Tag: Project Management

PMTimes_Mar14_2023

Integrating User Stories in Project Planning & Deliverable Development

An important part of managing any project is being able to break the project down into its component parts.  A good project manager and project team need to know and fully understand what a project is intended to do in order to plan and develop the details of the project deliverables.

Project deliverables, according to the PMBOK Guide, are, “Any unique and verifiable product, result, or capability to perform a service that is required to be produced to complete a process, phase, or project.”  (Project Management Institute, 2021).  Simply put, deliverables are what a project creates or produces – the output of a project.  Those deliverables can be tangible, such as physical objects like products, or intangible, such as events or processes.  They define what a project should make or do.  When deliverables are correctly defined, each deliverable should come in two pieces.  One piece is the deliverable itself and another piece is the associated success criteria for that deliverable.  Success criteria can be broadly explained as the criteria used to measure project success (Castro et al., 2019).  Success criteria come in a broad range of formats, with elements and standards able to be applied to different projects as appropriate.  If a project deliverable is successfully completed, success criteria spell out in detail what that success should look like.

There are a number of different practices for addressing this part of project planning.  From informal discussion and consideration to structured, formal brainstorming sessions.  User Stories are one tool that every project manager should have in their toolbox for creating and defining project deliverables.

 

User Stories

A user story is a short statement in the everyday language or business language of the end user of a project’s output that captures, summarizes, and articulates what a user does or needs to do with that output.  It states what the user of the project output wants that project output to be able to do or what they want to be able to do with it.  User stories describe the features of a projects output from the point of view of an end user.

User stories have their background in agile practices in software development.  In this context, user stories are written to describe the features to be included in a software or technology project.  Assembled together, the list of user stories makes up the product backlog, or list of features to be built into and included in the project.  Based on order of priority, those features are pulled from the product backlog for inclusion in a sprint cycle.

As agile practices have since expanded well beyond the software and general technology sector and into use in all types of projects, so have user stories.  They have since become a useful feature in describing the output and elements of various types of projects.

User stories are written in a standardized format.  They clearly define the end user in mind (the who), the feature to be described and included (the what), and how the user will use that feature of the product (the why).  The format for user stories is, “As a   (user role)  , I want a   (product feature)  ,  so that I can   (benefit / use description)   .

Who

The “Who” element describes the role of the user.  It asks and answers the question, “who will use the output and receive value from a particular output feature?”.

 

What

The “What” element describes the product feature itself.  This is the deliverable item of the aforementioned output.  In agile teams, this would describe one unit of delivery.  It is a single, individual feature of a projects output.

 

Why

The “Why” clearly describes how the user defined in the “who” part of the story intends to use the feature.  What will they do with the feature and how does it bring value to the output of the project?

Examples of user stories include:

  • As a listener, I need a tuning button, so I can find my favorite radio station.
  • As a theater visitor, I need a ticket, so I can attend the performance.
  • As a convention delegate, I need a schedule of events, so I can plan my day at the convention.

Several slight variations on the format exist, but the general point is always the same – identifying the user, describing the output feature, and detailing its use or function. The elements can be broken down and considered in those three parts.

 

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Story Cards – simplified approach

Story cards are the tools used to create, arrange, and organize user stories.  Each story card is a user story as a self-contained description of a project feature, with additional accompanying elements included along with it to help further define the details of that feature.  User stories are traditionally written on physical, individual cards in order to establish the details of each user story and to facilitate the reprioritization and rearrangement of the stories for inclusion in the project.  In contemporary practice, story cards can be created and arranged in digital form, using various project management, storyboarding, or digital whiteboard software and applications.  Any format works, as long as it can be viewed, shared, discussed, and changed by the project team members.

Just as user stories themselves have some slight variations in structure depending on the specific methodology followed, so do story cards.  At a basic level, a user story card should include a title, a value statement, basic requirements, size estimation, and acceptance criteria.

 

Title

The title of the story card is exactly what it sounds like.  It is a shortened or abbreviated name of the story.  It should be sufficiently expressive to describe the feature it defines.  Titles help to organize the stories for arrangement and prioritization.

