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Why the Sheepdog Analogy?

A Project Manager is a necessary evil. Why? Well, the PM doesn't produce anything - write code, lay concrete or whatever. However, don't have one and see what happens!

Always telegraph your Punches as a Project Manager

Sometimes as a Project Manager you need to throw a "Project Manager punch" but not a literal one please!

Isaac Newton's contribution to Project Management

Newton's laws, especially his first law of motion, should be as important to a Project Manager as it is to a Physicist. Why?

O Sponsor, Sponsor! wherefore art thou Sponsor?

You are given a project to run. Amongst your early questions should be, "who is the Sponsor?"

Always remember the Human side

It is very easy to get hung up in the technical and management side of Projects and forget that they need to be delivered by human teams. So "Always remember the human side" is the key phrase!

Why writing a Project Status Report is not a chore

I've met several Project Managers who view writing any Project status report as a chore. I think the opposite.

Planning is the key Project Management discipline

I have been asked a few times, "What are the top xx things to focus in on as a Project Manager? If pressed, I always fall back to Planning

Sunday, 18 November 2018

For Non-Project Managers, how to run a Project?

I am increasingly seeing that Projects need to be run by individuals without Project Management as their core skill set. So I thought it worthwhile writing a summary of what I believe they need to focus on when taking on such a role with some links for more information if they want it.

Introduction - 3 steps for you to get right

There are 3 steps to running a Project remembering that it is a temporary venture.
  1. DEFINE your project else you may head in the wrong direction!
  2. Only then DO IT!
  3. Finally CLOSE it so everyone knows it is finished


I am keen on analogies and proverbs as a means of getting a message across and the Be a Better Sheepdog site is full of them, so let me explain why a Sheepdog is an analogy for a Project Manager and relate this to the 3 step process.

Be a Better Sheepdog 3 step process for running a Project

  • The Sheepdog brings order to the "team" of sheep and ensures they are heading in the right direction. 
  • But the Sheepdog doesn't make up his/her own mind where to head, the owner decides that and communicates with the Sheepdog. Projects are exactly the same. So always determine who your Project Owner is; we call this role the Project Sponsor. Often a project is started when the owner isn't clear. So your first task is to find your Sponsor!, this person should have the most to gain from the project or we say owns obtaining benefits from the project.
  • Once you have found your Sponsor you can agree what the objectives, scope and success criteria is? 
Great, write this down, agree it with your Sponsor and you have completed step 1

Do it! - Plan

Now you can assemble the team and go DO!! But make sure you have created some form of Plan, remember a number of Proverbs such as
  • If you fail to plan you are planning to fail
  • Planning Prevents P*ss Poor Project Performance
Back to the Sheepdog analogy, to achieve the objective the dog may need to head off behind the sheep and drive them in the right direction; in real projects you should involve your team in your planning, a little breakdown in the analogy!

There is a lot to the topic of Planning and Estimating but however you come up with a plan I would suggest that you record a number of intermediate milestones in date order along the journey which you can use to track your progress including the key one (or several) which represent the measure of success you agreed in step 1:
  • Date - achieve x
  • Date - achieve y
  • Date - GO LIVE

Do it! - Monitor

Once you have a plan you have something to monitor progress against. However, often when I see non-project managers running projects they have another role within the project team. The danger is that you just focus on this "doing role" and forget the Project Management. So I recommend that you block out a couple of hours towards the end of the week say on a Friday morning, please put a reoccurring meeting in your calendar to stop others arranging a meeting and to give yourself a nudge "this is my Project Management time".

In this weekly review session, take a step back from the doing and consider the overall progress
  • ask team mates about progress if you aren't up to date
  • are we are on track for our next milestones?
  • look ahead to up coming activities, is there anything we need to do early next week to prepare?
Make some notes and I suggest that you always have your team meeting on a Monday morning where you can have a discussion about progress but you are prepared to talk about what needs to happen in the forward week from the review you had back on the Friday. 

Going back to the Friday 2 hour review slot, this is a good time to write and send out a status report and keep your Sponsor and any other stakeholders informed, try and be honest with yourself and if you think you are slipping against the milestones you have established say so. I would also organise a regular schedule of meetings with your Sponsor, a minimum of once a month but sometimes more often (agree with your Sponsor).

Hopefully you will achieve your milestones and deliver the Project. 


