Book review – The One Page Project Manager for Execution: Drive Strategy and Solve Problems with a Single Sheet of Paper

Book review originally written for Arras people (Project managment recruitment) The One Page Project Manager for Execution: Drive Strategy and Solve Problems with a Single Sheet of Paper

Authors: Clark A. Campbell with Mike Collins
Publisher: John Wiley & Sons
Size: 182 pages

The One Page Project Manager for Execution: Drive Strategy and Solve Problems with a Single Sheet of Paper

One of my guilty pleasures (I feel I can admit this amongst fellow PMs) is that I enjoy reading books about project management- and the seemingly endless array of philosophies, techniques and tools for getting the job done. Typically, books of this genre will polarise opinions: you either fully agree or fundamentally disagree with what the author is proposing. And I must admit, when I read the rather ambitious title of this book, I was more than a little sceptical.

This book is not proposing a new methodology or even a technique – instead, it is concerned with project status reporting, and as the title suggests, it’s designed to enable Project Managers to provide a comprehensive update on a projects/programmes status on a SINGLE PAGE of paper. I’m regularly involved in managing complex multi-stakeholder, multi-vendor projects across global time zones – often with the most aggressive timescales, so the idea of fitting status updates onto a single sheet of paper seems decidedly optimistic. That’s until the authors let you into their first little secret. You’re allowed to report on a single page of A3 paper. (Yes, I can hear you all breathing a sigh of relief).

However, in spite of their A3 page trick, I actually like this book – it encourages PM’s to apply the discipline of concise and relevant project status communications and I think that PM’s and businesses could benefit significantly from using this tool. The only pre-requisite is that the leadership/key stakeholders in your organisation would need to be willing to learn how to read OPPM and actually be interested in getting a project update that is longer than a 30 second elevator conversation. However, if all PMs in an organisation were using the single page report format consistently, then the business benefits are certainly clear – enabling you to communicate key information about any project in a few seconds.

The book provides a useful step-by-step approach to help you develop a simple yet comprehensive project summary, built primarily around a gantt chart that details only high level summary tasks (the recommendation being 2-3 tasks for each planned reporting period). I loved the idea of having a subjective tasks section in the report for those times when an activitiy is not quantified on a timeline, i.e. improving software performance. Each task listed also has clearly identified an owner/task manager and task progress is tracked throughout the whole project lifecycle. Another useful suggestion is to identify 3-4 project objectives which are aligned to the different summary tasks, i.e. an objective may be change management and 12 of those summary tasks fall under that objective.

The report also graphically tracks the project costs in terms of agreed baseline and current forecast, and finally there is a section for a pithy status summary. For those PMs or organisations that want to go to a more comprehensive report, the authors combine OPPM with A3 (a project status report developed by Toyota but now used outside of the company). A3 status reporting was of course named after the paper size of the report – incorporating the Deming cycle (Plan, Do, Check and Act) into the project status. The end result is a detailed project status report, but as mentioned earlier, successful application will depend largely on business buy-in and support for concise reporting advocated in this book. I have been told before to limit a project status update to “focus on the 2-3 key points you want to get across to senior management”, so in some companies with an immature project management culture, using this tool may seem like a lot of effort for the amount of work it takes to maintain it throughout the project.

The authors also suggest that single page reporting can be used not only for managing projects, but also as a corporate strategy tool that can be used on 3 levels – corporate, business function and project team level. It is also positioned as being flexible enough to assist in business problem solving initiatives like Six Sigma and the scientific method – so the approach can be applied in other business contexts too.

Overall, I found this book to be an interesting and thought-provoking read. Admittedly, there were a few petty niggles, including incorrect page-referencing of figures and diagrams, which was a little frustrating. I was also a little annoyed by the fact that so much of the early part of the book provides a summary of previous titles in this series (The OPPM for IT projects and The OPPM Project Manager) – which means you have to wade through 182 pages before you get to the main point of the book. A little ironic, given that the book claims to offer tools and strategies to improve concise project status communications – perhaps the authors should take a leaf out of their own book.

