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Gazza's Guide to Practical Project Management: Tips and Advice on Surviving the Project Management Journey

Gazza's Guide to Practical Project Management: Tips and Advice on Surviving the Project Management Journey

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Gazza's Guide to Practical Project Management: Tips and Advice on Surviving the Project Management Journey

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Lançado em:
Mar 11, 2013


Life is complicated. If we can simplify the job of getting things done, the better off we usually are. This is particularly important in managing projects. In this book, Gary (Gazza) tackles the complexity of managing projects by breaking the essential components of Project Management down into practical, simple concepts. Whether you simply have an interest in Project Management or are already managing them, this book has something for you.

For most people, we remember things best when they are accompanied by music, or are part of a story. While there is no musical score to this book, there are plenty of project management lessons wrapped in entertaining stories to help the concepts stick. Featuring popular episodes from Gazza's Corner blog and all-new content, this book addresses the four main stages of typical projects: Initiation/Planning, Execution, Closeout and Project Control.

What you will find in this book:
Learn about the importance of the Project Kickoff - and why you need a Monkey to help you through it.

Need to create a new Project Plan? Learn to write it as a story based on lessons learned from a famous author.

Writing requirements? Learn how to develop exceptional ones through lessons learned from Ice Cream - and the Spice Girls.

Implementing Organizational Change? Learn how to do it successfully by growing a Desert.

Learn about the essentials of Risk Management from a pocket umbrella in the heart of the Australian Desert.

You can't get there from here: tips on getting things done, in spite of it all.

A playful theory on the origin of writing - and why it is so important that we write stuff down.

Working with Virtual Teams or Volunteers? Read key lessons on working with both types of teams.

And many other topics.

From managing hundreds of small, concurrent projects to multi-year, multi-million dollar ventures, Gazza shares his 20+ years of experience and lessons learned to help you along the project management journey.

Lançado em:
Mar 11, 2013

Sobre o autor

Gary M. Nelson, BSC, PMP (Gazza) is passionate about sharing knowledge and making Project Management concepts more accessible, particularly to new and aspiring Project Managers (of all ages). Said another way, he likes to tell stories to help convey complex concepts in a way that helps the concepts 'stick'. Who says learning shouldn't be fun?Born in Calgary, Alberta (Canada), Gary moved west to B.C. at the very early age of 2, where he spent most of his formative years - aside from a 6 year stint where he learned to appreciate living in a very small town of 800 people. He then attended high school in Surrey, B.C. and went on to graduate from Simon Fraser University (BC, Canada) in 1989 with a major in Computing science and a minor in English - an odd but useful mix (a techie who can write clearly)!Gary was tricked into becoming a Project Manager by his first manager, and has never looked back. His international experience includes projects in New Zealand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the US and Canada, working on projects in the Telecom, Student Information Systems, Local Government and Healthcare sectors.Having wanted to write books since high school, it took many long years of successful procrastination until he finally felt he had something useful to write about, and wrote his first book of stories in 2012...on Project Management, of all things. Next, presented with the terrifying challenge of writing for children, he enlisted his youngest sons to be the first victims (reviewers and editors) and the Project Kids series of books were born. Several years on, he is amazed to see the books being translated into multiple languages, and reaching into schools and homes around the world.He enjoys speaking and training, has presented at numerous events and conferences and is also the author and host of Gazza’s Corner Project Management Blog and Podcast.Gary currently lives in New Zealand with his wife, three sons and two cats, and is loving every bit of it.

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Gazza's Guide to Practical Project Management - Gary M Nelson


Welcome and Introduction

Welcome to Gazza’s Guide to Practical Project Management. There are many excellent textbooks out there on Project Management, from hard skills to soft skills, frameworks to methodologies, expert views, and opinions. I will not be rehashing those here. What I will be doing is sharing my experience and insights from working with projects and people over the last couple of decades. Many of the lessons are in the form of stories – after all, who does not like a good story? The lessons we remember best always seem to have a good story to go with them.

I hope that you are able to take away some useful nuggets from these principles and insights to help you in managing your projects and in working with your teams, both in sight, and virtual ones.

