Friday, May 30, 2014

PMO Creation - Week 15

I'm the first to admit that my lack of bandwidth has stalled the efforts of my team. I am only able to steal myself away from my current project for a couple of hours every Wednesday morning to meet with my team and then show up at the Steering Committee meeting every Friday morning. That means Mike and Sarah and left with all the heavy lifting.

As a result, the consolidated project plan they put together for this week's meeting, that looked pretty sparse on Wednesday, did not meet our CEO's satisfaction by Friday. Frankly we all looked pretty bad. I promised we would have a better one in place by next week and that I would meet with one of our teams to show what we wanted to accomplish.

That meeting was like pulling teeth. The team members were confused about what we were asking. Even though I had put the leader through my Cadence training a few years back, she couldn't seem to understand that by giving me hours of effort she still had to have a conversation with me to determine the durations. She was convinced that this was simply dependent on priority and didn't get that other tasks within her high priority projects and time spent on ongoing operations could affect these durations.

Another leader in this group expressed the opinion that all Project Management is useless. One of the lower level guys said that they just do a bunch of work whenever and pay no attention to priorities. The other two lower level women just smiled and nodded. It is becoming clearer and clearer to me that we are doing some things backwards. We really needed to train the employees in the methodology before trying to plan these projects.

Also we should have had a formal announcement from the CEO expressing his confidence in the PMO and the process we are following and get his authority to ask these questions. Mike has been good about bugging me to ask for this and we received a draft from the marketing group of an announcement. Here it is slightly redacted:


As you may know, Bruce Fieggen, QPharma’s longtime VP of Project Management, has agreed to take the helm of QPharma’s Project Management Office in addition to his client-facing duties. 

The QPharma Project Management Office, or PMO, is responsible for prioritizing, scheduling, resourcing, and managing the many internal projects necessary for the ongoing operation of our Commercial Services division — most notably, the development of Python™ and our other Information Technology systems.  It is crucial to the PMO’s success that all colleagues cooperate fully with PMO deadlines, resource requirements, requests for information, etc. — please accept my thanks, in advance, for your active participation in this process.

Over the past several weeks, a Project Management Steering Committee has been formed, and we have been meeting regularly and going about the arduous process of identifying and prioritizing the dozens of projects that demand QPharma’s attention.  In the coming weeks and months, please expect to hear from Bruce, his two Project Managers (Sarah Gerardo and Michael Gerace), and other members of the Steering Committee with various requests related to your role in helping this effort run smoothly.

I look forward to keeping you informed as our important work progresses.  Once again, thank you.

Kind regards,


Friday, May 23, 2014

PMO Creation - Week 14

No steering committee meeting this week so my team could focus on getting the Master Gantt chart together. Let's hope they pull it off to the CEO's satisfaction. I am still too busy on my current project and putting together proposals for two new projects to be much help. I'll see what they come up with on Wednesday and give them some advice.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Dear PM Advisor. May 19, 2014

Dear PM Advisor,

I work at a consulting firm that is developing a lot of small IT projects at one time. I've been trying to get the steering committee interested in using the Software Development LifeCycle (SDLC) that I used at previous companies but my proposal got squashed immediately. Enclosed is a project plan template that is very similar to what we used at UPS and Medco which made IT DEV project management run very smooth (not to mention both were multi-billion dollar corporations). 

My point is, if it worked successfully there, I don’t see why we cannot implement this strategy/methodology here. I understand that we have a SDLC methodology here (scaled down – that NO ONE uses) but adding this release calendar to just the IT dev projects would add tremendous value to both the PMO and IT. 

Personally, I think IT would love this methodology in place (I know I do). Let me know your thoughts.

Tied up in Morristown, NJ

Dear Tied up.

It all seems quite reasonable. Why not use these tasks when you plan your projects? You can guide the team members to come up with the wording you want. Sometimes they’ll balk and you use their wording but it means the same to you. That’s what I do when I plan projects. Here’s the conversation:
“So the first thing we need to do is plan this project, right? How about we say Concept proposal? Have you done that already? You have? Good. Then we have to Identify vision and scope. That’s what we’re doing now. Do you know the deliverables? OK, from there we create the project plan.”

And so on until they are using the deliverables and tasks you are familiar with.

I always do that with my projects so that I know what is happening on the project I plan and execute. Often people will add tasks that I don’t have in my template which are specific to that project and the way they do things. I’ll compromise there. 

