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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, 19 July 2019

Can't achieve document signoff, what are my options as Project Manager?

Projects typically have a myriad of documents which need to go through a quality process to achieve signoff to assure that these documents are "fit for purpose". I have covered the whole topic of managing the document quality process in a previous post which you may want to read first but in this post I want to tackle the topic of Project Management options if you can't achieve this signoff process within a reasonable planned timescale? 

This can be a significant problem if you are running the Project using a Waterfall lifecycle model and different lifecycles should be considered, if possible, in Projects where there are difficulties in establishing good quality early lifecycle documents. So for example, in the IT system development world, an Agile lifecycle can be used to tease out requirements and functional design from business users, I discuss Agile here.
Project Manager can't achieve document signoff - what options?

The basic points checklist

  1. I hope you planned sufficient time between issuing a good quality first draft of the document and expecting signoff. "Sufficient" is an open term depending on the size and complexity of your document and the quality review technique being used but a quick rule of thumb I use is a minimum of 10 working days from the production and issue of the good quality first draft
  2. Have you managed the quality review process, it is unlikely to happen by magic, especially if you are adopting the Review by circulation approach. I have given some tips on optimising the Review by circulation approach here but remember that walkthrough reviews normally achieve a better quality document and faster too!
  3. Have you chased the approvers for their signoff ideally picking up the phone because you can ask the direct question, why can't you signoff the document? This can achieve signoff or some corrective actions needed to the document and/or the forward plan to achieve signoff in the near future
  4. If you can't achieve a short term plan which has a high confidence of signoff and it is impacting your overall plan by increasing Risk (that the document will change before signoff and you need to start work on a subsequent deliverable to meet the overall plan in line with your Product Flow Diagram) then you should formally raise a Project Issue and make the (non) approver(s) aware that this has happened
  5. In terms of managing this Issue, your Sponsor or other Project Board members may be approached for assistance as they are senior stakeholders that are interested in the success of the Project delivery as they "own" the Project. It is a little more tricky when it is a member of the Project Board that hasn't signed off the document!!

The "Nuclear Option" - Baseline the Document without approval

Assuming that you have worked through the basic points above, you can make an executive decision to Baseline a document without it being Approved as "fit for purpose". This doesn't mean that you should stop the process to achieve signoff but the primary benefit is that any baselined document should only be changed through your Project Change Management process. So:
  • the document can be used for any subsequent work with a known baseline (e.g. in an IT waterfall model, build can commence from a functional design)
  • if and when you establish that changes are required to the document to achieve signoff, you impact assess the effect of the rework to achieve these changes on your Project (i.e. Time, Cost and Quality of the ultimate deliverable and Risk profile) and the Project Board needs to either accept or reject the change
If you want to invoke such an option I would always discuss the option with Project Board members / Sponsor. A variation on the theme is to tell the approver(s) that you will invoke this option should they fail to approve the document by date x in a few days time. This may focus minds sufficiently to gain the review and agreement of the document and is in line with the concept I always like to pursue, if possible, which is to telegraph my punches.

Good luck :)

Monday, 8 July 2019

Should a Project Manager have any Red Lines?

I have heard from a number of fellow Project Manager readers of Be a Better Sheepdog comments such as "my organisation claims to follow a good Project Management standard but never in practice". I have worked with many client organisations and I can concur that I have never seen a standard or methodology implemented 100% and many fall way below that percentage! 

So this begs the question, should the Project Manager go with the flow or should he/she try and impose some Red Lines in how the Project is run? Red lines are common in negotiation and are points of no compromise. I argue for and practice a number of Red Lines which I describe in this article but also reveal where I am happy to compromise. I also explore some negotiation techniques which may be used.

To those that say "this is impossible in my organisation", I have a cartoon to repeat from an article on Project Manager Behaviours
Project Manager - If you don't stand for something you'll fall for anything

My 3 Project Management Red Lines

1 - Have a real Sponsor or a proxy

It is not the job of a Project Manager to own the project, it is the job of the Project Manager to help shape the project and then run the project day to day on behalf of the Owner. My Sheepdog analogy is that the dog is working on behalf of the Shepherd to direct the sheep! 

So if not already defined, my Red line is to establish an owner I can talk with, work for and report to and will confirm things such as the Project Definition. Ideally I would like to find the real Sponsor (that is the person who ultimately owns the Business Case and realising the benefits of the project) and depending on the scale of the Project I may recommend the formation of a Project Board in line with good PRINCE2 principles.

But if this can't be achieved, I am willing to compromise with a suitable proxy for the real Sponsor. This needs to be a senior stakeholder within the organisation that engaged me. So in IT Projects where I practice, the real Sponsor is likely to be someone within the business organisation but I will typically be engaged by a senior stakeholder within the IT organisation. See this post on seeking out a Sponsor and potentially forming a Project Board. 

2 - Have some sort of Project Definition agreed by the Sponsor

If you are having some work done on your house, you are the owner and you engage a builder. Almost certainly there will be a contract between the owner and the builder. The same applies to a Project. So I will always produce a Project Definition of some form or other and seek the signoff of the Sponsor. This confirms that I have understood the Brief correctly and that the Sponsor understands the implications of the plan and budget I have proposed including agreement on what Success represents for the Project team. Remember the Kipling Poem when producing your Project Definition.

