Weekly tips form TenStep Inc.

Over the past 15 years, Agile development models have moved from the underground to the mainstream. At the same time, the nature of Agile has also changed. The pure Agile model of 15 years ago has been refined, expanded and made friendlier to corporate America.

While it is true that many companies have successfully implemented a pure Agile model, it is more common that companies implement a hybrid. In other words, they take the basics of Agile and merge in some compromises to be able to exist within organization parameters. For example, does your Agile team create a status report? If so, you have made an Agile compromise. Does your Agile team have a project manager? If so, you have made a compromise.

Sign-up for this session to hear how many companies implement a hybrid Agile model – successfully combining Agile techniques while supporting traditional organization processes as well.

Date/time: Thu, Feb 26, 2015 6:00 PM – 7:00 PM CET
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There are many techniques and processes to help you be successful on a project. Some of them like better estimating and defining requirements are pretty standard and obvious. Here are some other ways to increase the likelihood of success on your project that are not so obvious.

  1. Understand the big picture and the details If the devil is in the details, there is nothing more devilish than the complex and intertwining dependencies of a project. You need to be aware of the details, even if you don’t react to each detail each time. At the same time, it’s just as important to see the big picture. Understanding the overall purpose and objectives of the project allows you to make decisions based on broader context. The big picture also allows you to see trends before problems emerge.
  2. Make decisions quickly Over analyzing and procrastination are a problem on many projects. Use the best information you have available to make decisions quickly. Even if it’s not the BEST decision, a GOOD decision suffices in nearly all cases.
  3. Communication heavily You can never have enough communication. If the worst thing is that somebody says they already know what you just told them, great. The discussion will be short. However, for every time you hear that, you will have five more instances where the person was not aware.
  4. Manage risks proactively This one might fall into the more obvious category. But it is surprising to me how many projects do not formally manage risks. Some projects identify risks but don’t put a plan in place to manage them. Risk management does not take so much time. All successful project managers do it.
  5. Manage expectations Many project managers communicate, but not effectively. The do not realize how to communicate what is happening now and the future looks like. If you have ever surprised a sponsor or customer, you probably were not managing expectations well.
  6. Make sure you get major documents approved Sometimes we are just too busy to get approvals for documents even if you know you need them. The result is often that there is a disagreement with the approver after the fact, causing rework and conflict.
  7. Involve stakeholders throughout the project We should all know it is important to understand project stakeholders. But often we focus on stakeholders at the beginning and the end of the projects. To be really successful you need to engage key stakeholders all the way through the project.
  8. Cultivate excellent relationships with the Project Sponsor Stakeholder management is important, but one stakeholder is more important then the rest – the sponsor. Go out of your way to develop a good relationship with the sponsor.

Use all the obvious techniques for project success, plus these eight that are a little less obvious. You will have a much better chance for success.

Do you need help with project management soft skills? Contact us today to discuss how we can help your organization choose the right projects.

The job description of the project manager normally does not include providing formal performance reviews to team members. This is usually a responsibility of each employee’s functional manager. However, there is no question that a project manager does need to provide performance feedback to team members to let them know how they are doing and whether they are meeting performance expectations. This includes recognizing when team members meet their commitments and providing feedback to them when they are not meeting your expectations.

Telling people they are doing a good job is easy. It is harder when you have to tell a team member he is not meeting your expectations. When this type of conversation is appropriate, the project manager can use the following techniques:

  1. This helps managers develop a framework for providing effective feedback. The manager should think ahead of time about the behavior that should be highlighted and how the manager can help the employee improve.
  2. Provide examples. Vague criticism fosters anxiety. Tangible examples are required to highlight the feedback. Typically, you do not need to provide dozens of examples. Hopefully, you can make the point with a couple representative observations.
  3. Use motivational techniques in the discussion. The employee is bound to be disappointed by the feedback. Look for opportunities to build the morale of the team member as well, so that he will be eager to improve.
  4. The project manager should start the session with positive comments, then get to the feedback and finish with positive, motivating comments.
  5. Allow time for feedback. The process needs to be a dialogue between the project manager and the team member. So, seek feedback from the team member and allow him to agree, disagree or provide his perspective.
  6. Set a timeframe for action and follow-up. The project manager should document any action items, circulate them to the team member and ensure that they are completed. Before the meeting is over, the project manager and team member should also agree on a follow-up timeframe to check progress.

