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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

Friday, 21 February 2014

As a Military General, where should you spend your time?

As a Project Manager is there something to be learnt from military leadership in terms of where to spend your time and when to stand back from the action?

Some Military Leaders stand back from the battle

I was watching the film "Sink the Bismarck" recently which was unusual in that it focused a lot on the analysis and decisions being made back in London rather than at sea. This is an analogy for the Project Manager who stands back and analyses based on reports from the team, looking where the issues are and modifying strategy appropriately. It is sometimes called the 30,000 feet view.

Planners create a gigantic war map for Talisman Sabre

Some Military Leaders fight with the troops

Then there are the military leaders who work hand in hand with the troops. One example of such a leader which springs to mind is H Jones who, as commanding officer of 2 Para, died leading his troops in the battle of Goose Green in the Falklands War. This is an analogy for the Project Manager who gets involved in the detailed work of the team and as such knows far more about the low level details of situation on the ground and thus can be more reactive in short timescales. 

Which analogy is best for a Project Manager?

So which analogy is best for where a Project Manager should spend his time? 
In short, I think both have a place and time. Let me explain.

I would say that you should always spend a proportion of your time each week studying the "big picture", working out how to tweak your strategy based on the feedback on progress and issues that have occurred. In a previous post I have suggested that a good time to do this is at the same time as producing a weekly status report.

However, there are times, especially when issues have occurred, where you need to be there on the battlefield gathering information in real time and working with the team to devise the resolution path. To aid this, I believe it is useful for the Project Manager to have some background in the technical skills which the team are utilising. In my field of IT Projects, I have come from a software development background and have sufficient background knowledge to aid communication with technical team mates. 


So there are good parallels between being a Project Manager and a General fighting a battle. Just pick your time on when to be in the trenches with the troops and when to retire back to the war-room!

Friday, 14 February 2014

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?" Well, this is difficult to answer as a PM should have an armoury of technical disciplines and other skills available for different challenges to be faced during a Project lifecycle. But if pressed, I always fall back to Planning. 

Why is Planning the key discipline?

It is a fact that many of the Project team will struggle to look ahead past the next couple of days, sometimes only the next couple of hours! So the Project Manager needs to be planning and looking ahead.

Those that know me, know I like my Project Management Proverbs and I feel it is time for a couple. Let me start with "There are no good Project Managers, only lucky ones". "WHAT" I hear you say? 

Well, there is a P.S."The more you plan, the luckier you get!"
Project Planning - There are no good Project Managers only lucky ones; The more you plan the luckier you get

Or another Proverb is the 6 Ps of Planning...... "Planning Prevents P*ss Poor Project Performance"
Planning 6Ps - Planning Prevents P*ss Poor Performance

Plans can take many forms

I've seen plans produced in many forms. 

At one end of the spectrum, you may have a detailed plan in a planning tool with integrated feedback from team members via a centralised server where actual effort and "Estimate to Complete" can be fed back. I implemented such a tool for AXA and the trick here is to get good processes in place adopted by everyone. Without that, the value can fall away.

At the other end of the spectrum, I have seen Excel spreadsheets used effectively.

Whatever, the solution I would say the requirements are:
  • ability to show plan at a high level (important for stakeholder management)
  • recording the detail somewhere, because the "devil is in the detail"
  • ability to communicate the plan and get "buy-in" from the team (as they will be delivering it!)
  • ability to understand the critical path (the path through the plan which has no slack i.e. if one of the critical tasks is delayed this will impact the important delivery milestone
  • ability to monitor and control against the plan(s) and see impacts to the high level

I suggest starting with Products that are to be produced along the journey to the "final" Product

Product based Planning is a powerful technique to start your planning. Have a read of a specific post on this.

Action without Planning is Fatal

So if you are to focus on one thing, make it planning and monitoring against the plan once established. One last thing, don't spend all you time planning! Again a proverb helps me illustrate because although Action without Planning is Fatal, Planning without Action is Futile!

