View Article  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it
Many of the delegates who attend my Prince2 courses work in what I describe as a meetings culture where an individual’s success can be measured by the amount of time they spend in progress meetings. One of Prince2’s seven principles is “Manage by Exception”, or as Bert Lance said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

In a Prince2 project accountability is achieved by delegating authority from one level of management to the next by setting tolerances against the six project objectives that need to be managed; time, cost, scope, benefit, quality and risk.

Tolerance is defined as the acceptable deviation above and below a plan’s target without escalating the deviation to the next level of management. The main tolerances applied are time and cost. Provided the Project Manager stays within tolerance everybody is happy. Only when tolerances are threatened is the situation escalated to primary stakeholders.

This makes better use of management time.
View Article  Time for change
I never cease to be amazed by the number of companies with a relaxed attitude towards change requests in their projects. My background is in IT and the words I used to dread most from the customer were, “Wouldn’t it be nice if…” and inevitably the customer’s perception of what the proposed change would entail was light years from reality.

If change is not controlled in your projects there are two universal truths that apply; your project will never finish as you will be too busy acceding to every customer change request and the effort involved will burn any potential for profit from the project.
View Article  Project Organisation
A PRINCE2 project has defined and agreed roles and responsibilities with an organization structure that engages the business, user and supplier stakeholder interests.

PRINCE2 is based on a customer/supplier environment. It assumes that there will be a customer who will specify the desired result and probably pay for the project, and a supplier who will provide the resources and skills to deliver that result. Every project needs effective direction, management, control and communication.

Establishing an effective project management team structure and strategy for communication at the beginning of a project, and maintaining these throughout the project’s life, are essential elements of a project’s success.

One of the principles of PRINCE2 is that all projects must have a defined organizational structure to unite the various parties in the common aims of the project and to enable effective project governance and decision making.

A successful project management team should:
a) Have business, user and supplier stakeholder representation
b) Ensure appropriate governance by defining responsibilities for directing, managing and delivering the project and clearly defining accountability at each level
c) Have reviews of the project roles throughout the project to ensure that they continue to be effective
d) Have an effective strategy to manage communication flows to and from stakeholders.
View Article  How does a project get to be a year behind schedule?
"How does a project get to be a year behind schedule? One day at a time" is a famous quote from Fred Brooks, chief designer of the IBM 360.

When most of us create a plan we think about the activities required to achieve our goal. For example, if our project was to redecorate a room our plan might be to choose new wallpaper, choose new paint, strip the old wallpaper, prepare the woodwork, hang the new wallpaper and paint the woodwork.

Product Based Planning is a technique that focuses on identifying what we intend to create or modify before we think about how to produce it. In this way we would focus on the outcomes first, wallpaper options, chosen wallpaper, paint options, chosen paint, stripped walls, prepared woodwork, hung wallpaper, painted woodwork. Once we know what we are to produce we can start thinking about how to produce it.

Product Based Planning is a Prince2 technique that can be applied to all project planning activities.
View Article  Uncertainty that matters
Harvey Mackay said, "Sometimes it's risky not to take a risk - if you walk backward you never stub your toe"

To succeed in business you have to be prepared to take risks, but they should be calculated risks. I never cease to be amazed by the number of companies who barely pay lip-service to risk. Many will have a brainstorm session at the beginning of a project to establish the risks they face, however they fail to realise that this is just a snap-shot in time. Risk is ever present, and everyone in the organisation has a responsibility when dealing with risk.

Risk can be defined as an uncertain event or set of events that, should it occur, will have an effect on
the achievement of objectives. Risk management activities should be a scheduled regularly where the status of all risks is updated and new risks can be identified, assessed, categorised and responses prepared.

Anything less is really taking a chance!
View Article  There's never enough time to do it right...
Of projects, Jack Bergman said, “There's never enough time to do it right, but there's always enough time to do it over”. For many companies this is the norm and the “Just do it” mentality prevails.

Time spent assessing the viability of a project is an investment but convincing management who are being pressed for results can be a problem.

Prince2 projects go through the Starting up a Project process before they begin. This is pre-project work and the objective is to provide the project board with sufficient information to decide if the project is worthwhile and viable.

Catch the turkeys before they start to run!
View Article  The Food Chain

After a slow start to the  year business confidence seems to be slowly growing and my diary is looking quite heathy.  Being at the bottom of the food chain and dependent for most of my work on larger training companies I work hard to deliver entertaining and informative courses.

Over the past six months I have taken on work from a couple of companies who could not care less. They treat clients and trainers with equal contempt, luring customers onto courses by offering ridiculously low prices and stuffing 25 or more delegates into the cheapest classroom they can find. They fail to provide even a coffee break for delegates and hammer the trainers on their fees.

I will not be working for these companies again, and urge anyone looking for training to ask the vendor about their facilities and maximum class sizes. A nice environment and small classes cost more but offer delegates a more enjoyable and positive learning experience.


View Article  Bad debts

Why do companies employ freelancers to deliver training courses for them when they have no intentions of paying their fees?  For the second time in six months I am in the throes of putting together a Statutory Demand to serve on the latest client to default, giving them 21 days to pay up or face possible winding up proceedings.

