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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

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Earned Value - a simplified approach for Product Based Planners

Earned Value Management (EVM) is a technique for objective measurement of Project progress and performance. However, it is a technique which has divided views within some in the Project Management community. Some people I have met believe it is an essential measure to be implemented within all Projects. Others suggest that the effort and rigour necessary to measure properly can outweigh the benefit depending on the scale of the Project or Programme. 

However, if you utilise the Product Based Planning approach suggested by PRINCE2, I believe there is an opportunity to produce some simplified Earned Value measurements with a little extra effort which can be helpful for Monitoring and Control in most projects. Let me take you through a step by step approach which I have tried in a couple of Projects.
Project Earned Value

Earned Value concepts recap (simplified)

Earned Value allows a combined measurement of Scope, Time and Cost, key elements that a Project Manager should be Monitoring and Controlling.

The two key measures are:
  • Planned Value (PV) - a valuation of work planned. It is also known by EV purists as Budgeted Cost of Work Scheduled (BCWS) 
  • Earned Value (EV) - a valuation of work which has taken place. It is also known as Budgeted Cost of Work Performed (BCWP)
You plan PV in line with your baseline project plans and budgets and then monitor EV against the PV baseline during the execution life-cycle. The full technique shows the progress of a project taking into account the work complete, the time taken and the costs incurred to complete that work

The simplified approach detailed in this post doesn't directly consider costs but uses an intuitive relative value based on the importance of particular Products.

Product Based Planning recap

Product Based Planning is a useful PRINCE2 planning concept where you focus on the artefacts to be delivered rather than the activities - I covered the approach in this post. The Products should be listed in a "Product inventory" spreadsheet as part of your quality planning as I covered in this post.

Step 1 - Produce your Product Quality Plan Inventory

This is standard planning and Estimating around the Product Based Planning technique:
  1. Identify the Products
  2. Produce Product Flow Diagram if necessary
  3. Estimate the effort to produce and quality assure
  4. Build your plan & schedule
  5. Produce your Project Quality Plan Inventory. Key points: 
  • Don't forget non Document based Products
  • For documents you record the planned date for production of a good draft version and the date you plan to be baselining the document following the quality process and any modifications
  • For non document Products you need to do a similar process, with the "draft" date and "fully quality assured" date captured

Step 2 - Add 3 columns PV, EV% and EV


Now add 3 columns to the spreadsheet and populate as follow:
  1. Weighted Planned Value (PV) - this needs a bit of thought and I suggest a relative "weighted" value with 1.0 as a default, lower values for less important Products (e.g. maybe some Management products are less valuable than some Technical products?) and higher values for particularly important Products (e.g. in IT Projects, a Requirements catalogue, Design document etc might be deemed higher value than a Training plan?)
  2. Earned Value % (EV%) - Percentage of the total value earned. So 100% would be the particular Product having gone through all quality assurance processes and deemed fit for purpose and baselined. I give further guidance in the next step.
  3. Earned Value (EV) - This is simply PV * EV% at the individual Product level - so when EV% is 100% the earnt value of the Product in question will be the weighted Planned Value

Step 3 - logic to calculate EV% from Product Status

Add some logic (VLOOKUPs) to calculate EV% from the Product status such as the following which work for Documents but need some thought for non Document Products:
  • Not Started = 0%
  • Being drafted = 20%
  • Draft Issued into Quality review process = 50%
  • Partially approved = 70% (i.e. at least one of the designated approvers has signed off the document but not all of them in line with the Quality Plan)
  • Fully approved = 100%
As per the picture taken from a real Project example, the PV sum (for all Products in the Inventory) is the target final Earned Value state at the end of the Project while the EV sum (for all Products in the Inventory) is the actual total at the point in time. So for the example, the final Earned Value for the Project is 33.9 while the current Earned Value for the point in time is 11.4. 

These are somewhat meaningless relative values so in the next step I suggest we move to a percentage of total value over time view e.g. 100% of Project value is when we achieve the absolute value of 33.9
Project Earned Value from Product Planning - Product Inventory

Step 4 - Create the plan of total Earned Value against time

You need to create the plan of how you expect the Earned Value to accumulate over time which I do in a separate sheet within the same workbook. This uses the baseline Draft Issued and Fully Approved dates as follows:
  1. Get all products, baseline date for draft and amount of PV introduced
  2. Get all products, baseline date for fully approved and amount of extra PV added (don't forget you have accounted for the draft value)
  3. Sort by ascending date
  4. Add a cumulative column
  5. Remove duplicates dates if they exist
  6. Add column PV% to represent the relative values as % of total Planned Value progressing over time (divide by 33.9 in the example)
  7. Add columns to periodically enter the current "total EV" as you update your Product Inventory (see Step 5) and the representation of this as a %
Here is an example from a real Project where I tested the approach

Project Earned Value from Product Planning - Table of PV and EV

Step 5 - Periodically update the current Total EV

In your Monitoring and Control phase, as you update your Project inventory with the status of each Product, the current Total EV is shown (at the top of the EV column in the example). At (or near) a date in the Earned Value against time plan, read off the current Total EV from the inventory and enter it into the separate sheet as per the example above.

