Project Management Institute

When project managers must be trainers


By: Elvin D. Isgrig, Director, Systems Engineering & Program Management, North Dakota State University Dr. C.C. Crawford, Professor Emeritus, Productivity Network Consultant, University of Southern California


Is ignorance bliss? In almost every dimension of our lives some degree of ignorance hinders us. Ask a question and you get an “don't know but…” Andy Rooney, the columnist, wrote a piece, titled “Not knowing anything has become popular.” He cited examples in many walks of life where degrees of ignorance are considered achievements. Such “barriers to knowing” on the job are problems, or obstacles to productivity. That is so at any level, project manager, boss, those they direct, …

Need more learning? Project managers are in an integrative profession. They and their teams must know much more about their projects and role assignments than they can normally learn if left to their own individual resources. Fortunately, many have learned enough to succeed, whether by heroic efforts or by luck. Much of that learning is after being put in charge. Much of it is by trial and error, at a high cost in productivity.

Need better ways to train and learn! University courses and continuing education can meet some of the needs. So can PM conferences, associations, books, and articles. Usually, these deal with the more universal needs and principles. They are addressed to groups, to serve many people. But what is applicable to many may not be specific enough to fit a given situation, project, or person. Better ways are needed for getting that more specific and unique know-how for each project and each role in it. This article suggests a method to get others to share that expertise.

    • - Costing & Financing
    • - Contracting
    • - Engineering Systems
    • - Scheduling & Sequencing
    • - Planning & Controlling
    • - Measuring Performance
    • - Statusing & Reporting
    • - Analyzing Situations
    • - Supporting Decision Making
    • - Assessing Risk
    • - Communicating
    • - Managing Conflict
    • - Negotiating
    • - Building Teams
    • - Managing Stress
    • - Leading
    • - Politicking
    • - Computing (Data & Information)
    • - Gaining Top Management Support
    • - Gaining Functional Support
    • - Minimizing Resistance to PM Methods
    • - Gaining Clear Authority and Responsibility
    • - Defining Clearer Work, Goals, Objectives and Policies
    • - Obtaining Needed Resources
    • - Eliminating Constraints
    • - Providing Safe, Productive Environments
    • - Selling To Bosses
    • - Influencing Functional Specialists (Technical, Business, Staff…)
    • - Reaching Other Associations
    • - Helping Educators & Trainers
    • - Broadening Consultants
    • - Explaining and Coordinating With Investors & Clients
    • - Convincing Government Administrators, Regulators, & Legislators
    • - Conducting Body of Knowledge Courses
    • - Writing & Publishing Handbooks, Cases, and Study Guides
    • - Facilitating Skill Workshops
    • - Surveying Courses, Readings, and Media Aids


The Crawford Slip Method (CSM)

Combining the partial know-how of many people can greatly enrich the knowledge of all. The Crawford slip method is well suited to that function. It originated as a method of curriculum research, course development, and authorship of training materials. It was developed by Dr. C. C. Crawford of the University of Southern California, School of Education. It is the basis of the USC Productivity Network and is being used in a wide range of disciplines, functional settings, and professions.

As a systems analysis method it could be said that the Crawford Slip Method lies somewhere between instant wisdom and computer aided thinking. It is well adapted to diagnostic and remedial functions in ongoing projects and programs, or in the planning of new ones. It was used at the Milwaukee Annual Seminar/Symposium of PMI in October of 1987. There hundreds of project managers quietly wrote slips: (1) on the problems impeding productivity in their practices and (2) their suggestions for improving output and job satisfaction.


The information obtained there was used as initial inputs for the “PMI FANTASTIC EDUCATION SURVEY” which is helping focus the PMI Continuing Education efforts:

The Whole-Audience Interview.

At Milwaukee hundreds were interviewed in a few minutes in the dining room. All were invited to answer two questions by writing on slips, one sentence per slip, before any oral discuss could influence them. The same process can be used for other questions to other audiences for other learning needs. It can collect a vast treasure of know-how that is in people's minds. This method can get truly advisory responses because they are independent and anonymous. And the advice is easy to organize because each sentence is on a separate slip.

