Organizations (both for profit and not) set out to actually achieve their goals, not just to set goals for the sake of having them, right? Why is it, then, that most of these same businesses overlook one of the most critical aspects of goal achievement? Having solid project managers that can make it actually happen!
If you don’t have skilled project managers, garbage in will still equal garbage out – no matter how amazing your tools and technology are!
Solid project managers (PM) are the very people responsible for making their organizational goal(s) come to life, yet they are often an after-thought. PMs are the very people that take those organizational goals, break them down into manageable (and ACTIONABLE) chunks, and assign them to the various roles needed – people with the right technical skills to handle their part in the project. The PMs actually get the project moving, and continue to monitor to make sure they progress in the right direction. You cannot achieve your goals, your vision, and your strategy, without this. But how do you find the right PM? First, you need to understand how to look!
Here’s what you need to do to hire a great project manager:
- Stop Hiring the Plumber to Do the Electrician’s Job
If you need electrical work done, who would you call, a plumber or an electrician? Seems like a silly question, I know, but why is it that we seem to call on non-PM’s to suddenly become PM’s, then? Sure, these people are probably great people, have great people skills, or maybe they are well-liked, and that’s all great! But, it isn’t enough! Solid performing project managers take much more than just a fancy title change. In fact, even a certification hardly means you have a quality project manager on your hands! Understanding this is your first step.
- Be More Specific in Your Search
Don’t advertise the project management job using generic criteria like “Communicates well”, or “Works well with others”. Those are great traits to have, but being this vague is a sure way to receive a lot of unqualified applicants! While it may take some time up-front, it will save you time and frustration later if you are more specific in your description of the work you need done. Solid project managers can work on almost any kind of project because their skills are transferable regardless of industry. That said, many have worked multiple project types and have preferences in the area they want to work! Being clear with exactly what you’re looking for will help to attract the PMs that are looking for that kind of PM position.
- A Technical Expert is Almost Never the Best Approach
Unless your project is relatively small and not very complex, asking your project manager to also serve as your technical expert is a bad approach. The same goes for using this approach in reverse (asking a technical subject matter expert to also be your PM).
Do you really expect your project manager to be amazing at managing the entire project, as well as someone who can understand the intricate differences and designs behind every network router and switch? Why not hire a network engineer for that, and let your project manager do their actual job – as a project manager? A solid project manager’s knowledge runs a mile wide and an inch deep in the topic area – anything they don’t know in the topic area could be easily learned. Anything detailed and technical they need to know in the topic area, they should be able to reach out to the technical subject matter experts to obtain information on.
Simply put, there are entire Masters and Doctorate degree programs set up around being a PM – this is a technical area of subject matter expertise (SME) in and of itself, and for good reason! You wouldn’t ask an Eye Doctor to work on your heart, would you? Then why would you ask a Systems Engineer to suddenly become your Project Manager, and expect them to know how to effectively do it?
- Specify the Framework(s) To Work Within
Do you want a quick deliverables in small pieces? Perhaps you want it Agile. Do you want to know the resources needed before you even begin? Then you’re looking at Waterfall (which even Agile must do, by the way). Are you looking to gain process efficiencies? Then Lean Six Sigma might be what you’re after.
The reality is, there are growing numbers of project management frameworks, and I’ve found that they all have overlap. Very few are actual methodologies, too, which is why I’m calling them “frameworks”. Most are framework within which to work, which is why I believe that, regardless of framework preference, I would require all project managers have keen awareness to the Project Management Institute’s (PMI) Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK). Why? Because it isn’t a framework or a methodology, it’s a comprehensive body of knowledge on all things project management and remains relevant regardless of framework preference.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for an actual methodology, consider Projects In Controlled Environments (PRINCE2), a UK standard. The point here is that thinking one framework or method alone is the “answer to all”, is probably not the case. Having a well-rounded PM should be knowledgeable of the various frameworks available.
- Understand the Strategy
Many project managers live deep in their project management bubble, without any realization of how their project actually fits into the overall organizational strategy. When looking for a project manager, consider one that is knowledgeable enough to describe the context within which their projects have performed. They should be able to articulate how their project impacted the business.
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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)!
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!
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