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Tag: Plan

‘Delay Thinking’ Is a Project Success Factor

Often, it is better to spend more time than it is to speed to meet a deadline. Fast is good but not always. When rushing to get something done the probability of causing damage is high.


Delay Thinking

Delay thinking recognizes that there is a delay or lag between an action and its effect. Peter Senge in The Fifth Discipline says that “Delays can make you badly overshoot your mark, or they can have a positive effect if you recognize them and work with them.”

Figure 1 below is a diagram that explains the delay phenomena, he gives the example of the delay between the time you adjust the water temperature in the shower and the time the water reaches the desired temperature. If you understand the delay, you will make sure you don’t get doused in cold water or make the mistake of further turning up the hot.

Figure 1: Delayed Results[1]

What Does This Have to Do with Projects?

In both projects and operations, we make and act upon decisions. We set expectations among stakeholders about outcomes. We are expected to fix problems and do it fast.

Faced with problems we may seek quick fixes by applying solutions that worked in the past or in other organizations. We can be pressured into rushing ahead without doing the due diligence of assessing causes, multiple scenarios, and the impact of differences between the current situation and the ones in which a solution worked in the past.

In time bound projects, there is a tendency to overlook likely delays. For example, underestimating the time it takes to perform predecessor tasks when scheduling resources. The result is the cost of resources sitting idle while waiting for the results they need to proceed.

When we take delays into consideration expectations are realistic and problem resolutions end up making things better rather than worse.


Learning Curves and Change Management

For example, when a large organization implemented a system to reduce the effort of field managers by applying AI to automate their ordering process, they failed to recognize the delay caused by a combination of learning curves, manager resistance to a perceived loss of authority and autonomy, and the need to fine-tune the algorithm used to make ordering decisions. The result was avoidable chaos, supply chain disruption, and degraded performance. The new system was rejected.

The outcome would have been a far happier one had the project plan included a robust training process, “marketing,” and a calibration period with an incremental system rollout rather than a “big bang” implementation. All of these are “delays” that on the surface cause the project to run longer. Though more often than not, when looking below the surface these so-called delays save time, effort, money and reduce unnecessary stress.



What might cause failure to include delays in plans?

Everything has a cause and when we discover causes, we can better avoid repeating failures and making poor choices.

One predominant cause of this failure to consider delays is rushing to get a project completed in a certain time frame. The pressure to get your project done by a fixed date may be driven by many things – the whim of a senior stakeholder, funding availability, the need for resources on other planned projects, legal restrictions, seasonal weather conditions, etc.


When a “get it done by” mandate is in play, pressure, and the anxiety it brings leads decision makers to cut corners, perhaps forgetting that spending more time planning can result in exponentially less time during the rest of the project. Pressure and anxiety also lead to applying quick fixes which overlook long term consequences.

Expediency bias operates even when there is no major pressure to hit a deadline. It is the tendency to prefer quick action over taking the time to make sure there is clarity and understanding about short and longer-term results.

During planning, rushing and expediency bias leads to only looking at one scenario instead of a few. Assessing multiple scenarios opens the decision to useful analysis. But this takes time. When rushing, talk about lags or delays is impatiently squelched. The risk of making a poor decision based on limited information is high.




Quick Fixes – Short Term thinking

Another dimension of delay thinking is the recognition that when resolving a problem, while short-term fixes might remove symptoms there is a delay before the nature of longer-term consequences are experienced.

We are often blind to the long-term effects of short-term decisions and actions. When there is a lag between our action and its effect, we are easily driven by the satisfaction of short-term pleasure and immediate gratification.

Take the decision between eating a bowl of ice cream and a salad. If you are like me, the ice cream is far more pleasing than the salad. And, at the end of the day, you’d look and feel the same regardless of your choice. So why not go for the ice cream.


But factor in delay thinking and you get to see that if you repeatedly opt for the ice cream over the salad the delayed longer-term effects start to show – weight gain, digestive issues, increased blood sugar levels, etc.

Looking at the short and long-term effects makes your decision making more effective. You know what you are gaining and giving up when you make your choice. You can opt for ice cream sometimes, but you are more likely to moderate, assuming your goal is good health. You can remove symptoms with a quick fix, but you had better consider the longer term impact and plan for it.



Awareness is the key.


Being aware that delays are normal parts of experience makes it likely that we will consider them when making decisions and planning projects. Knowledge of the specific delays in your project comes from analysis and experience, your own and your institution’s.

