Author: Dian Schaffhauser

Dian Schaffhauser is MPUG's editor. She's been covering project management, business transformation and topics technical as a journalist and editor since IBM released its first PC. She invites you to send your best story ideas for MPUG to her at She promises to let you know what she really thinks.

How to Use Free Analyst Reports to Build Your Case for Microsoft Project

If you’re ever in the position of needing to sell your senior executives on the idea of using Microsoft products for your project and portfolio management (PPM) work, take a lesson from Microsoft itself: Exploit the contents of analyst reports. Recently, for example, Arpan Shah, the director of the Microsoft Project business crowed about his products’ strong rankings in the 2010 Gartner Magic Quadrant for IT PPM. His blog entry on the subject even includes a public link to the report, which Microsoft licensed for redistribution. By making this report freely available for a period, Microsoft boosts its case for serious consideration by major companies that only want to work with best-of-breed tools from vendors with staying power. And that’s the same approach you can use in making the case for a move to Project 2010 from earlier releases or even to continue use of a formal PPM approach within your operations. The primary analyst firms that follow the PPM market include not only Gartner, but also IDC and Forrester. In each case the analysis typically examines a broad range of competing products that meet certain criteria (such as a feature set that addresses the most critical customer needs) to help readers understand how to distinguish one product from another and to lay out what the analysts view as a given product’s strengths and weaknesses. In other words, these evaluations help to position products. By quoting judiciously from these reports, your effort to sell your boss on the use of Project and Project Server 2010 can go beyond these anemic arguments: “We’ve always used Project and that’s what our project managers know best!” Or “Project 2010 has a whole bunch of new features that will save us time!” How much more compelling to put together a memo with these bold-faced jewels: As IDC has reported in “IT Project and Portfolio Management 2010 Vendor Analysis”: Organizations emerging from last year’s financial crisis with complex sourcing and increased management challenges demand automated solutions for improved communication, metrics, and governance… For IT project portfolio management in particular, [Project 2010 includes] tight integration with Visual Studio 2010 and Team Foundation Server (TFS). Enabling visibility across the life cycle with a portfolio view potentially enables strategic decision making, metrics, and prioritization across development projects… Using SharePoint as a central collaboration point has also helped to drive growth generally for Microsoft Project as an all-purpose project management solution and offers chances for greater communication across far-flung distributed resources for IT PPM as well. Or how about this excerpt from the Gartner report, “MarketScope for Project and Portfolio Management Applications” to cater to that manager of yours who can’t get enough SharePoint or is continually trying to tighten the budget?” “Microsoft Project Server 2010 is a landmark release for Microsoft, and for PPM prospective users and existing Project Server customers, because it is in this release in which Microsoft includes SharePoint 2010 as a the foundation for workflow, document management and collaboration… From a license fee perspective, Microsoft Project Server 2010 can be one of the more cost-effective…PPM systems.” Gartner Matt Light offers a concise list of strengths and challenges in his mini-report worth referencing, “Microsoft Project 2010 Adapts to Thrive.” Among the strengths he references: a “smoother transition than previous upgrades”; the ability to let “online users do basic scheduling without a desktop client”; and the addition of a focus shift from “single project delivery to better project selection.” Forrester’s latest full evaluation of PPMs came in late 2009 with the publication of “Forrester Wave: Project Portfolio Management, Q4 2009.” But you won’t find that report cited in Microsoft blogs. (Here, we’re linking to it from Primavera owner Oracle’s sponsorship of the report.) The report appeared months before Project 2010 was released, and the analyst firm promoted other products as being more robust than Project 2007. Although Forrester doesn’t list an update to its PPM evaluation on its schedule of upcoming projects, we believe the company will have to update its appraisal at some point in the near future as part of helping guide its customers through choosing tools to help with the painful IT project prioritization process brought on by the economic downturn. When you’re faced with the job of persuading your leadership to upgrade or maintain its commitment to the use of the latest version of Microsoft Project, there’s no crime in bringing in the big names to help you build your business case. They’ve seen almost every product out there; they’ve had to help their clients sort through the PPM options; and they know the grass isn’t necessarily greener anywhere else, but they will let you know where it’s patchy.

