Monthly Archives: May 2016

When your project is in trouble, you must change the way it’s working. Change the behavior of your team. The most important project measurement is not whether it is arriving on time; that train has left the station. To arrive on time, you must stop losing it. To stop losing time, you must change the behavior of your team. The right measurements will drive the right behaviors.

Stop Losing Time

One of the biggest challenges in project that is behind schedule is stop falling further behind. So the first priority is “stop the bleeding”. Preventing things from getting worse has little to do with the plan, no one’s using it anyway. Rather than re-baselining the plan, focus on the process of execution first. Change what people are doing. This is where you’re losing time, so let’s focus on the things that will make the biggest difference in the least amount of time.

  • Get your team looking and working forward to get out in front of any problems
  • One team, one goal to speed decision making
  • Control task priorities to reduce multitasking and boost productivity
  • Go faster by systematically leveraging the bottleneck of the project
  • Set your execution tempo and quickly respond to problems

Once you have accomplished these things, you can turn your attention to regaining time.

Looking Forward; Visualize Your Project

A visual representation of the project helps your team: they can see where they are, where they’re going, and the major obstacles to moving ahead. Making your project or portfolio process visual prevents information overload, exposing previously hidden process problems. This is not a substitute for your project plan; the basics of a plan or process is required to build to your board. The visualization is a summary of your plan, to be managed by the team.

A visual project board (VPB) provides tangible feedback that everyone can see and understand. If there’s a bottleneck or a gap, team members don’t waste time finding the focus areas, they’re obvious.  They problems are visible, no longer hidden. It solves the “living in the past” problem because the VPB points the way towards completion. It helps get the team out of the weeds and into sorting out only the biggest problems that block progress.

Present your project visually – so your team can quickly communicate and grasp the project status. It eliminates the debate about where things really are, so you can move into action. It sets the stage for the next thing you must accomplish: active collaboration.

Check out this video and this video to learn more about visualizing your projects

Build the Measurements that Reinforce the Behavior You Want

When your project is in trouble, you typically have only a few concrete measures of success.  Delivery date – you’re late! Budget – it’s out of control! Scope – it doesn’t work! These outcome-based metrics are not very helpful in telling you what’s wrong. After all, if you know what to do, it would have been done already!

Going back to the early warning signs. These are the problems; you must find solutions. How can you know if these behaviors are occurring? If these behaviors are happening, your project will continue to lose time. To refresh your memory, the early warning signs are:

  • Living in the past
  • Conflicting Goals
  • Shifting Priorities
  • Wandering Bottlenecks
  • Slow response to problems

Turning your troubled project around begins with deciding what you want to see, every day. To stop losing time, you much change the team’s behaviors to the opposite:

  • Focus on the future – proactive management
  • Alignment with the project goal
  • Stable priorities – less multitasking
  • Focus on the project bottleneck
  • Quick response to problems

Focusing on the Future – Managing Proactively and Promptly

The project team that spends all its time on status updates and fighting the fire of the moment has little time or ability to manage what’s coming. To manage what’s coming, the team must be able to see what’s coming. That’s why visualizing your project is important. Once the project is visualized and broken down to its deliverables, you can measure your team’s future focus.

To know if your team is focusing on the future, you must identify on what they should be focusing. Focusing on the future could mean they look forward to the weekend. I want my project team to focus on risk. What could go wrong? What could create a delay? What is not known?

Once they’re identified, are they being mitigated? Resolved? When your team is focused on the future, risks are systematically identified and resolved before they affect progress.

Focusing on the future has three elements:

  • Identification of risks
  • Mitigation or resolution of those risks
  • Before they affect the project

To measure the behavior, you can simply count risks and how many of those risks never become obstacles. In other words, they do not delay the project, (within limits, because risk mitigation is not free) increase costs, or sacrifice project deliverables.