Be aware of rushing and expediency bias and the power of spending more time in planning to playout various scenarios, consider delays and delayed effects, and cause removal vs. symptom removal options and their effects.

Think of what happens when you drop a stone into a pond of still water. Be aware that every action you take has a ripple effect and that the ripples appear over time, radiating in all directions.


[1] Senge, Peter, The Fifth Discipline, Doubleday, NY, 1990 p. 90

Best of PMTimes: The Five Goals of a Project Manager

As a project manager, you need to manage people, money, suppliers, equipment—the list is never ending. The trick is to be focused. Set yourself five personal goals to achieve. If you can meet these simple goals for each project, then you will achieve total success.

These goals are generic to all industries and all types of projects. Regardless of your level of experience in project management, set these five goals for every project you manage.


Goal 1: To Finish on Time

This is the oldest but trickiest goal in the book. It’s the most difficult because the requirements often change during the project and the schedule was probably optimistic in the first place.

To succeed, you need to manage your scope very carefully. Implement a change control process so that any changes to the scope are properly managed.

Always keep your plan up to date, recording actual vs. planned progress. Identify any deviations from plan and fix them quickly.


Goal 2: To Finish Under Budget

To make sure that your project costs don’t spiral, you need to set a project budget at the start to compare against. Include in this budget, all the types of project costs that will accrue, whether they are to do with people, equipment, suppliers or materials. Then work out how much each task in your plan is going to cost to complete and track any deviations from this plan.

Make sure that if you over-spend on some tasks, that you under-spend on others. In this way, you can control your spend and deliver under budget.




Goal 3: To Meet the Requirements

The goal here is to meet the requirements that were set for the project at the start. Whether the requirements were to install a new IT system, build a bridge or implement new processes, your project needs to produce solutions which meet these requirements 100%.

The trick here is to make sure that you have a detailed enough set of requirements at the beginning. If they are ambiguous in any way, then what was initially seen as a small piece of work could become huge, taking up valuable time and resources to complete.


Goal 4: To Keep Customers Happy

You could finish your project on time, under budget and have met 100% of the requirements—but still have unhappy customers. This is usually because their expectations have changed since the project started and have not been properly managed.

To ensure that your project sponsor, customer and other stakeholders are happy at the end of your project, you need to manage their expectations carefully. Make sure you always keep them properly informed of progress. “Keep it real” by giving them a crystal clear view of progress to date. Let them voice their concerns or ideas regularly. Tell them upfront when you can’t deliver on time, or when a change needs to be made. Openness and honesty are always the best tools for setting customer expectations.


Goal 5: To Ensure a Happy Team

If you can do all of this with a happy team, then you’ll be more than willing to do it all again for the next project. And that’s how your staff will feel also. Staff satisfaction is critical to your project’s success.

So keep your team happy by rewarding and recognizing them for their successes. Assign them work that complements their strengths and conduct team building exercises to boost morale. With a happy motivated team, you can achieve anything!

And there you have it. The five goals you need to set yourself for every project.

Of course, you should always work smart to achieve these goals more easily.


Published on May 12, 2010.

The Fallacy of SMART Goals

I recently read a news story about how to keep our New Year’s resolutions. The article was about the use of simple time management techniques, the center of which was setting SMART goals. SMART is an acronym that’s been around for decades and stands for goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable Relevant, and Time-bound. Sometimes other words are used, such as assignable, realistic, timely, and testable.

It sounds good. It sounds useful. But simplifying time management into an acronym reduces the complexity of managing our projects to a seemingly simple formula, one that can prove frustrating. It reminds me of countless bosses and sponsors I’ve had who said, “Can’t you just tell me when the project will be done? Use SMART goals to help you figure it out!” Don’t get me wrong. I think this acronym is useful as a high-level framework. But if our goals too high-level, we run the risk of never achieving them. It’s just not that easy. Let me give you some examples using a project to build a house.


Specific. What does it mean to be specific? How are specific goals different from measurable or achievable or time-bound goals? In our house-building example house specifications are specific, as the name implies. There are specs for the exterior and the interior. Specs for landscaping, the roof, the plumbing, electrical and so forth. How specific do they need to be? Specs without detail might be helpful as an overview, but not for the actual construction of the house. We need to drill to down for the specs to be workable.


