The Project Notebook

A Fresh Start for an Old Project

 By: Susan Peterson, M.B.A., PMP

Copyright 2014, Susan Peterson, All Rights Reserved.  No part of this article may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author.

As we ring in a brand new year full of promise, we may feel the incentive to make resolutions to improve our lives in a variety of ways. Just as the calendar gives us an “excuse” to start anew in our personal lives, it can also give us the impetus to re-think the current projects with which we are involved. It’s easy, particularly with a lengthy project, to feel trapped in a rut. The meetings all sound alike, the progress is miniscule, and the personality conflicts abound. Or perhaps the project is progressing as planned, but people seem to be sleepwalking through their tasks. While keeping the goals of a project intact, there are some easy actions that can revitalize a “tired” project.

A good place to start with a fresh approach is the actual project work to be accomplished. A quick, high-level overview of what’s progressing, what’s lagging, and what doesn’t seem to be moving at all can often pinpoint tasks that can be dropped or at least modified. Generally, at the beginning of a project there is a tendency to list every possible task in order to ensure that nothing will be missed. As the project progresses, at least some of these tasks become superfluous, redundant, or meaningless. Since other tasks surface as the project progresses, the team members as well as the project manager can experience a sense of being overwhelmed. The overview can identify tasks that can be dropped, leaving everyone with a sense of relief.

A common challenge on project teams is that there is little or no “cross pollinization” among team members with regard to activities and responsibilities. The start of a new year is a good time to make some changes in who is doing what. The team can provide input with regard to new assignments so that the project manager is not faced with merely rearranging the Gantt chart resource allocations. While there are some people who would not willingly accept a different assignment even if it meant a 50% raise, the majority will welcome some change that they have controlled. New perspectives are bound to surface.

What would a project be without meetings? Now is a great time to look at the actual purpose of each scheduled periodic meeting that is connected with the project. Consider the following questions:

1) What is actually getting accomplished in each of these meetings?

2) Are the meetings poorly attended?

3) Is the attendee list growing while the output is dwindling?

4) Are the same things being re-hashed at every session?

If the answer to #1 is “very little” or “nothing” and at least one of the remaining questions can be answered with a loud “yes”, it’s time to revamp the meeting, eliminate it, or use a more effective method of communication.

Now that everyone is back from the holidays, it’s a good time to re-energize projects by capitalizing on the renewed energies of the manager and the team. A little overhauling can produce major positive results.

Susan Peterson, M.B.A., PMP, is a consultant who manages diverse programs and projects in both the private and public sectors for individual organizations and consortia. She also conducts enterprise assessments of project portfolio management practices. Prior to establishing her consulting practice Susan led major efforts for Fortune 100 organizations throughout the United States. She teaches the Project Management Simulation capstone course in the University of California, San Diego, Project Management certificate program and is a member of the curriculum advisory committee. She can be contacted at susanada@aol.com.

When Risks Become Reality

 By: Susan Peterson, M.B.A., PMP
Copyright 2012, Susan Peterson, All Rights Reserved
No part of this article may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission.

There continue to be an number of disasters around the world, both natural and person-made. Often after a disaster occurs, there is much analysis, second guessing, and finger pointing in an effort to determine what should have been done in advance. A part of the activities needs to focus on the entire project management process of risk identification and assessment to more effectively address other situations in the future.

What We Don’t Know Can Hurt Us

There are many organizations that do not conduct risk activities at any time during projects. There is a tendency to believe that even thinking about potential risks is a time-wasting process that ties up resources and costs more money that it is worth. Project managers who emphasize risk assessment may be viewed as negative and may be told to “lighten up”. Some organizations believe that merely listing a number of risks is sufficient. Others may set aside the list of risks for the future “just in case something happens”. Many risks can be mitigated or entirely avoided with proactive actions. However, organizations often put contingency plans in place without even considering that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.

An All-Encompassing Approach

Traditionally, those organizations that practiced limited risk assessment focused their efforts on the identification and prioritization of risks. This approach was founded on the attitude that only the most important risks, those with the highest probability, were worth consideration. Virtually every project has more risks than can ever be addressed. However, there needs to be more effort in the overall assessment activity to specify the true magnitude of risks that have been identified. There are many risks that have such a low probability of occurrence that they would “fall off the radar screen” in a traditional risk assessment process. In order to obtain a more comprehensive perspective on risks, both the probability and the impact need to be identified. Addressing a low probability risk may seem to require a great deal of resources, both human and financial. But — the cost of disaster recovery is phenomenal compared to the upfront prevention costs.

The Domino Effect

Another aspect of risk that is often ignored is that risks seldom happen individually. If one risk occurs, it often triggers the occurrence of other risks. For example, a vendor’s default also impacts the project budget as well as quality of the substitute materials and even the total project outcome. This interrelationship means that even if one risk has both a low probability and low impact, the risk in combination with others may have disastrous impact.

Proactive risk management is a challenging responsibility for project managers. While it often requires strong leadership techniques, risk management is a critical component of successful projects.

 Susan Peterson, M.B.A., PMP, is a consultant who manages diverse programs and projects in both the private and public sectors for individual organizations and consortia. She also conducts enterprise assessments of project portfolio management practices. Prior to establishing her consulting practice Susan led major efforts for Fortune 100 organizations throughout the United States. She teaches the Project Management Simulation capstone course in the University of California, San Diego, Project Management certificate program and is a member of the curriculum committee. She can be contacted at susanada@aol.com.

Product/Project Management and Strategic Thinking


Strategic thinking is about analyzing complex situations or making critical decisions involving large quantities of information. It includes a focus on “finding and developing unique opportunities to create value by enabling a provocative and creative dialogue among people who can affect…direction” (Center for Applied Research). The situations often require you to take a more high level look at your product or project to find a solution.

First off, this isn’t very easy when you are swamped with day-to-day firefighting. You will need to take some time out to think through the situations more clearly. Here are a 10 tips for developing capacity for this type of “out of the box” thinking and analysis:

1. Ask “What if?” Look at your ideas and decisions with a longer term view in mind. Think through multiple steps or stages of the solution to explore all the consequences and impacts.
2. Ask “why?” And keep asking. The 5 whys will help you drill down deep enough to get the full details or determine a “root cause”.
3. Seek counsel, not opinion. Everyone has an opinion, but you want to focus on those with proven experience and expertise. Be willing to accept criticism and look at the perspectives of others.
4. Get multiple perspectives. Our relatives and friends are more likely to tell us what we want to hear. Rather than ask one friend or current customer, show your product to 10 perspective customers that have never seen it before and get their feedback. This is the feedback you need to hear.
5. Challenge assumptions. Ask questions and examine things in more depth.
6. Find new ways to look at data. On top of that, gather new data. I recently expended a lot of effort of my own and others to build a more definitive client list. It allowed me to see the existing client base in a new way. This also helped to shape some ideas about how the client base has changed over time.
7. Think systems and processes. Observe how things work. In general, planning and systematic approaches add value through efficiency improvements.
8. Watch the competition. What are they doing differently? How are they structured and organized? How are their products different or better?
9. Volunteer. Use this to learn more about your organization or work with others to see their challenges and needs. My volunteer work with PMI always seems to afford me new ways of looking at myself and my profession.
10. Become a life long learner. Stay up to date on company and industry developments. Read books and magazines. Attend courses and seminars. Talk and interact with experts.

The Right Stuff

Another NASA-related video on best practices and continuous improvement. Steve Goo of Boeing describes a model he uses and makes more difficult every year to improve practices at Boeing.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AICo-c6WJEI]

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© 2010-2012 Ray W. Frohnhoefer, MBA, PMP, CCP