Monday, July 30, 2012

My Olympic Connection – May 5th, 1988 – USA vs. Brazil @ Dr. Phillips High School

From time to time I like to take a moment and reflect on my past.  As the London Olympics are upon us, like most families, my family and I watched the opening ceremonies and reminisced about Olympic memories.  I have a particular connection that led to many of my personal choices in life and many of my connections.  It started with a club at my high school.  Back in 1988, we did not have a men's volleyball team.  The swim coach at the time was Bruce Follensbee and he started a volleyball club for men.  I doubt he was even paid for it.  Interesting how his idea reshaped and molded so many of my decisions in life.  I joined the volleyball club.  It sounded fun.  I was playing around on the beach and a few of my friends let me know about it, so why not?  In 1988, an exhibition match between the world #1 and defending Olympic champion USA Men's Volleyball team was scheduled to play in Orlando vs. Brazil.  It was originally scheduled to play at the Orlando Arena, but it was behind schedule (probably a project manager's fault!)  The next biggest venue was the Orlando Civic Center, however, it too was booked up.  In 1988, a brand new high school had opened up off of Turkey Lake Road in Orlando which bordered the neighborhood of Orange Tree where I grew up.  Today, that high school, Dr. Phillips High School, is across the street from Universal Studios and is the high school of many stars such as entertainers Wayne Brady, Joey Fatone, DJ Khaled, Major League stars Johnny Damon, A.J. Pierzynski, Danny Miceli, movers and shakers in the industry like Joe Mulvihill and of course the project management author and speaker, me.  The high school was brand new and has a 2,200 seat gymnasium.  With little or no options left, the event coordinators moved the volleyball match to our gymnasium.  I remember getting called out of first period by Coach Follensbee and being asked if I minded missing a day of school to shag balls as the US team practiced.  We also were the ball boys for the actual match.  I was ecstatic!

The men had won gold in 1984 by beating the Brazilians, however, they only had four returning players from that team.  Of course it helps when the returning players are the likes of Karch Kiraly, Steve Timmons, and Craig Buck.  As a sophomore in high school, I barely could comprehend what I was watching and the opportunity to watch world class athletes train.  In 1988, I still had the whole world in front of me.  I was dabbling in several sports.  I played football, soccer, baseball, and volleyball.  I was working, worried about girls, and all of the other normal things that young boys deal with.  During the practice when we were shagging balls for the US team, some really intense guy with a huge flat top hair cut asked me to talk to him.  I have to confess, I didn't know who the guy was.  It turns out, it was Steve Timmons.  Steve sat me down for five minutes and asked me what position I played in volleyball, how seriously I was taking the sport, and what my plans for the future were.  I had no answers for the guy.  We were a volleyball club.  I barely even knew the positions.  The next day was the actual match and the US destroyed Brazil winning in three straight games.  I found an article about the match here.  At the match, I really watched.  I watched Steve and Karch.  I watched Craig Buck and Eric Sato.  That enthusiasm carried over into the 1988 Olympics where the US team won gold again.  I have been hooked ever since.  At that moment, I was a volleyball fan.  I tried to play full time.  My senior year of high school, we had our first team.  We came in second in state and it was truly a fulfilling experience.  I played with great guys like Grant Turner and Barry Sands.  My best friend since 2nd grade Chris Crumpacker and of course the Famous one, Matt Amos, Joe Grindrod and James Lee rounded out the starting 6.  I went to school at the University of Tennessee and got to play there as well.  Even after college, volleyball was a connection that led to many friends and decisions.  When I moved to Birmingham, AL, one of the first things that I did was join an area volleyball association.  I met a few guys there and it turned in to one of the best summers of my life as we toured and played tournaments all over the southeast.  There has been so much happiness in my life because of volleyball and so many things came from Steve taking the time to sit with me in that gym.

I left college early due to my father's illness.  Right after he passed away, I was trying to figure out what I was going to do next with my life.  I was bartending at Bennigan's on International Drive in Orlando.  One night, Steve Timmons walked in to the bar.  I went over and bought him a round and told him what he had done that May evening in 1988.  He had taken the time to spend with a kid and how many paths had converged because he had.  He thanked me for coming over to talk to him and for the beer.  The next night, Steve came back in.  This time he was carrying a box of stuff.  He had a bunch of Redsand gear.  Redsand was his volleyball apparel company.  He thanked me for taking the five minutes it took to let him know what a difference he had made to me.  He told me that after he left, he had thought quite a bit about what I shared with him.  It meant quite a bit to him and he wanted me to have some things from him.  Another really cool moment.

All of these thoughts and memories were flooding back to me as we watched the opening of the Olympics.  My daughter is getting old enough where I can share some of these stories with her.  It is  fascinating how some simple decisions can make profound impacts.  Mr. Follensbee deciding to have a club.  Me deciding to join it.  Steve Timmons deciding to take 5 minutes to spend with me.  Who knows how things turn out if these little things don't happen, but I am glad they did.  You can bet that for all of the matches, indoor and outdoor, I am one of Team USA's biggest volleyball fans!

