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24 March 2013

Project Management and Open Communications

Project Managers need to guard against setting up an environment where bad news never reaches them. They need to praise and encourage those who communicate risks before they become issues, issues before they become problems, and problems before they become project failures.

Some managers remind me of the Clinton trial in the Senate, following his impeachment in the House.

The Senate set up a rule requiring Ken Starr to keep all the records and evidence in another building. Bringing it to their offices without an invitation would have violated protocol.

Then the majority of senators refused to go view the evidence. A few who did view it said they came away weeping, and the rest (having refused to view the evidence) said that they lacked evidence sufficient to convict.

Does your comfort zone tempt you to maintain willful ignorance? Does your character allow reliance on plausible deniability? The PM has accountability for project success, which any lack of awareness may bring about; but that accountability extends to achieving success ethically.
I wonder:  Do PMs ever include ethical lapses as project risks?

23 March 2013

The Best Project Management Software

Project management covers many knowledge areas. Developers approach PM software functionality from the perspective of a particular discipline or PM knowledge area. The approaches usually focus on a narrow selection of the following needs:
  • Requirements
  • Software Development Life Cycle (SDLC)
  • Agile methods
  • Model Based Systems Engineering (MBSE)
  • General verification/validation
  • Software test management
  • Software test management with scripting
  • Issue and change management
  • Product definition from a market research angle
  • Scheduling
  • Cost management
  • Resource management
  • Project communications
  • Scope and requirements definition
  • Quality management
  • Configuration management
As a result, all the solutions I have looked at work for only a small portion of project management. For example, MS Project would be useless for requirements management, and DOORS would be useless for project scheduling.
Some developers stress integration of their products with other products -- preferably their own. For example, Rational (specializing in SDLC) bought DOORS and worked on integrating the two product lines. Then IBM bought Rational and expanded the integration effort to include other IBM products.
Implementing many PM software products and then tailoring them to the organization's needs can require permanent, trained resources. Integrating several products can take years, even in large organizations.
With the current state, I believe any attempt at a total PM solution will require a very large initial effort, significant support to maintain the solution, and an acceptance that some interfaces between PM processes just have to be done by hand.
Therefore, to answer the question, "What is the best software/tool for end-to-end Project Management?" you need to prioritize the areas of PM because no product addresses the end-to-end needs -- or at least, the top-to-bottom needs.

Life Cycle Costing for Projects

Defining Life Cycle Costing

Life cycle costing (LCC) looks at the cost of the whole life of the product, not just the cost of the project. A product has two major cost phases, the project phase that designs and produces the product, and the O&M phase where the owner operates, maintains, and decommissions the product.

(A lot of Project Managers (PMs) forget decommissioning. As an extreme example, consider how much it will cost to maintain and protect a nuclear waste site for the next 500,000 years.)

The design philosophy is part of the project scope.  The customer may want a cheap, disposable product, so the design team would not put much effort into designing for low maintenance, low manning, and long lifespan.

On the other hand, the customer may need the product to last a long time.  Operations costs can include:
  • building more units
  • maintaining equipment
  • training users
  • expanding, upgrading, or re-purposing the product
  • providing consumables
  • procuring replacement and spare parts
  • transporting, installing, or disposing of waste
Operations can far outweigh the initial cost.

The scope statement, the Statement of Work, the nature of the product, industry standards or government regulations, and the user needs can guide decisions about what aspects, if any, of life cycle costing to include in project planning.

What LCC Means to the Project

Considering operations and maintenance costs requires including, as part of the scope, performing the project in such a way as to keep O&M costs down for the customer.

For example, easy access to a car's timing belt decreases the amount of labor the owner has to pay to have it replaced, and using a steel widget instead of an iron one results in fewer failures due to corrosion.  Such steps will increase the cost of the project, but they may decrease the customer's total cost of ownership.

Considering operations and maintenance costs also requires estimating the cost of the entire product life cycle.

A point exists where spending more on reducing O&M costs would not cut total cost of ownership.  For example, making windshields out of the material they use in Soyuz windows might mean never having to replace cracked glass after a bird hit, but it would cost more than the rest of the car.