But I will scale this document to the scale of the project and the organisational culture. The form of the document is not a Red line for me. So while in one UK Government client I worked for I produced copious Word documents (PID, Stage Plan etc etc), there is no point in this approach if the culture of the organisation means that these will not get read properly. I am more interested in real review and agreeing key points. I often use PowerPoint for my Project Definition but have used email for small projects.

Of course, any contract needs to be signed off and this needs to be done in some auditable form, not verbally - remember what isn't written hasn't been said :)
Projects - What isn't written hasn't been said
Before signoff I will ensure that Sponsor understands the concepts of Change Management. As always, I find analogies can be useful in explanation "if you sign your contract with your builder and then part way through building works you change your mind, the builder will need to work out the additional costs and a new date for completion"

3 - Establish ongoing communications with the Sponsor e.g. Issue a regular status report

I'm afraid the challenges of Projects don't stop when the Definition has been agreed so I will want to ensure some ongoing communication channels to the Sponsor as Owner of the project and will want to establish this at the time of signoff of the Definition.

Firstly, I will always issue a regular status report to the Sponsor and other Stakeholders, typically weekly but it could be a different frequency depending on the circumstances. This is both good practice but helps in the process of ensuring ongoing engagement from the Sponsor. It is a formal way of calling for assistance or flagging concerns, remember some Issues are not solvable by the Project Manager alone.

However, if there are Issues I need help with or I am going to flag the Project as Red (not forecasting to meet agreed Success criteria), I will always contact the Sponsor with a verbal update such as a telephone call.

Lastly I will request a regular schedule of Project progress catchups, typically at least monthly. Again this maintains engagement with the Sponsor / Board and is a forum for raising points where assistance or guidance is needed before it becomes critical to progress.

Stakeholder understanding and Negotiation tactics

Always remember that the senior Stakeholders in your organisation may not have received suitable training and so may not understand why such points above are important. So the negotiation on your Red Lines should always start with reasoning and justification. See this article on helping your Sponsor understand good Project processes. 

Ultimately in any negotiation you should be prepared to walk away if your Red Lines aren't met. I still remember starting to walk out of a shop in Egypt because my Red Line on price was way off being met. Ultimately I ended up buying the item at an acceptable price because the owner knew I was serious. 

Back to the Project environment, I must admit to having an advantage as I am an external Consultant; it is far more difficult, maybe even impossible, for a permanent member of staff to "walk away". But I have always been prepared to agree to exit my contract should I feel that I am not in the position to really help my client deliver the Project. Interestingly, that situation has never ultimately materialised.

So good luck in trying to negotiate your Red Lines, it is better to have the painful conversations early and build from there :)

Friday, 5 July 2019

Project Success Triangle - are all points really constrained?

Success for a Project Team is usually defined using the 3 points of the Project Success triangle i.e. Time, Cost and Quality/Scope. However, if, when establishing the Project Brief, it becomes clear from discussions with the Sponsor that he/she wants to constrain all three points before any Planning and Estimating has taken place, it could be time to find a way to exit the Project as per the cartoon :)
Project Success Triangle points constrained

Joking aside, in such a circumstance (and in fact in all Projects) I ask the Sponsor the following questions, "Which is the most important point of constraint, which is second priority and which is the least important?". This might take a bit of probing with examples to illustrate but ultimately I have found that all Sponsors will give you this steer. 

Let me illustrate using the IT Product development example of the cartoon. After some discussions, it becomes clear that the Sponsor needs to get the Product into the market fast because of concerns of a competitor thinking about a similar product (Time top priority). Funds are tight but if there was some positive market feedback, more funds would become available (Cost second priority). So Quality/Scope is the least important constraint. So I might probe, "when we go live initially, could we possibly get the top 3 functions out and limit the user base to a 100 users or so?". If the Sponsor agrees to this as a possible approach we have teased out a much more useful Project Brief which will guide the Project Manager during Planning and Estimating which might lead to a Minimum Viable Product launch to a constrained user base with further releases and increased infrastructure to support more users (with additional funding) in future.

It is far better, ultimately, for the Sponsor, if you challenge the constraints and other Project Brief elements in early discussions rather than go away for 3 weeks and come back and tell him/her that the Project as requested can't be delivered or even worse, start the Project hoping for the best and fail.

So in summary I would say the main points I would recommend to Project Managers are:
  1. If the Project Sponsor isn't clear, find one - see this article
  2. Establish the Project Brief with the Sponsor to guide the Project Manager in Planning and Estimating
  3. Part of this Brief should be the order of priority of each of the 3 points of the Project success triangle
  4. Always look to have a discussion with the Sponsor even if you have been handed a solid written Brief (unlikely!)
  5. Be prepared to challenge the Sponsor and probe as necessary, the first answer isn't always the correct one
  6. As your "contract" with the Sponsor, is the Project Definition, all this information should be put into that document and signed off by the Sponsor or Project Board
  7. If time is tight you may need to start work in parallel to agreeing the Project Definition and even scale your deliverables appropriately (I have agreed Project Briefs over email for example). As long as you make it clear any risks you are taking on behalf of the Sponsor this is fine in my view.

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. 

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