In Lean methodology Standard Work are the tasks, activities, processes that are conducted in a specific way which means they are standardized in terms of being documented, measurable and repeatable.
In the following text I propose a Standard Work template for project managers. I am confident this standard work will be applicable to most of the NPI/NPD project managers. This list is by no means ‘definitive’ or ‘exhaustive.’ You can tailor it to your individual needs. I’ve put this list together from many years’ of experience in the field so I know it works.
- Meetings – Meetings are an important daily standard work for a project Manager. Whether we like it or not, it is the forum where people are brought together and things move forward. Whether it be a phone meeting, a daily standup meeting or a round table meeting, emphasis should be kept on keeping the meetings efficient.Read More »
The topic of risks and issues causes a variety of opinions and I’ve seen a sometimes diverging discussion on it. I’ve also seen the two terms used interchangeably which is not correct. In the following I have tried to briefly describe the difference between risks and issues.
Risks are events that have not happened yet but may happen in the future.
Project stake holders should actively plan for the risks based on their probability of occurence and impact.
The plan for risks could include mitigation, avoidance, transfer or acceptance of risks.
A risk is typically described as a statement of ‘If X happens then Y may happen …’
Issues are the certainities that have already happened. These are events of present and not of future.
An issue is typically described as a statement of ‘Due to X condition Y has happened …’
An issue is not a risk but an issue can cause risk(s.)
For example, non availability of a technical resource now is an issue but if left unattended itvmay cause several risks down the road for product quality or project schedule etc.
Most of us would agree that setting up an efficient Portfolio Management Process (PMP) is extremely important for any organization running multiple projects with limited resources.
An efficient Portfolio Management Process (PMP) allows an organization to get the most ‘bang for the buck’ by utilizing its limited resources to most fruitful (or strategic) projects.
But whose responsibility is it to set up this efficient Portfolio Management Process (PMP) in the first place? Many would say it is the PMOs responsibility. I also used to think like this until one day I learnt from experience that there is more to it. The problem with PMO alone owning the PMP is the ‘indifference’ that sets in from other parts of the organization.
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I get one question asked of me all the time. How many projects can a Project Manager handle at the same time? While the obvious answer is ‘it depends,’ it does not satisfy somebody looking for a specific number. Therefore here is my heart felt answer. From my own experience the magic number for simultaneous and effective management of full-time projects is two. By full-time projects I mean the projects where you are the only project manager in charge of the whole project including scope, schedule and resourcing.
The reason is when you switch between 2 projects at regular intervals (say every 4 hours) it keeps you energized and motivated as the ‘boredom’ of one long project does not set in. Invariably PMs do get time of ‘low activity” on every project which is also the time to pick up on other project and make progress there. An example of low activity time is waiting for lab test results to arrive before PCB could be laid out etc.
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To determine what a balanced portfolio looks like, lets take a look at an unbalanced portfolio. An unbalanced portfolio usually consists of a large number of small projects. These projects are low risk but also have lower rewards. Companies tend to do most of these projects because these are considered as ‘low hanging fruits.’ These short and small projects usually result in tying up most of the company resources by spreading them too thin. This does not leave room for longer term and high reward strategic projects which would usually make or break a company (say) 5 yeas down the road.
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Many yeas ago – 1990 to be exact, I was getting my motorbike’s oil changed at a roadside shop. The mechanic working on my bike was a trainee and his boss who was also the master mechanic was keeping a keen eye on him. The trainee was taking his own sweet time to get things done and looked extra relaxed with a cup of tea in one hand and a wrench tool in the other. The master mechanic then uttered a sentence which has remained ingrained in my memory to this day. I’ll do a literal translation here as it was said in Urdu. The mechanic said “Do your work with some fear” (zara ghabra kar kaam kia karo.) The trainee didn’t get it as he kept asking “what do you mean that I should work with fear?” The master mechanic also couldn’t explain it in more words except he kept repeating “work with fear….work with fear.” The trainee didn’t get it. He shook his shoulders and got back to work and his cup of unfinished tea but I got it – or at least I think I got it.
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How many times have you been to a meeting where people are seen working on their laptops or checking text messages where as one desperate looking host is seen doing all the talking, managing phone lines and asking questions. When a question needs to be answered, the host usually asks one of the persons behind the laptops, who first asks to repeat the question and then gives a throw away answer to go back to his ‘more important’ work on the laptop. The meeting audience in general shows the classic behavior that they’d rather be somewhere else than here.
Why is it so? This is because most of our day is spent in meetings and people don’t get time to finish their ‘real’ work. Therefore they bring their laptops to the meetings and try to do the ‘real’ work there while missing out on the subject on hand.
Therefore from my own experience, I have one sentence for you to make the meetings more effective. Get up, Stand up, stand up for your time.
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People usually have different answers when this question is asked. However one definition that seems to resonate with Project Managers is that a project is a temporary undertaking with a clear start and end date as well as a defined scope of what will be delivered at the end of the project.
Many years ago, one of my bosses mentored a novel practical lesson. In order to learn and solve customer issues our whole company was asked to visit a customer factory and spend time with the operators. The idea was to learn the users’ experience first hand. Even though our company was a small-size business, it was still quite an impressive sight to see a long procession of cars arriving at the customer site to learn and observe. And it goes without being said that customer was more than impressed (albeit a little bit overwhelmed) to see our dedication. The customer was very appreciative and willingly shared their daily work experience with us. This helped us in designing a product which sold very well with this customer and others like them.
Explaining Ethnographic Research
In simple words Ethnographic research means to conduct your research/voice of customer surveys on-site together with the customer, living in their shoes and feeling the joys and pains of their work. No other form of customer survey comes closer in understanding customers issues and thereby generating better product requirements than to actually ‘camp out’ at a customer site. I also find this type of VoC is the closest method where both ‘product’ and ‘project‘ sides of the business come together. This as you can imagine leads to finding the best solution for a customer which ultimately leads to a better product design. I also want to go as far as by saying that better products are not designed by brainstorming in an office environment but by observing and ‘camping out’ with customers.
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As a Project Manager, sometimes it can be very frustrating to realize that you are ultimately responsible for the project schedule and but have no authority on people who are working on the project. I’ve seen Project managers complaining that they are ‘responsible for everything but have no authority.’ The way out of this thinking is to realize that as a Project Manager, you are not seeking obedience or brute compliance from your project team but what you are looking for is motivation, engagement and commitment. People have written books on this topic and many universities across the World offer expensive courses to teach you how to manage without authority. I’ve learnt it by experience and following are my 5-point list of how one can successfully manage people without authority.
1. Build relationships One of the ways this could be achieved is by building ‘relationships‘ with members of the team. This allows you to learn what motivates a particular team member and then keep that member challenged and motivated. It does not help if a team member knows a project manager only by name or only as a person who only asks for deliverables and deadlines. Building relationships is even more important for remotely located teams. It is very common today to have project teams spread across several countries, time zones and cultures. In such cases it becomes even more important for a Project Manager to build relationship with the diverse group of team members and get their cooperation. From my own experience it also helps if a remotely located PM travels to home offices of team members atleast few times a year and have face to face interactions with team members.
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