Go Team USA!


Monday, July 23, 2012

Be Who You Are!

This is my calling.  This is my call to arms.  I have been gone a while from the blogosphere.  I have been gone a while from speaking.  The summer months are traditionally slow for speeches.  However, R2 is growing like crazy.  For those of you that follow the business, we grew 81% year over year last year and are up 54% at the midway point of this year.  Business is great.  We add more talented people and more talented clients.  However, without my speaking outlet, I am not my normal self.  I am not the normal passionate project manager that many of you know.  These past couple of months has been trying for me.  I have lived my life as an open book.  The company, my career, my speeches, my family life, how I grow as a person, all out there exposed for the world to see, good, bad, or indifferent.  For the past couple of months, I just haven't been there.  I haven't been me.  I haven't been the person I aspire to be and the person that I hold myself to be.  That changes today.  I had a fantastic conversation with my wife this weekend.  She is the person who holds me at the center and knows me better than anyone.  During that conversation I realized that I had been compromising who I was for a relationship that wasn't going to be.  In business and in life, we do it all of the time.  We will compromise and turn little facets of our personalities off in order for the greater good, or so we believe.  Many times this is reciprocated and compromises are made on both sides.  I realized this weekend that I continued to protect and compromise for a relationship that only had malicious intent for me and my organization.  We have been giving so much and continued to believe that if we were the ones, or really, if I was the one that lead by example of compromise, the competing parties would fall in line.  Time after time, it would just turn in to more work, heartache, stress, and mistrust.  I look back over the last couple of months and I do not like who I have become.  I have been short, stressed, and have lost that passion that has made me who I am.  Compromise is over. 

When I make a statement like that, it doesn't mean a declaration of war.  It means that it I no longer wish to compromise who I am.  One of my favorite lessons I have learned came from a great mentor.  He asked me if I had ever gone home from work completely exhausted as if I had ran a marathon, but did not actually do anything physical.  When I answered that I had, he stated the reason that I was so tired was because I was conforming my personality to something that I wasn't.  I was physically holding back who I was in meetings or in reactions so that I actually was exerting physical forces that were making me tired.  It made quite a bit of sense.  That is how I feel today.  I feel physically exhausted.  I feel like I have lost a couple of months of really being the innovative person that I can be.  That is why I make the statement that compromise is over.

I share this with my audience because I want everyone to be reminded to be who you are.  The tragedy in Colorado proves that life is way too short and you never know what is lurking around the corner.  If today was my day, would I be satisfied that I lived to my fullest potential?  Today I would have to say no.  That mentality changes right now.  I am someone who is always on top of the details.  I missed my flight today.  The whole morning, I thought I was leaving at 1:15 when I was leaving at 11:15.  I planned on starting to get ready for the airport at 11:15 when I received a call from Delta asking if I was going to make the flight.  At that moment, I was sitting on the couch watching a cartoon with my son.  I couldn't think of anything better.  Normally, I would freak out and let me missing the flight ruin my day.  Instead, I asked her to back me up on the next flight and calmly made the next one.  Without missing a beat, I finished that cartoon with my son.  It was the best moment of the day.  Over the past couple of months, I haven't been the best father, husband, friend, business owner, or person I know I can be.  That changed with a simple quick conversation.  My son looked at me and said, "Do you have to leave right now?"  I said, "Not until we see if Spiderman escapes."  He said, "Thanks daddy.  I love you."  At that moment, I was who I wanted to be.

Compromise is over.  It is time to take control back of who I am.  Look out!

Be who you are!


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Establishing Project Management Capacity

I work with many organizations that really want to understand the capacity of their IT organization.  Rarely do the ask about the capacity of their project managers.  Building on the theme that not everyone can do project management, then maybe capacity to do projects starts at that level.  What if the organization limited the number of projects they can truly accomplish by the capacity of their project management staff?

I had a chance to build a PMO based on a very valid model.  They had a consultant perform a study about the type and length of projects and the demand that is required to handle what the organization wanted to complete.  It was determined that roughly 35 projects per year was the maximum for the company and a PM could run up to 5 of those projects during the year.  Therefore, the staffing model was set to 7 project managers.  We ended up completing 47 projects in the first year, but the expectation was set and the management of the company recognized the value that true project management can deliver.  So how do you determine the capacity or number of projects?

The best way to determine the capacity of your project management practice is to first establish tiers.  Projects should be classified in 3-4 tiers.  Tier 1 being the most strategic projects or the projects with the most risk.  Tier 2 is still a highly strategic project, but it is shorter in duration or is not as risky.  Tier 3 can be single unit or department initiatives and tier 4 can be internal initiatives or projects that can be run by team leads.  Based on the governance models of the organization, an estimate of a percentage of a PM's time can be assigned to each tier.  For instance, a tier one may take up 50% of a project managers time where a tier two may take 35%.  Once this has been established, then the capacity can be determined.  As an example:

If Tier 1 = 50%, Tier 2 = 35%, Tier 3 = 15% and I have 5 project managers, then the project capacity could be:

10 Tier 1 projects (500%)


5 Tier 1 (250%)

5 Tier 2 (175%)

5 Tier 3 (75%)


Any makeup that equals 500%.

