small business


Portfolio Management to Achieve Strategy – Does it Really Work? Here’s How to Get Started…

How Do You Ensure Strategic Achievement- (2)

 

Your leadership team has spent numerous hours talking, brainstorming and developing your latest organizational strategy, and it’s a good one! It’s one that you believe will transform the very way your organization does business – maybe even impact the entire industry’s way of doing business! But, how do you take that amazing strategy, and turn it into an actual, no-kidding reality?

That’s where most organizations seem to get stuck. They spend so much time on developing their strategy, they forget to include the people that actually know how to implement it – how to truly make it become reality. Without that, it doesn’t matter how amazing your strategy is – it’s just paper (or a computer screen, perhaps). Turning the strategy into actions that, one-by-one, get your closer to true achievement is the obvious goal, so why does it seem to be so hard?

Let’s take a look at 3 ways to ensure your strategy becomes reality:

1.  Find your “action-oriented” employees who are skilled at effectively making things happen. This can be tricky – a lot of employees are striving for the limelight, so it’s important to know which ones can actually handle the task, and which ones just want the appearance of handling the task.

  • You need project managers who are going to be able to take the strategy and, literally break it up into manageable chunks. This is someone who not only held a “title” of project or program manager – but someone who knows how to actually do the work.
  • You need someone who can build team members up, not cut them down. Someone who knows how to perform true resource allocation, and can mentor others because they realize how important it is for your organization’s future. They don’t need to be “told” to mentor others – they just do it.
  • You need someone who isn’t afraid of being honest – to share the good, the bad and the ugly. If they don’t think the strategy is technically feasible within the timeframe given by leadership, they will tell you why, and what measures can be taken to fix it, or modify it to obtain as close to the expected outcome as possible.
  • You need someone who isn’t afraid to learn, and won’t have 100% of the answers (nobody has ALL the answers, and if you have someone who thinks they do – you haven’t found the right person just yet!).
  • You need someone who is going to take charge with knowledge and relationships. They have experience and knowledge in the project and program management arena, but they are smart enough to know that it takes a great team to make great things happen – they know they can’t do it alone.
  • You need someone who is allowed to (without repercussion) and willing to speak up to the leadership team to ask questions. If the strategy isn’t specific enough on the desired results, they need to push the senior leadership to obtain the clarity needed to help make them – and their organization – successful. You wouldn’t build a house without a blueprint, would you? Same principles apply to your strategy – you need a plan with detailed expected outcomes (yes, even in an “Agile” environment!

 

2. You have 5-9 objectives (some call these ‘goals’, but objectives are measurable, where goals are not, so I’ll call them objectives). Why 5-9? There if you have too few objectives, you aren’t pushing hard enough, and too many implies you aren’t focused enough. You want your strategy to be achievable, but not ‘lazy’, otherwise, what’s the point? If you have sub-objectives within each objective, less than 5 may appropriate. The more complex, the less you may want, but never than 3.

 

3. You have clearly prioritized each of your strategic objectives. By clearly, I mean using a method, and making that method transparent so that members of your organization, as well as your key stakeholders truly understand your priorities. More importantly – they support them, because they understand the method to the madness. Anyone can point fingers and delegate a “most important”, “next most important” and so on. That’s very 20th century-thinking and there are plenty of advanced decision-making methods out there that can be put to good use. Show your organizational learning culture by taking an advanced decision making method (my personal favorite is the Analytical Hierarchy Process – Google will tell you all about it, if you ask), and applying it.

 

Having your objectives prioritized is understated almost always, but this is critical to ensuring all resources (money, people, equipment, time itself, and training to make it happen) are put against the most important areas first (as well as optimizing!). You will go far and have the support of your employees if they understand the logic behind what they are supposed to be doing! Skip this part, and you’ll have lost at least half of your employees (maybe not physical loss – yet, but mental loss is certain) before you even start!

 

Of course, there is a lot that goes into achieving a strategy, but these are the up-front and immediate steps you can take to get your implementation off to the best start possible. If you’ve already started implementing and wondering why you’re not getting the answers you seek, or why you’re not as far along as you believe you should be – take a step back, regroup, and apply these three steps.

 

What are other ways you could help ensure strategic achievement? Comment  below, share your thoughts and keep the conversation going!

 


Are You a Symptom-Chaser, or Problem-Solver?

How Healthy is Your Organization- (2)

You know when you aren’t feeling all that great, but you have a lot going on, so you sort of brush it off and hope it just goes away? But it never does? In fact, in almost all cases, brushing it off actually makes you feel worse in the long-run. Have you had that happen?

