What are the Responsibilities of a Project Manager?


As defined in What is a Project post; “the role of the project manager is to deliver the project on time, within budget and with the needs of the business fully met”.

Project Manager

8 Key Tasks that a Project Manager will Need to Do:

  1. Clarify the Objectives: it is very important for the project success to have clear objectives, the project will be judge on how well these objectives are delivered
  2. Develop the Plan: this is a route that will help the team to achieve the project objective
  3. Manage and Motivate the Team: making sure all team members know what needs to be done, by whom and in what order; motivation plays an important part as the team spirit must be positive and focus on the task
  4. Manage the Risks: every project has risks, the longer the project the more risks. These can be related to resources, technology, changes in scope, competitive moves, etc.
  5. Deal with Problems: the faster a problem is managed the less riskier it becomes; the majority of problems have simple solutions but if the project manager takes time to detect these or act on it then problems can become major risks
  6. Measure Progress: the only way to know if progress is going as planned, is to know the difference between forecast and actuals; this can be done by measuring scope completion vs timeline, actual cost vs budgeted
  7. Communicate: one of the most important skills for any project manager is communication. The only way to tell whether a communication has worked is by what the recipients do as a result
  8. Steer the Project to Completion: is the responsibility of the project manager to guide the team members through the project completion and deliver the objectives stablished by the organisation

Management Skills of a Project Manager:

  1. Leadership style: they tend to focus on getting team focus on completing their allocated work
  2. Management style: they are team players who need to use their skills and knowledge to motivate the team
  3. People management: they usually have no direct authority over the team and need to use influencing skills
  4. How are they measured: by whether the project is completed on time, to budget and to scope

What is a Project?


A project can be described as a temporary organisation that will focus on the:

  1. creation of a group of business deliverables as defined by the project scope
  2. within an agreed time frame (usually of a year or less)
  3. within cost budget and quality parameters

A project is the implementation of a change, with a beginning, middle and an end. It will also have a finite time frame, it will be unique (every project is different in some way), people are involved and it will usually have finite resources.

project-management

There is a direct correlation between the size of a project and its risk of failure. The duration of a project should be preferably of no more than one year.

A project its justified by its business case and will deliver some form of new product, service, system or business process.

3 Characteristics of a Project:

  1. it must have a goal
  2. it must be initiated, as projects do not usually happen spontaneously
  3. it needs someone (project manager) to run it and steer it through to achievement of the goal

Every Project Should:

  1. have documented objectives (which have been agreed by management) and adequate resources allocated to carry out the project
  2. be managed by a project manager
  3. defined project life cycle and outline project plan
  4. any changes to project objectives or requirements (scope) should have been recognised and documented
  5. be reviewed by senior management on a periodic basis
  6. submit regular progress reports, with some measure of their planned and actual performance on budget and timescale

The role of the project manager is to deliver the project on time, within budget and with the needs of the business fully met.

Top Components of an Elevator Pitch


The elevator pitch is as important as the business plan, some people call it twitter pitch (but I think 140 characters might be too short).

Bplans explain what components a perfect elevator pitch must have; every single angle of a business plan in a short visionary version is laid out.

Top components of an elevator pitch:

1) Problem:

First you need to be clear about what problem your business will solve; without this there is simple no business. People require solutions to the challenges and issues they face. The definition must be simple and straight forward, so everyone can simply see the pain point:

  • “communication with remote teams can be complex”
  • “completing paperwork for a A&E doctor is time-consuming”
  • “filling out your tax return is difficult”

2) Solution:

When you have defined the problem, the solution needs to be explained. This also needs to be simple and focused.

3) Market:

Who is experiencing the problem you described?; it’s critical that you always keep in mind the persona you are targeting, their problem points, what pressing issues keep this person up at night. If your market is too big, then follow the divide and conquer strategy, segment you target market and prioritise the same.

4) Competition:

To have competition means that there is a market for the problem you are trying to solve, you also need to think not only on direct competition but alternatives. Like a wristwatch company competing with mobile phones, also think how well they solve your target market and which opportunities you have to differentiate your value proposition and positioning yourself differently.

5) Team 

People is far more important that ideas, people is what make ideas work. You need to explain how well this team can work together, what skills are they bringing to your company. You don’t need to have all the team in place but you need to understand what gaps you have and how you plan to close those gaps and when.

6) Financial summary

In here you basically need to clarify your business model; how you create value and how you convert that value into profit. Remember numbers never lie, be hard with your numbers, you need to do sales forecast and expense budget (these are based on assumptions).

