Saturday, March 27, 2010

Afraid of giving estimates

It is amazing how many project plans there are out there that have published dates and the project manager will tell you that the team will not give them estimates.  If there are no estimates, how do we have a date?

Here is a simple fix for when you feel people will not give you estimates.  Simply ask them why!  This  honest approach will catch some off guard, but it will open a dialogue that may break down some barriers.

In my seminars and work with clients, I will ask many team members why they will not give estimates.  Here are some common responses:

- "I am afraid I will be held to it."
- "I am not sure what I am estimating."
- "I don't know what else may be asked of me during the time that I am supposed to be doing this work."
- "I won't really know a real estimate until I get started."

Each of those responses can be worked through.  To really be great at project management, you must earn the trust of your team.  They must know that whatever information they give you is going to benefit them, not work against them.  There seems to be quite a bit of mistrust towards the project manager.  A honest conversation can remove many of these fears or doubts and at least getting you and your team on the right page.

If they are truly unsure, walk them through PERT (Best Case, Most Likely, and Worst Case) estimations.  Then apply formulas or select where you think it will end up.  This will give them an opportunity to present a range of estimates and will give you the opportunity to actually have an idea of a true estimate.  Honest conversations really work!

Be safe out there!


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Project Called......Life.

It has been a whirlwind week and it is only Wednesday!  In the last 2 weeks, I have given 8 speeches in 2 countries and 6 different cities.  I have also made major strides in seeing a huge dream of mine come to fruition.  I am so full of energy, inspiration, and adrenaline as I have seen a dream turn in to an action plan.  What was a wish now has a due date.  What was a vision now has a task list.  As I reflect, I am so blessed to have had an opportunity to learn, teach, and perform the art of project management.  I want to issue you this challenge:  Where is your project plan for your life?

Now I know there are many project managers that get a bit crazy with this and plan their lives down to the 10 minute increment, but that is not what I am talking about.  What I am talking about is the things that we do everyday are the skills and activities that people flock to hear in self-improvement seminars.  We tend to take these things for granted.  Think about it.  What is your plan for the next year?  If you were to attend a commercial course or go hear any variety of motivational speakers, the message is the same.  You must plan your success, it doesn't seek you out.

What are your goals for the coming year, two years, or five years?  What are the building blocks to achieve those goals?  What action can you take now to start down that path?  This is a work breakdown structure for your life!  Some of the most successful systems out there ask you to make a problem statement (i.e. scope).  Then list milestones (key deliverables) and then break the milestones into "mini-goals" (i.e. the next level of the WBS)  Then you take the mini-goals and create actionable tasks.  The final step is to schedule actual work against the actionable tasks, estimate effort and duration, and create a way to measure success.  Ladies and gentleman, welcome to the project plan for your life!

Try it!  It can really be powerful.  This year, my business partner and I set a five year goal and announced a concept.  Each day, I try to plan an activity to move us towards the concept.  In just the past week, the momentum is taking a life of its own and we went from a concept to a planned date, activity, and scope.  It is amazing that we have had the tools all along to assist ourselves in achieving the next level, we just are not using them to our benefit.  They say that the cobbler's kids have no shoes ;)

Let me end with this question.  What are you going to do tomorrow to take the next step in attaining your goals?  If you do not know, then start with your scope.  Then follow your instincts, project management can guide you the rest of the way.  Good luck!

No Day But Today,


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Anytime I get too big for my britches..

I just have to come home.  Kids are incredible and I am so blessed to have two wonderful children.  They can light up the room, make you angry, make you laugh until it hurts, make you cry, and make you look inside yourself.  All of that can happen in just a couple of hours!

My daughter asked me this weekend about writing a book and she felt that she should write a book.  I took her up on her offer.  Throughout the weekend she was thinking of characters, stories, situations for the characters, and the general flow of the book.  It was truly an amazing process.  She is 9 years old and has an incredible imagination.  To see her eyes light up when she saw how it was all coming together is something I want to hold in my heart.

My son, who is 3, is fascinated with "Where The Wild Things Are."  I caught him looking at himself in the mirror and practicing his "monster" face.  He was practicing a scowl and getting his hands just right, and then would stomp in the room and announce that he was going to "Eat you up!"  We just laughed and laughed!

We also got a chance to step out for some beautiful weather and go to a park.  I forget how much fun it was as a kid to just be outside and run.  They ran themselves silly and you couldn't get the smile off of my face.

As I reflect on the time this weekend with my family, I look at my station in life.  The job is going well, new ideas and advancements for the company is growing.  The speaking career is really taking off and I am getting booked in Germany, Panama, Brazil, and all over the US.  I am in real negotiations with book #3 and have taken some major steps in advancing towards a life long dream.  Yet, the role that I think I will really be measured on is the role of a Father and Husband.  Was I the best that I could be for them?  Sometimes, I have to remember that the career is a means for them, not the end or the quest.

I took time this weekend to work on that life long dream.  Many are asking me what it is, yet, I do not want to jinx it or discuss it until it is a done deal.  That could be a couple of days, weeks, months, or even years before it happens.  As excited as I am about having a clear vision as to what my future holds, I am so glad that my kids reminded me this weekend of why I pursue this future.  Why I am pushing the career so hard right now.

We were playing a game and my daughter questioned if I really did know anything.  It made me laugh.  It is truly amazing how someone can look at you and hold you in  such high regard, love you as much as they do, yet can make sure that I keep things in perspective.  I hope you take time as you read this to reflect on what is important in your life.  What the quest is really for or why we do what we do.  Realize that "tomorrow" is sometimes too long to wait to make time for what is important.

