Search This Blog


Friday, August 15, 2014

Guest Post: How To Plan A Project - My Light-bulb Moment

By Bryan Barrow

At some point in your life you will have had what people describe as a “light-bulb” moment.  That point where darkness is suddenly replaced with blinding illumination and where everything is revealed, removing doubt, providing insights and boosting belief.

There is another way of thinking of the light-bulb moment that is familiar to anyone who has seen an ”A-List” celebrity walk down along a red carpet.  It’s the popping of not one, but hundreds of flashes all going off within seconds of each other as the paparazzi lean in to take that perfect shot that they rely on to earn a living, and, if they are lucky, make a fortune for years to come.  

The effect is so dazzling that it can cause a physical response even for those who were not there at the time.  Watch the new coverage of a scene like this and you will often be warned beforehand that the video contains flashing lights. However, the true impact of the light-bulb moment comes when the scene illuminated by the flashbulb is frozen forever in that blinding light, every detail lit up and perfectly exposed so that future generations can see through the photographer’s eyes.  

I can’t say that I have ever had been photographed by the paparazzi.  At least not to my knowledge.  But I can tell you that I have felt the physical sensation of dozens of light-bulbs going off all at once, leaving me feeling dizzy with delight and boosting my belief that, without a doubt I had found a solution to a long-term problem. 

Picture the scene: A hotel conference room set out cabaret style, with 20 large round tables set some way away from the main stage.  Around one of those tables there were ten people, drawn from different parts of the project management community.  I was one of them.  

We were there for a workshop on facilitating project kickoff workshops.  The company that I was working with had recognised that too many projects were starting off without a clear plan of action and wanted to ensure that all project in future had a kick-off meeting.  

Phil, the workshop leader, had started to talk about a couple of approaches to planning as a team.  I waited for the inevitable mention of planning using sticky notes.  I wasn't wrong, but I was disappointed.

I’d long since lost faith in planning using sticky notes. I knew that it had its fans, but it also came with several major drawbacks including lack of consistency, an over-reliance on subject matter experts and a tendency to overlook the planning for quality assurance and good governance.  In my view it was good, but not good enough.

My own preference was for a product-based planning approach.  At that time I had had some success in using a RACI matrix to drive the planning of new projects as this overcome some of the shortcomings of planning with sticky notes.  However using the RACI matrix didn’t deal with one key problem; that of having to rely on subject matter experts.  It also added a new problem; that of having to hold multiple workshops or reviews to get through the long list of possible products in order to agree those needed for a given project.  In today’s fast-moving working environment the idea of having several workshops was a no-no, even though developing through iteration was the ideal.

I was only really half-listening when Phil moved on from the discussion about planning with sticky notes to talk about another method for collaborative planning, this time using Index Cards.  

Phil took us over to a table with about 30-40 index cards of different colours, folded in half and set out in neat rows, like tents in a field.  Phil described the approach as an alternative to putting notes on the wall and left it at that.  However it set off a whole series of thoughts, insights and ideas that were a physical shock.  This was my light-bulb moment.  Not the “single light going on” type.  No, this was the full “riot of flashbulbs popping” variety:

  • Flash! In one instant I saw how the cards could mirror the freedom and flexibility of sticky notes for capturing ideas directly;
  • Flash! In the same instant I could see how those same cards could be pre-prepared to minimise the need for writing and to maximise the thinking time in the workshop, making the workshop faster and more productive;
  • Flash! If we can print the name of the product on one side, we might as well print the product description on the other, making it easy to explain what the work products were, for those who were new to the organisation or to project management;
  • Flash! I could see how we could make the workshops much more collaborative than RACI workshops in drawing on the different perspectives of the participants, so that we got a much more rounded picture;
  • Flash! In the same instant I saw how to build in compliance with project and company standards by making some of the cards mandatory for all projects;
  • Flash! If we can construct the timeline and we have historical effort estimates from previous projects then we can quickly come up with an initial estimate of the overall project duration;
  • Flash!  If we can construct the timeline then we can also start to look at dependencies between teams that might affect the timeline, so that we can manage dependencies between projects, including dependencies on resources;
  • Flash!  If we know which work products are required to achieve the milestones, we can determine straight away which resources are required, so we can create an initial resource list immediately;
  • Flash!  If we know the costs of the resources, then we can create an initial project budget which will be much more realistic, as it is based on real data.  It should create a more accurate expenditure profile as it already incorporates timings, resources and dependencies;
  • Flash! If we can build in mandatory activities to ensure good governance right at the start then we can reduce the risk of projects going wrong later on.

The ideas just kept on coming and my mind lit up as I saw how powerful a process this could become. I scribbled down the formula for how to plan a project exactly as I saw it take shape in my mind: it was something simple, collaborative and easy to replicate time and time again.  

Here’s the image that was burned into my brain, the formula for planning workshops that I still use to this day:

  • Step One: Clarify the Goal.  Spend the first hour of the workshop on defining the goal, clarifying the scope and understanding what success means, for the business and for the team.  This clarity is essential.  If you don’t have the right goal you will aim for the wrong target.  If you don’t have the right reason for attaining the goal you won’t be motivated to pursue it.
  • Step Two: Introduce the planning exercise.  Explain how the Index Card Planning exercise will work.  Make it clear to the participants that they are responsible for planning the project and that your role is to facilitate.  Set the expectation for the outcome of the workshop but leave it to the participants to drive the development of the schedule.  
  • Step Three: Construct the High Level Milestone Plan.  Having clarified the goal and its importance to the business, divide the project into suitable workstreams and, for each workstream, define the milestones that could be used to signify success on the route to the goal. Let the participants describe the milestones in their own language because it will help them to take ownership of the plan.  Once the team have identified the key milestones, walk through the results and get agreement.  Take pictures of the result so that you can review them later.
  • Step Four: Construct the Detailed Plan.  With the high level milestones identified, select the Work Products that are needed to achieve each milestone.  These Work Products can be pre-printed to eliminate the time ordinarily spent writing.  The Work Products can be based on any methodology.  Leave it to the participants to select the Work Products, so that they are responsible for planning; let them work as a team to agree on what is needed. Once the Work Products have all been identified, review any that have not been selected and gain agreement that they are not required.  Go through the timeline and identify any key dates and dependencies. Again, take pictures so that you have a permanent record of what was produced.
  • Step Five: Review the results of the workshop.  Ensure that mandatory Work Products relating to quality assurance, project governance and risk management have been included; this will ensure that good governance is built in right from the start.  Go through the risks, issues, assumptions, dependencies, constraints and decisions and see if there are any more to add.  Agree the follow up actions; in particular, confirm that you will send out the results of the workshop so that people can add in any final thoughts or comments. 

