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Can't speak English? No problem!!

Why the Sheepdog Analogy?

A Project Manager is a necessary evil. Why? Well, the PM doesn't produce anything - write code, lay concrete or whatever. However, don't have one and see what happens!

Always telegraph your Punches as a Project Manager

Sometimes as a Project Manager you need to throw a "Project Manager punch" but not a literal one please!

Isaac Newton's contribution to Project Management

Newton's laws, especially his first law of motion, should be as important to a Project Manager as it is to a Physicist. Why?

O Sponsor, Sponsor! wherefore art thou Sponsor?

You are given a project to run. Amongst your early questions should be, "who is the Sponsor?"

Always remember the Human side

It is very easy to get hung up in the technical and management side of Projects and forget that they need to be delivered by human teams. So "Always remember the human side" is the key phrase!

Why writing a Project Status Report is not a chore

I've met several Project Managers who view writing any Project status report as a chore. I think the opposite.

Planning is the key Project Management discipline

I have been asked a few times, "What are the top xx things to focus in on as a Project Manager? If pressed, I always fall back to Planning

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Project Scheduling Exercise "Cup of Tea" Workings

In a previous post I have set a simple Project scheduling exercise around making a Cup of Tea. This post includes my workings for the answers to the questions set. If you haven't yet tried the exercise, you might want to have a go before reading this in detail. Do you agree with my results?
Project Cup of Tea

The Cup of Tea schedule not yet levelled

Here is the schedule before any levelling has taken place. The column marked "Crit" shows the critical tasks and the finish milestone is at 14:30

Project Cup of Tea - Un-levelled Schedule

Showing the same information in a Gantt chart, the critical tasks are show in Red

Project Cup of Tea - Gantt Chart Un-levelled

Note that at 10:00 David is doing too many tasks or as Project Manager would say, he is over-allocated. The process to remove this over-allocation is to level the schedule.

Levelling the Cup of Tea Schedule

Most tools have specific views to allow you to manually level the resource over-allocations. Below is a typical view:
Project Cup of Team - Levelling views
It shows the effort allocations for David with a Gantt view below. See the 5 mins of effort by resource David for task "Pour boiling water into Mug".

A example Levelled Cup of Tea Schedule

Below is the schedule after levelling has taken place:
Project Cup of Tea - Levelled Schedule














Most of David's non critical tasks have been moved to be in parallel to the long task "Boil Kettle" (with little effort for David). However there was also over allocation of tasks to David near the end of the schedule and eliminating this has pushed the finish milestone out to 14:50.

Adding resources to the Cup of Tea Schedule

You can only get back to the original duration built from the Critical Path. I would have a team mate "Rinse spoon, dry and return to drawer". This saves 20 minutes and returns the schedule to finish at 14:30. The other levelling of tasks for David in parallel to "Boil Kettle" are retained.

Finally, any other ideas for reducing the overall Project duration?

I have seen people "pour the milk into the Mug" in parallel to "Let tea brew in Mug". This shortens the duration but unfortunately it reduces the temperature of the liquid and thus the quality of the brewing process. Which only goes to show that Project short cuts may get it delivered quicker but will it still meet the Project Quality criteria?

Project Scheduling Exercise "Cup of Tea"

I've been asked a number of times to do a bit of adhoc training on use of Project scheduling tools such as Microsoft Project. In this post I have given some background to modern scheduling tools and have posed a simple exercise which can be attempted by learners and experts alike. The workings for (my version of) the answers are made in a separate Post.
Project Cup of Tea

Some useful history for younger folk!

Critical Path Analysis alongside Project Evaluation and Review Technique were developed in the 1950s as techniques to help model Projects, have a read about them if interested. My first degree was in Civil Engineering and at University I learnt these techniques the hard way, by hand calculation! 

Now software tools do all the hard work but in some you can break the golden rules of the technique so I like to keep things simple and in line with what I learnt was needed to produce a valid network:
  • a Start and End milestone for the Project
  • all tasks in between these two points have predecessor and successor tasks 
Software tools often allow Work Breakdown Structures (WBS) to be documented in the schedule but encourage bad habits like dependencies linked to summary tasks.