The norm is about ten slips per minute for each person for each target question. Forty or four hundred can make a tremendous contribution to a problem in one meeting, if qualified talent is available to process the slips later. (The slips are 2 3/4 × 4 1/4 inches, cut from 8 1/2 × 11 inch paper by a print shop cutter, not an office hand-operated one because precise uniformity is needed for handling. Obsolete paper is OK if blank on one side. Crawford booklet type publications give more details about these authorship functions.

Classification is done by making piles of kindred ideas. The methods followed while writing slips can greatly benefit the sorting of the slips into the categories of interest.

Targets for Slip Writing.

A good start is to get both diagnostic and remedial inputs at a first workshop or meeting. At Milwaukee the questions asked were :

(a) What keeps you and others from doing the best job?

(b) What suggestions do you have to improve your ability to manage projects? Or you might ask:

(a) What are the troubles, difficulties, or short-comings?

(b) What advice can you give which would remedy the situation? Another wording that makes authorship easier is:

(a) What are the “HOW TO …” questions that need answering?

(b) What advice can you give? In this case insist that each difficulty start with the words “HOW TO” and each sentence of advice begin with an imperative verb, as in giving directions.

The slips on troubles and remedies supplement each other and can be sorted and classified together. They give you good realism from the people who do the work and live with the situations which help or hinder productivity. But slowdown occurs after about ten slips per target. Classifying these can yield a good list of sub-problems or tentative how to chapter titles for a handbook or manual. Using them as targets for further questions can yield a far deeper penetration into the specifics. People can write about as many slips on each sub-problem as on the original one.

Seating for workshops.

“Any number can play” if seated where they can write, hear, and get slips. Table seating is a luxury not always available. Chairs with writing arms are fine. Hotel chairs are not so good but still quite possible. Dining rooms and banquet settings are easy to convert by pushing the dishes into the center and then write and collect inputs.


(Targets for whole-audience interviews, rotation workshops, buzz sessions, or writing of critical case episodes for the training of learners.)

  1. RECOGNIZING OVERALL PROBLEM: How to improve the project management profession.
  2. COSTIMG AND FINANCE: How to improve ways to get, control, and efficiently use funds.
  3. CONTRACTING: How to improve contracting policies, practices, and methods.
  4. ENGINEERING: How to improve planning, designing, proving and production of processes and products.
  5. SCHEDULING AND SEQUENCING: How to improve the timing of activities.
  6. PLANNING/CONTROLLING: How to improve the initiation, conduct, and completion of project effort.
  7. MEASURING PERFORMANCE: How to improve periodic evaluations of processes, products, and people.
  8. STATUSING AND REPORTING: How to improve tracking of progress, shortfalls, and corrective actions.
  9. ANALYZING SITUATIONS: How to improve ways to examine the parts of projects, plans, products, …
  10. SUPPORTING DECISION MAKING: How to improve the groundwork on which decisions are based.
  11. ASSESSING RISK: How to improve the taking of chances through analysis of uncertainty & consequences.
  12. LEADING AND GUIDING: How to improve personal influencing and training skills.
  13. COMMUNICATING: How to improve conveying and sharing of data, information or know-how.
  14. MANAGING CONFLICT: How to improve the dealing with strife or friction.
  15. NEGOTIATING: How to improve the process of agreeing when there are diverse interests.
  16. BUILDING TEAMS: How to improve collaboration and community spirit within project teams.
  17. MANAGING STRESS: How to improve working under pressure, strain, or tension.
  18. POLITICKING: How to improve relationships and interactions with clients, parent, civic or governmental organizations.
  19. INTEGRATING SEPARATE TASK: How to unify the project parts into one optimum whole.
  20. MOVING TOP MANAGEMENT: How to improve project acceptance and support at the top.
  21. INTEGRATING THE FUNCTIONS: How to improve relations with functional managers and specialists.
  22. OVERCOMING RESISTANCES: How to minimize and deal with opposition.
  23. BALANCING AUTHORITY: How to better match authority to responsibility and difficulty of project.
  24. CLARIFYING BIG PICTURE: How to clarify and improve goals, objectives, policies, and constraints.
  25. MATCHING RESOURCES: How to match resources better to project needs.
  26. CLARIFYING CONSTRAINTS: How to clarify and adjust to limits on resources, technology, authority.
  27. ENHANCING AND PROTECTING ENVIRONMENT: How to improve safety and productivity of the environment.
  28. SELLING PROJECT INITIATIVES: How to sell the concept to bossess, clients, participants,


