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

Calculating FTE Hours

Full-time equivalent (FTE) is a way to measure a worker’s involvement in a project. An FTE of 1.0 means that the person is equivalent to a full-time worker. Although the accepted HR  term for the “E” in FTE is “equivalent”, in colloquial usage or in project management terminology it is referred as full-time employee! FTE hours, can be used to measure whether an employee or resource is full-time, or how many students at an educational institution are full-time.

To better understand this:

  • Start with 40 hours a week

Use 40 hours a week as your default for full-time employment when calculating FTE hours for a project. Some projects may measure full-time status differently, such as 35 or 37.5 hours a week instead of 40, so be sure to adjust according to your project’s requirements.

  •   Figure out the number of hours in a pay period

Figure out the number of hours in a pay period by multiplying the length of the pay period by 40 hours a week. For example, if your pay period is 2 weeks, your total number of hours in a pay period would be 80.

  • Divide hours worked by hours in a pay period

Divide the number of hours your employee worked in a pay period by the total number of hours in that pay period. The total equals your FTE hours. If an employee worked 40 hours out of 80 hours in a pay period, your total would be 0.5 FTE. It’s that simple!

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

New Year Resolution for Project Managers!

So its only few days before the New Year 2013 comes by, did you finally make your New Year resolutions? Well…so many people already made it. Now the big question, despite the best effort, how many of them would succeed! As per some analyst of hope syndrome, most of them would fail for the simple reason of unrealistic expectations. Interestingly, among New Year resolutions of 2011 the no.1 resolution for millions happens to be “Dieting”, I was wondering what would be top resolutions of a Project Manager in to New Year.

Here are few that I think would go a long way to bring about some sure positive changes if followed with some rigor.

  1. Track time and budget effectively: After all most project have schedule or budget as one of its success criteria so have a keen eye for these numbers. Set a regular recurring time slot to review them on weekly or bi-weekly basis and don’t forget to check the data source for any further data refinement needed. You may also plot these data points for graphical view to see emerging trends especially projects sensitive to budget, schedule or both.
  2. Use checklists: Despite advancements in processes or technology, we are ever busier by day and have to deal with lot of complexity and several critical tasks competing for our attention. A checklist is a very simple quality tool but one of the most effective one to employ for those critical tasks that need to be processed or can’t be missed.
  3. Meet Effectively: Some of the common best practices to focus for next year are pretty basic but also effective. My personal favorite is to send out your meeting material at least 1 day in advance not just before meeting start time! Another thing that helps is to have a well thought out agenda and expectations from the meeting participants so they come prepared. Keeping the meeting time short and discussion on tracking items too is a greatly appreciated
  4. Safety and security: With growth of technical advancement the safety and security concern to project personnel and assets is increasing too. This could be relevant to not only the core project team but the vendors and suppliers as well. So ensure your project safety goals and security policies are well laid out, your vendors and 3rd party personnel are vetted with right set of access, physical and IT security norms are followed per requirements. Don’t forget to set aside some time slot for any mandatory training too.
  5. Own your learning plan: Learning never stops in this highly dynamic world of today. As different sectors collide and collaborate at the same time, it is as chaotic today as never before. This demands continuous and exponential knowledge curve at the individual level. This is especially true since you can no longer depend on organizations to shape and take interest in your career goals. So one must have his or her career goals clearly defined based on the individual strength and personality.
  6. Set realistic goals: we often realize that in trying to accomplish too much we set up ourselves to fail by setting goals which are too hard to achieve. The solution lies in being objective and breaking these down to smaller goals. For example instead of setting a goal to say delivering all projects on time and on budget, why not breaking it in to better scope and cost management which ultimately leads to project delays and cost overruns.
  7. Networking: Don’t hang out just with your colleagues in Project management discipline. There is a greater awareness about importance of project management and many influential people like to hear about project management. LinkedIn and other professional networking sites are great places to build these networks.
  8. Volunteer More: This is my personal favorite and the reason for that is that there are so many organizations who cannot afford a project manager due to financial constraint but believe me several of them offer much more challenging projects with great learning opportunities outside the top sectors such as IT and construction.
Shyam Verma, PMP, ITIL
Program & portfolio mgnt professional
LinkedIn:spverma. Twitter: Shammy11

Essentials of Project Kick off

For most project managers the project kick off is the first real experience in meeting and interacting with key project stakeholders.  An effective kick off meeting at the beginning of the project can give you the needed momentum and push you need to cross several initial hurdles and put you firmly on the steering wheel.  On the other hand a poorly conducted kick off can actually undermine your authority as project manager but also confuse people about the importance of the whole initiative.