However, in spite of my scepticism, I found this book to be a challenging and enjoyable read. I realised that many of my doubts about the approach were linked to the limitations of the organisation (from a PM maturity level perspective) rather than the actual concept of single page reporting. So, if you’re keen to develop a more succinct and focused approach to project status reporting, then this book is for you!

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Are you thinking of getting your PRINCE2 foundation and practitioner accreditations?

The title of a ‘Project Manager’ is one of those that anyone can claim they do, but realistically, actually performing the role of a project manager is different from simply calling yourself one.  Whilst you are working at a company as long as you are delivering results the need for formally getting accreditation is not as great as when you are looking for a new opportunity in another company.  Those companies that are advertising for Project Managers are looking for quick and effective ways of sorting through the multiple applications; to be able to differentiate between those people that just call themselves a project manager, and those that call themselves a project manager but are disciplined enough to work in a transparent, controlled and repeatable way.  That is why for personal development every Project Manager should seriously consider aiming for accreditation in a project management methodology.

There are a number of different accreditations that you have to choose from

  • Project Management Institute (PMI)
  • PRINCE2
  • Association of Project management (APM)

 I work in the UK affiliate of an American company that were supportive in developing their project managers, In the US they tend to favour the PMI route, where as the PRINCE2 route tends to be more specific to the UK.  I have gained my Project Management Professional (PMP) accreditation a couple of years ago but was interested in learning about PRINCE2 as it was a methodology that was being required on nearly all the Project management job adverts I would see in the UK market.

I recently passed both the PRINCE2 foundation and practitioner course with http://www.teampm.co.uk/ and thought that I would share my experiences of the course and any lessons learned I may have with you

So what is PRINCE2?

Well in the words of http://www.prince2.com

“PRINCE2 (PRojects IN Controlled Environments) is a process-based method for effective project management.

PRINCE2 is a de facto standard used extensively by the UK Government and is widely recognised and used in the private sector, both in the UK and internationally.”

In its simplest context, PRINCE2 project management methodology is divided into Processes and Themes.

Processes

PRINCE2 project management is fundamentally based around 7 Processes (which can be tailored to specific project environments)

  • Starting up a Project
  • Directing a Project
  • Initiating a Project
  • Controlling a Stage
  • Managing Product Delivery
  • Managing a Stage Boundary
  • Closing a Project

Themes

PRINCE2 emphasises that there are 7 themes of project management that must be addressed continuously throughout the project lifecycle, and that by following those themes with each process then you will be undertaking the role of Project Manager in a professional manner.

  • Business Case
  • Organisation
  • Quality
  • Plans
  • Risk
  • Change
  • Progress

Accreditation levels

There are 2 levels of PRINCE2 accreditation:

  • PRINCE2 foundation (3 day course)
  • PRINCE2 practitioner (2 day course)

If you prefer instructor led training you can either opt to do each course separately over several weeks or in the more intensive 1 week slot.

Foundation and practitioner course spread out courses vs the intensive course, which course approach to do?

2 courses spread over several weeks:

Advantages

  • The material is not difficult to learn but there is a lot of it, so spreading the courses out over several weeks spreads the learning out into more manageable chunks
  • You can learn at your own pace

Disadvantages

  • Over the extended period of time, work is likely to get in the way of learning time
  • If left too long you may find it difficult to remember all the material

The intensive 1 week course

Advantages

  • The materials learned in the foundation course will still be fresh in your mind for the practitioner
  • Less likely to have external influences like work affecting your learning over the short period of time

Disadvantages

  • It is an intense timeline that you are working to, with new processes, themes to absorb into your thinking in such a short period of time
  • There is a really big time commitment required in terms of pre-reading and nightly homework that needs to be carried out each night of the course in readiness for both exams

I opted for the 1 week intensive course which covered both the foundation and practitioner elements.

