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Is Project Management an Engineering or Humanities Discipline?

  • By: duma on 30 Jul 2014

Being an engineer, my answer is skewed to the engineering side. Engineering teaches us discipline and process, without which project management cannot be successful. I see humanities project managers who downplay the value of discipline and process and wonder why they struggle with their projects (or use process to make up for a lack of discipline). But engineers need to recognize the value of humanities to be truly successful project management professionals. Humanities are needed to add perspective. Some universities are starting to offer degrees that cross disciplines. A subject like history teaches us the value of lessons learned (or perhaps the mistake of not learning our lessons) and good governance, languages for communication, the arts for creativity, critical evaluation, identifying details, philosophy or theology for deeper understanding of cultures, empathy, value systems. The beauty of project management is that the environment pushes us to be constantly learning. It is not formulaic, especially in our global international marketplace. Our profession and standards like PMBOK, PRINCE2, ISO 21500, DIN, etc. provide us with the building blocks, the humanities provide us with the perspective to build the 3 dimensional pyramid.

Covering Your Bases with a Requirements Traceability Matrix

  • By: Sarah Eisan on 23 Jul 2014

In my early days of business analysis, I was often given the task of writing and executing test cases under the guidance of the more senior business analysts. I quickly learned that in order to gain their trust I needed to confidently and concisely show how my test cases verified the solution features meeting the requirements… That was the beginning of my passion for requirements traceability because really, what better way is there to ensure your final deliverables tie directly back to the original business need, avoid scope creep, minimize costs, increase quality and minimize the impact analysis effort and risk?

For those of you who haven’t already jumped on the requirements traceability bandwagon, you’re probably wondering what this is all about and how you can start using this now.

The BABOK defines Requirements Traceability as “The ability to identify and document the lineage of each requirement, including its derivation (backward traceability), its allocation (forward traceability), and its relationship to other requirements.”  

The benefits of using a requirements traceability matrix are:

Improved scope management
Allows for more effective management of change and helps prevent scope creep
Provides better test coverage, minimizes costs and increases quality
Test cases can be traced back to the requirements which can then traced back to the     business needs allowing for ease of validation that sufficient testing has occurred and the solution meets defined quality standards. This prevents inefficient or inadequate testing which decreases project costs as well as preventing an inferior quality product from being released
Minimize impact analysis effort and risk
If a requirement cannot be fulfilled, derivation will easily identify which business needs and stakeholders are impacted
Conversely if business needs change, allocation will identify which requirements and solution components are impacted
This allows for easier assessment of risks of potential changes

Every BA I’ve had a hand in training over the years has heard me preach the importance of requirements traceability and why it is necessary. Those who haven’t employed requirements traceability have at one time or another ran into a situation that became more complicated than it otherwise would have been… from spending hours trying to figure out the impact of a scope change and still not being confident in their recommendation, to realizing that a certain feature was not tested and did not meet quality standards after the solution had already been deployed.

If you don’t use requirements traceability matrices today, I challenge you to use this with your next project and see the benefits for yourself.

The Importance of Soft Skills in Project Management

  • By: Sarah Eisan on 16 Jul 2014

I think we have all encountered people who lack soft skills whether it is in our personal or professional lives; maybe the brilliant doctor with no bedside manner or the interview candidate who has a fabulous resume but demonstrates a complete lack of social skills in the interview…

Soft skills are often associated with a person’s emotional intelligence or ‘people skills’ where as hard skills are associated with a person’s IQ, and technical knowledge. Hard skills are typically learned in school or from books but soft skills are harder to learn and are often developed on the job; for some people soft skills seem to come naturally but others need to learn on the job, often learning the hard way, having their lack of soft skills pointed out or brought up in a performance review. Hard skills are those where the rules stay the same when applied to different situations and in contrast the rules of soft skills change depending on whom you are working with, what you’re communicating or what the topic is.

Some of the more important soft skills are:

  • Conflict Resolution
  • Communication
  • Influence
  • Leadership
  • Problem Solving
  • Empathy

Keeping these soft skills in mind, think about the following situations…

A project manager is leading a team who has been tasked with building and implementing a new software program that will provide complex reporting functionality; in this situation it would be helpful for the project manager to have strong hard skills in addition to soft skills and a soft skill deficit could be overlooked if the hard skills are very strong.

A project manager is leading a team who has been tasked with moving the data entry work currently done within the organization to an outsourcer with the goal of reducing headcount within the organization; in this situation, the project managers technical skills are not as important as their soft skills. A project manager lacking the soft skills mentioned above could prove disastrous on a project of such a sensitive nature.

Now think about the project managers within your own organizations and how they demonstrate or fail to demonstrate soft skills and also think about how you fare with these as well… Not only are soft skills important for project managers but studies also show that individuals with high emotional intelligence often have more successful and fulfilling personal and professional lives; it’s not just about IQ anymore…

What Makes the Difference Between a Great Training Coures and an Okay One?

  • By: Sarah Eisan on 09 Jul 2014

Over the years I’ve taken several training courses from a variety of training providers and have found that you really need to do your research before handing over your valuable time and training dollars. I’ve taken courses that have inspired me on both a personal and professional level, giving me the push I needed to challenge myself and then there have been the courses that have made time stand still and taught me to sleep with my eyes open – not really, but it felt like it at the time!

Personally I enjoy an instructor who can tie in the subject matter to real world examples to reinforce understanding and who can inspire me to take my newfound knowledge back to work and make a difference.

I recently came across this letter from a student who recently completed their Certificate in Business Analysis with Procept at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia and wanted to share feedback on their experience:

For several years my manager and I have been trying to find relevant and local Business Analysis training. We found your program online while attempting to find BA courses at some of the local universities. Although much of the course material was new to me (as I am not a typical BA) I believe obtaining the certification has definitely given me credibility and general BA knowledge that should benefit my career.

It seems as if most of the students enrolled the courses were looking for an introductory high level overview of ‘what is a BA’ and in general, the course delivered. I found the curriculum was quite intense, packed full of terms and tools relevant to the role of a BA. After meeting and chatting with many of the course participants over the past several months, I learned that many BA’s (myself included) perform bits and pieces of BA work along with many, many other things, so to receive the full spectrum training was very enlightening. I like that the course provides training based on the IIBA and that the BABOK reference handbook was provided to each student. The course is well suited to adult learners and the structure allowed for me to complete the curriculum quickly without too much disruption to my day job (and home life). I was very fortunate to have the support of my manager in this manner.

Throughout the course, I was continually trying to fit the BIG picture together and to build on the courses and materials that came before but must admit it was a bit challenging to piece it all together depending on the order the courses are taken and the manner in which the material is presented.

I am happy to have completed the course, your staff and facility are top-notch. I would recommend the course to others looking for similar training.

What do you think makes the difference between a great training course and an okay one?

Please share your experiences with us and post what has made the courses you have attended great or just okay, and why.

The CBAP Application Process and the Fear of Rejection

  • By: pcadmin on 02 Jul 2014

Last year, after starting a position with a new company, my new boss asked me the inevitable question… Have you ever thought about pursuing your CBAP designation?

Yes of course I had thought of it, many times actually, and then I would look at the application process and think nope, not ready for that yet; however, after 6 years of working as a Business Analyst and taking several professional development courses, it was getting harder and harder to justify that I wasn’t ready and my boss knew that.

After that initial conversation, I was feeling excited about the opportunity to obtain my designation and to have the support of my company behind me so I started my application… 7500 hours is a lot of time to allocate and although I had tracked my project hours over the years (thank goodness!) I still had to align the time to the specific knowledge areas; this was going to take some time.

Over the next few weeks I worked away at completing my application, reaching out to old Project Managers and Team Leads and when I finally had the application completed and ready to submit, I felt a wave of relief, for about 5 seconds, and then the thought crept in… what if they reject my application? Why hadn’t I thought of this sooner, I would be so embarrased if they rejected my application, so I waited and a few months went by and my boss asked me about my application again and I begrudgingly admitted that I had not submitted it yet and explained why. We talked and with a lot of encouragement, reasoning and maybe a little ego stroking, I went back to my desk and finally submitted my application.

