detail of a time schedule

The level of detail of a time schedule

Creating a complete schedule is one of the most difficult tasks that a project manager has to face.

Precisely for this reason, we want to speak about this subject again in order to better clarify some points that concern the level of detail of the time schedule or, in other words, how deep we must go into details in order to predict the timing of the project.

The preparation of a time schedule should be carried out within a formal structure, in which clear lines of authority and responsibility should be established. Let’s start by seeing what the steps are.

5 basic steps for preparing a time schedule

There is a commonly used five-step process for preparing the time schedule. It looks like that:

  1. Definition of the activity: involves the identification and definition of those activities that must be carried out to achieve the goals.
  2. Sequencing of activities: involves the accurate identification of the constraints and relations between activities and establishes the order in which these will be carried out.
  3. Estimate of the duration of the activity: determination of the time required to complete the activities that make up the program.
  4. Development planning: involves the development of realistic start and end dates for each activity.
  5. Control planning: identify program changes and manage actual changes to the program.

The time schedule is therefore fundamental for the correct execution of the planning and control functions of the project management.

The planning phase of a project contributes to the development of detailed plans and budgets and the identification and allocation of the resources required in all project activities.

Moreover, during this phase, a series of integrated programs are developed at multiple levels that link all the activities of the time schedule, showing their logical relationships and possible constraints.

The level of detail developed for these programs depends on the scope and risk of the project.

This process provides a hierarchy of functional and layered programs that can be useful for monitoring the progress of the project.

The details of a time schedule

So let’s see what are the different levels of detail that a schedule can present.

Level 1: The Project Master Schedule (PMS).

This is usually reported in one single page, in which the main activities of the project are highlighted, the milestones, and the key results for the entire project.

It is used to summarize project planning in reports and other documents when more detailed planning is not required.

Frequently developed by the “client” as part of his first feasibility studies for the project and then maintained by the contractor; it can be used to assist in decision making.

Level 2: Summary Master Schedule (SMS).

It describes the overall project divided into main components by area and is used for higher level management reports.

It will include Level 1 information, but in more details in order to show the activities by area.

It should demonstrate the guiding path for the structures and the main process systems based on the purpose of the project.

The relevant public of this type of program includes – but is not limited to – general managers, sponsors, and project managers.

schedule

Level 3: Project Coordination Schedule (PCS)

This program is a summary of planning activities and is generally developed by the main contractor or project team during the initial planning stages.

Level 3 planning covers the entire project and is used to support the monthly report.

This includes all the major milestones, the main design, procurement, construction, verification, and start-up elements.

During the project execution phase, this planning defines the general critical path and is the main coordination tool for the project as a whole.

Level 4: Project Working Level Schedule

Level 4 presents the detailed plan of the work that needs to be done, where each part is an expansion of a part of the Level 3 program.

This is the program that shows the activities that must be performed by the project team.

The dates generated by the activities included in this program represent the expected start and completion of the project.

The level 4 program can cover the entire project or part of the project, depending on the size and complexity of the project.

A critical factor is to keep this type of planning in such a dimension that can be easily managed, updated, and validated.

The recipients of this type of program are mainly project managers with their teams.

Level 5: Detail Schedule

This program presents the further subdivision of the activities included in Level 4.

In short, this is a program used to map the detailed activities necessary to coordinate daily work in specific areas.

Level 5 schedules are developed by workforce supervisors to plan and coordinate their work in detail.

These level 5 programs are generally replaced every 1 or 2 weeks, depending on the complexity of the job.

Important notes on the level of detail in a time schedule

  • Level 1 and 2 programs are normally developed as part of the project’s pre-feasibility studies.
  • Only in the case of very complex projects, there will be a complete planning of Level 1 and Level 2. Generally, less complex projects have just level 2 planning.
  • If the project is relatively small, the level 3 program is expanded into a level 4 program to coordinate the execution of the work. In large projects with multiple Level 4 schedules, Level 3 planning is maintained as overall project planning.
  • Each project requires a level 4 program to coordinate the project work day by day. However, the overall size of this program must be “manageable” and focused on work in a single area. Therefore, Level 3 planning becomes essential for the overall coordination of the project.

In conclusion, each level of a time schedule has its specific function, also based on the complexity that a project presents.

It is important for a project manager to be able to “navigate” between the different levels and to be at the right level of detail in order to bring a project to its success. To do this, it is essential that a project management software such as TWproject is available with which to manage each time program level.

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Residual and secondary risks: What they are and how to deal with them

Probably, you have already heard about residual and secondary risks in a project without having a clear idea of what it is. In this article, we will try to explain the differences between.

We all face risks on a daily basis and, consequently, risks exist even in project management.

There are those who panic, those who try not to take obvious risks, and those who try absolutely to avoid them, but in the end the risks are inevitable. There is no way to prevent risks from entering our lives. The same is true in the case of project management.

Definition of risk

The PMBOK Guide  defines a risk as “An uncertain event or situation that, if it occurs, has a positive or negative effect on one or more objectives of the project. ”

A risk, therefore, does not necessarily always damage the project. A project can also get a positive result from a risk.

The PMBOK Guide also states that Risk Management is one of the areas of knowledge that a project manager should know.

The Project Managers must, in fact, be trained in risk management in order to ensure that the obstacles faced during a project are minimized.

This means that project managers must be able to think outside the box and not always take the same road, even if in the past it has been an optimal choice. For instance, the situation could have changed.

Which types of risks exist?

In addition to the main risk inherent in any project, positive or negative, individual activities may involve secondary and residual risks.

Let’s take a look at secondary and residual risks and their definitions.

Secondary risks

The PMBOK Guide defines secondary risks as “those risks that arise as a direct result of implementing a risk response to a specific risk”.

In other words, when you identify a risk, you have a response plan that can deal with that risk.

Once this plan is implemented, the new risk that could arise from the implementation represents a secondary risk.

For example, the project manager for a construction project might know, from past experiences, that one of the main risks is that the sand supplier will not be able to deliver the goods in time. In the risk management plan created, the project manager will therefore already have taken this risk into account. The action he takes if this happens could be to get the sand from a different supplier. However, a potential risk that the project manager may encounter in this case, is that there may be differences in the sand provided by the former compared to that provided by the second supplier, which would be a secondary risk.

secondary risks

Residual risks

Residual risks are the remaining risks, ie the minor risks that remain.

The PMBOK Guide defines residual risks as “those risks that are expected to remain after implementing the planned risk response, as well as those that are deliberately accepted”.

Residual risks are acceptable for the organization’s level of risk tolerance or, in some cases, a residual risk does not have a reasonable response.

Project managers therefore simply accept them as they are. If they must occur, they will occur, and there is not much they can do about it.

These risks are identified during the planning process and an emergency reserve is set up in order to manage risks like these.

Although residual risks are not particularly worrying, organizations cannot completely ignore them and should address them through:

  • Identification of relevant governance, risk, and compliance requirements.
  • Recognition of existing risks.
  • Determination of the strengths and weaknesses of the organization’s control framework.
  • Planning for appropriate contingencies.

For example, you could identify a risk in the possible rainy weather forecasted during an event lasting an hour or two, where this weather condition could interrupt some of the scheduled meetings. To manage this risk, the other meetings will be scheduled with a buffer of a couple of hours. In this way, even if it rains for two hours, the other plans will not be interrupted or postponed.

This, however, does not eliminate the risk that the program needs changes. Simply reduces it.

What is the difference between secondary and residual risks?

  • Secondary risks are those that occur as a direct result of implementing a risk response. On the other hand, it is expected that the residual risks will remain after the expected risk response.
  • The emergency plan is used to manage primary or secondary risks. The backup plan is used to manage residual risks. Note that if an identified risk occurs, the emergency plan is implemented and, if it becomes ineffective, the reserve plan is implemented.
  • If residual risks and secondary risks do not require a response plan, they will be monitored as they occur.

Example of a situation that contains both risks

Take for example a future project manager who is studying for one of the exams to obtain the official PM certification.

When the future PM plans the study program for the exam, the main risks that can affect it are:

  • suddenly he will commit himself full time to a new project that will not leave enough time to study
  • He will get sick during the exam preparation

An activity to respond to the first risk – not find enough time for the study due to the professional commitment – would be to start the preparation for the exam in a low working season, taking into consideration the work model of previous years.

The residual risk for this risk response would be that an unexpected large-scale project would present itself during the preparation for the exam. In that case, it may be necessary to postpone the exam, so as to find enough time to study in the future. This could be connected with an extra cost that can be covered thanks to the contingency reserve.

In the second case, the risk response activity to avoid getting sick during the exam preparation, would consist in doing the vaccination for five of the most common contagious diseases at the time of the preparation for the exam.

The secondary risk of this risk response would be that the vaccines themselves can cause side effects or even cause infections.

 

To conclude, risk management is an integral part of project management. It includes the identification, analysis, and monitoring of all these types of risks.

Understanding how to identify and manage risks is part of everyone’s life, even in the life of a project manager.

It is important that all types of risks are identified, analyzed, monitored, and cared for during the entire project.

For a project manager, learning to distinguish and plan for different types of risks will be a valuable aid to manage resources, time, and guide the project to success more efficiently.

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Feasibility study

Feasibility study of a project

Before giving the green light to a project that could cost up to thousands of euros, a feasibility study will certainly be required from the board of directors of the organization.

First of all, the feasibility study determines, if the project is likely to succeed and if it may or may not be an opportunity for the organization.

The feasibility study is generally conducted before undertaking any initiative concerning a project, including planning. It is one of the fundamental factors, if not the most important, which determine whether the project should be carried out or not.

Although project managers are not necessarily the ones who conduct the feasibility study, they can still act as reference persons during this phase.

Moreover, project managers can use the feasibility study to understand the parameters of the project, the business goals and the risk factors involved.

What is a feasibility study?

Specifically, a feasibility study is used to determine the feasibility of an idea, for example to ensure that a project is legally and technically feasible as well as economically justifiable.

The feasibility study says if a project is worth the investment. For example, if a project requires too many resources, this prevents those particular resources from performing other tasks. In general, failure to use those resources for the time necessary to carry out the project may also cost more than the organization could earn from that particular project.

A well-designed feasibility study should therefore offer a series of parameters that we a Project manager could define as essential for the complete evaluation of a project. We can start from a historical basis of the activity or project, including the description of the product or service, accounting statements, details of operations and management, market research and policies, financial data, legal requirements and obligations taxes, potential risks and possible alternative solutions. Nothing should be left to chance.

Generally, these studies precede the technical development and implementation of the project.

Five feasibility areas of the project

A feasibility study evaluates the potential success of the project. Perceived objectivity is therefore an important factor in the credibility of the study for potential investors and stakeholders.

There are five areas that relate to the feasibility of a project:

Technical feasibility

this evaluation focuses on the technical resources available to the organization. It helps organizations determine if technical resources meet capabilities and if the technical team is able to convert ideas into operating systems. The technical feasibility also involves the evaluation of hardware, software, and other technological requirements.

Economic feasibility

this evaluation usually involves a cost / benefit analysis of the project, helping organizations to determine the feasibility, costs, and benefits associated with a project before financial resources are allocated.

Legal feasibility

this evaluation examines whether any aspects of the project can go against legal requirements.

Operative feasibility

this evaluation involves carrying out a study to analyze and determine whether and to what extent the needs of the organization can be met by completing the project. The operational feasibility studies also analyze how a project plan meets the requirements identified in the analysis phase.
the feasibility study

Feasibility planning

this evaluation is the most important for the success of the project. A project will fail if it is not completed in time. In the feasibility planning, an organization estimates how long it will take to complete the project successfully.

Once these areas have been examined, the feasibility study makes it possible to identify any constraints that the proposed project could face, including:

  • Internal constraints: technology, budget, resources, etc.
  • Internal business constraints: financial, marketing, export, etc.
  • External constraints: logistics, environment, laws and regulations, etc.