Two days later I held my first workshop using the new formula.  The outcome was not just a success; it went exactly as I saw it in that first flash of inspiration.  I still use that formula today and it still inspires me.  It can inspire you too. 

(C) Bryan Barrow, 2014

Bryan Barrow is a widely recognized Project Risk Management consultant and Speaker, and the founder of Nova Consulting Ltd in the UK. Over the past twenty years has worked with Project Management Offices, Project Directors and both public and private sector organisations , helping them to improve project planning and rescue troubled projects. He also provides coaching and mentoring to help develop the skills of the next generation of project leaders.

Barrow is the author of Index Card Planning and The Project Planning Workshop Handbook. He publishes his subscription-only newsletter Project Leadership Tips every month. Subscribe at

Saturday, August 9, 2014

If only every Project ran like an old Honda Civic

[Also available as a podcast]

When I was in my late teens, I bought my first car. My friends were all doing the same - we all had our licenses and we wanted to put them to good use. Of course, not having a lot of money, we each ended up buying older, cheaper cars. I bought a 1974 Mazda RX4 from a family member, one friend bought an old Chevy Nova, another had an old sports car, and one had bought a 1977 Honda Civic.

CC Source:

All of these cars were made near the end of an era- close to the last generation of vehicles you could actually fix yourselves. All of them even had carburetors - no fancy fuel injection, and definitely no computer control systems. My car had only an AM radio, which I updated to AM/FM (but no cassette deck). When these cars were made, most computers filled a small room, and Personal Computers were not yet available.

Wheels = Freedom

Well, we were all very happy to have our own set of wheels, so we took good care of our cars - washed them regularly, learned how to do our own repairs, change the oil and spark plugs, the whole bit. Besides, we couldn't afford to send them in to the shop for anything but the most significant of problems; the rest we did ourselves, brake pads, shocks and all.

Although we had our own cars, we helped each other and worked like a team. We learned from each other, and each became the "go-to" person for a particular specialty. Brian went into auto mechanics in a big way, eventually extending it into a career that included welding and being able to fix just about anything. He quickly became the expert in everything automotive, and for anything major we all went to him for help.

As you would expect, Brian was the one with the best car.

However, at the time, we didn't think so. My RX4 was sleek and fast, the Nova was solid and gutsy, and our other friends' cars were sporty. We all kind of felt sorry for our mechanic friend Brian who only had a little red Honda Civic.

I mean, a 1977 Honda Civic wasn't really a serious car. Sure it was small, and good on fuel - but it wasn't much for show, not really. Not something you would want to take a girl on a date with, compared to any of the other cars we had. It wasn't gutsy, it wasn't fast, it wasn't much more than a tin can on wheels. Four or five people could pick it up and move it (and occasionally we did).

But over the years, Brian proved us just how wrong we were about his car.

We smiled when he put a tow-bar on his Civic.

And yet, Brian spent several summers in a row, tree planting in the mountainous interior of British Columbia. Everywhere he went, he drove his little Honda Civic - up and down steep logging roads, across creek beds - all while towing a home-built tent trailer nearly as big as his car.

When his car broke down every so often, Brian was able to get it up and running again in a matter of minutes - he was never stranded anywhere for long. He kept a toolbox in his car that he refined over time - and he kept that little car humming along, no matter where he went. 

When he had trouble with the ignition key, Brian just bypassed it and installed a push-button to start it, decades ahead of those hybrid cars. It may not have been very secure, but hey - who was going to steal an old Honda Civic?

When he went to the beach, Brian strapped his wind-surfer on the roof rack, and off he went - often with a car full of people. He could just squeeze in four passengers, all with their seat-belts on.

It even proved itself to be a stunt car - when it end up driving on two wheels after hitting a snowbank on the way back from camp one winter.

The car became a legend to us - it was practically invincible. It could go anywhere, pull anything, carry almost anything (including firewood and bags of manure). It was his pickup-truck, his 4X4, his go-anywhere-and-do-everything car, and he loved it to bits.

Brian finally admitted the car was perhaps close to its limits on one trip as he drove up the Coquihalla - the toll highway with a 20km long, continuous steep grade that once disabled my RX4 and killed hundreds of other vehicles. He had his windsurfer strapped on top, the tent trailer fully loaded and hitched on behind - and five people stuffed into the car. 

The car crawled up the hill at little more than a jogging pace, but it finally made it - all the way up, over and beyond to the campground, then all the way home again.

It was a marvel of engineering - and persistence, of both car and driver.

If only we all had an old Honda Civic on our Projects

We learned a lot of lessons from that old Honda Civic and our patient friend, aside from the practical car maintenance skills. Practical lessons that we took with us into our lives and various careers - and of course into my projects.

The legend of that car was spread far and wide, wherever we went - it became our informal mascot, and a symbol for achieving what others might think impossible. We grew together as friends around our cars, and that little car became the most respected of them all. It taught is the value of persistence, and looking beyond the surface to what lay beneath - be it a hunk of metal with tires, or someone you just met.

We could all use something as tenacious, persistent and resilient as that old car on our projects. Whether you use some kind of a mascot as a rallying point, or develop a vibrant common spirit that is instilled throughout the team, every project needs that little something to keep you going when the times get tough. We all sometimes need encouragement to realize you can do it (whatever your goals are), despite the odds.

Now, that old Honda Civic has probably been long recycled by now, and besides there was only the one that Brian had, so it would be hard to share it with all of you. However, I give you your own Honda Civic today, to help you survive your projects - in the form of some practical lessons we learned from it.

(H) ave faith. Even small teams can deliver amazing results, as long as you support and believe in them. Conversely, a team that does not believe in themselves will accomplish little. If your team is lacking in self-confidence, help them build it up through a series of small successes. The Honda Civic tackled each new challenge with caution, but Brian had confidence that they would make it through - and they always did, together. Over the years, that little Honda Civic even went places that heavy 4X4s dared not go.

(O) verlook the small flaws. No car or person is perfect, so don't expect them to be. If you look past the surface imperfections you will see a vast range of possibilities. I am pretty sure Brian looked at his little Civic every morning and saw the heart of a Monster Truck lurking within. You should do the same with your team - look past their quirks and odd habits and you will see their potential.

(N) ever give up. Brian never did - and as a result, his car never let him down. They had to work together to achieve it, just as your teams do. You can't do much on your own, but together in small groups you can accomplish amazing things - as long as you don't give up.

(D) o the impossible. Everyone else is doing the ordinary, while most of our greatest inventions were simply impossible - until someone made it happen. Projects exist to create change, to make something new or to make things better. Nothing is impossible unless you let it be so. Brian took it as a personal challenge to see just how far he and his little Civic could go - and he regularly amazed us all.