A Project doesn't last for ever, it just seems like it sometimes! So eventually it is time to close the project down. I would always have a review session with the team looking back, what went well, what could we have done better? We call this Lessons Learnt. You should also reflect on what you have done as a Project Manager, things to repeat next time and maybe things to do differently? The chances are that you will have another opportunity so best that you look to improve your performance and that applies whether that was your first project or your 100th! Hopefully the Sponsor has enough money for the team to have a celebration as well especially if the project is deemed an ultimate success.

Anything else to consider?

Even if you read no further, I think you have a framework above to be a Project Manager. There is actually a lot more to consider to get the best results in projects, I wrote a post on where to spend your time which you might want to take a look at but there are topics such as Risk Management (Attack the risks before the risks attack you!), Issue Management, Change Management - lots to manage! You should never forget that Projects are delivered by a team working together successfully so always remember the human side when working with the team.

Want to progress further?

If I have inspired you to improve your performance as a Project Manager you can always type a topic in the search box at the top of each page on the Be a Better Sheepdog site. Or of you prefer a more structured approach I have built a training package around the site


Friday, 3 March 2017

Project Management Manual in Proverb Cartoons

Project Management manuals can be somewhat dry reading. Even the Better Sheepdog site has many many paragraphs! 

For those that like things really simple but visual, this is a manual for Project Management in Proverb Cartoons with only a few words of comment to augment the cartoons but the possibility to link to the full article and Proverb details. 

Remember that Pictures, Humour and Proverbs can also aid memory retention

They are broadly broken down by the 3 Main Better Sheepdog Project Management Processes with a page for other aspects:
3 Step Better Sheepdog process for running a project

  1. DEFINE process
  2. DO Process
  3. CLOSE Process
  4. Other e.g. PM Behaviours

If you prefer more traditional Project Management training you can find it here

Monday, 23 May 2016

Better Sheepdog Book of Knowledge (BSBOK) Examination

To prove that you have studied the Better Sheepdog Book of Knowledge (BSBOK) requires an Examination which is in the form of a crossword puzzle as Project Managers need to be able to solve puzzles to deliver their Project!

Anyone emailing successful answers to will go into the Hall of Fame. Please supply your name and your personal Project Management slogan / comment.

Better Sheepdog Crossword Puzzle

You can print the crossword puzzle via this PDF

3.This is one of the 4 leadership styles suggested by Better Sheepdog? (8)
6.Kipling recommends six honest men help with Project definition according to Better Sheepdog. What is the longest name of one of the men? (5)
7.Better Sheepdog says that Newton's first law of motion can be applied to change management, fill in the missing word -People tend to continue travelling in the same direction.....unless acted on by an external xxxxx? (5)
8.Better Sheepdog says there are two dimensions to success in a Project. One dimension is for the Project Team, who owns the second dimension? (7)
14.Complete the Proverb, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to xxxxxxx xx"? (6,2)
16.According to Better Sheepdog, what is the special risk to consider on an IT Implementation regarding people spotting "problems" which already existed? (4,5)
18.In the six "thinking hats" approach to meetings, what coloured hat does a person wear when expressing traits such as optimism, positive, opportunities, benefits? (6)
19.A RAID log covers 4 key aspects to be managed and it is an acronym. What does the letter "A" represent (plural)? (11)
20.Fill in the missing word in this phrase? Good estimators aren't modest, if it is xxxx, they say so! (4)
21.To ensure that your project documents are fit for purpose, Better Sheepdog suggests that you need to produce a planning document named? (7,4)
23.According to Better Sheepdog, Resource Planning could be better described as “Establishing your what” (7,4)?
25.What is the name for the storage structure used for organising project documents? (7,4)
27.A standard risk assessment to be carried out for all resources is “How will the project cope if the person is suddenly unavailable for an extended period”. Better Sheepdog calls this assessment what? (4,5,1,3)
28.From your planning, anything which needs to be delivered but isn't part of your Project scope is called an External what? (10)
31.What skill does Better Sheepdog suggest that an effective Project Manager has to obtain information and support from various sources, sometimes on an informal basis? (10)
32.What does Better Sheepdog recommend be confirmed about the Board members in the first Project Board? (16)
34.Fill in the missing word in this Better Sheepdog phrase? xxxxxxxxxx kill IT Projects! (12)
36.What does Better Sheepdog suggest that each Planning Assumption represents to your project? (4)
37.Fill in the missing word in this phrase from the Ancient Greeks? Everything xxxxxxx and nothing stands still (7)
38.What is the Better Sheepdog name for the often used but least good approach for assuring the quality of documents produced by the Project - Review by what? (11)
39.Name the person (role) who owns the Project and especially the Benefits? (7)
40.What type of meeting does Better Sheepdog suggest that you hold before starting a critical Project Phase? (5)
41.When running a meeting what does Better Sheepdog suggest the meeting organiser does to set the scene and objectives? (4,2)