When we visualize the project, we use a red dot on cards to identify tasks that are stopped and yellow dots that are risks.Red & Yellow D

Your measurement of this behavior is the number of yellow dots per week versus the number of red dots. If people are systematically identifying risks, yellow dots will be rising or will be stable and red dots will be declining or stable. Managing your project team’s ability to focus on the future is as simple as that.

Risk Mitigation Graph

To measure promptness, we measure the duration of a red dot. What we want is quick response to any problems that stop project progress.

Red dot report

Reinforcing the future oriented behavior will transform the dynamic of your team. Rather than excuses, they’ll bring solutions. Rather than surprises, you’ll find alternatives. Fewer obstacles, faster progress. You’ll stop losing time because your team is looking ahead. They’re solving problems. Systematically. That’s what you want!

The visual project management solution I’ve invented, VISUM, has the metrics already built in.  Have a look at VISUM here

Next up: More Measurements to Drive Good Behavior

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Thousands of surveys around the world show that projects are rarely delivered on time, on budget and in scope. Here are the warning signs and what you can do to turn things around.

You don’t see it coming until it’s too late. Everything was “green” until it wasn’t. All parts of the project were close to being on time. At least until they weren’t.
If you knew earlier, you could have made changes that wouldn’t be as costly and damaging to your customer relationships as the choices you’re making now.

That light at the end of the tunnel? Definitely a train.

So what to do?

Most project managers and executives assume that since the schedule showed the project was on time, it must have been a bad schedule that caused it. If we had planned better, we would have finished on time!

Well, maybe.

Projects are not abstract things, lived out in spreadsheets or software.

There is no such thing as a perfect plan, no such thing as a 100% accurate forecast. After all, who can predict the weather?

Here’s the thing. Uncertainty is What Makes a Project a Project. When we start the projects, we know many things we will encounter on the way to completion, but not every thing. That means surprises are a way of life in the project world. Any plan is made up of educated guesses about what will happen in the future. How accurate could they be?

Experienced project managers develop coping strategies: negotiating for more resources, disguising contingency, stakeholder management, risk management processes, increasing the amount of detail, frequent re-planning, and more. All of these are good to have, but they don’t get at the root of schedule variation; they’re coping strategies for the surprises that plague every project.

No matter how good you are at planning, you will never have a perfect schedule. You can make them better, but they will never be perfect. Improving your planning is not where you’re going to find the biggest opportunity. You be nimble during execution. If you’re not, your great plan will not matter anyway.

Let’s agree that your schedule will not be very good. How do you know if you’re in trouble? How can you quantify your nimbleness? How do you pull out of a bad situation?

The Early Warning Signs of a Project in Trouble

Project planning is a bit like time travel. Who knows what we’ll find there?

So rather than be the best forecaster, build the best time machine, the project delivery process. Your execution behaviors are the best predictors of project success.

While we can find opportunity in every plan (I started my career as a scheduler), look first at what the project team is doing.

  • How they’re managing the project.
  • How flexible are they?
  • Do they respond quickly?
  • Decisively?
  • How are they responding to the day to day surprises that are presented to them?

There are behavioral indicators of whether your project will be on time. They can be observed, measured, and improved.

  1. Focus on the future; what needs to be done, not what has been done
  2. One team, one goal; the team members’ functional objectives are subordinated to project objectives
  3. Task priorities are stable; they do not change from day to day so resources are able to work on each project task until completion
  4. We know where the leverage points to accelerate progress; bottlenecks are clearly identified and communicated
  5. All leading to rapid resolution of the unexpected

So let’s look at your team. Are they doing any of the following?

Living in the Past

In many projects, reporting progress is a substitute for moving forward. True, you must understand where you are relative to where you’re going, but reporting completions is not a substitute for managing the future.

If your team is living in the past, they’ll be spending a great deal of time reporting “progress”; percent completed and giving the reasons why things are not done. They’re a little stuck; working to understand where they are in the project. Project meetings are spent sorting out what has been done and negotiating priorities. They’re not looking forward and project progress reflects it.