 

Value Statement

The value statement is the heart of the story card, presenting the user story itself in the format previously set out.  It describes the user role, the feature to be included, and the benefit or use of that feature to the end user.

 

Basic Requirements

The basic requirements section is a flexible element of the story card and can be used to further define some of the essentials or expectations of the feature or its development.  This can include anything from aspects of functionality to resources or constraints in producing the feature.  The Basic Requirements element can be included or omitted at the discretion of the project manager or as the feature itself necessitates.

 

Size Estimation

In agile methodologies, the size estimation is typically done using an estimation point system.  In other practical usage, a time estimation is useful to include and sufficient to further define the story.  This is done by estimating, in time or work units, how long the feature will take to complete as described.

 

Acceptance Criteria

Acceptance criteria describe the basic benchmark that has to be met in order to consider the story complete.  It is a description of a successfully completed and functional feature.  Acceptance criteria can be written by asking and answering the question, “If this feature is successfully included, what does that success look like?”

 

Application

In agile methodologies such as Scrum, the collection of story cards makes up the Product Backlog, or list of features to be selected for inclusion and built into the project during an iterative sprint cycle.  For more traditional methodologies, user stories and story cards can serve a number of roles.  They can help to describe and define features of a projects output from an important point of view – that of the end user.  In project brainstorming sessions, this approach helps project team members to take on that role in considering features.  Once those features are defined, they can be added to the deliverables list for the project, either as final deliverables or for inclusion in an iterative development cycle.  Finally, they can be used to supplement a traditional Work Breakdown Structure.  In this way, the story cards can create additional WBS tasks and activities for inclusion in the project schedule.

 

Any way they are applied, user stories and story cards are a useful tool for project managers to have in project planning and development.  They provide a structured way to consider project features, activities, and stakeholder groups.

 

 

References

Castro, M., Bahli, B., Farias Filho, J., & Barcaui, A. (2019). A Contemporary Vision of Project Success Criteria. Brazilian Journal of Operations and Production Management, 16(1), 66-77. doi:10.14488/BJOPM.2019.v16.n1.a6
Kissflow Project. (2021, November 23). How to Identify and Manage Project Stakeholders? Kissflow Project. Retrieved May 31, 2022, from https://kissflow.com/project/project-stakeholder-management/
Project Management Institute. (2021, March 21). PMBOK Guide, 7th Edition.
San Cristóbal, J. F. (2018). An analysis of the mainproject organizational structures: Advantages, disadvantages, and factors affecting their selection. Procedia Computer Science, 138, 791-798.
PMTimes_Mar7_2023

Projects are Fragile… Yet Their Failure Is Not Always Indisputable

The flight from New York to London was without incident. The pilot avoided turbulence by requesting timely altitude changes, the flight attendants were attentive, and food and drinks were surprisingly pleasant. The landing, however, was a little rough and those last few seconds surely influenced some passengers’ opinion of this 7 ½ – hour flight. For some, it turned the entire flight into a bad experience or a “failure”… even though – and unbeknownst to the passengers – a rough landing was required for safety purposes given the strong crosswind upon arrival (the landing gear must make contact with the runway as soon as possible). For others, the flight was satisfactory after all.

There are many variables at play that will influence the outcome of a flight and stakeholders (here the passengers) will have their views on the quality of that outcome. The same can be said about projects, what drives them and their final output. What appears to be a failed or semi-failed project might actually contain some silver lining elements.

 

Projects are fragile

As shown in Table 1, many project risk variables (we count 23 of them) can impact the outcome of a project.

Those can be classified in 5 broad categories:

  1. People
  2. Tools
  3. Communication
  4. Planning
  5. Strategy

Since projects are driven by people, it is not surprising then that the People category is the largest with 9 out of 23 potential root causes of project failure with some occurring at the start of a project but most of them taking place mid-course of a project life cycle which makes it harder to mitigate them in a timely fashion.

A large number of mitigating factors will require pausing the project, otherwise this would be equated to the overused expression of “attempting to change a tire on a moving car’. Many of the proposed mitigants require the intervention of a third party (e.g. stakeholders, steering committee or management). This adds yet another set of challenges to the needed intervention.