The world is made up of people with various skills and talents.  Often, people’s talents drive them to work in certain areas where they excel.  In other cases, their individual talents and the jobs they perform are not aligned.  Many people have the general skills and the drive required to overcome a lack of alignment.

If everyone excelled in the job they were asked to fulfill there would be much less need for the Human Resource staff.  However, it doesn’t always work like that.  Some people are not able to meet expectations and managers must not feel guilty about working with them to try to turn things around.

Do you need help with project management soft skills? Contact us today to discuss how we can help your organization choose the right projects.

It might seem that once a project makes it through the approval process it is ready to start. This is not the case. There is one more step that has to happen before a project can actually start. In portfolio management this is the “authorization” process. In project management it is “initiation“.  On the surface it might seem that this is an extra bureaucratic step that does not add value. Actually it is a very important step to make sure that the best decisions are made based on the most current information.

Think about how project work is approved in most organizations. The major work for next year is planned in the current year so that budgets and projects are ready when the new year starts. In fact, all of the work cannot start on the first day of the new year. The work is staggered to start throughout the year. It may be up to 12 months (or longer) between the time a project is approved and when it is actually ready to begin.

It does not make sense to allow projects to start based on information that could be many months old. Therefore we have the authorize/initiate step to make sure that the project is still viable and that the organization is ready to start. There are a number of things that need to be validated before the project begins.

  • Validate the Business Case. The time lag between approval and when the project is ready to start may have changed the Business Case. For instance, it is possible that a competitive opportunity has come and gone.
  • Identify the stakeholders. It is important to know who the people are that have an interest in the project. These people need to be engaged and may be needed for project planning.
  • Validate sponsorship. It is possible that the sponsor has changed or is no longer committed to the project. You need to validate the current sponsor of the project.
  • Validate staffing. You should not start a project without staff availability. It is possible that the resources that were going to work on the project are no longer available.
  • Validate budget. It is possible that budget cuts, or overruns from other projects, have resulted in a lack of funding for the project.

You can now see that there are a lot of reasons why a previously approved project may no longer make sense by the time it is ready to proceed. It is usually the case that the shorter the timeline between approval and authorization, the more likely it is that the project will in fact proceed as envisioned. If the project no longer makes sense the organization has a chance to utilize the funding on an alternate project instead – one with more clear business benefit.

Do you need help optimizing your portfolio management processes? We help organizations with portfolio management all the time. TenStep Consulting Services can help you get these processes right. Contact us to see how we can help you.

A Feasibility Study may need to be completed for your project. The best time to complete it is when you have identified a range of different alternative solutions and you need to know which solution is the most feasible to implement. Here’s how to do it.

Step 1: Research the Business Drivers

In most cases, your project is being driven by a problem in the business. These problems are called “business drivers” and you need to have a clear understanding of what they are, as part of your Feasibility Study. For instance, the business driver might be that an IT system is outdated and is causing customer complaints, or that two businesses need to merge because of an acquisition. Find out why the business driver is important to the business, and why it’s critical that the project delivers a solution to it within a specified timeframe.

Step 2: Confirm the Alternative Solutions

Now you have a clear understanding of the business problem that the project addresses, you need to understand the alternative solutions available. For example, if it’s an IT system that is outdated, your alternative solutions might include redeveloping the existing system, replacing it with a package solution or merging it with another system. Only with a clear understanding of the alternative solutions to the business problem can you progress with the Feasibility Study.

Step 3: Determine the Feasibility

You now need to identify the feasibility of each solution. The question to ask of each alternative solution is “can we deliver it on time and under budget?” In other words – is it feasible to complete this project for a reasonable timeframe and cost? To answer this question, you need to use a variety of methods to assess the feasibility of each solution. Here are some examples of ways you can assess feasibility:

  • Research: Perform research to see if other companies have implemented the same solutions. This may tell you if the solution is practical.
  • Prototyping: Identify the part of the solution that has the highest risk, and then build a sample of it to see if it’s possible to create. This will tell you if the solution is technically feasible.
  • Time-boxing: Complete some of the tasks in your project plan and measure how long it took vs. planned. If you delivered it on time, then you know that your overall schedule may be feasible.

