExampleThe team has been working hard to reduce the open items and we have been able to close 90% of the major defects.  There are 3 remaining defects that need to be resolved before going live.  The team estimates this will require approximately 2 weeks to correct and test the defects. The users have provided positive feedback and taking the extra time will improve efficiency by eliminating the manual workaround.

Developing your superpower to deliver bad news will improve not only your project management skills but also increase your project success.  I hope you use the tips provided next time you are faced with the dark side and forced to have a difficult conversation.  With practice and preparation you will learn to deliver bad news in a success manner that leads to positive action.

Episode 112: Mission Prioritize

How do you prioritize?

In this episode we find our project manager with a long list of deliverables and not enough time to complete them all.  Being a skilled PM, he attempts to prioritize the list with the team.  The action is simple, rank the deliverables from 1 to 50 in order of importance.  Simple right?  Wrong!  Conflicting opinions and lack of understanding keep the team from being able to come to agreement on a ranked list.

Plan B:

So it is clear there is more than 1 top priority so our PM decides to take another approach.  Group the features by Must Have, Nice to Have, Not Important.  This is going to work better since the team will be able to focus on what is most important.  Not surprisingly, the new list is full of Must Have and just a few Nice to Have.  Still there is no clear priority and time is running out so what is our PM to do?

Weighed Shorted Job First (WSJF)

Don Reinersten, introduced the Cost of Delay in Principles of Product Development Flow.  The idea is simply that when the cost of delay is high, the priority should be greater.

Cost of Delay = Business Value + Time Criticality + Risk Reduction/Opportunity

WSJF has been documented as part of the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) by Dean Leffingwell. Using Cost of Delay, features are further prioritized by including how long it will take the team to complete.  This method allows for features to be prioritized by those with the greatest value and the lowest effort.

WSJF = Business Value + Time Criticality + RROE / Size

Business Value: Determine and rank the value to the business. This could include automating a manual process or creating a new product.

Time Criticality: Consider deadlines or decreasing value if the feature is not delivered.

Risk Reduction/Opportunity Enablement: Estimate how a feature will reduce a risk such as audit deficiencies or create an opportunity like a new product in the market.

Cost of Delay = Business Value + Time Criticality + RROE

Size: Determine the size of the feature.  This is estimated by the team that will develop the feature.  This could be done using points or duration but the team should agree on the method

Example:

Weighed Shorted Job First (WSJF)
# Feature Business Value Time Criticality Risk Reduction Size Priority
1 Create Dimensions 3 5 1 13 .69
2 Develop Security 2 5 13 8 1.53
3 Update Calculations 13 3 8 13 1.84
4 Create Web Forms 8 2 5 20 .75

Steps to WSJF:

  1. Gather all the requirements and have them visible to the subject matter experts. You can use index cards, sticky notes, or a spreadsheet.
  2. Have the team review each feature 1 at a time and provide a ranking for each category. Having the team think about each category individually will take away from the anxiety of creating a number 1 and allow them to focus on what is important, critical, etc.
  • The scale used for raking features is 1,2,3,5,8,13, and 20. Note: A number can be used for each category once per feature.  e.g. For Feature 1 (see above), if the business value is determined to be 3  it cannot be assigned for Time Criticality or Risk Reduction.
  1. Once the subject matter experts have ranked each feature have the development team estimate the size.
  2. Calculate the priority using the WSJF Calculation noted above

Adding WSJF as a tool in the superhero tool belt has created success for my projects by breaking down the daunting task of prioritization. I love this method because it slows the team down to really think about what is important and creates an agreeable prioritized list of features.

Episode 110: Tools vs. Technique

Episode 110: Technique vs. Technology

In the battle of the old school technique (pen and paper) vs. modern day technology (spreadsheets and power point) who is more likely to win? Is the paper mightier than the server?  Will the spreadsheet fall to the sticking power of a post-it note?