(Read down later for definitions)

The Project - Making a Cup of Tea

What better example Project for an Englishman than to make a cup of tea. The Project work area is the worktop around a electric kettle in a kitchen. All non human Project resources are available in the kitchen and to start with let us make the Project Manager (David) do all the real work for a change :-) 

I have listed the Project tasks, durations, effort and task predecessors as follows. I don't mind you criticising my scheduling skills but please don't criticise my approach to make a good cup of tea except that I should really be using a teapot! 


Project Cup of Tea - Task List
However when scheduling the Project I am going to use Minutes rather than Seconds for Duration and Effort to make the schedule more visible in most tools.

Other Project information is:
  • Start date is 1 January 2015 at time 10:00
  • There are no periods of non working to account for
  • Remember to enter task duration & effort in minutes not seconds
  • All tasks are carried out by one resource named David (to start with)
So please get scheduling and answer the questions below

Questions about Cup of Tea Project Schedule

Your questions are as follows:
  1. What task numbers are on the critical path for the basic network?
  2. If there is no consideration of over allocated resources, what is the earliest finish time of your Project?
  3. If you remove the overallocation of tasks to David, what is the earliest finish time of your Project?
  4. If you bring in as many team-mates as you like to help David, reallocating some of the tasks to these folk (but nobody is over-allocated work), what is the earliest finish time of your Project now and how many people did you require? 

Definitions and other Help

Here are some definitions and general help for you:
  • Task - a specific item of work
  • Milestone - an event; it has no duration or effort. Typically used to denote a significant event such as the completion of a phase of the project or of a set of tasks
  • Duration - the elapsed time to complete a task
  • Effort - the amount of actual work required (in time units) for a particular task. A good illustration in the example "Cup of Tea" plan is the task "Boil Kettle". The effort required is minimal (basically to throw the switch) but the duration is governed by the amount of water, the temperature of the water poured into kettle and the capacity of the heating element
  • Task Predecessor - A task that must be started or finished before another task or milestone can be performed
  • Over-allocated Resource - a resource has been allocated more work in the plan than can be achieved in the available time 
  • Resource Levelling - process to remove the over-allocation (and ideally under-allocation) of resources and as far as possible avoid peaks and troughs in the resource schedule. Some tools allow this to be done at a click of a button but I have never had much success with this and prefer to do by hand guided by specific views setup. In a real-world project I will allow some over allocated resources (within reason) because estimates may not be correct and overtime can be used
  • Work Breakdown Structure - decomposition of high level project deliverables into tasks and sub-tasks
  • Critical Path - typically the path through the schedule of tasks which determines the shortest duration for the project. If any task on the critical path is delayed this will delay the completion of the project.

Answers

The answers for the questions posed above are:
  1. 1,14 (start and end milestones) and in terms of real tasks, 4, 6, 7, 8, 11, 12 
  2. 14:30
  3. 14:50
  4. 14:30 with one extra person

Friday, 8 August 2014

"Fall under a Bus" Resource Risk Analysis

At various times in both Project planning and execution you may need to make a worse case risk assessment across your team. You need to look across the team answering the question, "how will we cope if person "x" is suddenly not available?" Without trying to be too macabre, I like to focus attention by calling it a "Fall under a bus" assessment!
"Fall under a Bus" Project Resource Risk Assessments

General approach to assessment and contingency planning

Look for weak points in your Project Team organisation in regard of the "fall under bus" scenario. You may have Single Points of Dependency (SPODs) in the team. I typically will raise specific risks for SPODs. 

Then as part of the Risk Management strategy you need to decide how to address? Sometimes you can introduce a deputy or "number 2" for SPODs, sometimes budget constraints mean that your management strategy is to Accept the risk. It may be worth highlighting these in your Project Definition if assessed during Initiation or Status Report if assessed during Project execution.

Example - IT Implementation Planning

A specific example for "under a bus" Resource Risk assessment is regarding IT Implementation events. Here your Team under assessment is the people you will need to involve (typically out of hours) to undertake the implementation and live proving of the change.