(A) lways look ahead. Sound advice when you are driving of course, but it applies equally to your projects. You won't make any progress rehashing past failures; you need to put the past behind you. Learn from it, certainly - but don't live in the past. You can't navigate while you are watching the rear view mirror. Whenever we got back from a group trip together, Brian was already looking forward to the next one.

(C) hallenge yourself. Without challenges, we don't grow in capabilities and confidence. Stretch your limits and get outside your comfort zone, and you will be surprised how far you can go. There is no doubt that Brian challenged his car to perform to the extreme limits - and beyond.

(I) nvest your time. Whether it is a hobby you enjoy, a new skill you are trying to develop, or trying to build up a team, there is no substitute for time spent. There are no true short-cuts in life; what you spend time practicing, you get better at. Brian invested countless hours in the maintenance and upkeep of that car, and from that he developed the skills and self-confidence to do almost anything mechanical. His skills expanded into a career working on all kinds of equipment - even building boats. If you want to build a better team - spend time with them. Spend time working to improve your own leadership skills, whether it is in the form of additional training, working with a coach or mentor, or simply applying what you have learned.

(V) ehicles need people - and so do you. On its own, the Civic was just a lump of old metal on rubber tires, slowly rusting. What made it special was that Brian made it so - his care, attention and dogged expectations that it could do what he wanted it to do is what set that car apart from all the rest. On our own, we are each a lonely individual slowly growing old - it is in our relationships with other people that we truly live.

(I) mprovise.You won't always have all of the answers, or the right tools at hand. Don't be afraid to step out on a limb and try something new. At one camp, we had walked all the way down the mountain from the tent site to go for a drive into town for some more supplies. Brian found out he had left his keys back in the tent - all the way back up the hill. Not wanting to walk all the way back up and down, he borrowed the keys from another Honda Civic - these happened to open up Brian's hatch-back, but not the side doors or ignition. With the back open and access to his toolbox, he climbed over the seats and quickly bypassed the ignition key with a push-button switch, and we were on our way into town.

(C) ongratulate yourself for finally making it there in the end. Whether it is for making it over the summit of the Coquihalla Highway, finishing your project or accomplishing a goal you set for yourself or your team - take a little time to celebrate. Life is short - enjoy it, and recognize a job well done.


We learned many lessons from Brian and his old Civic. Of course, the car was just a car when he bought it - but under Brian's guiding hand, it grew into something much greater. It was a part of our shared experience, and it had more heart and character than all of our fancier vehicles put together. Brian finally let the Civic go, years after he had bought a newer vehicle and the Civic was turning to rust in the yard. But its memory - and legend - lives on in each of us.

Good luck, and may all your projects run as well as that old Honda Civic.

Email: Gary Nelson, PMP

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Guest Post: What the World Cup Teaches Us About Project Management

By Nick Sharpe (P3M)

Whether you like it or not, there has been no escaping this year's World Cup. Despite the disappointment of England's untimely departure, the competition continues to dominate the front and back pages. Whilst he is nursing the pain of the USA's recent exit, P3M's resident Yank and marketing expert Dan ("Editor") has asked me to reflect upon the “lessons learned” from Brazil 2014.

Here's a list of 10 shameless analogies to project management from this year's tournament:

The ticket to understanding elements of your project management
potential may lie in this year's World Cup (image courtesy Jorge in Brazil
via @Flickr, re-used with permission. Changes were not made to the image.)

  1. The twelfth man - Whether it's been the sun, the samba or the Selecao, there's no denying that the support for this year's cup has been fantastic. Amid the hype, the USA's coach Jurgen Klinsmann gave a master-class in stakeholder engagement with his letter to America's bosses ahead of their game against Germany.
  2. The death of tiki-taka - Methodologies come and go. As Spain's exit shows us, the trick is to have the flexibility to choose an approach that fits the game and gets a result. This serves as a word of warning to those always following the flavour of the month.
  3. "No tactics without technique" - The English national team have once again failed to make it far on the biggest stage. Over-drilled and under-skilled, Hodgson's men proved that no matter how good the tactics, a team needs a fundamental level of competency before it has the capability to achieve its goals.
  4. Beware! Underdog bites! - In a group of three former world champions, Costa Rica were the lowest risk on the register at the start of the tournament. That hasn't stopped them becoming an issue.
  5. Beware! Striker bites! - What struck me about Suarez' misdemeanour was the public outrage incurred: not by the monster munch itself, but by his silence on the subject, before making an apology. Whether there's an appeal process or not on your project's evaluation, no communication is bad communication in times of crisis.
  6. Home advantage - Brazil may not have been at their scintillating best so far in the tournament, but it comes as no surprise that half of the teams to reach the quarter finals are South American. Familiar working conditions, lofty aims and high expectations have undoubtedly spurred the hosts - and their neighbours - to outperform the rest of the world.
  7. A game of two halves…and extra time and penalties - The number of games that have gone into extra time this year has probably been more popular with the fans than with the players due to the heat. Overtime has seen the levels of performance drop and the number of mistakes increase as legs tire and concentration is lost.
  8. "Rome wasn't built in a day, but I wasn't on that particular job…" - What do 'Big Phil' Scolari, Didier Deschamps and van Gaal have in common apart from a team in the quarters? Charisma. The value of strong leadership for team work, conflict resolution, communication and - ultimately - project success, is undoubted and immeasurable in value.
  9. Calamity in Qatar - Whilst Brazil seems to be getting over its teething problems, Sepp and his cronies continue to baffle with their handling of plans for the World Cup in Qatar. If you want an example of how not to do a risk assessment, how not to engage stakeholders, how not to monitor compliance, or how not to run a project: look no further!
  10. On scope, on time and on budget? - Despite its successes, criticisms that will mar the legacy of the Brazilian World Cup have all come from three classic project management perspectives. First, delivering all that entails an international tournament in a country with more pressing socio-economic and political issues was the cause of the widespread riots that threatened to kill the fever of the cup. Second, spray painted turf at Fortaleza (Editor's Note: not to mention rickety structures) was a symptom of widespread under delivery. From the pitches, to the stadiums, to the transport infrastructure, Brazil did not come close to meeting requirements on schedule. Finally, the cost of the World Cup will ultimately be judged against the benefits that the tournament brings to the nation over the next few years. (Editor’s note: Against the backdrop of Rio de Janiero playing host to the next edition of the Summer Olympics, the impact could face even more scrutiny. Given what has transpired in Greece in recent years, the legacy of hosting the 2004 Summer Olympics is negligible and forgotten, especially in light of losing out on so much economically without the burden of the World Cup hosting gig to boot.) Whether the impact of this World Cup demonstrated value for money in Brazil will be a question that overshadows the tournament's place in history.

Nick Sharpe joined p3m global as a University of Exeter graduate in 2013, working in a consulting capacity to drive improvements in the Project Management methodologies of their clients. Nick has worked with clients in the recruitment, telecoms and energy sectors, and with HR, Business Services and IT departments.