Benefits of a feasibility study

The importance of a feasibility study is based on the organizational desire to guarantee an excellent job before using resources, time, or budget.

A feasibility study could reveal new ideas that could completely change the purpose of a project.

It is better to do this analysis in advance, rather than being halfway and understanding that the project will not work.

Here are some key advantages of a feasibility study:

  • Improves the attention and motivation of the project team
  • Identifies new opportunities
  • Restricts commercial alternatives
  • Identifies a valid reason to undertake the project
  • Improves the success rate by evaluating multiple parameters
  • Helps the decision making process on the project
  • Identifies the possible reasons for not proceeding

How to conduct a feasibility study

Anyone who conducts a feasibility study must follow several steps. These actions include:

  • Preliminary analysis: before proceeding with the actual feasibility study process, many organizations will conduct a preliminary analysis, a sort of project pre-selection. The preliminary analysis aims to discover insurmountable obstacles and risks that would make even a feasibility study useless. If important blocks are not discovered during this analysis, it is possible to proceed with the more detailed feasibility study.
  • Define the scope: it is important to outline the scope of the project in order to be able to determine the scope of the feasibility study. The scope of the project will include the number and composition of both internal and external stakeholders. Moreover, it is important not to forget to examine the potential impact of the project on all areas of the organization.
  • Market research: no project can be undertaken without this analysis. Those who conduct the feasibility study will deepen the existing competitive landscape and determine if there is room for the project within that market.
  • Financial evaluation: the feasibility study will examine the economic costs related to the project, including the equipment or other resources, the hours of work, the proposed benefits of the project, the associated financial risks, and the potential financial impact in case of failure of the project.
  • Alternative solutions: if any potential problems should emerge during the study, alternative solutions will be examined in order to ensure the success of the project.
  • Reassessment of the results: a reassessment of the feasibility study is essential, particularly if time has passed since it was first undertaken.
  • Go / No-go decision: this is the final step of a feasibility study. In short, here it is decided whether the project can be started (go) or not (no-go).

In conclusion, it must be remembered that a feasibility study is more a way of thinking than a bureaucratic process.

As the scope of the project grows, it becomes increasingly important to document the feasibility study, particularly if large amounts of money are involved and / or if the delivery is critical.

The feasibility study must not only contain sufficient details needed for the operational phase of the project. It should also be used for comparative analysis at the end of the project. It will be at this stage that a project manager will analyze what was produced compared to what was initially proposed in the feasibility study. The smaller the gap, the greater the professionalism of those who drafted the study.

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present a project

How to present a project to stakeholders

Is there an optimal way to present a project to stakeholders?

In the world of project management, presenting and communicating a product’s strategy is not an isolated phase of the project’s life cycle.

In fact, anyone involved in project management must deal with project sponsors and stakeholders and maintaining an open and effective communication with them is important.

In fact, it will be necessary to update the relevant stakeholders throughout the whole process, to keep everyone informed of progress and to ensure that everyone is working towards the same strategic goals.

But successful project managers also know that communication does not work in just one way and they must also seek feedback from stakeholders.

Of course, it is not possible to always listen and consider everyone, so the project manager needs to know who to talk to, when and what.

In this article, we will explain how to communicate with stakeholders at every stage of a project’s life cycle and how to obtain their consent.

How to communicate with interested parties throughout the process

There are more situations during a project ranging from planning to execution. For each of these phases, it is very important to communicate with stakeholders correctly. Let’s see the various steps together.

 Planning stage

It is important to work closely with the leaders of the organization, developing a clear vision of the product and identifying the most important strategic goals.

If the project manager and the stakeholders can agree in advance on the vision and the strategic goals of the project, there will certainly be less confusion on the definition of the priorities later.

Priority definition

Once the strategic goals are clear, priority can be given to specific tasks within the project.

This is where open communication with department managers becomes important, such as marketing, sales, customer support, etc.

It is important to discuss their main priorities and to establish together how these priorities fit into the more general themes and strategic goals.

If stakeholders are involved in the process of setting priorities, they are much more likely to favor decisions made by the project manager.

Execution Phase

Once the priorities have been established for initiatives aimed at reflecting strategic goals and a consensus has been reached between the main stakeholders, it is time to translate the vision into operative measures.

The roadmap must become now more detailed.

Here, the resources must be chosen and distributed for each initiative, assign ownership of the initiatives to the different team members and designate the deadlines.

Once the plans have been determined and the team has been set in motion, it is important to ensure that all stakeholders are always up-to-dated.

Planning meetings with the various interested parties allows the project manager to communicate the status of the project and explain what will happen in the future.

Sometimes, when an organization is very large, it becomes logistically difficult to include every single interested person. In this case, a solution is to directly involve the directors and the department managers, so that they can then pass the information to the respective teams.

Moreover, providing autonomous access to the project roadmap is another way to build consensus and engage stakeholders. In these cases, it is useful, for example, to use a project management software that includes this functionality.

This can fill potential communication gaps and prevent embarrassing conversations with interested parties who claim not to know what was being done.

Strategies for obtaining stakeholder consensus

how to present a project

As a project manager, it will be necessary to present the project to different audiences that have with different interests.

If the public is composed of managers, for example, the goal will probably be to convince them to accept the overall project strategy.

If the public is another segment of the organization, the goal will probably be to communicate the project’s goals and create consensus.

In both cases, it is necessary to be clear and persuasive, so that the stakeholders understand the strategy and agree with the priorities.

Here are some suggestions to best conduct this type of meetings:

1. Be prepared

Creating a presentation document is one of the steps, but it’s not enough. The project manager must be ready to tell a convincing story and justify why any planned initiative deserves to be completed.

  • Structuring the presentation: a good presentation starts with the general picture and after that explaines the details. Start with the “why”, sharing strategic goals, before moving on to a more detailed explanation of “how” and “what”.
  • Be concise: the content of the presentation must be simple, clear, and direct.
  • Anticipate objections: be ready to respond to concerns about why certain initiatives must be pursued. This is linked to market knowledge and the use of a priority-setting plan. If the project is based on data, the project manager should have no problem justifying priorities to the stakeholders.
  • Provide specific examples: it is one of the most powerful tools that can be used to convince an audience.

2. Know the audience

Bottom-up communications, such as the presentation of strategic goals to managers for example, follow a very different process than top-down communication, such as the presentation of specific task plans to developers.

In executive-oriented presentations, for example, it is important to focus on high-level issues and strategic goals.

The discussion should relate to market space, customer data, and potential return on investment.

Another audience, like the developer, may be interested primarily in specific activities, requirements, and deadlines.

Moreover, the language used during the presentation must be appropriate for the public.

If the public is not technical, it is necessary to use simple language without technicalities and avoid acronyms and abbreviations that are not commonly known outside of the sector.

3. Communicate the status

During the project life cycle, the stakeholders will want to know the status of the project, the way the resources are allocated, and how the status of the project could change based on different potential scenarios.

Here’s what helps in these cases:

  • Include the completion status as a percentage for each project activity. By providing these details, it is possible to stimulate conversations about how initiatives depend on each other.
  • Another approach is to use a color coding system to communicate the status of each activity. For example, it is possible to choose to distinguish planned, approved, developing, and completed initiatives through color schemes or tags.
  • Finally, the project manager must be sure to save previous versions of the project roadmap. By creating an archive of old roadmaps, it is possible to easily trace which initiatives have been completed, delayed, rejected, or canceled.

4. Use images

People only remember a small percentage of what they hear, so visual aids are critical in order to keep the audience’s attention and make sure the key points remain.

Images should integrate and clarify what is said verbally and not present additional information.

Avoid to publish lengthy or complicated slides that could distract the public.

Make sure the writings are large and easily readable, using color combinations to show how the initiatives relate to each other and to the larger strategic goals.

A project manager has the task of dealing with a project in its entirety and one of his very important responsibilities is continuous communication with all stakeholders, at every stage of the product life cycle in order to ensure that the project has the best chances of success.

After all, no project manager can manage every detail and task of project development alone.

Any successful project is the result of a talented and knowledgeable team that works together to achieve a common strategic goal.

With this in mind, a project manager should therefore devote sufficient energy and attention to iteratively communicating with his team and stakeholders.

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RACI matrix

RACI matrix what needs to be done and by whom

The RACI matrix is a very important tool that can help in the implementation and proper functioning of a process.

This matrix is mainly used to coordinate human resources within a process.

There are usually many different people involved in a process and each one has different responsibilities. A RACI matrix provides explicit documentation and a reference which can help in different phases of the process.

What does RACI mean?

To understand what the RACI matrix is, it is necessary to understand the meaning of its acronym.

RACI stands for “Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed“. Here is the definition of each of these terms:

  • Responsible: this is the class of people who are responsible for completing the work. This can refer to individual workers who perform the assigned task or could refer to a system if the activity is automated.
  • Accountable: this is the class of people responsible for supervising and approving the work that is carried out. These are usually high level persons within the organization.
  • Consulted: these can be people that must be consulted at the time of an exception, both internally and externally, the so-called “consultants”.
  • Informed: it is the class of people who do not need to be actively involved in the project, but who in any case have an interest in its execution and must be kept informed. Informed people correspond to stakeholders.

Rules for using a RACI matrix

Let’s see what the general rules for the correct use of a RACI matrix must be:

One responsible person

it is essential that only one person is assigned to the roles of responsibility indicated by the initials R and A. Having more than one person responsible for the same task increases the ambiguity and the possibility that the work will not be carried out correctly.

Although this is the rule, having a single responsible person can, however, lead to other types of problems. If the responsible person is incompetent, for example, the whole process may not be done correctly. This is why there is often a hierarchy of responsible people.

Communication with the people consulted

There must be a two-way communication channel with the so-called “consultants”. The important aspect is that this communication works in both ways. Moreover, adequate follow-up must be ensured.

Inform informed people, ie stakeholders

this is a one-way communication channel. It is usually a control metric and is usually automated, but still needs a manager to deal with it in order to ensure it works properly.

There should always be at least one person responsible for each activity in a process. Similarly, there must always be at least one person responsible for each task.

There cannot be more than one person responsible for the same process activity.

In the same activity, however, there may be several people consulted and informed.

 How to create a RACI matrix

Now that we know the meaning of the letters of the word RACI, it is time to understand how to create a RACI matrix. Here are the basic steps:

  • Make a list of all the activities of a process.
  • Make another list, this time of all people involved in the process.
  • Assemble a table with a row reserved for each process activity.
  • In the same table, create columns corresponding to each person involved in the process.
  • Analyze each activity and mark it with one of the letters that are part of the initials RACI.

the RACI matrix

Benefits of using the RACI matrix

After all that what has been seen so far, a question will arise: why use the RACI matrix? What are the advantages of this method?

Here are the reasons why it is very important to use a RACI matrix:

  • Facilitates responsibility monitoring.
  • Helps other members of the process to know who to report, ask for help or entrust a delivery or activity.
  • Prevents a process from stopping because someone failed to fulfill an assigned responsibility.
  • Documents “who should do what”.
  • It is easy to use and create, it is in fact a visual and intuitive tool which makes it a method that can be consulted quickly.
  • Stimulates communication between team members, collaboration, and teamwork.
  • It allows to have a clear and objective division of tasks among the members of the work group.
  • Creates a greater sense of responsibility. The jobs and results of others depend on the performance of each on each activity.
  • Allows you to assign resources in the right measure.
  • Prevents duplicity of activities.
  • If a team member leaves the project, the substitute knows exactly what to do and where he is in the process.

Therefore, the use of a RACI matrix allows the project manager and all the people involved in the project to know exactly who is responsible for what without misunderstanding.

For this reason, the RACI matrix allows to obtain processes within a project that are more orderly and disciplined.

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The project baseline and the measurement of the variables

The project baseline is an “instant photo” of the project taken at its initial moment.

The goal of the project baseline is to see how far actual results have deviated from the initial reference plan.

