Why Managing Critical Path is Critical!


Practicing PMs should review their schedules on a regular basis to gauge if their project is on track or need some active management to correct any schedule deviation. If there is any deviation, there are a number of project management techniques that can be used to bring it back on schedule. This is where critical path method technique comes for the rescue!

The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) defines the critical path method or more commonly termed critical path as “the sequence of schedule activities that determines the duration of the project.” Project managers can also apply the critical path methodology technique to “determine the amount of float on various logical network paths in the project schedule network to determine the minimum total project duration.”

Critical path method is a modeling technique and is commonly used with all forms of projects, including construction, aerospace and defense, software development, research projects, product development, engineering, among others. Any project with interdependent activities can apply this method of mathematical analysis

To identify a critical task is to construct a model of the project including the following:

  • A work breakdown structure
  • Estimating the time duration required for each activity
  • And dependencies between the activities

What is a Critical Task?

A task in your project schedule becomes critical if:

  • It has no slack
  • It has a Must Start On or Must Finish On date constraint.
  • It has an As Late As Possible constraint in a project scheduled from a start date.
  • It has an As Soon As Possible constraint in a project scheduled from a finish date.
  • It has a finish date that is the same as or beyond its deadline date.

Note that a task stops being critical when it’s marked as completed, because it then can no longer affect the completion of successor tasks or the project finish date

What is Fast-Tracking?

Fast tracking means that activities that are normally done in sequence are done partially in parallel by adjusting the resource availability upfront. For instance instead of waiting for entire design of your IT project to be completed, you consider starting a chunk of development/coding work in parallel. Fast-tracking at times involves risk that could lead to increased cost and some rework later. For example if the design changes at a later stage, development work done in parallel to design may lead to complete or major re-work! So Project Managers have to evaluate based on unique situation of their projects after careful consideration of trade off.

If you’re willing and able to spend more to accelerate the schedule, fast-tracking may be a viable option for you.

Crashing the project schedule

“Crashing” the schedule means to throw additional resources to the critical path without necessarily getting the highest level of efficiency.

For instance, let’s say one person was working on a ten-day activity on the critical path. If you were really hard pressed to shorten this timeframe, you might add a second resource to this activity. Additional resources may come from within the project team, or they may be loaned temporarily from outside the team so crashing usually always leads to some additional incremental cost to the project. Additionally you may also like to evaluate following techniques depending on your project situation;

  • Schedule overtime.
  • Shorten the duration or work on a task on the critical path.
  • Change a task constraint to allow for more scheduling flexibility.
  • Break a critical task into smaller tasks that can be worked on simultaneously by different resources.
  • Revise task dependencies to allow more scheduling flexibility.

In conclusion, both Fast-Tracking and Crashing should be applied only on Critical Tasks on your project schedule, as if they are applied on non-critical tasks they won’t be much useful. Also note that Fast-Tracking is always considered first line of defense mostly because it does not increase your project cost.

Shyam Verma, PMP, ITIL
IT Project & Program Delivery Professional
LinkedIn:spverma. Twitter: Shammy11
This article is also available on blog site http://pmpower.wordpress.com
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Evolving role of Enterprise PMO


In recent years, with general adoption of IT Governance practices, Enterprise Project Management has become more critical than ever before as it is widely recognized that a project co-exists with many other projects in the enterprise, or are part of one or more programs. While the initial mandate for PMOs was to only plan and track the existing set of projects and aimed for helping project professionals, envisaged more in the lines of functional department. However, given the strategic value of PMOs in today’s fast paced enterprises, they are not necessarily limited by that original stereotype.

So in that sense, PMOs today no longer exist as isolated function that directed only to the project managers and generated project reports periodically. Even though it is still the owner of setting the organization’s Project management methodology and prioritizes future and current projects against strategic business goals. The later has equally become more important given the pace of development and time to market pressures thereby area of more sought after value

The evolution: Over the years PMO functions have become significantly broad-based from just being the body of knowledge, training and reporting but also leading delivery accountability on critical initiatives. It has assumed and rightly being leveraged by several execution centric organizations as an integral part of delivery arm or business unit. Some time structurally organized horizontally and collaborating with several business verticals and corporate functions that are engaged in delivery of critical project and programs. In that role, it can and in some enterprises already performing the role of ‘delivery assurance’ continuously setting baselines and metrics of delivery efficiency as well as providing that crucial insight in to longer term strategic planning.