You won’t get to your destination looking through the rear view mirror.

Check out this video to learn more of this symptom and you can do about it.

Conflicting Goals

Many times, the only person who is actually on the project is the project manager. He then spends his time on enrollment and buy in activities, rather than the core task of moving the project ahead. It happens so frequently, there is a section of the body of knowledge devoted just to stakeholder management.

If any team member has conflicting goals, they will not be fully engaged with work of the project, they may even make decisions that make completing the project more difficult. They don’t respond to questions quickly, don’t come to meetings, are not working with the rest of the team to move the project forward.

In order to win, everyone on the team must have the same goal.

Check out this video to learn more of this symptom and you can do about it.

Shifting Priorities

The project team members are spending their time sorting through the work to determine which tasks should have the highest priority. They’ll respond to the latest communication from a customer or a friend, or a boss. They’ll be switching – changing priorities for the resources (people) doing the work of the project.

When priorities are changing, more work is added to the project, time and productivity are lost, and the project is delayed.

Priority shifting breeds multitasking; the number one killer of productivity.

Check out this video to learn more of this symptom and you can do about it.

Wandering Bottlenecks.

The project never has enough resources to complete the work at hand. Finding more resources is a constant battle. There’s never enough time or budget. It just seems that the right resources are not available when you need them. The team may feel a little like they’re playing project “Whack-A-Mole”.

There is always a constraint that limits the rate at which the project can be completed, but if it’s always moving from week to week or day to day, it indicates a poor grasp of the resource requirements to complete the project.

The bottleneck is where you get leverage to go faster. If you don’t recognize it, you’re just spinning your wheels.

Check out this video to learn more of this symptom and you can do about it

Slow Response to Problems

Many projects are riddled with the “I sent an email, but have not gotten a response.” kinds of problems. Yes, the different time zones are an issue. Yes, we get hundreds of emails a day, but a delayed response to a critical problem slows the entire project down.

A slow response to problems indicates a team that is not engaged. They have a poor understanding of what the important issues are, who owns them, and what is needed to resolve them.

The single largest aspect of project duration is wait time. The more you wait, the longer it takes.

Diagnose Your Project. Will You Be Late?

Take a free project execution maturity assessment and see how you’re doing.

Experienced project managers and executives may still point to the plan as the biggest cause for troubled projects.  Or the assumptions behind the plan. They have a point, I have never worked in a recovery project where the plan was acceptable or was even being used to drive the day to day behavior. I’m talking about leverage. In a recovery situation, you must focus on the most critical elements that will get your project back on track as quickly as possible. You can’t fix everything that’s wrong, you have to fix the things that will give you the biggest results as fast as possible. Re-planning your project is an excuse to delay taking the necessary medicine to get things moving. Focus on execution. that’s where your leverage is.

Next up, a project recovery strategy. If you’re in a hurry, you can watch the webinar on this topic here

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Project management success: everyone wants it, yet successful project completions are rare. For the project manager wanting to improve their skills, there is no shortage of problems to solve.

Fortunately, thanks to many experienced project managers, there’s plenty of excellent information available online, for free (!) that you can turn to when you need some relief.

I’ve compiled a new list of the most influential project management blogs. There are still some of my favorites from 2015, but I’ve also found some new voices. I like the variety of viewpoints and perspectives these authors bring. And of course, their willingness to share.

Last year, I named 13 of them, but this year, I’m only naming 9. These were chosen based on their Klout score and number of followers. This gave me a pretty good indication of which were the most influential. There are plenty of good blogs out there, but these are the cream of the crop. They’re not posted in any specific order, so @rvvargas, don’t get all puffed up because you’re first.

Ricardo Vargas; Seeing what’s ahead.

  • Who writes it? Ricardo Vargas, PMP @rvvargas
  • What’s it about? Ricardo hosts a podcast, videos and many articles on the technical aspects of project management.
  • Where can I find it?
  • Why should I read? Ricardo has very deep expertise in portfolio and risk management. Author of 14 books and practical experience in projects as well. You’ll find plenty of good info on the PMBOK.

