Congratulations, You’ve Been Appointed..

September 18, 2010

Project manager of your first IT project and you’re not a technologist.  If you do not come from an IT or technology background, It may seem overwhelming at first to figure out how to get started with a technology project. Project management is all about beginning at the top using the information you have to develop a plan.  Don’t worry because as the project progresses, you’ll have an opportunity to plan in further detail, make revisions to the plans that you’ve already completed.  The technique of working with the information on hand and continually improving the plan when more information is available is known as “progressive elaboration”.
Project planning can be greatly simplified if you breakdown the process into these five simple questions:

  1. What do I need to do?
  2. How do I go about doing it?
  3. How long will it take?
  4. How much will it cost?
  5. Who will do the work?

We’ll look at some tips in the following sections to help you get started.

1.1           What do I need to do?

The answer to this question can be found in the business case, statement of work, or other document that is the starting point for the project.  For the purposes of this discussion let us assume the project is to add a camera to the iPad. However, is that all there is to the project? Does the project include creating the design and prototype or does it include scaling up for manufacturing?  Will the camera provide still pictures or video? Will it be HD or standard? Will there be a Video chatting capability like on the iPhone and the iTouch?

These are all important aspects to the product and project that you will want to clear up by talking to your project sponsor.

You will start identifying the work to be done for the project when you start collecting requirements from the stakeholders and identifying deliverables in The Project Scope statement.

1.2           How do I go about doing it?

Like any complex problem, it is best to start working with what information you have.  For instance it may be useful to consider what the steps might look like to customize a generic product “pattern” by adding a component to it. What would the steps in such procedure look like, regardless of whether it is an iPad, a toaster oven, or a medical instrument?  It might look something like this:

—         Write the design modification specification

—         Purchase the new component

—         Modify the standard product to accept new component

—         Install new component

—         Test customized product

—         Manufacture

Now that we have an outline of some simple, high-level activities, we could consider how we might add to or change them in the case of a hardware and software product like the iPad.  At this point we could use an analogous method, i.e. find a similar project and use that as a basis for comparison.  Perhaps adding an internal component to a PC such as a blu-ray drive or a graphics card would be similar.  If so, you might want to consider adding activities to modify the hardware and the software to accept the new component.

So you can see that by generalizing the procedure you can identify some generic activities. Then by finding an analogous product, such as a PC, that you might be more familiar with, you can take the generic procedure and modify it to make it closer to the project at hand.

Further along the planning process, after we’ve created the scope statement, identified the project deliverables, created a work breakdown structure, and identified activities, we will be in a position to give better estimates.

You will start identifying the high-level structure of the project as you create the Work Breakdown Structure and then begin the process of identifying and sequencing activities,

1.3           How long will it take?

In the first stage of the project, Initiation, we are concerned with developing the Project Charter which contains the high-level milestones.  These mark the project progress points that are meaningful to the project stakeholders.  We have not yet identified activities, dependencies, and resources and thus are unable to give precisely how long the project will take.  But we can list the milestones that our stakeholders might be interested in and perhaps attach some rough order of magnitude dates to them. We might go about identifying the milestones and assigning due dates through:

—         Expert judgment/advice (brainstorming with team, including asking technical experts)

—         We might look at similar projects and see what their milestones were, making any adjustments as required by the assumptions and constraints for the iPad project.

Further along the planning process, after we’ve created the scope statement, identified the project deliverables, created a work breakdown structure, and identified activities, we will be in a better position to give better duration estimates.

You will identify high-level milestones for your Project Charter and a detailed schedule for once you’ve written the Project Scope Statement and after you’ve estimated the resources needed by each activity and its duration.