Friday, June 13, 2014

What's the big deal with Team Sports, anyway?

[Also available as a podcast]

When I was a child, I didn't like sports. 

Well, that's not exactly true - I loved swimming and spent almost every day during my young summers in the water at our local pool, and was part of the swim team. Wrinkly skin, and a persistent smell of chlorine - it was a wonderful way to spend a good part of your summer's day. Besides, when your town had an outdoor pool that was only open for 3-4 months out of the year, you made the most of it. The rest of the year it was either too cold, or just plain closed, as the pool was left drained for 6 months of the year while the temperatures plummeted from freezing down to -40 degrees Celsius in the coldest months.

In the winter, starting sometime in November, the outdoor ice rinks were getting into full swing. I spent a few winters trying to perfect long, graceful glides around the temporary oval of a Speed Skating rink on our Elementary school field, while my younger brothers were just starting getting into ice hockey at the PeeWee level.

I think I managed two or three years of Speed Skating before I stopped going, while my brothers went on to play hockey with a passion - and still do today, over thirty years later.

My favourite sport fell back to swimming, which I pursued through to Bronze Medallion, and still enjoy today.

The key thing about swimming is that it is very much a solo sport, even if you are on a swim team. Separate swim lanes, individual competitors - even when they held "team" races like a relay, you were still the only person in your lane at one time.

I did not enjoy team sports at all - not even Hockey, which is close to sacrilege for anyone born in Canada.
(C) Fotolia 59510276

One for All and All for ... Someone Else

When I say I didn't enjoy team sports, that is exactly what I meant. Of course, everyone had to try a range of sports in school during PE and I was no exception, but as a general rule, I did not enjoy it.

I wasn't trying to be difficult, but a combination of poor coordination and being smaller than the sporty kids left me on the sidelines or regularly ridiculed when I tried each sport. Even though I tried to improve my skills through practice, in a small town it was hard to get away from the sporty kids, who were also my ever-present horde of bullies. When there were only 30 kids in your grade level in the town, it was even harder - the kids you played with all tended to be from your class. The result was the sporty kids got better playing after school, while I continued to be sidelined, or ridiculed further at my attempts to improve. Eventually I just gave up trying.

Needless to say, those experiences left a sour taste that lasted for years - long after my coordination and abilities caught up with my growing frame and I tried my hand at darts, golf and other skill-based solo sports, and some hoop practice with a basketball. 

I had come to see most team sports as a place for jocks and the sporty ones - but not for me. I didn't even bother to watch professional games on TV - except for the hockey playoffs when the level of excitement infected even me.

The "I" in Team

There is no "I" in team, or so the saying goes. It is all about the team, not being an individual, blah blah blah.

But for me, I just couldn't see the point of team sports - as far as I could see, it had no value. People running or skating about, whacking balls or pucks around, bashing each other and trying to get an object through - or into - some type of net.

Even though I was part of a hockey household with wildly varied dinner times as my younger brothers dashed about to hockey games here, there and everywhere, I just didn't "get it". I could see they had fun - and more than a few trips to the emergency room over the years. Dislocated joints, broken bones, concussions, but I just could not see why they continued to play, year after year.

While recovering from a dislocated shoulder, my youngest brother forgot his left hand on the bathroom counter one evening. He had been brushing his teeth, and his left arm was so weak he could not even lift it.  He had to step back into the bathroom and pick up his left hand with his right, smiling sheepishly as I passed him on my way in to brush my teeth. Even then, he couldn't wait to get back onto the ice rink.

Sometimes I thought I must be the only sane person in the room. My brothers had to be nuts to get back out there after each major injury.

Just last year (in his forties), the same brother lost the end off of one finger trying to catch a slap shot in his glove. I shook my head when I heard about it, half way around the world. His hockey team will always be "short-handed" from now on.

I came to believe, through observing my brothers and other people over the years, the "I" in Team must be "Insane", where sports was concerned. 

A Change of Heart

If you have read any of my other articles, you will find that I feel quite strongly about the positive value and virtues of teamwork. So how can I reconcile a dislike of team sports with being a strong supporter of teams today?

Well, a few things have happened over the years to give me a change of heart.

The first was in 2001 (at the age of 34), when I was managing a system implementation project outside a major eastern US city.  I was sitting in a bar on a Friday evening with a work colleague, winding down from a long week's work. An American College Football game was playing on the TV behind the bar, which I was busy ignoring as I dipped deep-fried cheese sticks into sour cream and jalapeno jam. My colleague had ordered them to share, and they were fantastic - hot and spicy, but perfectly balanced with the sour cream and some celery. My colleague had also brought us to the bar to watch the football game, as she was a big fan of football, held parties during the SuperBowl, the whole bit.

She was busy yelling at the TV in between jalapeno cheese bites, encouraging the players or complaining about bad plays. She noticed my comparative dis-interest, and asked if I watched football much.

"Not really," I said, feeling awkward. She had brought me to watch the game, but aside from knowing the basic rules, I didn't go out of my way to watch it. I had only been to one live football game in my life, and someone else had bought the tickets.

She took it as a challenge to help me enjoy the game, so she explained the rules in more detail and commented on each play as the game unfolded on the TV behind the bar. We finished the plate of jalapeno cheese sticks and ordered another. I soon found I was paying more attention to the game than I was to the fried cheese sticks, and they were starting to get cold. I was, for the first time in my life, enjoying watching a football game - but it wasn't the score or the throwing of the ball itself that interested me. It was the interaction of the players.

Something had switched on inside my head - I was seeing organized sport in a whole new light. I could see the coordination within the team, the players working together, trusting someone to be in the right place to catch the ball just as they were tackled. I could see the results of a well-executed play that relied on the whole team working together - and the failed play where one player tried to do it all on his own.

In that one evening, I had suddenly gained the ability to appreciate watching football, albeit from an unexpected angle. I was now seeing the game with a leader's eye.

The second revelation was not a particular event, but more of a gradual progression since that evening in 2001. Over the past 13 years, I have come to appreciate almost any other team sport - as long as I know the basic rules. I am now able to relate the teamwork I see every day on my projects to the teamwork I see on the sports field - whether it is basketball, rugby, baseball, soccer or any other team sport, even Cricket.

Although I still don't go out of my way to watch that much sport on TV, if I am watching it with someone else, I will enjoy watching it with them. Of course, live is often better than TV, so every now and then I will actually buy tickets for the family and we will go watch a live rugby game. I even went to a Cricket match with my teenager, and loved it.

The best joy of all, however, is now watching my own children play team sports - soccer and hockey. Not much ice in New Zealand so it is Inline Hockey, but hey - Hockey runs in the Canadian blood, even if it skipped a generation.