There really is no day but today,


Sunday, February 21, 2010

A lesson from Undercover Boss

Have you had a chance to see this show?  It is on CBS and has CEO's go undercover in their organization to get a sense of what it is like on the front lines.  The messages have been amazing.

The lesson that I get from the show is to never be afraid to roll up your sleeves and participate at the ground level.  This gives the unique perspective that many lose touch with.  We all have many ideas on how to run an organization or improve operations.  If we are lucky enough to set policies and make key decisions for a company, we rarely get to see the impact.  We also forget at times how each job is an important factor in how the overall organization runs.

Key Executives from organizations such as Waste Management and 7-11 are participating in this show and learning lessons that change their behaviors.  They see first hand how their policies are being carried out.  For instance, Larry O'Donnell, President of Waste Management, was very focused on efficiencies.  He wanted to ensure that everyone was a productive as possible.  Then he saw how one of the plants were carrying out his effeciencies.  They were docking double the amount of time they were late back from lunch.  This was something he did not anticipate.

Joe De Pinto, CEO of 7-11 saw how their charitable plans were not being followed.  A fantastic idea that was lacking in execution.  He also was taken aback by the people that really made the operation tick.  It is a lesson we should all learn.  When is the last time we truly walked a mile in someone else's shoes?  When is the last time we saw the impact of a decision?

For project sponsor's out there, when is the last time you really understood the impacts of the cost, schedule, and quality triangle?  If you are not sure, maybe it is time for you to become the undercover boss.

No day but today,


Friday, February 12, 2010

You have three choices...

This will be a short post, but it was on my mind.

I was completing my seminar with an organization and I received a question that I get often:

"What if none of this stuff works? What if the organization refuses?"

Unfortunately, there are really only three choices.

1) Persevere - You can work with the organization and continue to educate and be a positive force in changing the overall culture. If you truly follow the process of making emotional conversation unemotional (documented in my book) then through perseverance, will, and success, the culture WILL change. I have watched it occur over and over again.

2) Accept - If you feel that nothing you try will ever make a difference, then accept it for what it is. In essence, quit whining about it! ;)

3) Move On - If you feel that you can't persevere or accepting the results is not your style, then the only choice left is to leave the organization. I know that it can be difficult in these times, but if you can't live with the culture and do not have the perseverance to change it, then it is your only other option.

Understanding the three choices and being resolute on which one fits you and your situation can go a long way in making the first step. Once the decision is made (and of course, I will often choose #1) then you can focus on making the difference.

I promised it would be short!

No day but today,


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

But We Still Get to Work.........

I recently did a speech in Austin, TX.  One of the individuals attending asked a great question and I have thought about it ever since.

For those of you that have seen me, I often use an example of variance in estimates by asking someone how long it takes them to get to work.  Usually, it is between 300-500% variance.  I then explain that it is something that we do every day, but we have a wide variance.  If we have a variance on a known activity, how can we possibly select a date in the future on something that we have never done and be accurate? 

Someone in the audience raised their hand and said, "Yet, we still get to work on time.  If not, we would be fired!"  A great observation.  My response to it was that there is a wide acceptance of being late due to unforeseen circumstances.  However, I have thought about the question further and wanted to expand the answer.

First, there are several adjustments when we start a new job.  We may leave really early to ensure that we are at work on time and then slowly leave later and later until we settle on the right time.  There are also times where we can't leave any earlier due to having to leave a child at daycare or other circumstances.  In almost all cases, we come to an agreement with ourselves and our employer about what is and is not acceptable.

Second, there is acceptance of things beyond our control.  If there is a major accident on the highway and someone is not to work on time, the assumption is that they are caught in traffic.  In fact, many people will defend the missing person with this excuse without truly knowing the cause.  If the daycare opened late, the employee simply apologizes when they do get to work.

Third, the number of times early and late generally fall within the probability distribution that people estimate.  When you ask them how long it takes to get to work, their first response will follow the most likely distribution plus or minus a standard deviation.

Therefore, the case still stands.  If we can't guarantee how long it takes us to get to work, even though some of us have done it thousands of times because there are just things beyond our control, then how can we ask several people to perform tasks they may have never done before and be able to guarantee a date and time of being finished?

The point of all of this is that project manager's dates of completion are only our best guess or estimation.  We have a tremendous toolset available to help select the date, yet we are still predicting the unknown.  If we could guarantee the date, then we are in the wrong business.  Maybe we should have been stockbrokers!  Just a thought.....

No Day But Today,


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Metrics that Matter!

To me, data rules all!  In any situation, I need to define a metric to measure, measure it, and then utilize the data to make my point.  I was recently working with a client and we wanted to define a metric that would help prove the value of their project management efforts.  Like many clients, they have over 100 defined projects and 5 project managers.  To combat this, they have created several project lead positions to try to fix the project to manager ratio.  However, that just takes more time away from the project managers.  The problem is, how do you represent this?

We decided that there should be four "buckets" of time the project managers should use to track their time on each project that they work on.  They are:

-  Planning - Any time performing true planning activities
-  Communication - Any time in meetings, typing e-mails, handling phone calls, etc.
-  Administrative - Any time filling out project management systems, creating meeting minutes, etc.
-  Mentoring - Time spent helping the "project leads".

This should give us a total percentage of productive time the project managers used.  We should then be able to correlate project progress and status to the percentage of time in each category.

I will post back in a couple of months the results that we found, but felt that may help others out there trying to find the same information.

No day but today,