A Fast, Flexible Approach to Managing Any Project — Right Here, Right Now! To manage effectively in today’s complex project environment, you need a framework of project management (PM) competencies, processes, and tools that can be put to use immediately and that flexes and scales to meet the needs of any project. In Guerrilla Project Management, Ken Hanley emphasizes key project management competencies, including managing stakeholders effectively, assessing risk accurately, and getting agreement on the objective measures of project success. Focusing on these and other competencies as well as effective PM processes and tools, Hanley presents an alternative approach to project management that is light, fast, and flexible — and adapts readily to the many changes every project manager faces. Offering tips and techniques on topics ranging from communication and reporting practices to risk mitigation, this practical book is organized to allow readers to work through all aspects of a project or quickly find answers to specific problems. This is the go-to guide for today’s nimble project manager!
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Guerrilla Project Management
By Kenneth T. Hanley
Management Concepts PressCopyright © 2011 Management Concepts, Inc.
All rights reserved.
A Willingness to Learn from the Past
It's what you learn after you know it all that counts. — Harry S. Truman
The best PMs are always thinking about what's in front of them in the context of what they've learned from the past. And if that past wasn't always great, they won't blindly, irrationally assume that things will be better this time, especially when there's no evidence to support that optimism. Even if (maybe especially if) they hear, "It's different this time, really." Here's what they know: Without a change in thinking and approach, no, it isn't.
It's the first question I ask when I'm interviewing PMs: What did you learn from your last project experience? And it's a bad sign if they take a long time answering.
The best PMs are always asking: What have we learned here? And how can we apply what we've learned going forward? More specifically, what have we learned that'll allow us to:
Repeat the good outcomes, and
Make sure we don't make the same mistakes again?
It's a key question to ask about any PM or organization that works on projects: has he, she, or it ever made the same project mistakes more than once? If so, they're not learning — not learning about the critical importance of comprehensive project closeout reports (see Chapter 16) or about the importance of planning for and tracking mandatory performance deliverables (see Chapter 9), for example. The best PMs institutionalize learning; they won't compromise on the need to do project closeout reports on every project, and you'll see them run reviews at the end of every phase of a project to ensure their team gets better, every step of the way.CHAPTER 2
A Need to Know Why
When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudice and motivated by pride and vanity. — Dale Carnegie
As far as I can tell, there are two inviolable truths about people and projects:
1. There's a reason behind everything that everyone does on, to, for, with, or against a project. No one does anything without a reason.
2. In a stakeholder's mind, no matter what they are doing on, to, for, with, or against a project, it makes complete sense to them.
The key skill for a PM then, is figuring out: where are these project stakeholders coming from, and most important, why are they acting the way they are? ("Because he's an idiot!" is never the right answer.) The thinking PM asks "Why?" all the time, guided by two principles:
1. He never allows himself to think that someone is doing something "just because he's stupid."
2. He never treats anyone as an "enemy" of the project but, rather, as a potential ally he just hasn't figured out yet.
This approach makes a broad assumption about the intent of the project stakeholder community: It's very rare that a stakeholder is really out to kill a project, even if it feels that way sometimes.
Asking "Why?" — over and over and over again — should take the PM back to root causes. Without an understanding of the root causes of a stakeholder's behavior and their attitude toward a project, the PM probably won't be able to put an effective stakeholder management plan in place.CHAPTER 3
A Willingness to Ask for Help
He who is afraid of asking is ashamed of learning. — Danish proverb
The best PMs are always asking for help. It's not because they don't know the answers, and it's not because they don't want to do things for themselves. It's because they understand the power in asking questions, and they know that people — sponsors, team members, stakeholders — like to be asked to help and very rarely, if ever, say no when they're asked.
Asking for help says to the people you're asking that you respect their views and that they have a role in the project and a view that's worthy of your consideration. It gives you a chance to voluntarily take yourself off your PM pedestal (if you were ever on one) instead of being knocked off it, and it establishes a collegial relationship with the person you're asking. It's just a good approach in general. Don't ask questions, of course, if you have no intention of listening or responding to what you're hearing; people will see through that kind of disingenuous approach.