For this reason, the project will include a trade study that estimates the total of both the project cost and all the costs incurred by the customer after product delivery.  As its goal, the study will recommend ways to minimize the total cost.

What LCC Means to the Project Manager

The PM should consider the following steps to ensure project success:
  • Make sure the customer considers cost of ownership and agrees to LCC goals.
  • Ensure that project scope and project requirements clarify LCC goals.
  • During project planning, account for the effects of those requirements on the project.
  • Oversee a trade study to determine the best compromise between project cost and O&M costs before project planning is finalized.
  • Make sure the customer understands cost tradeoffs between a cheap project and a project that produces a product with characteristics such as longer life, less expensive maintenance, and greater safety.
  • Get approval of the LCC strategy from the customer and authorization to follow that strategy from the project's sponsor or management.
Please let me know in the comments if you have any corrections or additions.

19 March 2013

Life Cycle Costing for Project Planning

Life cycle costing looks at the cost of the whole life of the product, not just the cost of the project.

A product has two major groups of life cycle phases, the project phases that conceive, design, produce, and deliver the product, and the Operations and Maintenance (O&M) phases where the owner operates, maintains, and decommissions the product.

Some products also have phases where proof of concept testing, design refinement, and prototyping overlap with O&M phases.

(A lot of PMs forget decommissioning. As an extreme example, think about how a chemical or nuclear waste site might require maintenance and protection for the nest 500,000 years.)

The project scope should define the design philosophy. The customer may want a cheap, disposable product, so the design team would not put much effort into designing for low maintenance, low manning, or long service life.

On the other hand, Operations costs such as building more units, maintenance, training users, expansion and modification, providing consumables, transporting, installing, and disposing of waste can far outweigh the initial costs.

The scope statement and the nature of the product will guide in deciding which aspects, if any, of life cycle costing to include in project planning.

15 March 2013

ROI on Subsidizing Professional Memberships

What Return On Investment (ROI) does a company receive by paying the professional membership dues or educational expenses of employees? For example, if a company pays the annual PMI or INCOSE membership dues, what dollarized benefit or ROI does it receive?


I only have one data point. When the company invests zero dollars in its employees' growth, the investment:
  • Creates zero expansion of its pool of outside SMEs
  • Creates zero growth of workers' skills
  • Encourages zero engagement in the work
  • Subsidizes zero creativity
  • Suppresses crazy ideas from professional cross pollination
On the positive side, such an investment strategy:
  • Discourages annoying attributes such as pride and overconfidence
  • Prevents exposure of its products, services, expertise, and industry leadership to the public
  • Encourages turnover of unengaged and obsolete employees
  • Ensures that personal connections will not interrupt hiring managers' time reading resumes.

[Sarcasm="off"] Employee Focus

If the company pays for schooling, it might be possible to argue that the ROI of membership fees is even greater. You will not only learn from presentations during meetings, but the meeting time per membership dollar will be a multiple of classroom time per tuition dollar, you will spend countless hours studying toward PMP, CSEP, or other certifications, and you will bring all the other intangible benefits, too.

If the company pays for books for classes or for reference, you can also list the values or prices of the numerous downloadable materials such as the PMBOK Guide (hard copy was $66 for the fourth edition). 

If the company reimburses you for certification exams, then you can list the discounts on exam fees. For example, if you join PMI before registering for the PMP exam, the discount on the exam pays for the first year's membership.

As an alternative to paying for dues directly, a company can reward employees through raises or bonuses when they see positive results. The flaw in a reactive strategy is that it fails to model the trust and loyalty that management expects from employees and only rewards tangible, directly measurable, short-term results.

Wider Perspective: It's Your Loss, Boss

Businesses lose a lot of money by failing to align their talent management with their business strategies.  A study by the Project Management Institute found that managing the talent pool cuts risks by 50% (1). Cutting project risks cuts costs, improves quality, shortens schedules, and boosts morale.

PMI estimates that active talent management results in 14% more project success -- meaning that projects reach all success criteria. If you focused on individual success critera, the numbers would be much higher. Would it be worth, say, a hundred dollars per employee to improve your success rate by 14% on a million-dollar or billion-dollar contract?