When I was younger and did not appreciate team sports, I saw them as unimportant and without value. I literally could not understand why anyone would enjoy them - let alone watch them on TV for hours on end every week. Yelling at a glass screen where the players could obviously not hear you made even less sense.

However, what I came to realize - and finally accept - was that even though sports was not important to me, it mattered to others that I cared about. And you know what? That was OK.

So my final revelation is this: 

There is only value where you place value.

Each of us determines the value system for our lives - those things that are important to us, such as family, friends, code of ethics, causes we believe in, and so on. We may inherit them from our families as we grow up, but over time we fine-tune our value systems to model what is the most important to us. This helps us shape how we fit into the world - at least, as we perceive it.

Our value system also strongly affects how we interact with others, and how we behave towards each other in a variety of situations. The foundation of a strong team is a core set of common values, and learning to appreciate that other people have different values than yourself.

The most common source of misunderstanding and frustration is where values do not align, and you cannot seem to sort out the differences. However, the value of a great leader is being able to take that group of people with different skills, beliefs, backgrounds and attitudes - and then craft them into a Team with a common vision and shared values.  

The principle is always the same, whether it is on a construction site, in the project office, or on a large patch of muddied grass.

(C) Fotolia 62470185

Good luck on your projects, keep an eye on the ball - and no matter where you go or what you do, support your favourite Team.

Email: Gary Nelson, PMP

Monday, May 26, 2014

Dis-Orientation: The importance of Project Vision

[Also available as a podcast]

"Where there is no vision, the people perish..." Proverbs 29:18

One of the most important things you will do as a leader or Project Manager is to communicate a compelling vision to your team or organization. It not only sets the direction for the team and the project, it also begins to pull a group of individuals into a cohesive unit - and eventually, if all goes well, into a high-performing team.

Without vision, all is lost - or has the potential to be, unless you bring things back on track. This not only applies to your projects, it applies to "real life" too, as I learned first-hand many years ago...

Image (C) Fotolia 49516437

Up to the Snow

In 1992, I went skiing with a work colleague and his wife on Mt Ruapehu, a large volcano in the center of the North Island of New Zealand. I had been once before, but this was their first time on the mountain. It was a brilliant, sunny winter day - clear and crisp, and you could see all the way to the west coast from the Turoa ski lodge. The sky was a deep, intense blue you can only get with pollution-free air.

When you drive up to the ski lodge there is a sign for a pullout about half way. No matter the apparent winter conditions, you have to stop and put chains on your car tires before driving any further. The altitude near the peak is high enough to support a permanent ice cap all year round, and the winter roads are often slick with black ice when they are not covered in snow.

One interesting fact about skiiing on a Volcano: When you line up to buy your lift tickets and rent ski gear, there are signs all around telling you that they can give you a 30 minute warning in the event of a volcanic event. If an event does happen, you are supposed to stay on the ridges, and not try to ski out down the gullies. Makes a lot of sense, really - water, mud or lava will flow down the low points in the gullies first.

It was not an idle warning - when I was there in 1992, there was a large hot water crater lake, surrounded by ice. A small 'burp' from the volcano could make the lake level rise, melt the ice and cause a mud flow called a Lahar. In 1953, the crater lake level rose in the middle of the night and caused a massive Lahar down the eastern side of the mountain, through the Whakapapa ski field. It wiped out a ski chalet and a railway bridge near Tangiwai, minutes before a passenger train dove into the chasm, killing 151 people. It was the worst railway disaster in New Zealand history.

Note: The large hot water lake in the crater is smaller than it used to be; in 1995 and again in 1996 a series of eruptions reshaped the top of the mountain. The eruptions started September 25, 1995 - near the end of the ski season. People were still skiing while it vented ash. Things quietened down through the summer, and the ski fields were preparing to open for the season when another eruption cycle started on June 17, 1996. There have been other minor eruptions (2006) and a lahar (2007) since then.

Duly warned, we put on our skis and made our way over to the ski lift. I took off my prescription glasses and put them away in my small backpack. I pulled out a pair of regular polarized sunglasses with a sport strap and slipped them on. I could not see as clearly, but I had skied that way before - things were a bit fuzzy but I could see shapes well enough to stay on the trail and avoid running into things at least. With the strong NZ sunlight, I needed to protect my eyes from the harsh UV rays and snow glare more than I needed sharp vision.

I quickly learned that skiing on Ruapehu was different than every other mountain I had skied on before. The first, obvious difference was the lack of trees - Ruapehu only had rocks poking out of the snow here and there, otherwise everything was white. It made it a lot harder to see where the runs were - a lot of the time, you had to rely on simply following the tracks made by other skiers. There were no clear edges to any of the runs - unless you counted the occasional cliffs and drop-offs, which were still white-on-white. Fortunately, it was fairly easy to follow the tracks of the other skiers. With my polarized sunglasses, I could clearly see the sharp edges of white and shadow in the snow, even with my blurred vision.

The three of us skied together the whole time - but as they were more experienced, they were often waiting for me at the bottom of each run. At around 3pm we paused near the top of one run to admire the clear, perfect view of Mt Taranaki - a classic volcanic cone, far away on the west coast. Looking to the left, we could see some cloud approaching from the south, getting close to the mountain. We were getting tired and hungry anyway, so we decided to call it a day and head back down to the ski lodge. The runs were already emptying out - and as slow as I was, no one had passed me in a while. For long stretches of time, the only people I could see were my friends up in front.

As we descended, the cloud enveloped the mountain. It was not a thick cloud, more like a dense fog - there was still plenty of light coming through it from above. That, however, was the problem - everything was now a brilliant, diffuse white, and because of the fog you could not see anyone or anything beyond about 10 metres. We slowed down so that we would not suddenly come across any large rocks (or cliffs) at speed, but the visibility rapidly deteriorated.

My colleague and his wife seemed to be OK up in front, but I was having increasing difficulty in seeing where I was going - I could only see where to go by following their dark shapes ahead of me. The faint outlines of the ski tracks in the snow had long since disappeared in the white glow, with no shadows remaining. Only the occasional black rock here and there reassured me the outer edge of the run was still on my right.

At one point I took off my sunglasses because I thought I could see just a hint of shadow, or difference in the snow without them - with my astigmatism it was still a blur, but it was the best I could manage. I couldn't stop to get my prescription glasses out of my bag - my colleague and his wife were getting ahead of me. By now we were very worried about getting down to the lodge. The glasses probably wouldn't have helped much anyway.

We continued to ski like that down the hill with them leading, just ahead, but they got faster and faster as they got more nervous. I was struggling to keep up - and to see. At one point the pair completely disappeared into the fog, so I sped up even more to catch up. I suddenly felt very alone, vulnerable and disoriented.

A moment later, I was airborne - white all around, above and below me, with no sense of movement. I was not even sure I was still upright.