In project management, it is essential to establish a baseline with clearly defined requirements, an accurate cost structure, and planning estimates, before the project execution and monitoring start.

All this must be completely defined and documented before the actual activities of the project begin.

In the baseline, the following elements of a project are included:

  • Scope
  • Timelines
  • Costs
  • Resources
  • Risks
  • Quality

Project Manager and project baseline

The project manager must examine the deviations from the project baseline when the work is done and throughout the project life cycle.

After the planning process is completed, this plan is agreed by all stakeholders and everyone expects the actual results to match the planned ones.

The role of the project manager is to verify during the execution of the project, if there is any variation from the baseline, in any element mentioned above.

If an event occurs that causes the project budget to be exceeded, for example, or if there is a risk that will cause the project to be delayed, corrective and preventive actions must be taken.

The project baseline can be changed, but it is not an easy process.

In fact, the baseline should allow to verify how much the project is in line with the initial planning.

If a baseline changes too frequently and there are too many deviations from it, this can be considered misleading.

Therefore, in the real world, the baseline of the project is generally modified only if an important request for modification is approved and only with the recognition of the sponsor of the project.

These changes are considered and approved through a specific process, in which the impacts on the project are assessed.

If a change is approved by the control committee, first its impacts are reported in the project plan and, next, the modification can be implemented.

Deviations from the project baseline are often due to incomplete or incorrect risk identification.

There may be a deviation from the baseline of the project, for example, if the cost of an activity or article exceeds the planned values, or if an activity takes more time than the planned duration.

Why is the project baseline important?

Establishing a baseline allows the project manager to evaluate performance for the duration of a project.

If a project is behind schedule or above budget, it is time to make changes to the baseline or add more resources.

A technique often used by project managers to measure and compare the performance of a project with its baseline, is the following calculation:

Planned Value (PV) = The estimated cost of the planned work

Actual Value (AV) = Actual cost of work done up to the current date

Effective Value (EV) = Planned Value (PV) x % of project completion

Schedule Performance Index (SPI) = EV / PV , measures progress made up to the current date with respect to the initially planned progress.

When SPI <1, less work than expected has been done.

When SPI> 1, more work than expected has been done.

Cost Performance Index (CPI) = EV / AV , measures the value of completed work compared to the planned labor cost.

Finally, baseline determination helps with the accuracy of future estimations. This allows the project manager to get a better idea of how long it will take to complete the project and at what costs.

Estimated at Completion (EAC) = (total project budget) / CPI

EAC is a forecast of how much the overall project will cost, so that it is possible to approximate the correct allocation of resources.

Maintaining an accurate record of current project estimates and actual results allows estimates to be applied to similar future projects.

How to check the status of the baseline

 The check of the progress of the project with respect to the baseline, must follow specific procedures that are established even before starting the execution of the project.

Effective control is possible when these elements are defined:

  • Performance assessment standards and criteria
  • Data collection system
  • Frequency of monitoring, ie. when the checks must be carried out
  • Frequency of reporting
  • Approval process for the new programming
  • Stakholders communication plan.

Practices to follow for optimal calculation and good control of the project baseline

 Let’s see the “modus operandi” to set, track and maintain an optimal project baseline.

 1. Setting of the original baseline

At the beginning of any project, it is very important to set a baseline that represents the starting point of the work. This is a useful method to document the change of various parameters of a project. The goal of setting a baseline is to avoid rewriting its parameters, but eventually just adding new ones. The experience of the project manager in this operation has a very important role.

2. Keep track of previous baselines

As the project progresses, surely the project manager will have to make changes. However, before any change, it is important to save a history of the previous baselines so that it is possible to access the previous baselines for comparisons and restore changes, if necessary.

3. Maintenance of a baseline

Once a change has been approved, it is time to update the forecast by adding the new scope, deadlines, and approved changes. Keeping an accurate record of updates and changes to the baseline allows the project manager to keep the project in line with the new requirements.

In order for the project to be successful, a structured control system becomes fundamental, as well as a good initial planning.

In addition, a project manager must be able to manage contingencies and any changes that may occur during the life cycle of a project.

The control must not only be limited to reporting the changes and rescheduling the activities planned for the future. Instead, control must be a proactive process in which project managers try to anticipate problems.

The project manager must therefore have a continuous and detailed view of the project and must communicate continuously with the project team and with stakeholders.

For this reason, a project manager can refer to different baselines and it is important that he has an adequate control system available.

A good project software like TWproject that keeps track of project timings and deliverables, can certainly give a big help in the control of the project baseline, too.

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change requests

Management of change requests

The management of change requests refers to the tools and processes used to manage changes within a project and its team.

In the context of project management, the change is all that transforms or influences projects, activities, processes, structures or even work functions.

More often, the management of change requests refers to the supervision of the team to successfully integrate the change in the work routine in order to achieve the general goals of the project.

The triple constraint in the management of project change requests

A method used to understand change management is the triple constraint.

The triple constraint is what is defined as the process of managing the scope, budget, and time of a project in order for it to be successful.

In simple words, this means completing the project on time, within budget, and according to the standards set by stakeholders, customers or the sponsor.

Change management, therefore, is the process of checking the triple constraint on the project every time modifications are introduced to the project management plan.

Part of the change management is therefore to monitor the triple constraint and the ability to quickly identify anomalies.

When there are requests for changes to a project, it is not only necessary to have a plan to manage the change, but it is also necessary to have a responsible person in charge able to follow the resolution of the problem before it can seriously threaten the project.

To keep track of the triple constraint, it is therefore necessary to have an integrated control of the changes throughout the project.

This includes a review, analysis, and approval process for change requests as soon as they arrive.

Finally, it is also essential to document the changes at each stage of the process. This creates an historical record that can help future projects that will experience similar events.

The scope of the project

The change management process is the sequence of steps or activities that a change management team or project manager follows to ensure that the project meets the expected results.

During the development of a project, it is normal for the project manager to find himself facing the change management and this does not necessarily mean that the project is going in the wrong direction.

Other times, the project manager can really encounters episodes of scope creep – ie. moving away from the purpose of the project – which, in the long term, can lead to destruction.

The scope of the project defines the deliverables and outputs that the project must produce. It also includes information on the timing and budget available.

The scope is always defined at the beginning of a project’s life cycle, specifically during the planning phase.

Of course, even when the scope has been identified in detail, it is possible that some changes and modifications are necessary.

Among the causes that can lead to the need for changes we find:

  • Incomplete or incorrect requirements analysis
  • Lack of involvement – right from the start – of end users who must agree with the results that the project team is trying to achieve
  • Underestimation of the complexity of the project
  • Lack of control of changes and modifications
  • Weakness of the project manager and / or project sponsor

change requests management

Change management process

To avoid having to resort to a change management process due, for example, to scope creep, it is possible to follow these advice:

  • Ensuring that there is unambiguity about the vision that project managers, project teams, and stakeholders have on deliverables and project outputs
  • Understanding the priorities of the different stakeholders
  • Subdividing the works through a WBS – Work Breakdown Structure – also introducing milestones control.
  • Defining a clear change management process for each team member
  • Verbalizing and documenting the delivery and acceptance of the output at the end of the project

It is clear, however, that even if you follow these tips, the need to manage changes can become reality anyway.

The four steps of the change management process

Therefore, in these cases, the project manager should apply the change management process, consisting of four main phases:

  1. Planning change, where the strategy to be followed in the event of changes is defined. This must be clearly communicated to all team members. Therefore, initial communications are generally made in order to create awareness of the reasons for change and the risk that non-change would mean. The project manager must therefore prepare an adequate communication plan and be able to address the information needs. For instance, each public has particular information needs based on the role it plays during the implementation of the change and the project manager must take this into account in order to draft an effective communication plan.
  2. Implementation of changes. Here, the changes are put into practice by the project team. Employee engagement is here necessary and their feedback is a key element of the change management process.
  3. Monitor and control of changes. In this phase, all the changes made are verified and checked in order to find any errors and to have time to correct them promptly.
  4. Post-project review. The final step in the change management process is the review at the end of the project. It is at this point that it is possible to evaluate the entire program, evaluate the successes and failures, and identify the process changes necessary for any similar future projects. This is part of the continuous improvement of change management within an organization.

These were the fundamental elements of change management.

Good project managers apply these components effectively in order to ensure the success of the project, avoid the loss of good employees, and minimize the negative impact of change on a company’s productivity and customers.

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deming cycle

The Deming Cycle (PDCA) and the constant improvement of quality

Analizing the quality and trying to improve it, is probably the main purpose behind improving business processes.

This philosophy of process improvement comes from a very important person, William Edwards Deming, a statistician, often defined as a philosopher of science.

Deming’s goal was to reapply the scientific method to business processes, which he actually did with the so-called Deming Cycle, or PDCA.

Deming’s approach is not just about improving processes, but can also be about improving an entire organization in general.

What is the Deming Cycle

The Deming cycle is a model of continuous quality improvement which consists of a logical sequence of four key phases:

  • P – Plan, or planning
  • D – Do, or the execution
  • C – Check, ie the test and control
  • A – Act, which is the action

Deming’s experience as an engineer gave him an overview of industrial processes and the real attempt to standardize operations in order to ensure large-scale operation.

By studying mathematical physics, he found himself in a position that allowed him to contribute to the growing science of statistics.

Deming’s sampling techniques, for example, are still in use in the US Census Department and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The key points on which Deming was working are:

  • Having a system for continuous quality improvement
  • Reducing errors and defects through higher levels of quality uniformity
  • Understanding the meaning of quality in the context

the deming cycle

Let’s look at the four phases of the Deming Cycle in detail.

The phases of the Deming Cycle: Planning

The first goal of the Deming Cycle is to plan ahead in order to understand what you want to achieve based on the expected results. It is a both practical and theoretical step.

Here, we are dealing with business processes, where we intend to improve something within the organization.

At this stage, you will have to test and analyze what is currently wrong with the product or process and how this can be improved.

Also here, one tries to understand what changes can be made to tackle the problems or to achieve something better.

 The phases of the Deming Cycle: Execution

Execution begins first with a small-scale test and in a limited context.

Here, the changes are implemented to test the different variables and each step will be documented.

Instead of simply deciding to make a change and suddenly reviewing all the operations, it is essential to make changes slowly and iteratively during the hypothesis test.

The use of studies that can be measured with respect to control groups, allows to better understand the data received, allowing not only to improve the output, but to understand exactly why the output has been improved by the changes made.

For Deming, this phase should be like a model of a scientific experiment.

The phases of the Deming Cycle: Test and Control

In this phase, the results and findings are studied and collected.

For Deming, the results of the planning and execution will be shown at this stage.

Do the results coincide with the forecasts? In what ways do the results differ, and why?

This phase of study should teach us to draw conclusions exactly like a scientist does after an experiment. Instead of simply asking the question “Did it work?”, for Deming you will have to ask “Why did it work?”.

The phases of the Deming Cycle: Action

This phase is the final one of the process and the first phase of the next cycle.

Here, the recommended changes have been implemented and the process is finalized. Now that we have learned that the output can be generated by executing action X, this action will be performed in each relevant situation.

This phase can include both the implementation of improvements in the company as well as the implementation of new knowledge within the organization.

Just as the results of repeated experiments create new useful knowledge, so these business results must be incorporated into new premises from which the cycle can be restarted.

The company continues to go through the cycle until the expected and actual results coincide and no further changes are necessary.

 The pros and cons of the Deming Cycle

The Deming Cycle is a simple but powerful way to solve new and recurring problems in any sector or process.

Its iterative approach allows the project manager and his team to test solutions and evaluate results in a quality improvement cycle.

The Deming Cycle establishes a commitment to continuous improvement, however small, and can improve efficiency and productivity in a controlled way, without the risk of making untested large-scale changes.

However, going through the Deming Cycle can be much slower and more time-consuming than a direct implementation.