Step 4: Choose a Preferred Solution

With the feasibility of each alternative solution known, the next step is to select a preferred solution to be delivered by your project. Choose the solution that is most feasible to implement, has the lowest risk, and you have the highest confidence of delivering.

After completing these four steps, get your Feasibility Study approved by your sponsor so that everyone in the project team has a high degree of confidence that the project can deliver successfully.


Do you need help with project definition, feasibility or business case? Contact us today to discuss how we can help your organization choose the right projects.

Larger projects definitely need time up-front to define and plan the work. If you do not adequately plan a small or medium project, the consequences will probably not be too drastic. You don’t have that same luxury in a large project. The planning process is very  important. But there are some things to consider before you even start planning. These activities would be a part of project initiation and the work is often overlooked.

When you are assigned as a project manager on a project, don’t forget the following.

Gather baseline information

Look for all the information that may already be available for this project. This includes any previous project deliverables, memos, emails, etc. In many cases, before the project begins, the sponsor must perform a cost/benefit analysis or  Business Case. All of this information should be gathered as a starting point for understanding the work.

Determine the initial approval process

Work with your manager and the project sponsor to understand the approval process for the Project Charter and any other initial project deliverables. For instance, you can determine the people that have to approve the Project Charter versus those that should just receive a final copy.

Discover high-level requirements

The project manager needs to have some understanding of the high-level requirements of the project before he can even begin to plan the work. The project manager is getting the essence of the project during initiation. You are not uncovering the detailed product requirements at this time. The detailed requirements will be further defined as a part of the project lifecycle once the project is approved.

Identify the key stakeholders

Your manager and the sponsor should have a pretty good idea of the appropriate project stakeholders. These are people and groups with an interest in the project. You need to understand these people and their interests to be able to gather the correct information for project planning. If possible you should also meet or talk with the stakeholders at this time to start to get an understanding or their interest and attitude about the project.

Estimate the resources you need for planning

Depending on the size of the project, the planning process can be time consuming. The project manager needs to quickly understand the resources needed for planning. This might be a part-time or full-time project manager, and it may require other resources as well.

When a project manager gets assigned to a new project he needs a set of initial activities to get grounded and start to understand the nature of the project. These five activities will help you gain context and prepare you for the planning process.


Project Quickstart – Another Way to Define your Project

TenStep can quickly guide you through the project definition process. In one facilitated sessions we uncover project objectives, scope, deliverables, risks, assumptions, constraints, organization, approach, etc.  By the end of the session you will have:

  • Project Charter
  • High-level Milestone schedule
  • Project Management Procedures

Whether you are starting a crucial project, or just need general help with all projects, TenStep Consulting Services can help you get started right. Click here for more information.

There are many great techniques that help you manage the schedule on your project. Here are a couple.

Investigate Further When ‘Completed’ Activities Are Not Really Completed

Sometimes a team member says that an activity is complete when in reality it is not quite done. This can happen for the following reasons:

  • The activity should have been completed and the team member believes he needs just a short amount of time to complete it. He might say it is complete and then finish it up quickly, rather than deal with the consequences of the activity being late.
  • A deliverable is ’completed’ by the team member but not approved. The team member may say the work is complete, but when the deliverable is checked it is discovered that it is incomplete or needs additional follow-up work.

To avoid this, make sure that there is an approval process for all major deliverables, and that the schedule leaves time for the approval process and for updates based on feedback. Then there is no question that the deliverable is completed, because it has either been approved or it hasn’t. If an activity does not call for the total completion of a deliverable, you would expect that when a team member says an activity is completed, it probably is. If you find a pattern of this not being the case, the individual team member might need coaching on how to better report the status of his work.