The Prince2 Foundation

The PRINCE2 Foundation course focuses on teaching the PRINCE2 principles and terminology but in the 3 days that the course spans the focus is more on getting you in a position to pass the exam rather than applying the material to real life project scenarios.  The exam itself:

  • 1 hour long
  • Multi choice stand alone questions
  • Closed book
  • 75 questions (consisting of 5 trial questions that don’t contribute to your overall score)
  • Need to get 35 questions or more to pass

Sample question:

How does the Controlling a Stage process support the manage by exception principle?

a)      Specifying the products to be produced by a Team Manager

b)      Agreeing tolerances with the Team Manager for the delivery of a Work Package

c)      Triggering the Managing a Stage Boundary process when the end of a stage is approaching

d)     Triggering the Closing a Project process at the end of the final stage

The PRINCE2 Practitioner

The PRINCE2 Practitioner course focuses on teaching the delegates to apply PRINCE2 to the running and managing of a project within an environment supporting PRINCE2. During the 2 days the course ran the majority of the time was spent completing previous exam papers and discussing the answers.  The exam itself:

  • 2.5 hours long
  • Multi choice questions linked to a single business scenario (with additional information provided for certain questions)
  • Open book (only allowed the accompanying course book into the exam)
  • 9 questions each worth 12 marks
  • Need to score 59 marks or more to pass (55%)

Sample question (worth 1 mark):

When creating the Project Plan, the Project Manager identified the new company logo as an external dependency.  Is this an appropriate application of PRINCE2 for the project?

a)      No, because the new company logo should be identified in the business Case as part of the reasons for undertaking the projects

b)      No, because the new company logo should be identified in the project plan as an internal dependency

c)       Yes, because the new company logo is required to produce the calendar and is being produced by another project

d)      Yes, because the production of the new company logo will need to be controlled by the Project Manager

The course itself

On the course I attended there were 9 people in total from varying backgrounds, not everyone was a project manager, some had jobs that required a project management element and a couple wanted to get more familiar with the PRINCE2 methodology as they thought it would enhance their credentials as they had recently set up their own businesses.  My observations were that the delegates with a project management background absorbed the course material about the about the same as the delegates without a project management background, but when it came to applying the themes and processes to a project scenario there was more of a clear divide.

One admission I would make about the course is that I was under the mistaken belief that the accreditation was one that you could achieve by ‘walking in off the street’ but I will put my hands up and say that is not the case, if you don’t put in the time in pre-work and homework during the course, you will find it very difficult to pass the exams, a fact backed up by the course results:

  • Foundation course – all 9 delegates passed
  • Practitioner course – only 4 out of 9 delegates passed

Tips

  • The 1 week course is intense and draining, so pick a training location that is close (no more than 1 hr commuting time)
  • Consider staying in a hotel or b&b during the course to avoid ‘domestic distractions’
  • Actually do the course pre-reading (around 10hrs work)
  • Actually do the daily homework (2 hrs work per night) as it will show you the areas  you need to focus on in your revision
  • If you are an experienced PM, don’t get bogged down in the terms that may be different to the ones you currently use and don’t challenge the material if you think the ‘real world’ is different to the course material, REMEMBER the exams are on the material and not how it is done in the company you work for
  • Don’t expect the material to sink in if you passively read a chapter a few times, you have to really get engaged in the ‘what’ and ‘why’ the processes and themes are designed how they are
  • Try and link it into your current way of conducting a project ie PRINCE2 refers to a Business case, in my company we use a ‘project charter’ they perform the same function
  • You are a customer on this course, it is in your interest to speak up if there are elements of the topics that you don’t understand
  • Have fun on the course and use it to increase your professional network

Does anyone else have any tips they would like to share?