Step 6 - Graphically show Total EV versus Total PV

These results can be shown graphically and included in Project Board packs etc. Here is the same real life example from the project in 2012
Project Earned Value from Product Planning - Graph of EV versus PV


Saturday, 6 February 2016

How should a Project Manager spend his/her time?

Where should a Project Manager spend his/her time? First and foremost you need to be good at self time management as, despite what the team may think, you can normally fill your day a number of times over. This post cover my thoughts on where you should spend your time.

"Technical" work within the plan

Let us start with what isn't your priority - that is doing "technical" work within the plan. By all means lend a land if you can offer some help on technical activities but this should be ancillary to your main role as Project Manager. There is an old saying that if the plan has the Project Manager scheduled on the critical path, it is going to slip (or quality will suffer) as ensuring other activities are on track will suffer.

Monitoring and making things happen plus consider RAIDs

Once you have initiated the project and it is up and running your primary focus is making things happen as planned and ensuring that RAIDs (Risks, Issues, Assumptions, Dependencies) don't trip you up. So...
  • monitoring and controlling should take up a large part of your day. This may result in the need to chase things down and sometimes you may need to apply the PM size 9 boots! There are formal ways and informal ways of monitoring, see next section
  • there are likely to be issues or conflicts to resolve and you will need to spend part of your day here. But don't become a consistent ambulance chaser and want to have the "excitement" of helping resolve every problem! Get a handle on it and delegate where possible. Use your strategic thinking to "press the right buttons" where necessary with stakeholders and team alike
  • keep a watchful eye on Risk Management activities and the status of Risks because people can easily ignore this and as I always say, Attack the Risks before the Risks Attack you!
  • don't forget Dependency management checks and closing down any Assumptions that may have been made during Initiation

Monitoring - Management by walking about (MBWA)

I recommend getting out of your seat and doing a bit of wandering and chatting (or have a chat when you bump into folk). Showing your face to the team is good, showing interest in people is good and it is amazing what you find out by such an approach. Hopefully you can mix work and pleasure a little - learning a bit more about your team mates in an informal way can aid bonding as a team (read this post for more on the human side of teams). 

Of course MBWA is somewhat tricky when you have teams spread geographically. In such circumstances, you have to work particularly hard when you are face to face so that you can continue to dialogue (informally as well as formally) when remote.

So MBWA is useful but you will still need your formal update meetings with team leads etc which enable a structured approach to updates from the team to you and from you to the team. Get these scheduled as regular meetings in the calendar. Have a read of various posts on Monitoring & Control such as this one.

Reviewing the plan / looking ahead

You need to spend some time each week looking ahead on the plan (and then reminding the team as necessary). Due to Planner's Droop there is likely to detailed planning to be undertaken from time to time and you need to ensure that there no blockers which might cause a delay moving into the next key part of the plan. 

Note that many of the team won't be looking ahead much more than the current week, some may struggle to look ahead other than the task that is currently occupying them, maybe the next few hours ;-)

Whereas I have been suggesting getting close to your team for monitoring and control, this is a time where it is ideal to be away from the team and interruptions - see my post on comparisons to military generals

Other things which are still important but take less of your day

Other things which need to be considered across your weekly time planning

Things getting tight? - use of "daily prayers" meetings

Daily Prayers meetings are useful for focusing team members on what needs to be achieved in the particular day. These can be useful at any stage in the project lifecycle but I will certainly use them if things are tight and you need special focus to get across the line.

The form of the meeting is a short session with a team (maybe people standing to focus on short communication) where you go round everyone briefly discussing if necessary but more importantly, gaining commitment for what each team member will achieve in that day. If someone raises a blocker then you may need to discuss briefly or take offline to keep the meeting crisp, ideally 15 minutes maximum.

Conclusion

As a Project Manager you will have pressures on your time and need good time management skills to ensure that you cover a number of key activities within each week of the Project. So stop and think about what you have spent time so far in the week and what you still need to achieve in the remainder and react accordingly. 

If I was to leave you with one thought it is to spend your time on things which have the highest probability of tripping up the plan, not on things that you like doing or find easy!!

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