For this reason, it may not be the appropriate approach in the case of an urgent problem or an emergency.

Moreover, this methodology requires significant “buy-in” by team members and offers fewer opportunities for radical innovation.

For Deming, the PDCA treats process experiments as hypothesis tests by asking the questions “did it work or didn’t it work?” And “Is the hypothesis true or is the alternative true?”

This is the cycle through which an hypothesis is developed, the experiments are conducted, the results are evaluated, and the hypothesis is reviewed and repeated.

In simple words, Deming’s approach, seems to want to remove our blinders.

We need to stop looking for only minor changes to eliminate process inefficiencies and instead start thinking big about how processes can be improved in order to increase quality.

For Deming, the same levels of scientific rigor that one would expect from the best researchers should be used in business. Let’s try then.

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the schedule and the project manager

The schedule and its importance for the Project Manager

The time schedule generally refers to the skills, tools, and techniques used to manage time when executing projects to achieve specific goals.

A time schedule must adapt to a specified period of time and use available resources with the right skills.

Given the many uncertainties and variables and the possibility that the availability of resources or the scope of a project may change, it is difficult to create a schedule that remains stable from beginning to end.

Why you need to plan the time for a project

At the beginning of each project, it is necessary to know how events and activities will be organized during time.

And do not forget that during the project cycle, it will be necessary to spend some time to update deadlines by considering any changes to the project plan.

The investment of time for planning the project schedule may seem superfluous, but in reality it is absolutely necessary for success.

During the life cycle of the project a part of time should be foreseen to review the schedule and the dependencies of the various activities.

This allows you to check if the project plans are still on track, what is working and what is not.

The schedule of a project is composed of sequenced activities, milestones and goals that must be delivered within a given deadline.

Having a project schedule means knowing exactly what needs to be delivered and in what order.

Moreover, with the right planning techniques, it is possible to regulate the activities in the case that the project is late or if any changes to its scope occur.

The time schedule: how to structure the project planning routine

schedule and project manager

There are two routines to follow for the planning of the project:

1. Planning of the weekly project

Set a time once a week to analyze the schedule and the project plan, determine the results achieved in the past week, and define the goals for the current week.

This time must also be used to be sure that all resources are aligned to ensure the execution and achievement of the goals.

2. Planning of the daily project

Plan at least 30 minutes a day to reflect on the day and / or review the schedule for the next day.

This moment can occur at the beginning or at the end of the day, depending on the preference of the project manager and the most efficient technique.

Here is a brief example of what daily project planning can look like for a project manager:

  • Review the program and update the Gantt chart, if necessary.
  • Ensure that the meetings scheduled for the next day are properly planned and confirmed.
  • Plan the next day based on whatever deliverables are expected. If necessary, the project manager will block a part of his agenda to work quietly on this.

How to obtain a schedule

The process that allows to obtain a schedule is composed of four phases:

  • Create a model of how the work will be performed;
  • Estimate the duration of activities;
  • Calculate times for activities;
  • Present the results.

Every aspect of the process is taken into account by the team, using experts in the field, when necessary.

In fact, a program agreed with the team is more likely to succeed than one imposed from the board of directors.

Estimation of activity durations must take into account many factors, such as effort required, resource efficiency, physical constraints, etc.

Regarding the third point, the simplest form of calculation is the critical analysis of the path. This uses a duration estimate that includes all the factors.

The final results are usually presented as a Gantt chart.

The main advantage of this model is that it can be updated frequently with new information and quickly recalculated.

This is a continuous process throughout the project life cycle and uses the information on actual progress to predict the end date of the project.

Most of the project planning is normally performed with the help of a specific project management software.

In the past, printed calendars or spreadsheets shared by e-mail were the method used to keep an eye on the project schedule.

But today, most teams and organizations implement project management tools with the appropriate features.

These can simplify the creation of timelines and save them online, making the planning of activities and teams much easier.

Because projects have so many moving parts and change frequently, project planning software automatically updates tasks that depend on each other when a scheduled task is not completed in time.

With some software, it is also possible to have the advantage of setting milestones, linking activities, and seeing the actual or planned progress of the schedule update dynamically.

What are the benefits of using a time schedule?

There are many advantages that a well-made project schedule ensures to project managers, the team, and the organization in general:

  • Managers, team members, and stakeholders can monitor progress, set and manage expectations, communicate and collaborate clearly.
  • Tasks and results can be monitored and controlled to ensure timely delivery of the output – and if delays occur, it is possible to easily assess their impact and make the necessary changes.
  • Increase profitability.
  • The communication of clear and better details about the project helps the organization in the distribution of resources where they are most needed, helping to achieve the goals of the project.

Following these steps ensures the project manager to always work efficiently on any project and to be able to predict and mitigate the risks before they turn into big obstacles.

 

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costs analysis

Analysis of the costs of a project

The analysis of the costs (and benefits) of a project, among all the possible techniques, is perhaps the most important for a Project Manager. Let’s try to see why.

When managing a project, it is necessary to make many important decisions.

Because of the high stakes involved, good project managers do not simply make decisions based on instinct. They prefer to minimize risk and act only when there is more certainty than uncertainty.

But how is this possible in a world with a myriad of variables and a constantly changing economy?

The answer is:

rigidly consult the data collected with reporting tools, graphs, and spreadsheets.

Project managers can then use this data to evaluate their decisions with a process called cost-benefit analysis of a project.

Smart use of cost-benefit analysis will help minimize risks and maximize profits for both the project and the organization in general.

What is a project cost analysis?

The cost analysis in project management was designed to assess the cost compared to the benefits in the project proposal.

This process begins with a list, which includes all the expenses of the project together with the benefits that will derive from it once the project will be successfully completed.

From this, it is possible to calculate the return on investment (ROI), the internal rate of return (IRR), the net present value (NPV) and the amortization period.

The difference between the cost and the benefits will determine whether the action is worth it or not.

In most cases, if the cost is 50% of the benefits and the amortization period is not more than one year, it is worth taking action.

A cost-benefit analysis is a process that allows organizations to analyze decisions, systems, or processes or determine a value for intangible assets.

The model is built by identifying the benefits of an action and the costs associated with it and subtracting the costs from the benefits.

Once completed, a cost-benefit analysis will produce concrete results that can be used to develop reasonable conclusions about the feasibility and / or opportunity that represents a specific decision or situation.
the costs analysis

The purpose of the cost-benefit analysis

The purpose of the cost-benefit analysis is to have a systemic approach in order to understand the advantages and disadvantages of various solutions through a project, including transactions, activities, business requirements, and investments.

Cost-benefit analysis offers options and is the best approach to achieve a goal while saving on investment.

There are two main purposes for using a cost-benefit analysis for a project:

  • To determine if the project is valid, justifiable and feasible, verifying if its benefits exceed the costs.
  • It offers a reference base for comparing projects by determining which project benefits are greater than its costs.

The cost-benefit analysis process: 10 key steps

The process of cost-benefit analysis of a project is composed of 10 steps through which the convenience of the project can be established. Let’s see what they are:

  • What are the goals of the project? Before you can decide if a project is worth, you need to have a clear and precise idea of ​​what it must accomplish.
  • What are the alternatives? Before you can know if the project is the right one, you need to compare it with other projects and see which is the best one to follow.
  • Who are the interested parties? List all project stakeholders.
  • What measures will you use? You need to decide the metrics you will use to measure all costs and benefits.
  • What is the outcome of costs and benefits? You need to know what the costs and benefits of the project are and map them over a significant period of time.
  • What is the common currency? Here, we take all the costs and benefits and convert them into the same currency in order to make a real comparison.
  • What discount rate will be applied? This will express the amount of interest as a percentage of the balance at the end of a certain period.
  • How is the net present value of the project options? This is a measure of profit that is calculated by subtracting the current values ​​of the cash outflows from the current values ​​of incoming cash flows over a given period of time.
  • Sensitivity analysis? This is a study of how the uncertainty of the output can be divided into different sources of uncertainty in its inputs.
  • Final decision? The final step, after collecting all these data, is to make the most recommended choice according to the analysis.

Are there limitations to cost-benefit analysis?

Of course, there is always a risk inherent in any business, and the risk and uncertainty must be considered when evaluating the cost-benefit analysis of a project.

It is possible to calculate this with the probability theory. Uncertainty is different from risk, but can be assessed using a sensitivity analysis in order to illustrate how the results respond to parameter changes.

Overall the use of cost-benefit analysis is a crucial step in determining whether it is worth pursuing any project.

For projects involving small to medium capital expenditures and from short to intermediate (in terms of completion time), a thorough cost-benefit analysis may be sufficient to make a rational and well-informed decision.

For large projects with a long-term time horizon, cost-benefit analysis typically fails to justify important financial concerns such as inflation, interest rates, variable cash flows, and the present value of money.

Alternative methods of analyzing initial capital, including the net present value or internal rate of return, are more appropriate for these situations.

Unless you are extremely lucky, it will never be possible to get all the information needed to complete a cost-benefit analysis.

There will in fact always be gaps in information.

Cost analysis: the hypothesis method

One way to try to overcome these shortcomings is to use hypotheses about the missing information.

However, for the inexperienced project manager, hypothesis creation is one of the most terrifying aspects of cost-benefit analysis.

Here is an example: a cost-benefit analysis is conducted for a real estate investment project. There may be a case of not knowing what the maintenance costs will be in the future. What is known, however, are the types of maintenance fees that have been paid for similar properties in the past. You can then use some of those numbers to make an assumption.

In any case, care must be taken when using hypotheses. Factors do not always follow trends and even the smallest change in the hypothesis can produce totally different results.

In conclusion, cost-benefit analysis is a data-driven process and very often requires a sufficiently robust project management software to handle and distribute information. If you haven’t tried TwProject yet, do it now! You will discover how simple it is to organize information and complete a cost-benefit analysis.

Still in doubt? Well you can try yourself with a free demo.

Portfolio management: some suggestions for managing the project portfolio

Project Portfolio Management is the continuous process of selection and management of project-oriented initiatives that offer the best in terms of business value or return on investment.

It is a dynamic decision-making process that allows the management to reach a consensus on the best use of resources in order to focus on projects that can be implemented and strategically aligned with the business goals.

The gathering of essential information for the portfolio management process

The basis for the portfolio management process is a database that collects all information related to initiatives of the project.

This database allows:

  • Maintaining visibility of all project information within the company
  • Collaborating using consistent information to reach a consensus on the alignment of projects with respect to company goals
  • Providing quick access to all relevant information, horizontally as well as vertically, within the organization, enabling to make objective decisions about project priorities, future investments, and resource utilization
  • Creating a link between corporate strategy, project selection, and their execution.

Bad management of Portfolio Management is the result of a disconnection between the information and the processes used to support the strategic and operational planning of the project.

The Portfolio Management process

The portfolio management process has four phases.

The first is the inventory phase, which includes the collection of project and organizational data in order to support the second phase, the evaluation phase.

In the evaluation phase the previously collected data are analyzed and reviewed.

The third phase, the alignment phase, makes it possible to establish metrics and balances of the portfolio of projects.

The last step, the management phase, means the efficient coordination of the various projects.

Let’s have a look at the individual phases in more detail.

Portfolio Management: The inventory phase

Project information can be acquired from any valid source including the tools used within the organization or simply by interviewing project managers and project participants.

This phase begins by collecting all the main information about ongoing projects and on the organization in general.

In this way, the project categories are determined.

Moreover, here the strategic goals of the organization are identified and the initiatives for each project are determined.
portfolio management suggestions

Portfolio Management: The evaluation phase

The evaluation phase assesses the strengths and weaknesses of the project portfolio.

There are many types of analysis that can be done simply starting from the inventory data.