I attended a project kick off meeting recently that announced a critical client organization initiative. The kick off apparently was scheduled in a jiffy and at the end of the event many felt as if the event was intended to confirm to some internal process as spirit lacked the action. Let’s understand what a kick off is all about and why you need to make it as impactful as possible;

  • Announce the start of a project

The project kick off is the official start of the project and brings the initiative in public domain. Here are some basics that you may want to take note of;

  1. Attendees: The attendees should include the core team, sponsor of the initiative, members of steering committee and other stakeholder.
  2. Project Overview: Since the objective is to bring everyone on the same page, you don’t need to drill down to the specifics of the project but a concise and clear project overview is necessary.
  3. Project Org: If possible share the project organization chart and escalation chain as a chart/diagram is easier to comprehend than spoken words.
  4. Team introduction: Introduce the members to the group and their respective roles and skill sets they bring to the project.
  5. Implementation processes: you may want to briefly touch upon the implementation process to be followed per agreement.
  6. Scope and exclusions: It is pertinent to touch upon the scope and out of scope items from the project perspective.
  • Set forth the objective and success criteria
  1. Client perspective: Emphasize on what the organization wishes to achieve & how the project outcome would benefit the sponsoring organization during the project overview.
  2. Outline benefits: This could be tangibles such as increased sales by 20% over next 3 years, a new product line or intangibles like better customer satisfaction ratings.
  3. Quantify: If you can quantify the objectives, it would have more impact and understanding. You must ensure that you are in control and everyone sees you that way!
  • Set clear expectations from support teams

There aren’t many projects where core team is doing everything that needs to be done. Apparently the effort is team based where teams interact and depend on each other shape the project product. Hence it is imperative that you:

  1. Set the right expectations and accountabilities of these teams
  2. Deliverables where you expect them to play key role.
  3. Share at least the key project milestones & deliverables

You may want to document this in your meeting minutes to seal it. Kickoff is a perfect time to provide these teams much needed heads up.

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

Project management 2.0

What really is Project Management 2.0? A project per definition is a unique, transient endeavor undertaken to achieve a desired outcome using a methodology (implicit). In recent times, the discipline has positively been influenced by growing trends in technology and social media adoption of processes, tools and agile management approaches. These major influencers combined together to deliver a more relevant, contextual and transparent practices sometimes called social project management or Project management 2.0.

How Project management 2.0 is different: The term is subject to wide interpretations but it is clear that team collaboration is at the heart of project management 2.0.The social or project management 2.0 rapidly uses innovative tools brought about by web 2.0 technologies and social media tools such as Such applications include: Blogs, Wikis, Collaborative tools or SAAS software. The advent of faster communication technologies e.g. broadband and 3G services and dramatic fall in communication costs has made virtual teams collaborate more effectively by using web conferencing and instant messaging tools.

As a result the way projects have been defined, elaborated, implemented and managed have improved over the last few years because of advantages of new set of tools and more matured methodologies in play. Thereby improving project success ratio with matured and repeatable processes. Which in turn is effecting changes in perceived project roles e.g. project team & Project Manager. The later is now recognized to be facilitator and mentor rather someone issuing orders.

Social Media Impact: Imagine the best of social media features working for you in your project! PM tools based on Project Management 2.0 or Social project management such as Wrike and Liquid planner have these featured embedded in the tools and workflows to work for you. Consider you send email to your team mail integration updating project plan for you! Micro blogging feature is an easy way to clarify things within project teams, casual discussions or avoid unnecessarily meetings. This specific feature is really designed to help virtual and remote teams work effectively without being co-located. Project is about people running the show putting a social element in the tools people use brings knowledge pool to the best use and synchronized.

Need for Project management 2.0: The traditional project management is too much dependent on project manager control and provides absolute power unto him making the project outcome dependent him. In most cases the communication channeled to the upper management through one single person e.g. PM sometimes creating a bottleneck. This not only introduced a risk element but also undervalued contribution of the diverse skills of the team. The latest PM tools driven by social media and web 2.0 make team collaboration easier and simpler. A project is led and developed by the whole team, and each team member has the full information on the project while PM oversees the process governance and manages stakeholders.

Future ahead: Project management 2.0 continues to build on Enterprise 2.0 and Web 2.0 tool set to represent power of many and or collective intelligence to create, support and present transparent operation view to the stakeholders. The evolving practice is expected to grow with underlined concepts and gain momentum. The best thing about project management 2.0 is that it allows bottom up and top down approaches to work in tandem when PM aligns those activities at the same time not only cutting routine and mundane activities but providing the complete project picture to all involved.