This allows you to determine a quick capacity of project management.  It also creates an algebra problem that must be solved.  In most cases, when an organization applies this math, it is uncovered that 15 project managers are needed and 5 are on staff.  It is amazing that most organizations do not understand the capacity of their own project management staff.

This math at least will help start the conversation.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Take Care of Your People…..and They Will Take Care of You!

This is a mantra that has been around for ages.  People are your greatest asset.  People are what make companies.  People are the greatest source of ingenuity.  Yet, many companies squander, squash, and belittle their greatest asset….people.

A few years back, I got an amazing 15 minutes in an event green room with Jack Welch.  I was looking at him and he was pretending not to notice.  Finally, he lowered his paper and looked back at me and said, "You get one question."  Exited, I asked, "I am a small business owner.  What are three things that I should be doing to ensure my success in this economy?"  He didn't hesitate.  He gave me three points: 

  • Whatever you think you are going to do in revenue this year and next, cut it in half.

  • Pay your best people.  Don't give them bonuses, don't give them vouchers, give them cold hard cash.

  • Find the best people from other organizations and pay them what they are worth.  This is the time to find the people that are being ignored by other companies and snatch them up.

It was great advice.  I did just that, and we continue to grow.  However, I don't think that just paying them is enough.  David Maister did a study that I reference in my book Project Management That Works.  In the study, he asks team members to rank what is most important to them at their work.  Then he asked the managers of those team members to rank the same list, but to do so in the way they think their employees would answer.  The managers selected salary as the number one thing.  The team members picked being appreciated for a job well done as theirs.

I blogged a while back about my dad and his company (read it here).  I wanted to follow in his footsteps.  I wanted to ensure the employees of R2 felt appreciated.  We just finished our first annual Stretch Goal Incentive trip.  Each year, I determine our goal in revenue for the year.  Then I establish the "Stretch Goal."  This is the goal over and above our normal achievement rank.  If we hit the stretch goal, then everyone who is a part of that will go on an all-expenses paid vacation.  We just completed our first one!  The team went to New York City for a few days and celebrated a phenomenal 2011.  It was an amazing trip.  Not only was it fun, the team got a chance to reflect what we accomplished and built a stronger bond with each other.  I'll never forget it!

The trip made me reflect what it was like to work for other companies.  Profit reigns above people.  Some of the HR practices and ways we deal with employees absolutely just crush the human spirit.  I remember as a young HR manager running an office, the goal for the office was to hit 60% of milestones and production dates.  In the first year, we hit 99.7%.  Every single person exceeded everyone's wildest expectations.  I, in turn, rewarded my employees with a 5 (exceeds expectations) on their annual review.  When I turned this in, I was told that I could not do that.  I was told by HR that it is impossible for everyone on my team to exceed my expectations and if that was the case, I was the problem for not creating higher expectations.  I was then forced to choose one or two people on my team to give the 5 to.  How is that possible after the fact?  Stupid.  Crushing.  A perfect way to take a highly functioning team and destroy them so that the "numbers" match the "theory" of HR.  This is precisely why I am not in Corporate America anymore.

I know for 99% of you out there, you do not have the ability to take everyone on a vacation.  You can't give them the money that they deserve.  However, you can give them the number one thing that was on their list; true, heartfelt appreciation for a job well done.  Showing people that you truly care and want to see them succeed is the best way to take care of your people.  However, if you can, it is also fun to take them on vacation!

No Day but Today!


Monday, May 7, 2012

Effective Waste Management: Curb the Ego's and Meetings!

It amazes me how much time and money companies and organizations can simply throw away to satisfy various egos.  There are so many examples to pull from:

 -          Executives having outrageous demands and systems just to see information "their way."  There are companies out there that will take information from a system of record, massage it in a variety of tools to present to the executive team.  The executive team will question the data or make adjustments and then another team will adjust the data in the system of record.  When asked why not just look at the system of record, the answer is, "The executives just like to see it in Excel."

-          Organizations hire industry leading experts to improve processes.  They bring in the organizations because they did not have the expertise on the team to perform the functions.  Then they allow the internal team that feels that they are experts to subject the known experts to micro-management and questioning of every technique.

-          Executives that have had project failures in the past create so many processes and checkpoints that the resulting workflow is so chaotic and time-consuming as well as a perceived lack of value. 

Most of these items have to do with ego.  The ability to be right or to prove someone wrong can create countless hours of waste and cost to an organization.  Yet, this cost often goes unchecked.  As a consultant, there is always a tremendous amount of "low hanging fruit" that can be found in companies plagued by pointless process.  Most of the workers within the process will be the first to complain or question the value… other people.  So what can we do and how can you curb this behavior? 