Good luck,

PM Advisor

Send your questions to

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Eighty-sixth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers"

          After a few minutes of argument, the leader said, “We’ll see what’s cookin’ at t’crossroads first and come back to t’deer path after dinner if we get nothin’ there.” They walked south out of sight. Again, Grainne worked her head out of the bush and then stepped onto the road.
          Gwilym followed her, stepping first onto the gravel drainage ditch, then over the short stone wall and onto the paved road itself. The roughly pentagonal paving stones were in good repair here. After crossing the 23 feet of road, he stepped over the short retaining wall. He smiled to himself, remembering when Jac had asked him about the short walls that bordered the Roman roads. “That wall is only a few inches high, Da? Are they to keep ants off the roads?”
          Gwilym had laughed when he replied, “That’s just the top of a three-foot high wall, son. It keeps all the gravel and stone in that makes the foundation for the road you see.”
          They walked over the other drainage ditch and found the deer path again on the other side of the road and saw where it wound into the woods. They returned to the road.
          They were crossing the Roman road near the top of a rise. The roadway was visible for about 200 yards on either side of the deer path before it dropped out of sight. The two made a hasty plan. They would go to the last place visible from this point on each side to look for any traffic. When both sides were clear, they would signal each other and then Grainne would whistle to Bleddyn who would drive the first cart over the road and into the woods beyond. Then he would return and do the same with the second cart and the younger boys. Then the adults would return.
          Everything worked well for the first transfer and Bleddyn was back with his brothers in the second cart waiting for the next whistle. Gwilym looked down the northern part of the road and saw nothing. He signaled to Grainne who, instead of giving the all-clear signal and whistling, gave him the signal to find cover, and then she dove into the undergrowth.
          Gwilym looked around. The undergrowth here was tall but only extended a foot off the road. He couldn’t hide within it and would be seen by a mounted man if he hid behind it. The trees were short here and he couldn’t hide behind any of their trunks.
          He heard the hooves coming now, fast, from below the dip in the road that Grainne had been watching. Gwilym ran into the woods and grasped a low-hanging branch to swing himself up. Then he scrambled from branch to branch, getting into the leaves. He noticed that his weight had started the tree swaying. With a quick shift of his weight, he opposed the motion of the tree and brought it nearly to a standstill. He held his breath and listened to the horse approaching. It was a heavy horse, like the warhorses ridden by knights. He prayed for the safety of his children, sitting unprotected in the cart. The horse galloped by.
          Gwilym descended and approached the road again. He saw that Grainne was already out there, giving him the all-clear sign. He looked north and saw nothing approaching. He also signaled all was clear and Grainne whistled. He watched north and saw nothing. He looked back at the deer path, seeing the cart crossing the road. He glanced back north. Another horse was approaching. He looked back at the cart and saw it just crossing the road. He thought of signaling to Bleddyn to hurry but realized that any signal could be misinterpreted and could cause delay. There was nothing for it but to hope Bleddyn made it. Bleddyn was already told to hurry so he had to trust him.
          When Bleddyn was out of his sight but still not safe within the woods, he signaled to Grainne that someone was approaching. He looked back and saw the horseman drawing near. He had to make a decision. Hide himself and hope that Bleddyn had gotten the carts to safety by the time the man reached the deer path, or slow down the horseman to protect them. His mind raced through the probabilities. He saw that this wasn’t a knight so he could take him by surprise. Yet he didn’t look like an outlaw either and Gwilym didn’t want to hurt a civilian. As someone unthreatening, he might think nothing of seeing a cart on the deer path, though he might make mention of it at the crossroads. He might not see the cart at all. He couldn’t just hail and delay him since Gwilym was the one who was supposed to be hiding from sight.
          The time to make the decision had arrived. Gwilym silently pleaded for Bleddyn to hurry to safety and he ran to his tree again. This time he took his time climbing up to avoid it swinging. He figured that this horseman was minding his own business, not looking for them. He shouldn’t be looking to the sides for anything but his eye was more likely to be caught by a swaying tree than by a man’s unmoving body halfway up one.

          As the rider passed by, not noticing Gwilym, he saw it was a cleric. He held his breath as the cleric passed the deer path. The man turned his head to the right, looking right where Bleddyn would be if he wasn’t hidden yet. But he didn’t slow down and continued riding towards the crossroads. 