For example:

  • A simple order for project justification can reveal different projects that attempt to solve identical or similar problems. These projects could be more efficient if combined, or perhaps it would be better if some of them were canceled.
  • An order based on the category of resources can reveal any future deficiencies in time in order to allow to have a look at possible solution options: staff increase, use of external resources, such as freelancers, or cancellation of some projects.
  • A departmental order could show that the customer service department will soon be overwhelmed by the contemporary release of three new applications.

Once this phase is completed, it is possible to have a clear understanding of the entire project portfolio model.

Portfolio Management: The alignment phase

The alignment phase results in a “new” project portfolio.

This means that each project in the portfolio is reclassified.

The decisions taken during this phase are made in order to achieve the delicate balance between what is desired and what can be achieved, between the ideal n theory and the reality. Here, the Project manager decides which projects can be delayed or even cancelled.

Obviously, with a project portfolio the decision is more complex tan with a single project as the different stakeholders could have different perceived values.

During the alignment phase, the portfolios of alternative projects are evaluated on the base of different “what-if” scenarios.

The key challenge of the alignment phase is therefore to make the project portfolio more optimal.

Portfolio Management: The management phase

This is the phase in which the true “Portfolio Management” is verified, in which the projects are aligned with the corporate goals and where it is possible to identify the structure in terms of business.

The challenge now is how to communicate horizontally and vertically within the organization.

This is where automation, through specific project portfolio management tools, can help manage priorities, planning, budget, and resources of a project.

The success of an organization can therefore depend heavily on its ability to effectively manage the project portfolio and ensure that business goals are respected over time and within budget.

The importance of managing project portfolios should therefore be taken quite seriously.

Here are some final best practices to help the project manager manage Portfolio Management:

  • Select and prioritize the right projects. Not all projects have the same urgency. It is therefore important to recognize the hierarchy between them based on organizational goals.
  • Predict the cost of delivering the project portfolio. Since profitability is the key of a successful organization, it is important to keep track of project portfolio costs and monitor them. It is necessary to have general visibility in order to determine if a particular project must be canceled based on the costs that exceed the benefits.
  • Provide real-time status reports for executives. Managers are often the ones who make business decisions and it is important for them to have real-time visibility for project statuses in order to make the best decisions.

Get a complete view of all projects. It is important that organizations, when it comes to the status of various projects, have a single version of the truth.  This eliminates questions and doubts and helps establish the correct priorities.

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the project sponsor

Managing a project sponsor

One of the critical success factors for any project is the presence and participation of an effective project sponsor.

Often the project sponsor  is someone holding a senior position within the organization and is responsible for initiating and approving the project and supporting the project manager during execution.

The project sponsor identifies the business needs of the project, helps the project manager keep the work on track, and ensures that the organization obtains benefits from the the final results.

The key attributes of a project sponsor

The project sponsor must have a strong appreciation of the organization’s strategic goals, must understand the role as a sponsor and exert influence and it would be an advantage, if it had direct experience in project management.

Some key attributes for a project sponsor are:

  • Strategic and innovative mentality
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Excellent communication skills, including negotiation and conflict management
  • Strong decision making processes

Roles and responsibilities of project sponsors

Unlike the project manager, who oversees the team and the daily execution of key tasks, the sponsor helps create the right environment to support the project manager.

This support can take a variety of forms such as:

  • Aligning the project with the corporate strategy.
  • Participating in project planning.
  • Ensuring that the proposed solution solves the agreed problem and the requirements.
  • Assistance in resource management.
  • Ensuring that the project is started and executed in accordance with established standards and best practices.
  • Monitoring project progress and helping in taking corrective action if necessary.
  • Cultivating buy-in and stakeholder engagement.
  • Providing timely and informed information on key project decisions.
  • Solving problems and conflicts outside the scope of project manager authority.
  • Evaluating the success of the project at its end.
  • Celebrating and rewarding success.
  • Project manager mentoring when and as needed.

With so many responsibilities and an active role, the project sponsor is one of the real owners of the project.

No wonder then, if a sponsor can make or break a project.

Challenges in working with a project sponsor

Developing a beneficial relationship with the project sponsor is complicated for different reasons.

Typically, project sponsors are assigned to a project before work begins, which means that project managers rarely have the opportunity to choose it.

Moreover, an individual who has no project management experience but who is going to fill the role due to – for example – his seniority within the organization could take the project sponsor role.

Project sponsors are people who are also generally involved in other activities, outside the project, and may not have sufficient time to provide useful advice and support in case of difficulty.

Project managers who work with inefficient or useless sponsors have two choices: go ahead in the best way or “manage” and help the project sponsor play their role.

 Four key steps to work with the project sponsor

Here are the four steps that can help you work with the project sponsor:

1. Set expectations

Before starting a new project, it is essential to meet the project sponsor to decide how to collaborate. This step is particularly important, if the project manager has never worked with the sponsor or if the sponsor is taking on this role for the first time.

It is good practice to hold this meeting even if the two parties have already worked together previously and even if the sponsor is an expert. Each project is indeed different and requires alignment from the beginning.

Use the meeting to establish roles and responsibilities, identify the resources required and establish a communication plan, review and refine the project plan, identifying the main milestones.

2. Preliminary meeting

Ask the project sponsor to participate in the preliminary meeting with the team in order to share the vision of the project and the desired result.

In this way, also the project team will have clearer ideas about all project stakeholders.
project sponsor

3. Communication

 As the project progresses, keep the sponsor busy and informed. The communication channels include status meetings, automated reports and dashboards using, for example, a project management software.

It is also important to examine the communication style and preferences of the sponsor and adapt them as needed.

4. Keep the sponsor involved (h3)

 In addition to updates and status reports, the project manager must periodically ask the sponsor for information and directions. It is important to look for their input when it comes to problems and difficulties or when alternative approaches need to be compared.

A valid project sponsor, in fact, should care for and support the project manager and has a vast knowledge to share. Involving a project sponsor helps building a rewarding relationship for all.

The relationship with the sponsor and the end of project document

At the end of a project, a project manager must always proceed to an analysis concerning the relationship with the project sponsor.

This can help improve the commitment of the sponsors and the management of any future projects.

  • What worked and what did not?
  • What challenges have been encountered in the relationship with the project sponsor?
  • Are there specific tools or processes when working with sponsors within the organization?

These and other questions serve to collect experiences. They are the key to establishing best practices in order to have an efficient relationship between project managers and project sponsors.

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project approval

Verifications with the client and project approval documents

The approval by the client describes the acceptance by the client or the contractor of the result obtained at the end of a project.

It denotes the successful delivery of the product – goods or services – which meets the requirements established at the beginning of the project.

The delivery of the agreed goods or services immediately after production is exactly what the customer expects. A delivery that completes the order according to the requirements agreed at the time of the contract.

Verification and approval as milestones of a project

The approval is therefore a fundamental milestone in the project. The approval means the verification of the product, where the client determines if the contractor has delivered an asset that satisfies the agreed goals or not.

Without the verification, and consequently the approval, a project is not completed correctly. This applies even if it has been completed within the time frame and / or the set budget.

By accepting the deliverables of the project, the client acknowledges that the product or service delivered is complete, which means that it can be used for the intended purpose.

However, verification and final approval are not the only tests that can occur in the project. In the context of project management, several other situations where approval is requested can also occur, such as approving the project plan or adjusting the scope.

In this case, the approval means keeping all the stakeholders updated on the status of the project and then moving on to the next phases of the project.

What are the criteria for verification and acceptance by the client?

Verification criteria are criteria that include performance requirements and essential conditions that must necessarily be met before project deliverables are accepted.

They set specific circumstances under which the client will accept the final output of the project.

They must be measurable criteria through which it is possible to demonstrate that the project has been successfully completed.

The fundamental elements of the verification by the client

The goal of the PM is to ensure that at the end of the project, the client verifies and positively accepts the deliverables produced.

It is obvious that for this to happen, the project manager must immediately work on some elements of verification that will later become fundamental. Let’s see them together

 1. Set the customer’s expectation level

The success or failure of projects depends on whether the final product meets the acceptance criteria of clients.

Having a clearly defined set of verification criteria, the project manager with his team is able to set the client’s expectation level and lay the groundwork for the completed product.

Inaccurate or missing verification and acceptance criteria can lead to low levels of client satisfaction, missed delivery dates and / or development costs being exceeded.

2. Work on the verification criteria to make them relevant, measurable, and tangible

Acceptance criteria are generally used for projects where the customer pays the final results or the completion of the project phases.

For this reason, the project manager should make sure that the acceptance criteria are relevant, measurable, and tangible for each deliverable.

It can happen that the client refuses to sign the results for two legitimate reasons:

  • The project results do not meet the needs,
  • The project manager and the team have no clarity on the needs of the clients.

Working towards a well defined set of verification and acceptance criteria before starting to work on the final results, protects the project manager and the project team, together with the organization in general.

Since the project client is responsible fort he approval of the final product, he is also responsible for approving the verification and acceptance criteria.

If the acceptance criteria are met, there should be no reasons why the client should not approve and accept the final product.

Main challenges and best practices for writing verification criteria

The verification and acceptance criteria seem very easy to write. Nevertheless, their drafting and formalization represents a challenge for many project managers.

Let’s take a closer look at the best practices that help avoid common mistakes when writing project verification criteria.

Document verification criteria before product development 

The verification and acceptance criteria must be documented before the project – ie. the actual development of the output – starts. In this way, the project manager will be able to capture all the needs of the client in advance. The criteria must then be agreed and accepted by both parties and used to plan the process inherent to the project.

Do not make the verification and acceptance criteria too specific

The verification and acceptance criteria should not be too specific and give little or no maneuvering options. In order to avoid this, it is necessary that the verification criteria transmit the intent and goal sought, not exactly the final solution.

Keep the criteria achievable

This point intersects closely with the previous one. The effective verification and acceptance criteria define the reasonable minimum of functionality that the client is inclined to accept. In the event that all the smallest details are described, there is a risk that the project team remains blocked in order to focus on hundreds of small tasks, sometimes not strictly necessary for the success of the project.

Keep the criteria measurable and not too wide

This is exactly the opposite error compared to the previous points. Too broad criteria make the client’s requests vague. They must outline the purpose of the work so that the project manager and the team can plan and estimate their effort correctly.

Avoid technical details

As mentioned, the verification and acceptance criteria must be written in a simple way. This will make them clear and easy for everyone to understand since not everyone could have a technical or specialized background on the subject.

Achieving consensus

It is necessary for the project manager to make sure that he has communicated the verification and acceptance criteria to the interested parties and that he has reached a mutual agreement. The same applies to team members who will have to work directly on producing the output. All stakeholders must confirm that they understand and agree with each formalized criterion.
the project approval

Some examples of verification criteria by the client

The verification and acceptance criteria are conditions that are used to determine whether the work has been completed according to the requirements initially established.

In particular, the acceptance criteria are designed so as not to be ambiguous.

The following are examples of possible verification and acceptance criteria used by the client:

  • Behavior of a system or an instrument that can be tested with use.
  • Specifications of the phases of a process including automated steps and human activities. For example, “When the customer sends an application, an activity is created in the sales system”.
  • Specification for a calculation that can include business rules, algorithms, and formulas.
  • Aspects of a product that make it pleasant to use.
  • Implementation expectations that allow architects, designers, engineers and experts to be flexible in their work.
  • Performance requirements such as “the system will have a page load time of less than 3 seconds when 500 users are online simultaneously”.
  • Definitions of internal controls.
  • Operational requirements such as “the platform will integrate with another”.
  • Quality expectations.
  • Constraints on materials, such as “all ingredients will have an organic certification”.

Why is an approval documentation essential

 The approval documentation is essential for any project in order to keep a record of what has been agreed.

Without this documentation to accompany the life cycle of a project, the project manager , the team, and the client can find themselves having different ideas about the concept, the form of the final results and even the delivery timing.

Even for project managers who hate paperwork, this documentation is a sort of “blessing”, because it serves as a simple reminder of the expectations of both the parties, clients and project team.