The first item is to create a system of measurement.  While time tracking is done in many companies, the value of the information sometimes does not match the effort.  Find a way within the current time tracking activities or if there is not time-tracking today, start by tracking your time.  At the end of each activity, record your time with a note or marker as to whether or not there was any value to the activity.  For instance, if you go to a team meeting and the meeting was an hour long to provide information to you that is beneficial, then that was a valuable activity.  If you went to a meeting about a project where two people argued about the same things over and over and no resolution was found in the meeting, mark that as a non-value add activity.  Run this time tracking for about a month and start to look at the amount of time in the non-value add category.  What is the data saying to you?  What can be done with the data?  After just a few weeks, you will begin to see where the time wasted activities are.  Now begin to classify those.  How many of those can be categorized into areas such as ego, mistrust, or pointless meetings?  You will be absolutely surprised at the outcome! 

When you are faced with a process or an individual that is a constant source of ego and waste, find a way to measure those interactions.  How many e-mails, communications, or documents are required?  When these documents or communications are negative towards them, what do they do?  All of these data points are key to understanding and navigating the political minefield of ego.  The collection of these statistics may point you to stay away from certain topics or may teach you a way to communicate effectively.  Whatever the case may be, finding the data point to measure and then studying the outcome will point you to the path of resolution.

I am interested in hearing from you on this topic.  Do you see waste and cost simply due to ego?  What do you think can be done?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Turning Around Failing Projects (Excerpt)

A couple of people have asked me about my Turning Around Failing Projects speeches.  Here is a small excerpt from my book Project Management That Works (a best seller published by AMACOM in 2008)

The statistics are staggering.  The propensity for project failure is enormous.  The general accepted failure rates range from as low as 59% to an unbelievable 94% of projects failing to meet their goals.  When studying project failure, the survey questions try to determine if the project met the desired scope, timeframe, or met all of the requirements that the project set out to complete.  However, these all take on new meanings when you consider something Rob Thomsett says in his book Radical Project Management:

"Projects fail because of context, not because of content"

If this statement is correct, then a large part, if not the entire 59% to 94%, of projects failed because of the improper setting of expectations.  They may have delivered the contents of the project but failed to deliver on the expectations of time and cost.  This drastically changes the landscape of the meaning of project failure.  Now, pair Rob's definition with PMI's belief that a poor project schedule or inadequate budget is the direct result of poor project management, and project failure rests on project manager's shoulders.

It is usually assumed that a project is being run in the first place by a trained project manager.  However, most of the time, someone is managing a project along with their other duties.   

How to Spot a Project that Is on Its Way Down

The first task in turning around a failing project is to learn how to recognize when a project is failing.  In many cases, you need to start with the first step of the classic twelve step process with the first step being identifying that there is a problem.  Although there are many reasons that projects may fail, there are some key indicators that projects are on the way down:

1)      Poor project planning or no plan at all. It has been said that a failure to plan is a plan for failure.  If you do not prepare for problems, they will surely derail you and your project.

2)      Disagreement on project requirements. A lack of good documentation of requirements or receiving different answers from different team members about the goals of the project muddies the waters and makes it difficult for a project to succeed, since no one is really clear on what success means in this instance.

3)      Lack of team involvement. Sponsors, stakeholders, or team members are not involved in team activities or are not responding to inquiries about the project. When people are not involved in the project it has no real life.

4)      Lack of a clearly defined end. Have you ever had a project last a year and every time you ask how much longer will the project last, the answer is just another two to three weeks? Failing to set a clear end point means a project will never end and if it never ends, it can never truly succeed.

5)      Unrealistic Demands.  If I said I needed you to rebuild theEiffelTower from the ground up for $30 in three weeks with five seven-year-old children as laborers, you would laugh.  As ridiculous as this may sound, real demands as ridiculous as this have been set for projects. A project with demands that can never be met is sure to fail.

6)      Failure to stop or plan again. Anytime a new project manager is assigned to a project, one of the first things that they want to do is to stop the project and assess where they are in the plan or re-plan in lieu of having a written plan.  A team that responds by saying they are almost finished or they are too busy to plan is a clear sign of a project on the way down. Every team needs to be able to stop and rethink the project's plan.

These are all general theories and a search of the Internet will bring up many sites that have early warning signs, causes for failure, or theories as to why projects fail.  The funny thing is that project managers seem to make the same mistakes over and over.  The whole point of a project management process and profession is to continually improve.  However, the reasons for project failure still continue to remain the same.  Unfortunately, unless the way the projects are being planned or how the expectations are being set changes, the results of the project are unlikely to change.

Someone Isn't Being Heard

One common reason for project failure is that communication has fallen apart and someone is not being heard. Consider the following example.