To read the entire first draft in one shot, click here:

Friday, May 16, 2014

PMO Creation - Week 13

During my weekly PMO meeting I apologized to my team for allowing them to be criticized by the CEO for not being prepared. I promised I would stick up for them in the steering committee meeting.

During the first part of the steering committee meeting I spent the first few minutes insisting that the chain of command be followed and that nobody criticizes my people but me. It was tense but my CEO trusts me. I reminded him of what I told him during my interview when he asked: "What am I going to find out about you two weeks after I hire you that I wish I knew now?" I told him: "I'm blunt." And I've proved that to be right many times since.

After the dust had settled we got back to the agenda with one added item. Our big software program: Rock Python, had many elements that people wanted prioritized. On opening this file up, we saw that some of the projects were actually sub-projects of others. But the people were not showing how many resources were needed on a weekly basis because they didn't understand how the system worked. I was very frustrated.

Once again we looked for completed projects and once again, none quite got there. I reminded the steering committee that these projects were supposed to last 2 - 4 weeks and many should have completed by now. We all agreed that this system was really highlighting this deficiency.

The CEO asked for something out of the ordinary. Could he please pull the non-IT projects out of the list and make them their own separate list. I told him this was OK as long as they did not require resources from the other projects. He agreed and pulled about 12 projects out of the main list. We re-prioritized these and moved to resourcing.

The rest of the steering committee was getting frustrated at trying to figure out how many hours people would need to spend over how much time. (Duration vs. Level of Effort) So the CEO asked for another new thing. Could we place all the IT projects on one Gantt chart and track level of effort there? I was dubious but, since the Excel sheet wasn't working, I decided to give it a try.

He asked how you do this. I showed him one of my projects' Gantt charts showing how I break out Work from Duration and allow MS-Project to calculate % of resources required per task. I showed how this allowed one to see the resource graph and highlight where resources were scarce.

He was excited and asked that my team create this master Gantt chart. I asked for two weeks for them to perform this work. We argued back and forth but I got my team two weeks. Let's hope they pull it off. The CEO promised to do the same job by himself for teh non-IT projects over the weekend.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Medal of Honor Winner speaks of teamwork

Sergeant Kyle White received a well-deserved Medal of Honor today for heroics in Afghanistan.

Here's what he had to say about his team:
"I wear this medal for my team. Battles are not won by men. If that were true, the Taliban would have won on that trail in Afghanistan, because they had every tactical advantage including the numbers. Battles are won by spirit, and spirit is present in the relationships built from the trust and sacrifice we share with one another in times of hardship, and by that definition cannot be possessed by one person."

Monday, May 12, 2014

Dear PM Advisor. May 12, 2014

Dear PM Advisor,

I hate my job. Every day as I get in my car to go home, the old Tony Orlando song goes through my head: "I'm coming home, I've done my time.' Because that's the way I feel. 

For the last two months I've been working really hard trying to complete this project that got way behind schedule and I was brought in to try and rescue it. I spend all my time on it, keeping the critical path moving, putting out fires and planning the parts that were being managed in an ad-hoc manner until I arrived. But that's the fun part. 

What is really getting me down is the Director of Quality who keeps adding new things to these documents that should be pretty much cut and paste from a template. The things she wants to change add no value, only time to the documents. Then she insists that these new changes be retrofitted into older versions of the documents that had progressed past her review. Any time we miss one of these changes she gets all bent out of shape about how careless we are and how she has to keep pointing out mistakes again and again. 

She is extremely critical of the work my team and I do, pouncing on every mistake and ridiculing us in front of her peers. She does petty things like interrupting me if I happen to be speaking and someone on the phone starts to talk. Or she'll insist I go over everyone's action items at the end of the meeting even though I went through them all and wrote them down as I did so.

Another annoying habit is that she sits with her laptop open during the entire meeting and seems to only be paying attention half the time and insists on sitting down during the daily stand-up meetings. 

Any advice you can offer me?

Fed up in New Jersey

Dear Fed up,

I'm sorry you have to work in this hostile environment. I'm sure the actions she takes are the opposite of the motivation she thinks she is applying. In my experience there are people who were bullied as children and, rather than adjusting and being kind to people as adults, they seek out positions of authority like policeman and Director of Quality and use that position to abuse others as some kind of retribution. Usually the position they put themselves into makes it hard to unseat them. You just have to survive the best you can.