I write this post as I am planning a rather large change with only one decent change window available per year due to the length of time the change will take. It will also require a significant team working 24 hours a day over several days. For this I have developed a specific spreadsheet to help aid assessment and record decision making.
"Fall under bus" Resource Risk spreadsheet example
By scoring each person involved in the implementation for importance to the event and a score for the likelihood of not being available and multiplying and sorting the list it gives focus on the assessment. The Risk Management approach may be:
  • Eliminate Risk - swap out resource
  • Cross skill team - with documentation and practices as necessary so someone else could pick up certain tasks in the worst case scenario
  • Substitute contingency - similar to cross skill except that the person will only be involved if the main person is unavailable
  • Increasing resources - in key areas
  • Transfer risk - involve a 3rd party who has a bigger pool of resources to cater for such circumstances but you should assess the risk related to the specific implementation approach being used
  • Accept risk

Friday, 1 August 2014

Tips on Building your Project Budget

I have previously posted about Planning and Estimating but another key aspect of Initiating a project is producing a Budget. Here are some tips on my approach to this activity.
When to produce your Project Budget

When to prepare Budget?

As suggested in the cartoon, the budget preparation is best done towards the end of Project Initiation when you have an idea what you are doing in the project, have undertaken planning, estimating etc and produced your Resource plan. 

How to produce the Project Budget?

There are some people who suggest that once you produce a detailed Project plan in your chosen scheduling tool (e.g. Microsoft Project), you press a button or two and then you have created the guts of your budget. I am not one of those people! If you have someone working within your plan for only half a day, in 95% of cases the project will need to fund that person for the whole day! Also you need to recognise that you may suffer from Planner's Droop.

I use a spreadsheet to determine the base budget and then consider contingency separately. Working in IT projects, most costed resources are human although the spreadsheet can handle other elements.

Project Budget creation and tracking spreadsheet
The key elements of such a spreadsheet
  • A weekly calendar throughout the project duration. If there are known public holidays, these can be marked
  • As I am a great advocate of the use of PRINCE2 Stages I mark the stage in each week so the spreadsheet can produce a base Stage budget as well as the overall project budget
  • You list every item which will be charged to the project from your planning with a day rate. As I use the same spreadsheet to track spend against budget (and most resources book in hours), I have a means of translating cost to hours but I find it easier to budget in days
  • Populate the cost profile for each item against the weekly calendar. So for human resources consider when they are brought into the project team, will they charge full time or part time and when they will be rolled off the project
  • Non human resources can be entered in the spreadsheet at the time the cost is likely to be incurred. So if something cost £5000, I would normally have the "day rate" as £1000 and put "5 days" against the week of planned spend.

Contingency

You then need to consider your Project or Stage contingency fund which is in addition to the base budget. You have a number of ways of assessing what fund is required.
  1. The most straightforward way is review the Risk Log, use your judgement and view of historic projects (e.g. have the project team done similar projects before? is this a particularly risky project?) and choose a percentage of the base budget. A very rough guide might be 5% for a low risk project up to 30% (and above) for higher risk projects. Percentages can be misleading as a small project base budget may need a higher percentage.
  2. There are a number of "pseudo science" approaches to better assess the contingency fund required such as have a risk cost per risk, multiple by probability and sum to get a fund. I must admit that although I may use this approach to guide me, I will also factor in judgement as per method #1. Where this approach is mandated (e.g. a PMO), it is usually possible to fiddle the numbers to get to the fund you think you need, but don't tell anyone ;-)
  3. Sometimes you may be working with a client who doesn't believe in contingency funds. Then you might want to consider sandbagging to give you some wiggle room (e.g. holding some additional funds by hiding resources you don't need unless you have a problem, overestimating day rates, extending durations etc). Not that I have ever done such underhand tactics ;-)

Other considerations

  1. What costs can be capitalised? This will assist the business case
  2. What taxes need to be included in the budget e.g. VAT

Business Case implications

Once you have worked out your required budget as above and agreed this with your Sponsor, between the two of you, the Business Case should be updated to ensure the Project is still viable. If a pre-defined budget constraint is exceeded then potentially the scope or plan / resourcing can be adjusted to reduce the required budget, maybe at higher risk. In any event, the viability of the Business Case needs to be assessed in line with the other aspects of the Project Definition

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