7) Milestones

In here you present a high level plan, no need to enter in details but clearly identify large milestones / phases; their ordering, dependencies and when these will happen. This is the operational plan and it will picture your business as real as possible.

This great infographic from Bplans explains each component of an elevator pitch.

7 key components of a perfect elevator pitch

Source: The 7 Key Components of a Perfect Elevator Pitch [with infographic]

How Leaders Create Conditions for Change


Leaders can not dictate the culture, but they can nurture it. they can create the right conditions for change, creativity and innovation. Leader can multiply the effect of a team. Liz Wiseman interviewed more than 150 leaders to research her book Multipliers: How the best leaders make everyone smarter.

Leading a team

Leaders who are multipliers can double the output of a team or a company and improve morale in the process, here is how you can become a multiplier:

  1. be a talent magnet, who attracts and retains the best people and help them to reach their highest potential
  2. find a worthy challenge or mission that motivate people to stretch their thinking
  3. encourage debate that allows different views to be expressed and considered
  4. give team members ownership of results

These are basic dynamics for groups:

  • great groups believe they are on a mission beyond mere financial success, they believe they will make the world a better place
  • they are more optimistic than realistic
  • they ship
  • belonging to a strong creative group can be one of the most rewarding aspects of working life

In Agile, What to do if Team Velocity is not as you Planned?


If after three or four sprints you notice your velocity is not where you had hoped it would be, do not panic. This might happen, this is why you need to set expectations accordingly and told your client not to trust your initial plans. The good news is that by the time you know about it, you can adjust course as necessary.

Team velocity

Being flexible about scope is the preferred method for restoring balance.

The important thing is to have the conversation and give your client some options. Yes, this may make you uncomfortable, but you can’t hide this stuff. Bad news early is the agile way.

There is one strategy for ensuring that when you do have the “too much to do, not enough time” conversation:

If you can’t deliver a minimalist version of the application with the time and resources you have got, then the plan is clearly wrong and needs to change.

It works like this:

  1. take one or two really important features for your project (something core that goes from end to end through your entire architecture) and
  2. measure how long it takes to build a minimalistic version of those features

Then use that against your remaining relatively sized stories to see whether a minimalistic version of the application is even possible with the time and resources you have.

If your dates are looking good, right on, if your dates are looking bad, great, at least you know about it now.

When you need to change the plan conversation from, It is not based on wishful thinking. There is no need to get emotional, it is just the facts. It is better to know this now than later.

In Agile, How to Handle New Client Requirements?


When your customer discovers what they really want in their project, ask them how they would like to handle it. You can push out the release date or add more resources (which is like saying we are going to need more money), or you can drop some of the less important stories from the to-do list (preferred).

Managing change requests

Don’t get emotional when you have this conversation. It is not your call to make. You are simply communicating.

Your responsibility is to:

  1. make them aware of the impact of their decisions and
  2. give them the information they need to make an informed decision.

If your client really wants it all, create a nice-to-have list and tell them that if there is time at the end of the project, these are the first stories you will do.

But make it clear, the nice-to-haves are currently off the table and are not going to be part of the core plan.

How to move a slow project to Agile?


You are running a project that is not going well, progress is not as planned, confidence on meeting a deadline is low, what you are currently doing is not working and you need to get something out of the door fast.

You have read about agile and understand the benefits of this way of delivering, but you are already in the middle of the project and do not know how to transition your slow motion project into an agile one.

Project Management

How to transition a slow motion project into agile?

1) You need to make sure everyone is on the same page

  • Why you are there
  • What you are trying to accomplish
  • Who’s the customer
  • What big rocks you need to move
  • Who’s calling the shots

If there is any doubt about these, ask the tough questions and get some alignment.

2) You need to start delivering

If you have to ship something fast, throw out the current plan, and create a new one you can believe in. Just as if you are creating a new agile plan from scratch, create a to-do list, size things up, set some priorities and deliver the minimal amount of functionality to get something out the door.

If you need to show progress but have to work within the confines of your original plan, start delivering something of value every week.

Take one or two valuable features each week and just do them completely. Once you have shown you can deliver (and regained an element of trust), slowly rework the plan and define a release based on your now measured team velocity and how much work there is remaining.

Then simply keep delivering until you have something you can ship. Update the plan as you go, execute fiercely, and use the sense of urgency you have been giving to blow through anything standing in your way.

5 Delivery Principles for a Digital Team


Too many of digital projects do not work well, are delivered late, over budget or not fit to purpose. To increase the success rate of these projects, there is the need of a new approach.