High-flying Jumpstart: Cloud-based Project Management

Microsoft Project Server 2010, described as “a landmark release” by Gartner in the IT research company’s latest assessment of project and portfolio management (PPM) applications, is nonetheless a highly complex application. Few organizations have the resources internally to get the enterprise project management system up and running effectively on premises. The implementation obstacle is compounded by the need to integrate the solution with the existing infrastructure and to make it make it available all the time and on a global scale. As result, many companies call in Microsoft partners to get Project Server implemented and running for them. Unfortunately, a sizable implementation often requires a six-digit investment that may or may not pay off within your environment. That overall complexity, long lead time, and hefty price tag may drive your company or agency away from trying out Project Server 2010, even if you have ample project management expertise. Fortunately, a number of businesses have taken Project Server to the “cloud,” which can make your entry smoother and more economical. The Advantages of Cloud-based PPM In general, PPM delivered as software-as-a-service provides several advantages. A major advantage of cloud-based offerings is that the customer doesn’t need to invest in servers or IT staff time to gain the advantages of the technology it wishes to use. The software is licensed, deployed, maintained, and updated on the hosting company’s own hardware. Many cloud-based operations promise backup and disaster recovery plans that often exceed their clients’ internal capabilities. That ensures dedicated enterprise-class reliability and support and helps customers accelerate deployment while reducing their IT infrastructure costs. Most companies that deliver SaaS-based PPM charge a monthly subscription fee to users for access. There’s no need for a customer to make a major investment to get a taste of the product before undertaking a full deployment. For example, you can start with a pilot project and sign up a small test group of users to try out the enterprise project management features. As your organization’s project management expertise expands, the number of subscriptions can incrementally grow or be quickly scaled up to a dedicated environment. Likewise, as Project Server needs shrink within the company, the subscriptions can be reduced. That reduced commitment will allow you to evaluate the impact of adopting PPM across your organization and help you assess its maturity level in terms of people and processes for undertaking PPM. The BeMo Approach BeMo is one company that appears on Microsoft’s shortlist of approved vendors for delivering SaaS-based Project Server 2010. BeMo offers hosted Microsoft Project Server 2010 with high availability, disaster recovery, and on-demand automated provisioning. According to BeMo, customers can get up and running in 30 minutes. Its service levels are set at 99.9 percent uptime. Currently, BeMo deploys its solutions in five different datacenters located in the United States. It will be expanding its offerings in Amsterdam and Singapore before the end of 2011. This Microsoft partner specializes only in hosting Project Server 2010. Because it’s not competing in other areas, BeMo has built a strong ecosystem with a major part of the EPM community in need of hosted solutions. BeMo has several versions of its cloud-based offering for Microsoft Project Server 2010. BeMo Cloud is a multi-tenant service (in which your instance of Project Server runs on the same box as other organizations’ instances of Server) ready in 30-minutes. Monthly subscriptions start at $59.95 per user, and this service has no separate setup or cancellation fees or long-term commitment. For businesses that have 25 or more users and that want a dedicated server for PPM operations, the company offers BeMo VM Lite, a version of the PPM that runs on dedicated virtual machines. That subscription starts at $1,4995.95 and $39.95 per user. A comparable version, called BeMo VM, is designed for 100-plus users and starts at $3,995.95 plus $29.95 per user. Both BeMo VM and VM Lite allow for log-on to Project Server from Project Professional and Excel Services and are enabled for business intelligence, virtual private networking, Exchange, and Active Directory integration. Organizations that wish to move on-premises EPM efforts out of house or need increased capacity can sign up for BeMo Pro, which hosts Project Server 2010 on dedicated physical servers. Intended for operations with at least 250 users, the monthly plan starts at $8,999.95 plus $24.95 per user. BeMo services have attracted customers in multiple segments throughout the world, including big box retail, government, manufacturing, construction, financial services, energy, medical, and software development. Going into the cloud with Microsoft Project Server 2010 offers many advantages. But the primary one is that it removes the barriers to trying out the most flexible EPM platform in the market. You can make a friction-free move from proof of concept to production, enabling your organization to achieve returns on its EPM investment as fast as possible.

