A funny thing happened to me on the way to project completion

Matt Cheatham, Project Manager, ThinkFinance

Introduction

This paper will have several sections that discuss various aspects of project management. These discussions will be serious/semi-serious. Then each section will conclude with humorous presentations and songs on these same project management topics. The goal is to learn about project management and to have fun while doing it. During the actual presentation, members of the audience will be asked to assist in acting out some of the humorous skits and to participate in a dance contest to an “oldies” song converted to be about project management. The final section of the presentation is a “Carnac” skit during which Carnac “divines” the answers to project management questions “never before having seen the questions.” Note that this proceedings paper will not include the script/lyrics to the actual humorous skits or songs since describing them on paper will not properly convey how they are presented and seeing the text of the skits on paper prior to the presentation would negate any spontaneous humorous responses from the audience during the actual presentation.

The presentation begins with the Project Management Blues Brothers doing an Oldies\ song (I Need You) converted to be about project management (Every PM needs a Project).

Presentation Sections

  • The Challenges of being a Project Manager
  • Having a Reliable Schedule – Critical Path(s)
  • Project Manager Dance Contest
  • Problems/Solutions for Resource Management
  • Becoming a PM and the PMBOK® Guide
  • Project Communications/Customer Interaction
  • Carnac the Questionable
  • So Long and Good Luck to You! (Conclusion – a salute to major project successes of the past)

The Challenges of being a Project Manager

The project manager is expected to be a “knowledge guru” in the various aspects of the project.

The project manager is expected to have mastered all the elements of project management as described in the PMBOK® Guide.

The project manager is expected to be a financial whiz as far as estimating and tracking the costs associated with the project.

The project manager is expected to have outstanding charisma so as to be able to smooz and soft shoe the customer and major stakeholders.

The project manager is expected to be a gifted leader who inspires the project team members to new heights of creativity and productivity.

The project manager is expected to keep a cool head and respond professionally when dealing with difficult team members.

The project manager is expected to refuse the accolades from success and place them instead on the project team members and sponsors.

The project manager is expected to “take a bullet” for the project if necessary to save face for the sponsor or for a major customer who might fund a future project for the company.

If a project manager happens to succeed, they will have a slight chance of getting another project (but only if one happens along and if the project is not given to the boss's nephew instead).

If a project manager is involved in a failed project (through no fault of their own), they can expect to be let go immediately and probably be banned from any further work in the industry.

In other words, someone would have to be an absolute idiot to want to be a Project Manager!

Audience participation in The Challenges of being a Project Manager skit.

Oldies song “Project Manager.”

Project Schedule

A project of any size cannot be expected to be successful unless it has a well detailed and has a properly connected schedule.

In order to have an “excellent” schedule the following are needed:

  • Proper calendar chosen
  • A detailed understanding of the full scope of the project
  • The scope of the project broken down into a reasonable WBS structure and down to individual tasks
  • Tasks properly described, durations and hours estimated (hours if true resource planning and/or earned value is the goal)
  • Dependencies between all tasks defined - all tasks having predecessor(s) and successor(s)
  • Constraints defined (limited)
  • Milestones and deadlines defined

Importance of the Critical Path, Multiple Critical Paths, Near Critical Path(s), False Critical Path(s) and Resource Critical Path(s)

The Critical Path

What is the critical path? It's both the longest and shortest route through your project. It's the longest (duration) path from the beginning of the project until the completion of the project. Since projects almost always finish later rather than earlier, it is also the shortest (duration) expected for the overall project completion.

Use the critical path to help you keep your project on track to a successful completion. If you are using a project schedule and not tracking to the critical path, you are missing a vital tool to help you. Use 3- or 4-week look-ahead printouts that emphasize the critical path tasks. When the project is updated, the critical path may change and/or the end date may have been impacted. Your only chance to get back to the planned end date is to cut time off the critical path(s).

Multiple Critical Paths

Projects often have multiple critical paths, especially near the end of the project. If you have multiple critical paths and your end date is pushed out, you may have to cut time off two or more critical paths to get back to the planned end date.

Near Critical Path

Near critical path tasks can rise up to bite you. Near critical path tasks are those with only a minor amount of total slack (1 to 5 days, the critical path typically has zero total slack). If a task has three days slack and is delayed five days, it suddenly becomes critical path, and maybe a multiple critical path if you cut it to bring the end date back to the original plan.

False Critical Path

Improper development of your schedule can lead to false critical paths. Depending on your software tool, its version and the options you choose, leaving a task without a successor may make your scheduling tool believe that task is on the critical path. Assigning predecessors or successors to summary lines can lead to false critical paths.

Resource Critical Path

If you assign individual resources (rather than a resource group) to tasks in your schedule, it is likely that you have resource critical paths in your schedule. Resource critical paths can be just as impacting as the regular critical path. You need to be aware of this and assign/re-assign resources accordingly.

Project manager to the customer: “We're not far from the critical path.”

De-coded interpretation: “I‘m standing right next to a schedule printout of the critical path; we're not far away at all.”

Audience participation in the project scheduling skit.

Oldies Scheduling song “Time is not on my side.”

Project Manager Dance Contest

Volunteers from the audience will dance to a 60s hit (the Twist) re-written to be about project management. The winner, chosen by the audience, will receive a prize.

Problems/Solutions for Resource Management

Your resources are not available – why? They are working on someone else's project, that's why.

Single Project Resource Planning: If you have only one project in your organization, then single project resource planning is adequate. If you have more than one project that shares any resources, then you must do multiple project resource planning.

Multiple Project Resource Planning – should be backed up with corporate portfolio management. Prioritize projects so you know when and how to assign scarce resources.

Solving the Resource Dilemma – properly allocate resources to your projects (by hour). Prioritize projects. Update the project schedules often. Look across the resource pool and see where there are not enough resources to staff all projects. Consider priority, critical path, and other elements in deciding which project gets the under staffed resource.

Audience participation in the Project Resource Skit.

Oldies Resource song, “Searching for the Project Resources.”

Becoming a Project Manager and the PMBOK® Guide

So you want to be a project manager huh?

Study other successful project managers and emulate their leadership traits. Read books by successful project managers and follow their advice. Hone up your communication skills – communicating well is vital to becoming a successful project manager.

The “Good, Bad and Ugly” about the PMBOK® Guide.

The “Good” about the PMBOK® Guide

The PMBOK® Guide is widely accepted as “Leading Practice” in project management. Knowing and practicing the elements of the PMBOK® Guide will greatly increase your odds of project success.

The “Bad” about the PMBOK® Guide

While it has been improved and simplified some, the PMBOK® Guide is still a bear to study through and try to understand the practical applications of all the sections.

The “Ugly” about the PMBOK® Guide

Should you get too involved in precisely following the PMBOK® Guide to the letter, rather than adapting it to your actual needs, you will become a slave of the processes rather than master of them.

Oldies song “Who wrote the PMBOK® Guide?”

Project Communications and Customer Interaction

Proper communications are a vital part of managing a project. Miscommunication or misunderstanding of seemingly minor issues can lead to major project impacts. Any verbal agreements must be followed up with a written confirmation of the agreement.

Customer Interaction. Having a good working relationship with your ultimate customer can help arrive at project success. A bad working relationship with your customer highly increases the likelihood of project failure.

Honesty is the best policy. Tell the customer the truth – all the time. They will respect you and will be more accommodating when you request funding for change orders or added scope. Include your customer/customer rep in your project team meetings.

Audience participation in the customer interaction skit.

Oldies song “I can't get no Customer Satisfaction.”

Carnac the Questionable

The main speaker will come on as Carnac and “divine” the answers to project management questions, never before having seen the questions.

So Long and Good Luck to You (Conclusion)

Final Oldies song with a salute to major project successes of the past.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

©2013 Roy Pool
Originally published as a part of 2013 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – New Orleans, Louisiana

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