Risk Analysis

In this series of posts, I share what I’m learning as I make my way through Project Management Simplified, a Lynda.com course with management consultant, Chris Croft.

Step 8 of Croft’s The Twelve Steps to Manage a Project Successfully is to assess risks and prepare action plans.

Croft states the importance of asking “What could possibly go wrong?” He encourages brainstorming lists of risks with your team.

Once risks are identified, it’s time to quantify them.

Grade each risk on a 1-5 scale first for seriousness (How bad would it be if it happened?), then for likelihood (How likely is this bad thing to actually happen?)

Multiply the seriousness score by the likelihood score. For any that receive more than double digit scores, make a plan to make it less likely to happen and/or less serious if it does happen. This is your risk plan.

Keep the risk plan up-to-date as you work on the project. Some risks will disappear or dissipate. Others may become more likely.

What are the risks with your current project? How do you assess the seriousness and likelihood of a risk? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Gantt Chart Love

In this series of posts, I share what I’m learning as I make my way through Project Management Simplified, a Lynda.com course with management consultant, Chris Croft.

Step 6 of Croft’s The Twelve Steps to Manage a Project Successfully is to draw the Gantt (bar) chart for the project.

Croft begins by saying why he loves Gantt charts.

  1. They are the best way to show your project plan to other people, including getting people to commit to your plan.
  2. You can use them to forecast when the busy periods are going to be. You can see if you are going to have several tasks all hitting you at the same time or not.
  3. Monitor progress. (Croft’s pick for the most ) You try to keep up with the now line.

Croft really loves Gantt charts. He takes 8 minutes to illustrate how to draw a Gantt chart. (He also has a separate one-hour-and-seventeen-minute course, Learning Gantt Charts.) But I thought I would spare you that and just share the video, How to draw a Gantt Chart in less than a minute by SA Project Management in South Africa (see below).

I also found this Gantt Project Planner Template on Excel, for your Gantt chart pleasure. Get in touch if you need any help figuring out how to use it.

There are a few key points you need to know besides the basics of how to draw the Gantt Chart:

  1. Draw the critical path (the flow of tasks that will take the longest amount of time) first. All the rest of the tasks will need to take place within this time frame, so it makes sense to put this one in first.
  2. Then add in floater tasks (tasks that fit in somewhere simultaneous to the critical path). Sometimes you will put in floating tasks that are dependent on each other. For example, hiring of a program manager may come before the recruitment of a focus group, because the program manager is going to be involved in the recruitment. These tasks that are linked in some way are described as “sharing a float.”

Do you love Gantt charts? Even if you don’t love them, do you use them? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

How to Speed Up Your Project

In this series of posts, I share what I’m learning as I make my way through Project Management Simplified, a Lynda.com course with management consultant, Chris Croft.

Step 5 of Croft’s The Twelve Steps to Manage a Project Successfully is to consider strategies for speeding up the tasks.

Croft begins with a word of caution about the previous step. He says that when plotting the project path, it’s important to put deadlines out of your mind in order to get an accurate picture of how long tasks will take. In the absence of that, you may be tempted to inaccurately estimate how long tasks will take in order to match the deadline.

Once you have a picture of how long tasks will really take, Croft offers three options if you need to speed up the project.

Three options:

  1. Spend more. For example, can you recruit focus group participants more efficiently if you offer a higher stipend? Can you hire a consultant to handle some part of the work for you?
  2. Reduce quality. Will your funder mind if you skip copy editing your report? Can you get by with fewer participants if you can’t do a thorough job on promotion and outreach?
  3. Overlap tasks. Although it usually involves, a degree of waste, sometimes you can’t overlap tasks. Can you launch your new 8-week program with only the first 4 weeks of the curriculum finalized and complete the curriculum while the program is in process?

If you have a project that you are working on and you need to speed it up, will you spend more, reduce quality, or overlap tasks to try to get it done? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Estimating Costs & Time

In this series of posts, I share what I’m learning as I make my way through Project Management Simplified, a Lynda.com course with management consultant, Chris Croft.

Step 3 of Croft’s The Twelve Steps to Manage a Project Successfully is to estimate times and costs for each task.

Croft discusses the dangers of estimating based on the average time it takes to do a task or the average amount something will cost. (The average is represented by the line down the center of the featured image for this post.) If you do that, you will have a 50% failure rate. Instead he recommends estimating based on 150% if the average time or cost. (This amount is represented roughly by the light blue bar on the right side of the featured image graph.)  If you do that, Croft believes that will bring your failure rate down to 10% and may help buffer against unforeseen tasks and work slowdowns.