A project manager was assigned to a support project that had no project management structure.  The project was consistently not meeting the customer's expectations and senior management wanted a plan to improve customer satisfaction.  The project manager started to investigate the root causes of the satisfaction issues.  She met with the team as a whole and then individually.  As she met with the team members, the issues were becoming quite clear.  The causes of the customer satisfaction issues had already been identified by the team and they attempted to put action plans in place to rectify the problems.  The project manager investigated the options that the team had put together and saw that they were quite viable.  She compiled the information into a presentation and scheduled a meeting with her senior management.  She outlined the options and asked for a decision from senior management as to which option they agreed with.  They chose an option and she implemented the plan.  There was an immediate improvement in the timeliness of customer service which in turn led to an improvement in customer satisfaction.  As the improvements continued for the next couple of weeks, senior management brought the project manager in to thank her for a job well done.  They asked how she came up with the options she presented.  "I didn't," she replied.  "The team developed the options.  All I did was examine them for viability and present them to you."  The senior management team was in disbelief.  They wondered why the team hadn't presented the options to them before this.  The project manager replied, "They may have not understood the best way to present the information to you or how to approach you with their ideas.  But it was their ideas all along."

There are many reasons why the team may not have been able to communicate their options to the management in this example. Teams can develop behaviors based on small insignificant events.  At one point, a senior manager could have said "no" too abruptly and demoralized a team member.  That team member then begins to have the attitude that senior management doesn't care or will not listen to them.  A few episodes of that and groupthink can set in.

According to, groupthink is defined as:

The act or practice of reasoning or decision-making by a group, especially when characterized by uncritical acceptance or conformity to prevailing points of view.



decision making by a group (especially in a manner that discourages creativity or individual responsibility).


For a very serious example, groupthink was the cause of the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster.  This is no small statement.  Groupthink was the ultimate cause of one of the worst space tragedies in our time.  When the analysis of the disaster was complete, it was determined that the O-rings of the rocket booster were the cause of the explosion.  An engineer at the company that manufactured the O-rings had warned senior management that when the weather drops below a certain temperature, the integrity of the O-rings is compromised.  The engineer asked for more time from senior management to be certain.  The panel that was formed to uncover the reasons for the Challenger disaster found some startling information.  Originally, the company that made the O-rings recommended that the Challenger should cancel the launch until the temperature rose above 53 degrees, which was not expected to occur for several days.  NASA has already cancelled the launch a few times and was under enormous political and societal pressure.  They applied pressure to the engineering company.  Fearing the loss of future revenue and backlash from causing another delay, the engineering company began to question it's own data and began to rationalize their decision.  The engineering company asked for five minutes to discuss the situation.  During the five minutes that the company was isolated enormous pressure was put on the engineer about his data and analysis.  The question for the company became whether to choose safety and possible loss of revenue or risk and future revenue.  Inevitably, the pressure to conform outweighed the right decision.  When the engineering company called NASA back, they recommended that the Challenger should launch.  The official findings of the panel stated that the technical malfunction was the O-rings, the cause the disaster was groupthink. 

When anyone in management stops listening to their team members, disaster can strike at any time.  When a project is failing, first look to the communication.  Over 90% of a project manager's job is to communicate.  Whether it is documentation, meetings, one-on-one conversation, or phone calls, all are forms of communications.  When you refer to the list of key indicators, communication is central part of all of the items.  When communications stop, people stop being heard.  When team members are not being heard, project failure is sure to follow.

So what do you recommend to open communication? How do we prevent these kinds of failures?

Monday, March 26, 2012

My Next Big Thing!

For my many followers and fans, we have exciting news.  We are getting very close to launching the next big endeavor for me.  Many of you responded to a request for an endorsement of my speaking and seminars.  I am now one of the most recommended people on LinkedIn.  You can view my profile here and if you haven't recommended me yet, I would appreciate your endorsement. 

Now to the subject at hand; I have finally found the question that I need to ask and to answer.  That question is, "What Do I Stand For?" Think about that question.  Think about your answer.  Do you know?  Do you know how to make the decision and fulfill your answer?  Follow this blog and watch in the coming months to find your answer!

There is a book, a kit to help out, and seminars all in development for this topic.  We are tying this together with many of the things that have been happening with me and R2 Consulting.  This is a huge step forward for me and my company and I am literally bursting at the seams with activity.

My blog posts in the coming weeks will be developing this topic further and starting to discuss the content for the series.  I thank all of you that read this column and continue to support me in my endeavors.  I can't wait for this next chapter to begin!


Monday, February 27, 2012

My Travel Pet Peeves!

When you travel as much as I do, you begin to see patterns and things that begin to rub you the wrong way.  Here are a few things that absolutely drive me crazy when I travel (in no particular order).