  6. TO GOVERNMENT (Administrators, regulators, legislators, etc.)

PROVIDING SUPPORT TO THE CERTIFICATION PROGRAM: How to improve preparation and screening for the project manager professional certificate.

  1. BODY KNOWLEDGE COURSES: How to improve content and results for PMBOK courses.
  2. CONTINUING EDUCATION: How to improve content and results for continuing education programs.
  3. MEDIA SUPPORT FOR COURSES: How to improve inputs to courses.
  4. HANDBOOKS, CASEBOOKS, STUDYGUIDES: How to improve development, use, and results from published training materials.

LIST OTHER PROBLEMS OR TARGETS: What problems or targets should be added to this list?

  1. FOR YOUR PROJECT: Needs not identified above.
  2. FOR YOUR PROJECT ENVIRONMENT: Constraints which uniquely challenge your project.

Workshop Membership.

Best results depend more on the qualifications of slip writers than on the number of bodies in seats. Inputs from large audiences will repeat but give more wordings for ideas. The law of diminishing returns applies. About 40 usually give a fairly good saturation. Another target question can add more ideas than doubling the number of participants. For large audiences it is possible to have some write on other targets. This “split audience” plan can tax the leadership skills of the one in charge. But it can give good penetration into a long list of sub-problem targets.


Sharing know-how is commonly done by conversation and group discussion, or by reading what someone compiles. The oral methods are slow, reach only a few, and leave little or no records to add to the reservoir of knowledge. The Crawford Slip Method helps to overcome all of those limitations. Two especially helpful ways follow.

The BUZZ session.

A three-stage buzz workshop can give a far deeper penetration when analyzing an especially important or critical problem. The stages are: (a) Warm-up, (b) BUZZ, (c) Sum-up. The warm-up might be a typical lO-deep analysis to prime all brains independently with something well worth saying. Collect these slips as research data, feedback material, or training materials. Then form “committees of three” (four only if some are left over). Have them try to learn from, or teach, each other to develop the best plans or solutions for the problem. (Do not record conversations or take any votes.)

Reassemble all participants after the buzz and have each be a “committee of one” as if vested with the sole authority and responsibility for deciding and acting on the matter. Have each then write sum-up slips of responsible recommendations and reasons, not mere reporting on what was said in the buzz. These “committee-of-one” slips tend to be of higher quality because of the build-up and the request for responsible recommendations. Extra writing time may be well spent in this sum-up.




  1. Report a specific episode, not a whole project
  2. Pick a critical incident that might tax management skills
  3. Describe the difficulties in a few short sentences
  4. Tell what was done about them in a few more short sentences
  5. Make clear how the troubles were remedied
  6. List all these sentences in a, b, c reading order, as in these directions
  7. Add a second a, b, c, list of “points for learners”
  8. In that list state management guidelines that are illustrated by the case
  9. Give the case a short meaningful title
  10. Model your whole report after the sample titled “Ambiguity about scope of work”


(A sample case to illustrate format and language style in case episode reports.)

  1. Subcontractor did different task than customer expected
  2. Customer and subcontractor each maintained that they were operating against “statement of work” portion of contract
  3. Each principal was invited by the project manager to write out what he wanted, expected would be done
  4. They compared versions and made adjustments for agreement
  5. They amended statement of work and each party signed it.
  6. Each returned and explained to his agents what was agreed on, and thought they understood.
  7. As work progressed, both leaders used their agreed on statements of work in their progress reviews.
  8. When they found divergence between what was expected and what was done, they decided what needed to be done to resolve the issue and established action items.
  9. Follow-up action was used to ensure closure.