How do you estimate time for your projects? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Don’t Say “Ongoing”

In this series of posts, I share what I’m learning as I make my way through Project Management Simplified, a Lynda.com course with management consultant, Chris Croft.

Croft warns against saying “the O word” in reference to a task’s timeline. If you say a task is ongoing, you are essentially saying you don’t know when a task is going to end. Perhaps the task will start on the first day of the project and end on the last day, but it will not go on indefinitely.

The fact that you feel tempted to say the task is ongoing may be a sign that you don’t have sufficient granularity. You need to break the task down into smaller subtasks.

In your projects, are you currently thinking of any of them as “ongoing”? Would breaking them down into smaller sub-tasks allow you to give them more concrete start and end dates? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

List Tasks

In this series of posts, I share what I’m learning as I make my way through Project Management Simplified, a Lynda.com course with management consultant, Chris Croft.

Step 2 of Croft’s The Twelve Steps to Manage a Project Successfully is to list the tasks associated with the project. David Allen, the author of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, defines a project as any outcome that takes more than one step to accomplish. But Croft lists examples such as “hire manager” or “purchase furniture” that certainly take more than one step. Really, he is talking about sub-projects.

Croft reviews three ways to list these sub-projects: right brain, left brain, and someone else’s brain.

  1. Right Brain: Host a brainstorm party with your team. Set up an environment where people are explicitly encouraged to come up with lots of zany ideas. Aim for quantity over quality.
  2. Left Brain: Take the relevant ideas and put them into an tree-diagram known as a work breakdown structure (WBS). For example if the project is a conference, your categories might be participant recruitment, presenters, site, etc. You can start doing it with paper and pen, but eventually you will want to share your WBS with someone else. I think PowerPoint is good software for creating this kind of document and I used it to create an Idea Tree Template that you can download.
  3. Someone Else’s Brain: Take your new fancy, schmancy WBS to knowledgeable people and ask for their feedback and ask them what is missing. You can also research topics you’re not familiar with and try to determine if you’ve missed anything.

Croft discusses the problem of “granularity.” How detailed should your list be? If your categories are too broad, it will be impossible to determine the costs. But if you get too detailed it becomes unworkable.

Croft’s rule-of-thumb is to break tasks down until they take no more than a week. He suggests that any longer than that makes it hard to hold people accountable—if a task is scheduled for a month, you might not know until the end of the month that the work isn’t getting done.

How do you identify the tasks required for a project? Share your process in the comments below.

Writing Up the Project Definition

In this series of posts, I share what I’m learning as I make my way through Project Management Simplified, a Lynda.com course with management consultant, Chris Croft.

Step 1 of Croft’s The Twelve Steps to Manage a Project Successfully is to agree to the success criteria and major constraints in writing.

For clear communication between the Project Manager (PM) and the client or boss, it’s important to write down the project definition. Depending on the nature of the project, it doesn’t necessarily need to be a signed contract, but at least an email saying this is what we agreed to.

A written project definition has the following benefits:

  • It prevents scope creep during the project
  • At project completion, it is a useful yardstick for measuring the success or failure of the project

Sometimes people want to leave it unwritten so they have some wiggle room. But it can lead to confusion because multiple people will make different assumptions about what was actually agreed to.

The written project definition allows all parties to look at what is proposed and say “yes” or “no,” rather than “I’ll try to get it done.” or “I have reservations about this project, but I’ll put off judging whether this is how we should proceed.”

It also allows future people coming in to the project to have a clear picture of what the project is all about and how it will be accomplished.

Croft encourages everyone to think about the projects we are in the middle of ask if we have everything nailed down in writing. He encourages us to write an email about existing projects to confirm there is shared understanding of where we are and where we are going.

Thinking about the projects you are in the middle of, is there an email you can write now that would help clarify expectations? Write about it in the comments below.

Lynda’s No-Brainer Chapter Quiz Results

Here’s the knowledge I demonstrated in Lynda’s chapter quiz:

  • PMs should not promise their bosses and clients the moon. You won’t be able to do every project cheaply, quickly, and perfectly.
  • Every project will involve quality (deliverables), cost (budget), and time (deadlines).
  • The purpose of a kick-off meeting is to discover what stakeholders are looking for and envisioning.
  • The risks of only having a verbal agreement on the project definition are:
    • Scope creep
    • Disagreement on deliverables
    • New project workers or stakeholders in the future don’t understand the project