The Integrator: With its continuously evolving role, today it is much more aligned with not only with technical functions (R&D and technology Labs) within the organization but also business, HR and legal functions playing much-needed ‘integrator’ role with the bigger picture mandate. Based on the knowledge of past projects, baseline technical standards & over time potential improvements, it also provides the planning confidence to set the bar right for what is feasible against what is not for execution stage.

Value for top management: PMOs provide CIOs the structure needed to both standardize project management practices and methodologies for repeatable project processes as well as business value in identifying best suited program initiatives for implementation and funding viability for achieving organizations strategic intent. . Clearly today PMOs are more strategically valuable for business leaders and senior managers including the C level executives as much as it is with project professionals in day-to-day role as it advises and champions the business initiatives with best ROI on investment for the company.

Shyam VermaPMP, ITIL

IT Project & Program Delivery Professional
LinkedIn:spverma. Twitter: Shammy11
This article is also available on blog site http://pmpower.wordpress.com

Stakeholder Analysis For Better Projects


Managing a successful project needs a high level of stakeholder management on an ongoing basis. So who are stakeholders? 

Stakeholder analysis is the process of identifying the individuals or groups that are likely to affect or be affected by the project outcome and sorting stakeholders according to their impact on the project and the impact the project will have on them. It is not only a critical process in the initiation phase of the project (best practice is to revisit it at least after each project phase if possible) but also sometime becomes factor for success of the project especially for the large enterprise wide programs. The output information helps in effectively managing the stakeholders by meeting their expectations and gaining their confidence.

Stakeholder analysis can entail below activities;

  • Capture and document the characteristics of key stakeholders.
  • Capture the interests of stakeholders in relation to the problems that the project is seeking to address
  • Capture conflicts of interests between stakeholders helping to manage such relationships later in the project
  • Capture relations between stakeholders that may enable “coalitions” of project sponsorship, ownership and cooperation
  • Identify the capacity of different stakeholders and stakeholder groups to participate
  • Capture and document appropriate level of participation by stakeholders e.g. inform, consult, partnership or all of these

So chances are more people your project impacts by its outcome and activities, it’s obvious that more people will also have some degree of influence over the projects direction in a positive or negative way. Some of these “impacted “will likely benefit directly or indirectly and will become supporters in your endeavors. Similarly people who are likely to impacted negatively by the project will block the project activities or act in a manner to delay. Hence it is important to ensure to cultivate more supporters and engage affected for managing their expectations to an extent possible without digressing on the project’s deliverables or products. Therefore it is essential to analyze these stakeholders from the perspective of your project. For simplicity, project stakeholders can be classified in following types.

Classification of Stakeholders

  1. Primary stakeholders: are those ultimately affected, either positively or negatively by an organization’s actions.
  2. Secondary stakeholders: are the ‘intermediaries’, that is, persons or organizations who are indirectly affected by an organization’s actions.
  3. Key stakeholders: have significant influence upon or importance within an organization (they can be part of either two groups above)

Managing Stakeholder expectations

Essentially you will need to develop a strong working relationship with key stakeholders. Primary or Key stakeholders are required to be engaged proactively time to time for consultation, key decisions, support and selling the benefits of project outcome to ensure the strategic objectives of the project or  program are achieved. This also draws on the robust communication management to keep these stakeholders engaged and abreast of current challenges, issues and any significant success through regular communication and in person interactions to meet their information needs. The communication plan may document who receives communications, when, how and to what level of detail. Protocols may be established including security and need to know parameters.

