Weekly tips form TenStep Inc.

Here are Five Ways to Reduce Project Stress

It is natural that projects attract a lot of stress, as you have a fixed set of deliverables to produce in a fixed timeframe and with fixed resources – and all with your project sponsor breathing down your neck.

Positive stress can be generated in an environment which boosts productivity and focuses your team on the end goal. But negative stress can demoralize staff, reduce efficiency and de-focus your team. In this type of environment, you need to turn negative stress into positive stress.

Step1. Team Building

Positive stress can be generated when people within teams have positive relationships. These positive relationships can be facilitated by the project manager through team building techniques. This can include lunches, morning donut meetings, positive and fun status meetings, and doing things to help each other. There are many opportunities for team-building during the work day and even after work.

Step2. Rallying

The next step is now to rally your team around a cause – your project. Make sure everyone understands the objectives and outcomes of the project and reiterate them often. Make sure the team sees how their contribution is helping to achieve business value.

Step3. Boosting

Rallying works fine for teams, but may not be enough for individuals. You need to “boost” every team member by making them feel good about themselves and allowing them to gain confidence in completing the tasks assigned. You can do this by:

  • Recognizing great performance when you see it
  • Conducting informal staff reviews and providing positive feedback
  • Introducing team awards and prizes

You usually don’t have the ability to give financial awards, but recognition and attention goes a long way to keeping people boosted.

Step4. Pin-Pointing

Often stressed teams have an “instigator”. This is a person (or people) who generate a lot of negativity and who influence the performance of others around them. Make sure the negativity of an instigator is identified and work with them to be a positive influence if possible.

Step 5: Self-Administering

As the project manager, you need to be in the right “frame-of-mind” yourself. If you are negatively stressed, then those around you are likely to be also. So to “practice what you preach” you need to feel up-beat and positive about the team. You need to feel fit and healthy, focused, yet inspirational. If you can achieve this frame of mind, then you can turn negative stress into positive stress and give your team a real chance at succeeding.

Are your projects less than successful? Contact us today to discuss implementing solid project management practices in your organization.

Use These Six Tips to Improve Project Meetings

Use These Six Tips to Improve Project Meetings

It seems everyone dislikes meeting – except when it is your turn to call one. Your job is to keep the meeting focused and make it as valuable as possible to the attendees. Here are the six tips to help you.

Tip 1. Start with the end in mind

To make sure you get the most out of your meetings, you need to plan them wisely. First understand the purpose of the meeting. Is it for status? Is it for a decision? Is it for brainstorming. make sure you and the attendees know the desired outcome of getting together.

Tip 2. Plan wisely

Your meeting should have an agenda that shows the flow of the meeting, the timing and how you are going to the desired outcome. This should be shared in advance with the attendees. Regularly scheduled meeting do not need a customized agenda. They use a “standing” agenda that stays pretty much the dame from week to week.

Tip 3. Open and close thoughtfully

Open and close your meetings carefully. When you open the meeting, state the purpose of the meeting, what you want to get out of it and why it’s important. This gets their attention and sets the scene. When you close the meeting, tell them what has been agreed / achieved in the meeting and the next steps going forward.

Tip 4. Control the meeting

You need to be in complete control of the meeting to ensure that:

  • The meeting follows the agenda
  • You do not get stuck on a single issue
  • One person doesn’t dominate
  • Everyone can contribute as needed

Raise your voice a little to add presence. Jump in frequently when people talk too long. Be polite but strong. If possible, ask someone else to record the minutes to give you time to facilitate the meeting.

Tip 5. Park it

Often in meetings, a single issue can consume the majority of the meeting time. If the issue is not related to your specific meeting goals, tell the team to park it and move on. Record the issue on a whiteboard or paper and address it with the relevant team members separately after the meeting. This keeps your meetings short and focused.

Tip 6. Go short

Keep your meetings short so that they stay focused. You will often find that a 60 minute meeting can be easily compressed to 30 minutes. Thirty minutes keeps everyone focused. Try it. For the next 30 days do not schedule any meetings longer the 30 minutes. You might be surprised that you can still accomplish your meeting purpose.


Are your projects less than successful? Contact us today to discuss implementing solid project management practices in your organization.

Use These Four Steps to Gather Requirements

Knowing how to gather requirements is a skill that every analyst, and project manager, – should have. However, it seems to be a skill that is generally lacking in many organizations. Poor requirements gathering is a major cause of project problems in many organizations.

Gathering requirements is more than just asking a few questions and then proceeding to the next step in the lifecycle. We have a four-step process for gathering requirements that all projects should utilize to some degree. If your project is small, you will go through thee steps quickly. Larger projects may spend quite a lot of time working through the process.

۱٫ Elicitation

The Elicitation step is where the requirements are first gathered. To elicit accurate requirements, the analyst must ask the right kind of questions and then listen carefully to the answers. There are a number of techniques for eliciting requirements and your project may need to use multiple techniques depending on the circumstances. This includes interviews, facilitated sessions, prototypes, questionnaires and more.

۲٫ Validation

The Validation step is where the “analyzing” starts. The purpose of validation is to make certain that the information conveyed during elicitation accurately represents the needs and expectations of the clients and stakeholders. The work here includes consolidating requirements, rationalizing them, looking got overlaps and gaps and creating models to help visualize processes.

۳٫ Specification

During this step, the analyst prioritizes and formally documents the requirements in a Requirements Definition Report. The requirements are also numbered in a way that allows them to be tracked through the rest of the lifecycle. Finally, they are checked to make sure that they can ultimately be tested.

۴٫ Verification

The final step in the requirements gathering process is verifying that the documented requirements accurately and completely communicate the needs and expectations of the client. The requirements are reviewed and formally approved. During this step, the analyst can also develop acceptance criteria and start to write test cases for the final solution.

The truth is that all team members need to appreciate the value of good business requirements and should have some fundamental skills in gathering them. Gathering good requirements up-front saves.


Contact us today to help you implement the right requirements process for your organization – traditional or Agile.

Follow These Basic Steps to Formally Close Your Project

When you start your project you need to make sure you include the activities, time and budget to formally close the project. This is true regardless of whether the project is successful or not. In fact, even if your project is cancelled, you should still go through a formal close process. Here are the things to consider.

Step 1: Confirm Project Completion

The first step in closing a project is to confirm that the project is ready to be closed. You should have defined ahead of time what it takes to be complete. This is the formal project completion criteria. Examples of completion criteria may include:

  • All the project objectives have been met.
  • The final solution or deliverables have been formally accepted.
  • Any pre-agreed post implementation criteria have also been met.

When the acceptance criteria are met, the project should be ready to close.

Step 2: Perform Closure Actions

Now that you’ve confirmed that the project is ready for closure, you’re ready to complete the actions needed to close the project. This includes activities such as:

  • Deliverables transitioned to operations
  • Supporting documentation handed over to the business
  • Resources reassigned
  • Project artifacts archived
  • Contracts closed
  • Project conclusion meeting held and lessons learned documented

If you don’t think about project closure until the end of the project you will be scrambling trying to determine what to do with rapidly disappearing staff. This is the beauty of thinking this through up-front during the planning process. If you have planned for a structured close process, you will have the information you need to validate it is time to close, plus you will already have the activities defined to complete the closure.


Are your projects less than successful? Contact us today to discuss implementing solid project management practices in your organization.

Five Ways to be Try to Turn Around Marginal Performers

One problem that many project managers never get comfortable with is dealing with poor performers. Some people are such poor performers that they ultimately fire themselves. Maybe the bigger challenge is trying to improve marginal performers. These are people that constantly disappoint. They miss a high performance bar, but when you lower the bar they miss that as well. In spite of these marginal performers, you still have to complete your project successfully. You should look at a number of possible causes for marginal performance.