1.4           How much will it cost?

You can use the following approaches to determine a high level budget:

—         Expert judgment/advice. This when identifying stakeholders and building relations with them first pays off.  You might consult with the stakeholders early in the project initiation phase.  Using knowledge provided by the stakeholders or other subject matter experts, you might employ any or all of the following tools to determine the high-level budget:

  • Analogous estimating (look at similar projects)
  • Parametric estimating (use a mathematical model to determine cost based on actual cost of similar project, adjusting for any differences in complexity)
  • Published data (e.g. eBay, commercial databases which may contain cost of materials)
  • Obtaining a bid from a vendor

Further along the planning process, after we’ve created the scope statement, identified the project deliverables, created a work breakdown structure, and identified activities estimated resources needs and activity duration, we will be in a better position to give better cost estimates.

You will create a high level budget by aggregating the cost each activity in a work package at points along the schedule.

1.5           Who Will Do the Work?

During the planning process, you will have a chance to plan the resources needed for the project and determine whether any part will be outsourced to an external vendor.  The identification and selection of a suitable vendor is planned and conducted in the procurement process, which you might start at some point in the planning process, usually after you’ve created project scope statement which identifies the project deliverables and perhaps after you’ve created the work breakdown structure.  At that time you will create a procurement plan and identify vendor selection criteria for your project.

2.   Summary

If you find yourself to be managing an IT project and you’re not a technologist, you might be somewhat at a disadvantage but you should be able to successfully take the project through at least the Initiation and Planning stages, if not the entire project lifecycle.  The secret is two fold. First, begin identifying and analyzing your project stakeholders early in the project initiation phase.  Careful analysis of the roles, capabilities, and needs of the project stakeholders will help you indentify who has what subject matter expertise and will help you to start building relationships that will help you in the planning stages, and ultimately create a shared-ownership project culture.

Second, find a high-level generic pattern for the project. Through analogy, look in the organization’s assets to find a similar project.  If none exist, then see if there are similar projects based on your own project experience or in the market.  Use these analogous projects to answer the five fundamental questions (1) What needs to be done (2) How do I do it (3) When will it be done? (4) How much will it cost, and (5) Who will do the work?

The answers to these questions will help you write the project charter, and will create a starting point for collecting requirements and defining the project scope.  By starting with a generic pattern, you can defer the technical details of the project until a little later when more information becomes available.  This is progressive elaboration.

Thus you avoid succumbing to the paralysis that often afflicts project managers who encounter a new technology for the first time.  Through the magic of progressive elaboration, you CAN put off until tomorrow what you don’t know today!


Risk Management 101 – How To Identify Risk

November 5, 2009

Today’s contributor to this post on Risk Identification is Shiaw-Shyuan Yaun, a graduate student in my Risk Management course at Northeastern’s College of Professional Studies.

My project (The Pooling Project of Prospective Studies of Diet and Cancer) is an international consortium of cohort studies with the goal of analyzing diet and cancer associations We have 2 major goals: grant funding and meeting the deadlines for analyses, and paper publication. 

Below is how we identify risks:

  • Annual meeting for principle investigators from more than 20 studies over the world – we engage in higher level brainstorming
    • Group leader reviews project scope, and reports progress
    • Researchers present ongoing analyses, discuss strength and weakness  and head statistician introduces pioneering statistical methods
    • Brainstorming after all participants have a solid understanding of the project progress:
    • This meeting has given us the opportunity to look for external factors (both positive and negative) that might affect the possibility of future grants.


  • Within our Harvard search group, timely delivery of meaningful and correct manuscripts/papers is our scope. We use several approaches to identify risk
    • Documentation review/checklist analyses: reviewing project documents, assumptions from the project overview to make a prompt/checklist-list. Since the project was funded since 1991 and being renewed several times, we have strong background to provide information to identify risks.
    • Brainstorming – bi-weekly meeting for progress report, identifying risks, ideas, or solutions to issues.
    • Interview: face-to-face meeting
      • Annual performance review: project leader and team member – open discussion between manager and team member
      • Project leader and other researchers whose primary jobs not within our group anymore – in person or via phone – to identify risks which would delay the progress of their analyses.
    • Root-cause identification (retrospective), we learn from our own mistakes or from other groups to avoid risk recurrence.