Turn the question around and ask, what does the company lose if it does not subsidize professional memberships? Just go through the issues above and you will see issues of obsolescence, disengagement, turnover and the resulting loss of braintrust, as well as disengagement of the company itself from its industry.

According to the PMI, industry will annually create 1.57 million new project management roles, globally, each year until 2020 (2) and 80% of organizations already report struggling to find qualified managers (3). Employers that fail to encourage employee growth will lose to proactive competitors.

Sample Calculation

Remember that you obligate yourself to whatever you list.

Some people will get the membership, add it to their resumes, and then never think about it again until the renewal notice arrives. Others would will join regardless of whether the company reimburses them.

On the other hand, if young employees find mentoring and take an early interest in expanding their networks, social skills, and professional skills, how would you calculate the exponential growth in their value to the company?

But... we have to try.

One source measured the increased productivity multiplied it by the hours saved and the labor rate.

They looked at the cost incurred by a project manager in previous projects under the charging categories for estimation, planning, resource, scope, schedule, and customer management. They then compared the numbers with the same charges in a current project.

The manager spent 27 hours less per year. This did not include the higher level of tasks or the higher quality of performance. Using a very conservative $100/hour, the savings appeared to be $2,700. A $130 membership spent corellated to an ROI of 20 times.

Factors such as the employee's learning curve could have contributed to the ROI. However, even with such factors accounting for 90% of the gain, the ROI was still 2:1.

If you consider that an employee creates value greater than the rate of pay (otherwise, why employee him?), then that 2:1 ROI leverages back into a higher ratio again; and the higher the level of the employee, the greater the leverage.

Even ignoring the many difficult-to-measure benefits, subsidizing membership fees yields a far higher return than most company dollars return.


1. Pulse of the Profession (TM) In-Depth Report: Talent Management. Project Management Institute. 2013.

2.  Ibid.

3.  Project Management Talent Gap Report. Project Management Institute. 2012.

12 March 2013

Difference between Quality Assurance and Quality Control

Major Differences between QA and QC

The difference between Quality Assurance (QA) and Quality Control (QC) can easily get lost among all the words. Some simple contrasts will help separate the two in your mind.
1. QA is primarily proactive. QC is primarily reactive.
2. QA focuses on the methods. QC focuses on the results.
3. QA uses some statistical methods to analyze how work is done, but QC uses a lot of measurements and statistics to make sure you get the right results.
4. QA's scope how the project gets done, whereas QC's scope includes how well the work got done and how well the product or service meet the requirements.
Putting those together, Quality Assurance assures you will get the product or service right by making sure the work gets done using the best methods. Quality Control measures and analyzes to control the quality of the product, service, or project execution, and to verify whether it meets the requirements.
If you view your studies of QA and QC with this framework in mind, the rest of the differences will make a lot more sense.
I like food, so let's use a restaurant as an example.  Normally a restaurant would be Operations (not Project), so let's assume that our fine establishment will cater an event and, therefore, Chef Boyardee has a project to manage.

QA (proActive Execution) may find weaknesses in processes or standards due to problems that have occurred. For example, Waiter A wanted to take a break, but Waiter B did not know to whom to deliver the food. We have identified a new stakeholder requirement: Waiters need the ability to hand off orders to each other.

The head waiter improves the process by requiring all waiters to include the table number and seat code for each order. Thus, QA reacts to the problem, focuses on the processes and tools, and enables improvements to the project.

QC (reactive Control) may find a trend indicating an approaching problem. The Chef inspects the food before it is served and notices less steam rising from the tandoori vegetables. Although the food is still acceptable, the temperatures are trending downward.

Before customers start receiving food below the Lower Control Limit of temperature, the Chef determines that the tandoori cook's burners are not getting enough propane. The Chef alerts the cook, who swaps in a fresh propane tank.