1)      Using your cell phone on speaker phone mode in the gate area.  Why do you people do that?  Do you think we care about the conversation?  I recently joined into one.  A lady was talking about how bad her man was treating her to a girlfriend.  It would be one thing if this was being done in a corner somewhere.  Instead, I was sitting in a chair in the gate and she sat down right next to me to have this conversation.  I assumed she wanted me to join in.  When I started answering questions, she gave me the dirtiest look.  I said, "Oh, I thought you wanted my help since you sat down next to me and are on speaker phone.  If this was private, I would have thought you wouldn't be broadcasting it to everyone in the gate."  She was not amused.  Some people can be oblivious to the world around them.

2)      Calling someone as soon as we land and speaking so loud that everyone on the plane can hear you.  I understand the need to call people and communicate from the plane.  However, be mindful of those around you.  On a recent flight, a lady called a shipper of goods to inquire where they were in the delivery process.  Evidently, they had tried to deliver and couldn't.  She began to scream at the top of her lungs how that driver will turn around and go back or she would have his job.  The tirade was nasty and loud.  A gentleman in the very front of the plane finally turned around and yelled, "Shut up, nobody cares!"  She then started telling the whole plane the situation…..and again…..nobody really cared.  She then yelled something that leads me to #3.

3)      Nobody cares who you are.  At least once every trip, I hear somebody exclaim, "Do you know who I am?"  There are many important people in the world.  However, when there is an inconvenience, there is always the person that thinks they are more important than everybody else.  One exchange recently was pretty funny to watch.  The plane was delayed by weather.  The gate agent was trying to handle everybody's connections and accommodate the entire plane.  A guy marches to the front of the line and steps in front of an older lady.  He then demands to know the reason for the delay.  The gate agent said the weather was unsafe to fly through.  He demanded answers as to when he would fly.  She was very polite to suggest that if he returned to his spot in line, she will deal with him when it is his turn.   He responded, "Do you know who I am?  I HAVE to be in Detroit tonight.  I have a very important business deal that must be done tomorrow."  The gate agent again requested that he return to his spot in line.  When the guy yelled that he would have the gate agent's job, another passenger stepped in.  "Nobody cares who you are.  Get in back of the line."  He then turned around and announced he was the Senior Vice President of some small company nobody had heard of.  The whole line just started cracking up.  It was pretty funny.  When a flight is delayed, everybody has a reason to be on that plane; else, they wouldn't have bought the ticket!  The "I am more important than everyone else" game is ridiculous.

4)      I demand to speak to the President of the airline!  When a flight is canceled or delayed, it is a pain.  It unfortunately isn't a rare occurrence.  I have been bumped, had flights cancel, had flights delay five hours and then cancel, and completely missed them.  Revenue for airlines is all based on people sitting on seats on an airplane.  Because people miss, cancel, and move flights, the airlines will overbook.  On some occasions, everybody will actually show up resulting in an oversold situation.  This is normally resolved by seeking volunteers to move their flights.  In rare occasions, a passenger is bumped.  It is a term and condition on every airline's ticket.  It can be frustrating when it happens, but it does.  When weather has occurred or someone has been involuntarily bumped, the outrage ensues.  I was on a plane recently from Birmingham to Atlanta.  The flight is normally between 25-35 minutes in length and is always scheduled for an hour.  Atlanta being one of the busiest airports in the world, the Birmingham flight is frequently placed on a ground hold due to incoming traffic in Atlanta.  Even with the delay, we are generally to our gate +/- 20 minutes.  One day during this delay, a guy announced he had enough.  He called customer service and demanded to speak to the President.  I have heard this many times.  Someone screaming, "Then get me to someone who can make a decision.  I want to speak to the CEO.  Get me the number!"  First, they will never give you that number.  Second, why are you more important that everyone else?

5)      Bringing food on the plane.  This one is probably more controversial.  I understand not having time to eat or being hungry.  However, the plane is so cramped and everyone is on top of each other that whatever you do bring on the plane, everyone can smell.  There is nothing like having the person in front of you eating Chinese food while the person next to you is eating Mexican food.  The blend of aromas is joyous.

6)      Not sharing the space.  I am a big dude.  I take up quite a bit of space, especially on little planes.  I tend to book window seats and try to sit an angle so that it is comfortable for the person sitting next to me.  However, I get angry when they are all in my space.  Not a care in the world.  Reading the newspaper and the paper being in my face.  Using the armrest in between us to store your drink because you have used your entire tray.  Be mindful of space!

In the end, travel can be stressful.  Even when it is as routine as it is for someone like me; it can still be a challenge.  I have several tips that I have developed over the years…..but that will be a subject of another post.  What are some of your pet peeves?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

How to Complete a Project Audit

The great and oft-quoted philosopher Socrates once said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." A great project manager may tell you, "The unexamined project is not worth doing." In order for a project team to assess, refine and improve its process, that process must be comprehensively and critically evaluated. Toward that end, the project audit is an invaluable tool.

Project audits are conducted to discover and then examine any issues or challenges that arise as a team works to complete its assigned task. The practical application of this fact-finding is of course to learn from experience with the goal of improving future projects. But it isn't always about finding out what went wrong. Audits can also identify and celebrate innovations and process successes, ensuring that what went right is fleshed out and built upon so that it can go even more right the next time around.