Use the Concept of Triple Constraint to Manage Cost, Schedule and Scope

[image source_type=”attachment_id” source_value=”918″ align=”right” width=”300″ autoHeight=”true”] At the end of the planning phase you should have an agreement with your sponsor on the work that will be completed (Charter/Scope Statement), the cost (or hours) and duration that are needed to complete the work (the schedule). These three items form a concept called the “triple constraint”. If one of the three items change, at least one, if not both, of the other items need to change as well.

This is more than an academic discussion. The concept actually has great relevance to the management of the project. The triple constraint makes logical sense and can be easily explained to your clients as well.

This concept is easy to visualize if you think of the triple constraint as a triangle, with the sides representing cost, duration and scope of work.

For example, if the scope of work increases, the cost and / or deadline must increase as well. This makes sense. If you have more work to do, it will take more cost (effort) and perhaps a longer duration. (Likewise if you reduce the scope of work, the cost (effort) and / or the deadline should decrease as well.)

Similarly, if you are asked to accelerate the project and complete it earlier than scheduled, it would also be logical to ask for less work. However, if you are asked to deliver the same work in less time, the third leg of the triple constraint (cost or effort) should increase to maintain the balance. You will need to increase costs (effort), perhaps by working overtime hours or perhaps by bringing in more resources to complete the same amount of work earlier.

Once the project manager really recognizes this relationship in the triple constraint, he will automatically recognize when one leg changes and instantly look for ways that the other legs will change to maintain the triple constraint balance.

Do you need help with building or managing schedules? Contact us today to schedule a great one-day class on building and managing schedules.

Most of us still create some variation of a paper status report to communicate progress on our project. I remember when these reports were printed on paper. An old manager of mine once asked me to review a large binder of paper status reports and tell him if there was anything interesting that he should know about. There were probably over a hundred paper reports in the binder.

Even though most organizations no longer print out status reports, the need for status updates is still here. Here are some old and new ways to report status.

  1. Status reports. Yes, what is old is also new. Many organizations still create status updates. Usually these are reviewed online instead of printing in large binders.
  2. Many organizations send the status information in-stream in an email These emails can still follow a common format so they are easy to read and digest. The information can be easier to digest if it is directly in the email instead of having to click on an attachment.
  3. Status meetings. Some organizations do not have status report, but go over the status in meetings. The Agile community does this through their daily stand-up status meetings. This can limit the status update to the people in the room, but in many projects that is acceptable.
  4. Some organizations do not have formal status reports, but just hold formal or informal discussions with the sponsor and others with a need to know. This is very informal. Usually if a person such as a sponsor wants an update they set up a time to talk to the project manager – maybe just as a hall discussion.
  5. There are a number of tools that can help. These could be specialized status reporting and consolidation tools, or perhaps a general purpose environment like SharePoint.
  6. Phone messages. You could leave a status report voicemail. This eliminated the initial need for a paper based report. Usually you are also time bound to complete the report in two or three minutes – the length of a voicemail.

Remember that although there are many options for the format and technology of reporting project status, the need to communicate status. Status reporting is the way you manage expectations on a project and it is the minimum communication requirement for a project manager. …

Do you need help with project status reports, or the rollup to consolidated reporting or portfolio dashboards? Contact us today to discuss how we can help your organization and your project teams get better at project management processes in general, and status reporting in particular.

Expected monetary value (EMV) is a risk management technique to help quantify and compare risks in many aspects of the project. EMV is a quantitative risk analysis technique since it relies on specific numbers and quantities to perform the calculations, rather than high-level approximations like high, medium and low.

EMV relies on two basic numbers.

P – the probability that the risk will occur

I – the impact to project if the risk occurs. This can be broken down further into “Ic” for the cost impact, “Is” for the schedule impact and “Ie” for the effort impact.

The risk contingency is calculated by multiplying the probability by the impact.

Risk Contingency Budget

If you use this technique for all of your risks, you can ask for a risk contingency budget to cover the impact to your project if one or more of the risks occur. For example, let’s say that you have identified six risks to your project, as follows.