She could also be what I call a 'fireman arsonist.' One who loves to cause problems so that she can be seen to rescue the project when it looks like it is about to fail. Because she is causing the delays, she has the power to make the delays disappear.

I was once in a position similar to yours and my solution was to find another job. That may be the best thing you can do. But if the project is only going to last a couple more months, it may be best to stick it out and treat it as a learning experience.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

Send your questions to

Friday, May 9, 2014

PMO Creation - Week 12

With my wife undergoing a medical procedure and the CEO in California, I thought it was safe to cancel the steering committee meeting this week. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

Shortly after the CEO got the cancellation message, he reinstated the meeting and took the red-eye back to New Jersey. He pulled my team into the meeting totally unprepared and criticized them for not having their charters and project plans ready.

The word from above was, "Nobody cancels the steering committee meetings." Well, at least he has bought totally into the Proejct Management approach. I apologized to my people for getting them in trouble and vowed I would stick up for them next week. We agreed to get all the charters written by next Friday.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

NAACP awards can be bought.

It appears you can be a corrupt, racist slumlord but if you give $45,000 to the NAACP over 7 years from your illegal profits you can receive a lifetime achievement award from the organization.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Dear PM Advisor. May 5, 2014

Dear PM Advisor,

I work at a small company where all the team members are on multiple projects and wear multiple hats. As a result people are not even showing up to status meetings and I can't seem to hold them accountable to complete tasks on time. 

Any advice?

Under-resourced in Connecticut.

Dear Under-resourced,

Cookies always help.

First of all, make sure your status meetings are well organized and take no more than 25 minutes. Check out a previous post for how to accomplish this. Never waste any team member's time.

Schedule these meetings when most team members can attend. Give them no good excuse for missing them.

For the few who still miss your meeting, corner them at their desk and ask them about their tasks and give them new ones that came out of the meeting. Make sure they are held accountable even if they miss the meeting. Pretty soon they'll realize that their best defense is to attend the meetings.

Good luck,

PM Advisor.

Send your questions to

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Eighty-fifth excerpt from 'Twelve Towers"

