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Author: Ilya Bogorad

Twenty Ideas du jour for the Practicing Project Manager

  1. It is best not to share the project plan with the project team as it leads to unnecessary and usually incredibly stupid questions.

  2. Mandate that team members submit task duration estimates as precisely as possible: two decimal digits (e.g. 17.36 days) are usually sufficient but some projects may require three digits.
  3. Strive to disperse project team over multiple locations: it greatly reduces the time people waste mindlessly chattering with each other.
  4. In this economy, everyone ought to be able to work harder. Schedule tasks based on 10-hour days.
  5. Involve the Steering Committee in day-to-day running of the project. They will tell you how much they like it.
  6. When briefing the Steering Committee, it’s a good idea to declare all nearly completed tasks as completed. Ninety per cent is awfully close to 100 per cent and the Committee Members will feel encouraged.
  7. Try to surprise your Project Sponsor every now and then. Rescheduling the implementation date, firing half of the team or changing the vendor half-way through should all be considered.
  8. Status updates clutter mailboxes, so avoid them.
  9. Get rid of those team members who disagree with you. You are in charge of a critical project and the last thing you want around is some worm questioning your decisions.
  10. Don’t waste any time trying to understand the business domain. It is unimportant and is not your job.
  11. A list of typical project risks can be easily obtained on the Internet. Don’t waste precious time developing it; this is merely a formality.
  12. Act professionally: don’t engage in unrelated conversations with your staff and certainly avoid socializing with them. It is important to maintain a distance.
  13. Information Technology is an exact, predictable field. If your programmers cannot write code without any defects, replace them.
  14. To speed up negotiations with vendors, just sign their canned contracts.
  15. Details are unimportant; the job of the project manager is the overall supervision.
  16. Once the scope of the project is determined, ensure that it is impossible to change it.
  17. A lot of people may claim to be project stakeholders. Feel free to ignore those you don’t like.
  18. Encourage team members to decide for themselves what their tasks should be.
  19. The best way to gauge the skill of a fellow project manager is to ask them about the largest project budget they’ve ever been responsible for.
  20. Plan to release the project team on the day of implementation, to save money.

(Bonus) Forget that it’s April Fools’ Day and start typing an angry letter to the Editor.
Remember that it’s April Fools’ Day when you’re on the third page of it!

Ilya Bogorad is the Principal of Bizvortex Consulting Group Inc, a management consulting company located in Toronto, Canada. Ilya specializes in building better IT organizations and can be reached at [email protected] or (905) 278 4753

Great Project Management Challenges; The Hoover Dam

Driving in a convertible to the Hoover Dam a couple of weeks ago, I reminded myself why the American South-West is one of my favourite destinations. The cool air of the winter desert, the pure blue of the sky and the breathtaking (albeit, barren) landscape meld into a dramatic image. The day before, we hiked in the Valley of Fire, where vistas are even more remarkable.
The grandeur of the Hoover Dam makes one speechless, as you look down at birds of prey hovering down below in the canyon. Over 700 feet tall, it has been standing here, on the Nevada-Arizona border, since 1935, having been completed just four short years after the award of the contract (and two years ahead of schedule). The sheer scale of this marvel of engineering made me think of what managing a project like this must have been like.

Up to 5,000 people worked on the site at any given time. Workers from all corners of the country were employed and to house them; cottages and dormitories were built in a space of a year where Boulder City is now situated. Kitchens worked non-stop turning out simple but nourishing fare. The logistics of housing, feeding, transporting and managing the workforce must have been a great challenge in themselves

Construction methods had to be tried and adopted as the project was going on. The size of the structure required that many elements (such as penstock pipes measuring 30 feet in diameter) were assembled on or close to the construction site, for long-haul transportation was impossible. For that reason, grading and concrete plants and specialized metal works had to be built nearby. Access roads had to be built, as well as the cranes and cable cars used to deliver building materials down to the bottom of the gorge.

The construction contract was awarded to a joint venture called Six Companies Inc., comprised of six large businesses who were leaders in their respective fields. Although I am typically skeptical of the viability of joint ventures, it is clear that in this case the interests of the participants were exceptionally well aligned which enabled the success of the project.

At the end of the day, I believe that the project was successful because by the time the construction commenced all the preparatory work had been done, such as securing support of those stakeholders that matter. The construction itself was “just” execution, an impressive one, of course, but not plagued by the lack of sponsor support, “going to the well” to get additional funds or dealing with political, environmental or any other type of “concerned citizens.” People concentrated on their work and this is what really mattered.

Finally, the business case for the dam was as solid as she stands today. Not only does it serve as a source of cheap electrical power, it also provides water for drinking and irrigation to the adjacent states and has tamed the destructive Colorado River which in the past practically precluded any agriculture activities and settlement in its lower parts, due to its violent seasonal fluctuations and deadly inundations it caused. Today, these 5lands are among the most prized in the nation.

It is amazing what human spirit can think up and create when it is not hindered by doubts, hecklers or lack of resources.