Anyone with a question about the different phases of the project can refer to the approval documentation to see what actions need to be taken based on the approved requirements.

The 3 advantages of the acceptance documentation are:

  • Managing the expectations between the client and the project team.
  • Leaving room for additions or modifications while maintaining clear communication.
  • Maintaining maximum responsibility for each phase of the project.

What does the project approval process look like?

Obtaining formal registration is important because it indicates the official end of a project and the completion and acceptance of a deliverable by the client.

When the project is finished and the deliverable has been produced, the project manager is ready to examine it with the customer.

Offering the opportunity to the client for a complete review will give time to consider and accept the result or provide feedback to organize any revisions to the output.

Once the project is deemed satisfactory by all interested parties, the approval form comes into play.

All the main stakeholders will sign their part of this documentation and, once approved in full, the project will officially come to an end with success.

Once a project is officially closed, the team has the freedom to start a new project for that same client or for others.

Once the approval documentation and the project are complete, the project manager may wish to review the project in its entirety with his team in order to identify what went well and what can be improved in the future.

A project manager can also decide to ask the client for feedback, not only regarding the final output, but also regarding the project as a whole, so as to have further evaluation elements.

Conclusions

The criteria for verification and acceptance of an output by the client represent a specific and defined list of conditions that must be met before a project can be considered completed and the final results of the project are accepted by the customer.

Having clearly defined acceptance criteria can help the project team in many ways, including:

  • Establishing customer expectations regarding the final product.
  • Measuring, reaching and demonstrating to the clients that the work is complete.
  • Obtaining formal detachments from the client on the final results in the project.
  • Protecting the project manager, the team, and the organization from problems such as missed payments by customers.

Clearly, definining acceptance evaluation criteria can also help avoid communication problems and political maneuvering on internal projects.

Now, we hope there are no more doubts about why the verification criteria must be included in the contractual agreement with the clients, as well as in the project scope statement and in the requirements documents.

Still in doubt? Well you can try yourself with a free demo.

the software choice

How to choose a project management software

A project management software is a versatile way to simplify the process of managing any project.

A project management software helps to unify the work process on one or more projects. This avoids forcing teams to work on different applications and platforms.

Thus, communication tools, file sharing, activity and deadline monitoring, and reporting are all inserted into a single software application.

A project management software works like a real-time workspace. It helps keep the eye focused on the big picture, effectively managing the details day by day.

When do you need project management software?

It is important to point out that a project management software is designed for completing projects that require time and teamwork.

An organization needs a project management software, when it is necessary for different individuals and business units to coordinate, both internally as well as externally, to complete certain tasks.

Establishing precisely when it is the exact time to switch to the use of a project management software is not easy. However, there are unmistakable signs that make clear that perhaps this time has come. The telltale signs that an organization needs a project management software include:

  • Delay of projects due to over-correspondence via e-mail and work was lost in the mailboxes of team members.
  • Confusion over too elaborate and not user-friendly worksheets.
  • Lost of some deadlines due to lack of accountability and transparency in the process.
  • Poor communication between team members and the project manager due to failure to report the status of the project or individual activities.
  • Overlapping or redundant jobs due to the confusion that reigns over the specific role of each team member.
  • Not clear or lost timelines due to poor planning or poor communication.

Therefore, choosing a project management software solution can simplify the entire process. It can allow the team to offer higher quality work in a shorter period of time.

Effective softwares allow the project manager to save and track multiple projects simultaneously.

In essence, the workload can be saved on a single platform. On this platform, each team member has access to all the information needed to do his job.

How does a project management software look like?

Generally, as starting base, we also find a dashboard. This control panel provides access to all major software features.

From the dashboard, users can create new projects and manage and organize old ones.

In many project management platforms, the dashboard is also the site of an overview of active and completed projects, which users can access at any time.

Project management softwares clearly have different capabilities, and it is important to assess what the business needs are before choosing one solution.

For project managers, complete control over project management is essential.

This way, they can reassign the work and reprogram it, if a team member is overloaded while others are not, managing resources more effectively.

With detailed summaries and reports, project managers can also more easily keep pace with new developments.

Any complex project has many moving parts and it is therefore important that the manager is informed of all the details.

Choose the right project management software

Most quality project management softwares offer the features described above, but of course there are other aspects that vary from platform to platform.

This is why it is important to select a project management software that allows to ensure the success of an organization.

A large company, for example, will have different needs than a small startup with a small team.

So, examining each software and asking the right questions is the key.

Implementation and ease of use should be two key factors essential for the decision.

5 fundamental aspects for the choice of a project management software

Here are the 5 fundamental aspects in order to choose the right project management software:

1. Respond to the whys

The process must begin with a transparent and honest assessment of why the organization needs a project management software. The project manager can start by tracing the needs and identifying current problems. This can be followed by an analysis of the existing processes to highlight the negative points and, consequently, to look for a software that allows to overcome them.

 2. Looking beyond the “big names”

Clearly, there are project management softwares most famous than others, but are we really sure that these represent the right choice for any organization? For a given company, in fact, a less well-known project management platform could be the ideal solution. So, it becomes important to search online to see what types of software are on the market, collect different opinions, ask the team members what they used in their previous organizations, etc. In short, do some research and compare the various features.

3. Identify implementation barriers

 Once the project manager has chosen a potential project management software, it is important to consider the obstacles or implementation barriers that the organization might encounter. These implementation barriers could be anything: From team resistance to longer than expected training sessions, from difficult data migration to insufficient purchasing budget. The idea is therefore to identify all the factors that could cause a block to the implementation of the software, to verify if these barriers can be eliminated and to find a solution.

 4. Do a test drive

Almost all the available softwares are supplied with a free trial (if you want to try TWproject for free you can click here). It is therefore important to make the most of this opportunity, using realistic project scenarios to scroll through the list of software features. The PM will not have to act alone, but choose a team just as it would in the case of a real project. The team chosen for the test drive will thus have the opportunity to explore the new software and give the most accurate feedback possible. It is important to keep the communication open in order to discuss any problem straight away.

5. Draw up a detailed implementation plan

A final factor to consider before officially choosing the project management tool, is to plan the implementation and make sure it will be as smooth as possible. Typical elements to be considered at this stage include time frames for implementation, adequate training for the various stakeholders, and possible data migration activities. It is also necessary to evaluate the level of support that can be obtained from the supplier of the software as well as the long-term technical support.

Conclusions

The choice of a project management software therefore requires much more than a decision based only on a couple of “big” names, on a superficial analysis of the functionalities, and on the feedback of a few people.

Choosing a new project management tool can be a long and complicated process, but one that is worth it in the long run.

The right choice will be an advantage for the organization in general, for customers, as well as for the project team.

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consegna dei deliverables

The delivery plan of project deliverables

The delivery plan of project deliverables is a strategic element for every Project Manager.

The goal of every project is, in fact, to produce a result that serves a specific purpose. With the word „purpose“, we can mean the most disparate goals: a software program, a chair, a building, a translation, etc.

In project management, all these results have only one name: deliverable.

In essence, all planned activities should be directly related to the production of a deliverable. The Project Manager must have in mind what the delivery plan of the deliverables is.

Any project activity that does not directly contribute to the production of a product should be restructured or removed from the project plan. If you are not sure about the definition of deliberable, you can always read the article on how to identify the project deliverables.

Regardless of how many tasks have been completed by the project manager and his team, until a deliverable is not produced and accepted by the client, the project team may not be paid!

Since the final results are the result of some activity or effort, they must also be measurable and specific.

In the world of project management, a deliverable is defined as a “measurable, tangible, verifiable result that must be produced to complete a milestone of the project”.

Processing of the delivery strategy of the deliverables

A weighted delivery strategy of the deliverables ensures that customers’ goals are met and that agreed deadlines are respected.

Processing this delivery strategy includes the following activities:

  • Definition
  • Deconstruction
  • Assignment
  • Progress monitoring
  • Quality check

Knowing these steps will increase the efficiency of teamwork and ensure that all activities add value to the project.

Let’s look at them in detail.

Definition

Understanding the client’s goals is the first step in the definition process, as the final results must be developed from this perspective.

It would be useful to collect the customer’s needs by following the SMART criteria.

Deconstruction

After a comparison with the customer, the results of the project are successfully defined.

The next goal is to break down each deliverable into as small units as possible in order to trace the activities and thus be able to delegate them.

This exercise is often referred to as the creation of a “WBS – Work Breakdown Structure“.

The correct deconstruction of the final result is fundamental for an accurate monitoring of progress.

Assignment

Once the final results have been broken down into small measurable tasks, the project manager can begin to assign individual tasks to the appropriate team member.

The first step is to hire the right people for the project team.

It is the responsibility of the project manager to understand the team’s skill set and determine who is best suited for a particular job.

After assigning the tasks, it is important to keep the communication with the team open in order to allow clarifications on any questions or concerns regarding compliance with deadlines.

la consegna dei deliverables

Progress monitoring

Now that the final results are defined and broken down with deadlines and tasks set for each activity, it is time to keep track of progress towards the completion of each deliverable.

A variety of methods and tools are available to track the progress of the project.

For accurate status monitoring, it is important to select a project management tool that is flexible and easy to use.

Moreover, each team member should be able to easily insert updates on the activities, while the project manager needs a general overview of the project.

There are many project management tools that systematically monitor the progress that can be made as team members indicate that activities are completed. In this case, a good project management software is the key.

Quality control

Establishing and planning time for a thorough quality review is a key component of the project deliverables delivery strategy.

The quality review serves as the final status between the deliverable and the customer.

A quality control process usually includes steps to validate that the deliverable:

  • Maintains consistency with other deliverables
  • Fulfills contractual obligations
  • Is free from errors or defects

Depending on the size and skills of the project team, a single resource or more resources can be included in the quality review process.

After carrying out the quality review process, the project manager should be sure of the acceptance of the deliverable by the client.

It is good practice to always ask the customer to send a written approval of the result.

In conclusion, developing a clear delivery plan of the deliverables is essential for the timely execution and management of any project.

Investing time from the beginning to establish the various phases of the process and selecting the right project management tool, will allow the project manager to focus on efficient project management.

Still in doubt? Well you can try yourself with a free demo.

risk response

Risk response strategies: mitigation, transfer, avoidance, acceptance

When dealing with a project, risks are always on the agenda. Even the most carefully planned project can encounter problems and unexpected events.

Team members may fall ill or resign, other resources may be unavailable or insufficient, the budget may fail to cover an expense, etc.

Does this mean that we must give up when faced with unexpected problems? Absolutely not!

This is where planning and risk response strategies come into play. We need to identify potential problems that could negatively affect the project, analyze the likelihood of them occurring, take action in order to prevent the risks that can be eliminated and minimize those that are impossible to avoid.

 Definition of project risk

A risk is any uncertain event or condition that could affect the project.

However, not all risks are negative. Some events, such as finding an easier process to perform a certain activity for example, or the decrease of prices for certain materials, can also help the project.

This situation is called “opportunity”, but is managed just like a risk.

There are no absolute guarantees on any project, even the simplest activity can face unexpected problems.

A risk can be an event or a condition, in any case, it is something that can happen and if it does, it will force to change the way the project manager and the team work on the project.

When planning a project, the risks are still uncertain and have not yet happened, but it is likely that one or more identified risks will actually happen, and this is where a project manager needs to be able to deal with them.

The risk management plan tells precisely how the risks of the project will be managed if these occur.

It is important to draw up guidelines – through a priority scale, for example – that help to understand how large the potential impact of a risk on the project can be.

6 key steps in the risk management process

The risk management process can make the unmanageable manageable, and can allow the project manager to operate on what seems to be a disadvantage and turn it into an advantage. Let’s see how:

1. Risk identification

It is not possible to solve a risk if you do not know it. There are many ways to identify risk.

One way is through brainstorming, a methodology which allows a group to examine a problem.

Another method is that of individual interviews. It consists of finding people with relevant experience, so that it is possible to gather information that will help the project manager identify the risk and find a possible solution.