Does the person have the right skills and experience?

Sometimes people do not deliver up to expectations because they do not have the right skills to do the job. For instance, you assign a person to complete the analysis for a new set of reports, but he is not sure how to ask the right questions or frame a discussion with the clients. If anyone falls into this category, you need to decide whether he could do the work with the right training or coaching or whether he should be replaced.

Do they understand your expectations?

If people have the right skills, ask whether they really understand what the expectations are. For instance, sometimes when a team member misses a deadline, he might come back and say that he did not think the work was due at that time. If there is some confusion on the expectations, you can have the person confirm back to you in writing his understanding of the expectations for deliverables and dates.

Are they motivated?

Some people are not motivated to do a good job regardless of the assignments and skills needed. You can take one shot at trying to motivate the person. but after that you would need to being this to the attention of the person’s functional manager.

Can you assign them other work?

Perhaps the person could do better – perhaps excellent – if they were assigned different type of work. Look through your schedule to see if you have flexibility to assign work that is valuable to you and that they can do well.

Are there extenuating circumstances?

Another area to consider is whether there are any business or personal factors that could explain a person’s performance. For instance, a member of your team may not be very motivated to work if his spouse is very ill. If you can find a cause, it will give you some ability to respond or at least acknowledge the cause.

If people have the right skills and the right expectations, then the project manager’s options become more limited, and you start to enter the realm of the performance management. It is possible that some team members are not going to do be able to perform up to expectations. They may not be willing to do the job, or they may not be able to do the work regardless of the training and support you provide. If you feel you are at this point, you need to get the appropriate functional manager involved.

It is difficult and frustrating to work with and rely upon people who do not come through. After you look at the problems and try to determine the cause, you may just decide if there are things that you can do as a project manager or if there is a performance problem that needs to be brought to the attention of the functional manager.


Do you need help assessing your organization, deploying project management, coaching or other processes? Contact us today to discuss implementing solid project management practices in your organization.

Four Steps to Keep Your Project Plan Up-To-Date

Thee “project plan” refers to your schedule, budget and all the other project management deliverables that you use to manage your project. Whether you’re managing small, medium or large projects, you need to keep your project plan up-to-date on a regular basis. We recommend you update your Project Plan on a weekly basis.

It takes discipline to make sure all the project management processes and deliverables are up-to-date. But, on the other hand, if you do this work weekly it will not be so time-consuming.

Step 1: Update the schedule

The first step taken when updating your Project Plan is to identify the state of the currently assigned work. This may be captured through a combination of time reporting and weekly team status updates. Use this information to update the schedule. Each week the schedule should represent current reality of the project. Each week you should also validate that the schedule includes all the work required to get from today though the end of the project.

Step 2: Update financial status

On a weekly (or perhaps monthly) basis you can reconcile all of the expenditures of the project and compare to the work completed. You also need to understand the work remaining and the cost of the remaining work. This will help you get your hands around how your project is progressing against the budget.

Step 3: Update all tracking logs

In addition to schedule and budget the project manager should have a number of other logs that are used to manage the project. These include the risk log, issue log and scope change logs. These tracking logs should all be up-to-date to make sure you are on top of areas that could impact your project.

Step 4. Determine if any other project management artifacts need to be updated

There may be other documents that are used to provide guidance for managing the project. These are usually created during planning. They may need to be updated as the project progresses. Examples of those planning documents include:

  • Communications Management Plan
  • Stakeholder Management Plan
  • Risk Management Plan
  • Resource Management Plan
  • etc.

These documents are not needed for all projects but if you created them as a part of planning, you should also review them from time to time to make sure they still provide the best guidance. If not update the plans, and update your project management processes accordingly.


Are your projects less than successful? Contact us today to discuss implementing solid project management practices in your organization.

Three First Steps to Deploy Project Management Practices

Project management methodology is a framework that allows project managers to successfully manage projects of varying sizes. Many organizations do not follow a formal, consistent methodology of any kind. How do you start with an initiative to introduce project management practices within an organization?

From a project management perspective you would probably start the project by identifying stakeholders and formally planning the initiative. But let’s assume that work is done. Where do we start in the actual work associated with this type of culture change?

Step 1. Current State Assessment

When you are planning to change organization behavior it is usually good to understand the current state. This gives you the perspective and baseline to understand what needs to change. The Current State Assessment looks at project management practices, enablers, barriers, roles and responsibilities, tools, skill levels, portfolio processes, etc.  You can uncover the nature of the current state through a formal assessment. The assessment could involve talking to many people in the organization and reviewing evidence from current projects. The assessment could also be as simple as a workshop discussion with a cross-section of staff members that can form a consensus of the current state.

Step 2. Define the More Desired Future State

While you are looking at the current environment, you also need to ask what the future vision would look like. This is usually not so difficult in may areas. For instance, if the current state shows that project managers have weak skills, the future state will probably be that all project managers have a basic skill level, and perhaps a certification. Seeing the weaknesses of the current state will help paint a picture for the more desirable future state.

Step 3. Define the Gap Between the Current and the Future State

Many change initiatives start off by trying to define what the future vision looks like. However, describing the future state of project management in your organization is not the major deliverable at this point. The ultimate deliverable is a Gap Analysis that shows what you need to focus on to move the organization from where it is today to where you want it to be in the future. This is important because you do not want to spend your time implementing in areas where your organization already does well. At the same time, you don’t want to implement a number of changes and still see your effort fail because you did not address other important areas as well.

Next Steps

Once you have the Gap Analysis, everything else flows from there. You can describe the work required to close the gaps, the resources needed, the priorities and timeframes, etc. You can also define the organizational change management components that are required to move to the organization to your future state. You now at a point where you can move forward with the deployment project.


Do you need help assessing your organization, deploying project management or other processes? Contact us today to discuss implementing solid project management practices in your organization.

The Big Three Steps to Manage Project Quality

Being a Project Manager is a tough job! You not only have to produce the deliverables on time and within budget, but you also need to ensure that they meet the quality expectations of your customer. To do this, you need to define and execute a quality management process.

By implementing a quality process within your project, you will not only be able to control the level of quality of your deliverables, but you can also provide your customer with assurance that the project will result in a solution which meets their expectations.

Formal quality management is hard to implement. It takes time and a lot of work. Fortunately there are not a lot of elements to a quality management process. In fact, there are three.

Step 1. Create a Quality Plan

Before you begin to manage quality on your project, you should first create a Quality Plan. The Quality Plan describes how you will understand quality requirements and expectations, quality tools, quality roles, how to measure quality, how to validate process acceptance, and more.

In particulate, the Quality Plan describes the overall quality control and quality assurance steps you will implement to ensure quality.

Steps 2: Control the quality of your deliverables (quality control)

Quality control (QC) activities are those that focus on the overall quality of the deliverables being produced. Quality control is usually the responsibility of the project manager and the specific person responsible for a deliverable. Examples of quality control activities include:

  • Deliverable reviews (also called peer reviews)
  • Product checklists
  • Testing

Quality control is also called “inspection”. The deliverable must exist in some form to validate its quality level through inspection.

Steps 3: Assure the quality level of your deliverables (quality assurance)

Quality assurance (QA) refers to validating the processes used to create deliverables. It is especially helpful for managers and sponsors. Managers may not have the time or expertise required to validate whether deliverables are complete, correct and of high quality. However, they can discuss the processes used to create the deliverables to determine if the processes seem sound and reasonable.

Overall, project quality is obtained through quality planning, having good work processes (QA), and checking the results to be sure (QC).


Are your projects less than successful? Contact us today to discuss implementing solid project management practices in your organization.