Creating a High Performance Project Team

Eric Verzuh has become an expert at taking a project team’s “mojo,” as he calls it, and dissecting its components to understand how to repeat the practices that work and how to eliminate the ones that are getting in the way of gaining top performance among team members. Verzuh, who has gained a reputation for his practical ideas on how to get better at project management, is the president and founder of consulting and training company Versatile. He’s also the best-selling author of the The Fast Forward MBA in Project Management, a Wiley book now in its third edition. Recently, he spoke with MPUG on the topic of high-performance teams. In this interview, Verzuh lays out the phases of team development; explains how to handle a jerk on the team; and offers his thinking on what one characteristic all high performance teams share. MPUG: What distinguishes a high-performance team from a team that’s doing a good job? Eric Verzuh: In how they handle adversity. What distinguishes high-performance companies from companies that just do a good job is that they innovate and jump out in front. High performance companies rely on high performance teams to do this. They don’t have to be producing the next iPad to be innovative. You can have a school district, a local county utility district, facing a tough project. Those teams face adversity. Here’s the other thing that we need to understand about project teams. Project teams come together to solve problems. They don’t come together to do business as usual. The project is about doing something that’s new. That’s what a high performance team does well: it solves problems with so much skill that it energizes the team. It stays strong in the face of adversity. The people on the teams are willing to stick with it both for the good of the cause but also because they care about the other people on the team. MPUG: Projects tend to bring people together for a specified duration, and there’s often the assumption that the participants come in with their own skill sets. They do their jobs, and they move on. Is it necessary to impose the expectation that we need high performance out of this team too? There’s absolutely no question that a talented group of individuals will not accomplish as much as a cohesive group of talented individuals. Any talented team is made up of people with the right skills. If you don’t have the right skills, good luck. It will be a major factor. But a group of individuals who play as a bunch of talented individuals can be beat by the talented individuals that play as a team. Why did we bring this group of people together Because we need them to work together. They don’t just execute. They have to sit down and figure out what the problem is and come up with a solution. That group of diverse skill sets and so forth has to collaborate. MPUG: It sounds like communication is a big deal. I would stress on any project team that the number one communication skill is the ability to listen. I would challenge anybody to rate their team’s communication quality on one factor alone: how well they listen to one another. If they can say to you, “When we sit down together, my number one objective is to make sure I absolutely understand every other person’s point of view,” every other communication issue would be dealt with. MPUG: Going into a new project, you bring these people together. Do you have to have a boss or manager, a team leader? In 1965 a psychologist named Bruce Tuckman came up with something he called the stages of team development: Forming, Storming, Norming, and Performing. Every project goes through common phases. “Forming” refers to the team as it initially comes together. Envision yourself coming together with a bunch of people you don’t work with regularly. You’re part of a new team. How do you feel right now? You’ve probably got a lot of questions. Are you going to challenge my leadership right now? Probably not. You’re optimistic. This is going to be interesting. You’re reluctant to challenge. You’re being super polite. The “Storming” phase is when somebody finally says, “Look, this is a bunch of [bologna], and there’s nothing happening here.” Or “I don’t know why we have this project going on in the first place. The real problem is…” The storming phase is when people have to jump in or they quit. If they’re going to jump in, they have to figure out why this works for them. You end up with a bunch of pushback. You have friction between team members who haven’t figured out how to get along. In the “Norming” phase people have figured that out. They’re doing a good job. They know how to get their jobs done. They know what the rules are. They play well together. But they’re not high performing yet. In the face of adversity, they