Key Benefits of Stakeholder analysis / Managing Expectations;

  • Influential stakeholders can be identified early and their input can then be used to shape the scope and deliverables
  • Cultivating support from the powerful stakeholders will help the engagement win more resource, thus making the project or program more likely to succeed.
  • The project and program management team identify conflicting or competing objectives among stakeholders early and draft plan to resolve the potential issues
  • By engaging and interacting with stakeholders early and frequently, the  team can ensure that they fully understand and are convinced of the benefits of project goals
Shyam Verma, PMP, ITIL
IT Project & Program Delivery Professional
LinkedIn:spverma. Twitter: Shammy11

Costing traps in IT Projects


One of the major challenges with large and complex projects (spanning several industries) is cost overruns from original budget making the initiative too expensive to be worth eventually. A noteworthy example is recently concluded Common Wealth Games held in New Delhi where the budget overran by large magnitude. While whole of that overrun may not have been due to pure project management but also governance issues but such events do compromise the position of lead Project manager and credibility of project management discipline overall. To avoid cost overruns one has to be very careful with planning of the project resources, defined deliverables and constraints from the beginning. Let’s take a common example as to what can go wrong!

So you have landed a project that has a defined and well documented scope and deliverables. You also have the required authority and power to manage the resources required to deliver the product of the project. Before you start using the resources you may want to double check who are these resources are and how much they would cost the project to deliver. This is especially true in case you are dependent on any external resource or consultant to bring in that much needed expertise your internal resources do not have. The trap essentially is the hidden costs that do not seem quite obvious in the beginning.

Let’s say you need an architect to design the database of your new application and internally either you do not have resources with relevant expertise or these resources are not available to your project. In your budget, you may have considered X Hours for this activity at the @ of Y dollars. However when this consultant arrives to start work on the database, you may realize that he needs a laptop to work on with all required software fully loaded!

Did you consider the lodging and boarding expense if applicable along with software license cost in your budget? How long will it take to get these required software and laptop to arrange? Will this consultant have any other productive project activities to do in the meantime or will those hours be a strain on your pocket? Are there any other tasks that might be impacted due to delay in database creation costing you additional dollars? It may not be possible to fully estimate all the unforeseen expenses but with some careful advance planning you can minimize the damage or have cheaper alternates in place!

Shyam Verma, PMP, ITIL
Program & portfolio mgnt professional
LinkedIn:spverma. Twitter: Shammy11

Why Corporate Culture Matters!


What exactly is corporate culture? The dictionary defines culture as “the totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions and all other products of human work and thought.”

Jason Young, maintains in his article “High Performance & Corporate Culture” that it is not a set of core values developed by a small group of people at an off-site leadership meeting. It is not always what a chief executive describes in an annual report or shareholder’s meeting. In fact, corporate culture is not always what the leadership team of an organization says or thinks it is. What an organization assumes, believes values, accepts, and promotes, produces and the way in which behavior occurs frames its corporate culture.

Why is culture so important? Strong corporate cultures outlast the influence of even the strongest leader. That’s the reason Apple will not only survive but also thrive in post Jobs era if it is able to maintain its culture that Jobs build during that last decade and half. The importance of corporate culture in success of an organization and longevity cannot be overstated. “An organization’s norms and values aren’t formed through speeches but through actions and team learning. Strong cultures have teeth. They are much more than slogans and empty promises. Some organizations choose to part ways with those who do not manage according to the values and behaviors that other employees embrace. The above is outlined by Harvard Business School professors Jim Heskett and W. Earl Sasser with co-author Joe Wheeler in their new book “The Ownership Quotient”.
Culture, the human terrain of an organization, has real bearing on organizational success and performance. It affects communication, co-operation and learning. It can help explain why changes will prompt some employees to quit even when compensation is not affected, why a talented leader may flounder in a cultural mismatch and why incentives and individual psychology alone don’t predict results. Defining and delivering on the promise your organization’s culture can deliver tremendous internal and market-facing benefits.

Nurturing corporate culture: According to Jason, “In some companies, culture develops by default. In others, culture develops in ways that are conscious, intentional, and tangible.” Noting, Southwest Airlines is one example of a company that has created a work environment where people can do their best work. In fact, in the words of its former CEO, “We are looking for a particular type of person, regardless of what job category it is. We are looking for attitudes that are positive and for people who can lend themselves to causes.”

Several organizations have built a unique corporate culture over the time to meet demands of changing global competitive market place to reap a unique advantage. I remember a mid-size Indian IT firm initiating a successful, multiyear internal campaign in late 90s to focus the centricity of customer among thousands of its employees to cultivate high quality delivery & deeper customer engagement. It was a well thought out strategy that was dictated to materialize firm’s ambition to differentiate its position among global customers & transition in to tier 1 IT vendor at global level.