If you are new to Project Management, I hope you learn a lot – and if you are more experienced, I hope you have some fun with the stories and you are able to recharge your batteries through reading a different perspective. Change is as good as a vacation, they say – and I always find it helps me to clarify and revitalize my own thoughts by reading other people’s ideas, so I hope you find that here.

I have managed large projects that spanned multiple years, and hundreds of smaller concurrent projects that lasted a few weeks to a few months. This is not just a big project book! I hope that you will find the information in this book helpful to you no matter your project size – there should be something in here for everyone.

This book is structured to be easy to follow – roughly following the typical project phases from start to finish, plus a few key topics that I think are worth highlighting. Project Management is not all planning and process after all – it primarily involves people and working with teams, which means that Communication and Leadership are foundational skills on any project.

Thanks again for buying this book – and if you are looking for other current content, you are most welcome to visit my blog, Gazza’s Corner (www.gazzascorner.com) and my Podcast (podcast.gazzascorner.com), both of which are free.

Happy reading – and I hope you enjoy the journey.

Gary Nelson, PMP

September 2012

What is Practical Project Management?

From the perspective of this book, Practical Project Management means taking the most practical approach to delivering the desired project outcome, expending as much effort and focus as necessary to make sure the project is managed appropriately for the specific situation.

Just as every project is unique, the management of each project is unique. You may have developed a common structure or framework for managing this type of project but in the end, there are always tweaks and changes, some small and possibly some quite radical by the time you reach project completion. Life is in the journey – and you never take a road the same way twice. It is the same way with managing projects.

Some things that will make this particular project different from others of this type of project include:

Scope: Different requirements

People: You will not have the same team all the time – because the team includes the customer staff, which may be different each time. In addition, even if all the names are the same, the people actually are not, we all learn, grow and change, so we will not necessarily approach things exactly the same way each time. Hopefully we learn from mistakes and prior decisions.

Timeline/Duration: When projects start can affect resource availability, especially in industries with an annual high/low demand cycle.

Budget: Money is no object if you do not have any – hopefully your customer has enough for the project, plus the few inevitable surprises and change requests.

Lessons learned from previous projects.

And other factors you may have not considered yet.

This means that you may expend more time building up a structure for managing projects on the early ones, tweak it a bit for the next one, and then perhaps start again from scratch a bit farther down the line. We don’t mean to re-invent the wheel every time, certainly not – we hope to leverage what we know and what tools we have, but sometimes we do need to clean the windows, change the tires, assess where we are and if the approach and the tools we used last time are really the best choice for this particular project. They might be the right choice this time round again – but then again they may not be. It might be time for a change – a different tool from the toolkit, perhaps put one back in the box because you don’t need it this time – or perhaps you need to choose a different tool or even create a brand new one.

On my projects, I have done my best to try to manage them practically – with the right amount of detail, reporting, tracking, and measurement. Of course, I have made mistakes along the way – it is a powerful way to learn, as long as you actually apply what you have learned from your mistakes. Success is great, of course - and it is nice when it all comes together, but you do not actually learn as many valuable lessons from success as you do from having to handle the tough stuff.

What I have found along the way is that this is not the same on any two similar projects, and even within a single longer-term project, it changes over time. As stakeholder trust increases (hopefully it does not decrease), they may not require quite as much exhaustive detail in some areas, and as you complete phases of the project, what you are tracking and how you are tracking will likely need to adapt. However, if things do turn pear-shaped (or go south, depending where you live), tracking needs may increase.

While this book is not going to prescribe for you a particular set of tools or methodology, I hope it helps you to do an honest self-assessment to determine if you are doing too little – or too much – for your particular project situation. If you are in the early stages of your project, or it has not yet started, I encourage you to look at the Project Kickoff chapter first.

Project Management Basics

Note: This section is intended as a brief but more formal introduction for those new to Project Management terminology. If you are already familiar with the basic concepts, you may want to jump on to the next chapter. The rest of the book is not nearly so dry – I promise!

What is a Project?

According to the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®, 4th ed.), "A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result."

The PRINCE2 definition is "A Project is a temporary organization that is created for the purpose of delivering one or more business products according to an agreed Business Case."

Other definitions include: "A Project is a finite process with a definite start and end, and An individual or collaborative enterprise planned and designed to achieve an aim."