Use These Five Reports and Logs to Show Overall Project Status

I think most people are asked to create regular project status reports. Really, status reports are the minimum expectations for project management communication. However, when communicating status, there are other elements that should be communicated in addition to a formal status report.

When you communicate project status, you should include the following project management documents as well.

۱٫ Status Report

Yes, you need to actually send a status report. This provides a recap of the project status today and communicates anything interesting that the reader should know. This report should be detailed enough to answer questions about the current health of the report, yet not-so detailed that people who read it are lulled to sleep with trivial details.
This report should answer the following questions:

  • Where do things currently stand with this project?
  • What are the next steps on this project?
  • What obstacles are in the way of this project coming to completion?
  • What is the current state of key project metrics (schedule, budget, etc.)?

۲٫ The Risk Register

The risk register is another vital report. Risks are always lurking in the background of any project just waiting to knock it off course. The risk register identifies those risks, quantifies the potential impact they could have on a project, and then offers mitigations plans for each of the identifies risks.

۳٫ The Issue Log

The issue log report is your way of identifying, tracking and managing current problems that require help outside the project team.  This log should show what is actively being done to address each issue and prioritize them by area of impact on the project.

۴٫ Scope Change Log

This log shows a prior and current scope change requests, and their resolution. This is important to keep the management stakeholders aware of how their scope approvals are changing the nature of the project over time.

۵٫ Other tracking logs not included in the Status Report

Generally you don’t want to track and report project information in two places. For example, you should place schedule and budget information on your status report. But the Status Report is for the summary information. You may have reports or logs that you are using to track schedule and budget details. If your stakeholders would like to see these details you can include your separate tracking logs.

You don’t want to copy/paste this information from your detailed logs to the status report. The status report contains the summary information. If your stakeholders want to see the details, just attach the separate logs for their review.

Are your projects less than successful? Contact us today to discuss implementing solid project management practices in your organization. 

Three Ways to Ensure You Collect the Right Metrics

Most companies want to collect more data to be used for fact-based decision making. However, companies struggle actually implementing a strong metrics program. There is a reason – it is really hard! However, there are things you can do to ensure you collect good metrics without going overboard.

۱٫ Make Sure Your Metrics Add Value

Identifying, gathering and leveraging the right mix of metrics are ways to add value to an organization or a project. The value can be quantified in a number of areas including:

  • Improved performance of the overall project fulfillment and delivery process
  • Improved estimating for future projects
  • Validation of duration, cost, effort and quality objectives for the project
  • Identification and communication of best practices

Metrics provide a more factual and quantitative basis for understanding how you are doing and the things that can be done better. Without at least some basic metric information, all discussions on performance and improvement are based on anecdotal evidence, perceptions and guesses.

۲٫ Use the Metrics that You Collect

You don’t want to collect metrics just for the sake of collecting them. That doesn’t make sense and it just ends up being a waste of time. If certain metrics are required by your organization, collect them. In addition, you should collect any other metrics that are needed by your particular project. However, if you don’t have a purpose for the metrics, or if your project is not long enough that you can really leverage the information, these customized project-specific metrics are not worth collecting for your project.

۳٫ Compare the Cost of Collecting a Metric vs. the Benefit

Just as there is some cost associated with most project management activities, there is a cost to collecting and managing a metrics process. In many cases, the cost to collect and leverage a certain type of metric is prohibitive. These metrics should not be pursued. Other metrics are interesting, but do not provide the type of information that can be leveraged for improvement. The bottom line is that the cost to gather each metric must be balanced against the potential benefit that will be gained. Start by gathering metrics that are required by the organization. Then add metrics that have the lowest cost and effort to collect and can provide the highest potential benefit.

If you want to discuss the collection of metrics for your project to be in control and gather them to improve estimating for future projects contact us today.

Four Tips for a Nervous Presenter

Are You a Nervous Presenter? Use These Four Tips to Feel Confident.

[image source_type=”attachment_id” source_value=”96″ align=”right” width=”300″ autoHeight=”true”] It is said that all people fear two things – death and public speaking. Having to present in front of others can be nerve-racking – even for experienced speakers. You are not going to find the answers in your Communications Plan. Here are some tips to help you feel more confident.

۱٫ Prepare

Nothing gives you as much confidence as being prepared. Of course, you need to know the content, but you should also understand the structure of your presentation and how you will move from point to point. You don’t need (or want) to memorize the presentation, but you don’t want to forget things either.

You should rehearse the presentation multiple times. This could be in front of a safe audience, or even saying the words to yourself. You don’t want to read content from a slide, but having the overall session framed by some slides with bullet points can keep you on topic and make the presentation more comfortable.

۲٫ On the day of the presentation.

Get yourself mentally and physically prepared.

  • Get a good night’s sleep
  • Eat a healthy meal
  • Try to free your schedule, so you’re more relaxed
  • Before you present, spend 15 minutes going over your presentation one last time. You should have a copy of your presentation that you can review.
  • Relax

۳٫ Use confident body language

Much of your message is relayed through your body language.

  • Make eye contact with people
  • Appear confident using an open stance. Stand tall.
  • Smile and let your personality shine
  • Walk around a little
  • Vary your voice and use slow, open hand gestures.
  • Speak slowly and carefully, but passionately. If you’re enthusiastic about the topic, then your listeners will be as well.

۴٫ Look for opportunities for interaction

Encourage interaction with others during your presentation. When others talk for a few seconds, it takes the focus off you and lets you clear your head and focus on the key points ahead. Interaction also keeps the audience engaged.

Public speaking is one of the hardest things to master. If you prepare carefully, have a great mindset and are enthusiastic, you will deliver a great presentation.

Are you looking for training or coaching to become a beter presenter or are your projects less than successful? Contact us today to discuss how we can help you.

Know These Ten Focus Areas for Project Success

There are many project management processes and techniques that can help your project be successful. Although there are no guarantees, these tips will give you a better chance to be successful.

۱٫ Requirements

Make sure that your customer defines their requirements in depth. You need to know exactly what must be delivered. Be specific, write them formally, and get them approved. This document will become one of the baselines upon which to measure your success.

۲٫ Scope

Define scope well. Get your sponsor approval for scope changes, making sure the sponsor understands any schedule, budget or other impact to the project.

۳٫ Stakeholders

Involve your stakeholders throughout the project. Get them involved in the analysis and planning, as well as execution. Gain their approval when needed and keep them informed when needed. The more you involve them, the greater their level of buy-in and the better you will manage their expectations.

۴٫ Duration

Keep your delivery timeframes short and realistic. It is easier to be successful if your deadlines are shorter rather than longer. Split large projects into “mini-projects” if possible. Keep each mini-project to less than six months if possible. This keeps everyone motivated and focused.

۵٫ Communication

Make sure you keep everyone informed by providing the right information at the right time. Produce status reports and run regular team meetings.

۶٫ Quality

Understand the expectations of your customer in terms of quality and put a plan in place to meet their expectations.

۷٫ Issues

Jump on issues as soon as they are identified. Prioritize and resolve them before they impact on your project. Take pride in keeping issues to a minimum.

۸٫ Risks

Risk management is a great proactive way to solve potential problems before they occur. Identify risks early in the project and continue to manage risks throughout the project.

۹٫ Deliverables

As each deliverable is complete, hand it formally over to your customer. Ask them to verify acceptance to make sure it meets their expectations. Only then can you consider each deliverable as 100% complete.

۱۰٫ Your team

Be a great people manager. Show them the project vision and how they can make it happen. Motivate them. Trust and believe in them. Make them feel valued. They will work wonders.

There are your ten tips for project success. Now is the time to put them into action.

Are your projects less than successful? Contact us today to discuss implementing solid project management practices in your organization.