PMs should know that they need everyone's help and that if they're not asking, they're missing something. Which is why a common complaint of project managers — "As PM, I have all the responsibility to get things done, but none of the authority" — is, I think, somewhat misdirected. That kind of thinking displays a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of the PM. The best PMs don't have all the responsibility for project outcomes — rather, they share it effectively with people like the sponsor — nor do they really require all the authority to be successful. The best PMs — and this is probably true of all effective leaders — rarely exercise their positional power even if they can do so easily. Instead, they lead by influence and, certainly, by the will of those they're leading. They ask for help a lot.CHAPTER 4
Taking Dead Aim at Outrageous Optimism
We descend into hell one step at a time. — Charles Baudelaire
In project management, unwarranted optimism is a dangerous thing. Watch out when you hear: "How do you know it can't be done that fast?" or "It's different this time" or "You need to be more of an optimist!" These statements imply that the speaker hasn't looked at the historical evidence — or that there is no historical evidence. They're an attempt to appeal to the emotions, with a bit of baseless cheerleading thrown in. Any one of these statements is frustrating; in combination, they're deadly. Fortunately, there are ways to fight back.
Look at What Happened in the Past
We know that some projects, given their schedule, cost, and performance constraints, are headed for the tank right from the beginning, but we just can't prove it before they do, largely because we don't have historical success and failure metrics to compare them against. Lacking anything to compare our current projects against, we could end up on projects that are impossible, but not demonstrably so.
To get a realistic sense of what's actually possible on a new project, to avoid falling into the trap of unwarranted optimism, project managers must look at the records from previous projects, which, of course, implies there are records to look at. As PMs, we owe it to the entire PM community to produce a complete, disciplined project closeout report for every project we work on. We can't skip the closeout report, no matter how tight we are on time, and we can't cut corners in completing it. And, as you'll hear many times in this book, a thorough review of previous project closeout reports should be a mandatory first deliverable for any new project.
Our friendly neighborhood Project Management Office should be able to dig up prior project charters and the actual results from those prior projects. The baseline plans as reflected in the charters — net of change orders — should line up with the final results ... or am I being unrealistic?
If historical information isn't available in our own organizations — and even if it is — we need to pull all the information we can about projects like ours from other organizations, by reaching out to other PMs and other PMOs we know and even some that we don't know — it always helps to build connections in the community.
Once we've gathered historical data from within and without our organization, we need to take notes on the information we find and keep it close at hand as we start planning our new project. The more we read, the more history we'll have, the less susceptible we'll be to those who insist that "it's different this time."
The Gut Check
Does what you're doing feel right? If it doesn't, it probably isn't. Listen to your instincts. This advice goes a long way when I'm reviewing failed projects with PMs. I'll ask "When did you first feel the project was in trouble?" "Right at the beginning" is the answer I hear most often.
Allowing for the perfection of hindsight, it's probably true the indicators of troubled projects are evident to the savvy PM before their projects even get rolling. If your gut says something's wrong with your planning, it probably is. Keep digging until you figure out exactly what's wrong, and don't commit to a date or budget until you do. You might get heat for not moving fast enough, but a lot less heat, I'll bet, than you'll get if that "wrong thing" torpedoes the project later on, after a lot of money's been spent. It's at that point you'll hear: "You're the PM — weren't you supposed to see this coming?"
Remove the Emotion: Use Logic Gates
Emotion makes for better drama, but it's bad for projects and project planning. "You need to be optimistic!" you'll hear, playing to that whole "outrageous optimism" thing that's built into all of us. Optimism is fine in and of itself; it makes the curmudgeons among us tolerable to live with. But outrageous optimism is deadly for PMs and their clients.
One of the best ways to take the emotion out of any planning exercise — to reduce the likelihood of making a plan based on hope rather than fact — is to put your project thinking through logic gates. Logic gating is a simple but powerful exercise that leads to better, more defensible, less emotional planning. Here's a logic gate exercise that one of my profs led our class through to make a point, and it's stuck with me ever since.
"Here's my proposition A," he said. "I propose to you that all crows are black. Do we all agree that all crows are black?"
Although we were a little concerned that we were being led into a trap — which in fact, we were — we all agreed.
Then he put up a picture of a crow and said, "And here's my proposition B: I propose that the bird in this picture is a crow. Do we all agree that the bird in this picture is a crow?"
And then: "Well, that means that we have no choice but to agree with my proposition C: that the bird in this picture is black."
Simple but effective logic jujitsu: Having passed through — and agreed with — the propositions that represented "gates" A and B, we had no choice but to agree with, and step through, the professor's logic gate C, sort of like those one-way drywall screws — once they're in, they don't back out.
So how would this work on a project? Setting: An early-in-the-project team planning meeting, well before the team makes a commitment to a budget or a schedule. The PM says: "OK, do we all agree the project team that management has allowed us to put together for this project is essentially the same one we had last time? The same number of technical people? The same number of subject matter experts dedicating the same amount of their available time? Agreed? Good."
"Now, do we all agree the deliverables on this project are the same size as, or even larger than, those we had last time out? Good."
"And do we all agree it took our team — a team of this size and composition — 12 full weeks to get through the analysis phase of the last project? Remember that? Good."
