Category Archives: Project Manager

Stressful Project Manager

I was very stressful lately just because there were tonnes of works need to be finished within a tight schedule. Our counterparts / partners keep on chasing the status and ETA. Internally, our programme managers were also chasing the status of every single outstanding items. Think about I have to deal with 3 to 4 different programme managers each day, which is  a torture on me. My life was so miserable and I really hated my job in the last 2 days.

After 2 full days of intensive, dedicated and focus to work on those tasks based on the priority and schedule defined with one of the programme  manager, I have almost finished 70% of activities of that projects before the due days. I am so happy and I feel much more energetic today that i can spend some time to start to work on some tasks that the programme manager did not chase me for a few weeks. In addition, I am much more enthusiastic to work on other project as well. For example, I will take a more proactive role to jot down the notes and send out the meeting minutes to attendees and the stakeholders. I would also try to speed up the pace of the meeting and close the conversation when I thought it was a deadlock before we collect more information and data for decision making.

I have long been working under stress and I did not get satisfaction out of my work. That was a very big problem in the last few days. This was a good lesson learn for myself that:

  • Planning and scheduling is even more important when you got limited time to finish a lot of work
  • bury your head under the sand cannot solve the problem and it would make things even worse
  • the more you are frustrated, the more you would complain and the only result is less productive and less efficient

Thank you my programme manager!

How to get idea approved in 10 minutes?

It is not a joke. If you need people to approve your idea, you need to spearhead the information you are going to convey. There is no time to build rappport, there is no time for ice-breaking and what you can do is go for it.

The idea must be very clear cut, straightforward and simple enough to be understood. You might want to specify the upside of your ideas and the drawback of the alternatives.

Don’t be too nervous about dead air. Let it be, you counterpart might take time to digest the information you presented. They would ask you if they want to clarify anything.

At the same time, if you have a chance to send over the material and information about your idea before the meeting, it would definitely help. It is especially true for those stakeholders who acts as gatekeeper. Decision maker usually ask for gatekeepers if they have question. If we can understand or even clarify / resolve those question before the meeting, you are a step closer to get your idea approved.

Stakeholder Management – Art & Science

Attended a workshop on ‘Stakeholder Management’ last week. Project Manager from different industries came together and share their experiences. It is interactive and inspirational in nature. The instructor shared some theories, facilitating with real examples and experiences. There were also exception cases raised by other participants that made the whole class burst out laughing.

Once example was when we talked about ‘stakeholder involvement vs re-work effort’. In general, they are in inversely proportional relationship. The higher involvement of stakeholder in the initial stages of a project, the less likelihool that things need to be reworked. One participant, who came from building industry, cited an example of building house for very rich people.

The thing is his former employer got a building contract from a very rich people for a new house for his son, daughter in law and upcoming grandchild. It was said that the whole project need to be completed within 2 years. The tycoon and his team were deeply involved in the project from day 1. However, the design has been approved, buit, revised, re-built for a few time. Now, the big grand daughter has been 4-5 years old. The house is still under construction today.

Another participants chimed in and said that it would be even worse if there are 2 tycoons building houses at the same time which will provoke competitions that all parties would like to build a more luxurious house than others.

The workshop instructor told us that it was un-usal in commercial world. In my opinion, the 3 constrains of a project (time, cost, scope) were not actually constrains at all. As long as the tycoon keep on paying for the project, it can be a never ending project.

Project management Profession PMI – PDU

“PMP prep” is the buzz word i used to look for online training / course for PMP exam many years ago. At that time, I have chosen instructor led course (48 hours in total). 3 years passed, I will need to earn some PDU to maintain the PMP credential.

I have asked around for my colleagues and friends what the best ways to earn PDU (60 in 3 years). The most common way is still go online. Finally, I picked and paid for an online training courses.

My original plan was to complete all 60 PDU within 2 month because I’ve planned for a 2 week holidays in between. When I really login the system and take the first course, I found that it would take at least 1 hour to complete 1 module (which worth 1 PDU). At the end, it toke me more than 5 months to complete the whole 60 PDU.

Those training programmes are no longer just focus on the PMBOK. Instead, there are a lot of soft skill trainings to help out in our daily work. For example, there are a few programme on ‘How to handle difficult people?’ and how to handle people with different personalities. For people have 10+ working years, the knowledge is not 100% brand new, but it is a good exercise to recall and more importantly to practice it in real life.


Do we need a project manager?

In some company, project managers are working like executive assistant and secretary:

– booking conferenece room
– arrange the meeting and confirming with attendee
– jot notes and send out the meeting minutes

I can imagine it would be very frustrated to work under that setup. In addition, when we have hired a qualified project manager, we should have a better use of their expertise and skill set they have learnt.

For example: to ensure a project team to function property and efficiently, the project manager can help to establish the roles and responsibility list (aka Role Assignment Matrix). In that matrix, we can tell:

– who will is the owner of different task;
– who is repsonsible for the delivery of what;
– to whom we should consult and get advice;
– to whom we should escalate if there is dispute cannot be resolved

There are many other examples that company is wasting Project Managers resources. Let’s talk about that later

Time Estimate of a Task

I the beginning of the project, project owner will always ask for the ETA of the project. The word ‘ETA’ is borrowed from the airline business which referred to ‘Estimated Time of Arrival’ of a flight. The ETA of a project means when the project will be completed.