Project Vision

There are many books and countless articles about leadership, and nearly as many about the importance of setting a vision for your team. Vision is not only about having goals - although setting goals is an essential part about getting things done. Vision is much more than that - a well-communicated vision generates emotion and passion within the team. It creates a common identity, a strong sense of purpose and direction. With good leadership, a compelling vision and a skilled, engaged team working together, there are practically no limits to what you can accomplish together.

The most powerful thing a team can buy into is Purpose - why we are doing this project, who it will help, and how we can make a difference. When people understand, accept and embody these themes, they will commit themselves wholeheartedly to the common vision - be it a short-term project, or the long-term future of your company.

The opposite to this is also true - if you do not have a compelling vision driving you, pulling you, pushing you onwards, you are likely to have a team busy spinning their wheels and accomplishing nothing. Sure - they may look busy, they may even produce mountains of paperwork as proof-of-life, but if they are not pulling in the same direction, you will soon find out you are going nowhere.


After a brief eternity, I landed skis-first on firm snow and promptly fell over. I was at the bottom of a curved gulley, used as a natural half-pipe for snowboarders. A few of them were doing their last runs of the day and whooshed on by me.

My colleague and his wife were standing at the side of the gully waiting for me, and came over to help me up. They had seen the lip of the gulley and had skied gently down the side. In my haste and blurred vision, I had not seen the edge at all, and flew nearly 3 metres out and 3 metres down to land on packed snow in the middle of the gully - shaken, embarrassed, but not hurt. We skied the rest of the way out without incident - we were now below the main cloud level, and we could see our way a more and more clearly with thicker cloud above and improved contrast.


Having clear vision - both in the literal sense, and on your projects - is  essential to success. Whether your goal is to simply get down off a mountain, or to deliver a complex multimillion dollar project on time and meet your stakeholder's needs, you simply can't do without it.

And sometimes Vision, or the lack of it, can literally mean life-or-death.

Wait a minute, you say - aren't you overdoing it, just a bit? I mean how hard can it be to find your way back down to the ski lodge?

The dazzling white cloud that made it so hard for us to see was actually the leading edge of a storm that lasted for two days. We only had our clothes, skis and small packs with water and snacks - we were not prepared to bivouac in the snow. It would have been all too easy for us to get off the trail, and miss the ski lodge completely.

Two years earlier, on August 13, 1990, a group of 13 soldiers and Naval ratings on a winter survival course were not so lucky. They were caught in an intense blizzard with high winds and zero visibility, but were not prepared for it. They had become disoriented near the summit, and dug snow caves for shelter while two men went for help. Rescuers found them three days later, huddled in the snow and suffering from exposure. Six frozen bodies were found only 150 metres from the Dome Hut, where they could have taken shelter and survived - if only they could have seen it.

Good luck with your projects, dress warm - and never forget the importance of a clear and compelling Vision.

Email: Gary Nelson, PMP  

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Project Management Kids Camp 2014: Developing youth to become empowered, successful citizens of tomorrow

The following is a great initiative that I learned about at a recent PMI Leadership Institute Meeting in Dubai. I met and talked with several board members from the PMI Poland Chapter, and was greatly impressed with the passion and energy they have put into promoting Project Management Life Skills for children over the past 10 years. They are now expanding and adding a new camp in another region of Poland this year.

I think you will find this inspiring - and I hope you can help in some way!

- Gary

Project Management Kids Camp 2014: Developing youth to become empowered, successful citizens of tomorrow

Summer Camp is something that many children and families look forward to every year. Experiencing the great outdoors, camping in tents or cabins, swimming in a lake, roasting marshmallows over an open fire, and participating in a wide range of activities with dozens of other children are some of the things that these lucky children have to look forward to every year.

But what about the children who cannot afford to go to camp, especially those who do not have a family?

Every year since 2004, the PMI Poland Chapter (Gdansk Branch) has run an English Camp for orphaned children ages 9 to 14 ( The Summer English Camp started in 2004, and Winter English Camp was added in 2009. At the camp, these under-privileged children enjoy many of the things that other children do at a typical camp, but they also get to do much, much more.

The camps run by the PMI Poland Chapter are fun, but they also provide lasting value to the children who attend these events. When most children head home after a typical summer camp is finished, they take with them fond memories and new friendships. The children who attend the PMI Poland Project Management Kids Camps will leave with fond memories and new friendships, but they also take with them a range of life skills that will set them up for success for years to come.

The Project Management Kids Camp is designed to teach essential life skills to children, using project management concepts as a solid foundation. Each year, between 20 and 30 orphans will get the opportunity to go to camp, with the numbers dependent on financial contributions from sponsors. The camp is not-for-profit, and is organized and run entirely by approximately 40 volunteers who donate their time and passion each year to ensure that these children have a fun time at camp, while also developing new skills. Not all of the volunteers are from Poland; there are a number of volunteers who come from other countries and even from overseas to donate their time and skills to the camp.

Following 10 years of success in running the summer camp program in GdaƄsk, the PMI Poland Chapter is now expanding the summer camp program. The Warsaw Branch will be running their first Project Management Kids Camp in Serock, which is being held from July 20 to August 3, 2014. They are looking for volunteers to help run the camp, and sponsors to help support the orphaned children to attend the camp in Serock.

The main theme of the camp in Serock this year is Make a Movie, as the children will work together through the 14 days of camp to create a film of their own design from the early concept stage through to the finished production.

Volunteers and sponsors are welcome to support either camp in Poland, but we are looking to make sure the first Project Mangement Kids Camp in Serock is a resounding success - and in order to achieve that goal, we need you!

About the camp

Project management skills are not something that is limited to a select few experts; the basic skills involved in working on and managing projects can benefit many aspects of everyone's work and personal life. Developing these skills at a young age not only enables these empowered learners to be more successful in school today, it also sets them up to become successful in any career they choose when they graduate and enter the workforce.

During the Project Management Kids Camp at Serock, the children will engage in a wide range of fun activities as they work together in project teams to produce their own movie. These will include:
- Learning project management concepts
- Learning and practising English
- Sports
- Dance
- Music
- Cooking
- Photography
- Robotics
- Workshops in graphics, arts and handicrafts

The children will gain self-confidence and practical experience as they develop scenarios, create soundtracks, design and select scenery, take photos, record video, create posters, invitations and marketing tools to promote their movie. But above all, the greatest benefits will come from developing collaboration skills by working as a team to achieve a common goal - and to enjoy the shared sense of accomplishment as they showcase their movie at the premiere.

Through participating in these activities, these children will learn essential project management and life skills such as team building, communication, critical and creative thinking, planning, management, budgeting and scheduling. As the children learn and practice these skills, both during and after the camp, there is no telling how far they can go!

How can I help?

The PMI Poland Chapter is need of both volunteers and sponsors.