"Then can we all agree the suggestion that the analysis on this project should be completed in less than six weeks doesn't make any sense at all, and we should report back to management accordingly?"
Without emotion, with the facts behind us and our sponsor in the room, we should be able to defeat the outrageous optimism in suggesting a six-week analysis phase. We're leading the team and sponsor to a logical and, we hope, more reasonable conclusion about the proposal rather than simply telling them they're wrong. "But it's different this time," someone will surely say. No, it isn't. Insanity is doing things the way we've always done them in the past and expecting a different result this time.
And while we're on the subject of "different this time," don't believe those who say, "It'll be better this time out; we're further up the learning curve." Those who say they've learned to be better or faster without evidence to support such an assertion are like the baker who says, "I know we're losing a dollar on a dozen, but I'm not worried; we'll make it up on volume."
Run It by Others
The PMs who can probably be the most objective (realistic?) about the state of your project are those who aren't directly involved in it. If you've got the opportunity to have someone else look at your project, give 'em everything you've got (preferably before management brings an outsider in and tells you that you have to do it). Show 'em everything they're willing to look at; at a minimum, share your first cut baseline schedule and budget, your resources, your constraints and assumptions, and your risk register and risk schedule (see Chapter 19 for a fuller discussion of risk management).
Ask the outside reviewers what they think. If they think "you're dreaming with that schedule," you probably are. Listen to them as carefully as you should be listening to your own gut. And remember that if you're fortunate enough to have someone look at your project without getting paid for it, you've got to be willing to do the same thing for the reviewer on their next project.
Evidence of what's happened in the past on similar projects supported by a logic-based assessment of the current project, your gut instincts, and the help of an objective outside assessment should be enough to offset outrageous optimism. Except for the "listen to your gut" part, you can think of this process as "critical thinking for PMs" — it just might save the day, and maybe even your entire project.
Where don't we learn enough about critical thinking? In school, I fear. A typical assignment in my class would have asked the students to look at a specific area of project management practice (risk assessment and management, tracking and controls, or stakeholder management, for example) in a specific industry (such as IT, construction, or government capital projects) and then write a paper about it accompanied by a significant in-class presentation. What was I looking for? Papers and presentations that reflected the students' ability to think critically — specifically, to compare and contrast:
What they'd learned from their research (interviews with practice and industry specialists, for example)
What they'd been learning in class.
I asked the students to make observations, to think, to draw conclusions, and then to make recommendations about improved practices in their own industry based on all of the above. Fairly straightforward, right?
Unfortunately not. "Compare and contrast ... what do you mean by that?" students asked, or "What do you mean by 'draw conclusions and make recommendations'?" and then, almost invariably, "Is this on the test?" Maybe they were just trying to annoy me. If so, it worked. I think I said something like: "I'm fairly certain that both of the words compare and contrast are in the dictionary," and I'm also fairly certain I restrained myself from asking, "You do know how to use a dictionary, don't you?"
Excerpted from Guerrilla Project Management by Kenneth T. Hanley. Copyright © 2011 Management Concepts, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Management Concepts Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Part 1 The Guts of a Great Project Manager,
Chapter 1 A Willingness to Learn from the Past,
Chapter 2 A Need to Know Why,
Chapter 3 A Willingness to Ask for Help,
Chapter 4 Taking Dead Aim at Outrageous Optimism,
Chapter 5 Speaking Up Clearly, Early, and Often,
Chapter 6 Always Starting With the End in Mind ...,
Chapter 7 ... But Never Starting from an End Date,
Part 2 Planning to Manage,
Chapter 8 Sponsor: More of a Verb than a Noun,
Chapter 9 The Indispensable Three Key Questions: Done? Won? and Who?,
Chapter 10 Using the Project Priority Triangle Effectively,
Chapter 11 Managing Stakeholders' Expectations Deliberately, Explicitly, and Effectively,
Chapter 12 Drop Dead Date (3D) Scheduling,
Chapter 13 Measuring All the Way Through,
Chapter 14 Estimating (Better),
Chapter 15 Project Risk: The Broad Strokes,
Chapter 16 Step 1: Risk Identification,
Chapter 17 Step 2: Risk Categorization and Scheduling,
Chapter 18 Step 3: Risk Mitigation,
Chapter 19 Steps 4, 5, and 6: Risk Management, Reporting, and Closeout,
Chapter 20 Setting Checkpoints and Off-Ramps,
Part 3 Managing to the Plan,
Chapter 21 Change Impact Management: Change Is Never Free,
Chapter 22 Useful, Relevant, Readable Reporting,
Chapter 23 Putting It All Together: Single-Page Reporting and the GPS,
Chapter 24 Reading This Kind of Project Reporting,