So in short, all projects have a limited lifespan, are designed to achieve a goal, and involve one or more people. What you will generally find, though it is not explicitly stated in all definitions, is that projects are used to create something new, or to effect change.

If you are doing something repeatable, using a standard checklist and standard tools and approaches, to produce a known, expected result – you are not working on a project. You are in production, operations, or working an assembly line. However, if you are in the process of retooling to change the processes/machinery/etc to produce a new product or service, that effort is a project. Once that project is complete and your assembly line is up and running, you may once again enter operational mode – the project is complete.

Any time you are working to create a unique product, service, or result, it is a project – large or small, short or long duration. Lighting a campfire is a small project, for which the outcome is not the same every time. Different wood, different conditions, fire-lighting materials and different camper experience levels can result in a roaring campfire and a cooked dinner with toasted marshmallows for dessert – or a cold tin of beans and a noticeable lack of campfire songs.

If you only change a tire a couple times in your life – that could also be viewed as a small project each time you attempt it. If you do it for a living, day-in and day-out – that is an operational activity.

Projects can also be as grand as building the Pyramids or landing a man on the moon – and anything in between.

What is Project Management?

Again, according to the PMBOK®, "Project Management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements."

That’s a broad statement! As you know, there are many volumes dedicated to describing just how to do that. Therefore, it is definitely not as simple as it sounds – it can be as much art as science.

Project Management can include a wide range of responsibilities depending on the nature of the particular project, but generally involves the following:

Requirements identification (In increasing level of detail)

Addressing stakeholder needs, concerns and expectations

Developing and maintaining a Project Plan

Juggling project constraints whose priorities are often in competition with each other, including:







Each project requires the Project Manager to find the appropriate balance of the above factors, as they will be weighted differently depending on the project, customer, and other factors.

The Role of the Project Manager

The Project Manager is the person assigned to achieve the overall objectives of the project. (Yes, you!) There may be a detailed set of expectations and a preliminary scope document, charter or even an initial project plan provided when the Project Manager is brought on to the project. On the other hand, it may simply be Tag, you’re it! and the Project Manager will have to figure this out on their own and with the project team. You may only have high expectations from the project sponsor/stakeholders and a vague idea of what they are asking for.

The Project Manager may be from within the organization, or brought in from outside. Some knowledge of the corporate structure is beneficial in successfully managing your project, because you will need people in your team to deliver the project to completion. The organization may be such that the project can be delivered entirely by one department, but it is increasingly more common to have cross-functional organizations where members of your project team are on loan from their functional manager for limited periods of time, or potentially throughout most of the project. Don’t forget that the customer is actually part of your project team too.

Being a good project manager does not just mean that you understand and can apply knowledge, tools and techniques related to project management, nor that you are a Subject Matter Expert (SME) in the topic area. (Actually, sometimes the best project managers are not subject matter domain experts, because they can more easily admit they don’t know much about it – so they ask questions. If you are a SME, you are less likely to be aware of knowledge gaps, and less likely to ask questions.)

In order to be an Effective Project Manager, you must have the following characteristics.

Solid Project Management knowledge

Ability to perform Getting things done while managing the project

Personaleffectiveness. This is how you work with people, your attitude, personality, leadership characteristics, and generally how you work with people in different situations while working to meet the project objectives and balance the project constraints.

If you feel you are weak in any of these areas, don’t give up – life is about improvement, and you can often find someone willing to be a mentor for you. If you are new to Project Management, you will probably start smaller (Project Coordinator, Assistant Project Manager) and work your way up to larger things as you grow and gain expertise.

In my experience, a little naïveté and optimism doesn’t hurt either. What I mean is this – if you don’t know it can’t be done, you might just be able to accomplish it anyway! Sometimes all it takes is a fresh perspective to accomplish miracles.

Life of a Project Manager: The Proving Ground for Greater Things

When I started my formal journey to completing my PMP, my mentor told me that the Project Manager role is almost unique in the business world. The combination of skills developed and exercised in managing projects, especially enterprise-scale projects, has no parallel with any other job description in the business world – other than CEO of a corporation. No other role has such diversity, complexity, and overall levels of responsibility.