Volunteers: If you are able to volunteer your time and skills to the camp, please contact Agnieszka or Piotr for more information about how you can contribute. They are looking for a wide range of skills in order to deliver a successful camp, and you do not need to be a project manager in order to volunteer.

Sponsors: The cost to send a child to camp is approximately 2000 PLN per child ($660 USD/ 390 GBP / 480 Euro). Any amount you are able to donate to support an orphaned child going to camp is welcome, but if you are able to fully sponsor one or more children, that will help ensure their place at the camp. 

There are also many benefits of being a sponsor, in addition to the key satisfaction of having helped to make an orphan's life better by providing them an opportunity to gain valuable life skills - an opportunity they would not have without your support. Thanks to partnerships with other PMI Chapters, the PMI Poland Chapter can offer sponsors such opportunities as participation in PMI conferences and seminars in Warsaw and London, or publications of their articles in magazines and newspapers in Poland and the UK.

Photos: English camp in Gdansk | Used with permission of the PMI Poland Chapter -

For more information on volunteering for the camp or the benefits of becoming a sponsor, please contact the PMI Poland Chapter:

PMI Poland Chapter Project Sponsor - Agnieszka Krogulec  (

Project Management Kids Camp Fundraising Lead - Piotr Wieleba (

The next step belongs to you - are you prepared to help make a positive difference in an orphan's life?

Friday, May 9, 2014

May Your Projects Never Be Late Again: Secrets from a Road Trip

[Also available as a podcast]

How do you make sure your projects complete on time? When you set a deadline, you are supposed communicate it to everyone, right? Then, presumably,the entire team will work towards that date, vendor and client alike, to make it happen.

That is usually what happens on most projects - you may be a little late on some target dates, a little early on others, but generally all of you are working towards the same dates, and hopefully the same priorities.

But what about when it doesn't work out, and deadlines are missed repeatedly?

Certainly you can apply contract penalties to a vendor, but that does not always help to achieve the desired effect of getting finished on time.

(C) Fotolia_44112672
  What do you do if it seems like part of your own team is disregarding your schedule? What if they seem to have a different sense of timing altogether, no matter how clearly you communicate the priorities and schedule?

This can be particularly problematic as you near the end of the project, when there is still a lot left to get wrapped up. People may be getting tired and losing focus - but you need to keep them delivering, right to the end. 

Tempers may flare, relationships can suffer, and you can end up with an even bigger mess on your hands if you are not careful, with little to show for your project as you near that all-important deadline. All the while, the clock is still ticking.

A family friend was plagued with this problem for many years - until he figured out the secret. He not only found out a way to keep a very important chronologically-challenged team member/stakeholder happy, but he also managed to bring things back on schedule, time and time again.

So how did he do it?

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

Time, they say - is relative. This is particularly true when you are on holiday, and especially so when you take a road trip to see family and friends. The clock seems to have its own independent pace, or at least you don't care much about it until it is time to leave. Then, the clock suddenly grabs your attention again and you have that familiar feeling of pressure - of time weighing down on you.

The problem is - this time pressure often only seems to be affecting you. The rest of the team are still in holiday mode, clocks switched off and hidden from sight. Getting there may have been half the fun - but the going home part may not seem that fun at all. So why should they think about it?

However, you still need to get them moving; it's time to go, real life beckons - and you have no choice but to get them re-focused and prepare them for the last leg of the Road Trip

(C) Fotolia_44112672

There is a lot to do and not much time, so we will spell it out as we go. Let's get started!

For our R.O.A.D.T.R.I.P, we need to consider the following: 


noun - a close and harmonious relationship in which the people or groups concerned understand each other's feelings or ideas and communicate well.

When you start out on your project or on your journey, you need to have a common vision and purpose. Simply put, you need to communicate and understand where you are all trying to go and what you are planning to achieve. If one of you heads out the back door instead of getting into the car, you have a problem before you even put the keys in the ignition.

On a project, this is achieved by clearly articulating the vision and desired outcomes. Ideally the project sponsor or a key stakeholder communicates the message to the project team, but failing that, the Project Manager should take on the task. If logistics permit, try to have everyone together in the same room, at the same time - the Project Kickoff is an ideal opportunity for this. 

When you share the vision with the full team early into the project, it eliminates a lot of potential misunderstandings. The team also gets to meet each other (some for the first time), and they will begin to develop a sense of rapport that will carry them through the project, even if they work at a distance from each other.

This sense of rapport will also help you push through to the end, particularly if the core team is around for the full duration of the project.


When I was twelve, friends of our family and their two boys came to stay with us for a week-long visit. We lived in a small town at the time, with not a lot generally going on, so visits from family or friends were kind of a big deal. How small was the town? Well, under a thousand, unless you added in the dogs and cats. So really, not much going on compared to a big city.

Our friends had lived in the town for several years, and we had become close; the two boys were best friends with my younger brothers, being closer in age to each other. They had moved down to Vancouver the year before, so we were all looking forward to the visit.

They arrived in their car late one summer afternoon, we helped them unload their car, and the visit began. Kids first played in the house, then in the yard, and then the noise carried on down the street, friends re-connecting and just having fun. The adults caught up on recent events, chatting for a while in the kitchen, then the conversation moved out to the back yard. The swatting of mosquitoes struck a counterpoint to the sizzle of hamburgers and steaks grilling on the Barbeque. The conversations went on late into the evening, well after the younger kids were supposed to be in bed.

Organize the Team

Once you know where you are going and what you need to do, you will need to organize the project team to get the job done. Depending on your project, this may be a small internal team, or a large, distributed team involving multiple vendors, business units and teams spread across the planet.

You need to organize the project team and assign tasks from the outset, but this is only half the battle. Managing the return journey, or the final leg of the project, can require some special handling. Some people may not want it to end, and may drag their feet on producing those final deliverables. Incidentally, this common drag-your-feet mentality may have also spawned the "20/80" rule, i.e. "the last 20 percent of the project can seem to take 80 percent of the effort".


Throughout the visit, the adults visited and kids played, from sun-up to sun down. Everyone enjoyed themselves and the time they spent together. A week can seem like a long time, but it is far too short when you are having fun visiting. However, as with all visits, it was finally coming to an end.

The night before they were to leave, the visiting father announced their schedule for the morning. He stressed that he didn't want to leave late, as they had a long drive ahead of them. 

"We need to get up early, have breakfast, and get packed up quickly so we can all be on the road by 10am," he said firmly. His wife nodded. The boys sighed. "We need everybody helping, so we can get out of here on time." 

Act on the Plan

When you have the vision, the team and your plan, you need to put it into action. Otherwise it is all just a nice theory and a pretty Gantt chart on the wall.

Plain and simple, you just need get to work - and follow the plan! Sounds, simple right?