don’t know how to rise above it. They still rely on the leader to lead them through it. The “Performing” team has learned the skills of resilience, of self planning, of self recovery. They’re the ones who allow the leader to change the way the leader leads. The leader then becomes the enabler — the one who makes sure that these people have what they need but doesn’t really have to tell them where to go. The team is telling itself where to go. It’s not a leaderless team. It’s the team itself that has gained the ability to visualize its direction, to plan, to recover from challenges, to be mature. That’s what a high performance team has. So the first phases — forming, storming, and norming — absolutely need a leader. The performing team is capable of rotational leadership within it. Every team needs a leader. If nobody steps in to fill the leadership role, then the team will flounder. The leadership role is to provide structure and guidelines for the team. It’s not to tell everybody how to do their job. It’s to provide a framework for people to collaborate. MPUG: Besides having the leadership role shift among its members, how do you know you’ve reached that point of having a high performance team? They do a lot of little things well. They run meetings well. They listen to each other well. They deal with conflict. They make decisions rapidly. The team deals with adversity and change with ease. It’s not without effort, but it’s not an emotional event. MPUG: Say that the team gets a new member who turns out to be a jerk — dismissive, glory seeking. How does the high performing team respond? It’s still the leader’s job to deal with that person. That’s one of the leader’s jobs that should not be delegated. I think people like to say that peer pressure is the most powerful tool that you have to deal with people like that. If you get to the point where the team has to deal with that, that means the manager’s not doing his or her job. The high performance team recognizes this disruptive force, but they have some pretty good habits in place, so they continue to move forward. They acknowledge it, but they don’t let it be as disruptive as it could be. And they look to the leader to deal with it, to call somebody on the carpet and say, “These are the behaviors we expect on our team. This is the way we act. This is what we need you to do.” If you get a jerk who can’t adjust his or her behaviors, that jerk will ultimately be disruptive. They’ll cost everybody else more in productivity than they contribute. MPUG: You mentioned that a high performance team is fast at making decisions. What’s its approach? One of the skill sets that a high performance team has is its ability to shift its decision style. There are days when they say this is a consensus decision. Other times it’s a majority rules decision. They understand there are different strengths and weaknesses to different approaches. Sometimes they expect the boss to make the call. We call that the autocratic style. The team understands that and is willing to flex with that. That’s a key leadership attribute, which is to be able to make sure the entire team is aware of how we’re making this decision, why we’re taking this approach, and that people know how to do it. For example, everybody knows how to do a majority vote. But consensus is more challenging. What we don’t want to end up with is a team that feels consensus-bound — meaning we seem paralyzed by our need for consensus. That’s not effective. Consensus isn’t unanimity, and a high performance team understands that. They’re willing to move on when there isn’t a unanimous direction. But because they’ve used the consensus process, the team can continue to stick with the overall direction. MPUG: Here’s a question that everybody will want to know. To be part of a great team, do you have to go away and hold an offsite retreat and do exercises together to get the team off the ground? Here’s the funny thing. Teams bond to two things. They bond to goals and to people. The only reason I would do an offsite is to clarify the goals and the plan. Sometimes they need to get away from all the noise in their lives to be clear about that. So if you take me to an offsite, great. Make sure the offsite is about goals and plans. Make sure that if there are issues, those get space for discussion — such as how we as members of the team will communicate. The other thing I’d encourage people to do is bring a picture of your family. Talk about who you really are. The fact is that is if I’m going to bond to you, it’s because you’re a person, not because you’re the PM, the DBA, the boss.   To learn more about Versatile Company, visit To learn more about Eric Verzuh’s latest book, The Fast Forward MBA in Project Management, visit the Wiley site.  

