Dear PM Advisor. Oct 26, 2015

Dear PM Advisor, You've talked about a lot of reasons people should take responsibility on a task level. Reasons why a person should or should not take this responsibility depending on their level of work on the task. But what about if a person is not suited for this responsibility because of the type of person they are?

Concerned in Manchester, NH

Dear Concerned.

In a few previous posts I've written about different personality styles and how personality styles affect their starting and completion of tasks and their likelihood of getting along with other team members. Based on these differences, a good PM will manage these people differently to ensure tasks are completed on time.

While Extroverts will be happy to start tasks, they need motivation and management to ensure they finish. Amiables need a kick-start to ensure they don't procrastinate. Analyticals need to be pulled up for air to ensure they don't analyze a task to death. Bosses need to avoid snap judgments on how to complete the task.

But you are asking whether certain people should be allowed to take responsibility for tasks given their personality. In general, my answer to this would be NO. There is beauty in getting people to volunteer in front of their peers to take responsibility for tasks. They are much more likely to complete this task on schedule simply because of that public commitment. As stated above, they may need to be managed differently to assist in achieving success.

That being said, perhaps you are talking about a person who has a history of being late on everything and you are afraid that giving him responsibility will ensure late delivery. Not his personality style, per se, but his track record. Well, no-one said being a PM was going to be easy. Place these tasks in your bucket of the 20% of the tasks you need to watch out for as being the likely cause of 80% of the delays on this project. Manage these carefully. Do what you need to do to ensure success. But do it with two goals in mind:

One: That the task and the project succeeds.

Two: That the team member learns valuable skills in completing tasks on time and the feeling of accomplishment that goes with a job well done.

That will make it easier the next time you need to work with him.

Good luck,

PM Advisor.

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Dear PM Advisor. Oct 19, 2015

Dear PM Advisor, We are starting prioritization and I'm concerned about our long-term projects. With everyone considering time to market and urgent projects, when will our long-term projects hit the top of the priority list and get done?

Visionary in Manchester, NH

Dear Visionary,

Since the dawn of time, humans have prioritized urgent above important. Running from the lion seemed more crucial than planting crops to last through the winter. But that kind of human nature can cripple companies. You need to plan for the future as well.

When management gets together to plan the strategy, they need to take the future into account. Not just the products that will make us money in six months but those that will determine the direction of the organization in five years. They cannot keep stalling these long-term projects while the short-term ones finish or they will not be around five years from now when we need them.

So how do we do this? We have a couple of options:

1) Dedicate a group of people to work on these long-term projects and make their time unavailable to work on shorter-term projects. Kind of like the R in R&D.

2) Prioritize these along with the others but, once the priority list is established, balance the portfolio to ensure that the company's future is also ensured.

Good luck,

PM Advisor.

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Dear PM Advisor. Oct 12, 2015

Dear PM Advisor, Having read your posts about prioritizing projects, I'm a little confused. Shouldn't all authorized projects be fully resourced and those not authorized remain unstaffed? I'm used to more of a binary solution.

IO in Manchester, NH

Dear IO,

You are not alone. Many companies in a relatively low level of Project Management Maturity have a binary system. If an idea is good, management authorizes it, applies resources against it and expects it to complete on time and on budget. There are a couple of problems with this:

1) Usually there are not enough resources to go around. The proper thing to do is to determine how many of each skill-set are required to complete each project on schedule. If you determine this number and start staffing up your projects properly, you will invariably find you can fully resource less than half the projects you have authorized. That's why they are all running behind schedule.

2) Even when you get to the point where you are only running enough projects for the resources on hand, there still are bottle-neck people and organizations. What do you do with a person who comes into their office and is faced with five different projects to work on that day? Even if they are capable of doing all this work today, which task should be first? For that reason you need to prioritize the authorized projects so that those most important to the business are worked on first.

But the reality is that I have never seen an organization where the resources are neatly spread out amongst the active projects. There are always resource constraints. People need to know what to do in which order. And if management doesn't set this priority, people will set it themselves and not necessarily in a way that represents the best interests of the company.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

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Dear PM Advisor. Nov 24, 2014

Dear PM Advisor, I am studying the Procurement Section of the PMBOK and don't understand the term: Privity of ContractsCan you explain this term in layman's language?

Private in Peshwar.

Dear Private,

Privity of Contracts sounds like something you do in the bathroom.