Use These Three Steps to Create a Resource Plan

A Resource Plan identifies the physical resources required to complete a project. It lists each of the resource types (such as labor, equipment and materials) and how many of each you need. If you would like to define a comprehensive Resource Plan for your project, take the following three steps.

First, identify the different types of resources needed to complete the project. You then need to quantify the amount of each type of resource required. And finally, you need to schedule the consumption of each resource within the project. Let’s describe each step in a little more detail.

Step 1: List the resource required

You should start by listing the resources required to complete the project.

  • Labor. Identify all the roles involved in performing the project, including all full-time, part-time and contracting roles.
  • Equipment. Identify all of the equipment involved in performing the project. For instance, this may include office equipment (e.g. PCs, photocopiers, and mobile phones), telecommunications equipment (e.g. cabling, switches) and machinery (e.g. heavy and light machinery).
  • Materials. Identify all of the non-consumable materials to complete project activities such as materials required to build physical deliverables (e.g. wood, steel and concrete).
  • Hardware/software. Identify if applicable.
  • More…

Step 2: Estimate the number of resources required

The next step is to estimate the number of each resource.

  • Labor, estimate how many hours you need per role
  • Equipment, estimate how many pieces of equipment needed
  • Materials, estimate how much material, in terms such as square meters, kilograms, number of units, etc.

As much as possible, also indicate the date the resources are needed and the consumption rate per day, week or month.

Step 3: Construct a resource schedule

You have now collated all the information required to build a detailed Resource Schedule. Create a resource schedule which specifies the:

  • Resources required to complete the project
  • Timeframes for the consumption of each resource
  • Quantity of each resource required per week/month
  • Total quantity of resource consumed per week/month
  • Assumptions and constraints identified

That’s it – your three steps to creating a resource plan.

Need help understanding resource management and other aspects of project and portfolio management? Contact us today to discuss bringing a training class to your organization.

Four Ways to Manage the “Project Grapevine”

Back in the 60′, Motown’s “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” was a huge hit, made famous by Marvin Gaye. Marvin may no longer be with us, but the grapevine he sang about is alive and well. The “grapevine” is a great metaphor for the way informal and unofficial news travels from person to person. Official news comes through official channels. Informal news, rumors and gossip travel though the grapevine.

In a project environment, the circulation of unofficial information and rumors can be disruptive and destructive. Your Communication Plan addresses the formal communication content and paths, but it can be hard to manage the grapevine. The following tips help stop the confusion and manage the grapevine effectively.

Tip 1 – Become Part of the Grapevine

People love talking about what goes on within their work environment. As a project manager, you cannot monitor and manage the grapevine unless you can be a part of it, or at least aware of what is being said.  Assume the projects you manage are one part of that conversation, insert yourself into it and ask people what they are hearing about your projects. Then be sure to add your own facts into the mix. A little bit of accurate information never hurt anyone.

Tip 2 – Combat Negative Messages

Negative communication sometimes gets spun into a mile-long email thread. Inaccurate information and intensity of emotion continue to escalate the longer the email thread grows. The best antidote to negative communication is to get the facts out as quickly as possible. Compose a thoughtful and precise message with a handful of relevant facts to get everyone in sync. Ask your team members to carry the message forward in their grapevine discussions.

Tip 3 – Stop the Bad Press

Much of the talk on the grapevine is harmless babble, primarily serving as an interesting diversion during a long day at work. However, sometimes the message can be very negative and detrimental to the project. In this situation try to track down the source, and discuss the situation with the person formally. The rebuttal is much more effective if the person that started the bad press is also the one to put out the correction. Even if you cannot find the source, put out a positive rebuttal to the people that can carry the message forward in the grapevine.

Tip 4 – Fill the Vacuum

You may have projects that aren’t impacted by negative communication. However, you may then have a vacuum of communication. It’s up to you to fill this void with positive and factual information about your project. Send out pertinent emails, give appropriate updates at company meetings, and have one-off conversations. That way, people will have something positive to talk about when your project gets tangled up in the grapevine.

The grapevine has been around since the time the 3rd person walked on this Earth. There’s nothing you can do to stop it from happening, so include it as part of your unofficial communication plan. You’ll notice a big difference with the buzz on your projects.

Need training on project soft skills – leadership, negotiating, communication, change management? Contact us today to discuss bringing a training class to your organization.

Use These Six Steps to Resolve Project Conflict

A manager once told me that they could be a better manager if they had better people to manage.

Of course, good people managers can work with all kinds of people, and don’t shy away from the challenge of working through difficulty. This is especially true when there is conflict on a project. You need to face the conflict and not ignore it. Ignoring it only makes the problem worse. The earlier you face it, the easier it will be to resolve.

Conflict can occur with your managers, your peers or your staff. Here are some examples of conflict you might experience on projects.

  • Your boss is frustrated with progress and takes it out on you openly, in front of others in your team.
  • Your colleague wants something from you that you can’t provide, or can’t do for them within the timeframe required so they get angry.
  • Your staff think you’re being unrealistic about timeframes, so they handle it badly by raising their voice and being obstructive.

When conflict occurs, take these steps:

  1. Take a time out. If you or the other person is getting heated, tell them you need to take five minutes to collect your thoughts. Even though you asked for the five minutes, it is really for the other party to cool off as well. Make a coffee or go for a walk. It might be surprising how a short walk (or a long one) can help you relax. This will help you both to calm down and reflect on what has happened.
  2. Defuse the situation. When you restart your conversation, start with a disarming comment such as “Sorry. I have been under pressure.” or “Let’s start over again.”. This will make the atmosphere more positive.
  3. Identify the cause of the conflict. Many times when emotion is high you may lose site of the actual cause of the conflict. State your perception of the cause and see if the other party agrees.
  4. Solve the problem. The nature of “confrontation” is that you need to “confront” the problem and solve it. Both parties need to work together to resolve it constructively. Discuss the various solutions to the problem and try to agree on the pros and cons of each before deciding on the best course of action.
  5. Observe body language. While all this is happening, you need to focus on your body language. Use open stances. Take your hands out of your pockets and never fold your arms. Try and use slow hand movements. Use a passive voice. Maintain good eye contact. Listen carefully and watch their body language as well.
  6. Agree on a course of action – and follow-through. This helps to ensure the conflict is resolved and also builds trust that will help defuse similar situations in the future.

You can utilize this process to turn a conflict into a team-building and learning opportunity.

Need training on project soft skills – leadership, negotiating, communication, change management? Contact us today to discuss bringing a training class to your organization.

Five Ways to Describe a PM

Here are a number of ways to describe a project manager using some unconventional terms (Not in the PMBOK® Guide.)

  1. Plain Talker (communicate clearly)
    It’s critical that a Project Manager manage expectations by communicating items that are factual, timely, and relevant. You are responsible for removing any ambiguity or confusion around a project through plain talk and crystal clear communication. A successful Project Manager also employs a variety of communication methods ranging from face-to-face meetings to chat to group presentations.
  2. Risk Averter (manage risk)
    Identifying, analyzing and managing risk is a key responsibility of Project Managers. You can have the best plan in the world, but there are many potential problems that will get in your way. You need to ensure your project remains viable regardless of these potential problems. This can be accomplished by monitoring and managing risks throughout the project.
  3. Obstacle Remover (manage issues)
    There are often real and current obstacles that will slow down your project. You cannot always prevent or foresee problems. However, once they occur you need to address and resolve them quickly.
  4. Morale Builder (manage staff)
    The project environment can be hard on team members. Things may not be going as planned and your team may be buckling. It’s your responsibility to keep morale high that they can get through tough times. This can be simple things like talking to people, telling them they are doing a good job and looking out for their interests. Use levity and humor where appropriate.
  5. Bottom Line-er (manage schedule and budget performance)
    It is your responsibility to keep your projects within budget and schedule. Projects consume resources and resources cost money. You need to be a financial steward of these valuable resources and manage them carefully. Always manage a project with an eye on your budget and deadline. When you start to drift, do everything you can to get back to baseline.