How to Get Certified in Microsoft Project 2010

If you’re using Microsoft Project Standard 2010 or Professional 2010, Microsoft has developed a new exam to test your capabilities, 70-178, Microsoft Project 2010, Managing Projects. If you pass this exam, you’ll hold the credential, Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MCTS): Microsoft Project 2010,with a specialtyin managing projects. If you’re wondering how well you know Microsoft Project, passing this test will validate your skills. Plus, studies performed by experts in this area have concluded that those who achieve technical certification are more effective on the job. And if you’re seeking employment, you’ll stand apart from other candidates who don’t have proven mastery of a given application and the organization that hires you can expect to reduce its training expense. In this article MPUG provides the basics of achieving your certification in Project 2010. To learn more, we offer a list of frequently-asked questions. The Testing Process Prometric is doingthetesting for Microsoft. Theexam includes about 50 questions and takes 90 to 120 minutes to complete. The questions are multiple choice. And similar to a TSA-level airport screening, you won’t be able to take anything into the examination room with you. (However, you won’t be asked to remove your shoes or belt!) Regarding practice materials, Microsoft partners have begun publishingcourseware, content, and webcasts tohelp you prepare. For now, your best strategy for exam preparation is to refer to the following list of tasks and make sure you know how to do these functions in Project Professional 2010 and Project Standard 2010. What You Need to Know for the Project 2010 Exam TheMicrosoft certification exam for Project 2010 tests your knowledge of desktop features in Project Standard 2010 and Project Professional 2010 and confirms your abilities to manage a project schedule and communicate the project to individuals, teams, and the enterprise or organization where you work. Overall, you should have experience in scheduling, communicating, collaborating on, and delivering projects using Project 2010. But let’s get specific. Following is a list of the activities you should know how to do before you tackle this exam. Initializing Project 2010 Know how to create a new project: This includes: Creating a template from a completed project Creating a project from an existing template Creating a project from an existing project Creating a project from a SharePoint task list Creating a project from a Microsoft Office Excel workbook Know how to create and maintain calendars: This includes: Setting working or non-working hours and days (exceptions and work weeks) for calendars Setting up a base calendar Setting up a resource calendar Setting hours per day Applying calendars at the project level Applying calendars at the task level Applying calendars at the resource levels Know how to create custom fields. This includes: Creating basic formulas Creating graphical indicator criteria Creating a lookup table Creating task custom fields Creating resource fields Know how to customize option settings. This includes: Customizing default task types Customizing manual vs. auto-scheduling Customizing project options Customizing calendar options (for example, working hours per day and hours per week) Customizing the ribbon Customizing a quick access toolbar (for example, settings to share with others) Creating a Task-Based Schedule Know how to set up project information. This includes: Defining the project start date Applying calendars and current date Entering project properties Displaying the project summary task on a new project Know how to create and modify a project task structure. This includes: Creating and modifying summary tasks and subtasks Rearranging tasks Creating milestones Creating manually scheduled tasks Outlining Know how to build a logical schedule model. This includes: Date constraints Deadlines Setting or changing the task mode (manual or auto) Setting dependencies (links) Know how to create a user-controlled schedule. This includes: Entering duration Entering estimated durations Entering user-controlled summary tasks Know how to manage multiple projects. This includes: Shared resource pool Links between projects Inserting sub-projects Managing Resources and Assignments Know how to enter and edit resource information. This includes: Max units Resource types Cost rate table Cost per use Availability Resource group Generic Know how to apply task types and scheduling calculations. This includes: Effort-driven tasks Formula (work = duration x units) Choosing a task type Know how to assign resources. This includes: Assigning multiple resources Assigning resources to task using units that represent part time work (vs. fulltime work) Know how to edit assignments. This includes: Task usage Resource usage Task forms Editing assignments by setting the appropriate task type Know how to manage resource allocation. This includes: Viewing availability across multiple projects Changing assignments Leveling Replacing resources (for example, resolving overallocation and replacing generics with specifics) Know how to manage resource allocations by using Team Planner. This includes: Displaying current resource allocations and assignments Managing unassigned tasks Resolving resource conflicts Leveling resource overallocations Substituting resources (moving task assignments from one resource to another) Know how to model project costs. This includes: Resource-based costs (work and materials) Cost per use Fixed costs Accrual method Tracking and Analyzing a Project Know how to set and maintain baselines. This includes: Baselining an entire project Baselining selected tasks Setting multiple baselines Updating a baseline (for example, rolling up to summary tasks) Resetting the baseline) Know how to update actual progress. This includes: Percentage completion Actual or remaining duration Actual work Remaining work Status date Current date Rescheduling uncompleted work Actual start and actual finish Actual work and usage views Cancelling an unneeded task (for example, inactivating a task, setting an active flag or zeroing out Remaining work) Know how to compare progress against a baseline. This includes: Date variance Work variance Cost variance Showing variance of the current plan against baseline (tracking Gantt) Task slippage Selecting a view to display variance Know how to resolve potential schedule problems by using the Task Inspector. This includes: Warnings and suggestions Task drivers Identifying resource overallocations Know how to display Critical Path information. This includes: Single or master projects Viewing total slack Displaying progress against deadlines Communicating Project Information Know how to apply views. This includes: Applying views Grouping Filtering Highlighting Applying auto-filter Sorting Tables Know how to customize views. This includes: Customizing views Grouping Filtering and highlighting Sorting Tables Sharing a view with the Organizer Know how to format views. This includes: Gridlines Gar styles Gantt chart styles Text styles Timeline Cell formatting Know how to share data with external sources. This includes: Creating visual reports Doing enhanced copy and paste Copying a picture Syncing to SharePoint (for example, upload schedule, sync with SharePoint list, and e-mail timeline) Attaching or linking to supporting information Exporting data to Excel Know how to print schedules and reports. This includes: Reporting a progress status Saving to PDF or XPS Printing Gantt information Reporting scheduling Reporting the timeline Printing based on date range What Are You Waiting For? Certification on technical products is an industry practice. Preparing for an exam forces you to fill in the gaps in your knowledge and passing the test helps you prove what you know (which can be a major ego booster besides — and who doesn’t need those?!). Although Project 2010 is still a fairly new product, if you want to keep your skills sharp and your professional expertise fresh and up to date, tackling this exam from Microsoft is a great way to start. Good luck!