I can remember being in school and having to write out long equations for math problems.  My question (or grumble) was, why we couldn’t just use the calculator.  The response was always the same, because you need to learn how the math works.  I have come to understand that answer more as I have progressed in my career (not a career in math).  Being able to work it out on paper helps you see the solution and understand how you got there.

math equation

Source:  elevenlearningfiles

I would say that most teams who have worked with me in a project environment, think I am low tech.  Yes, that is true but it is by my choice.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of technology.  However, I am also a geek for sticky notes and a white board.  I believe there is something powerful in gathering the project team around a white board to move sticky notes across the board and formulate a plan.  These are exercises that can make critical path easier to grasp because it is demonstrated in colorful paper posted to the wall.  Following are 3 reasons, I prefer the low tech approach to team collaboration

#1- it’s visual and most people are visual learners. 

According to Pearson Education, 65% of us are Visual learners (as opposed to auditory learners).  Visual learners are most effective when they are seeing things such as diagrams, flowcharts, or graphs.  They will remember information they saw rather than what they heard.  Visual learners struggle with verbal instructions and may tune out during a lecture. Using low tech tools like drawing on a white board helps the visual learners to absorb information by creating an image.

Sticky Notes

 Source: annebean.com

#2 – it’s tactical and that promotes engagement. 

Have you ever been in a meeting and pulled out your laptop to project on the screen?  How many people did you lose either in the process of getting connected or within minutes of starting?  If you have never observed this in action take a look around the next time you or another facilitator attempts this technique.  I think you will be surprised at what you observe.

Having a team that is engaged will promote a better product and a smoother project along the way. It works because humans are wired to interact with each other.  It is simple to get the team engaged using low tech tools like index cards, sticky notes, and markers.  See a few examples below:

  • Need to understand a process? Have the subject matter expert draw out the process flow on a white board.  Have others provide input using different colors.  Encourage the team to gather around the board for quicker collaboration.
  • Gathering requirements? Have a stack of index cards on the table (enough for all participants).  Have the team write their requirements on a card and read them out loud to the team.  The requirements can also be taped to the wall for prioritization, sequencing, or other grouping.  I have had such success with this technique that it is now my preferred method for gathering requirements.
  • Conducting a risk planning workshop? Have colored dots (red, yellow, and green) on hand for team members to prioritize the risks.  Have team members place the colored dots on the risks they feel are high, medium, and low.  This helps the team quickly see the areas that need additional discussion or focus.

#3 – it’s just fun!

We have already discussed how most people are visual learners and that engagement improves success.  Really, it’s just more fun to be low-tech.  Yes, I know that seems kind of crazy.  After all, we aren’t paid to have fun at work.  Well, that is wrong, more and more companies are adopting new strategies to solving problems and that includes low-tech approaches like game theory.  Check out innovationgames.com  for more fun tips. I love this site and have used a number of the games in various brainstorming sessions.

To all my superhero PMs out there, I hope we learn this lesson… spreadsheets are boring and teams want to interact!  So, pick up your sticky notes and go fight the villains of boredom and disengagement that threaten our projects.

Reason to go low tech:

  • Make better decisions and improve quality
  • Identify innovative opportunities or solutions
  • Understand customer’s need(s) and deliver the right features
  • An engaged team will have more fun and that can drive results!

cropped-baroness-logo-black.png

Episode 109: Be Inspired

In almost every superhero’s story there is that point where he feels defeated and wants to give up. Yet always, there is the person in the story who is always a voice of inspiration.  The one that speaks some words of wisdom and from that, the superhero finds renewed energy and purpose. Lucky for us we don’t have to wait for that person to come along.  There is wisdom all around us. Don’t believe me?  Just open Facebook, linkedin, or Slideshare (among the countless other social media platforms) and you will be bombarded with inspirational quotes.

I recently read a post that said “Find what you love and do it everyday”. That quote struck something within me when I read it. Maybe because I didn’t always love what I did. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have had a great career with some really great companies. I just wasn’t really “inspired” until I discovered project management. Once I discovered the world of PM, I knew I wanted to do it everyday.  That is also why I teach it and why I am writing this blog.  I love project management and I am glad to do it everyday!

Along my project management journey, I have picked up quotes that for whatever reason meant something to me.  Following are a some of my favorite quotes that have brought me renewed energy and guided me along the way…

  1. A change in direction does not mean the team failed. The path to the end goal is filled with twists and turns.  As more becomes known about the project we may often realize that where we were headed wasn’t where we needed to be.  Lead the team through the change but don’t be afraid of change.
  2. There is always a better way to do something. This is so true, I have often been surprised to think I was executing to textbook only to have someone with an idea that was perfect.  Sometimes we just get so focused that what we need is to come up and look around.   Listen to what others have to say.  Their idea could be better.
  3. Don’t let best get in the way of better. I am such a perfectionist.  I will spend so much time ensuring that all the boxes line up and the fonts are consistent.  In the end, that isn’t what people notice.  They are looking for content.  There is usually an opportunity for revision so don’t wait until it’s perfect to share.
  4. Shout great news publicly but whisper bad news privately. Doesn’t this seem logical? Think about it, how happy were you when someone publicly announced your bad news?!  We all appreciate kindness and subtlety.  We also appreciate a little applause when we do something well.  Think about how to share the news before communicating.
  5. The cost to do it right will outweigh the cost to redo it after it was done wrong. You have been there. Faced with the decision to move quickly in order to meet the deadline or miss the deadline to ensure quality.  What I have noticed is that people will not remember you were 2 weeks late but they will remember how painful it was to clean up the mess.  There just isn’t a good reason to sacrifice quality.
  6. Find what you love and do it everyday!

Episode 67: Superhero Manifesto

Recently I was responsible to lead a group of fellow project manager’s in a brainstorming session. Let me first say I am never more nervous than to try and showcase project management skills in front of a group of project managers. Nonetheless, I wanted to have a forum for soliciting ideas that was fun and interactive but held up to the strict standards of my peers. After some thought, I ended up developing a game that I call Manifesto. The game is simple and I have provided instructions below:

1. Explain to everyone what a manifesto is and how it will be used for this exercise. I provided a definition that I found on the web (see below) and explained we were going to create our declaration for the process we were working on.

Manifesto Definition

Source: Manifesto

2. Provide some examples of a manifesto to give everyone an idea of the type of statement you are looking to make. My favorite was the Expert Enough Manifesto

Expert Enough Manifesto

Source: ExpertEnough.com/TheManifesto

3. To get started, provide everyone with a blank sheet of paper and a marker. Ask each team member to think about the topic and create a manifesto. Each member should think about his or her goals and beliefs around the topic of discussion.

4. After all team members have finished writing, have everyone post their manifesto on the wall and read each of the statements to the team.

5. Next take a highlighter and mark all the words or ideas the team had in common. This will start to build a sense of collaboration with the team when they see their common ideas across all the statements.

6. As a team, take the common ideas and draft them into a single manifesto that represents the team’s declaration. Post the manifesto for everyone to see and refer back to it when the team starts to get off course.

7. To make the manifesto more interesting we took the common ideas and put them into a wordle (wordle.net). That gave a fun graphical representation that the team could refer back to.

The exercise was a big success! The team gave positive feedback about how it helped the team focus. It also got me thinking about my manifesto as a project manager. What do I aim to be or do as a successful project manager? This seems like something a superhero would explore before coming to truly understand his or her super power. It makes me think of my favorite Spiderman quote

background

I think that statement could be transformed into a great manifesto. So how do we create a superhero manifesto? In vintage superhero style I will leave that as a cliffhanger until the next episode. In the meantime, I encourage you to try the exercise out with your team.

Episode 56: What does that signal mean?

In the last episode we learned about Earned Value Management (EVM) and the benefits it can bring to a project.  A downside of EVM is that it is not commonly understood in many organizations. So if the project stakeholders do not understand what you are reporting they are more likely to ignore the indicators that as a PM you may see as a call to action.

Let’s look at Batman again.

The Bat signal has claimed many origins over the years.  In this episode, I am going to focus on Batman’s “Night in the City” Season 2, Episode 13.  In this episode Commissioner Gordon invented the bat signal to summon Batman.  The idea of the bat signal is really rather simple.  Send an alert to Batman in times when Gotham City was in danger.   Suppose Gordon or any other member of Gotham City had not communicated to Batman the intent of the signal.  What would be the expected response vs. the actual response?   Likely, Gotham City would not see the immediate result desired.

Image

Earned Value Management (EVM) is a powerful signal to alert of a projects distress.  Project Managers that use EVM need to understand how to communicate and report the signals appropriately to project stakeholders.  EVM provides performance measurements based on schedule and cost as well as provide forecasting. Following are typical stakeholder questions and the appropriate EVM tool to answer those questions.

Stakeholder:  Are we on schedule?

This question is answered with schedule variance.  The schedule variance indicates if the project is currently tracking according to the baseline plan.  SV provides the variance in a monetary value.

Schedule Variance (EV-PV = SV)

SV = 0 – This is good.  The project is performing according to schedule

SV > 1 – This is great. The project is performing better than scheduled

SV < 1 – This is bad. The project is currently behind schedule

Stakeholder: Are we over budget?

To answer this question we are going to look at cost variance.  The cost variance indicates if the project is spending according to the budget.  CV provides the variance in a monetary value.

Cost Variance (EV-AC = CV)

CV = 0 – This is good.  The project is spending according to budget

CV > 1 – This is great. The project is spending better than budgeted

CV < 1 – This is bad. The project is spending more than budgeted

Stakeholder: How much more will we have to spend?

This is a good question and one that is needed to answer the next question of how much is this going to cost us?  To answer this question a project manager can use Estimate to Complete for a statistical answer.  ETC is expressed in a monetary value.

Note: ETC can also be calculated by summing up the estimates on the remaining work packages.

Estimate to Complete ((BAC – EV)/CPI = ETC)

Stakeholder: How much is this going to cost us?

This question is answered with Estimate at Completion.  EAC is the expected total cost to complete the project.  EAC takes into consideration what has been spent (AC) and what is projected to be spent (ETC).  EAC is expressed in a monetary value.

Estimate at Completion (AC + ETC = EAC)

Consider a tolerance for measuring the health of EAC.  For this example we are using a stop light indicator to show the health.  A status of green shows the project is within a 10% tolerance.  Red shows the project will exceed the 10% tolerance.  Yellow shows the project is nearing a 10% tolerance and needs review.

EAC Calculation

Things to consider before implementing EVM on your project:

  • How is status being reported today? How will this change what your stakeholders see on a regular basis? If the change is completely new to the organization offer a reference guide or training so stakeholders can become comfortable with the new metric.
  • Explain the math. A project status report holds more weight when there is quantifiable math rather than a feeling or perception.
  • Report the status early and often.  Nobody likes to think things are on track only to find out at the end of the month the project is red and will not make its scheduled milestone.
  • Constantly evolve.  Once the new reporting metrics are rolled out, you may find that adjustments need to be made. Don’t be afraid to make small adjustments until you are providing value to your project and to the organization.

Empowering your stakeholders with knowledge of your PM tools will help to ensure the project receives the support it needs and helps the team to succeed.  A project management superhero will find EVM a valuable part of the PM tool belt.

Not every superhero was born with a super natural ability to fight crime or perform amazing stunts. In fact, some superheroes were merely humans that had learned to use tools and technology to their advantage. A perfect example of such a hero was Batman also known as “the Dark Knight”.

Bruce Wayne was a billionaire philanthropist who also held the secret identify of Batman. Unlike many other well-known superheroes, Batman was neither born with nor did he obtain any special superpowers. Instead, Batman made use of his intellect, technology, and physical prowess to fight the various villains plaguing Gotham City.

Perhaps one of the most important aspects of Batman’s costume was the utility belt. Included in the utility belt was choking gas and the famous “batarang”. The utility belt was one of Batman’s greatest weapons for fighting crime. Equally important to any Project Manager are the tools possessed to ensure project success. A powerful tool for measuring project performance and predicting future outcomes is the use of Earned Value Management (EVM).

Earned Value Management (EVM) is a project management methodology used to track project performance as well as forecast future project performance. EVM integrates the scope baseline, schedule baseline and cost to provide useful performance measurements.

Among the performance measurements is Variance Analysis. Used correctly, variance analysis can report how the project is currently tracking in terms of schedule and cost. The results of variance analysis allows a project manager to perform root cause analysis and make adjustments before the project has gone too far off course.