Posted in Lessons learnt, Opinion, PRINCE2, PRINCE2 Foundation, PRINCE2 Practitioner, Project management, Training | Tagged , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The science of project management vs the art of project management

I have been involved in project management for many years. I first got a taste for it in 1994 during my first year at university. During that time I have read about project management, been on project management training courses, been a project team member on various projects and ultimately project managed multiple projects both infrastructure and application. But if I am honest I never really knew what project management was or what a project manager did. Don’t get me wrong, I am comfortable with Gantt charts, I can calculate (manually) the critical path of a project, running status meetings, issue resolution etc but I would always struggle to explain what a PM does and the value he/she brings when talking to someone else.

Now you may be thinking the earlier statements contradict each other, so I will use a cooking analogy.

I know how to boil water, I know how to turn on a cooker, I also know where to buy groceries, how to chop up vegetables, and how to use a knife and fork. With all that said it does not mean I can cook like Gordon Ramsey (although I can swear like him)

What I have come to realise is that most books and training courses cover in great detail the science of project management but very rarely get across the art of project management. I truly think that the art of project management is more crucial than the science, because if you don’t ‘get it’ no amount of PM tool knowledge will help you become a better project manager.

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Can the ipod be an indicator for a project’s state of health?

As a project manager there are different reports and tools that I can use to assess the health of a project, Earned value, schedule/cost variances, fever charts.  All those are fairly well known in project management circles, but there are lesser known techniques as well. 

 Have you considered your ipod as a project health indicator?

Hear me out (no pun intended!), it is common now to see people working at their desks listening to their ipods, and people often play music that reflects their current state of mind.  Therefore, I suggest that if you want to know what your subconscious take on a project’s health then simply look at the playlist song titles or check your top 25 most played tracks, you may be surprised.

 Songs you play on your ipod that could indicate an unhealthy project

  • Fool if you think its over – Chris Rea
  • The road to nowhere – Talking heads
  • Another one bites the dust – Queen
  • Loser – Beck
  • Highway to Hell – ACDC

Songs you play on your ipod that could indicate a healthy project

  • Simply the best – Tina turner
  • My way – Frank Sinatra
  • We are the champions – Queen
  • Perfect Day – Lou reed
  • Lust for Life – Iggy pop
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Project management – Critical thinking and logical fallacies

Managing a project is a tricky business, you are trying to deliver a successful project whilst working with multiple people, each person has their own unique thoughts, feelings, opinions and agenda.  As such an important skill of the project manager is critical thinking, there are times on a project when critical thinking is crucial.  Failure to apply critical thinking in status meetings or discussions/communications with key stakeholders can have a negative outcome on a project and who will ultimately be held accountable for the project……The Project Manager

 One skill of a critical thinking PM is to be able to recognise logical fallacies

 What is a logical fallacy?

All arguments or discussions have the same basic structure: They begin with one or more premises, which is a fact or assumption upon which the argument /discussion is based. They then apply a logical principle to arrive at a conclusion.  An argument or discussion that is based upon a logical fallacy is therefore not valid. If the logic of an argument is valid then the conclusion must also be valid.  By being able to identify a logical fallacy the PM to will be able to STOP wasting time or effort on activities where the premise is flawed and more importantly not put the project they are working on at unnecessary risk.

 Logical fallacies to be aware of:

 Ad hominemAn ad hominem argument is any that attempts to counter another’s claims or conclusions by attacking the person, rather than addressing the argument itself.

 Project example, In a project meeting, there is a discussion taking place around a specific issue and the possible ways to resolve it, one of the suggestions is disregarded purely because it came from a new project team member or a non technical person

 Ad ignorantiam The argument from ignorance basically states that a specific belief is true because we don’t know that it isn’t true.

 Project example, An IT system is deployed shortly after which a bug is detected, if the PM does not control the communication of the issue and its resolution then different stakeholders can jump to conclusions about what the root cause was.

 Argument from authority Stating that a claim is true because a person or group of perceived authority says it is true. Often this argument is implied by emphasizing the many years of experience, or the formal degrees held by the individual making a specific claim.

 Project example, The scope/direction of a project being directed from a Director or company executive that goes unchallenged by the team purely because of the persons status in the company rather than an informed risk based decision.