Of all the techniques we use, brainstorming is the most effective one, since we can get the most ideas in the shortest time! And we integrate risk management into project management by constantly monitoring any existing risks and paying attention to the external environment for any new risks.

About Ms. Yaun

Sherry works as a biostatistician at Harvard School of Public Health on an international project of diet and cancer. She is a student in the program of Master of Science in leadership, specializing in project management.  Sherry expects that this program will prepare her to be project manager of a new project of serum vitamin D and cancer.

Risk Management 101- How Define a Risk

October 8, 2009

What is Risk Management?

One of the unsung / underutilized aspects of project management is Risk Management.  The objective of this process is to identify all the risks that thwart a project’s objectives. Often risk is confused with probability of an undesired outcome, such as the chance that a key resource might quit before the project is complete. Or, a risk is confused with an issue which is a risk that has already occurred.

The purpose of risk management is not to eliminate risk, which is impossible, but to sway the factors that influence the likelihood that the risk would occur and, if it does manifest itself, to either lower the likelihood of an impact or to reduce the level of loss.

What is a Risk?

 To get started, effective risk management requires we define risk much more specifically to include three key components of risk: 1) uncertainty, 2) loss, and 3) its time component.


A risk always has uncertainties which cannot be eliminated.  If there is no uncertainty, than the risk is really an issue which follows a different management path.  However, we can quantify the level of uncertainty by assigning a probability and identify the factors in the environment that influence the probability. These are called risk factors.


A risk always has the change of a loss; if there is no possibility of a loss, than it cannot threaten the project so we remain unconcerned.  When the risk occurs, there is a possibility that the outcome might actually be positive (think investing in the stock market).  Some risk management, especially in investment analysis, tries to maximize the positive return; for project management, we’re mostly concerned with the events that might produce negative outcomes which threaten the project’s objectives.

Time Component

Most people have difficulty grasping the time dimension to a risk. For every risk, there is a time when the risk either manifests itself and becomes an issue, or doesn’t manifest itself and the threat has passed. If there is no time component, than the event is more an ongoing “condition of doing business”.  For example, the threat of competition is always present in any business endeavor.  However, if a new competitor is entering the market or introducing a new product that could threaten your market share, there may be a time component and this a manageable risk.

The Two Mistakes Teams Most Often Make

The first common mistake development/project teams make is to wait until late in the project when risks start appearing. The second mistake is to let risk management lapse, i.e. spend hours identifying risks for the project charter, only to put them aside to “get on to the real work in the project”.   In both cases, once risks start occurring the teams are unprepared to handle the risks as well as embarrassed!

The antithesis of risk management is “fire-fighting”. That is, let risks occur and then send your best and brightest out to clean up the ensuing mess. Unfortunately, this has become ingrained in the culture of many organizations and the fire-fighters are often regarded as heroes and rewarded.


Risk management means being proactive; it is the opposite of firefighting.  The purpose is not to eliminate all risks but to influence the factors in the environment that contribute to the risk occurring and to its impact and level of loss.

Next – How to Identify Risks in Your Organization

Business Networking

September 11, 2009

 You’ve heard it over and over. The only way to land that job, secure that next deal, get that promotion is through networking. We’re not talking about impersonal social networking.  No sir-ree!  We’re talkin’ honest to God sit across from that person and look ‘im in the eye and actually have a face-to-face conversation. Scared yet?

Well you’ll have to master the art of face-to-face business networking and that comes through actually getting out there and doing it. Don’t fret, it gets easier after the first time. However there can be some unpleasant moments along the way. What follows are three scenarios from my own experiences (1) My worst experience (2) what I learned to improve my approach, and (3) what I think makes an expert networker.

I hope you find something you can use in your networking activities!