Imagining the current project and thinking about the many factors that can go wrong is another technique. What can you do if a key team member is sick? What can you do if the material does not arrive within the defined deadline? Etc.

An aid in this phase is also to read the reports of similar past projects, verifying the presence of any problems encountered during the path, and see how these have been solved.

2. Risk analysis

The next step is to determine the likelihood that each of these risks will occur. This information should also be included in the risk register.

When evaluating the risks of a project, it is possible to proactively address the situation. For example, potential discussions can be avoided, regulatory problems can be solved, new legislation must be known, etc.

Analyzing the risks is certainly difficult. There is never a limit to the information that can be collected in this sense.

Moreover, risks must be analyzed based on qualitative and quantitative analyzes. This means, that you determine the risk factor based on how it will potentially affect the project through a variety of metrics.

3. Risk prioritization

Not all risks have the same level of severity. It is therefore necessary to assess each risk in order to know which resources will be gathered to resolve it, when and if it occurs.

Some risks will be more acceptable, others may even risk to completely stop the project, making the situation quite serious.

Having a long list of risks can be daunting, but the project manager can manage them simply by classifying the risks as high, medium or low.

With this perspective, the project manager can then start planning how and when these risks will be addressed.

Some risks require immediate attention; these are the risks that can derail the project.

Other risks are important, they probably won’t threaten the success of the project, but will delay it.

Then, there are those risks that have little or no impact on the program and the overall project budget.

Some of these low priority risks could be important, but not enough to be urgently addressed. Indeed, they could be somehow ignored and also time could delete them and improve the situation.

4. Assign an owner to the risk

All the hard work of identifying and assessing risks is useless unless the project manager assigns someone to oversee the risk.

Who is the person responsible for that risk that, if this were to happen, would take charge of its resolution?

This decision, in general, is up to the project manager who knows the level of experience and training of each team member and is therefore able to assess the most suitable person to face a particular risk.

It is certainly important to identify the risks, but if these are not managed by a person in charge, the work will have been completely useless and the project will not be adequately protected.

the risk response

5. Respond to the risk

Now comes the moment, when all that has been planned must be put into practice.

For each identified risk, based on priority, a mitigation plan or strategy is created.

The project manager should deal with the risk owner in order to decide together which strategy to implement to resolve the risk.

6. Risk monitoring

Obviously, every strategy to respond to the risk is useless if it is not monitored in its success – or failure.

The risk owner is also responsible for monitoring the progress towards resolution.

But also the project manager needs to stay updated in order to get an accurate picture of the overall progress and to identify and monitor potential new risks that may arise from the new situation.

It is better to ensure that dedicated communication channels for risk management are organized, so that important elements and information are not lost.

It is possible to have face-to-face meetings, but some updates could be better provided via e-mail or text or through a project management software tool.

Risk mitigation

After the risk has been identified and assessed, the project team develops a risk mitigation plan, ie a plan to reduce the impact of an unexpected event.

Here are the four ways to manage or mitigate a risk:

  • Risk avoidance
  • Risk acceptance and sharing
  • Risk mitigation
  • Risk transfer

Each of these mitigation techniques can be an effective tool to reduce individual risks and the risk profile of the project.

Let’s see these four techniques in detail.

1. Risk avoidance

This technique usually involves developing an alternative strategy that is more likely to succeed, but is usually linked to a higher cost.

A very common risk elimination technique is to use proven and existing technologies rather than adopting new technologies, although they could lead to better performance or lower costs.

A project team can choose a supplier with a proven track record instead of a new supplier that offers significant price incentives; this, in order to avoid the risk of working with a new supplier that is not known whether it is reliable or not.

Eliminating a risk is definitely the best technique you can use. If the project manager can avoid it, surely he will not have negative impacts derived from it on the project.

2. Risk acceptance and sharing

This technique involves accepting the risk and collaborating with others in order to share responsibility for risky activities.

Many organizations working on international projects will reduce the political, legal, and employment risks associated with international projects by developing a joint venture with a company based in a particular country, for example.

Partnering with another company to share the risk associated with a part of the project is advantageous when the other company has experience that the project team does not have. If a risk event occurs, the partner company absorbs all or part of the negative impact of the event.

3. Risk mitigation

Risk mitigation represents an investment in order to reduce the risk on a project.

On international projects, for example, companies will often buy a guaranteed exchange rate in order to reduce the risk associated with exchange rate fluctuations.

A project manager can hire an expert to review technical plans or cost estimates on a project in order to increase confidence in that plan.

Assigning high-risk management activities to highly qualified project personnel is another risk reduction method.

Experts who run a high-risk business can often anticipate problems and find solution.

4. Risk transfer

Risk transfer is a risk reduction method that shifts risk from the project to another party.

A classic example of risk transfer is the purchase of an insurance. The risk is transferred from the project to the insurance company.

Purchasing an insurance is usually in areas beyond the control of the project team. Weather, political unrest, and strikes are examples of events that can have a significant impact on the project and that are beyond the control of the project team.

Simply put, it is simply a matter of paying someone else to accept the risk.

Risk management may seem superfluous at the beginning of the project. When a project manager is starting a new project, it is indeed difficult to think about things that could go wrong, especially if he is caught up in the initial enthusiasm.

It is essential to remember, however, that the development of a management plan will – most likely – be useful later during the development of the project.

This is why risk management must be considered an absolute priority from the start.

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project manager assistant

What is a Project Manager Assistant

A project manager assistant is generally someone who, as the title says, assists the project manager.

This person generally has some education or experience in project management and is probably aiming for a career as a project manager.

Large, excessively complex or highly critical projects may require a project manager assistant to help and support in the management and supervision tasks.

What are the tasks of a project manager assistant?

The main role of a project manager assistant is to assist the project manager in the research, development, and management of the projects from the beginning and throughout the entire life cycle of the project.

Some assistants can also manage and monitor almost independently simple projects or segments of a complex project.

Among the responsibilities and tasks required for this role, we find:

  • Assistance in planning and managing the project
  • Development of effective internal and external communication plans
  • Leadership, motivation, and staff development ability
  • Update and reporting on the progress of planning
  • Update and reporting on budget and expenditure
  • Identification of requirements and gaps in terms of resources
  • Any other project management task that is routine, standardized, or low risk

These tasks can vary from organization to organization and from project to project. In general, however, these are standard tasks that can be delegated to a project manager assistant.

The qualities of a project manager assistant

To carry out his tasks to the fullest and to aspire to become a project manager, an assistant to the project manager must possess certain qualities:

Time management and organizational skills

Time management and organizational skills allow project assistants to help project managers stay on track in order to make sure deadlines are met. Project assistants must be organized and manage their time well, so that they can always know what is happening at each stage of the project. This is essential to help keep the project in line with the schedule and within the budget.

Ability to adapt and stress management skills

Adaptability and stress management skills are necessary for a project manager assistant. These capabilities allow the assistant to effectively manage the many unknowns that accompany any project. Stress levels can clearly rise when goal changes, blockages or missing links in the activities occur. The uncertainty caused by these variants can lead to errors, misunderstandings, and communication problems. During this chaos, project assistants must therefore be able to manage the resulting frustration and stress.

Computer and mathematical skills

Project manager assistants need good IT skills in order to be able to manage different forms of electronic communication, but not only. They should also be able to create spreadsheets and use word processing programs, as well as being clever in using the project management software. Mathematical skills are also needed in order to help project managers create and manage budgets and make cost estimates.

Communication skills

According to the Project Management Institute, 75% of organizations that complete on average 80% of projects on time and within budget have one thing in common: clear and effective communication during the project. The project manager assistant plays a crucial role in deciding which method of communication is preferred by the stakeholders (e-mail, chat, in person, telephone) and the desired times and frequency of it. Good communication skills are also needed during team members, employees and customers meetings. This is especially true in times of disagreement in order to manage conflicts.

Leadership and problem solving skills

The importance of leadership and problem solving skills cannot be forgotten. When the project manager is not available, the project assistant can assume some of the responsibilities. The ability to take charge when necessary and to assess situations and determine the correct course of action is one of the best qualities that a project manager assistant can possess.
the project manager assistant

How can you become an assistant project manager?

Starting in a position as a project manager assistant can be a good way to gain experience and progress in your career towards a project manager career.

The requirements of the job and the skills required will depend specifically on the organization and the project.

However, the requirements are generally lower than those required in the case of a project manager.

Certainly, a plus point for a project manager assistant is to undertake a training course as project management and possess the relevant certification.

Being a project manager assistant is almost a necessary step to become a real PM.

The period of working time spent assisting a project manager will be useful to demonstrate the right skills and professionalism to take the leap.

During the period of assistance to the project manager, it will be possible to learn from a senior project manager the art of project management in order to become the successful project manager of the future.

We have the tools, we have the culture.

enterprice project management

Enterprise and project management software

Why should we talk about an enterprise project management software and not simply about a project management software? It is very simple… they are not the same thing!

We will see later the features of an EPM software, but for the moment let’s just say that there are many softwares that allow to follow a project, but only some of them are able to follow multiple projects even of different sizes.

In general, large organizations run multiple complex projects simultaneously.

Although each project is not necessarily connected with others, they are all in a certain way correlated because they all have an impact on the organization as a whole and on its general goals.

This is where the practice of managing business projects comes into play, ie. Enterprise Project Management or EPM, which refers to project management on a corporate scale.

This generally involves implementing various strategies and processes aimed at simplifying and improving the effectiveness of project management on such a large scale.

What is Enterprise Project Management?

To understand what EPM means and why it is important, it is better to take a step back and consider the definition of “project management” itself.

The Project Management Institute defines project management as a temporary effort undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. And this is clear.

However, an organization involved in dozens of temporary initiatives, each focused on a specific goal with a specific deadline, needs a way to organize these efforts. It must make sure that each individual project brings the organization closest to its long-term goals.

This is where Enterprise Project Management comes into play.

EPM is considered as a specialized branch of traditional project management that focuses on the overall business goals of an organization, rather than on specific short-term goals.

By grouping projects and giving a broader view of activities, a company can avoid internal conflicts and unnecessary efforts.

Enterprise Project Management is a comprehensive approach to project management that takes into account direct and indirect influences on the progress of each project as a whole.

Consequently, it includes analyzing the risks, resizing of project processes, resource monitoring, continuous reporting and cost analysis with respect to benefits, and the use of tools and software to manage all these aspects.
the enterprice management software

How does Enterprise Project Management differ from traditional project management?

 Unlike traditional project management, the EPM is based on combining all parts of the project management into a single resource, often thanks to the use of a specific project management software.

These features help reduce the barriers between the individual project and the business vision in general, increasing efficiency and productivity.

Traditional project management practices focus on seeing a specific project from beginning to end, with a defined and measurable goal.

Enterprise Project Management focuses instead on the organization. It gives priority to its business goals and manages projects in order to ensure that they meet these general organizational goals.

The final goal is not necessarily a successfully completed project, but the project itself, which helps creating value in the organization.

Here are the advantages of EPM:

  • High quality output
  • Improved productivity
  • Reduced impact of skills shortages
  • Reduction of project risks
  • Greater reliability of delivery

What makes Enterprise Project Management effective?

 The adoption of EPM can help an organization adopt a more strategic approach to budgeting, operations, and resource allocations.

First of all, however, a company must ensure that it has the following key elements:

  • High level support for project management initiatives: As with any large-scale initiative, the management of company projects will be effective only if the leaders of an organization are committed to supporting the idea and are actively interested in its progress .
  • Qualified project managers: In many cases, the most experienced project managers of an organization are able to deal with program management or project portfolio management tasks.
  • Project management software: No person or team can keep track of dozens of related projects without strong technological support. Today’s best project management solutions offer a range of tools to help project managers keep track of the times, budgets and resources of multiple projects simultaneously.