Thus, QC Monitored the product, analyzed the data, performed a Root Cause Analysis, and enabled proactive control of an issue before it became a problem.
Warnings about Generalizations
Remember, "proactive" and "reactive" are generalization to differentiate the two processes. QA (proActive Execution) can be reactive and QC (reactive Control) can be proactive, as well.
Is it safe to say that QA involves polices and procedures ... while QC involves actual work on a product or service?
Yes, as a generalization, it is "safe to say that QA involves polices and procedures ... while QC involves actual work on product or service."
One important note: Process and procedure are ambiguous terms, and every organization has its own definitions of them. Both QA and QC can initiate improvements to (processes or procedures).
For example, one level of (process or procedure) might instruct personnel to collect the materials and drawings, then have the machinist construct the widget, then have QC inspect it.
Another level of (process or procedure) might instruct the machinist how to program the machine, mount the raw materials, push the buttons, release and label the widget, dispose the scrap, and prepare the machine for the next task.
From that point of view, QA might perform quality audits to verify that a high level (process or procedure) is being followed, but QC might verify that a detail-level (process or procedure) was followed correctly and with the right results. Both QA and QC involve (processes or procedures).
Reminder:  This discussion is just about the major differences. When you look at the details and the ambiguous terms makes it confusing, refer back to the big picture for perspective.

11 March 2013

Slack, Float, and Critical Path Methodology

So as the PM I want to locate the longest path, because it will assure that I meet the project deadline.
Correct. But don't look for the "longest path," look for the "critical path." They are the same, but when you say critical path, you indicate that you know the best way to find it.
The shortest path, which has no slack, tells you as the PM that you will not be able to meet the deadline for the project.
Forget 'shortest path.' What tells you that you will not be able to meet the deadline is an end-to-end path having "negative slack." More about that later.
Slack is about an individual activity. Float is about how that activity's slack relates to the activities around it. They are the same thing viewed from slightly different perspectives.
Here's a source of confusion that I have yet to seen or hear anyone explain: For the critical path, we look for a path from the Start to Finish that has either zero or a negative number for the slack of all its activities. When we talk about a path that has slack (for example, 2 days), however, we talk about that single branch, not about a whole Start-to-Finish path.
Did you do connect-the-dots pictures as a child? Lets do a mental experiment. Imagine replacing all the boxes in a network diagram with their slack numbers. If there is enough time to do the project, you will see a path of zeroes from Start to Finish. In your mind, go over that path with a highlighter. That is the critical path. The durations of those boxes add up to the shortest time in which the project can be completed.
Suppose you add up the durations of the activities along the critical path, and the sum is 42 days. If the deadline is in seven weeks (49 days), then you have enough time.
If Sales promised the customer the project would be done in 40 days, but the project requires 42 days, then instead of having zeroes along the critical path, you will have negative twos (-2s). This is called negative slack. You will need to use schedule compression techniques to reduce the length of the project.
Note that the last two paragraphs involved only the critical path activities. None of the paths that you did not highlight in the first paragraph matter. They are all irrelevant -- up to this point.
Slack is also called "float" because you can move the activity forward up three days. Imagine a small cereal bowl floating in a large sink. It has room to float around. The bounds within which it can float are set by the edges of the sink. Similarly, an activity with positive slack can float within bounds set by parallel activities in the critical path.
Here's another confusing point. Suppose activities B and C are parallel to each other. That is, both can start as soon as activity A is done, but both must by done before activity D can start.
Activity B
Slack = 2 days
Duration = 4 days
Activity C
Slack = 0 days
Duration = 6 days
How long will the path that contains Activity B take? If you answered, 4 days, think again. Suppose activity A ends on day 10. Activity C takes 6 days, so activity D cannot start until day 16. So how long does the path containing activity B take? The path takes 4 days of activity plus two days of slack. It takes the same time as the longer activity (C) that it parallels.
Two activities done in parallel cannot be completed any faster than the longer activity. For this reason, it is a waste of time to look for "shorter" Start-to-Finish paths.
Activities or paths with slack (float) do not affect how long the project takes. However, there are two exceptions.
First, if the PM uses schedule compression techniques to shorten the project (for example, from 42 days to 40 days), then at least some of the activity durations or the relationships between activities change.
When the PM recalculates how long the project will take, the critical path may change. One critical path activity that had -2 slack might now have a slack of 1, so it is no longer on the critical path; and another activity that formerly had a slack of +1 and was not on the critical path may now have a slack of zero and lie on the critical path.
Second, every activity has risk. You can lower the risk of a non critical path activity by starting it early. You cannot do that with a critical path activity, so it carries more risk. If something goes wrong with a non critical path activity, if it takes long enough, it can still prevent the start of a critical path activity that follows it. On paper during planning, it does not affect the project's duration, but during execution, it can.
I hope I clarified more than I confused. Good luck!