1.Honest communication is an important behaviour to look for in a Project Manager. Complete the Proverb "The most valuable and least used phrase in a Project Manager's vocabulary is x xxxx xxxx (1,4,4)"?
2.What planning should go on with regard to the Benefits of the project? (11)
4.The Better Sheepdog way of remembering key Project Management prompts is Humour, Pictures and what? (8)
5.When you have a list of project stakeholders, how does Better Sheepdog describe how you put them into different buckets for ongoing management? (7)
9.Complete the Better Sheepdog Proverb? "Nothing is xxxxxxxxx for the person who doesn't have to do it!" (10)
10.Fill in the missing word in this phrase? Estimators do it in group, top down and xxxxxx up (6)
11.Planning is important but should be balanced with what according to the Better Sheepdog Proverb "Planning without xxxxxx is futile, xxxxxx without planning is fatal"? (6)
12.What does Better Sheepdog suggest that you should you do with Risks before the Risks do the same to your Project? (6)
13.Before embarking fully on Project execution what document should be used to confirm that organisation funds and resources are being used on the correct Project (8,4)?
15.The Better Sheepdog approach to producing a Budget during Initiation is a spreadsheet with a calendar broken down by what? (5)
17.You need to escalate to your Sponsor as the Project is forecast to be outside agreed targets. What is the wrong method to raise this escalation? (5)
22.What very useful PRINCE2 document (one per Product) to help ensure a good quality product does Better Sheepdog suggest need NOT be created in some circumstances where the principles are handled elsewhere? (7,11)
23.What does Better Sheepdog suggest that you may have to throw in regard to say a difficult stakeholder or team member (7,5)
24.When producing a schedule, who shouldn't be on the critical path as a resource undertaking a task? (7,7)
26.The accuracy and quality of plans often degrades over time from today. Better Sheepdog calls this what? (8,5)
29.What is the Better Sheepdog partner to Planning as Clyde was the partner to Bonnie? (10)
30.Complete the missing word in the Better Sheepdog proverb - What is not xxxxxxx has not been said! (7)
33.Fill in the missing word in this phrase? If Project Scope is allowed to change freely the rate of change will exceed the rate of xxxxxxx! (8)
35.What is suggested to manage stress in the Proverb "A xxxxx a day keeps the stress away!"?
38.What type of report does the Project Manager produce near the end of the Project? (6)
39.Fill in the missing word in this phrase? Q-How do Projects xxxx? A-one day at a time (4)

A Rival to the Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK)?

The two year project to brain dump my thoughts on improving Project Success is near a close with some hopefully informative posts accompanied by cartoons and proverbs to occasionally amuse you. I therefore want to commend this Blog to you as a reference site to use in future as you manage your Projects especially if you are fairly new to the role. 

As a rival to the PMBOK I will call it the BSBOK which truly appeals to my sense of humour :-) [Better Sheepdog Book of Knowledge of course!]
Better Sheepdog Book of Knowledge

How to use Blog as a reference site

This is covered in more detail here but in brief you can click on the Tags button in the right hand margin and select a topic label or I find Search at the top of each page works well. So if you are doing some planning and want to look at guidance, either look for the topic label or enter the word "planning" in search.

BSBOK Examination

Like any good Project Management approach, there needs to be an Examination. I think any good Project Manager needs to be able to solve puzzles such as:
  • how am I going to get the plan back on track?
  • how am I going to address this difficult stakeholder?
Therefore the Examination will be in the form of a Crossword puzzle and can be found here.

Anyone who emails with the correct answers will go on the site honour board, good luck!

and finally Thanks...

Lastly, I want to thank my colleague Manoj for encouraging me to commence this Blog back in 2014 and to all of my followers for reading & commenting on the posts during the last two years. 

Friday, 13 May 2016

Why Projects Fail and how to address?

The objective of the Be a Better Sheepdog Blog is to help you improve the success of your Projects. So I thought it was a good time to take you through some well publicised reasons for Project failure and point you back to previous posts where I have given some guidance on addressing to give you the best chance of not suffering such a fate and having to employ the strategies suggested in the cartoon :-)
Project Failure - Strategies for handling

No Business Benefits from the Project

The Business benefits of a Project are defined as a key success criteria for the Project Sponsor. 