Risk P (Risk Probability) I (Cost Impact) Risk Contingency P*Ic
EVM calculation Example
A 0,8 €10.000 €8.000
B 0,3 €30.000 €9.000
C 0,5 €8.000 €4.000
D 0,1 €40.000 €4.000
E 0,3 €20.000 €6.000
F 0,25 €10.000 €2.500
Total €118.000 €33.500


Based on the identification of these six risks, the potential impact to your project is €118.000. However, you cannot ask for that level of risk contingency budget. The only reason you would need that much money is if every risk occurred. Remember that the objective of risk management is to minimize the impact of risks to your project. Therefore, you would expect that you will be able to successfully manage most, if not all of these risks. The risk contingency budget should reflect the potential impact of the risk as well as the likelihood that the risk will occur. This is reflected in the last column.

Notice the total contingency request for this project is €33.500, which could be added to your budget as risk contingency. If risk C and F actually occurred, you would be able to tap the contingency budget for relief. However, you see that if risk D actually occurred, the risk contingency budget still might not be enough to protect you from the impact. However, Risk D only has a 10% chance of occurring, so the project team must really focus on this risk to make sure that it is managed successfully. Even if it cannot be totally managed, hopefully its impact on the project will be lessoned through proactive risk management.

Spreading the Risk

The risk contingency budget works well when there are a number of risks involved. The more risks the team identifies, the more the overall budget risk is spread out between the risks. In the case above, the fact that there are six risks helps pool enough risk contingency to accumulate a protective budget. If you have only identified one or two risks, you may not be able to spread the risk out enough to be as effective as you like.

Budgeting for Unknown Risks

The EMV calculations above only reflect the risks that are known at the beginning of the project when the initial risk assessment is performed. If you are managing a large project, you need to continue to monitor risks on an ongoing basis. Therefore, you can also ask for additional risk contingency budget to cover risk that will probably surface later that you do not know about now. For example, you could request an additional 5% of your total budget for risk contingency to cover the unknown risks that you will encounter later. This is in addition to the risk contingency of the known risks that have already been identified.  

At TenStep, we can help you implement solid risk management processes as well as a full set of project management processes. Contact Menno Valkenburg or Dick van Schoonhoven for more information and to discuss your specific needs.

There is concern from many project managers that they are expected to estimate the effort, duration and cost of a project at the end of the planning process before the detailed requirements have been gathered. It seems like a valid question. Yet, when you talk about gathering detailed requirements, you are usually talking about the Analysis (or Specification) Phase of a project lifecycle, not the up-front planning process.

Of course, you need to have a high-level understanding of the requirements before you can provide project estimates. However, the details are gathered after planning.

The following three approaches will allow you to execute the project before you have gathered the detailed business requirements. (As with many aspects of project management, iterative and Agile requirements are gathered differently.)

  • Estimate the work to within 15% after planning. This is the traditional approach. Many projects are estimated this way because the project is not so different from projects you have done before. If you have experience with similar projects you can make a reasonable estimate based on the characteristics of the project.
  • Break the work down into smaller pieces. If you don’t feel comfortable to provide an overall project estimate within 15%, you can break the larger project into multiple smaller projects. When you use this technique, you usually end up chartering an initial project to gather the requirements. You should be able to estimate this requirements gathering project to within 15%. After this requirements project is complete, you can use the information to charter a second project to perform the rest of the work, also within 15%.
  • Estimate in two parts. This is a variation on the first technique above. In this approach, the project manager provides a “best guess” estimate of the work at the end of planning. This estimate may be within 25% (or higher). However the project manager is not accountable for this estimate (unlike the first option above). This estimate is just best-guess given the information at the time. After the requirements are completed, the project manager provides a more detailed estimate of the work within 10-15%. This is the number for which the project manager is held accountable. Unlike the second approach, these two estimates are both made within a single project.

The first estimating approach is within the control of the project manager. The second and third approach likely require approval of your sponsor and manager. But either approach is better than taking a guess and having to live with the consequences of a bad estimate. That is not good for the project team or the organization.

Do you need help with estimating skills or estimating processes? Contact Menno Valkenburg or Dick van Schoonhoven for more information and to discuss your specific needs.