Measurable. To say that the house will be complete in 18 months, for example, is measurable. It’s a good starting point. As the homeowner I can start planning when to put my current house on the market or end my lease, when to get current utilities canceled and the new ones turned on, when to arrange for movers and so forth. But when is done really done? I’ve been told a house was done before the gas was hooked up. I was told a house was done, but movers wouldn’t unload their truck because the floors had been finished too recently. We need to get the detail to make important decisions. And as PMs we need to determine who will decide which measures to use and whether they make sense from a project perspective.




Achievable. Achievable is another one of the squishy terms in the SMART acronym. It’s one of those words that means different things to different project stakeholders. I suspect I’m not the only PM to be told to “just make it happen.” Or “Where’s your can-do attitude?” I can certainly make almost any project happen, but at what cost? How much risk will the organization/sponsor/end users tolerate? Achieving an end quickly might mean making compromises. Who will make those decisions? What about trust and team dynamics? All these components of achievability need to be considered. And that takes time and lots of discussion.


Relevant. I’m not sure I understand what a relevant goal is. There are so many different stakeholders on our projects, some of whom do not find the project or its end product relevant at all. Hopefully it’s relevant to the organization, helping it meet its business objectives. But we all know that’s not always the case. I suspect many of us have worked on someone’s “pet project.” Or have had some stakeholder groups resist implementation. Or have managed projects highly relevant to end users but not to higher levels of management and vice versa. Getting agreement on what is relevant and how the project’s relevancy fits in with all the other projects is no easy task.


Time-bound. This usually means attaching a timeframe to the goal. I struggle with the difference between time-bound and all the other goals. I think they are intertwined. As a PM I worked on projects that were relevant only if they could be implemented in enough time to get goods from sourced locations to retail stores and on the shelves in time for the holiday season. Is that time-bound? Or relevant? Or I suspect, a bit of all the components of the acronym.

Which brings me to my original point. SMART goals are useful as a framework. But the key to time management success is going from a high-level overview to subsequently lower and lower levels of detail. We can certainly start with SMART. But we need to drill down to really achieve our goals.

Best of: How to Write a Smart Organizational Project Management Plan

Failed project planning can lead to failure even before starting the work on it.


But you can avoid the free expansion of its volume and inflation of the budget and achieve your goals. However, sitting down and planning the entire project is not as easy as it seems.
Usually, the next questions appear: how to predict how long it will take to complete tasks? How to turn the expectations of stakeholders into concrete results of work? What if something goes wrong? How to make an ideal project management plan?
We have collected the most efficient tips on how to create a successful project plan.


Start with TOR

The basis for a successful project plan is the terms of reference (TOR). Why? Because it helps to reach an agreement at the beginning of work. Later, when new requirements arise, and the scope of the project will begin to expand, it will be possible to return to the TOR and check what the plan was initially intended for.
The TOR should include a description of the goals and objectives of the project, its intermediate results, the definition of stages, a preliminary scope of work, the calculation of time and costs, as well as a general description of the roles and areas of responsibility in the team.


Set the timer

Gather stakeholders and team members and determine what you want to achieve and how you are going to do it.

Stage 1: Stakeholders. Write down who you should contact for help, information, or approval, and identify the project sponsor. If the list is too long, break it into primary and secondary participants.

Stage 2: Components. It is your work hierarchy. List all essential units of work and proposals (you will evaluate them later, but for now write it down). Limit the list to 30 points, and if team members try to add something else, round out and go to the next step.

Stage 3: goals and results. Write down the purpose of the project, then determine what its results should be. Check whether everything is correct by asking the question: “If we do everything that is indicated in stage 2, will we achieve our goals?”

Stage 4: possible alternatives. What are some alternative ways that will lead you to the same results? Is there a better way to achieve your goals?

Stage 5: economics and obstacles. What is the project financing strategy? How important is it compared to other projects? What resources do you need? What obstacles will you face?

Stage 6: plan of attack. Examine the list of units of work and determine what should be done first. Put the letter A at this point. In the same way, place B, C, etc. Then find out what can be done simultaneously with points A, B, etc. So you will make a project schedule.

Stage 7: assumptions and risks. What difficulties may be encountered in performing each task? How can you reduce risks or find workarounds?

Stage 8: key success indicators. Identify the 3-4 most important stakeholders and ask: “What is the most likely outcome to satisfy them?” These will be the indicators of project success. Decide how to measure each one after the project.