Just think about that for a minute. Your next job interview just might be for a corporate top spot, if you excel at your next project!

The Project Lifecycle

Regardless of the particular methodology you may use, it is common to divide projects into five major components - four sequential stages (Initiation, Planning, Execution and Closeout), and a fifth, Project Control which spans the project timeframe.

Initiation: Discovery, assessment and approval to start the project

Planning: All of the detailed planning and team building, detailed requirements gathering etc required for the execution phase.

Execution: The real work of the project begins – when the team starts to work on producing the various deliverables.

Closeout: Deliverable acceptance, closing out the contract, Lessons Learned and other activities to wrap up the project before you move on to the next one.

Project Control: includes a number of monitoring and control activities to make sure that things are staying on track and you are able to handle issues and unexpected items as they arise.

We will expand on the above components in later chapters.

Note: You may have a phased approach project that can be viewed as many smaller projects, running sequentially or with an overlap.

In Peter Taylor’s book, The Lazy Project Manager (www.thelazyprojectmanager.com), he describes the project life cycle as follows: All projects are thick at one end, much, much thinner in the middle and then thick again at the far end. In this case, he is not describing the overall project team effort, but where the Project Manager must expend the most effort for the greatest impact.

The reality is that your project may look like any one of these models; it all depends on the particular logistics and requirements of your project. I once worked on a 3-year project where we spent 2 weeks planning the 6-month planning and discovery phase, at the end of which we had defined the full project scope – and budget – for the remaining two and a half years. The effort diagram for this project was more like a roller coaster!

So don’t get hung up on what your project effort pattern should look like. Do look at similar projects to see what their effort profile looked like, as this will help you somewhat in your planning and budgeting for resources and resource availability. But don’t get bent out of shape if there are a few surprises – you may have more up front work required, you may have an unanticipated lull where you have to temporarily reassign resources elsewhere while the customer waits on the delayed regulatory consent to be granted, etc. So be flexible, and be prepared for anything.

Project Management Basics

PMBOK is a Framework, not a Methodology

One of the challenges some people face in first working with the PMI Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) is that they are looking to it as a guide on how to do things. What they are looking for, most often, is a prescriptive methodology on how they should be managing their projects. You will not find that in the PMBOK – at least not in that form. What you will find, however, is an excellent reference for what to do when managing your projects. So while some may be in the Prince 2 camp, and others in the PMBOK camp, or the Agile camp, they are not mutually exclusive. The PMBOK can and does work together with different methodologies.

Where a methodology is a specific prescription of the steps for doing something, the PMBOK is more like a coach, or guide – to help you make sure that you are doing the right things – right. However, it just will not prescribe for you, step by step, on how to accomplish that. It will, however, let you know if you might otherwise have missed the turn.

The secret of leveraging the PMBOK is to look at the structure – what it identifies as process groups, inputs and outputs, and combine that with your local business model and situation, so that you can improve the consistency and quality of your project delivery. What you can also do with the PMBOK, as I have done on projects, is to adapt the information and structure it provides into creating your own project management methodologies – that work for you – your projects, your environment, your specific situation.

Project Management Basics

Effective Leadership

Before we embark on this journey, we need to look at what it takes to be an effective leader. The Project Manager is (or should be) the undisputed leader of the project team, but what does that really mean? Do you lead from the front of the convoy, boldly blazing the trail, with everyone following behind, or are you guiding from the back of the pack, letting the team grow and develop and taking turns at the wheel for this particular stretch of road? The answer to that is not that simple – the response will depend on you and your management style – and where you are in the project lifecycle. It also depends on whether you plan to arrive at the destination together as a strong and effective team – or arrive in much the same state as you started, with a group of individuals.

In some analogies for leading projects or teams, the concept of get on the bus is used. I prefer the concept of a car-carrier. You know – the tractor-trailer rig that brings all those shiny, exciting new-model vehicles to the dealership.

If we are going to be successful on our journey together in this project, we cannot stay together all of the time. Each team lead and group needs to be able to drive on their

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  • (5/5)
    The way Gazza tells stories to teach the things are interesting, captivating and effective. you get involved and the story helps to fix the content.