Chapter Spotlight: 4 Questions with Madison’s Wendy Anderson

Along with Alan Decker and Todd Peterson, Wendy Anderson helps lead one of MPUG’s newest chapters, located in Madison, WI. Here, Anderson, a senior project management consultant at Alliant Energy, also based in Madison, recently shared her chapter’s secrets for holding nimble meetings. Madison recently tried out a “lite” chapter meeting format. What’s that about Our chapter meetings are typically hosted by one of the chapter members’ companies. We take turns providing light refreshments. For our recent spring 2011 meeting, we went more casual and met at a local pizzeria. Before the meeting kicked off, everyone had an opportunity to grab a bite to eat and socialize. It worked well, and we’ll probably try it again. Since our startup in April 2010, we’ve covered numerous topics at chapter meetings, including project health metrics reporting, project prioritization processes, a Microsoft Project Server 2010 demonstration, an add-on tool to create visual reports of cross-project dependencies, and a report-out by those who attended the 2011 Midwest Microsoft Project Conference in Oakbrook, Il. The Madison MPUG chapter has tried various meeting formats, including introducing the concept of a “speed demo.” The speed demo is a five- to 10-minute sharing of a process or tool that we think other members might find beneficial to use in their organizations. The speed demo is presented as a “warm-up” topic prior to the keynote speaker. Any advice for other chapters if they’re struggling to hold meetings or draw attendees One idea is to make the chapter meetings an informal and welcoming environment so that members feel free to ask questions and exchange ideas. Reinforce that everyone has something to offer, and encourage all to share their Microsoft Project experiences and lessons. In addition, don’t be afraid to try different meeting formats. If one approach doesn’t appear to be well-received, keep thinking outside the box and explore other ways to get members involved. You’re in Madison. If we’re visiting, what should we make sure to put on our must-do/must-eat list Madison is a beautiful city — especially in warm weather months! A couple of places to visit while here include our State Capital, and from there, a walk along State Street to the University of Wisconsin – Madison campus. Take a break at the university’s Memorial Union, sit out on the terrace overlooking Lake Mendota, enjoy some Babcock Hall Ice Cream or a beer, and listen to live music on Friday and Saturday nights. What feature do you most love about Project 2010 We can provide an update later this year!

A Master at Project Management

A Master at Project Management

What would make a person with many years in project management, who holds a Project Management Institute (PMI)® Project Management Professional (PMP)® credential and two bachelor degrees — one in computer science and the other in mathematics — pursue his master’s degree in project management? Would that person really have something to gain from more education? Apparently, yes. “Typically, when you think about project management, it’s budgets, schedules, metrics, and calculations,” explains Bill Mowery. “But the amount I’m learning about project management that I didn’t know is a very pleasant surprise.” Mowery, who does oversight and governance work for a Fortune 150 company, is in his final term of an online master’s program run by The Pennsylvania State University. A major part of his master’s education has focused on soft skills, the human side of what it takes to be a “good project manager and how project management is linked into accomplishing an organization’s goals.” “I wish I knew this 20 years ago,” he notes. “I’d be further ahead today.” Mowery believes he approaches work differently now than he did before going after the advanced degree. “I’ve learned how to analyze people and their interests. I think that comes back to more detailed stakeholder analysis — learning what makes people tick and tailoring my message and approach based on a better understanding of the dynamics of the project and the different types of power that exist within an organization.” He also has a deeper appreciation, he adds, for how project management can be used as an execution tool to achieve company strategy. “How do we pull these different pieces together — resources, tools, needs and wants and desires and objectives — and sort this out into a logical sequence of work and projects to get where we want to go?” The first year of Mowery’s education, which started in fall 2009, included two courses a semester in topics such as organizations, strategy, planning and resource management, interpersonal and group behavior, and other subjects. Now he’s finishing up a research paper on the ins and outs and applications for Earned Schedule. As he explains, “I’m focused on taking some real world data and doing retrospective analysis of projects with the Earned Schedule method to see how much better it really performs compared to our existing Earned Value methods.” To attend classes, he logs into a course management system into which his instructors have loaded reading assignments, homework, and discussion topics. He communicates with other members of his cohort through that system, most of whom, like him, live outside of the area where the university is located. When they’re working on projects together, he has also used other online tools, including GoToMeeting for online meeting collaboration, as well as email and instant messaging. Teamwork with other students has been an important part of the program for him. “Practically every class I’ve taken requires me to collaborate with classmates,” he explains. Since the work is done virtually, that’s another aspect of the online nature of the program that has proven invaluable to him. “Those auxiliary lessons are really practical in today’s world with its global economy.” The Price of a Master Degree Pursuing a master’s degree isn’t inexpensive. The cost for the 2010-2011 academic year at Penn State is $912 per credit hour or a flat rate of just under $11,000 for students taking 12 or more credits per semester. (The master’s degree requires 30 credits to graduate.) On top of that are smaller fees: $65 for a graduate degree application, about $150 per course for materials and textbooks; and an IT fee of between $80 and $236 for each academic year. Fortunately, students can use financial aid in the form of scholarships, loans, and payment plans to cover the costs. Bill Mowery is earning his master’s degree in project management with the help of his employer. He has been able to tap a company reimbursement program to pick up at least part of the tab of his tuition. Though he offers this caveat: “Unbeknownst to many, employers will put a cap on what they’ll reimburse during a particular calendar year or for a particular program. Uncle Sam also has his limits. If you get too much reimbursement in a year, you’ll pay taxes on that just as if it were income.” Mowery speaks highly of the caliber of the instructors, which includes lead faculty member Jeff Pinto, two-time winner of PMI’s Distinguished Service Award, author of numerous books and scientific papers on project management, and research scientist with the National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis. But student interaction has been just as worthwhile. “There’s a broad range of people in the program,” he says. “It’s interesting to hear how project management is practiced outside your own discipline. When you talk to people in healthcare and power generation, you tend to get a more holistic view of some of the commonalities of techniques and methods that are universal.” Ultimately, Mowery says the biggest benefit of going after his master’s degree — in spite of his immersion in project management through work — has been self-satisfaction. “I’ve really enjoyed the program. It’s been a help to shore up some of my own personal weaknesses. And it has also allowed me to help mentor people who are just coming into the field. I’ve established a lot of good relationships. Being able to help other people along the way always brings me a great degree of satisfaction.” Related Resources