Project Planning without Action is Futile; Action without Planning is Fatal

So if you can establish some of the early tasks which can be safely started while the rest of the plan is being flushed out then crack on. And another top tip is to "plan the plan" - plan how you will get to an agreed plan. So you can monitor your progress towards that goal and manage stakeholder expectations. Have a read of this post for more details.

Start early

It is beneficial to have an plan if you are starting some activities early before your any official baselining. Remember the Proverb, The sooner you fall behind the project schedule, the more time you have to make it up!
Early Project plan and monitoring Proverb

A few other Planning Proverbs for you

  1. If you fail to plan you are planning to fail
  2. If you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there
  3. The nice thing about not planning is that failure comes as a complete surprise rather than being preceded by a period of worry and depression

And Finally...

There are a number of other Planning related posts on this Blog so select the Planning tag or indeed use the free form search for Planning, to see how, look here

Thursday, 13 February 2014

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. I like to write a weekly status report (or Highlight Report as PRINCE2 likes to call it). Let me explain why.
Project Status Report - You want a Status Report on the Status Report!

Reason 1 to write a Project Status Report

By undertaking the exercise of writing a report it helps force yourself to undertake a top down review of where the project is. When under day to day pressures, sometimes it is difficult to find the time to step back and do this. 

I like to cover the following whether these are documented in the status report or not:
  • how are we progressing against key tasks?
  • did we achieve what we set out to this week?
  • what do we need to achieve next week? 
  • are any remedial actions necessary e.g. requesting overtime etc
  • is the critical path threatened?
  • forecast of key milestones in the future and have we met any this week?
  • review of issues, what should I highlight?
  • review of risks, what should I highlight?
  • RAG rating against a number of criteria, meeting the key milestone in the Project Definition/PID, cost, quality/scope, stakeholder engagement, issues, risks and dependencies
  • what am I going to say as a management summary statement?
In addition there are two items I like to consider in addition to the above monthly:

Reason 2 to write a Project Status Report

By writing and distributing the report you should be achieving part of your communications strategy to keep relevant stakeholders informed. My belief is that once a week I should keep the Sponsor informed of status rather than wait for formal Project Board Meetings which tend to be monthly.

Reason 3 to write a Project Status Report

Reinforce your status. Many people won't be aware of what you are doing day to day. By having a well presented status report informing people, you reinforce your status as a professional Project Manager.

Reason 4 to write a Project Status Report

Having a set of weekly status reports is very useful when sitting down at the end of the project to look at lessons learnt and write a closure report.

So don't moan. Embrace the concept of the weekly status report, plan your week to produce and issue to an agreed schedule (I like drafting on Friday afternoon, tweaking and issuing on Monday morning). If it shows one thing to the outside world, it shows you can at least manage yourself!!

Monday, 10 February 2014

O Sponsor, Sponsor! wherefore art thou Sponsor?

Shakespeare knew a bit about Project Management and many of his quotes have relevance to Project Managers. In this post, I want to focus in on his quote "O Sponsor, Sponsor! wherefore art thou Sponsor?" - OK, maybe I have tweaked it a little unless your sponsor happens to be named Romeo :-) 
Shakespeare knew a bit about Project Management

Who is the Sponsor?

You are given a project to run. Amongst your early questions should be, "who is the Sponsor?" Sometimes you may receive the answer "there isn't one and there is no need for this project" WRONG!
The Sponsor should be on the hook to deliver the benefits and no Sponsor could mean no benefits have been thought about for the project which is bad news - put bluntly, if the nobody has an idea what benefits the project might deliver at the outset, you need to question whether to start?

When No Sponsor is seen, think of Shakespeare

But I have been faced with the situation of no Sponsor when picking up a project and have resorted to Shakespeare for help. Go searching. "Who is the person who will benefit from the project?" If you can't find the person to "own" the project, exit Stage left as Shakespeare might have said. Remember you might "run" the project day to day but you don't "own" it i.e. set the objectives, constraints, benefit case, be the authoriser of plans and budgets etc - all the things I look towards the Sponsor for.