In the morning, we all got up early and had breakfast. Once the suitcases were packed, my younger brothers and the other two boys shot out the back door for a last chance to play before they had to leave. They made the most of it, tearing up and down the street, some riding on bicycles with the others running along behind. Inside the house, the adults were chatting - well, at least the two mothers still were.

I was outside with the men, helping them carry the suitcases and bags out to the car. After nudging one suitcase a little tighter into the pile, the visiting father walked back up to the front door, and called up into the house.

"Hurry up Dear, we need to get going. We want to make it to the hotel before dinner."

"Just another minute!" was the reply.

Decide what is Actually Important

Not everything on your project is important. Well, not of equal importance anyway. There will be different sets of priorities as you work through the project, and as a result, not all relationships will go smoothly. At times, some people will disagree with your priorities or simply rub you the wrong way. 

The key thing is to think about what is most important in each situation before you react - what is the most important thing - the schedule, the deliverable - or the relationship?


He grunted as he lifted the next pair of suitcases and then walked towards the car. I grabbed a smaller suitcase and followed behind. He set down the suitcases and looked at his watch. Reading it up-side-down, I could see it was five minutes to 10.

He seemed pretty relaxed though, which surprised me. My father had told me that his friend hated to be late, and got really grumpy about it.

The odd thing was, he did not look grumpy or annoyed at all. 

More curious than polite, I just straight out asked him. "Why aren't you grumpy?"

He raised an eyebrow. "Why would I be grumpy?"

"Because Dad said you don't like to be late," I replied.


Dealing with people is hard, especially when they are not doing what you want them to be doing. It takes a lot of effort to communicate, manage expectations, re-share the vision and priorities, re-set expectations, communicate some more, only to find they are still not complying, or simply "not getting it". It can be extremely frustrating - but you have to be smart about how you approach it, rather than just acting on your frustration.

You may simply need to employ different tactics - if you can't solve the problem head on, try and approach it from a different angle.


He gave a little smile. "I used to get grumpy when we would go on trips. The first few years we were married, I got very frustrated whenever we were trying to leave. My wife would always want to have a little more time to visit or look around, no matter what I did or said."

He lifted a suitcase into the back of the car. "At first, I decided I would just start packing up early and load the car myself, to give her more time to visit. That way, she would hopefully feel she had visited enough, and would know it was time to go when I finished packing the car."


Action is not everything. Sometimes, you just need to take a step back and look at the situation or the project from a distance. When you are in the thick of things, it can be hard to look at the big picture. 

You need some time to reflect on a regular basis. Little inspiration actually happens when we are sitting at our desks, slogging away, focused on the small details. You may have already noticed that your best ideas happen when you are taking a short break, during a walk around the block, or simply on the way to the water cooler, or stepping out to get a coffee.

If you find you are getting stuck on a problem, or getting all worked up about it, you need to get up, stretch, and take a short break away from your work area. This applies equally to project problems and people problems. Take a break and some time to reflect on the issue - it will be time well invested.


He picked up the second suitcase and stuffed it into the back of the car. "Unfortunately, it didn't work. I would end up doing most of the work to pack up, and she still kept visiting long after I had finished packing the car. We would always end up leaving late, and we would often argue in the car once we got driving down the road."

"Let me tell you, you don't want to make your wife angry, even when you think you're right. It's not worth it," he warned.


"If at first you don't succeed, try, try again." - Thomas H. Palmer

One key to success is to not keep doing the same things over and over again. One definition of insanity is where you repeat the same thing over and over again, but expect different results.

If what you are doing is not working, try again, certainly - but try something else. You may just need to apply a small tweak, or you may need to come up with something truly different.

One key difference between a project problem and a people problem is you can try variations on a theme with a project problem as much as you like. However, if you try that with people, it is seldom successful - they will soon see through your repeated, feeble attempts to get them to change, and more than likely get annoyed with you and become even more resistant to your efforts. 

You need to be truly innovative - and you may eventually realize that you can't change other people - but you can change you, and your approach to things.


He took the suitcase from my hand and put it on top of the other two."But now, it all works out. She gets to visit, I still load the car, and we all leave happy."

"How do you do that?" I asked as he closed the back of the car.

"I finally got smart. I realized that she would never change - she would always want to have the last few minutes of visiting. After all, it would be months or even a year before we would see our friends again. I finally learned the secret," he winked.

Kids love secrets. "What was it? What?"

Plan for Delays

No project runs perfectly to all parts of the original schedule. You need to allow for some slippage, for under-estimation of task effort. When you build your plan, you will factor in all of the things you know, and probably a lot of assumptions. You will also likely include people factors into your estimates as well - i.e. if we are able to get Bob on that part of the project, we will be able to get that done in (X) weeks, but James would take a couple weeks longer, because he has less experience.

It is bad practice to always try to design for the best-case schedule; you may not be able to get Bob or James, or even your third pick. If you need to bring in somebody new, it may even take (2X) to get the job done.

Instead, design for a realistic schedule, taking into consideration the potential resources and the level of risk on your project. Don't make it too lean or too padded, but you need to plan for a few inevitable delays. You may also want to introduce additional deadlines ahead of the important ones, in order to identify potential delays early.


He leaned down close to me and whispered. "I gave her a different departure time than when we actually need to leave. If we need to leave at Noon to get to the next stop in time, I will tell her we need to leave no later than 10am."
He stood up, still speaking quietly. "That way, she gets to visit a little longer, and we still leave a little early according to my schedule. When we finally get in the car, everybody is happy, and she feels just a little bit guilty about being late. However, I am smiling inside instead of being grumpy. There are no more arguments in the car about leaving late."


If history has shown that a particular project resource or vendor is habitually late, you may need to take extraordinary measures to ensure they don't impact your project deadlines.

The reasons behind the lateness can vary widely, from misinterpreting your final deadlines as their delivery deadlines, or a misaligned set of priorities. Proactive communication is always your best tool - but if they are late in delivery time after time, and they appear unlikely to change behavior, you need to take a step beyond the project norms.

It might only be used as a last resort, but in cases like this, you may need to have two sets of deadlines.
  • the set you share openly for them to deliver to you, and 
  • the real, final, "secret" (internal) deadlines that you are responsible to deliver to your sponsor.
In the end, you have to do what it takes to make sure you can deliver your project - on time.

He winked. "Of course, I still have to act a little grumpy to hurry them into the car, or we really would be late. But you have to promise me you won't tell her the secret, or it won't work anymore."

I still haven't told her - although if she reads this, the cat is finally out of the bag. Of course, it has been well over thirty years since then, so she may have already figured it out by herself.

Good luck with your projects, enjoy the Road Trip, and may all your projects complete on time - however you need to define your schedule.

Email: Gary Nelson, PMP  
Project resources for kids: