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

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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 32:  Assemble a Team (of superheros)

A goal of the Project Manager is to create that almighty superhero team that can generate results.  The ideal team would be a group of talented individuals that can overcome obstacles and perform at exemplary levels.  How does a project manager create a superhero team and replicate success from project to project? Let’s take an example from one of the greatest teams ever known.

“There was an idea to bring together a group of remarkable people, so that when we needed them, they could fight the battles that we never could”.  – Nick Fury

Marvel Team

Project Name: The Avengers Initiative

Project Goal: Fight the foe (Loki) that no single superhero could withstand.

S.H.I.E.L.D Director, Nick Furry, assembled together “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes”, also known as The Avengers to defeat Loki.  What made the Avengers successful was their super human abilities and stellar fighting skills.  In addition to the Avengers’ extraordinary talents was a common framework that can make any good team a superhero team:

  1. Team members commit to the goal.  The Avengers did not waste time trying to figure out the goal.  That was because it was made clear from the start – save planet Earth from Loki.  It is critical to success, that all team members understand the goal and commit themselves to its success at the start of the project.  When team members do not understand the goal, they will divert and create their own separate goals – some not so valuable.  A team that understands and is committed to the goal will be quicker to identify solutions and deliver results. A powerful way to communicate the project goal to your team is to conduct a project kick-off.  The project kick-off gives team members a chance to hear the desired result from the customer.  In addition, team members can begin to visualize how they fit into achieving the project goals.
  2. Team members express themselves.  With the Avengers, each superhero brought unique skills and talents to the group.  Even the Hulk with obvious anger-management issues could harness it for the good of the team.  A good project manager learns the talents of the individual team members and allows those talents to be expressed in the project.  All team members have a place where they can excel. As a project manager, you can help team members to find that role in the project team.  Use a variety of techniques when planning and executing that will allow different talents to surface.  Use white-board sessions, sticky notes, and other tools to get ideas from team members that may not otherwise speak up in an “open forum”.
  3. Self-Directed Performers. The Avengers didn’t need Nick Fury to direct their every action.  Team members identified the tasks at hand and took it upon themselves to act.  Roles and responsibilities are beneficial in a project, but it is even better to set expectations for team members so they will find out what needs to be done and act accordingly.  This doesn’t mean the team members don’t report back or even discuss possible solutions.  A self-directed team will know when to ask and when to act.

Any project is only as good as the team being assembled.  Remember, as the project manager your ability to engage the team early will improve the projects chance for success.  Some jobs are so big they require more than just one superhero, so work to the best of your team’s abilities and skills.  Most important, establish a common framework early on that can make any good team a superhero team.

Episode 1: Project Manager Super Powers

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The Baroness

http://www.comicvine.com/baroness/4005-11022/ 

This year, I celebrate 10 years in Project Management.  I find myself surprised when Project Manager’s just starting out in their careers ask me for advise.  After all, I still feel so new in the profession myself.  Still, I am compelled to part what wisdom I can in hopes that they can avoid some of my pitfalls.  Usually my first word of advice is to discover your super power.  Yes, that is right, I said Super Power.  As project managers we all have a super power.  The one area we are really good at, more than all the others.  Being a Project Manager is a tough job, with many skills to master.  Along your career, mastering all those skills might seem overwhelming.  Find the one skill to master that will be our super power.  Develop and utilize that super power which will help you define the Project Manager you are to become.

So what is my super power?  Well, my super power is Team Engagement.  I think there is nothing like that first kick-off meeting when the team sits down together for the first time.  There is a sense of excitement and curiosity.  That is the moment when as a project manager I can first amaze them with my super power.  I love using games to get the teams out of their seats and start working together.  I know, the quicker I can get the team moving around and thinking, the quicker the team will engage in the project.

If I have a super power then I must have a super hero name, right?  Yes, I do. My super hero name was given to me by my team.  In fact, my first encounter was when the symbol was first pinned to my cube wall.  I found it after returning from lunch.  Quickly the name started popping up when people referred to me.  So, I guess much like Spider Man or any of the others I embraced my name.  I am now referred to as the Baroness of Project Management (or Baroness).  Oh and yes, I still have that symbol on my cube wall.  If you aren’t familiar with the Baroness, I encourage you to check her out.  She has some skills that make her a “killer” PM.