In addition EVM can be used for forecasting the project’s future performance. Imagine being able to go to the project sponsor early and report the project is projected to over spend by 10% if action is not taken soon. The conversation would be difficult to have with a sponsor but in contrast would be far better than going at the end of the project and reporting the project did over spend by 10% but no notification was provided.

EVM is relatively easy to calculate and can be tracked using a simple spreadsheet tool such as Microsoft Excel. Check out the slides above that walk through EVM calculations and reporting. Adding EVM to your project management tool belt will empower you to fight project villains like cost overrun.

Episode 34: Scope Surfer

Episode 4: Scope Surfer

Image

Source: http://marvel.wikia.com/Norrin_Radd_(Earth-616)

Scope Management a topic so worthy of discussion it is a knowledge area all it’s own in PMI’s Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK). Like an anti-villain, scope can be a project manager’s ally or enemy.  As an ally to the project manager, the project scope provides boundaries for the project and creates a frame of reference when questions arise.  However, left unmanaged scope can become the project manager’s worst enemy.  Shifting priorities and conflicting view points can take the scope from well defined to out of control thus leading to over runs and potentially project failure.

Mastering scope management is not an easy task.  We can take from the lessons of Marvel’s famous anti-villain The Silver Surfer. Born to a world that was able to solve every problem imaginable (i.e. crime, disease, hunger, poverty) the Silver Surfer sought out opportunities for freedom.

 “I am not a god. I have never created life…but I have lived. That is enough. So I will fight to preserve that same opportunity to love, to dream, to soar among the stars for all those yet to come. Many lives will be lost in the battle ahead but their efforts will ensure that some remain to remember their deeds. And, like the gods, they will truly live forever even after they are gone.”  — Silver Surfer

Armed with powers given to him by Galactus, the Silver Surfer could manipulate matter, sustain himself without food or water, and could travel beyond the speed of light.  In the beginning his scope was clear, find new planets for Galactus to devour.  By offering up new planets, Norrin Radd (Silver Surfer) could spare his own planet.

Upon his encounter with Earth, the Silver Surfer’s motives changed and instead of offering up the planet for Galactus, he joined forces with the Fantastic Four to save planet Earth.  This effort in itself was not without cost as the Silver Surfer was confined to Earth by a cosmic energy barrier.

A change to scope is not necessarily a bad thing.  In the case of the Silver Surfer, saving planet Earth was obviously a worthy change in course.  As a project manager don’t assume just because organizational management has an idea, that it is a good idea.  Make sure to discuss the proposed change to ensure the impacts are thoroughly understood.  Before committing to the change: explore alternatives, estimate the cost of the change, and identify risks associated with making the change.  If the change still seems like the right direction take it through a change control process.  For the project manager a change control process will help ensure the project stays on the right track.  Once approved be diligent to document the change and update any project management documents including the risk register.

A project manager that can develop a super power in scope management will have an upper hand to do battle with villains like scope creep.

Episode 23: Tweet the Vision

In the last episode we learned that a successful team starts with team members being able to commit to the goal.  In a smaller project the task is made easier to rally the team around the goal.  However, in a larger project with team members that are distributed geographically it can be difficult to ensure team members are committed to the goal.  As a Project Manager, I like to use group exercises that help re-enforce project goals.  One exercise I have developed to communicate the project goals or vision is a “tweet”.  This exercise is taken from the popular social media site Twitter and is a great activity for the kick-off meeting.

Activity Name: Tweet the vision

Equipment Needed:

  • Index Cards
  • Pens
  • Tape

Purpose:

Ensure that all team members understand the goals of the project and are aligned to a common vision.

Instructions:

1. Ask team members to write a vision statement based on their knowledge of the project.  The statement must communicate the vision in just 140 characters.  Note: You may need to explain Twitter to team members unfamiliar with the social media site.

Twitter is an online social networking that utilizes small blog type posts enabling users to send and read “tweets”.  Every user is limited to just 140 characters.

2. After all team members have had a chance to write the vision tweet go around the room and ask each team member to read their tweet to the project team.  The funniest part of this exercise is hearing the tags team members add to the project.

3. Collect all the index cards and tape them to a common place on a wall or door.  This allows team members to get up and read the tweets during breaks and continue to re-enforce the project goals through out the meeting.