It was 2000, and I had been working on a client site all day and scheduled to do a huge recruiting event at my employer’s headquarters afterwards. I wasn’t feeling well, but decided I’d stick it out – this was an important event and there were several highly skilled (difficult to fill) positions we needed to hire against. “I’ll be fine, I’ll just drink some more water”, I kept telling myself. I stayed the course, finished the entire evening, but by the time I returned home I had a fever of 104. I ended up being bedridden for 3 weeks! Three long, long weeks – if only I had paid attention to the symptoms earlier, I could have taken some preventative actions, right? But I didn’t, and as a result, I suffered the consequences.

Organizations are very similar. They can keep pushing forward, although there are some very obvious signs of “something wrong”. Sometimes organizations stop and try to address the symptoms themselves, instead of digging into the actual cause of those symptoms. In doing so, they also suffer negative consequences. The only real way to solve organizational symptoms are to first dig deeper to discover the root cause of the problem. Once you know what the actual problem is, you can focus your organizational assets (people, money, knowledge, equipment, etc.) in fixing it. Once fixed, the symptoms will also vanish (poof!).

How do you know if you are addressing the symptom, or the actual problem, though?

Much like the example above, you can keep asking “why” to get to the root cause. See the below example to see exactly how this might work:

Example:

You have an amazingly powerful organizational strategy, but for some reason, your organization just isn’t making any real traction in achieving it. Or maybe there really is progress, yet, you can’t actually quantify it in a manner that lets you knowprecisely how far along you’ve come, and how much further you have to go. Not making progress, or not being able to precisely measure your progress, are both symptoms. We know this because we could ask ourselves the “5-Why’s”, as follows:

– WHY are we not making progress? Because our personnel keep experiencing setbacks in efforts they expect to have already completed, but still haven’t (or the leadership-driven deadlines aren’t being met).

WHY are they experiencing continuous setbacks? Because every time they approach their work effort a particular way, another element in the organization approaches that same work, but a different way, and they have to work out who is really doing the work, and how it is going to be done. Obviously, both elements can’t do the same thing – only one needs to do the work.

– WHY don’t these organizational elements approach things the same way and understand who is supposed to be doing what? These are two different elements within the same organization, but they both have their own leadership within the larger organization, who are providing different direction to each. Unintentional internal conflict is created without the leadership team even realizing it.

– WHY is the leadership providing different direction to each organizational element? There really isn’t a big plan laid out that specifically states who is responsible for what, and how those different pieces precisely fit together.

– WHY isn’t there a plan laid out that has specificity in roles, responsibilities, and expected outcomes that feed into achieving the bigger organizational strategy?  ** Good point. I guess our REAL problem is that we don’t really know how to develop a strategic plan in a way that we can truly implement it without running into so many obstacles and challenges that slow us down.

The premise behind “The 5 Why’s” is that, typically by the 5th “why” you get to the actual reason behind the problem. As the example above shows, not achieving the strategy in a timely manner is a symptom (likely not the only symptom!), but we learned that the real problem is the lack of skilled and experienced leadership to ask the right questions, and lack of skilled and experienced project managers who truly know how to…

  • Decompose the strategy into more tactical work packages
  • Estimate the activities needed to accomplish successful delivery of those work packages
  • Estimate human resource needs (by quantity, skill set and skill level), as well as equipment needs
  • Estimate time (schedule) needs
  • Sequence the order of activities (what needs to happen first, second, third, etc.), resulting in an understanding of dependencies among the various activities

Bottom line? Always remember that, whenever there is smoke (symptom), there is surely fire (problem). Don’t waste time and energy in putting out the smoke when you should be doing whatever you can to find and put out that fire!

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How to Cost Estimate Without Breaking Into a Cold Sweat

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As I alluded to in my post last week, there are many ways to perform a cost estimate – all are right, but the key is for your organization to pick the approved standard, so that confusion can be minimized as much as possible. The standard should include often-overlooking details, such as what unit of measure the cost estimates will be done in (Dollars? Euros? Etc.), what level of precision the estimates should be rounded up or down to (whole dollars? Thousands?), and what the acceptable level of accuracy is (+ 10%? + 20%?) to be used. Cost estimate accuracy almost always improves as more details of the project are known, and this should be understood regardless of the project environment or method being applied.

 

Cost Estimation Methods

 

Analogous Estimates – This type of estimate depends on historical estimates of similar projects, using elements of scope, budget, duration, complexity, and others. While this method can be faster than other methods, it is also typically less accurate and, when used, should account for the Net Present Value of the historical costs to be used.

 

Bottom-Up Estimates – This type of estimate typically estimates each work package (or individual activity within the work package), and generally provides the greatest level of detail and accuracy (+ 5%), which is then rolled up into a summary for each higher level component to achieve an overall project cost. These detailed estimates typically come straight from vendor quotes, unit prices, and fairly complete plans.