You can (and should) work on the project further to clarify the work plan, but in just an hour you will be able to draw up an entirely decent offensive plan: identify interested parties, define goals and determine project results.




Do not complicate

Project plans can become cumbersome very quickly, especially when it comes to the opinions of stakeholders and sponsors. In order not to make matters even harder, we suggest you start with five questions that will create the foundation and give depth to the details of the plan.

  • What for? What are the main benefits of this project for business?
  • What? What is included in the scope of the project?
  • Who? What are the leading roles required for the “What” clause?
  • When? When is it necessary to complete the “What” clause to get the “Why”?
  • Where? Where is best to do the job? Where can “What” be used by customers and end users?

Only after you finish answering these questions, you can proceed to the answers to the question “How?”.

Best practices of project management planning

As you can see, there are different approaches to creating a project plan. There is no right way, but there is one technique with which all experienced managers agree: before embarking on a job, clarify the main goals of the project with the interested persons.
Another tip: before you start, hold an organizational meeting. Take the opportunity to explain to the team the goals of the project, the role, and areas of responsibility, set standards for successful work and choose a methodology and tools for project management.

One last thing: fix everything. Project progress notes will help you analyze your work and make smarter decisions.


Main components of the project management plan

What should be included in the project management plan? The carefully crafted project plan consists of the following elements:

  • Concept: answers to “what?” and “why?”. It is brief information about the design, goals and final results of the project.
  • Implementation strategy: Answers to “how?” Related to the project. What technique will you use? Will the result be issued at one time or in several stages?
  • The scope of work: what is included (and not involved) in your project? Describe here the hierarchical structure of the work and the main results.
  • Schedule: depending on how clearly your project is described, this can be either a general plan for the implementation of individual tasks or a detailed Gantt chart indicating milestones and deadlines for their completion.
  • Organizational structure: an overview of the hierarchy of the project team, roles and areas of responsibility. If several teams or divisions take part in the work on a project, it is necessary to indicate how these teams will work with each other, who should be considered as interested persons and who is responsible for achieving each result.

It may seem like a tremendous amount of information, but remember that this is only a sample of a project management plan. A good program will not necessarily include all these elements.
As successful managers point out, “An overly detailed plan will not make you smarter or more organized. The longer it is, the greater the chance that no one but you can finish reading it to the end.” A simple project plan that is convenient to follow is the best option.


Published on April 23, 2019

Visual Project Management: Everything You Need to Know

Visual project management has been creating a buzz in the project management arena, and it’s not difficult to see why. Visuals are captivating, and now that most companies have adopted a lean culture, project managers no longer have the time to go through multiple reports. Regular status briefings are also not enough to gain a complete picture of the project’s status, which is where visual task management comes into play.

It allows you to plan, execute and monitor the progress of your project quickly, without having to read multiple reports. Visuals also bring ideas to life and make complex ideas easier to understand, saving valuable time. Simply put, visual project management allows you to track your project in an easy and fun way. In this guide, we’ll highlight why you should embrace this method of task management.

What Is Visual Project Management?

Visual project management effectively plans and manages projects using tools and techniques such as calendars, Kanban boards, and timelines. These layouts allow you to visualize the progress of your project and give you quick insights into the key deliverables at a glance or in a digestible format.

Regardless of the projects you are managing, you need to find an effective way of planning and tracking the milestones. For instance, you need to know who’s responsible for what, key pieces essential to the project’s success, and any areas that are delaying project progress.

While traditional project management tools get the job done, they are ineffective. For example, spreadsheets and lists may contain all the important information, but it can take time to determine the true progress of your projects. This is because they are text-based, and let’s face it: the business environment is now so fast-paced that document-heavy processes just don’t cut it anymore.

How Do You Visualize a Project?

Research shows that your brain can process images in about 13 milliseconds, which is why visuals are an effective project management tool. They also allow you to capture and retain information easily.

IG Content:

6 Steps to Visualize a Project

  1. Plan your entire project schedule, including the important milestones and deadlines.
  2. Use a chart to organize your team while showing the relationship between all the key stakeholders.
  3. Present the data visually using maps, charts, infographics, and other images that allow for at-a-glance comprehension.
  4. Create a risk breakdown structure to assess the tentative project risks.
  5. Use a status report to track the project’s progress. Ensure everyone involved is updated periodically.
  6. Use color coding for effective communication. All project materials should be available for all stakeholders so everyone can see project progress in real time.