My Worst Experience in the History of Business Networking

Last year a former colleague of mine resurfaced after “going dark” for several years (i.e. not responding to emails, etc); he had just been laid off from a major investment advisory firm.  I welcomed the opportunity to reconnect and share with him my seven-year journey from corporate employee to independent consultant. After a lengthy telephone conversation, we agreed to meet a local hotel well-known for its business breakfasts.  I shared an idea I was developing for an advisory service targeting Information Technology executives, which intrigued my colleague; without thinking I also gave him a copy of a presentation I developed.  After kicking the idea around for the better part of an hour, he offered to work on the idea with me with the goal of pitching it to executives in our industry. The first clue that something was amiss was when he asked me not to bring anyone else into our team and rather than both of us meet again to develop the business plan, he’d rather I send him a copy for his review.  My would-be partner did not do a very good job of concealing the one-sidedness of his approach and after we exchanged goodbyes I decided not to initiate further contact. Within a week or so, I received an email from him saying he “decided to try going it alone”. A few days later I had lunch with another colleague who mentioned that my would-be “partner” had pitched my idea to him!

What I Learned from my early experiences

What I learned in those early days after leaving the corporate world was that a successful networker must adopt a “servant-leadership” attitude. In other words, I’d approach any networking meeting with asking myself “what can I do to help this person”.  I go in to a meeting expecting nothing more than to enjoy a healthy discussion about each of our experiences, and perhaps to see where each of our areas of specialization can be of help and whether we might have contacts in our respective networks that might be of use.

I found that the servant-leadership approach produced unexpected increase in the number of productive business contacts. I found that even individuals who were never particular helpful when we worked together, became an amazing source of networking contacts and ideas.  I think when you approach people transparently by sharing your experiences and expectations and taking the time to understand their situation, they will react in kind. You will often leave these meetings with your expectations exceeded and with a PDA full of new contacts! 

How to stand out as a great networker and useful business contact

An outstanding networker in my mind has the following attributes:

  1. Is interested in my situation and goals
  2. Does not engage in horse-trading of his contacts for mine, i.e. will be perfectly happy to share contacts even if none of mine have any value to him.
  3. Always follows up on any promises made and never makes promises that can’t be kept.
  4. Is not judgmental
  5. Is respectful of my time and privacy

How the Market has Affected Project Management Hiring

August 31, 2009

Has the “down market” affected project management hiring? Absolutely!  The recession has hit mid-level managers the hardest, i.e. those at the level of Director or Vice President. Many of them have solid general management/supervisory skills but lack extensive hands-on experience in a technical specialization. As a result, they are reinventing and re-titling themselves as “project managers”, using their severance to prepare for the Project Management Professional (“PMP”) certification.  They have increased the quantity of project managers available for hire, although not necessarily the quality.

This has kept rates down and competition fierce for the few projects that are being initiated.  With this glut of project managers on the market hiring managers basically can hire a project manager for $40-50/hr where as two years ago the same PM would go for $80 or more.

Project management is considered crucial in many companies where it is required (e.g. companies doing business with the federal government), businesses that are highly regulated (e.g. health care), and in companies that have adopted a project management or “quality” culture.  Also firms that have made extensive and deep cuts in their IT staff during this recession are now hiring contract PMs until the economy recovers sufficiently to return to hiring perm staff.

On the other hand, firms that do not have a mature project management culture, for example, firms that do not traditionally do a lot of internal IT development work, consider project management “overhead”. Lacking the experience with a high-quality project management process, they figure that money spent directly on IT production staff, i.e. developers, testers, etc. is a better value than hiring a project manager whose output is difficult to measure. The result, invariably, is a project that is over budget, is delivered late, often not meeting the client’s quality expectations.

First of Two Parts: The Demand for Project Management Services in NYC and Boston

June 1, 2009

This is the first of a two part series in which we’ll look at the demand for project management services in the New York and Boston technology markets.  In Part 1, we’ll look at how Boston and New York firms perceive the current economic downturn differently and what impact this has on the project process. 

Over the past eight weeks, we’ve conducted a series of interviews in Boston and New York to identify the problems companies are facing managing projects in the current “down IT environment”.