08 March 2013

Forcing versus Withdrawal for Conflict Resolution

Is it true that the Forcing conflict resolution technique is worse than Withdrawal?

Withdrawal can have negative or positive consequences. On the negative side, left to themselves, people may escalate the conflict to the point that the PM loses control. While time passes, risks may evolve into issues, or issues into problems.

On the other hand, people may calm down and consider each others' needs and opinions. In time, they may voluntarily find ways to meet all needs, or at least reach a compromise. They might also find a new solution. So the problem may solve itself. It's important for the PM to respect the team's ability to solve problems and allow them "space" to do so.

Forcing always has losers and creates the risk of driving a less-than-optimal solution. People don't disagree about issues unless somebody sees an aspect that the others do not see. Odds are, if you force a solution, you've missed an opportunity to find a better solution.

Forcing also implies showing disrespect for the "losers," so it demotivates them. Their decrease in performace can becomes a drag to the team. The negative feelings and the drag, in turn, affects the whole team's performance.

You may not have time to find better solutions. Although forcing ranks as the worst technique, circumstances may force you to use it. If you force a solution, you need to follow up with the "losers" to identify the negative consequences. This shows respect for their needs and their perceptions. It also allows you to find ways to mitigate any shortcomings in the forced solution.

06 March 2013

The Lobbyist on the Project Management Team

You are the project manager in an aircraft manufacturing company developing a new range of supersonic fighter planes. Since government approval and involvement are essential, you hire a lobbying firm to get government support to prevent unnecessary changes in your project. Which process is this an example of? (Source unknown)
While aircraft manufacturers conduct some research into designs and materials that they can incorporate into new aircraft, governments usually sponsor development of fighter jets.
Scope creep happens in almost all defense projects.
For example: 
  • The Defense Department wants the aircraft to provide certain capabilities for the Air Force.
  • Then the Navy wants compromises in the design so the jets can take off from carriers.
  • The Army and Marines add their particular use cases.
  • Allies want introperability with their systems.
  • Later, one politician wants to cut costs,
  • another wants the aircraft to use inadequate landing gear designed by the manufacturer in his home town,
  • and over 600 politicians and thousands of bureacrats want to influence the project.
  • Meanwhile, competitors and the nation's adversaries develop new technologies to which the designers must respond.
  • And one of the political parties, along with the press, begin mocking your aircraft by calling it an Imperial Tie Fighter.
If you let it, the politics will multiply the cost twentyfold, drag out the schedule an extra 15 years, and make your company a laughingstock. By the time of the first production run, the aircraft will already be obsolete.
The same sort of changes can happen in any project. One way to control the risk of scope change is to refuse to make changes, but too little flexibility can create customer dissatifaction and cost you future business.
For a better way to reduce the risk of scope creep, maintain close personal relationships with the stakeholders, keep them informed of the costs of changes, and negotiate agreements that best serve the business case.
The PM cannot always do this, so the company hires a lobbyist with exceptional people skills and knowledge of the bureacratic systems. The lobbyist uses various methods to convince the politicians and bureaucrats to resist tinkering with the project requirements.
In process terms, hiring a lobbyist does not proceed from the Project Communications Management processes. Lobbying does not contribute directly to producing the product or providing a service. A first pass through the Identify Stakeholders and Plan Communications processes would assume everything goes as planned and would focus on required reporting and coordination. The lobbyist's job goes far beyond that.
If the team identifies scope creep as a risk, they make a note to consider it later when they follow the Identify Risks process. They would, at that time, add recruiting a lobbyist to the Risk Management Plan portion of the integrated Project Management Plan.
Don't forget that, as a member of the project team, the lobbyist becomes a stakeholder. For example, the team must add the lobbyist's tasks to the WBS and estimated costs during the next iteration of project planning. They must also consider the lobbyist's information needs during the next iteration of the Project Communications Management processes.