I'm no expert on procurement so I first looked through the PMBOK and couldn't find the term. I Googled it and it says, in effect, that a contract exists between a buyer and a seller and a person further down the line is not privy to this contract so he cannot sue one of the contracted parties. For example, a manufacturer sells to a distributor, they sell to a retailer, they sell to a consumer. The consumer is not privy to the contract between the manufacturer and distributor so he cannot sue. Of course, tort suits can still be filed if the product is defective.

But looking over my words, I'm not sure how that helps you in your case. So I asked my friend Bala who deals with these contracts often. Here is his response:

Privity of Contracts protects the buyer by preventing the seller from subcontracting out the work to a third party. 

Aha! In this way, the buyer ensures that the work contracted out is done by the firm they have contracted with, not some fly-by-night subcontractor. That make sense to me. How about you?

Good luck,

PM Advisor.

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Dear PM Advisor. Nov 17, 2014

Dear PM Advisor, I'm learning about the different types of contracts: Fixed Price, Cost Plus, etc. I'm curious what my current project would be classified as. It is a Turnkey EPC (Engineering, Procurement & Construction) Contract with a Price Variation Clause. 

Various in Varanasi,

Dear Various,

I'm not sure what the Price Variation Clause is on your particular project but it usually varies depending on certain commodities like the price of oil or steel. If that is the case, you are dealing with a Fixed Price - Economic Price Adjusted type of contract.

In these contracts the price of the work is set and agreed to by both parties but the commodity is split out and varies based on the world price over the course of the work. As people use oil and steel, the buyer pays that commodity price in addition to the work being done.

Good luck,

PM Advisor.

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Dear PM Advisor. Nov 10, 2014

Dear PM Advisor, A low level team member on my team is the brother-in-law of the company's Managing Director. How do I treat him on my project?

Stepping on Eggshells in Bangalore

Dear Eggshells,

It really depends on how much the Managing Director likes his brother-in-law and what his plans are for him. Does he plan on grooming this team member as his replacement or is he just finding a job for him as a favor to his sister? Does the Managing Director want him to succeed or fail? Does he view it as your job to make him look good or are you required to test him to see if he has what it takes to make it in this company?

The bottom line is that the Managing Director is a major stakeholder of your project. You need to talk to him. First about the project like you would with any other stakeholder. Ask the typical stakeholder questions:

  • What does he want to have the project accomplish?
  • What are some potential pitfalls?
  • How often does he want communications about the project, what type and in what media?
  • Who else cares about this project?

But add another question just for him:

  • What is your goal for your brother-in-law over the course of this project?

You may not get a truthful answer so you also need to ask other high-level stakeholders the same question:

  • What is the Managing Director's goal for his brother-in-law?

Then set out to manage his expectation just as you are trying to manage all the other stakeholder's expectations.

Good luck,

PM Advisor.

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Dear PM Advisor. Nov 3, 2014

Dear PM Advisor, What percent of questions need some calculation in the PMP exam?

Math Geek in Mumbai

Dear Math Geek,

I wish it were all of them. Because I know when I get those correct. The philosophical questions test to see if you can think the same way as the PMI so there is more uncertainty there.

That being said, let's see what questions are likely to require calculations:

1 - 2 about number of communication channels (just remember C = n(n-1)/2)

1 - 2 Earned Value scenarios, each with 3 - 5 questions associated

2 - 3 Cost Plus Fee questions

1 - 2 Net Present Value questions

1 - 2 Normal distribution/6 sigma questions

2 - 3 PERT questions (just remember Pert = (O + 4*ML + P)/6)

And if you consider Network Diagramming calculations, 1 -2 of those with 3 - 5 questions in each

So you are looking at a range of 13 - 32 calculation questions within the 200. Most likely these are all within the 175 questions that count so around 15% of your questions require calculations and you can check your work to ensure you got them right.

Good luck,

PM Advisor.

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Dear PM Advisor. Oct 27, 2014

Dear PM Advisor, I'm taking a PMP Preparation class. How long do the PDUs I earn in this class last?

Learning in Lahore

Dear Learning,

I'm going to assume you are taking a PMP prep class in preparation for sitting for your PMP exam for the first time. In that case there is no date at which the education your are obtaining runs out. According to the PMP handbook linked here, there are years during which your PM experience apply but your education can be 50 years ago for all they care.

If you are taking the class to earn PDUs for maintaining your certification, you must report them in the next three-year period during which you need to obtain 60 credits.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

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Dear PM Advisor. Oct. 20, 2014

Dear PM Advisor, What’s a WBS Dictionary and how do you use it?

