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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

Friday, 27 March 2015

Tips on handling stress and worry

As a Project Manager you are likely to be under stress at times and may suffer from worry which isn't good for health or job performance. In this post I offer a few personal thoughts and tips how you may better handle such things.
Project Management Stress

Be where you are

This bit of advice was given to me many years ago and I always remember the strap line. Basically it is saying when you are in work, focus on the work situation and put other things outside work to one side. Similarly, it is important to have a break and when you are away from work try and switch off and don't think about the project situation. I know this is sometimes easier said than done but distract yourself with other interests. I personally find sports exercise is good to help in this regard.

Also make sure you look after your health and rest appropriately outside work; if you are tired at work this will only make stress management more difficult.

Don't worry about things you can't control

It is obvious but some people worry about things that they have no control over and it has no value at all so recognise the situation and stop!

Analyse and Act to overcome worry about things you can control

Firstly, if you have some control, do things in order of importance - don't do the easy thing and leave the difficult (and more important) thing to fester in the back of your mind

Then analyse the situation (with your team if necessary), define the problem with as many facts as possible and devise possible solutions then ACT! As a Project Manager you have a whole range of tools at your disposal which can be used in different circumstances.

A laugh a day keeps the stress away!

Those that have worked with me know that I like a bit of humour and the odd personal wind-up. This has multiple benefits. Mentally it helps me relax and helps keep a sense of proportion on the project situation. It also helps team bonding in my view, although the odd person may not like and so you need to adjust accordingly.

Don't react the wrong way in stressful situations

Always try and remain calm and controlled when in a stressful situation; just because others may be ranting you don't need to. I make a big effort on this point and try to just calmly lay out the points of the "discussion". There is little to be gained in the long term by a heated argument.

Similarly, don't try and get even with stakeholders that have criticised you, it may seem tempting but has little value. In a lot of cases you can view an unjust criticism as a disguised compliment ;-)

Serenity Prayer

Consider this short prayer authored by Reinhold Niebuhr:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Lastly...

Analyse your own performance in stressful situations and work out what to do better next time - you are human and won't always get it right.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Configuration Management - boring to some but an important piece of the Project jigsaw

Mention Configuration Management and you can see many people's eyes glaze over. Well, boring it might be (to some) but it is a quite important piece of the jigsaw to get in place for the success of most Projects and is of vital importance in the vast majority of IT Projects. If you read some definitions of Configuration Management you may think that they have been drafted by a legal department - long sentences with many big words. So the objective of this post is to demystify and give a simple guide of things to get right on your Project regarding Configuration Management.
Configuration Management - a vital piece of the Project jigsaw

Some definitions

Here are some definitions I have dug out from the web. Comprehensive no doubt but not great for readability so just scan and move on!
  • PMBOK - a collection of formal documented procedures used to apply technical and administrative direction and surveillance to: identify and document the functional and physical characteristics of a product, result, service, or component; control any changes to such characteristics; record and report each change and its implementation status; and support audit of the products, results, or components to verify conformance to requirements. It includes changes, documentation, tracking systems, and defined approval levels necessary for authorizing and controlling changes.
  • PRINCE2 - the technical and administrative activity concerned with the creation, maintenance and controlled change of configuration throughout the life of a product (or item)
  • Software Engineering Institute - a discipline for evaluating, coordinating, approving or disapproving, and implementing changes in artefacts that are used to construct and maintain software systems. An artefact may be a piece of hardware or software or documentation. CM enables the management of artefacts from the initial concept through design, implementation, testing, baselining, building, release, and maintenance
  • ITIL - Process responsible for maintaining information about Configuration Items (CI) required to deliver an IT Service, including their Relationships. This information is managed throughout the Lifecycle of the CI

Benefits of Configuration Management to your Project

The minimum benefits of Configuration Management to your Project are:
  1. It enables management of Project products. So for example, if something "goes wrong" with a product it will enable you to find out who changed it and what changes were made. Without it, you can't be sure what version of documents are being approved as "fit for purpose".
  2. Without it, you have no basis for Change Management. With Configuration Management in place you understand the status of each product and the relationships between items. So it is a tool for Impact Assessing changes.
Depending on the type of Project it can be vital to control a huge number of lower level components. In IT Projects for example, a tailored software tool is often utilised to manage the complexities here, see later.