1. Put users’ needs first

The products and services you deliver should be driven by the needs of your users, not what suits you as providers. This means you need to invest time and effort to regularly engage with users and the contexts in which they interact with what you produce.

2. Make decisions based on data

Simply stating a user’s needs is insufficient, you need to counsel these needs with sound qualitative and quantitative data, and use that data to make objective decisions about what to deliver and when. Data is not making choices easier, but it will help you to take better decisions.

3. Release iteratively and often

Stop doing ‘big’ releases, these tend to frustrate users and put at risk the organisation. Work Agile, start small with the minimum viable product, test it and release it as soon as possible on a timescale of days and weeks, rather than months or years. Repeat the process many times over, adding to your products and services based on feedback, tests and changes to technology.

4. Keep it simple and consistent

You will do the hard work not to over-think or over-complicate things. Whether a user is new or experienced, task-driven or browsing, they will able to get started quickly, flow through the process with ease and trust the integrity of the results. Keep always usability in mind.

5. Do the hard work behind the scenes

Great digital product or service doesn’t rest entirely on what  appears on-screen. Your work doesn’t stop when you send something live. Care about the running of products and services, from their discovery, development and throughout the time they are operational.

If you want to know what other organisations are doing, the U.S. Digital Services Playbook is a fantastic read.

Agile Product Development


In agile product development is very hard to have the best product right away, so commit to rapid and continuous improvements is the way to go. Of course, the messiness of trial and error may seem uncomfortable, but action allows us to learn at a faster rate.

In agile product development avoid the paralysis by analysis
In agile product development avoid the paralysis by analysis

The following insightful story comes from the book Art & Fear:

A clever ceramics instructor divided his pottery class into 2 groups. One half of the students would be graded on quality and the other half would be grade on quantity.

Thought out the course, the “quality” students funnelled all the energy into crafting the perfect ceramic piece, they studied the right mix of materials, the correct measures, weight, optimal temperature, did an extensive research and produced one “perfect” product.

While the second half students do not care about the “perfect” product, but produced pots in every session non stop.

At the end, although it was counterintuitive to his students, yo can guess how his experiment came out at the end of the course, the best pieces all come from students whose goal was quantity, the ones who spent the most time actually practicing their craft.

This lesson is applicable to a much broader view, if you want to make something great, you need to start making. Looking for perfection can get in the way during the early stages of the creative process. Do not get stuck in planing and start acting.

All the over-planing, talking are sings that we are afraid, that we don’t just feel ready;  that tendency leads us to wait rather than act, to perfect rather than launch.

* Image credit istock.com

Stop Planing and Start Acting


Being creative and innovative is not enough, you still need to act.

Many people get stuck between wanting to act and taking action. Professors Bob Sutton and Jeffrey Pfeffer call this the “knowing-doing gap”: the space between what we know we should do and what we actually do. This cal lead the company to have a paralysis by analysis, this is when talk becomes a substitute for action.

Yoya, Do or do not there is no try

A corporate example of paralysis by analysis is Eastman Kodak company, in mid 1990’s the leadership team had a deep expertise and intellectually understood that the future of photography was digital, Kodak had actually invented the digital camera in 1975 and later they pioneered the world’s first megapixel sensor. So why all this knowledge and technology was not marketed by Kodak, why they didn’t take action?

Kodak had basically owned the consumer and professional photography market for at least 100 years, with in some segments having a market share as high as 90%. Facing strong global competitors in the digital market like Cannon, Sony, Nikon, Kodak knew that it will struggle and the management team had fear of failure.

What happened to Kodak is not due to lack of information or leadership expertise; its failure was to not being able to turn insight into action, as a result one of the most important corporations lost its way.

To achieve goals, to overcome obstacles in your way, you have to be focused on getting it done now. As Yoda (from Stars Wars) put it to Luke Skywalker “Do or do not. There is no try”.

8 Ticks to turn insight into action:

  1. Start with the end goal in mind
  2. Fight procrastination by adopting “do it now!” as your mantra
  3. Don’t plan out everything you need to do to finish a project, just focus on the very next thing you need to do to move it forward
  4. Assign a set amount of time per day to work on a task or project
  5. Un-clutter, be able to access what you need, when you need it, without breaking the flow of your work to find it
  6. Break down large goals into smaller steps to make the journey to completion more doable
  7. Prioritise, certain tasks will always hold more priority than others
  8. Stop chasing perfection, getting things done shouldn’t involve mastering perfection

* Image credit hitwallpaper.com