When to conduct an audit: Project audits may be done during a project or at its completion. When conducted while a project is still in progress, an audit provides on-the-ground assessment that informs the project sponsor, project manager and team of what is going well and what needs to be changed in order for the project to be completed successfully, on-time and within budget. If an audit is undertaken at the completion of the project, it becomes more of a post-mortem examination performed to define success for upcoming projects and ensure it is achieved. Regardless of an audit's timing, the process is basically the same.

Who should conduct the audit: Ideally, project audits should be conducted by an outside party bringing impartiality and a fresh perspective, but whether you choose to outsource the audit or not, confidentiality is essential for data gathering. When project team members and other stakeholders are interviewed about their experiences, they should feel comfortable speaking frankly and not fear retribution for voicing any frustrations with the process. An audit is only as comprehensive as the information on which it is based.

A project audit is comprised of three phases:

  1. Research Preparation (includes defining success and developing questionnaire)

  2. Deep-Dive Research

  3. Reporting Findings

Research Preparation, the first phase, actually consists of about three major tasks. First, the auditor must speak with both the project sponsor and the project manager individually to determine each person's success criteria. What do they think the successfully completed project will look like? And what should the successful audit accomplish and uncover? Being clear about client expectations is of utmost importance.

After these high-level interviews, two questionnaires must be developed. The first will be distributed to each person on the project team and any key stakeholders in advance of one-on-one interviews. Ideally, this questionnaire will get the audit's interview subjects thinking (and organizing their thoughts) about the project's successes, weaknesses, challenges and opportunities.

The second questionnaire is for use during the project team interviews and should consist of open-ended questions that work to flesh out the issues the first questionnaire brought to light. Good interviews aren't just SWOT analyses; they focus on process: How did the team work together? Were meetings run efficiently? How were risks mitigated? Did information flow effectively?

Deep-Dive Research: Now that you have developed your tools, it's time to put them to use collecting data. Project auditors will need to conduct individual interviews with the project sponsor, project manager, project team members and key stakeholders, which may include vendors, suppliers, contractors and even customer representation.

In addition to your interviews, an exhaustive review of all documentation pertaining to the project is the audit's other major source of data. This document review should include basic policy items like team structure, project scope and plan, and business requirements. But it will also require delving into daily, ongoing project documentation like meeting minutes, spreadsheets, milestone reports, action items and change logs.

Be sure to speak with both internal and external stakeholders to determine what their expectations were and whether they have been met. Were the Project Quality Management and Product Quality Management plans followed and achieved? Each person you interview and document you study provides an important piece of the overall puzzle.

Reporting Your Findings is the final phase of the audit. Compile all data collected from questionnaires, interviews and project documentation. Identify and explicate the project's successes, failures, concerns and challenges. The crucial conclusion of this in-depth report should be a list of lessons learned and how to implement them going forward.

The comprehensive report should of course be delivered with a companion presentation that highlights key findings in an easily-digestible, attention-grabbing format that energizes the entire project team for the work that lies ahead – a more cohesive effort that results in greater success on future projects.

Conclusion: The project audit is certainly a beneficial, and even cathartic, exercise for all project team members. It provides a mountain of data and insight into an organization's processes and politics. However, every phase of the audit must be focused on, and work in service to, improving the next project. The project audit is a very forward-facing tool. It is only worth the resources expended when the lessons it uncovers are applied to future projects. Only then can your project audit truly be considered a success.

This article was provided by Joe Schembri with Villanova University's project management courses. Professionals interested in earning their PMP certification can take courses to prepare themselves 100% online.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

CA's Clarity Version 13 - A New Standard in PPM Tools!

I finally have gotten what I have wished for!  The power of Clarity with an updated user interface. Many superstitious people think that 13 is an unlucky number.  Version 13 for CA's Clarity has been worth the wait.

I run a technology agnostic company, but I am often asked for my opinion. I have been a longtime supporter of Clarity. However, the interface for the tool has become outdated and was the biggest outstanding issue. While configurations and portlets could overcome some of the issues, there were times where it was just cumbersome. Specifically, it was difficult for the project manager to see dependencies or update the project schedules.  It was also cumbersome to add team members and make assignments. Again, with experience, there were workarounds. However, newer tools like Daptiv and @task were smoking Clarity from a user interface perspective even though they lacked the depth and configurability of Clarity. With V13, it is truly a game changer. I have been able to spend some significant time on the latest version and already have several clients on the new version. The big push for CA was establishing what they called 2.2 clicks to value.  I believe they have achieved that.  Here is my first take at some of the game changers.