What do you get when you focus on the meat and potatoes of these five main responsibilities of a Project Manager? You become a plain talking, risk averting, obstacle removing, morale building, bottom line-er Project Manager! Who wouldn’t want to have someone like that heading up their next project?

Use These Five Tips to Manage Your “To Do” List

There are many tips and techniques to help you with personal time management. However, the one that seems to be universally recommended is the to-do list. It is hard to take control of your day if you don’t have a plan for what you want to do. These to-do lists can be completed daily, weekly, monthly or longer.

For now, let’s focus on the daily to-do list. Here are five tips to help you manage this list.

۱٫ Consolidate on only one list

If you have lists on your desk, in your car, or on post-it notes, merge them all into one list. Then group the items in your list and put them in a logical order. As soon as you’ve done this, you’ll immediately feel like a weight has been taken off your shoulders, because one list seems easier to manage than multiple.

۲٫ Be aware of the target dates

Just because an item is on your daily to-do list, it does not mean the work can be done in one day. It is okay to partially complete an item and then check it off for that day. For example, it might be that an activity is worked on over five days and completed at the end of the week.

You may identify a to-do action that does not need to be started today. Great, you can add it to your to-do list a few days from now. It is okay to have to-do lists for the coming days as well.

۳٫ Set priorities

You don’t want to complete 19 out of 20 to-dos, when the 20th is the one that is really most important. Be sure to identify the most important work for the day. You can do this by listing the to-dos in priority order, or perhaps placing numbers on the high priority work. For me, I simply place an “*” next to the to-dos that are the most important.

۴٫ Be aware of dependencies

Sometimes you get fired up to start a to-do action and then you realize something else needed to be completed first. The work on your to-do list should not be so complicated. Be sure to think about the work and recognize any to-dos that need to be done first.

۵٫ Manage your list

As you complete your work each day, check off the work as it is completed. This gives you the sense of accomplishment. If you do not finish all of the to-dos, carry the remainder over until the next day. Tomorrow, start the process over again.

There are many other elements of time management – personal organization, eliminating time wasters, removing clutter, etc. The daily to-do list is perhaps the key. Use it and use it wisely.

Could your organization use coaching on how to get more work done in a day? Contact us today to discuss how to identify and remove time wasters to allow you more time to get your work done.

Eight Characteristics of a High-Performance Team

Have you ever been on a project team that had everything going right?  The team members all got along; they all had the right skills; they had the right processes; everyone worked hard and pulled together to get the project done.

Those are just some of the characteristics of a high-performing team.  High-performing teams can sometimes form by themselves, perhaps even in spite of a manager that gets in the way.  It is also possible that a manager can facilitate a team through a process that leads them to become high performing. The following actions can help the team’s growth.

  • Set common objectives.  Teams will have a hard time performing at a high level unless they are all striving toward a common set of objectives.  Even if members of your team do different jobs, a set of objectives can usually be written that will encompass all of them.
  • Establish good internal work processes. You cannot build consistently good products, or deliver good services, with poor work processes.  The high-performing team has a set of internal processes that guide how members act and react in particular circumstances.
  • Instill good work ethic. High-performing teams find the challenges associated with their work and work hard to complete their assignments within expectations.  Members get more work done in a typical day than their counterparts.
  • Keep everyone focused.  Team members understand the work they have on their plate today, as well as what the remainder of their work is.  They don’t get sidetracked by rumors or politics.
  • Maintain a high level of motivation. The high-performance team relies on both self-motivation as well as a reinforced motivation through the entire team.
  • Keep organized. Team members know where to find the things they need to do their job, and they know where to put things when they are done.
  • Strive toward a balanced set of key skills.  A high-performance team has the skills needed to complete the work on its plate. People understand their strengths and weaknesses, but they also are willing to work outside their comfort area when needed.
  • Foster mutual respect. Team members have mutual respect for each other and trust that the others are working as hard as they are.

In the right circumstances, a manager can take the lead to move a team toward high-performance status.  It takes time. If it were easy, every team would be high performing, instead of the one or two that you may have worked on in your entire career.

Contact us today to discuss how we can help you strengthen your project, portfolio and PMO processes.

Practice These Three Key Ways to Control Project Politics

What happens when your project sponsor wants a different outcome for the project than your other management team and stakeholders want? The answer is that each party tries to influence the project to get what they want. This is one way you get into project politics. The result is that the team is constantly pushed in different directions, trying to keep everyone happy, but not really doing what they were originally asked to do. The project team becomes stressed, confused, de-motivated and inefficient. It’s your job as a Project Manager to ensure this doesn’t happen.

Having a well defied set of project management processes will help you manage politics. People will know they can’t go around the processes to get done what they want. However, project politics can’t be solved by processes alone. You need to first work on the people element.

Step 1: Build relationships

It is easier to resort to office politics if you do not have personal relationships with the major stakeholders. It is possible that you have a relationship with some or all of them to start. It is also possible that you don’t know any of the major stakeholders very well.

When a project starts, you can reduce the politics by building relationships with the major stakeholders. Building relationships makes it easier to work in a friendly and transparent manner. This starts off with stakeholder identification and stakeholder management, but goes beyond. Stakeholder engagement is about building relationships. These relationships will help when there is conflict and can keep you from getting into the dark side of project politics.

Build close relationships by meeting each stakeholder regularly to find out what they need from the project and why they need it. By listening to their needs, you’re securing their buy-in and you may be able to save unnecessary conflict in the future.

Step 2: Create a Project Board or Steering Committee of key stakeholders

One way to get competing stakeholders on the same page is to create a Project Board or Steering Committee. This allows the key stakeholders to agree to the same project scope and objectives. The Project Board should include your sponsor, major customers and other people that may influence the project. The purpose of the board is to set direction, resolve issues, control the scope and make sure that specific targets are set and achieved.

By forming a Project Board, you create a space where the senior stakeholders can thrash out the politics themselves and come to a consensus. You then have one common group to manage. If you include all of the “influencers” within the Board, you can task them with giving you a single, consistent vision. That way, there is no confusion as to what must be done to deliver the project and people are not pulled in different directions all of the time.

Step 3: Manage Change

A big risk to a project is that the goal posts move, causing continuous change to the project scope. This is a breeding ground for project politics, because every stakeholder will have their own wants and needs to be met—and they may not all be consistent with one another.

You need to manage change carefully by putting in place a formal process for managing it. Your change process should involve documenting each Change Request, why it’s needed and the impact to the project in implementing it. The Change Request should then be presented to the Project Board for review and approval. You need to make sure that when it’s approved the board also approve the extra time, money and people needed to implement it.


Building relationships, creating a Project Board and proactively managing change  will help you cut through politics to ensure your project success.

Do you need help assessing a project to see where it has gone wrong and what is required to save it? Contact us today to discuss how we can help your organization choose the right projects.

Use This Five Step Approach to Manage Project Finances

Some projects have a large budget and require rigorous management and tracking. Other projects don’t have a budget component at all. When you do have project finances to manage, think about these simple steps.

  1. Estimate expenses

The first step towards managing your project finances is to estimate the costs. This isn’t as easy as it sounds. You need to forecast the total amount of people, equipment, materials and other expenses needed to deliver the project. You then need to estimate the costs of these resources and when in the project plan, these expenses will take place.

  1. Set the budget

Estimating the costs is not the same as setting your budget. The budget shows how the money is allocated according to your company’s financial rules. The budget shows the expense accounts, allocates capital versus expense dollars, shows when funds are allocated to your project, etc. Ultimately you need to manage project costs according to the budget.

