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Stephen Wise Blog

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How confident are you with the project forecast?

As every project progresses through it's lifecycle, the team’s forecast will evolve. The forecast value may move up or down, however, the accuracy of the forecast should always increase. The basis for increasing accuracy is that all estimates are forecasts with some level of uncertainty and as the project progresses the unknowns/uncertainty will decrease. This holds for forecasting any of duration, work effort, or cost. There are two important concepts in the below figure:  1)      We see the team’s forecast (solid middle line) moves up and down as time progresses; and,  2)      the range in value between the High

 and Low Estimate decreases in steps at each phase.

Estimated Value Progress Stephen Wise 

A key action for the Project Manager is to communicate to all stakeholders that early estimates have higher uncertainty. As part of communication with management and finance stakeholders, I usually ask for a reserve to be added onto my estimates based on the higher uncertainty of estimates and potential negative impact of risks. This amount can be progressively reduced and “given back” as the project progresses over time. Some types of projects inherently have high uncertainty during initiation and planning. For example, integration of custom software. When faced with projects involving high level of unknown, the Project Manger should use “Three-Point Estimating”. This technique will include the full range of possible values of the estimate and

 reduces bias that can lead to a highly optimistic or pessimistic estimate.

 

I usually create custom fields within Microsoft Project 2010 to capture and calculate the three point estimates. The approach is also called PERT. The formula is PERT Estimate = (Optimistic Estimate + 4 X Most Likely Estimate + Pessimistic Estimate) / 6.  Other project teams that work on a high number of similar projects will develop good enterprise knowledge for making estimates. An example would be an energy and gas company that knows 2 resources can lay pipe at 20 metres per hour and the material cost is $150 dollars per foot. Estimates in these situations can be very accurate, from an early stage. A Project Manager may have little control of the level of uncertainty or risk when handed a new assignment. However, appropriate application of the concepts above will lead to successfully managing and quantifying estimates of duration, effort, and cost. 

Stephen Wise

www.IntegrationProfessionals.com

Two themes for Portfolio Agility

I have seen the future and it is agile. The agile I am talking about is not a tool, or methodology, or a movement. It is the outcome when Project Managers have discussions with Sponsors on how to go faster, or how to beat competitors, or how to win new business. Portfolio management is listing, prioritizing, selecting, and controlling business ideas/investments in the context of the top success drivers and constraints affecting the business. In my experience, many projects are handed to the Project Manager that have risks or budget or schedule issues that the PM can’t even quantify. Unfortunately, these very items are likely to be the root cause of missed expectations, budget overruns or schedule delays. Our challenge is to enter into an ongoing conversation to ensure the right investments are being made at the right time. We need to develop and design a new way of thinking to respond to the needs of the business. Here are two themes to help support this change: 1. Focus on enhancing the collaboration and communication between the person managing the work (Project Manager) and the person who wants the work done (Sponsor).
  • Create visibility anytime and to any desired level of detail.
  • Speed everything up so that we can see business benefits/failures faster.
2. Gain trust by eliminating multiple sources of data/truth by bringing data integrity into the project and program environment.
  • Ensure culture is conducive to increased reporting.
  • Communicate better about those things that people care about.
I first head the following from an industry research analyst, “We need better brakes … so we can go faster”. How true! By investing in portfolio management skills and tools to improve communication and data quality, the organizations we support will have improved agility to amplify successes and reallocate resources from underperforming projects.

Earned Value Management - turning on the headlights

Earned Value - Why do I need it?

To paraphrase the words of the Project Management Institute’s standard, when I rely only on a project schedule of tasks, finish dates, and % complete, I will not know where the project is or where it is going. I will simply know where the project was supposed to be and where it is supposed to be going.

What is Earned Value?

Earned Value Management (EVM) is a technique that looks at the relationship between a) actual cost expended, and b) actual work completed, and compares this to c) original budget and work timeline. More formally, the three data points you must understand and memorize are: a)      Actual Cost (AC) – What amount of resources have been expended to complete the work at a given point in time. b)      Earned Value (EV) – Snapshot of work completed at a given point in time. c)       Planned Value (PV) – The Baseline – How far along the project work is supposed to be at any given point in the project schedule.

How do I implement Earned Value? (My cheat sheet below)

  Step 1 (Planning)

  1. Create a Work Breakdown Structure.
  2. Ensure all tasks on the schedule are assigned.
  3. Estimate time to complete each task.
  4. Determine how you will determine that tasks are complete as the project progresses.

 

Step 2 Periodic monitoring

  1. Obtain cost and / or hours expended.
  2. Obtain status on task completion.
  3. Forecast Cost and Schedule performance.

My usual workflow is to enter the planned and actual data into MS Project and then export the time-scaled data to an excel chart. An excel chart (example below)  isn’t 

required, but I highly recommend it as a support to your table of data – a picture is worth a thousand words.

  S-curve  

Combine the data into actionable forecasts

By using Earned Value techniques, you use Project Management discipline to provide key feedback and forecasting to the project team and executives. See four sample 

questions and formulae below.