Poor Speller in Chicago

Dear Poor Speller,

The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is the oldest tool in the Project Manager’s toolkit and one of the more graphic ones. It is the first opportunity for the PM to express his style as he shows the way he intends to organize the project. Will he organize it by phase, function, or deliverable? How many levels will he go before work starts to be done? I always love watching the way a PM drafts his WBS; it is a look into his mind.

One thing about a graphic tool such as a WBS: there is no room for paragraphs or even sentences. Nouns and adjectives are all you have room to work with. And sometimes a chunk of work requires more than that to allow those executing the work to know what needs to be done. That’s where the WBS Dictionary comes in. It is a tool that provides more detail around a piece of work that is in the WBS. Not every WBS element must be defined, just those that need it.

I don’t strictly use a WBS Dictionary as a stand-alone tool. But when I enter WBS elements into the Gantt chart, I’ll use the Notes tab on that line to enter additional details.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

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Dear PM Advisor. Oct 13, 2014

Dear PM Advisor, I'm a Project Manager working for an electronics firm making laptops. My technical team says our battery is a huge risk in environmental hazards. As PM, should I recommend a change in product or battery use to ensure the company is not penalized due to this project?

Battered in Mumbai

Dear Battered,

Aha! An ethical dilemma! I love it! 

Depending on your project setup you may have somebody on your team representing regulatory or legal who should be making this call. If you do not, or you believe they are acting unethically, it is your responsibility to act ethically and ensure that the company does not violate any rules or regulations. 

As a Project Management Professional you sign a code of conduct that insists you act in an ethical manner. While doing so may hurt your career in the short term, you will always be better off in the long term. And taking short-cuts for short-term gains never pays off in the long term. 

But you don't need me to tell you that. Take any religious text or even Plato and they will agree with me. Below is my personal motto that you are free to take:

Do the right thing

Do the thing right

Good luck,

PM Advisor

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Dear PM Advisor. Oct 6, 2014

Dear PM Advisor, I see that the grades I can receive when taking my PMP exam are 'not proficient', 'moderately proficient' and 'highly proficient', Can you explain the value of securing moderately proficient versus highly proficient on my PMP certificate in career perspective?

Overachiever in Delhi

Dear Overachiever,

As far as anyone other than you is concerned, the PMP test is graded Pass/Fail. Nobody asks for your grade. Like most credentials, you either have it or you don't.

So why does PMI grade it in such a way? Self-preservation.

The PMP exam is a HUGE moneymaker for the organization. $500 a pop for hundreds of thousands of people adds up fast. When I took the exam back in the last millennium (1999), there was a minimum score and they graded applicants with a number. I believe I barely passed which told me I studied exactly enough.

But picture what happens to those who barely fail. They are out $500 and want to argue with the PMI on the correctness of their answers. Especially some of the philosophical questions that ask you what you would do in a certain situation. You can claim to be doing the right thing and PMI disagrees. Who to mediate?

So the PMI protects itself by not telling you which questions you got right or wrong. It only tells you that you scored each section with a particular proficiency.

Never mind, just take my advice and pass the test and tell everyone you scored highly proficient.

Good luck,

PM Advisor.

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Dear PM Advisor. Sep 29, 2014

Dear PM Advisor,  What are the ideal numbers of projects a PM should be conferred upon simultaneously to effectively manage the projects?

Overworked in Lagos

Dear Overworked,

The first answer to this question is: It depends. It depends on how big the projects are. If you are working on a huge new drug development project, this may be your only job for the next seven years and you may have a project coordinator/administrator who keeps track of status and updates your Gantt chart and budgets for you.

If you are managing a self-sufficient team on a small project you may only require an hour a week to stay on top of this.

Typically you are somewhere between these two extremes and you end up being placed on multiple projects.

If you plan your projects properly, they Gantt chart should be able to show your manager how many hours of your time are required by each project on a weekly basis and that should be the primary indicator of how many projects you can work on.

However, keeping all that information from getting mixed up in your head brings you to a practical upper limit of the amount of projects you can manage simultaneously: FIVE.

Don't let anyone assign you more than that.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

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Dear PM Advisor. Sep 22, 2014

Dear PM Advisor In a small company where the PMO is absent, what should be the role for Project Manager?