Here’s a step-by-step guide into how you can visualize your projects:

  1. Plan your entire project schedule, including the important milestones and deadlines.
  2. Use a chart to structure your team while showing the relationship between all the key stakeholders.
  3. Present the data visually using maps, charts, infographics, etc.
  4. Create a risk breakdown structure to assess the tentative project risks.
  5. Use a status report to track the project’s progress.
  6. Use color coding for effective communication.

The whole idea is to make sure that all the project’s key moving parts are organized & easy to identify and that everyone is kept in the loop.


What Are the Benefits of Visual Task Management?

Here’s why you should adopt visual project management:

  • It enhances communication across all project levels.
  • It saves you time as you’re able to monitor the project’s progress at a glance.
  • It gives you clarity on the entire project and makes it easy to identify roadblocks slowing you down.
  • It allows you to make data-driven decisions.

Most importantly, visual task management helps you understand the true impact of making changes to a project in real-time.

What Are the Main Methods of Visual Representation of Projects?

There are 5 main tools you can use to make a visual project;

    I.         Calendars

Project calendars are straightforward, and they come in handy when there are multiple tasks to manage, all with varying due dates. They help you keep track of key deliverables and milestones as well as plan ahead for successful execution. You can use them on your social media calendars, editorial calendars, or other projects that require earlier preparation.

 II.         Kanban Boards

Kanban boards are essential for projects with distinct stages such as website development, sprint planning, bug tracking, and word results. They are visual tools that use cards to represent projects. These cards are then arranged in columns highlighting the project milestones, task priorities, and responsible personnel. When the project is completed, the cards are moved to the next stage, allowing you to identify the task progress at a glance.

III.         Timelines and Charts

Project timeline or Gantt charts come in handy for projects with definite start and end dates. They help you organize your entire project schedule so that everyone involved in the task is aware of the deadlines and the time each task should take. Some of the perfect tasks for timelines and charts include product launches, campaign management, and event planning.

IV.         Dashboards

Dashboards treat your project as a car and use intuitive tools such as charts and graphs to help you track the task progress. They highlight all the important project information on one page, showing you the overall progress. You can use this visual tool to check the status of tasks, track KPIs and manage the key resources. The dashboards you use should be intuitive and easy to navigate for maximum efficiency.

  V.         Mind Maps

We’ve all been in a situation where we know what we’d like to achieve but have a hard time organizing our ideas. Well, mind maps can come in handy during brainstorming sessions. They allow you to highlight your main ideas and then create sub-ideas below them until you have everything figured out. You can also use them when collaborating with the team to create a project plan.

Statistics reveal that around 48% of all organizational projects aren’t completed on time. This is shocking. By using the above visualization tools, you’ll be able to see the bigger picture without missing the key details.


  1. What Are the Four Types of Project Management?
  2. Waterfall: This technique involves working on your project in waves, such that each project stage is dependent on the previous one.
  3. Agile: This method involves working on projects quickly, mostly by breaking them down into smaller projects that several teams can handle.
  4. Scrum: This technique uses sprints to complete projects.
  5. Lean: This project management method is all about achieving maximum project efficiency while putting the customer’s needs first.
  6. How Do You Visually Track a Project?

The best way to visualize a project is by first breaking it down into several phases and then creating timelines, defining KPIs, and highlighting important milestones. You should then communicate this plan to your team for maximum efficiency.

  1. What Are the Five Elements of Project Management?
  2. Conception and initiation: This is the beginning of the project, and the task details are usually broad.
  3. Project planning: At this stage, you should set goals and create a roadmap of how and when your project should be completed.
  4. Project execution: This is where you develop deliverables and complete them. You can also make modifications when needed.
  5. Project monitoring: At this stage, you keep track of the performance and progress of the tasks.
  6. Project completion.

Streamline Your Project Management Today!

There are many frameworks and methodologies you can combine with visual project management to help better streamline your achievement and success.

Combining project management with a robust performance management program, for example, can help hold your team accountable for their deliverables, as well as offer them continuous feedback so they can constantly improve their performance on a certain project. Give your team an opportunity to evaluate themselves, and show them self-evaluation examples so they know exactly what information they should share with you. This will help you gain a better understanding of how they see themselves and their contributions in the organization.