  1. Determine if you can get contingency funding

Project estimates are rarely 100% accurate. A contingency represents the estimating uncertainly. Even if you think your estimate is 90% accurate, this means you have a 10% uncertainty. A contingency budget represents this estimating contingency. For example, if you estimated your project to be 100,000 with a 90% confidence, you could also ask for a 10,000 contingency budget to represent the uncertainty. This 10,000 is not used for risks or scope change requests. It can be tapped if it turns out you underestimated work on your project. Not all organizations allow contingency budgets. If you do not have this budget flexibility you can add the uncertainly factor back into your baseline estimate.

  1. Track weekly

The next step after setting your budget is to start tracking your spending on the project. You need to track every expense. This could be a manual process but is usually handled by your accounting system. Ask your team to complete expense forms and submit them to you for approval when they spend money on behalf of the project.  You need to pre-approved any large expenses before they are incurred so you can more easily control expenditures on the project.

You also need to track your people costs. The total cost of the hours taken by those people can be tracked on the Project Dashboard, so you can see whether your people cost is under or over budget.

Make sure you always have enough funds available to cover your spending over the months ahead. Cash flow management is about managing the cash needed to deliver your project. Make sure your Sponsor has approved the next 1-2 months of work ahead of time, and that the funds needed to manage the project have been made available. Then track the spending of that funding every week.

  1. Manage expectations

When you start spending more than your budget, you have four options available to help you stay within budget.

  • Reduce costs. This means spending less to get the same job done.
  • Reduce scope. See if your Sponsor will agree to a reduced scope, so that you have less to produce for them.
  • Use your contingency if you have one
  • Re-forecast your expenses and present a new budget to your Sponsor for approval. This is the last choice and means you have to give up on hitting the prior budget baseline.

Managing costs on a project can be difficult. It is made more difficult if the project manager does not keep up on tracking and managing the budget. Use these four simple steps to stay in control.

Do you need help with project management budgeting skills? Contact us today to discuss how we can help your organization choose the right projects.

Webinar: Implementing a Hybrid Agile Model in Your Organization

Over the past 15 years, Agile development models have moved from the underground to the mainstream. At the same time, the nature of Agile has also changed. The pure Agile model of 15 years ago has been refined, expanded and made friendlier to corporate America.

While it is true that many companies have successfully implemented a pure Agile model, it is more common that companies implement a hybrid. In other words, they take the basics of Agile and merge in some compromises to be able to exist within organization parameters. For example, does your Agile team create a status report? If so, you have made an Agile compromise. Does your Agile team have a project manager? If so, you have made a compromise.

Sign-up for this session to hear how many companies implement a hybrid Agile model – successfully combining Agile techniques while supporting traditional organization processes as well.

Date/time: Thu, Feb 26, 2015 6:00 PM – 7:00 PM CET
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Eight Less Obvious Ways to Find Project Success

There are many techniques and processes to help you be successful on a project. Some of them like better estimating and defining requirements are pretty standard and obvious. Here are some other ways to increase the likelihood of success on your project that are not so obvious.

  1. Understand the big picture and the details If the devil is in the details, there is nothing more devilish than the complex and intertwining dependencies of a project. You need to be aware of the details, even if you don’t react to each detail each time. At the same time, it’s just as important to see the big picture. Understanding the overall purpose and objectives of the project allows you to make decisions based on broader context. The big picture also allows you to see trends before problems emerge.
  2. Make decisions quickly Over analyzing and procrastination are a problem on many projects. Use the best information you have available to make decisions quickly. Even if it’s not the BEST decision, a GOOD decision suffices in nearly all cases.
  3. Communication heavily You can never have enough communication. If the worst thing is that somebody says they already know what you just told them, great. The discussion will be short. However, for every time you hear that, you will have five more instances where the person was not aware.
  4. Manage risks proactively This one might fall into the more obvious category. But it is surprising to me how many projects do not formally manage risks. Some projects identify risks but don’t put a plan in place to manage them. Risk management does not take so much time. All successful project managers do it.
  5. Manage expectations Many project managers communicate, but not effectively. The do not realize how to communicate what is happening now and the future looks like. If you have ever surprised a sponsor or customer, you probably were not managing expectations well.
  6. Make sure you get major documents approved Sometimes we are just too busy to get approvals for documents even if you know you need them. The result is often that there is a disagreement with the approver after the fact, causing rework and conflict.
  7. Involve stakeholders throughout the project We should all know it is important to understand project stakeholders. But often we focus on stakeholders at the beginning and the end of the projects. To be really successful you need to engage key stakeholders all the way through the project.
  8. Cultivate excellent relationships with the Project Sponsor Stakeholder management is important, but one stakeholder is more important then the rest – the sponsor. Go out of your way to develop a good relationship with the sponsor.

Use all the obvious techniques for project success, plus these eight that are a little less obvious. You will have a much better chance for success.

Do you need help with project management soft skills? Contact us today to discuss how we can help your organization choose the right projects.

Use These Six Techniques Provide Meaningful Performance Feedback

The job description of the project manager normally does not include providing formal performance reviews to team members. This is usually a responsibility of each employee’s functional manager. However, there is no question that a project manager does need to provide performance feedback to team members to let them know how they are doing and whether they are meeting performance expectations. This includes recognizing when team members meet their commitments and providing feedback to them when they are not meeting your expectations.

Telling people they are doing a good job is easy. It is harder when you have to tell a team member he is not meeting your expectations. When this type of conversation is appropriate, the project manager can use the following techniques:

  1. This helps managers develop a framework for providing effective feedback. The manager should think ahead of time about the behavior that should be highlighted and how the manager can help the employee improve.
  2. Provide examples. Vague criticism fosters anxiety. Tangible examples are required to highlight the feedback. Typically, you do not need to provide dozens of examples. Hopefully, you can make the point with a couple representative observations.
  3. Use motivational techniques in the discussion. The employee is bound to be disappointed by the feedback. Look for opportunities to build the morale of the team member as well, so that he will be eager to improve.
  4. The project manager should start the session with positive comments, then get to the feedback and finish with positive, motivating comments.
  5. Allow time for feedback. The process needs to be a dialogue between the project manager and the team member. So, seek feedback from the team member and allow him to agree, disagree or provide his perspective.
  6. Set a timeframe for action and follow-up. The project manager should document any action items, circulate them to the team member and ensure that they are completed. Before the meeting is over, the project manager and team member should also agree on a follow-up timeframe to check progress.

The world is made up of people with various skills and talents.  Often, people’s talents drive them to work in certain areas where they excel.  In other cases, their individual talents and the jobs they perform are not aligned.  Many people have the general skills and the drive required to overcome a lack of alignment.

If everyone excelled in the job they were asked to fulfill there would be much less need for the Human Resource staff.  However, it doesn’t always work like that.  Some people are not able to meet expectations and managers must not feel guilty about working with them to try to turn things around.

Do you need help with project management soft skills? Contact us today to discuss how we can help your organization choose the right projects.

Here is Why the Initiating Phase is so Important

It might seem that once a project makes it through the approval process it is ready to start. This is not the case. There is one more step that has to happen before a project can actually start. In portfolio management this is the “authorization” process. In project management it is “initiation“.  On the surface it might seem that this is an extra bureaucratic step that does not add value. Actually it is a very important step to make sure that the best decisions are made based on the most current information.

Think about how project work is approved in most organizations. The major work for next year is planned in the current year so that budgets and projects are ready when the new year starts. In fact, all of the work cannot start on the first day of the new year. The work is staggered to start throughout the year. It may be up to 12 months (or longer) between the time a project is approved and when it is actually ready to begin.