Alone in Lahore

Dear Alone

The Project Management Office has a lot of traditional roles, many of which can be taken over by a Project Manager in a company without the PMO. Let's look at them:

  1. Maintain the PM templates
  2. Keep all the project records
  3. Train the Project Managers
  4. Provide PMs to the organization
  5. Write the Project Management Guide
  6. Facilitate the steering committee
  7. Organize project prioritization 
  8. Decide on Project Organization style

So in your situation you can do roles 1 and 2, get yourself trained and be the PM for the organization. Writing the Project Management Guide should be done no matter what and you can have a streamlined guide in your current role. 

When it comes time to setting up a high-level steering committee and getting the organization to agree on project priorities, your success depends entirely on your personality.  

Deciding on the Organization Style is pretty simple. Your company has already decided on Functional, Projectized or Matrix. If Matrix, you cannot be strong since you don't have a PMO. If you are called a PM, it seems like you are, you are in a balanced matrix. If not, you're in a weak matrix structure.

Take advantage of the lack of structure to do whatever you want to make life as a PM easier. 

Good luck,

PM Advisor 

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Dear PM Advisor. Sep 15, 2014

Dear PM Advisor, What improvements you have experienced with IT Projects using PMBOK as a reference?

Lighter side in Calcutta

Dear Lighter side,

While I can't claim to be there at the beginnings of PMI, I was one of the first people in my industry to have received the PMP credential. I have seen it become more familiar and progress to the point where people are requesting the credential amongst new hires and even long-term employees.

Along with this change there there has, naturally, been a greater knowledge of and use of the PMBOK guide. More people are referring to the PMBOK and using the terminology within. So the biggest improvement I have found is the standardization of language.

Remember that the PMBOK is not a methodology. It tells you what to do, not when to do it or how a particular tool should be used. So the greater improvement I have seen has come from the use of various Project Management methodologies. People go out for training or send their entire team out to the same course and they come back fired up with the way to make projects work more efficiently within their organization. Even better is when a methodology is brought in-house and taught to the entire organization at various levels.

All these training courses seem to have embraced the PMI terminology so there is more consistency between the courses as to what they call each tool.

So the real advantage is that PM knowledge transfers easily between companies and even industries due to the standardization of terms championed by the PMI. You can learn your PM skills at one company and move to another without encountering a huge learning curve in these skills.

Good luck,

PM Advisor.

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Dear PM Advisor. Sep 8, 2014

Dear PM Advisor, In your Project Management experience, how do you manage the individual working styles? For example I worked in project where the development team is in the UK. The typical problem I faced was a team member who overwrites in my email and sends it back. I spend hours understanding what is his response to my email. 

Muddled in Mumbai

Dear Muddled,

Remember that 90% of Project Management is communiucation. Communication is difficult enough when we all speak the same language. Everyone has developed their own way of communicating and it rarely matches anyone elses. Witness almost every married couple for examples of how people who live together daily miscommunicate.

It gets much harder on global projects where some use English as a second language. Here are some things I have done to help facilitate communication in these environments:

  1. When English is a struggle, require a translator with the group who uses English as a second language during status meetings
  2. Speak slowly and pause for translations during long speeches
  3. Use as little jargon as possible unless it is well-known by all participants
  4. Set up ground rules for e-mail communication, talking over each other, etc.
This last rule might help with your specific problem. What you are saying the team member does seems pretty reasonable to me not having seen the results. When I receive an e-mail with a lot of questions, I answer next to each question and write "Answers within your text for clarity' in the body of my response.
Perhaps your problem child doesn't format his answers obviously. I recommend using a different color, bold my responses and make sure there is a carriage return between each response. 
Good luck,
PM Advisor
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Dear PM Advisor. Sep 1, 2014

Dear PM Advisor, I’ve been taking practice PMP tests and struggle with ones where they ask me something is a tool or technique in one of the processes. Other than memorizing every single tool, technique, input and output in every process, how am I supposed to know these?

Feeling like a tool in San Diego.

Dear Tool,

And I mean that in the nicest sense of the word. There are a few tricks I’ve discovered to help you with this problem. The first one is, as you’ve suggested, memorizing every input, tool, technique and output in every process. I have a cheat sheet that you can memorize linked here. It will take a normal person about five hours to do so. If you are willing to spend the time on this, bring it with you in your mind and spend the first 10 minutes of your four hours transcribing this on the pieces of paper they give you when you take your test. Then, when you are faced with these questions, look them up and you know you got another question right.

For those who’d rather spend their time doing other things, here are some hints:

  1. Tools or techniques = doing something
  2. Inputs or outputs = something you can hold

About half the time, the question will ask which of the following is or is not a tool or an input or an output.