Start with documents produced by the Project

Any documents produced by the Project should be under Configuration Management control. A check-list of what this means is:
  1. Do you, as Project Manager, have a list of at least the major documents to be produced by the Project both management and technical including status? I like to combine this with my "Quality Plan" for the documents, see my post on the subject
  2. Each document should have a "Control section" defining the configuration control of the document such as where the master copy is stored (e.g. SharePoint site), the current version of the document and the change history (who changed the document, when and how in summary form). Again, I like to see elements of the Quality plan in this section, who is reviewing and approving the document.
  3. With regard to the Control section when I say EVERY document I mean it. I am amazed to find sometimes complex spreadsheet documents without configuration control. For my Projects, every key document which happens to be spreadsheet always has the first tab labelled CONTROL with this information in. The same applies if you are using a presentation software like PowerPoint etc etc. So, remember that ALL documents are to be configuration controlled.
  4. If your Project file is a shared server location then you should include the version of the document in the filename e.g. "Title v0-1.doc". 
  5. If you are using a SharePoint site, then I suggest that you setup to maintain version control, check in / out etc. In this instance please do NOT include the version number in the document filename as you should have one URL for the document at the current version (which I believe should be maintained within the document, not rely on the SharePoint version history, this is just an extra insurance policy!)

Other tools depend on the complexity of the Products within your Project

The example which I am most familiar with is Software Configuration Management tools for IT Projects. You certainly need a tool such as TFS, PVCS, the free SVN etc, there are many such tools with differing capabilities.

As well as basis configuration management across a lot of small components that may go to make up a delivered software solution, things they may support which are important to an IT Project Manager are:
  • ability to maintain multiple versions of components in differing baselines - this is often called code branching and is important as if your Project is changing a software application already in Production use. If so, the minimum you are likely to require is a Production branch (for support team use) and a Project branch - on some Projects I have been involved with, the situation has been somewhat more complex and without a good tool, clear processes and much policing we would have failed!
  • Along with code branching are capabilities to compare and merge code between branch lines
  • Ability to undertake automated unit / other testing sometimes as a quality check as part of allowing a check-in
  • Ability to create "builds" of software
  • Possibly deployment of builds to environments 
  • Etc Etc

Conclusion

Hopefully you now have a high level understanding of the subject of Configuration Management. Most important is the minimum to get in place with regard to your Project documentation. Good luck with your own Project jigsaw puzzle, Configuration Management can help you solve it!

Sunday, 1 March 2015

There is a balance to strike between Planning and Action

I am one of the biggest proponents of the benefits of Planning in Project Management. But as in many things in life, a strength can become a weakness if you are totally blinkered by it. This post examines this conundrum as Planning without Action is futile while Action without Planning is Fatal.
Projects - Planning without action is futile, Action without planning is fatal
The sad fact of life is that the delivery date you come up with from Initiation is often likely to be later than your customer would like. Very often the organisation will only start realising benefits after delivery is complete so later delivery equals later benefits. You also need to deal with a perception that "nothing is happening" in the Initiation stage of the Project.

Plan the Plan - manage expectations for Initiation Stage 

Your first plan as a Project Manager should be a plan to produce the Project plan and Project Definition generally i.e. the Initiation Stage in PRINCE2. This can be used to manage expectations within stakeholders regarding "real" progress. Of course ensuring the Project is properly understood, defined and planned is a key foundation for Project Success but many stakeholders may not see it like this.

Is there any technical activity which can be started during Initiation?

My advice is not to be too purist with PRINCE2 and establish early whether there are some technical activities which can be undertaken while Initiation is happening. For example, this might be up-skilling some of the proposed Project team on a piece of new technology or flushing out Business Requirements in more detail. Be sure to agree these activities with your Sponsor especially if additional project spend is incurred. 

Conclusion

Planning is an important bedrock of Project Management but do not take this to excess and always look for opportunities to commence some early work at known risk and cost. Also be careful to manage stakeholder expectations during the Project Initiation phase because some will believe you are resting up!

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