          The outskirts of the forest were sparsely treed but the deeper they entered, the closer together they grew and the denser the undergrowth. The sky was soon shut out by an overlapping canopy of branches. The little light that filtered down revealed a ground covered in rotting leaves with roots rising up at random to trip the horses. The animals snorted their discontent, their ears flattening and their flanks twitching. Gwilym strained to see in the dark, his line of sight limited also by the twisting path. Spider webs stretched between the trees and Gwilym had to peel them off his face after passing through. Several times Grainne had to brush a spider off his head from an occupied web. Gwilym shuddered in disgust as one scrambled down his neck.
          Grainne steered the carts on a winding path formed by nature, rather than by man. At times, Gwilym had to walk in front and chop down occasional saplings for the carts to pass. It was slow going and the night fell quicker here than on the open plain. They pitched camp in a small clearing where they could draw the carts near each other with room between for the pavilion.
          “No fire,” ordered Grainne. “It will attract unwelcome visitors.” She walked around the clearing, sprinkling herbs, twisting branches together and singing. Her enchantment complete, she returned to the boys who were raising the pavilion. “Stay within the clearing tonight,” she said.
          As the night grew darker, Gwilym and his sons started at the sounds of the animals and moving branches in the forest. Grainne and her two boys were resting easy for the first time of this trip. Gwilym remarked on this.
          Grainne said, “The forests are our natural home. Avalon borders an ancient forest. We learn our herb-lore there, we worship in the groves, and we gather mistletoe. We spend many nights sleeping in forests without protection spells.”
          “Should I stand guard?” asked Gwilym.
          “I’ve taken care of it,” replied Grainne, kissing him deeply.
          Despite Grainne’s insistence, Gwilym woke at every noise and was grumpy when daylight started filtering into the clearing. They packed up and continued in a westerly direction. This day passed uneventfully. They disturbed the occasional deer, many squirrels and birds. They still hadn’t reached the great north-south Roman road by nightfall.
          Around midday on the third day in the forest, Grainne halted the carts and pointed up at the rise ahead. “The road is up there.”
          “How can you tell?” asked Gwilym.
          “The straight line,” she replied. “Only humans use straight lines.”
          She pointed at the top of the rise and Gwilym could see the line of the road.
          “Wait here,” he said, drawing his scimitar and climbing the rise. 
          He forced his way through the undergrowth to the embankment and poked his head out of the bushes and into the clearing of the Roman road. It was empty of traffic on both sides. He crossed and entered the woods there, looking for a place to drive the cart. The brush was thick here so he glanced left and right trying to find a space. There seemed to be no path. Then he looked back and saw no apparent path where he had come from. Humbled, he scurried back to Grainne and asked her to find a path.
          With a crooked grin on her face, she led him to the right instead of straight up to the road. “You have to think like an animal. Deer don’t like to walk through undergrowth either. They have made paths over the years. Deer like open spaces and sometimes travel in herds so they prefer wide paths between trees. We’d been following a deer path the whole time until you decided to strike out for the road.”
          The path they followed skirted the road for about a mile, between five and ten feet below the road’s surface. Then it rose up to the same level and they could be seen from the road. Grainne backed the horse so they were hidden again by bushes. She stepped down and Gwilym joined her approaching the road.                 There was a large bush near the drainage ditch and Grainne crawled into it, squirming through the low branches until her head was poking out the other side. Gwilym shook his head at her dexterity and waited behind. Grainne pulled her head back into the bush. He heard hoof-beats and froze. He glanced behind him, relieved that he could see no sign of the boys or carts.
          The hoof-beats clattered by. From his vantage point, Gwilym saw two sets of horse’s hooves trotting south along the road. Grainne waited a few minutes, and then worked her head back out of the bush. She yanked it back in and Gwilym tensed. Squatting on his haunches was uncomfortable but, given the tension he saw in Grainne’s body, he dared not move to relieve his aches.
          Many minutes later he heard the sound of men’s voices. They were approaching from the north. Gwilym looked around, hoping that his body was as well hidden from a walking person as he knew it was from one on horseback.
          He held his breath as the men approached within hearing distance. “There be better prey than those two, lads. Gotta wait for t’right oppituny. Bite off more’n ye can chew an’ yer dead right quick. Take t’easy pickin’s I always say.”
          Gwilym heard some grunts in reply as the men walked past. Then he heard, “Wha’ about t’deer path? We aint looked along it fer a while. Could be somethin’ there.” The men stopped in the road and discussed this for a while. Gwilym grasped the hilt of his scimitar, steeling himself to protect his children.

To read the entire first draft in one shot, click here:

Friday, May 2, 2014

PMO Creation - Week 11

"With all the training behind us, it's time to get into maintenance mode," I thought as I entered this week's steering committee meeting. I asked for the names of any projects that had ended based on last week's discussion that suggested two or three should be over by now. While the CEO thought one was complete, the other members said that their team members were still working on it.

A new project is about to start that is taking resources from existing projects which brought up the question: If a project is not authorized yet, should it have the right to use resources? Well, since the possibility is high that we get this project and it has the potential of making us millions of dollars - yes.

So we moved that project into the priority list at around 7 and moved around some more until we were satisfied with the top 25.

The next question was, why aren't we using the project charter template? So we agreed to ask all the PMs to use the template by the end of next week, just in time for the next steering committee meeting. Sarah and Mike will help them accomplish this task.

We also decided to ask them all to come up with the elements of a project schedule as well so we can start using the below dashboard to see which projects we have to apply pressure on.
This dashboard was a good starting point but we found improvements. 
  1. Make it the first part of the resourcing worksheet so we don't need to update project priority list and PMs in two places.
  2. Add variance in schedule and budget. 
  3. Use conditional formatting to show project %Complete.
We made some progress consolidating this onto the project resourcing sheet as shown here:
There is still work to be done. That should take up most of Mike and Sarah's time this week. 

Notice our CEO asked the technical experts to be the PMs of their projects. As soon as we started asking them to perform PM tasks we received push-back. Luckily he was there to witness this so we had a quick conversation, reminding him of the difference between a technical leader and a Project Manager. He agreed to switch out the roles and Mike and Sarah split up some of the projects that lacked PMs between themselves. 

I'm looking forward to the progress we will make this week but I am one of the PMs so I will need to fill out a charter template and come up with a schedule for my two projects. 

One last thing we decided was that small projects could use the charter template for the few milestones that exist and need not create a schedule or status report. Their status reporting can be a tab on the dashboard file that Sarah had hyperlinked up the the dashboard. Larger projects will need more formal documents for each.