 

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Another layer of complexity is introduced whenever project risk drivers are correlated or become part of a domino effect. Did the lack of resources cause the project to be delayed and then the cost overrun? Did the lack of sponsorship lead to the project manager becoming disengaged and project risks not flagged in a timely manner? Or did those variables manifest themselves independently?

In most cases these project risk elements will be correlated that is why it becomes critical to identify them as soon as possible in order to make the appropriate course correction to avoid a project failure.

Table 1 presents a list of project failure causes – from start to end of project – and proposes ways to mitigate them. The purpose of Table 1 is not to simply present a comprehensive list of mitigants (as variations of such mitigants can be implemented as well) but rather to suggest that what is critical is to identify the project risk variable and begin the process of curing it by a variety of approaches.

 

Table 1 – Project Failure Drivers

 

Project failure is not always what it appears to be

In light of such a long list of potential project failure points, it is natural to then take a closer look at project failure itself, or more precisely the various types of project failure that might ensue. These can be broadly classified by the nature of the impact to the project delivery, which can have objective characteristics (e.g. defective delivery or cost overrun) or more subjective ones (e.g. poorly communicated outcome even for a successful project).

As shown in Table 2, many apparent project failures can have their silver lining, especially when it comes to impact on ROI (Return on Investment). Indeed, what sometimes appears to be a categorical project failure, can actually hide some degree of silver lining.

Table 2 – Project Failure Types

Finally, it is worth noting, as depicted in Table 2, that even though a lessons learned exercise is a must at the conclusion of every project – especially those deemed to have “objectively” failed – the depth and intensity of such an exercise may vary by failure type as one considers other priorities calling upon an organization’s resources.

PMTimes_Mar1_2023

How to Make Every Project a Sustainable Project

Every organization brings a variety of motivations to its sustainability initiatives. Some aim to satisfy regulations, some install them as part of company culture, and some derive brand value from them.

In most cases, it’s a mix. In many cases, there’s a direct tie between sustainability and the for-profit projects a company pursues. Building electric vehicles or developing renewable energy technologies are examples of this intersection of interests.

But now that sustainability and ESG performance are part of the management landscape, it has something in common with everything else: It feels the effects of the macro environment. With fears of a recession on the horizon, a recent KPMG survey found 59% of CEOs plan to put their ESG efforts on pause or under review in the coming six months.

That exposes a potential contradiction. If sustainability is part of the business now, it’s no longer an “extra” that companies should trim early in a recession-proofing effort. So how can they bridge the gap between intention and execution in today’s business climate?

Whatever an organization is in business to do, there is an untapped opportunity to approach all projects with greener ways of working by embedding sustainability into the heart of project delivery. Every project has the potential to be a sustainable project. Project managers, naturally focused on execution, are the ideal partners to make sustainability strategies a reality, while delivering tangible organizational benefits, such as reducing resource consumption and expanding stakeholder understanding and engagement of sustainability.

Here’s how to shift your mindset and approach any project sustainably:

 

KNOW YOUR STAKEHOLDERS—ALL OF THEM

Every skilled project manager understands the importance of stakeholder management: knowing who is impacted by a project and how it affects them. The most obvious, and longstanding, definition of stakeholders starts with the people a project is “for,” such as customers, investors, and your leadership team.

But a comprehensive view of sustainability execution requires you to broaden this definition. There are the employees who work alongside you and the contractors, partners and suppliers who do their part to move your work ahead. Your project likely has ripple effects throughout an entire community, or several—residents, small business owners, local governments, and others.

It’s clear that important environmental, social and governance goals and frameworks have birthed a new ecosystem of stakeholders. According to Green Project Management’s recent “Insights Into Sustainable Project Management” report, 97% of executives say that projects and project management are integral to sustainable development. As sustainability broadens our perception of responsibility, everyone who leads projects must be aware of all stakeholders and the impact each project has on them.