This underscores the fact that, the buy in among the people of entire organization is very critical as it accelerate the motivational environment and allows people to do what they do best as they start seeing alignment between organizational values and individual behavior in broader context. The whole process needs active support from top leadership, constant communication to keep people focused on stated or desired culture.

Shyam Verma, PMP, ITIL-F,
Program & portfolio Management
LinkedIn: spverma. Twitter: Shammy1

Increasing Value of Project Management Office


The PMO does not necessarily  manage projects, so in many organizations the PMO does not have a direct project connection or it is indirect. Hence, the value proposition for a PMO can be less tangible and more subjective. A centralized PMO makes great sense to ensure that all project managers have a core set of project management skills, common processes and templates.

The PMO also acts as the owner of the project management approach and supports project managers to utilize common project management practices, procedures and process templates. In addition, the PMO will serve as a place for providing organizational view of the status of all projects and can report on the improvements being made to project outcome over time.

Although PMOs can be established to provide a narrow or broad set of services, this list includes many of the common responsibilities a full PMO would perform.The key value of a  project management office includes:

  •     Optimizes delivery cycle time due to better insight in to delivery processes
  •     Optimizes delivery costs by pruning to non value added activities
  •     Improves quality of project deliverables in mid to long run
  •     Early identification and proactive management of project issues and risks
  •     Fosters sound project management best practices
  •     Better containment and management of project scope & risks
  •     More opportunities to leverage and reuse historical project knowledge
  •     Improves accuracy of estimates by applying standard organization baselines
  •     Better communication with clients and stakeholders
  •     Improves perceptions of your organization by your clients
  •     Improves people and resource management ensuring optimized uses of scarce resources
  •     Reduces time to get up to speed on new projects by applying client specific tailored processes

At an industry level, a PMO is increasingly being seen as an important component required to the  success of projects, and hence, major contributor to the future success of the entire organization. At a more operational level, the value provided by a PMO is indispensable.

Shyam Verma, PMP, ITIL-F
Program & portfolio Mgnt professional
LinkedIn:spverma. Twitter: Shammy1

Challenges in managing global programs


  • Communication:Nearly 70% of large projects and programs fail due to poor communication. Hence it is important that you tailor your communication plan by understanding communication needs of your stakeholders in terms of
    1. Who needs what information
    2. When will they need it
    3. From who

Ensure that everyone part of the program understands their roles & responsibilities, program objectives and as some items may not be explicit. It may be possible to have different type of communication techniques for different audience e.g. sponsors & senior executives may only want executive summary with key issues and achievements in a dashboard instead of detailed report. The same thing is not true for the other stakeholders so don’t assume unless you are sure. Also know when and where to use written or verbal communication tools.

  • Language: Language is probably last frontier of international trade. More than 65% of world workforce does not speak English. Therefore it is a key challenge in most global programs. You can reduce the damage to some extent by:
    1. Using simple sentences
    2. Avoiding jargon
    3. Speaking slowly
    4. Using multiple channels
    5. Confirming understanding
    6. Seeking acknowledgements
  • Culture: In some regions business culture has significant impact on ways of life. For example in the Middle East, Islam guides most social and business behavior whereas in China, same can be said about Confucianism, Japan poses many intricacies of etiquette & protocol developed out of their uniquely hierarchical society.
  • Time zones: Though this may sound like a non-issue but pay attention here to ensure the meetings outside time zones of some teams are well notified in advance and only set to accomplish critical decisions or discussion not for routine and mundane tasks.
  • People & politics: In an outsourcing environment with multiple vendors, there are process and political challenges in knowledge transfers, hand offs and roles and responsibilities unless carefully defined in advance as older vendors had better inroads into the client’s management chain. Same can be assumed in case of an outgoing person in charge in captive IT department. Therefore it is of utmost importance to do some groundwork to have clear queries to have the information and support you need.
Shyam Verma, PMP, ITIL
Program & portfolio Mgnt professional
LinkedIn:spverma. Twitter: Shammy1