  1. Be sure terms used mean the same to all parties.
  2. Explain in common sense terms the technical or legal terms that are misunderstood.
  3. Prefer friendly problem solving to hardball conflict.

A whole-group discussion after the sum-up can be of much higher quality because of the more intensive ground work analyses that have preceded.

Process the warm-up and sum-up slips together for authorship of the training materials or the making of action plans. This sequence can convert many time-consuming committee meetings into real problem solving and learning experiences. Actual operating decisions can best be made after the slips are processed. The buzz sequence is thought of as advisory, not legislative.

Case Episodes As Lesson Content.

People enjoy telling their success stories or their close shaves when they escaped disaster by a narrow margin. Such realism also appeals to listeners, readers, and learners. Publication of such case episodes or critically important incidents can be especially helpful to project managers, if written in condensed and consistent form suited to publication in a handbook or manual. They can be a powerful resource for constructive group discussions.

Case episodes as training tools.

Years ago the Harvard Graduate School of Business became famous for its use of the case method in training managers. Whether a success story or a failure, the bare bones skeleton of events in some critically important situation can be a powerful training tool, as well as for curriculum research and authorship. For training, the story can cover the difficulties, remedies, and “points for learners” that are illustrated, as conceived by the writer, or the points for learners may be omitted, to be supplied by the learners. Or the case might be presented only through the difficulty stage, for learners to add remedial methods and rationale.

This kind of training can be done as group instruction or through publication for self-instruction. If all those points for learners are written on slips and later classified for paragraphs, sections, and chapters, the casebook can be used profession-wide. The organized advice (Handbooks) is needed along with the stories that generated them (Casebooks).


Collaborative Authorship of Handbook/Casebook Materials.

While pooling know-how can be good training for a group, publishing the pooled know-how can help thousands. Collaboration can speed the authorship and publication. The use of slips can make an “assembly line” type of authorship possible for some of the materials and raise the quality level at the same time.

Qualified and dedicated conferees can meet for a specific co-authorship mission. All can be given the essential guidelines about desired content, format, and language style. Writing one sentence per slip instead of several inputs on one sheet can make editorial refinement and manuscript composition easier, reducing the copying of pages. Mutual aid in refining each other's slips can be good team training and also good authorship training. Much can be done in a short time and with consistent high quality because of the editorial control and monitoring of the process.

Even so, the whole will need later review and refinement. Doing that review is far easier with inputs on slips than if on pages.

Training At The Task Level.

General advice about principles is not enough. Some tasks must be done exactly right, “by the numbers,” from a checklist, method sheet, or procedure. Computer aided engineering and management programs demand such discipline. Other tasks involve judgement factors that can't be so rigidly regimented. Project managers do a lot of these, and so do their teams. Many of these involve the multiple dimensions of the technical and business domains of operation. But whether mandatory or judgmental, the advice or directions must result in good performance at all levels down to the details of the most critical specifics of tasks, resources, and designs.

Facilitating Monitoring of Job Performance.

Step-by-step checklists can help both the training and the monitoring of tasks. Overlooking one step in some tasks can still bring catastrophic or dire penalties. In less critical tasks an oversight can be a very serious productivity factor. Those who know how to do a task can write the steps quite easily and rapidly, if given precise editorial directions. By these methods a good CONTRACTING PROCEDURES GUIDE for about 200 specific contracting tasks was written for the Tactical Air Command (TAC) in three mornings at an annual conference. Having all task titles and steps on slips made the follow-up refinement for handbook typesetting much easier and quicker.


(a) “Crawford Slip Method” and (b) “Productivity by The Crawford Slip Method.” Write the University of Southern California, School of Public Administration, Los Angeles, CA 90089-0041 or call 213-743-6834).


The Crawford Slip Method is a productive way to capture the best experience and knowledge of a group of people. It can be a very effective approach to creating an extensive library of project management literature, (see comments of Director of Educational Services page 40)

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.

October 1989 pm network



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