 

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SET SUSTAINABILITY GOALS

One lens that can help us understand this new challenge comes from the United Nations, which created 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015. The list includes concerns such as “no poverty,” “zero hunger,” “responsible consumption and production” and “peace, justice and strong institutions.” What’s more important is that these aren’t separate items. They affect and support one another.

Not every SDG will be relevant to every project. For example, your project may have nothing to do with clean water or quality education. But at least one SDG relates to every project, and the link isn’t always obvious.

Suppose you’re developing software. SDG No. 8 likely comes into play: decent work and economic growth. No. 10, reduced inequality, is probably relevant too. What are the labor conditions, including for outsourced workers? Do your vendors and suppliers pay fair wages and provide equal opportunity in hiring?

Through this lens, it’s easy to see how ESG factors and the stakeholders they touch can multiply quickly. A broader stakeholder view, informed by sustainability goals and guided by the United Nations’ SDGs, can help a project deliver more positive benefits to more people.

 

THINK LONG-TERM

Sustainability expands the project management view along another dimension: time. Your work plan may have an end date, but the effects carry on. Especially if you work to create something tangible, such as a building or a vehicle, your project can impact the world over the years or decades until that work product is discarded or dismantled.

How long will the building last, for example? How will it serve and shape its community while it’s there? What economic effects will it have? And when its day is done, what will be the environmental impact of deconstructing it and accounting for its materials? According to Green Project Management’s report, 38% of project managers say that extreme weather events such as flash floods, wildfires and sea-level rise impact their project work, up from 4% in 2019.

Whether you operate on long timeframes like that or produce end products that come and go within days, the scale changes but the questions remain. Anyone who leads projects should probe to find and answer as many of them as possible.

 

A REWARDING MINDSET

There is a strong link between sustainability and innovation: to see change happen on the ground, and quickly. The world needs new ideas and out-of-the-box thinking. Approaching projects through the lens of sustainability adds a new way of thinking and opens the way for innovative approaches to sustainability execution. And the payoffs are for society and the planet.

Doing work that generates more value can’t help but be a long-term benefit to you and your organization. The good news is that the tools you need to drive sustainability are ones you already have in your project management toolkit.

So, take a step back—and take a look around. You got into this line of work to make things happen. Your opportunity to do that just got bigger.

PMTimes_Feb22_2023

Innovation on the Clock: How Taking Time to Work Smarter Can Drive Success

I want to talk about an oldy but goody, the importance of innovation, aka work smart not hard, or maybe both. In our current environment, the importance of innovation is even more pronounced as many industries are experiencing layoffs and downsizing. With limited resources and increased workloads, professionals who remain in their positions or with the company in any fashion are often expected to take on additional responsibilities and tasks that were previously handled by those who were laid off. This leaves them with less time to focus on their own work, let alone innovate and think creatively.

Yet, it is precisely in times like this that innovation is crucial for organizations to stay competitive and succeed in the long run. While it may be tempting to simply focus on completing immediate tasks and meeting short-term goals, taking the time to innovate and find more efficient ways of working can ultimately help organizations thrive in the face of uncertainty and change.

Professionals who make time to innovate can help themselves as well as their organizations. By developing new skills and expanding their knowledge, they can increase their own value in the job market, which can be especially important during times of economic uncertainty. Additionally, by finding ways to work smarter and not harder, they can prevent burnout and maintain their motivation and engagement in their work. Engagement is no small task, especially at times like these.

 

So, while innovation has always been important, it is even more critical in the current environment of layoffs and downsizing. Although it may seem difficult to find the time to innovate amidst increased workloads, it is precisely in times of uncertainty and change that innovation is needed the most.

Innovation is key to growth and success in any organization. It allows for the development of new ideas, products, and services, and helps companies stay competitive in an ever-changing market. However, finding time to innovate can be a challenge for professionals across various industries, from secretaries to project managers to developers. In this article, I want to explore the importance of professionals having time in their days and weeks to innovate, and how it can benefit both individuals and their organizations.