This failure point can be addressed by:
  1. Ensuring the organisation undertakes the right projects which should deliver sufficient benefits and return on the investment made
  2. Ensure there is a good business case produced for the project during Initiation
  3. Keeping the business case under review during the project life-cycle - see more in this post on PRINCE2 principle Business Justification
  4. Producing a Benefits Realisation Plan during the project execution phase to ensure the detail on the benefits in understood, when they will be measured and who is accountable
  5. If changes to operational business processes, team structures and responsibilities are involved in achieving the benefits, plan this carefully considering the human resistance to change as described in Newton's first law of motion

Confusion during execution on what the Project should deliver

  1. The Project needs to have clear ownership via a Project Sponsor and augmented by other roles to form a Project Board Using the analogy of a ship, the target port (objective) for the captain and crew (project manager and team) should be set by the ship owners and the route (plan) should be confirmed when proposed by the Captain (project manager)
  2. By the end of Initiation the Project should be properly defined with the outcomes, acceptance and success criteria clearly understood and agreed by both Owner and Team
  3. As you progress through the project life-cycle, lower level detail will be defined with agreement on a set of detailed requirements. Don't forget that you need to have performed a good Stakeholder analysis to consult the right people when developing these requirements and always consider the risk of communication problems leading to mis-understanding 
  4. Should anything change with regard to the project scope and deliverables, the Project needs to have a good Change Management process to ensure the change is assessed and impacts understood including project viability

Project takes more time and cost than expected

The failure reason could have multiple causes. However some basics which can trip up the Project and thus should be a focus to get right are:
  1. Solid planning and estimating considering that you may need to break the plan into Stages due to Planner's Droop
  2. Continued monitoring and control of progress against plan with appropriate metrics taking remedial actions as necessary
  3. Analyse the Risks and ensure suitable mitigations / contingencies are in place Keep these under review.
  4. Remember that any Assumption you make in planning is a Risk so look to confirm these as soon as possible during Project execution
  5. Issues are likely to occur even in a well run Project so have a good process to manage them
  6. The Project can be derailed up by elements which are NOT delivered by the Project team but are essential for success. These are called External Dependencies and need careful management
  7. Always consider the human side of your Project Team. Do you have the elements in place to achieve a high performing project team?
  8. The Project can be derailed by uncontrolled change. Ensure that there is a clear definition of scope first and then instigate a good change control process to ensure that the impacts of a change are understood and agreed before it is accepted. Ultimately the owners need to understand that a constantly changing Project isn't going to get anywhere as illustrated by this cartoon
If Project scope is allowed to change freely - the rate of change will exceed the rate of progress

Delivery of Products which are not fit for purpose

If the Project spends a lot of time, effort and money to produce Products which are unusable, this is a clear failure. Consider:
  1. The Project Definition should include the clear end deliverable with acceptance / quality criteria
  2. You need to have a plan with regard to ensuring the quality of each product produced by the project. Consider whether you need to produce Product Descriptions for each product, this may or may not be required but should be a justified decision
  3. Ensure that you have a good configuration management strategy for the project products 


There are many reasons why Projects fail and there are essentials you need to get in place as a Project Manager. Of course, I haven't mentioned you much in this post and you are the linchpin for success. If you aren't doing your job correctly the Project has a high probability of failing. As well as good technical skills you need to have appropriate behaviour traits and spend your time on the right activities. With all these elements in place there is a good chance of success but never assume and keep monitoring, monitoring, monitoring!

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Famous Quotes and relevance for Project Managers

Do famous quotes have relevance for Project Managers and Project Teams? Can they can be an inspiration in certain situations? Yes, is my answer! Here is a selection I have picked with their relevance described.
Famous Quotes for Project Managers

Risk Management - Winston Churchill

One ought never to turn one's back on a threatened danger and try to run away from it. If you do that, you will double the danger. But if you meet it promptly and without flinching, you will reduce the danger by half. Never run away from anything. Never! 
Churchill meant this in terms of Political Risk but it could apply to Project Risk. The way I have previously described it is Attack the Risks before the Risks Attack you!
Projects - Attack the Risks before the Risks Attack You

Alternatively, the Churchill quote reminds me of an important behavioural characteristic for Project Managers. As a PM you need to be prepared to stand your ground and not duck issues. I covered this and a number of other characteristics in this post.
Project Manager - If you don't stand for something you'll fall for anything

Issue Management - Charles F Kettering

A Problem well stated is a problem half solved
Kettering puts it very succinctly. Define your problem statement when you have an Issue and it helps focus the mind on the potential solutions. 