We interviewed senior executives at the Director and above levels in the following industries: Healthcare, Investment Management, Insurance, Financial Advisory, Software Solutions, and Venture Capital.  All but two interviews were of operating/production executives; the remaining two managed their respective company’s Project Management Office (PMO).

New York & Boston Confidence Differential 

We were surprised to find a significant difference in the level of confidence in the economic recovery outlook between operating executives in New York and Boston.  Uniformly, New York executives felt that “the worst was behind us” and that project and economic activity, while still levels lower that 2008, was accelerating.  They are using this downtime to regroup, improve process efficiency and quality, and develop new markets.

On the other hand, Boston firms remain extremely cautious about the timing of the economic recovery.  They have cut spending considerably and most new projects have been put on hold.  Funding is being directed to those projects that:  will drive revenue in FY2009, are required for maintenance, or will result in significantly lower operational expenses.

Below are the key findings for each firm that we interviewed.

New York

A major financial information industry firm reports its belief that once the regulatory environment is settled toward the end of this year, the banking and brokerage industry will pick up.  Although a change in the regulatory environment is likely, the firm believes that it will be centered at the U.S. Treasury, rather than the SEC, and that the new rules will not be particularly intrusive. 

This firm has not slowed down its projects, and desires to use IT partners to deliver its solutions as efficiently as possible.

A boutique investment advisory service that sells computer-generated trading recommendations to high-net worth individuals reports demand for its service remains strong. The firm is planning an expansion to key U.S. cities and diversifying its product line. 

Its project needs center around developing a plan for “productizing” its service offerings so that they can be offered in other markets by local staff. 

An emerging provider of specialized reporting software to the property & casualty insurance sector reports that while growth has slowed since 2008, it hasn’t stopped.  The firm is using this downtime to “productize” its software which had been customized for each client. Once growth resumes toward the end of 2009, the firm will have lowered its product development and delivery costs considerably and increased client profitability.

The firm’s challenge is to juggle client-specific implementations as well as the project for creating a software architecture that make the solution as independent as possible from a specific client implementation.

A consultancy that advises financial services industry start-up firms on how to accelerate revenue growth continues to see demand for its service.

The firm desires to branch out into different market segments and also finds procuring suitable talent to be a challenge.

Meanwhile, a non-profit, faith-based organization is looking at how Web 2.0 social networking services can be used to reach its target market and increase membership. Determining how the new services can be used while lowering its operating expenses is this organizations operational challenge.


A non-profit, humanitarian services firm has revisited their project’s original goals and has accepted decreased functionality and increased long-term expense in order to meet revised 2009 cost targets. 

This firm has not adopted project management processes and faces the risk of encountering similar cost overruns and delivery difficulties during the next major project which is scheduled for later this year.

At two major healthcare providers, the PMO directors reported that their training budgets have been cut and staffing paired back to the absolute minimum. There is the pervasive feeling that the business and operating divisions of the firms consider project management to be overhead. 

These firms share a common desire to raise the awareness of the value of project management in the business. 

Similarly, a high-technology software vendor is less interested in project management solutions unless an increased return on investment (ROI) can be shown ahead of the implementation of the new process.

As a result of decreased demand for its securities database and record-keeping software, a provider to the investment advisory industry scaled back its plans for rolling out a PMO and new project management process. 

Without the rollout of the PMO, this firm will have fallen short of its original goal to lower the cost of project delivery to its clients.

An investment advisory firm finds itself with a couple of strategic projects that haven’t quite made the transition to production.

Since the solutions are still in the project stage, their full business value has not been realized. 

Next Week in Part 2

We’ll look at the implications of these findings for the development and delivery of project management services.

Interested in learning how your firm can accelerate your projects or realize your product strategies?  Contact Valenti Partners and learn how we can help!

Building Your Elevator Pitch

April 27, 2009

Now that you’ve developed your brand value as described in my 22APR09 post, “The Brand of You”, it’s time to build your elevator pitch. An elevator pitch is an opportunity to share your personal (or company) story with someone.  Imagine you find yourself in the following scenario.