Eg: Perform Qualitative Risk Analysis

Inputs = Risk mgmt plan

Scope baseline

Risk Register


Outputs = Project Doc updates

Tools = Risk prob and impact assessment

Prob & Impact matrix

Risk data qual assessment

Risk categorization

Risk Urgency assess

Expert Judgment

Good luck,

PM Advisor

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Dear PM Advisor. Aug 25, 2014

Dear PM Advisor, I struggle with all the Earned Value Formulae. Any hints for making this portion of the PMP test easier to study for?

Can’t see the value in Albuquerque

Dear Can’t,

Once you struggle with the more philosophical questions on the PMP exam you’ll see the calculations like those Earned Value ones as a breath of fresh air. But first let me give you some hints to make these easier for you.

You are usually given some numbers and asked to calculate the rest. I’m going to assume you know some elementary Algebra before you take the test. Here are the three numbers you are usually given: Planned Value (PV), Actual Cost (AC) and Earned Value (EV). If they are evil they will give you one of the below formulae and you will need to use that basic Algebra to determine the missing number from above. Either way, you’ll need to remember the following formulae and below I’ll show you the easy way to do this.

There are four rules to remember:

  1. EV always come first in the calculation
  2. AC goes with anything that says Cost
  3. Negative Variances are always bad
  4. Indexes less than 1.0 are always bad

So let’s put these rules to the test. You are asked to calculate Cost Variance. You get Variances by subtracting one number from another. Rule 1 says EV always goes first. Rule 2 says AC goes with any Cost calculation.

Thus CV = EV –AC  Simple, right?

What does that leave you with for Schedule Variance?  EV goes first, Rule 2 is not in effect so the only thing left to put in the equation is PV.

Thus SV = EV – PV.

The same two rules apply for the Index calculations.

Cost Performance Index requires EV to go first, only this time the EV goes in on top of the line. We’re talking about cost so AC goes on the bottom.

Thus CPI = EV/AC

SPI must use PV since that’s all that’s left.

Thus SPI = EV/PV

Rules 3 and 4 help you convert formulae into reality. If you have a negative SV, you are behind schedule. A negative CV means you are OVER budget. Don’t get confused by the negative number. Negative is bad, being over budget is bad.

Same with the indexes. Less than 1 is bad so a SPI of 0.8 means you are behind schedule. Over 1.0 is good so a CPI of 1.2 means you are UNDER budget.

Remembering these hints will help you with about 5 of the 200 questions you will be faced with. For those that require TCPI or ETC, you just have to memorize the formulae. More on these in a future post.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

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Dear PM Advisor. Aug 18, 2014

Dear PM Advisor, How would you define and measure EVM?



Dear Hugo,

That's a quick question with a long answer.

I define Earned Value Management as the only objective way of measuring that you get what you pay for. It is an objective way of determining true project % complete because it uses baseline costs to give you credit for completion of tasks.

Here is a link to the method I use to measure EVM:

Good luck,

PM Advisor.

Dear PM Advisor. Aug 18, 2014

Dear PM Advisor, How would you define and measure EVM?



Dear Hugo,

That's a quick question with a long answer.

I define Earned Value Management as the only objective way of measuring that you get what you pay for. It is an objective way of determining true project % complete because it uses baseline costs to give you credit for completion of tasks.

Here is a link to the method I use to measure EVM:

Good luck,

PM Advisor.

Dear PM Advisor. Jul 14, 2014

Dear PM Advisor,

I attended your class in New Jersey and have a follow-up question. As a teacher we are often subject to decisions made by higher-level administration. They decide which  projects are run and these projects often result in additional or even nonsensical work for us lowly teachers.

What is your advice for us?

Peeved in Pequannock

Dear Peeved,

These are projects for which you are not a team member I assume. But since you are affected by the outcome of these projects, you are, by definition, a stakeholder. You and the other 100,000 teachers affected by some of these high level projects.  It’s almost as if you share a common core.

Stakeholders should always be considered during proper project management. Those running the project should place you on a Power/Interest grid and deal with you appropriately. Your level of Interest should be rated as extremely high but your Power, unfortunately, would be rated as low. What can you really do about these demands pushed down from above?

Your union, however, should also be on this grid and their Power is high. If you and your fellow teachers ensure that their Interest level on new projects is high also, new projects will be forced to deal with them.

I suggest you ask your union to require that a representative teacher be involved at the earliest stages of any new project. This way a high Power, high Interest stakeholder can be fully informed about what is going on and can gather comments from teachers and ensure that their interests are being met on future projects.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

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