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

10 signs it is time to look out!

When is the right time to quit? When is too soon, or too late? I stumbled upon this interesting article on Career Joy and thought you may find it helpful! Knowing when to leave a role is one of the most important decisions that you will need to make in managing a successful career.

The Quitting Test.

  • 1. You are being asked to do something illegal or unethical.
  • 2. You get lousy or no raises (or your pay cheque bounces)
  • 3. You feel tired by 10 a.m.
  • 4. You call in sick when you aren’t sick.
  • 5. You hate your boss (or your boss hates you)
  • 6. You aren’t promoted because your company “needs you where you are”
  • 7. Your job turned out to be not what was promised
  • 8. You know you are doing a great job but don’t care.
  • 9. You gain, or lose, a substantial amount of weight.
  • 10. You have no friends outside of work.

How many of the above did you answer “yes” to?

< 4 You may need more time to discover if things can be changed for the better.
4 to 7 Get together your game plan to move forward.
>7 Start packing your career bags…you have permission to leave                                  (Source:

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

Should Project management be outsourced?

Should you outsource your project management or keep it under your own people would not be a straight answer since the decision would depend on a number of . A “project” can be viewed as an external deliverable to the enterprise or at times project is viewed more as a core strategic activity within the enterprise. If more strategic than outsourcing would be second option!

Project Management particularly in sunrise industries e.g. IT/Telecommunication is fast emerging  as a professional discipline. Over the last decade there has been considerable awareness in firms and organization to dedicate skilled & qualified people into the role instead of someone who happens to be available to coordinate. This is a welcome trend, however again organizations who do not have a governance body or core skills in PM can look for independent PM professionals or PM consulting firms who may fill the gaps.

I feel that one of the main reasons for failing projects is that the supplier side of the project also does the PM. This is also described in the PRINCE2 approach: customer and supplier have opposite Business Cases. Generally more a project spends, the happier the supplier. Cost of the customer is basically turn over for the supplier. So it is difficult to expect a supplier PM to keep the project (financially) under control unless it is a fixed bid project. Hence there is a strong case for an independent PM to manage enterprise critical project/programs where owner does not have a matured PMO organization.

Generally, the supplier who also happens to provide project Management would be more concerned for meeting what is ASKED FOR rather strategic objectives (if not asked for). Pre dominantly PM is assumed to be supplier responsibility & project fail often more due to gap in priorities of supplier and customer.

And yes, it is the customer responsibility to ensure that stated goals of the projects are well documented and measurable. If that is not done supplier cannot be held accountable for him the project is Successful if it delivers what was Asked For even if it was a waste of money for customer.

Having led several enterprise level projects myself, I found that lot many times customers themselves do not have a deep clarity on strategic goals of the project they want to initiate & not wonder as project progresses their goals too keep changing resulting in significant time delays, and more budget than planned. On top of it, once project is delivered, the usage & adoption challenges remain.Especially in IT projects, it not very uncommon scenario! Who do you think is to blame here? What kind of customer satisfaction ratings can be expected in such projects!

in case a consulting vendor is entrusted to manage end to end project, he is more likely to have a say in team with some influence from client. If he is to manage an existing team from vendor it might be some time before optimum results can be expected.

We see cases where project types changing mid way in large projects. May be it’s nice to have a T&M project type for pilot projects to understand project dynamics of a large longer term project! It would also help establish credibility of appointed Consulting PM org.

One more interesting issue that doesn’t get noticed is that management of project is more or less considered ‘free’ service by most buyers, may be that’s the reason suppliers have no option but to do it themselves! Also PM is applicable to wide range of industries, in fact many old economy sectors have more sophisticated PM practices while PM practices in IT are still evolving.

Well…no doubt an outsider would take time & would need money (internal PM is a cost too!) however, an outsider is most likely to be impartial & more focused on outcome in addition to bringing in top level skill set and proven domain experience.

With an appropriately organized project board, yes, project management can be outsourced. However the PM needs to be well versed in the sponsoring customers business / technical skill set and needs to have a strategic vision and fit. So if I was responsible for a project, the outsourcing decision should be based on finding the PM with the right (business!) skill set.

One thing that surprises me lot is that its not uncommon to have two different perspective from supplier Vs customer definition of project success. A logical conclusion should be to rate the vendor poorly on which the project failed and re-shuffle the Pre-qualified suppliers. Still, why don’t we see that many supplier churns in particularly large size projects! Customers seem to go back to same suppliers time and again despite having different views on success of completed projects. I know several large vendors in IT and capital goods sector who got repeat business despite average or below average ratings! But then that is another thing to ponder on! 🙂

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