The essential features of an EPM software

The Enterprise Project Management software offers organizations the necessary functionalities to competently manage both smaller and more complex projects at the company level.

This tool allows you to look at projects from a strategic point of view and offers managers the opportunity to prioritize projects and allocate resources accordingly.

EPM software is generally rich in features. In addition to the typical ones like advanced security and mobile access, here are the other essential features:

  • Project Portfolio Management (PPM): this is the essence of EPM. This function organizes company projects and presents them in an easy way to consult, manage and monitor.
  • User Dashboards: a corporate project management software should allow to provide each user with a customized and customizable dashboard in order to analyze important information about the project and easily access vital information.
  • File sharing: a good EPM software offers a sophisticated level of file sharing. In addition to simple file sharing, in fact, the functionality must include audit trails, content versioning and authorization settings to ensure that only the right people have access to the data they need.
  • Internal communications: instant messaging or private messaging is a typical feature of EPM software that can help reduce the use of e-mail or telephone. Some software (not all) also allow video conferencing.
  • Calendar: valid EPM software should provide a calendar for each project as well as a central one that combines all the deadlines and milestones of the projects. Some EPM softwares even allow you to create custom calendars for each team member.
  • Gantt charts: although not all project managers use Gantt charts, many do. These are horizontal bar graphs that illustrate the program of a given project.
  • Integrations: last but certainly not least, a good EPM software should be able to connect with other softwares used in the organization, like Salesforce, Dropbox, and Microsoft Office.

A project management software with these features becomes fundamental for a successful EPM and for the achievement of business goals.

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brainstorming techniques

Brainstorming Techniques: When Unity Is Strength

In Project Management, Brainstorming is a technique that can produce innumerable advantages for the Project Manager. At the start of a project or at a particular stage, project managers inevitably want to get as many ideas as possible. This is where brainstorming comes in handy.

Brainstorming is the technique where a project team meets in a meeting in which the individual members expose all sorts of ideas related to the project in a creative way.

When it comes to brainstorming, it is important to keep in mind some fundamental aspects.

First of all, the main priority of brainstorming is quantity over quality. Brainstorming is in fact the first step in the exploration phase of a new project, so it is important to be open to all ideas and possibilities, without judging.

Brainstorming and clichés

Another common idea of brainstorming is that many think it can only be done in one way: An open discussion in a room with all the people involved.

This method is not necessarily wrong, but it leads to some disadvantages that can make a session unproductive.

For example, when the first couple of ideas is shared during the meeting, the group inevitably tends to focus only on these first ideas throughout the rest of the time.

The biggest problem with classic brainstorming is that only a small part of the group makes 60-75% of the conversation. This fact can often prevent other new ideas from coming to light.

It is therefore important to maintain an efficient and effective brainstorming session, also using different techniques. In this article we will see how.

How to plan the brainstorming session

Before entering a room to do a brainstorming session, there are some tasks that the project manager must perform. These are:

  • Defining the problem and purpose of the session using SMART objectives.
  • Identifing the participants. Usually most of the them are those who are most interested in the problem, but it is also possible to include “strangers” and experts so that there is a diversity of points of view.
  • Clearly communicating the date and time of the session. It is generally important to also indicate a time when the session will end, but it is advisable to suggest to the participants to keep a buffer time between the brainstorming session and their next engagement.

How to conduct the Brainstorming session

Some guidelines to follow during a brainstorming session are:

  • Make sure you have a blackboard in the room to document the ideas.
  • Divide complex problems into simpler problems and examine each smaller problem independently.
  • Divide the group so that each member can brainstorm even independently.
  • After classifying the ideas, agree on the solution.
  • Assign an owner to the solution to make sure it will be adressed properly.

What to do at the end of the Brainstorming session

Even after the brainstorming session there are several activities that must be completed, such as:

  • Give a reward or recognition to the participants. This will ensure that the next time a new brainstorming session takes place, people will be happy to participate.
  • Follow-up and monitoring of the solution decided upon closing.

Brainstorming techniques

There are six brainstorming techniques that can help project managers find better ideas. Let’s see what they are:

1. Brainwriting

This technique is particularly useful if the project deadline is approaching.

The activity starts with a team and the project manager who exposes the basic idea.

At this point, instead of speaking out the ideas, each team member writes down his ideas on a piece of paper. Each participant then passes his ideas to someone else, that adds his own. And so on.

When the last person in the group has finished writing his idea, the project manager collects the sheets, exposes them and the group discussion starts.

2. Virtual brainstorming

This brainstorming technique, as the name already says, does not require participants to be in the same room.

This technique is perfect in the case of a team working remotely. All is needed is a good internet connection and a device to connect to the network.

A centralized platform allows you to start the brainstorming session and to include the participants.

Here the ideas are written directly on the digital platform instead of on a blackboard and the discussion takes place online instead of in a room.

3. Rolestorming

One of the most engaging and playful brainstorming techniques is definitely rolestorming.

In this method, the participants do not think like themselves, but put themselves in the shoes of someone else, playing a role.

There is no limit to the role that can be played. To generate innovative ideas you can think of being the next Steve Jobs or going beyond the limits by impersonating a superhero.

This is a fantastic technique for generating creative ideas and thinking “out of the box”, because it allows participants to perceive the opportunity or the problem in another way.
the brainstorming techniques

4. Mind Mapping

This is probably the most used and known brainstorming technique.

The participants meet in a room in front of a blackboard and each one of them suggests ideas relevant to the problem that is represented in the middle of the sheet.

Based on the ideas presented, a map is created in the form of a tree, where each idea is a different branch. When the ideas are finished, it will be possible to see the big picture.

5. Reverse brainstorming

This technique is also called negative brainstorming because it totally reverses the classic concept of brainstorming.

In practice, the participants, instead of looking for ideas to improve or solve a given problem, are called to find ways to weaken the fact represented.

This technique will allow to find the elements that are not working in the analyzed situation.

6. Starbursting

From the word “star”, this brainstorming process begins by representing a star with six tips.

The center represents the topic on which the group will discuss, for example a product, and each of the six tips will represent a question:

  • Who
  • What
  • Where
  • Why
  • When
  • How

During the brainstorming session it will therefore be necessary to specifically answer these questions, including all the sub-questions that will inevitably arise.

The benefits of group brainstorming

So why is brainstorming in a group advantageous?

It is a way to solve problems by holding a group discussion and gathering information or ideas that come through spontaneous participation in the discussion.

It is also a useful method, especially in the early stages of a product or project, to bring together different points of view.

And again, it’s a quick way to generate a great amount of ideas; a group effort can indeed increase the number exponentially.

Here are some tips to help the next brainstorm become a success:

  • Make clear goals from the start. What are you trying to find / solve? What restrictions are you operating with?
  • Just like with other collaborative meeting techniques, allow everyone to have a say in the matter. Facilitate the session so that people who are normally silent are the focus of attention at the same time as those who have a tendency to dominate discussions.
  • Let people generate ideas individually before meeting to discuss and elaborate. This will encourage the “silent” to actively participate without being overwhelmed by the ideas of the most dominant.
  • Prefer quantity over quality at the beginning.
  • Remind the group – and if necessary repeat it during the session – that no question or idea is stupid.

It may happen that brainstorming sessions sometimes do not bring great results. In these cases, it is important that the project manager is not discouraged.

Perhaps, if another brainstorming technique is tried – like the ones mentioned in this article – it will be possible to receive more fruitful ideas.

Brainstorming, in all its techniques, remains however a very effective methodology for generating new ideas and new thoughts, useful for the success of a project.

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variance analysis

The analysis of project deviations

Project variance analysis is an important technique that allows project teams to constantly compare planned performance with actual project data.

This analysis also assists the project manager and the project team in identifying and understanding the deviations in the project performances.

In the context of project management, the concept of variance analysis is fundamental. The aim is clearly to determine the causes of a variation, which is, in simple words, the difference between an expected result and an actual result.

This type of analysis can help the project manager to accurately identify the factors that influence each element of the project.

This analysis also helps further identify the causes and assess the severity of the deviation.

The steps of the variance analysis

Analyzing the deviations, or variances, is not difficult, however it requires a great deal of discipline in the collection and interpretation of data.

To begin with, the project manager identifies the deviation in the basic performance, then establishes the causes of the deviations and assesses the severity of the impact.

The next step for the PM is to implement corrective actions in order to restore the project’s performance. Finally, another task is to propose preventive actions in order to avoid similar future events.

A well-structured analysis of variance should include the following aspects:

  • Identify the relevant key performance indicators.
  • Evaluate the extent of the deviation.
  • Assess the degree of impact on project performance.
  • Identify the causes of the variance change.
  • Establish corrective action.
  • Estimate the resources needed to implement the corrective action.
  • Establish a time schedule for implementing the corrective action.
  • Recommend preventive action.

Analysis of deviations in Project Management

In Project Management, the analysis of the deviations can be traced back to 4 fundamental steps. These are:

  • Scope control
  • Program control
  • Cost control
  • Risk control

Let’s see them in detail.

Scope control

Most projects undergo frequent changes to the purpose of the project.

Sometimes, the project teams cannot control the changes and, consequently, fail to verify their impact.

This uncontrolled expansion in the scope of the project, without changes to planning, budget, risks, and resources, is known as “scope creep“.

The steps to control changes to the project scope include mainly:

  • Implementation of change control processes.
  • The periodic review of the basic forecast of the project.
  • Monitoring of project tracking on a regular basis in order to visualize changes to the project’s purpose.

Program control

The analysis of deviations as a program control technique is part of the Earned Value Management – EVM.

The EVM uses measures such as Schedule Variance (SV) and Schedule Performance Index (SPI) to indicate variances and performance efficiency.

However, there are many organizations that do not use EVM techniques to control project planning, but use similar techniques to measure deviations.

These techniques mainly include measurement changes on the planned start and end dates.

Moreover, they also imply the comparison of the duration spent to reach the planned goals with respect to the basic plan.
the variance analysis

Cost control

Without doubts, project cost control is a crucial aspect of monitoring and controlling any project.

Mainly in this case, the cost variance (CV), the cost performance index (CPI) and the completion variance (VAC) are used to establish the cost variances.

However, there are organizations that do not implement EVM techniques.

Therefore, these organizations implement procedures that track the actual expected costs on certain project activities.

Comparing then the actual cost forecast with the approved budget, the change in costs is obtained.

Risk control

The risk analysis of the project uses the data obtained from the analysis of the scope, program, and variance costs.

This not only helps the project manager and the project team to establish risk thresholds, but also to confront the existing ones.

If the risk changes exceed the desired threshold, the project risk mitigation plans are implemented.

Causes of project variances

The projects provide a unique product or service, however, they are subject to various changes during their life cycle.

Actual key performance indicators, therefore, can go against the desired project performance.

The key to successful project management lies in managing these changes and variances.

Refusing changes is not a solution. In fact, changes can also have a positive impact on project results. Rejecting them a priori would be counterproductive.

The factors responsible for changing the project’s performance may be different and here we have a list of them:

  • Changes within the project triggered by the end user or project team in order to meet contractual obligations.
  • Lack of resources, such as skilled labor, availability of equipment and material.
  • Estimates of the duration of incorrect activities.
  • Improper identification of critical activities.
  • Reviews of improper and incorrect projects.
  • Lack or poor implementation of project monitoring and control processes.
  • Poor risk assessment.
  • Not using change control procedures.
  • Changes in the regulatory framework.
  • Evolving business needs.
  • Changes of the requirements by end users.
  • Market factors such as changes in commodity prices, changes in exchange rates, etc.

The analysis of the deviations is therefore fundamental for the success of a project.

It is essential that these data are always monitored during the entire project cycle in order to avoid identifying a problem too late.

Clearly, the use of a project management software can help keep project values monitored as well as promptly visualize variances.

Especially with regard to complex projects involving different stakeholders, the use of a PM software can be fundamental in order not to loose sight of important and fundamental values.

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