Dale Carnegie put it in a more descriptive manner:
Get the facts! Let's not even attempt to solve our problems without first collecting all the facts in an impartial manner
Have a look at my post on Issue Management

Human Aspects of Project Teams - various

Benjamin Disraeli
One of the hardest things in this world to do is to admit you are wrong. And nothing is more helpful in resolving a situation than its frank admission
 Benjamin Franklin
Arguing is a game that two can play at. But it is a strange game that neither opponent ever wins
It is worth keeping these quotations in mind when in the heat of arguments within the Project team or with other stakeholders

Dale Carnegie is worth considering with regard to team spirit and the importance of wanted to achieve as a team
You can't get anywhere in this world without wanting to do something 
When things get difficult within a Project and you are faced with the choice of a more risky approach versus holding back, remember this Lloyd Jones quotation:
The men who try to do something and fail are infinitely better than those who try to do nothing and succeed
Have a look at my post on Human side of Projects

Self-Motivation - Abraham Lincoln

If you are resolutely determined to make a lawyer of yourself, the thing is more than half done already ..... Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing
As a Project Manager you need good self-motivation and always have in sight the ultimate goal. 

Read this post for other behavioural traits of a good Project Manager.

Coping with stress - Reinhold Niebuhr

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference
As a Project Manager you need to cope with stressful situations at times and this quote is useful to remember. 

Read this post for more on coping with stress and worry.

Good Time Management - Henry Ford

It has been my observation that most people get ahead during the time that others waste
As a Project Manager you need good time management skills. I always start the day by working out the key things to achieve in the day. I try and address the things of most importance to the Project(s), not the easy things to tick off or the activities I prefer.

Personal and Project Lessons Learnt - Dale Carnegie

The difference between a successful person and a failure often lies in the fact that the successful man will profit by his mistakes and try again in a different way
Plutarch put it another way
To make no mistakes is not in the power of man; but from their errors and mistakes the wise and good learn wisdom for the future
I have found Organisations mixed in their approach to learning lessons from previous Projects. However, on a personal level, there is no excuse and I always make a point of considering what has gone well with Project execution, what less well and what I should aim to do differently next time.

Have a look at my post on Lessons Learnt where you will see another quote from philosopher George Santayana

Projects - Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it


I am always keen on "hooks" to remember key Project Management tips and techniques. I must admit to preferring proverbs and humour as my means of achieving this (see this post) but if are inspired by famous quotes then this could be best approach for you - as long as you remember to apply the tip or technique :-)

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Why use Humour and Proverbs in your Projects?

I like to use humour and proverbs within my Projects for a number of reasons which I will expand on in this post but include:
  • to relieve tension
  • to show you are human
  • to act as a memory jogger
  • to aid communication
I will also mention the risks to be aware of when using humour which I have tried to convey in this cartoon.

Humour, Proverbs and Visual Images aid Project Manager Memory

Relieve tension?

Projects and Programmes are serious places, there is pressure to deliver within aggressive time-scales to achieve often important business cases within a temporary organisation thrust together for a number of months. Individuals can feel the pressure in different ways and sometimes this can boil over in heated words.

I find a bit of humour (even some of my poor efforts) can relieve tension whether in meetings with the team or within the pressure cooker of Project Board meetings.

Shows you are human?

As Project teams are normally built on a temporary basis you find yourself working with “strangers” and with the pressures, people can get certain perceptions of individuals. A joke or two shows that you are human and unless you offend (see risks below) can help build a better team spirit.

Acts as a memory jogger?

As a Project Manager you need to be able to think on your feet within meetings and discussions. There is reasonable scientific evidence that the use of humour, pictures and strap lines (proverbs) aids memory retention so that you can recall a key Project Management tip quickly.

Aids communication?

There are more than a few Projects where I have used proverbs to make a point and found them drip feed into team usage. So a strap line can aid communication I feel.  For example on one Project, when I heard team mates using the phrase “what isn't written hasn't been said”, I knew my message was getting across!

Projects - What isn't written hasn't been said


Project teams are often multinational these days and humour doesn't always translate well and there can be religious difficulties. So try and bear this in mind although I probably have made a few mistakes here so would like to apologise to current and former team mates, my intention is never to offend.

This is the message I am trying to convey in the main cartoon, you can use the humour to remember a key Project Management tip but you may decide not to use it in explanation!!


I believe there are many benefits to a bit of humour and proverbs within the cut and thrust of Project life and it probably doesn't do your health any harm either. But try and think before you open your mouth! 

Finally, if you want to see a little more on the scientific background to my memory retention claim or see a Project manual made entirely of my cartoons, have a look at this post.

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