The pattern is always the same, I call to chase the invoice and am told it is waiting for approval.  This can take several calls, then when told it has been approved the next lie will be something along the lines of, "It was scheduled to be paid but it seems to have been left off the paymemt run and the Finance Director has gone on holiday".  The last time I had to do this I was told the Finance Director had gone on maternity leave and they did'nt know when any of their outstanding bills would be paid.

Are we supposed to believe that a large company with three main offices depends on just one man to pay all it's bills?  The upshot of all this is that the defaulting client lose a trainer (me), they are forced to pay up or risk losing their company and I tell anyone, both clients and other trainers about my bad experience doing business with them. Pathetic!

View Article  Effective Communication

Increasingly complex relationships in customer focused companies will place even greater demands on our communication skills - yet poor communication skills are already a major cause of inefficiency in organisations today, and a significant time waster

Communication - Basics

·         Most people do not listen well

·         Part of the time they are thinking of what they will say next

·         They will often misunderstand what is said by misreading the context

·         Words which seem unimportant will go in one ear and out the other - we notice only the patterns and meanings

Barriers to Good Listening

·         Anger, Fear, Discomfort

All that matters is that your message is received and understood.  The most common mistake in communication is the assumption that it has taken place.

Minimise the Risk of Misunderstandings:

·         Make your message easy to understand

·         Use the same language and terminology as the other person

·         Base your message on their assumptions, needs, wants and fears

·         Check regularly to confirm that you are being understood

Written Communication

Written communication is:-

·         One way

·         No immediate feedback

·         Therefore a weak form of communication

·         Sending an email is not communication

On Longer Documents

Sir John Harvey Jones said -

"If you cannot communicate adequately the main points that you want to get across on two sides of paper, you have almost certainly not thought the problem out properly"

If you must write lengthy reports provide your reader with a one page summary with your conclusions at the beginning

View Article  Splitting seconds

Whenever I am involved in a new business relationship, I create situations that allow for split second efficiency on my part.  I will set up a ‘phone call for 9:30am and will call at precisely 9:30am.  If I promise to have a proposal or other document on someone’s desk first thing Monday morning, then that is when the document will arrive.

I will show up for an appointment exactly when I said I would.  Do this with any new business associates and they will assume that this is the way you conduct all your business affairs, and they will play along.  You’ll find you get the same prompt responses from them that they have come to anticipate from you.

View Article  The Business Case

All project management methodologies have one thing in common, the need for a viable business case.  If a viable business case does not exist then the project should not be started.  Similarly, if that justification becomes invalid during the course of the project, the project should be stopped.

In a Prince2 project the business case provides:

·         The driving force behind project

·         Justification for the start and continuation of the project

·         Focus on totality of business change

A Business Case is a description of the reasons for the project and the justification for undertaking the project, based on the estimated costs of the project, the risks and the expected business benefits and savings.

Prince2 doesn't define the exact format of the business case - this will be a standard within organisations, although Appendix A of the manual gives a suggested outline. Any business case should contain at least the following sections:

·         The reasons for the project, which should include some supporting background information, both historical and operational

·         An appraisal of the different options to achieve the business benefit, and the reasons for the preferred option

·         In almost all projects the option of doing nothing should be included with the costs and risks of inactivity included along with the differences (costs, risks, outcomes etc) between doing nothing and the proposed project.

·         The preferred option should always be last on the list

·         All options should be given equal billing; however some additional justification can be given for the preferred option if required.  For example, the preferred option is $5000 more expensive than any of the others, but does include 3 years on site maintenance.

·         Identification of the tangible and intangible benefits

·         Identification of the tangible and intangible dis-benefits

·         An appraisal of the risks involved

·         An analysis of the expected costs and timescales

·         An Investment Appraisal.

If there is no outline business case in the project mandate there needs to be one included with the project brief.  The business case is refined as part of Initiating a Project and becomes part of the Project Initiation Document (PID).

The business case is a dynamic element of the PID because just like plans and risks it is going to change.  After project start up and initiation the business case needs to be reviewed and updated during Managing Stage Boundaries, during Controlling a Stage when analysing the impact of issues, and during Closing a Project to help with the post-project review planning.

The key question to ask when reviewing or updating the business case is always ' Do we still have a viable and worthwhile project?' As a result of this regular review and updating the project may be terminated or future parts modified. The business case may also be subject to amendment if the review concludes that the business need has decreased or changed.


View Article  Business writing

Most people have no difficulty talking about the products their company sells, yet when it comes to writing reports and proposals their ability to communicate can desert them.  Words that were effortless sitting face to face with the customer are considerably harder to produce, and it shows in the finished documents.

Why is this problem?  Simple: conversation is casual and the written word for many people is perceived as formal.  Formal writing tends to be stilted, more difficult to read, lacking in personality and could be enough to give your customer second thoughts!

Think of your writing as conversational, not formal.  When your writing becomes more conversational it becomes more readable. Good writing has rhythm, is easier to understand and reflects your personality. 

The easiest way to achieve this is to find a quiet room, turn on a tape recorder and start talking as if the customer was sitting across from you.  The end result will not be perfect but it will give you a first draft and a good starting point.

Working this way you are putting your vocal talents to good use.  The end document will sound like you and reflect previous conversations with your customer.