Project Governance Roles

I will not run a project without a Sponsor which is the minimum form of governance. But PRINCE2 extends the concept in a useful way and if possible, try and form a "Project Board" which has a number of roles:

1) Sponsor (or Executive as PRINCE2 likes to name the role)
  • ultimately responsible for the project
  • chairs the board 
  • owns the business case
  • ensures the project is value for money and balances the demands of business, "user" and "supplier"
2) Senior User(s)
  • the specification of the needs of all those who will use the final product(s)
  • user liaison 
  • securing key user resources in the business
  • monitoring that the solution will meet those needs within the constraints of the Business Case in terms of quality, functionality, and ease of use
3) Senior Supplier(s)
  • represents the interests of those designing, developing, facilitating, procuring, implementing (and possibly operating and maintaining) the project products
  • securing resources in the team developing the products


So go hunting when you get given your project. And when you have your first Project Board meeting, I always include the responsibilities of the Project Board members in the slide pack. Then there are no excuses regarding what I am expecting!

Back to Shakespeare. In his quote "O Sponsor, Sponsor wherefore art thou Sponsor?" many people think that the old English "wherefore" means where but it really means why. Exactly the question to be asked when seeking a Sponsor.

I told you Shakespeare knew a bit about Project Management in the 16th century!

Friday, 7 February 2014

So you want to be a Project Manager? Just don't expect to learn it all by just going on a PRINCE2 course!

I've heard the story a number of times at client sites ... "My training for taking the role as Project Manager was going on a PRINCE2 course". This is wide of the mark. PRINCE2 is a project management methodology. It is good at what it does but it is far from the whole story in terms of being a Project Manager.

What does PRINCE2 give a Project Manager?

PRINCE2 defines a common terminology to be used in the project, key principles (e.g. management by exception), processes (e.g. initiating a project), "components" (e.g. management of risk) and some techniques (e.g. product based planning).

So it represents good training in many of the "technical" aspects of managing a project.

What is missing in PRINCE2 for a Project Manager?

What's missing then? Well a few things....

The Human side!

I like to remember things by pictures, proverbs and phrases as you will learn through this blog. One such phrase which I use is "Always remember the Human side" - see this post for more on this topic. As a Project Manager who need to deliver an objective through a team you need to be able to get the most out of them. Here is another picture to illustrate the point.....

The "P" in PM is as much about People Management as it is Project Management

People / Team Management is a big topic but this is often given the label "soft skills" such as:
  • Communication
  • Motivation
  • Exhibiting a number of leadership styles


Also, before embarking on a career in Project Management, you need to assess yourself (or be assessed) for some behaviour characteristics / traits. Here are a few to consider:
  • Self motivated / Resilient to setbacks?
  • Effective under pressure?
  • Prepared to take ownership?
Again, a proverb cartoon to illustrate..... 
Project Manager - If you don't stand for something - you'll fall for anything


Experience also improves your performance. Think about learning to drive, you took lessons and passed the test but improved much more from real world experience.

You should always look to learn lessons from Projects, have a read of this post

Good luck....

So good luck with your career in Project Management. Just consider a few more things than a PRINCE2 training course to get you started.....

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Why the Sheepdog Analogy?

A Project Manager is a necessary evil

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!

I remember a management course I attended a few years ago now. The "team" of 8 people was left sat in a room for 10 minutes to stew a bit and then someone came into the room, left a card (containing the "project brief") on the table and promptly left without saying anything. The next 30 minutes were very revealing in that lots of people read the brief, there were lots of discussions "I suggest we do x, y...." but no conclusion and no action. We finally ran out of time with nothing achieved.

It was a pretty clear demonstration of the need for a nominated leader, even if the leader is chosen by the group themselves.

The cartoon above is, of course, a bit tongue in cheek but as a fan of a funny image to retain information in the brain, I think of a Project Manager as a Sheepdog :-)

So completing the analogy, if the Sheepdog is the Project Manager, who is the Shepherd? The Shepherd is the Project Owner (Sponsor) who has an objective and instructs the Project Manager to manage the Project team (Sheep) to achieve that objective.

I'm a great believer that a bit of humour combined with the odd Proverb and visual image is a good way to convey a message and importantly act as a memory jogger so you will see these in the blog.

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