Focusing on Deliverables, Not Just the Schedule

As project managers we’re often so focused on the project plan, schedule, and budget, we forget what the ultimate goal of the project is to begin with. When a senior leader comes along and says, “Oh, by the way, while you’re in there doing those activities, can you add this one on too?” we evaluate the request in terms of the impact it’ll have on the project schedule or budget rather than on how well the request actually fits with the result we’re seeking from the initiative as a whole. WBS as a Project Management Tool That’s why a work breakdown structure can be such a valuable tool. It provides a mechanism for keeping the project in scope by specifying the outcomes of the project — the work packages that need to be delivered — not when they should be done or how. The WBS approach is especially useful in situations where deliverables are less tangible or those responsible for getting a successful outcome don’t think like project managers. WBS in Construction Management That’s the case at Alberta Health Services, which is currently planning the construction of a new 1.7-million-square-foot hospital south of Calgary. There’s plenty that follows traditional project management practice — particularly in the area of construction. That’s to be expected. But according to Ralph Kuhn, the senior planner and scheduler for Capital Projects at the health organization, there’s also plenty that isn’t concrete, such as figuring out what a patient interaction should look like and how the processes related to that should transpire in the new hospital. Frequently, the people involved in those activities are “marvelous at their jobs, but they need help in visualizing their part of the work and then quantifying it: ‘We need it by this day and this is how big it is…'” As Kuhn explains, “We do a lot of that brainstorming in our meeting rooms, which have a 48×36-inch poster of the work breakdown structure. The schedules aren’t well developed yet. They’ll trickle out. But right now we have to know how big this beast is. For this project we have 150 parallel workstreams that have to come together at key points to get validated and approved before we treat the first patient.” Using WBS Director from QuantumPM with Microsoft Project To help “projectize” activities such as those, Kuhn began using WBS Director from QuantumPM about four years ago. This product integrates with and works inside of Microsoft Project. As the work breakdown structure is laid out by project participants, WBS Director creates a Project schedule framework based on the deliverables defined to meet the project scope. The project manager can then complete the scheduling with the activities, dependencies, and resources required to support delivery. Figure 1. WBS Director guides the user through definition of a project by defining deliverables first. This approach has several advantages. First, because the two programs are integrated, WBS Director keeps the narrative about that project — its goals, objectives, and deliverables — up front as the plan evolves. The two components — deliverables and schedule — are tied together to keep the project in scope. Second, if a manager wants to add a specific activity, the tool prompts the user to tie the activity to a particular deliverable. If no connection exists, that provides an opportunity for the project manager to start a more nuanced discussion about scope: “Which work package does that fit in Is it OK to increase the cost of a given work package by this much in order to add that activity?…” Although activities without a direct affiliation to a specific deliverable may still be added to the plan, this extra focus keeps the original goals up front and prevents scope creep from getting out of hand. Figure 2.WBS Director keeps project deliverables uppermost, to prevent scope creep from getting out of hand. Third, WBS Director lets the user organize reporting around deliverables, which keeps managers focused on larger activities, where they can have an impact, as opposed to having them “in the weeds” doing micro-management: “Why did you miss this date…”. The latest version, which is compatible with Project and Project Server 2010, adds a keyword search capability that will bring up work packages related to whatever detail is under review. The new release also includes analytics features to allow users to reconcile the project schedule more easily with the related work breakdown structure. This version, which is 64-bit compatible, also adds additional reporting and other usability features. Kuhn is happy with the combination of Microsoft Project and WBS Director. “A lot of this intangible work is hard to map or model with finish and start dates. There’s work that happens in parallel, there’s engagement-type work, socialization work, and key decisions. If people work comfortably like that, I’m not going to force them to use critical path methodology when it truly doesn’t model the way they operate.” The new release of WBS Director, $299, is available from QuantumPM. MPUG members may purchase WBS-Director for $250 during February 2011.