Taking Bearings

After a recent speaking engagement, someone from the audience came to ask me a couple of questions, one of which went like this: “It is a little bit of an enigma for me, but how do you, as a consultant, generate ideas and suggestions that make perfect sense having spent so little time with the organization? I don’t expect much from full-time managers I hire in their first three months.”

Today, many readers may find themselves moving around more than ever, finding new employment or getting involved in new projects in unfamiliar settings. I thought it would be helpful to discuss some of the skills that I find critical for familiarizing with the environment and generating valuable results quickly. Here are the top three:

Listening, Questioning, Framing

Not surprisingly, one of the most important skills is one’s ability to listen carefully and ask the right questions at the right time. Your goal is to gain as much clarity on the problem or project at hand as possible. You will ask questions to frame it; that is to isolate important information from the mess of unstructured data. You will probe people’s assertions until they can substantiate them with objective facts. You will gently stop people when they try to give you information that is not important, such as the history of the world.

I have witnessed many a time in many organizations how new hires are given stacks of documents to read without much guidance from anyone on what to pay attention to and what to disregard. Having spent a week in this paper morass, they are none the wiser and confused. What a waste of time. I can compress that week to one hour.

Business Acumen

Having business education and experience is an incredibly powerful tool. First, it allows one to do some homework by analyzing the state of the industry and, often, the state of the organization you are joining. The simplest of things, the ability to read and interpret financial statements, often provides sufficient insight into the potential issues and pressures in the organization, even before you join it.

The ability to use correct business language enables one to effectively communicate with decision makers and extract the requisite information. Understanding key business activities and processes, and their variations, permits one to identify anomalies and deviations, potential problems and inconsistencies.

Patterns and Perspective

Never ever in my consulting career have I come across these two things: an organization that did not claim to be a “fast-paced environment” and a client who did not think that his or her project or problem was unique. Having the business knowledge and experience makes one realize that, while different industries and business environments provide for different content, key processes and typical issues remain roughly the same.

The ability to identify patterns is, therefore, critical for taking one’s bearing in new surroundings and is akin to knowing what a wheel looks like vs. inventing one. Application of patterns is something we all use in our everyday lives, most often subconsciously. When presented with a problem, our brain applies prior experiences, adds new variables and arrives at a solution. This is natural for all of us.

What is not natural is the ability to constantly question one’s thinking and the validity of applying past patterns in a particular situation. In fact, less experienced individuals in any profession often claim to “have seen it all” and fail when the issue happens to be more complex than it appeared.

Such awareness of the potential vulnerability of one’s patterns and models is not a weakness but a great strength which provides for viable, high quality recommendations and ideas.

I could continue with the list, but this is a good start. In fact, this is a start with no finish because there is no end to learning. Ever!

Ilya Bogorad is the Principal of Bizvortex Consulting Group Inc, a management consulting company located in Toronto, Canada. Ilya specializes in building better IT organizations and can be reached at [email protected] or (905) 278 4753. 02/09


I am writing this on the New Year’s Eve, getting ready to say farewell to 2008 and welcome 2009. This is the time when we raise our glasses and wish each other the best of things and revisit our own aspirations for the months ahead. It’s the time of reflection and hope, decisions and, often, concessions.

For whatever aspiration you have for 2009, I wish you that you have enough resources, determination and support to carry it through. I wish you good health, much happiness and every success you deserve.

Since the economic news from around the world is far from fantastic, I hope all organizations worldwide world will remember why they exist, will stick to their core values and always act responsibly towards clients, shareholders and employees. Since this is a project management blog, I also wish them good project management. It is critical today more than ever, because a tough economy has an unmistakable trait of being able to separate success from failure and amplify the consequences of both by a factor of thousands.

I must explain what I mean by good project management. I hold the discipline of project management to be a core competency of every senior professional, whether manager or executive. I have been and will remain critical of the current state of the project management designation which is so incredibly easy to obtain that the professional value of a good project manager has become diluted by meek, under-qualified individuals who could barely manage my cat’s breakfast, let alone a project. I have met with whole organizations besieged by hordes of such people, for they were very cheap to acquire. They have turned into expensive glorified clerks, making sure that timesheets are submitted on time and status reports furnished before the set hour, notwithstanding the poor content within them.

There is little place for such project management anywhere when the times are tough, and these people will probably among the first to go. It is high time for good project management, where project managers are:

  • Knowledgeable. Understanding the problem domain and having the general business knowledge is critical. I have now lost count of my conversations with individuals who could not tell me the business impact of their project, could not read a basic P&L statement and had no people management skills.
  • Resolute. Have you seen projects that are paralyzed because every minute operational decision is brought in front of the steering committee? It’s a sorry sight! I recently spoke to a senior PM with years of experiences, who confided to me that his project sponsor had made, as he believed, a suboptimal project decision. I asked him if he shared his concerns with the sponsor. No, as it turned out, on the account of the sponsor being “a very senior guy.” Within her scope of control, a project manager must be the ultimate decision maker, and granted, some of the calls will be tough. For all other project decisions, the ability to simply express one’s opinion as a person closest to the project is incredibly important.
  • Committed to learning. My observations suggest that there is a wide gap between the knowledge that project managers require, and that they are getting. Too often, an individual submits deludes herself or himself that she or he knows everything there is to know about the subject, while in fact knowing very little. By way of an example, one of the critical skills for a project manager is decision making, the ability to assemble a business case, weighing in financial, strategic and other variables. Really successful project managers recognize that there can never be the “end of learning” in this subject. I see them in my courses on Business Cases and Cost-Benefit Analysis, the nearest taking place on February 2, 2009. They ask provocative questions, yes, and I am happy to know that there are project managers like them out there.