You get on an elevator on the lobby floor, headed to the 20th floor on which is located the offices of the company that you’re dying to get into (for a job, a sales pitch, or whatever).  Just as the doors are about to close, the executive you’re about to meet enters, greets you and says: “Hi Andrew. I know we’re meeting in 15 minutes but I’m running late so we all can save ourselves some time if you go right ahead and tell me why I should buy whatever it is you’re selling.”

You can feel the pressure build as the beads of sweat start to form on your forehead when you realize that you have less than a minute to deliver your sales “pitch”!  Your goal is to be ready to provide an insightful and meaningful response, which you can do if you are prepared.

Use the following points to guide your response:

  • 1. Be specific as to what services you offer (use your Personal Brand Value here!)

“I am a consultant with over 25 years of experience managing projects large and small”

  • 2. State your target market where you have experience

“in the financial services, healthcare, high technology, and non profit sectors”

  • 3. Refine your experience as much as possible

 “I’ve held positions on both sides of the lines, as project sponsor, customer, and development manager”

  • 4. Describe your value

“I bring a depth of experience acquired from leading projects in organizations at all levels of project maturity. I can use the insight I’ve gained and solutions I learned to delivery your projects successfully, on-time, within budget, at the quality expected by the customer” 

Now let’s see how this approach can be modified slightly to sell a service

  • 1. Be specific as to what services you offer (use your Company’s Brand Value here!)

“Valenti Partners provides vendor selection and RFP management services”

  • 2. State your target market

“to project executives in Fortune 1000 companies”

  • 3. Refine target to a specific segment

 “who will be utilizing a third-party vendor for development”

  • 4. Describe the need you’re filling

“so that the best vendor is selected and that the contract terms offer maximum value and protection during the project’s lifecycle and beyond”

 So whether your selling yourself or a service, by starting with the brand value and following the simple four steps described above, you can build a surprising and insightful “elevator pitch” without breaking a sweat!


April 22, 2009

Welcome to the premier post of the Project Manager’s Advisor!  I’ll be blogging on topics of interest to executives everywhere who are responsible for managing projects in today’s difficult economy.

Today’s topic will resonate with project managers who find themselves “without a portfolio”, so to speak. 

The Brand of You

Every person in today’s market should have a brand identity.   Most people have a resume or a profile on LinkedIn or Facebook.  The problem, honestly, is that most of these profiles do not speak to your unique strengths and thereby don’t allow you to present a compelling story about how your strengths and experiences come together to meet a market need.   Thus you need to build a brand identity called “You”. 

Here are five concepts to think about when building your brand:

  1. Whether you’re looking for a permanent full time position, or a temporary, project-oriented position, you should think of yourself as providing a unique, product, result, or service to a client (employer)
  2. In todays market where there is an oversupply of job-seekers (service providers), the more specific you can be about what your product, service, or result is the better. Otherwise, you’re “brand” won’t stand out.
  3. Try to resist the urge to define yourself as broadly as possible, to cast the net widely, in order to catch as many opportunities as possible.  In doing so, you’re just one fish swimming in a big pond.
  4. Use a brainstorming to list all the things that you uniquely excel at; at which your talents at least equal the best in its class.  Then look at grouping them into categories and see if you see a pattern emerge.  This will help you define your “brand” and narrow your service offering to those areas where you can provide world-class products, services, or results.
  5. Often, the competitive and ambitious nature we developed over the course of our careers can work against us.  We’ve fallen into the pattern of thinking that what comes easily to us is often not worth pursuing and that a meaningful job or career means a struggle to master a difficult subject or to win a coveted position out of a pool of many applicants.  Unless you’re willing to make an investment by taking yourself out of the market for a period of time to redefine yourself through retraining, taking pro-bono or apprentice positions, you’re best bet is to stick with the skills you’ve already mastered.

Coming up in the next post; how to use your brand to build your Elevator Pitch.