 

3-Point Estimates – Based on the Program Evaluation Review Technique (PERT), this 3-point estimate gives the most likely estimate 4 times more weight than the pessimistic and optimistic estimates. This estimate is especially beneficial when estimate unique types of projects that have little to no historically similar project data to use – such as innovative efforts in the research and development arena. To calculate the 3-point estimate, you simply determine the most optimistic (O) estimate, the most pessimistic (P) estimate, and the most likely (M) estimate, and calculate it as follows:

 

3-Point Estimate = (O + 4M + P) / 6

 

Order-of-magnitude estimate – This type of estimate may use historical data, but the projects don’t have to be similar (as they do when doing analogous estimates), and are not usually very accurate (+ 35%). These are top-down estimates typically applied to a level 1 of the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) and excludes detailed data, although parametric estimates (based on statistical data) may be included in some cases.

 

Learning curve estimate – While this type of estimating stems from the manufacturing industry, it may be applicable to any industry or project that requires repetitive functions where continuous operation (learning) will lead to a reduction in time, personnel, or money it takes to do the repetitive function.

 

Top-Down estimate – This type of estimate has no detailed data for the basis, but is prorated from previous (similar in scope and capacity) projects.  For example, you may say that this project is 25% more difficult than the referenced (previous) project activity, therefore, requires 25% more time, labor hours, material, dollars, etc.

 

Contingency and Management Reserves

One of the biggest pet peeves in project estimating is “padding the estimate” – when the actual estimates are on-purpose padded for “just in case”. Why is this a pet-peeve? Because when this is done, the project costs are almost always over-estimated and the actual spending isn’t tracked well (because nobody wants to “admit” to padding their estimated costs, and it enables sloppy monitoring and control, and skews historical use of the data for future projects, as in the analogous method). Instead, it should be understood that all costs estimates are just that – ESTIMATES. They will not be exact, and they aren’t supposed to be – the “actuals” are the exact costs.

 

Where should this “padding” take place, then? Instead of simply increasing cost estimates within given work packages, the more appropriate approach is to include a contingency estimate that is meant to cover the “known-unknowns”. If you know you are embarking on a high-risk project, you’ll want to include a higher contingency estimate than if you were taking on a project that is similar to something done before, or with low risk. My use of contingency reserves most often were done as a percentage of total project cost (such as 10% for high risk projects), but you can also estimate contingency costs as a fixed number, and you don’t have to base it on the total project – you may choose to estimate contingency only for specific activities. The key is to call out your contingency estimate so it is included in your total project budget instead of “padding” other areas of the project, essentially hiding it, in an attempt to achieve the same thing (or to cover up for bad planning!).

 

Unlike contingency estimates, estimates can also be produced to cover management reserves, but these estimates are intended for management control in covering the “unknown unknowns”. The management reserve estimate is actually NOT part of cost baseline, but IS part of the project budget. Whenever management reserve funds are used, that amount is then added to the project cost baseline and must be an approved baseline change.

 

Bottom line? Use the management reserve to cover unforeseen problems that occur on the project, as long as they remain within the scope of the project. Don’t use the management reserve to cover up bad planning estimates or budget overruns (nobody does this, right?!).

 

Which estimating approach does your organization use? Is it something other than those listed in this article? Stay tuned for access to my free cost estimating templates, or sign-up here to be notified when you have access to them (and can download and put to use immediately)!


Virtual Team Management: Cost or Benefit?

Virtual Teams- (2)

What is Virtual Team Management, Anyway?

Virtually team management is the management of teams that consist of people who are often geographically dispersed (often resulting in 24 hour work days to accommodate the global time zone differences), work in different cultures or organizations, are flexible and often highly skilled, and who communicate digitally (telephone, video calls, email, cloud-based tools, etc.).

 

Why Consider Team Management in a Virtual Setting?

Virtual teams are becoming more and more popular as technological advances, tools and techniques become more refined. There are a number of benefits to having teams work virtually, to include:

  • Flexible schedules (work gets done 24 hours/day, vice 8)
  • Innovative technologies
  • Competitive through responsiveness to business demands
  • Reduce travel expenses
  • Reduce physical space requirements
  • Increase talent resource options (global reach, vice local-only talent)

 

While virtual teams have a number of benefits, there are some potential downfalls, too. For instance, challenges will arise if you don’t have clearly defined project roles and responsibilities for each team member, along with established team objectives so that it is clear as to what the team (as a whole) is working to achieve, and how each member is expected to contribute to that achievement. But honestly? That is a downfall that holds true for all teams – virtual or not! More important yet, though, is that this is an obstacle that is easily overcome with clear and concise desired outcome definitions – see my previous post that talks about this!