  EVM formula table

Limitation

Earned Value is not sensitive to the quality of the deliverables. You can be near the end of the project and forecast on budget and on schedule even if the deliverables are poor and the customer will not accept the final product. The expectation is that the PM is using other tools and techniques to manage and control quality.

Stephen Wise

http://www.IntegrationProfessionals.com/

http://www.IntegrationProfessionals.com/Twitter

Turnaround: Leading a Project Recovery

It’s true! Most every failed project had an earlier phase as a troubled project. I will look at techniques a Project Manager can use to gain control of a troubled project and lead a turnaround. Does this sound familiar?
  • The volume of identified defects has swamped testing or development or change control.
  • No-one on the project team has a firm view of when the project will be finished.
  • The budget is red and no-one knows how much additional work is still required.
  • The customer is losing confidence and showing signs of buyer’s remorse.
  • Team members are working excessive hours of overtime, email wars are breaking out, and personal relationships are unraveling.
  • The Executive is no longer on the same page as to the status and outlook for the project.
  • Vendor contractual misunderstandings are emerging and creating additional challenges.
If you have a troubled project, crisis is imminent and your world needs to change. Sooner rather than later management will request increased and more detailed updates. Customers, team members, and other internal stakeholders, such as audit, will soon be checking old project emails and asking additional questions. Now is not the time to become defensive. You are the Project Manager, and now more than ever, the stakeholders need you to lead them through the turnaround steps to project recovery. Step 1 – Initiate Recovery
  1. Seek guidance from the project team, business owner, and corporate methodology on an appropriate approach to initiate recovery planning. This step shouldn’t bog you down. Equally important as the guidance gained, is the communication you share with the stakeholders. That is, “You are leading the team into project turnaround and recovery mode.”
  2. In order to understand the status of the project and the nature of the recovery required, interview key stakeholders and analyze key project documentation such as project org chart, Charter, Work breakdown Structure, Issue log, Schedule (planned and actual Activities, resources, assignments, timing, and costs), and Change Log.
  3. Ensure the Project Team and executive reflect on the status of the project as measured against the business case benefit. Many events have occurred since original assumptions and it is possible that changes in market needs, technology, and enterprise risk, et cetera, render the existing project as unviable.
A very common mistake is to rationalize the continuation of a project due to the vast money and effort expended to date. Never use the amount of time and effort spent to date as a reason to continue a project with a broken business case – the money that has been spent can’t be recovered, however, it is possible that additional money about to be spent could be re-allocated to bring relatively more benefit to the organization. If the business case is broken, recovery is not possible, and your job as Project Manager is to ensure an updated business case is approved or the project is stopped. Step 2 – Planning Recovery Assuming that the Executive, Sponsor, and Project Team are in agreement with implementing a project recovery, it is time to gather the stakeholders in a series of planning sessions. It is crucial that all stakeholders are represented in the re-planning exercise and that they are representing their relevant departments in committing to the new estimates in the plan. The Project Manager has several levers available to make change over the original project plan. I recommend working each of the three levers below.
  1. Reduce Scope Facilitate review of the incomplete scope elements by the team. Identify and validate dependencies, resource requirements, and alignment to the business case. Request or impose a haircut to the scope of the project.
  2. Increase Schedule Seek deep clarity on the reasons and alternatives to any “drop-dead” dates articulated by stakeholders. Review duration estimates and resource leveling for the remaining work. It is common for team members to underestimate overall time required and to spread individuals too thin across numerous tasks. Unless the customer is willing to accept reduced deliverables, avoid planning backwards from a “drop-dead’ date as this is likely one of the factors that sent the project schedule into trouble in the first place.
  3. Increase Productivity Tailor the approach to meetings, documentation, bug tracking, task assignments, and overall communication for ways to make it easier to get the work done. A caveat – if the team is working on the wrong things or running into problems that impact others, now more than ever, it is up to the PM to surface these things and help to resolve. Now is not the time to tailor your approach by skipping status meetings or decreasing PM follow-up activities.
As an output of the re-planning exercise a new plan must be built. To ensure the new plan will not fail, it must have buy in/commitment from all appropriate stakeholders; and it must be maintained and updated rigorously by the Project Manager. Step 3 – Execute the Plan Over and above the tremendous efforts from those doing the work, the success of the recovery depends on the persistent monitoring and tracking of the agreed recovery schedule and issue log. Avoid the noise - a good PM must repeatedly step-up and exert pressure to steer the team away from the many potholes that seem significant but in actuality, are not really blocking the path of the project. Conversely, the PM must be prepared to step outside their own comfort zone to influence stakeholders for the sake of the project when tasks are slipping or issues aren’t being resolved in a timely fashion. The essence of project recovery turnaround is to demonstrate leadership and renew the team with a refreshed analysis of the situation, a re-invigorated sense of purpose and shared commitment, and a clear and detailed plan to reach the end of the project. Finally, I note that I have not addressed reporting and metrics unique to project recovery. This will be covered at a later date. Stephen Wise Integration Professionals http://www.IntegrationProfessionals.com/ http://www.IntegrationProfessionals.com/Twitter/

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