In order to come up the project ETA, we need to start from the time need estimate for individual task by the following means:

1. if it is a brand new task not even done before, we would consult the business unit (it would be the team / line manager) about the time needed for the task

2. otherwise, we can also consult old project documentations and find what it normally take to complete the task as a cross reference

When we gather the information (whichever means #1 or #2 above), we should also look for 3 estimate:

1. Most probable amount of time needed

2. Best Case scenarios

3. Worse Case scenarios like weather and other un-controllable factor like ‘time to debug’

During this process, we would also try to find out how many resources (i.e. people and materials) is need for the tast, e.g. 3 workers and 1 foreman; 4 computer programmers and 1 quality assurance personnels.

With all this information, the work breakdown structure will be ‘3D’ – not just list of task, but also the resources as well the time information associated with individual of them. As a project manager, he/she would feel more solid and confident at this stage towards answering the question – what’s the ‘ETA’ of the project.

Work Breakdown Structure – building block of a project

A lifespan of a project can vary from short a week, a few months and even a year. For general 3 to 6 months project, it may involve tens of tasks and hundreds of sub-tasks, which is not easy to plan and manage if treat each of them as equal in term of importance.Therefore, we would group  some project tasks into groups and reduce the number of items we have to look at at the same time. If we need to know the details, we can drill down to the task into sub-tasks within that group.

Work Group > Tasks > Sub-tasks

Now, we should have a clear picture about the hierarchy of the project task. This is what we call the ‘work breakdown structure. You might have a question if there is any optimal number of task under a work group.I would say ‘no’, the magic number I would use as a guidance is ‘6’ and ‘7’. It is similar to answer of optimal number of direct report for a manager. There is no definite answer, but it should be around ‘6’ and ‘7’.

Another note I would make here is how to group those tasks into a work group. We should always group tasks with some attributes in common. It can be ‘place’ where those activities will happen; or ‘team of people’ who will carry out all the activities, or ‘period of time’ that all those tasks need to be completed.

With this building blocks setup, we can start the time estimate for individual work group.

Project – progressive elaboration

One headache problem for a new project manager would be the keep of changing of the project plan. They may complain to their colleagues, friends and family about this. However, a more experienced project manager, ‘change’ has been their companion and would no longer complain it any more. In fact, they will also put ‘change’ or ‘change management’ as part of the project plan. But I want to focus on talking about ‘progressive elaboration’ here.

Progressive elaboration means you will not know the whole picture on day 1. More details would be found as we talk to more stakeholders, dig into task list behind each milestones and also get the resources and other commitment from the stakeholders.

In the first day of the planning meeting, perhaps you will only get the framework and can barely identify the milestones of the projects. After talking to some senior project manager and review the lesson learn documentation in another projects, you will start to identify and interview those stakeholders. Two weeks late, after consolidating all stakeholders requirement and advice, your project plan will be more solid than before. Then, you have to breakdown those task into small sub-tasks; identify the interdependencies, define the critical path and task sequence. At this point, your project plan will be in a better shape.

However, don’t put this as the end of the project planning work. There are still a lot more to do, e.g. human resources planning, communication planning, risk management planning, change management plan and so on. We will talk about it later.



Scoping of a Project – manage the expectation of stakeholders

Project Scoping of an activity in the Project Initiation stage. Scoping means the defining the boundary of the projects with measurable index.

For a tailor, the project scope would be the number of suit, number of trousers, number of meters of clothes, what class of fabrics can be chosen and so on.

For a web development project, the scope would be number of templates, number of revision, number of page of content, number of stock photo, number of  manday of User Interface Design and Web Developer and any hosting service specifics, if applicable.

The purpose of scoping is to make sure that all stakeholders (project sponsors, decision maker, gatekeeper, information contributors and users) understand clearly under the project objective what will be included, what will be delivered and also the quality of the deliverables.

You might have a question – in the beginning of the project , there are a lot of uncertainty and how we can define a specific scope at that early stage? You are right.Therefore, we would also include ‘change management’ in a project which will will guide the project team how to submit a change request and get approval for a change in project scope.

With the project scope defined and signed off, project manager should well document it and share it with all project team and stakeholder. With a documented project scope, stakeholders and the project team will be able to refer to the document if there are uncertainly if an activity should be included or not in the project. And thus is a very important and effective way to manage the expectation of stakeholders.




What’s Project and Project Manager

Project or non-Project

Project managers are staff who manage projects for an organization. Projects can be differentiated with Operation by the nature of those activities involved. Project are a group or groups of non-repetitive activities. Operation, on the contrary, would involve a series of routine and pre-defined processes. However, we can still call ‘designing the operation process’ a project.

Small and Big Project

A project can happen within the same or across different teams / functional units. Small project can be ‘Creating a management sales dashboard’ within the sales team. Big project can be ‘Building a corporate website’ which will involve the input from almost all departments within the organizations.

Project Manager’s Work

Project Manager’s role is to make sure that the project outputs are delivered on time under pre-defined resources and quality.

In order to achieve this goal, a project manager need to identify the stakeholders of the project, form the project team, develop the project plan and then execute accordingly.

Project Manager’s Mentality and Skill Set

  • Credible
  • Detailed and Organized
  • Developed or preferably follow a project management framework for project planning, execution and closure
  • Good at communication and inter-personal skill
  • Know the business or industry