 

Preventing Burnout and Improving Efficiency

One of the primary benefits of allowing time for innovation is preventing burnout. Professionals who are constantly bogged down with routine tasks can quickly become fatigued and lose motivation. Having time to step back and work on something new and exciting will undoubtedly help prevent burnout and keep employees engaged in their work. When professionals are given the opportunity to think outside the box and come up with new solutions, they can find more efficient ways of working. This can ultimately save time and resources for the organization and improve overall productivity…It’s not that we are lazy or unmotivated to work hard, it’s that we want to do the best that we can.

 

Encouraging Creativity and Forward Thinking

Innovation also encourages creativity and forward thinking. When professionals are given time to innovate, they are encouraged to think creatively and come up with new ideas. This can lead to the development of innovative products or services and can help keep organizations ahead of the competition.

Naturally, encouraging innovation creates a mindset of creativity and forward-thinking throughout the organization. When professionals see that their ideas are valued and that they have the opportunity to make a difference, they will be more motivated to contribute their ideas and work towards new and exciting solutions. When it comes to innovation and finding more efficient ways of working, even small changes can have a significant impact.

 

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Let’s do a little math and don’t worry its simple: If a daily task that takes 20 people five minutes to complete and with some automation one guy took a few hours to figure out and implement that can be reduced to only four minutes, this would result in a time savings of one minute per person per day. While this may not seem like a lot, when you consider the impact over time, the results can be significant.

If this one-minute time savings is multiplied by the 20 people who perform the task, it results in a total daily time savings of 20 minutes. Over the course of a five-day workweek, this equates to 100 minutes or 1 hour and 40 minutes of time saved. Over the course of a year, assuming a 50-week work year, this time savings amounts to 100 hours.

Again, this may not seem like a lot, but when you consider that this time savings is just from one task performed by 20 people, the impact of finding more efficient ways of working across multiple tasks and teams can be significant. Math again, if 10 different tasks can be optimized in this way across an organization of 100 people, the total time savings per week would be 1,000 minutes or almost 17 hours. Over the course of a year, this amounts to a time savings of 850 hours. Assuming an average salary of $25 per hour, the 850 hours of time saved would equate to a cost savings of $21,250. This is just from finding more efficient ways of working across 10 tasks in an organization of 100 people. Imagine the impact of finding similar efficiencies across multiple teams and departments.

 

The truth is that the benefits of finding more efficient ways of working go beyond just cost savings. By saving time on mundane or repetitive tasks, professionals can free up time to focus on higher-level work that requires more creativity and critical thinking. This can lead to more innovative ideas, better decision-making, and ultimately a more competitive and successful organization.

 

Fostering a Culture of Innovation

Allowing time for innovation fosters a culture of innovation within an organization. When professionals are given the opportunity to innovate, they may be more likely to share their ideas with colleagues and collaborate on new projects. This can lead to a more collaborative and creative work environment, where everyone is encouraged to contribute their ideas and work towards a common goal.

Fostering a culture of innovation can help attract top talent to an organization. When professionals see that an organization values innovation and encourages new ideas, they may be more likely to want to work for that organization. This can ultimately help the organization attract the best and brightest talent and stay ahead of the competition.

 

Examples of Innovation Across Industries

Innovation can take many different forms across various industries. For example, a secretary may be able to innovate by finding more efficient ways to manage scheduling for the boss. A project manager may be able to innovate by finding new ways to track project progress or by implementing new project management software. A developer may be able to innovate by developing new features for a software program or by finding ways to optimize code for improved performance. Healthcare professionals can also be innovative in an office setting by finding ways to streamline administrative tasks, such as appointment scheduling, patient record-keeping, and prescription management. Innovation can also take place on a larger scale, such as the development of new products or services.

 

Conclusion

In conclusion, while it can be challenging to find the time to be innovative, it’s an essential component of personal and professional growth. Whether you’re a secretary, project manager, custodian, or doctor, taking the time to think creatively and work smarter can help you avoid burnout, stay motivated, and achieve better outcomes.

Ideally, companies will recognize the importance of innovation and provide their employees with the time and resources to pursue new ideas and approaches. However, even if this isn’t the case, it’s up to each of us as individuals to make innovation a priority in our work and personal lives.

