How to determine Critical Path Tasks on Projects?


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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 shortest duration of the project.” The critical path methodology technique can also be applied to “determine amount of float” on various logical network paths in a project schedule network” that reflects minimum total project duration.

What is a Critical Task?

Any task in a project schedule network 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.

Identification and close monitoring of all critical tasks in a project is a first step to ensure they can be better managed. Fast Tracking & Crashing techniques are most commonly used by Project Managers to manage critical tasks on their projects.

Shyam Verma, PMP, ITIL
IT Project & Program Delivery Professional
LinkedIn:spverma. Twitter: Shammy11


Project and Program Management differences


Project Management and Management of Programs is different in multiple ways. Some of these difference are described in below table. This is just a short list and in no way intended to be a comprehensive set.

 Parameter Program Management Project Management
Organization Semi-permanent in nature, resourced to address the full range of business requirements associated with achievement of a strategic business objective. Resource requirements may be programmatic in nature and applied to all or major sets of projects undertaken to deliver the program Transient organization in nature, resourced to address a limited set of requirements that may be more temporal in nature and not recurring through all project phases. Output oriented vs. outcome oriented
Organizational Alignment Analogous to building a new company with a sharply defined strategic business objective. When existing owner organizations are adopting program management for the first time, organizational change management processes are an early activity to assure that owner elements understand their changed role in a program delivery approach Team alignment around project and contract requirements. In joint venture or prime-sub project structures this alignment may include “cultural” alignment as well as team building activities
Outcome Definition Strategic Business Outcome (enterprise viewpoint) Defined scope, schedule and budget (output viewpoint)
Risk Management Management of all risks associated with achievement of the defined strategic business objectives Management of assumed risks
Requirements Establish programmatic and system technical requirements and allocate as appropriate to individual projects Manage project to meet the allocated programmatic and system technical requirements
Interface Management Management of all programmatic interfaces between defined projects as well as other programmatic interfaces with stakeholder groups Management of allocated interfaces, if any, and all interfaces within the assembled project team
Execution Planning Program wide execution planning including top level schedule, budget, performance standards, supply chain configuration and contracting strategy Project execution planning consistent with agreed to scope schedule, budget. and performance standards
Sequencing Sequencing of programmatic activities including defined projects; re-sequencing of projects and other programmatic activities as required to achieve the desired strategic business outcome Sequencing of project activities to achieve project execution requirements within any programmatic constraints imposed by contract
Timeframe Through achievement of strategic business objectives (more permanent in nature) Duration associated with completion of project activities
Stakeholder Engagement Identification and integration of stakeholders’ interests and proactive engagement to assure achievement of strategic business objectives Interaction with stakeholder groups only as contractually provided for

Comments are welcome to share other differences you find in Project and Management as per your experience!

Shyam Verma, PMP, ITIL
IT Project & Program Delivery Professional
LinkedIn:spverma. Twitter: Shammy11



How Projects are different from Programs


Program management differs from project management in several fundamental ways. In the simplest of terms, program management is the definition and integration of a number of projects to cause a broader, strategic business outcome to be achieved. “Projects produce deliverables; programs output benefits so as to sustain, advance or achieve organizational objectives” according to page six of The Standard for Portfolio Management.

Program management is not just the sum of all project management activities but also includes management of the risks, opportunities and activities that occur “in the white space” between projects! Especially program  directly addresses and supports the corporate strategic goals unlike project that is more concerned with a specific outcome and deals more at the work package level. From the organization point of view too, program decision on resourcing, standards and compliance typically affect associated projects. Programs and projects have different focuses but working together, they can create the right balance and momentum needed to achieve strategic goal.

Project management and program management are distinct processes, but they often interrelate. For example, a company may initiate a major program to implement an enterprise resources planning software throughout the firm.

SP Verma, PMP, ITIL v3
IT Project & Program Delivery Professional

LinkedIn:spverma. Twitter: Shammy11
Access more resources at http://pmpower.wordpress.com

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

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

Scope definition through User stories


User stories

The benefits of achieving a working software in less money, better risk mitigation mechanism (because you test early and test often) and dependence on process not individuals is one of the key reasons that XP has become one of the most preferred software development methodologies in recent years. Agile practitioners term User stories to be “Technique of expressing requirements as user stories to be an effective approach on all time constrained projects and are a great way to begin introducing a bit of agility to your projects & requirement management approach.”

If you happen to be one of those PMs who need to deliver your project in such fashion chances are you are most likely to use your scope statement e.g. project requirements in terms of user stories rather in standard functional requirement document. Hence it would be invaluable to know how you can employ user stories to define and plan project scope.

What are user stories?

A user story describes what functionality is required from the perspective of business users in simple or plain English running through different steps or stages to accomplish desired functionality. In simple terms, a user story provides the clear understanding of who wants the functionality, how it would work and why this functionality is required. In most cases user stories are written by customer or a customer representative working with a developer where developer may ask some questions to clarify the user actions but does not influence the idea creation process. User stories are used mostly in agile software development methodologies to provide the basis of features required in the software.

Development Process: While business user or customer narrates the scenario, developer makes notes on a 3×5 inch Card with functionality or requirement name, user action description, test condition, rough estimate and any other relevant point. For example, ” As a business user I want to be able to search for my customers by their first and last name,” or the “Application starts by bringing up the last document user was working with.”

The 3 basic tools used in the process are namely, Card as mentioned above, details around Conversation where details are noted as discussion with business user happens and thirdly Confirmation or Conditions that must be met for for the basis of user acceptance.

In case there is any ambiguity on the user story or it is deemed complex or too big the process of refinement is repeated until the story is concise and agreed by both user and developer. Please note the user story is not supposed to be definite business functionality and changes to the functionality are accepted at the time of development or even testing. From that perspective the process represents one of the key features of Agile development.

Advantages: User stories are a quick way of eliciting customer requirements without having to spend too much effort on formalized requirement documentation and bypassing overloaded administrative tasks for maintaining them. The purpose of user story is to respond promptly with less overhead in rapidly changing real-world requirements

Limitation: since the User stories are informal way to elicit requirement the test scenario for acceptance purposes should be in place without which the implementation of the requirement do not have customer acceptance.

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

There are three basic tools used in the process namely Card as mentioned above. Secondly details around Conversations where details are noted as discussion with business user happens and thirdly Confirmation or conditions that must be met for acceptance.