In every profession, there are those who are good at it and those who are not. Difficult times are very effective in separating diamonds from the sand, and I have no doubt they will. In the difficult time we’re going through now. The good news is that the future of every project manager is largely in his or her own hands.

Here’s to good project management. Happy New Year!


Ilya Bogorad is the Principal of Bizvortex Consulting Group Inc, a management consulting company located in Toronto, Canada. Ilya can be reached at [email protected] or (905) 278 4753.

Lessons from the CEOs of GM, Ford and Chrysler

Have you heard the news on the bailout? I mean the financial bailout of the Big Three American automakers. Recently, CEOs of General Motors, Chrysler and Ford went to Washington with a funding request to the tune of 25 billion dollars. As we know, they were unsuccessful in getting what they asked for, and were sent home to figure out what they are going to do with all the money they were looking for.

Every time I run a seminar on business cases and decision making, or consult on this topic, I tell my audience that so few people can present their case well that it is not at all difficult to stand out. Courtesy of Messrs Wagoner, Mulally and Nardelli, we have a perfect illustration of this point. If three of the most powerful executives in the world cannot do it right, who can?

Let’s learn from the four blunders they made.

Know Your Audience

\Let’s just look at the situation again: the country is in recession, financial markets around the world are devastated. Many have lost significant portions of their retirement funds. You come to the Capitol to plead for financial help, citing dire financial conditions and making a case based on the plight of millions of people, already living in less than prosperous parts of the country. When such arguments are used, it pays to be sincere and humble.

That’s the deal with those corporate jets? This one time, you should have flown coach on a budget airline. It does not matter that traveling by private jet may be more efficacious or secure, although that’s arguable, it still is a sign of irresponsible spending when your audience is the elected representatives of all Americans. How are they going to look at this but with indignation?

Develop a Set of Viable Alternatives

Whenever you’re looking for a solution to a problem, it is extremely important to develop a robust set of viable alternatives. Why? There are several reasons. First, if the alternatives are suboptimal, so will be the decision, or, as Shakespeare put it, “There is small choice in rotten apples.” Second, when you present your case to the decision makers, it is likely that new alternatives will be foisted on you if yours are weak. At that point, you will not be able to address them with diligence and the decision will be, at best, postponed.

Our three heroes had one solution in mind – the $25B bridge loan, which, they admitted, may not be enough, as they squarely blamed the economy and the credit crunch for their misfortunes, factors outside their control.

Another alternative was put before them very promptly – bankruptcy. They offered weak arguments against it, which impressed few in the audience.

What should have been presented are three or four clear investment alternatives with controls in place and enough tangible detail (implementation plan) to assure the lawmakers that this money is not going to be wasted. They should have shown flexibility and demonstrated that the presented alternatives had been carefully thought through and internalized. None of that happened.

Know Your Numbers Cold

As you present your case, you will inevitably have to answer questions on key numbers and assumptions. This is no place for vague answers because they immediately create a deep suspicion that you don’t know what you are talking about. This point is almost trivial, but it is so often ignored that it is impossible to dismiss it.

When asked a concrete question about GM’s financing requirements, Rick Wagoner offered an oration so distinctly devoid of any substance that it led to Congressman Kanjorski’s rather direct restating of the question, which still did not get him even a remotely satisfactory response. It was almost embarrassing to watch, but thanks, Rick, for illustrating my point!

Use Relevant Metrics

How will you know that your project is successful? What metrics will you monitor to ensure that the project is on track? What kind of controls are you planning to establish to ensure stellar performance of the service provider? How will you apportion your investment between the members of your consortium?

Such questions about metrics are almost guaranteed to be asked at the time of decision making. Why? The best laid plans fail not in concept but in implementation. Decision makers simply look for reassurance that the presenter of the case has given serious consideration to the key aspects of implementation, that he or she understands its challenges.

As exemplified by Messrs Wagoner, Mulally and Nardelli, sometimes one does not have to ask too complex a question to become concerned. During the hearing, Congressman Cleaver questioned the magic of the investment amount requested (“$25 billion, why not 26?”) and how it would be divided between the Big Three. The ensuing answers lacked detail, certainty and insight. The three CEOs suggested dividing the $25 billion investment based on their respective market share. What does market share have to do with financing requirements? You are right, absolutely nothing, and it is just marginally better than dividing it based on the CEOs’ height.

The current economy is such a wonderful source of case studies. A couple of weeks ago, I ran a seminar on business cases and decision making for some 130 project management professionals. To illustrate a few salient points, I asked the group to develop recommendations on how to deal with the automotive industry crisis. The participants specifically noted the need for controls and definitive plans before any financing could be provided.

Just five days later, the United States government arrived at the same conclusion.