Focus on Analytics: Stopping Project Derailments

Complex projects go bad weekly. During the first week of January 2011, these stories made headlines: A light rail project near Detroit is held up by project delays caused by federal environmental requirements; Indonesia’s state banks fail to meet infrastructure loan projects because of project delays due to land acquisition challenges; a regional board of education in New Jersey has to pay $4.6 million to settle claims with a construction company that said high school construction delays were due to project design problems; the agency in charge of infrastructure for the Commonwealth Games charges a contractor with mismanagement leading to multiple project delays. It’s probable that each of these same projects made headlines as well when they were first starting up. But somewhere along the way the initiatives that began with such promise began to go off the rails, and none of the participants succeeded in stopping the derailments. How often have you seen the situation where the project plan detailing the various activities is signed off on, the work begins, the schedule goes off track, and the fallout, project delays, and added expense appear to catch management totally by surprise? In each case, an experienced project manager with the right analysis could probably have foreseen the delays long before the problems became irreversible (or public). What’s needed is some form of analysis to uncover inconsistencies in the schedule, potential risks, budget flaws, and anemic project performance. Armed with this information, decision-makers can then make informed adjustments to their planning as the work progresses. This type of analysis, however, can be as complex as the projects themselves. Frequently, the data required is maintained in multiple sources — Microsoft Project, Excel, Primavera, XML schemas, or other tools. Often, analysts will perform arduous data imports, and then run the numbers through a hodgepodge of Excel macros to derive some understanding of the health of the overall project. But performing this type of activity on a regular basis can be erratic and time-consuming. A new kind of data analytics tool is coming to the forefront to assist project planners in understanding the overall state of their project performance. Acumen Fuse, a sophisticated example of this breed of product, provides a library of metrics (and the capability to build custom metrics) that helps users pinpoint problem areas and activities within their plan. These metrics can then be applied to the project as a whole, or to a specific grouping of activities such as those with a common WBS, Location, or Resource assignment. Through additional analyzers such as the “Fuse Logic Analyzer” and “Fuse Forensic Analyzer,” users can check the quality of plan and compare multiple iterations of a schedule to pinpoint modifications. Of course, analysis is only part of the equation. If that information can’t be communicated and understood by non-project management-savvy people, making a case for changing priorities, dates, or budget will be tough. Among standard reports such as heat maps for isolating high priority issues and analyst reports to generate a detailed view of project health, Acumen Fuse also includes an executive briefing that provides a quick-read synopsis of overall project quality. According to the company, customers are using the product in three main ways: 1) in the planning phase to improve quality and realism of project bids and plans 2) during execution to accurately track performance and accelerate schedules that have slipped and 3) as the project nears completion, in order to perform project forensics to determine the root cause of delays and cost overruns through variance analysis. Keeping a project on track in many ways is an art; but tracking a project is definitely a science. Applying appropriate analytical tools to project forensics can ultimately help organizations achieve the results they want by catching the vital details before they cause a project derailment.