So go ahead, take a break from your daily routine, and allow yourself some time to explore new possibilities and ideas. Who knows, you might just come up with the next big thing that revolutionizes your industry, or simply find a more efficient way to do your work. Either way, taking pride in your ability to think creatively and work smarter will bring a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment that’s hard to beat. Here’s to innovation, in all its forms!

PMTimes_Feb21_2023

We Don’t Always Start Fresh

Project Management texts usually assume we’re starting at the beginning of a project, with control over scope, schedule, and resources. Frequently, project scope, resources, and schedule are already determined through strategic planning, Project Portfolio Management (PPM), or the project charter process. In other cases, we take on projects that are in progress. This can occur as a normal part of the project lifecycle as a hand-off from a project initiation team to a project delivery team or due to other circumstances. The existing Project Manager (PM) may be moving to a different, higher priority project, assuming other responsibilities within the organization, leaving the organization for other career opportunities, or leaving the project due to the problems that have arisen. In all these cases, the new PM is required to assess the current status of the project, update or create a plan leading to a successful conclusion of the project, and execute that plan through project completion.

 

There are specific things that a PM can do to improve their chances of successfully completing the ongoing project, regardless of its current state or delivery phase. While these will be covered in future articles, and in my book, There’s a New Sheriff in Town: The Project Manager’s Proven Guide to Successfully Taking Over Ongoing Projects and Getting the Work Done, in this article we will examine how likely it is for a PM to step into an ongoing project.

 

Assuming management of an ongoing project is a lot more common than many people think. All the PMs that I’ve met over the years, through work, at conferences, and online, have taken over projects that were already started. Industry results and surveys also show that the overwhelming majority of PMs have had to assume projects or programs that were already in flight. Close to 200 project managers responded in 2022 to an online global survey on their experience with joining projects that had already been started.

 

PMs are much more likely to take over existing projects than to start with a “clean slate.”

 

Roughly 93% of the PMs responding have had to take over a project that was already started at least once in their careers. There are significant differences and additional challenges when taking over projects that have already started. Despite these circumstances being very common, they are not routine and should not be treated as such. We need to recognize the challenges of joining a project that has already started, along with the typical challenges of managing projects.

 

How frequently does this happen?

 

Two-thirds (67%) of all the projects managed by these PMs had a different PM when they finished.

 

Far from being a rare occurrence, we should assume that most projects will have a change in leadership before they finish. How many PMs plan to hand over leadership to another PM? All too often, we assume that we will finish what we start, so if a change in leadership does occur, we are not prepared for it. Whether we are handing off the project to another PM, or if we are the incoming PM, the hand-off will be more challenging and less successful if we are not prepared for it.

 

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Why is assuming management of an ongoing project different than starting a new project? Table 1-1 provides a brief listing of project characteristics, components, and key management decisions that are still being formulated when a project is initiated but are usually set once a project has started. We’ll discuss some of these issues, and how to handle them as an incoming PM, in future articles.

 

Table 1-1: New Projects Versus Ongoing Projects

COMPONENT NEW PROJECT ONGOING PROJECT
Objectives Loosely Defined Established
Scope/Requirements Being Determined Preliminary or Approved
Quality Being Negotiated Defined
Schedule Being Negotiated Set
Budget Rough Order of Magnitude (ROM) Set
Delivery Method Candidates identified Chosen
Technology May be defined, flexibility will vary Selected
Delivery Team Being Selected Created and working
Delivery Location May be open Set
Delivery Tools Being determined based on technology and delivery methodology selected In Use
Project Plans Being Drafted Published and Approved

 

The results of the survey, discussions with PMs across the globe, and personal experience have all shown that we don’t always start on a project with a clean slate where we can work with the sponsor and business owner to establish the triple constraints. In fact, it is almost guaranteed that during our PM careers we will have to take over an ongoing project. The bad news is that this can be very different from initiating a project, with additional challenges that make it hard to succeed. The good news is that we are not alone in facing these challenges, and that there are proven techniques that greatly increase the likelihood of success. In addition to covering these in my book, we will address many of them in future articles.