 Argument from Personal Incredulity I cannot explain or understand this, therefore it cannot be true.

 Project example, during a risk assessment, identifying a potential risk but not mitigating against it because the project team can’t imagine that situation happening (based on information they have at that time)

 Confusing association with causationThis is similar to the post-hoc fallacy in that it assumes cause and effect for two variables simply because they are correlated, although the relationship here is not strictly that of one variable following the other in time. This fallacy is often used to give a statistical correlation a causal interpretation.

 Project example, in a deployed IT solution, a user imports a file and notices shortly afterwards that the solution has a slower performance and blames the import routine rather than considering other factors.

 Inconsistency Applying criteria or rules to one belief, claim, argument, or position but not to others.

 Project example, The BI on a project holding the PM accountable for a tight project deadline, when they have missed their agreed deadline for submitting the approved detailed requirements

 The Moving Goalpost A method of denial arbitrarily moving the criteria for “proof” or acceptance out of range of whatever evidence currently exists.

 Project example, A Project sponsor not accepting an IT solution as they have decided they want additional requirements/scope.  Requirements and scope can and do change during a project lifecycle but an IT project failing to meet the agreed baseline schedule should not be seen as a failure if the customer wants last minute changes.

 Non-Sequitur In Latin this term translates to “doesn’t follow”. This refers to an argument in which the conclusion does not necessarily follow from the premises. In other words, a logical connection is implied where none exists.

 Project example, In Zone 2 EO demand IT the CONNECT solution (Project Server) was seen as a bad IT application because the data in it could not be relied upon and user s thought the system was difficult to use.  However the majority of the users were not skilled in using MS Project and so incorrectly built and maintained project plans that reflected as bad data in CONNECT

 Post-hoc ergo propter hocthis fallacy follows the basic format of: A preceded B, therefore A caused B, and therefore assumes cause and effect for two events just because they are temporally related (the latin translates to “after this, therefore because of this”).

 Project example, In EO Demand IT the current PM methodology is Critical path, but over half of the projects overrun the baseline schedule and/or cost, so critical path methodology causes projects to overrun.  There is a failure to ignore other plausible factors affecting projects like mulit-tasking, a diminishing workforce and too many projects in the active portfolio

 Slippery Slope This logical fallacy is the argument that a position is not consistent or tenable because accepting the position means that the extreme of the position must also be accepted. But moderate positions do not necessarily lead down the slippery slope to the extreme.

 Project example, a developer pushing back on a new submitted requirement because it will ‘open the flood gates’ for further requirement changes.  Although there is a risk of more requirements coming, as a PM you have to balance what the customer wants, what they can afford and when they want it, those additional ‘last minute’ requirements could be critical to the business but not identified by BI at the beginning of the project

 Straw Man arguing against a position which you create specifically to be easy to argue against, rather than the position actually held by those who oppose your point of view.

 Project example, If updating a project sponsor with the bad news that, due to a specific project issue ie requirements/scope change that the original deadline cant be reached, they respond by asking why does IT always deliver projects late and charging more than an external vendor would do

 Tautology A tautology is an argument that utilizes circular reasoning, which means that the conclusion is also its own premise. The structure of such arguments is A=B therefore A=B, although the premise and conclusion might be formulated differently so it is not immediately apparent as such.

 Project example, A project manager may claim that a project is so complex that they cannot maintain a project plan accurately so therefore all complex projects don’t need project plans

 Tu quoque Literally, you too. This is an attempt to justify wrong action because someone else also does it. “My evidence may be invalid, but so is yours.”

 Project example, 2 team members are looking independently at the same issue, during a status meeting 1 resource claims he was unable to find the root cause and dismisses the root cause the other team member proposed

 Unstated Major Premise This fallacy occurs when one makes an argument which assumes a premise which is not explicitly stated.

 Project example, as a project manager it is critical that all project assumptions are documented, maintained and available to all team members

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