 

Team communication, cultural awareness, sensitivities to other team members, technological infrastructure and knowledge-sharing can all be challenges when a project manager has to perform team management within a virtual environment. Again, this would also hold true for any environment, though – virtual or not. With technological advances such as cloud computing and the vast availability of knowledge-sharing systems that are now free or low cost (Google Drive, Google Voice, Skype, Asana and Trello, for instance), these are issues that have multiple ways of being overcome – if your organization is open-minded enough to use the technologies available today. You can still do your project management utilizing the larger, more complex tools (MS Project, Primavera, for example), but if you do not yet have a distributed way for all team members to access virtually – and simultaneously, then breaking work packages down and using tools like Trello or Asana may be the way to go – and you can use them for FREE!).

 

Virtual teams are an asset with the ups far outweighing the downs. To further prove the point, just look at the results Hewlett Packard (HP) had within one year of going virtual: HP saved $800,000 a year in compliance costs and $200,000 a year in avoided costs and faster delivery times through the use of virtual teams. [Source: Snyder, B. (2003). Teams that span time zones face new work rules. Stanford Business Magazine].

 

As a project manager performing team management in a virtual environment, you may have to get creative with your approach to resource management, but the technology is there like never before, and the feasibility is better than ever!

 

Like this post? Join the conversation as I talk more about learning project management, program management and portfolio management tools, methods, experiences and insights by visiting www.TheMarzettGroup.com/Blog. You’ll find new knowledge bombs, tools and templates shared weekly to help you and your organization learn to be more efficient and achieve results – not just ANY results, though – the DESIRED results!


8 Steps to Having Your Own Website in 5 Minutes or Less!

I get asked all the time about how to “get started” in business. So many people get “stuck” out of fear or not knowing exactly what to do, or how to do it. How to set up a website is probably the most frequent question I get asked, so I decided to provide a step-by-step guide for the easiest way to go about owning your own domain on a hosted solution.

The most popular and flexible site setup that most business owners use is WordPress (.org, not .com – you see a quick view of the WordPress differences). Ready to get your WordPress site up and running in minutes? Follow the steps below, where I hold your hand and show you exactly what you need to do to get your very own site up and running!

Pinterest_1_8 Simple Steps to  Having Your Own

 

Step 1:

Click Here To Set Up Your Hosting Account, obtain Your New Domain name, or to Transfer an Existing Domain name

Your domain name is your website name (for example, mine is www.TheMarzettGroup.com) and your hosting account is where your website will be reside. The benefit of owning your own domain name is that it’s yours – you keep it and everything on it!

I recommend Bluehost for the following reasons:

  1. They are a proven hosting company, and I use them myself.
  2. They give you a free domain name when you sign up to host your site with them.
  3. Their customer support has been good to me.
  4. They are located in the USA.
  5. Their websites load fast (which is important to me)
  6. They have a money-back guarantee – you don’t love them, you get a refund!
  7. Because I am a VIP partner of Bluehost, you qualify for the discounted, lowest rates offered!

 

Step 2:

 

After you click here to start, click the green button that says “Get Started Now”, as shown below (along with the discounted price as low as $3.95/month instead of the standard $5.99 you’d pay if you didn’t use my affiliate link)

WP_Bluehost_1

 

 

Then select the plan you’d like to go with, as pictured below:

 

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Step 3:

Next, choose your free domain name, or transfer your existing domain name and place your order

WP_Bluehost_3 WP_Bluehost_4

 

 

Step 4:

Bluehost will send you an email that contains all of your login information. Using your Login information, log into your new Bluehost account, where you’ll be taken to your dashboard. This is where you will install WordPress by clicking on “Install WordPress”

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Step 5:

Click the green “Install” button, then choose the domain you just registered or transferred

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Step 6:

Click the “Show advanced options” box and fill in the title, username, and password. Your title will be the name of your site (mine would be TheMarzettGroup.com).

IMPORTANT: The username and password will be what you use to login to the back-end of your blog (your WordPress dashboard), so be sure to save it in a safe place! You’ll need this information again, shortly!

 

WP_Bluehost_8

 

 

Step 7:

Wait for Bluehost to install WordPress on your server (Bluehost will let you know when it’s complete)

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Click the ‘View Credentials’ button on the top right

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Step 8:

Finally, you simply click on “Admin URL”, which is located below the green box, and enter the WordPress login credentials you created previously (see step 6), as pictured below.

This will then take you to your WordPress dashboard, where you create your pages and post blog articles, or anything else you’d like to incorporate on your site!

Congratulations! You now have your very own site!

WP_Bluehost_11

 

Did you find this post helpful? Please share if you think it might be helpful for others, too! What else would you like to see me write about to help you simplify your business adventures? Comment below and let me know!