In line editing - Clarity has had an edit mode which was innovative when it first came out. Project management is a spreadsheet driven industry so being able to edit like a spreadsheet is a positive thing. The old interface allowed for edit mode, but it was not aesthetically pleasing and often hard to navigate. V13 allows direct in line editing with just a click of the mouse button. It is intuitive and effective. It so reverts back to a display mode when you are done. The part that I wasn't expecting was the visual feedback of the change. Clarity has a unique ability of Being able to complete tentative schedules with an innovative view of what had changed. For example, if a date changed, Clarity would display the new date and the old date with a red strikethrough side by side. They have taken this view and applied it to the in line editing which is a fantastic feature. It also gives a visual to the user that changes have not been saved. I wish more web based apps had this functionality.

Auto Suggest Functionality - For all of the browse fields in Clarity and for those users that have very deep OBS structures, you are going to love this functionality!  If the field is a browse field, you still can click the binoculars and search and add as you are used to.  However, you can also type in the first few letters of the value that you want in the field within the in line editing and the system will offer a filtered view of selections allowing you to select the value you want.  This eliminates many clicks and is the most powerful on resource and OBS fields. This feature is worth its weight in gold.

Better assignment view. The assignment view now combines the standard view with a time-scaled view to not only see the total planned work, but a daily view of how the work is going to be executed. This is like a split window view in Microsoft Project, but more configurable and can be edited in the normal flow of a project update.

Adding team members - One of the biggest issues of pre 13 Clarity was how the team members and assignments worked.  It made sense from a logistical standpoint, but for many project managers, it was a source of frustration.  If you were inside a task and wanted to make an assignment to a person that was not on the team, there were between 20-35 clicks that had to be made.  In an open environment, this is frustrating.  However, there are several environments with very strict regulations and procedures as to who and how people can be added to the team.  To accommodate both environments, CA implemented an "Assignment Pool" field.  On a project by project basis, the setting of Team Only (current functionality) or Resource Pool (new functionality) can be selected.  If it is Resource Pool, then the entire resource pool is available to assign to a task.  This eliminates 20-30 clicks from a test case that happens often.

Dependencies - Managing dependencies in Clarity has often been difficult.  You were unable to see them and editing them again was way too many clicks.  There was an easy way to add dependencies from the Work Breakdown Structure view, but there was no visual feedback that anything happened when you clicked the button and there was no visibility in that view that showed if dependencies existed or not.  Again, this has been addressed.  From the Gantt chart view, you are able to create, edit, and view dependencies right in the Gantt chart.  It also supports drag and drop.  It goes one step further than some other tools as well.  If you hover over the dependency link, the system will show you the actual names of the predecessors and successors.  Very nice addition.

No need to export to MSP - As a power user, I would often tell clients that it was easier for me to create a plan in Microsoft Project, upload it to Clarity, and then manage it in Clarity.  For the hardcore Microsoft Project users, this is still available.  However, for 95% of the users that I have personal experience with, there is no need to export to MSP.  The ease of use of the front end and the in line editing availability in the Gantt chart removes the need to do the export.

All of the power still retained - The main reasons I have always liked Clarity are still there. The configurability and power of the tool remains.  The user interface is what received the overhaul.  It is now completely 64 bit including Java and Tomcat and supports more memory to the Java heap.  All things that will mean a boost of performance for most environments.

Favorites Bar - Another great timesaver is taking a concept that was developed in some of the earlier versions of Clarity and expanding it.  I am not sure of the exact version, but in either 8.1 or 12.0, the user had the ability to set the home page to a different view.  If I am managing a project and I find myself always navigating to a certain page, then I could set that page as my home page so that it was the first page that opened when I logged in.  CA has taken this functionality and expanded it for a full Favorites section.  It works the same way except that I can create several "bookmarks" within the tool to allow me to navigate quickly between common screens.  This is a huge boost for productivity and saves a ton of clicks from the normal navigation of the tool.

One thing still missing - There was one feature that is still desperately needed.  I was hoping it would be in this version and I am told it is in the works.  We are still unable to print a project schedule from Clarity.  For those of you that have attended my seminars you know that I am against printing the project schedule anyway.  It's not like the resources really print it, read and understand it, and can't wait until the next version is released!  However, it is a reality that we still need to print the schedules.  I hope that functionality is around the corner.  In the meantime, there are some nice reports and you can still export the plan to Workbench or Project and use their printing functionalities. 

My Conclusion - V13 is absolutely worth the wait and there are so many upsides to the new release in forms of usability and functionality that my personal recommendation is to upgrade as soon as possible.  There will always be issues and things for software to add, but this is not a wait and see release.  This is an absolute add.  There are so many advantages to this release.  In fact, I don't think I have ever been as excited about a new release of software since Microsoft Project announced change highlighting and multiple undo to MSP in 2007!  Contact your CA representatives or hit the CA support site and download the latest version now.  You will not be disappointed!  If you have been on the fence about choosing a PPM tool, this release of Clarity is a game changer.  Being technology agnostic, I have a Pros vs. Cons list for each tool that we work with. This release of Clarity has removed the current cons that I had on that list.  If you are considering a tool and have received a demo of the older version of Clarity, make sure you see this version before proceeding.  As I just told the existing users, you will not be disappointed!

Until next time!