Within a few minutes I received my confirmation email from the IIBA stating they would review my application and provide their answer within 21 business days. 21 days, business days no less, feels like an eternity when you are waiting to hear the fate of your career, okay maybe that’s a tad dramatic but that’s how it felt. Luckily it only took 5 days and I had my answer… Approved!!

Next up, preparing to write the CBAP Exam…

The Emergence of Business Project Managers; Not Just for IT Anymore…

  • By: Sarah Eisan on 25 Jun 2014

Once upon a time Project Managers and IT Departments went hand in hand; Project Managers tended to be IT Professionals who over the years became very knowledgeable and respected in their areas and the natural progression was to become an IT Project Manager.

With the rapid advancement of technology, IT Project Managers have become an integral part of many companies, so much so that many companies wouldn’t dream of implementing a new system or technology without a trusted Project Manager leading the way. Many senior business leaders have quietly been taking notice of the Project Managers keen ability to create order from chaos, deliver complex projects on time, within budget and within scope and have been thinking about how these skills could help their own departments succeed…

Therein lies the emergence of the Business Project Manager. Senior business leaders are finding these Business Project Managers in their own mid-level leaders, business subject matter experts or employees who naturally demonstrate the key traits of a successful Project Manager. Often these people are sent on professional development courses to formalize their Project Management skills or they learn on the job from others already in similar roles and begin leading less technical projects in their departments such as process re-engineering or preparing to take on new market segments.

My own company has recently expanded on this practice to reach out to business leaders to ask if they would like to loan high performing employees to us to receive on the job Project Management training, then returning back to their own departments. This unique opportunity will provide sharing of knowledge and skills throughout the organization, provide internal employees with a new career development option and should make running projects in these departments easier because they now have a better understanding of what goes into running a successful project.

Does your company have Business Project Managers? If not, what are your thoughts on this? If yes, how is it working?

I’d love to hear your feedback…

Why, Why, Why… The Professional Equivalent of an Annoying Six Year Old

  • By: Sarah Eisan on 18 Jun 2014

Do you remember being six years old curious about everything? I know my 2 six year olds are constantly asking ‘why’ and according to my parents, so did I. Just yesterday, pulling into the gas station I hear:

Why are we stopping here?
Me: We need gas
Why?
Me: Because the car is low on gas and we won’t make it home without it
Why?
Me: Because cars need gas to drive
Why?
Me: Because that is the way they are designed
Why?
You can see where this is going….

Being a Business Analyst is often the professional equivalent of being an annoying 6 year old child and I’m sure our stakeholders sometimes views us with the same annoyance as a parent; but, if the 6 year old was expected to design a new car or find an alternative to using gas to power cars, then they would need to ask these questions just as a Business Analyst would when determining business need.

When conducting Enterprise Analysis, trying to determine the business need or root cause of the problem, asking why is often the best tool a BA has, specifically the ‘5 Whys’. The first time I heard about the 5 whys was when I started my second BA position with a new company whose technology and practices I was completely unfamiliar with. Coming from a place where I was a business SME in addition to a BA, the unknown of this new company was very unsettling; a mentor suggested I use the 5 why’s to determine the business need for a project I was just assigned. The 5 why’s was a new concept to me and when I swallowed my pride and asked what this was, I learned it’s the simplest yet often a difficult skill for some BA’s to master, asking why repeatedly (often 5 times but not always) until you are convinced you have identified the actual root cause and business need.

Asking why is the easy part but asking why several times when each time the stakeholder thinks they answered your question and looks annoyed with you for not being satisfied with their answer can be tricky to master. Personally I found this approach painful the first few times I tried it and I often gave up after 2 or 3 whys because I quickly became insecure… I’m the professional Business Analyst here to help solve a problem and I can’t seem to understand what the problem is, maybe I’m not so good at this after all, I began to think and I gave up on this technique. About a year later I was working on a time sensitive project where taking the time to uncover the business need through other methods simply wasn’t an option and I remembered my past experiences with the ‘whys…’ I forced myself to step out of my comfort zone and pulled the whys back out of my BA toolbox and to my surprise, it worked! Yes it was uncomfortable it at first and yes I felt like the stakeholder was judging my intelligence asking why so many times but at the end of our meeting, I truly understood the business need root cause and the stakeholder also had a better understanding of what they truly needed as well; in a 1 hour meeting, I accomplished what had previously taken several meetings. I can’t say using this tool has always gone this smoothly, there have been times when after a few why’s the stakeholder was stumped and couldn’t answer my questions which was a little awkward but it allowed us to quickly identify that the right people weren’t at the table and prevented time from being wasted.