It does not make sense to allow projects to start based on information that could be many months old. Therefore we have the authorize/initiate step to make sure that the project is still viable and that the organization is ready to start. There are a number of things that need to be validated before the project begins.

  • Validate the Business Case. The time lag between approval and when the project is ready to start may have changed the Business Case. For instance, it is possible that a competitive opportunity has come and gone.
  • Identify the stakeholders. It is important to know who the people are that have an interest in the project. These people need to be engaged and may be needed for project planning.
  • Validate sponsorship. It is possible that the sponsor has changed or is no longer committed to the project. You need to validate the current sponsor of the project.
  • Validate staffing. You should not start a project without staff availability. It is possible that the resources that were going to work on the project are no longer available.
  • Validate budget. It is possible that budget cuts, or overruns from other projects, have resulted in a lack of funding for the project.

You can now see that there are a lot of reasons why a previously approved project may no longer make sense by the time it is ready to proceed. It is usually the case that the shorter the timeline between approval and authorization, the more likely it is that the project will in fact proceed as envisioned. If the project no longer makes sense the organization has a chance to utilize the funding on an alternate project instead – one with more clear business benefit.

Do you need help optimizing your portfolio management processes? We help organizations with portfolio management all the time. TenStep Consulting Services can help you get these processes right. Contact us to see how we can help you.

Use These Four Steps for Completing a Feasibility Study

A Feasibility Study may need to be completed for your project. The best time to complete it is when you have identified a range of different alternative solutions and you need to know which solution is the most feasible to implement. Here’s how to do it.

Step 1: Research the Business Drivers

In most cases, your project is being driven by a problem in the business. These problems are called “business drivers” and you need to have a clear understanding of what they are, as part of your Feasibility Study. For instance, the business driver might be that an IT system is outdated and is causing customer complaints, or that two businesses need to merge because of an acquisition. Find out why the business driver is important to the business, and why it’s critical that the project delivers a solution to it within a specified timeframe.

Step 2: Confirm the Alternative Solutions

Now you have a clear understanding of the business problem that the project addresses, you need to understand the alternative solutions available. For example, if it’s an IT system that is outdated, your alternative solutions might include redeveloping the existing system, replacing it with a package solution or merging it with another system. Only with a clear understanding of the alternative solutions to the business problem can you progress with the Feasibility Study.

Step 3: Determine the Feasibility

You now need to identify the feasibility of each solution. The question to ask of each alternative solution is “can we deliver it on time and under budget?” In other words – is it feasible to complete this project for a reasonable timeframe and cost? To answer this question, you need to use a variety of methods to assess the feasibility of each solution. Here are some examples of ways you can assess feasibility:

  • Research: Perform research to see if other companies have implemented the same solutions. This may tell you if the solution is practical.
  • Prototyping: Identify the part of the solution that has the highest risk, and then build a sample of it to see if it’s possible to create. This will tell you if the solution is technically feasible.
  • Time-boxing: Complete some of the tasks in your project plan and measure how long it took vs. planned. If you delivered it on time, then you know that your overall schedule may be feasible.

Step 4: Choose a Preferred Solution

With the feasibility of each alternative solution known, the next step is to select a preferred solution to be delivered by your project. Choose the solution that is most feasible to implement, has the lowest risk, and you have the highest confidence of delivering.

After completing these four steps, get your Feasibility Study approved by your sponsor so that everyone in the project team has a high degree of confidence that the project can deliver successfully.


Do you need help with project definition, feasibility or business case? Contact us today to discuss how we can help your organization choose the right projects.

Remember These Five Often Overlooked Activities to Start a Project

Larger projects definitely need time up-front to define and plan the work. If you do not adequately plan a small or medium project, the consequences will probably not be too drastic. You don’t have that same luxury in a large project. The planning process is very  important. But there are some things to consider before you even start planning. These activities would be a part of project initiation and the work is often overlooked.

When you are assigned as a project manager on a project, don’t forget the following.

Gather baseline information

Look for all the information that may already be available for this project. This includes any previous project deliverables, memos, emails, etc. In many cases, before the project begins, the sponsor must perform a cost/benefit analysis or  Business Case. All of this information should be gathered as a starting point for understanding the work.

Determine the initial approval process

Work with your manager and the project sponsor to understand the approval process for the Project Charter and any other initial project deliverables. For instance, you can determine the people that have to approve the Project Charter versus those that should just receive a final copy.

Discover high-level requirements

The project manager needs to have some understanding of the high-level requirements of the project before he can even begin to plan the work. The project manager is getting the essence of the project during initiation. You are not uncovering the detailed product requirements at this time. The detailed requirements will be further defined as a part of the project lifecycle once the project is approved.

Identify the key stakeholders

Your manager and the sponsor should have a pretty good idea of the appropriate project stakeholders. These are people and groups with an interest in the project. You need to understand these people and their interests to be able to gather the correct information for project planning. If possible you should also meet or talk with the stakeholders at this time to start to get an understanding or their interest and attitude about the project.

Estimate the resources you need for planning

Depending on the size of the project, the planning process can be time consuming. The project manager needs to quickly understand the resources needed for planning. This might be a part-time or full-time project manager, and it may require other resources as well.

When a project manager gets assigned to a new project he needs a set of initial activities to get grounded and start to understand the nature of the project. These five activities will help you gain context and prepare you for the planning process.


Project Quickstart – Another Way to Define your Project

TenStep can quickly guide you through the project definition process. In one facilitated sessions we uncover project objectives, scope, deliverables, risks, assumptions, constraints, organization, approach, etc.  By the end of the session you will have:

  • Project Charter
  • High-level Milestone schedule
  • Project Management Procedures

Whether you are starting a crucial project, or just need general help with all projects, TenStep Consulting Services can help you get started right. Click here for more information.

Use These Two Techniques for Managing a Schedule

There are many great techniques that help you manage the schedule on your project. Here are a couple.

Investigate Further When ‘Completed’ Activities Are Not Really Completed

Sometimes a team member says that an activity is complete when in reality it is not quite done. This can happen for the following reasons:

  • The activity should have been completed and the team member believes he needs just a short amount of time to complete it. He might say it is complete and then finish it up quickly, rather than deal with the consequences of the activity being late.
  • A deliverable is ’completed’ by the team member but not approved. The team member may say the work is complete, but when the deliverable is checked it is discovered that it is incomplete or needs additional follow-up work.

To avoid this, make sure that there is an approval process for all major deliverables, and that the schedule leaves time for the approval process and for updates based on feedback. Then there is no question that the deliverable is completed, because it has either been approved or it hasn’t. If an activity does not call for the total completion of a deliverable, you would expect that when a team member says an activity is completed, it probably is. If you find a pattern of this not being the case, the individual team member might need coaching on how to better report the status of his work.

Use the Concept of Triple Constraint to Manage Cost, Schedule and Scope

[image source_type=”attachment_id” source_value=”918″ align=”right” width=”300″ autoHeight=”true”] At the end of the planning phase you should have an agreement with your sponsor on the work that will be completed (Charter/Scope Statement), the cost (or hours) and duration that are needed to complete the work (the schedule). These three items form a concept called the “triple constraint”. If one of the three items change, at least one, if not both, of the other items need to change as well.

This is more than an academic discussion. The concept actually has great relevance to the management of the project. The triple constraint makes logical sense and can be easily explained to your clients as well.

This concept is easy to visualize if you think of the triple constraint as a triangle, with the sides representing cost, duration and scope of work.

For example, if the scope of work increases, the cost and / or deadline must increase as well. This makes sense. If you have more work to do, it will take more cost (effort) and perhaps a longer duration. (Likewise if you reduce the scope of work, the cost (effort) and / or the deadline should decrease as well.)