Salinero Pampliega

  • What’s it about? Carlos, an Architect in Madrid, writes on varying topics, comprehensive, providing a practical mix of technical and non-technical topics.
  • Where can I find it?
  • Why should I read? Check this blog for some of the big picture topics on project management. Plenty of useful information on the basics, too. If you don’t speak Spanish, use the Google Translate app in your Chrome browser.

Susanne Madsen

  • Who writes it? Susanne Madsen, of course! She is an author, coach, trainer, and consultant. @susannemadsen
  • What’s it about? Susanne emphasizes the leadership, communication, and soft issues of project management, rather than the technical aspects.
  • Where can I find it?
  • Why should I read? Project success is as much about people as it is about process. She’s done a lot of work on leadership; learn from a master.

How to Manage a Camel

  • Who writes it? Lindsay Scott, Director of a UK Based firm for recruiting project management talent @projectmgmt
  • What’s it about? She writes about the career of project management.
  • Where can I find it?
  • Why should I read? Check this blog out if you’re looking to find career tips, marketplace information, and a wide variety of tips and hacks to make your job easier and maybe boost your career.

LeanKanban Services

  • Who writes it? David Anderson, author of the the Kanban method of project management @lki_dja
  • What’s it about? The Kanban method! Primarily directed towards software development, there is plenty on workflows, and agile, too.
  • Where can I find it?
  • Why should I read? I’m a big fan of Kanban and of David’s work. He is THE authority on Kanban. If you want to go faster in your projects, you’ll find plenty of useful information, both theoretical and practical. An alternative voice in the PM world.

A Girl’s Guide to Project Management

  • Who writes it? Elizabeth Harrin  @pm4girls
  • What’s it about? Elizabeth started this blog in 2007 to provide a female perspective in the male dominated project world. In the blog, she provides news, insights, opinions and coverage of the project management space to help project managers communicate better.
  • Where can I find it?
  • Why should I read? Elizabeth is always on top of current events, changes in the field, and best practices to make you a better, more effective project manager. Whatever your sex, this blog is a must read to get a fresh prospective on your projects. She provides tips, tricks and techniques for improvement along the way. Fun, too!

Herding Cats

  • What’s it about? Glen’s blog aims to combine various project management methodologies and discusses how to create a project management practice that performs and executes better, increasing the probability of success.
  • Where can I find it?
  • Why should I read? If you’re someone seriously interested in a scientific approach to managing projects, this is a blog to read. Glen brings a scientific and mathematical mind to both the problems and the solutions. He writes on everything from organizational project management maturity, to decision analysis and estimating the strategic, mathematical probability for success. This is probably my favorite blog for content rich, meaty topics. But, I’m a bit of a geek in that regard.

The Lazy Project Manager

  • What’s it about? Peter writes about adopting a new mentality when it comes to project management. Instead of focusing on unimportant tasks that don’t propel your projects toward completion, he encourages you to refine your focus to the important, task accelerating matters that really make a difference.
  • Where can I find it?
  • Why should I read? If you want a view outside of PMI-speak, and minimize the amount of meaningless work, to focus your efforts on the essential tasks that bring about success, definitely visit this blog and subscribe.


  • Who owns it? Wrike, A workflow management and collaboration software product @wrike
  • What’s it about? This blog is all about improving team productivity. How to increase productivity to maximize profitability, and realistic solutions to the problems you face every day as a project manager.
  • Where can I find it?
  • Why should I read? Full of more than just blog posts on insights and best practices from the project management community, you’ll find templates and checklists to help you implement what you’ve read, so you can start making the changes that drive results in your projects. And, you might end up buying their product, too!


That wraps up my list of the top project management blogs for 2016. Which of these are your favorites? Leave me a comment letting me know your thoughts, or if there’s any good blogs I may have missed, and feel free to share this list with others who will find it useful and interesting!

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