Similarly, if you are asked to accelerate the project and complete it earlier than scheduled, it would also be logical to ask for less work. However, if you are asked to deliver the same work in less time, the third leg of the triple constraint (cost or effort) should increase to maintain the balance. You will need to increase costs (effort), perhaps by working overtime hours or perhaps by bringing in more resources to complete the same amount of work earlier.

Once the project manager really recognizes this relationship in the triple constraint, he will automatically recognize when one leg changes and instantly look for ways that the other legs will change to maintain the triple constraint balance.

Do you need help with building or managing schedules? Contact us today to schedule a great one-day class on building and managing schedules.

Here are Six Ways to Communicate Project Status

Most of us still create some variation of a paper status report to communicate progress on our project. I remember when these reports were printed on paper. An old manager of mine once asked me to review a large binder of paper status reports and tell him if there was anything interesting that he should know about. There were probably over a hundred paper reports in the binder.

Even though most organizations no longer print out status reports, the need for status updates is still here. Here are some old and new ways to report status.

  1. Status reports. Yes, what is old is also new. Many organizations still create status updates. Usually these are reviewed online instead of printing in large binders.
  2. Many organizations send the status information in-stream in an email These emails can still follow a common format so they are easy to read and digest. The information can be easier to digest if it is directly in the email instead of having to click on an attachment.
  3. Status meetings. Some organizations do not have status report, but go over the status in meetings. The Agile community does this through their daily stand-up status meetings. This can limit the status update to the people in the room, but in many projects that is acceptable.
  4. Some organizations do not have formal status reports, but just hold formal or informal discussions with the sponsor and others with a need to know. This is very informal. Usually if a person such as a sponsor wants an update they set up a time to talk to the project manager – maybe just as a hall discussion.
  5. There are a number of tools that can help. These could be specialized status reporting and consolidation tools, or perhaps a general purpose environment like SharePoint.
  6. Phone messages. You could leave a status report voicemail. This eliminated the initial need for a paper based report. Usually you are also time bound to complete the report in two or three minutes – the length of a voicemail.

Remember that although there are many options for the format and technology of reporting project status, the need to communicate status. Status reporting is the way you manage expectations on a project and it is the minimum communication requirement for a project manager. …

Do you need help with project status reports, or the rollup to consolidated reporting or portfolio dashboards? Contact us today to discuss how we can help your organization and your project teams get better at project management processes in general, and status reporting in particular.

Use Expected Monetary Value (EMV) to Determine Risk Impact

Expected monetary value (EMV) is a risk management technique to help quantify and compare risks in many aspects of the project. EMV is a quantitative risk analysis technique since it relies on specific numbers and quantities to perform the calculations, rather than high-level approximations like high, medium and low.

EMV relies on two basic numbers.

P – the probability that the risk will occur

I – the impact to project if the risk occurs. This can be broken down further into “Ic” for the cost impact, “Is” for the schedule impact and “Ie” for the effort impact.

The risk contingency is calculated by multiplying the probability by the impact.

Risk Contingency Budget

If you use this technique for all of your risks, you can ask for a risk contingency budget to cover the impact to your project if one or more of the risks occur. For example, let’s say that you have identified six risks to your project, as follows.


Risk P (Risk Probability) I (Cost Impact) Risk Contingency P*Ic
EVM calculation Example
A ۰,۸ €۱۰٫۰۰۰ €۸٫۰۰۰
B ۰,۳ €۳۰٫۰۰۰ €۹٫۰۰۰
C ۰,۵ €۸٫۰۰۰ €۴٫۰۰۰
D ۰,۱ €۴۰٫۰۰۰ €۴٫۰۰۰
E ۰,۳ €۲۰٫۰۰۰ €۶٫۰۰۰
F ۰,۲۵ €۱۰٫۰۰۰ €۲٫۵۰۰
Total €۱۱۸٫۰۰۰ €۳۳٫۵۰۰


Based on the identification of these six risks, the potential impact to your project is €۱۱۸٫۰۰۰٫ However, you cannot ask for that level of risk contingency budget. The only reason you would need that much money is if every risk occurred. Remember that the objective of risk management is to minimize the impact of risks to your project. Therefore, you would expect that you will be able to successfully manage most, if not all of these risks. The risk contingency budget should reflect the potential impact of the risk as well as the likelihood that the risk will occur. This is reflected in the last column.

Notice the total contingency request for this project is €۳۳٫۵۰۰, which could be added to your budget as risk contingency. If risk C and F actually occurred, you would be able to tap the contingency budget for relief. However, you see that if risk D actually occurred, the risk contingency budget still might not be enough to protect you from the impact. However, Risk D only has a 10% chance of occurring, so the project team must really focus on this risk to make sure that it is managed successfully. Even if it cannot be totally managed, hopefully its impact on the project will be lessoned through proactive risk management.

Spreading the Risk

The risk contingency budget works well when there are a number of risks involved. The more risks the team identifies, the more the overall budget risk is spread out between the risks. In the case above, the fact that there are six risks helps pool enough risk contingency to accumulate a protective budget. If you have only identified one or two risks, you may not be able to spread the risk out enough to be as effective as you like.

Budgeting for Unknown Risks

The EMV calculations above only reflect the risks that are known at the beginning of the project when the initial risk assessment is performed. If you are managing a large project, you need to continue to monitor risks on an ongoing basis. Therefore, you can also ask for additional risk contingency budget to cover risk that will probably surface later that you do not know about now. For example, you could request an additional 5% of your total budget for risk contingency to cover the unknown risks that you will encounter later. This is in addition to the risk contingency of the known risks that have already been identified.  

At TenStep, we can help you implement solid risk management processes as well as a full set of project management processes. Contact Menno Valkenburg or Dick van Schoonhoven for more information and to discuss your specific needs.

Yes, You Need to Estimate the Project Size Before Gathering Detailed Requirements

There is concern from many project managers that they are expected to estimate the effort, duration and cost of a project at the end of the planning process before the detailed requirements have been gathered. It seems like a valid question. Yet, when you talk about gathering detailed requirements, you are usually talking about the Analysis (or Specification) Phase of a project lifecycle, not the up-front planning process.

Of course, you need to have a high-level understanding of the requirements before you can provide project estimates. However, the details are gathered after planning.

The following three approaches will allow you to execute the project before you have gathered the detailed business requirements. (As with many aspects of project management, iterative and Agile requirements are gathered differently.)

  • Estimate the work to within 15% after planning. This is the traditional approach. Many projects are estimated this way because the project is not so different from projects you have done before. If you have experience with similar projects you can make a reasonable estimate based on the characteristics of the project.
  • Break the work down into smaller pieces. If you don’t feel comfortable to provide an overall project estimate within 15%, you can break the larger project into multiple smaller projects. When you use this technique, you usually end up chartering an initial project to gather the requirements. You should be able to estimate this requirements gathering project to within 15%. After this requirements project is complete, you can use the information to charter a second project to perform the rest of the work, also within 15%.
  • Estimate in two parts. This is a variation on the first technique above. In this approach, the project manager provides a “best guess” estimate of the work at the end of planning. This estimate may be within 25% (or higher). However the project manager is not accountable for this estimate (unlike the first option above). This estimate is just best-guess given the information at the time. After the requirements are completed, the project manager provides a more detailed estimate of the work within 10-15%. This is the number for which the project manager is held accountable. Unlike the second approach, these two estimates are both made within a single project.

The first estimating approach is within the control of the project manager. The second and third approach likely require approval of your sponsor and manager. But either approach is better than taking a guess and having to live with the consequences of a bad estimate. That is not good for the project team or the organization.

Do you need help with estimating skills or estimating processes? Contact Menno Valkenburg or Dick van Schoonhoven for more information and to discuss your specific needs.