Do you use the 5 whys in your enterprise analysis activities, embracing your own inner annoying 6 year old child? If not, what is your go to technique for defining business need and root cause?

The Beta-Bistro Project – An Introduction

  • By: pcadmin on 27 Jan 2014

Over the past 20 years I have participated in and/or have been the lead on several different types of projects. Large and small cultural and sporting events, humanitarian fundraising efforts, database work, creating legislation, business plans, web development… to name a few.

This week I was hired to project manage the opening of a new restaurant. Something totally new for me in many respects, but as I am discovering more and more each day, a project requiring similar project management applications I have used or considered using in the past. We will explore these in this Procept Weblog series in the weeks to come.

Some of my major deliverables are to hire a General Manager and an Executive Chef, oversee the design and manage the renovation, coordinate all the activities and people involved in the project.

ribbon cutting restaurant

For the purposes of this weblog series the name of the restaurant will be called the “Beta-Bistro”. The restaurant is located on a very popular pedway in a historic city in Atlantic Canada. I will be responsible for delivering the end product on budget, on time – May 1st, 2014. The project is real, but I am using a fictitious title to ensure I am not making premature announcements (via the magic of Google ) with regards to the marketing strategy under the real name.

I will be posting project updates periodically on this Procept weblog, pointing out challenges and sharing solutions. I will be ‘thinking out loud’ and hopefully tell a story that relates to the ups and downs of project management from my own experiences as someone learning along the way.

I welcome your ideas, comments and input and look forward to documenting this brand new experience.

 

Cynthia King
Project Manager
Beta-Bistro

Total Float vs. Free Float

  • By: pcadmin on 04 Oct 2013

This is the fifth in a series of posts on commonly confused terms for the PMP exam.

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) defines:

Total Float: The amount of time that a scheduled activity can be delayed or extended from its early start date without delaying the project finish date or violating a schedule constraint.

Free Float: The amount of time that a scheduled activity can be delayed without delaying the early start of any successor or violating a schedule constraint.

Total Float is calculated using the formula LF-EF or LS-ES.  The activities with 0 total float are critical path activities. So, in the above network diagram, A-B-C-G is the critical path and the total float for each of the activities on critical path is 0. The total float on non-critical path activities are D-8, E-8, and F-2.  As is obvious from the above network diagram, critical path represents minimum project duration (assuming no resource constraint) and delay in any critical path activity will cause project delay.  A positive value of total float on non-critical path activities states the activity can be delayed by the value of the total float without affecting the project’s schedule.  For example, activity F can be delayed by 2 days without effecting the overall project schedule of 15 days.  Do keep in mind, total float is most often refer to simply as “float” or “slack”.

Free Float is calculated using the formula ES (successor activity) – EF – 1 (or ES (successor activity) – EF when starting the critical path with 0). Read our blog post on Critical Path Calculations – Starting at 0 or 1 for a detailed discussion on this topic.

So, free floats for activities are D-0, E-8, and F-2. Can you see a clear pattern here? Free float is only available when two of more activities converge, in the above diagram C, E, F converges to G.

Outside the scope of PMI and PMP preparation, float has some very interesting applications in real life contracts. Other than to provide flexibility in the schedule and resource levelling opportunities during project planning, there has been a long standing debate in construction/engineering projects on who owns the contractor’s schedule float – the owner or the contractor.  Based on most US court decisions on such disputes, float is a shared resource meant to be used by whosoever needs it first. On the other side of this argument is the contractor’s view point who creates and manages the schedules and uses float for risk mitigation. In a specific case, if an owner were to use a float and a major risk were to occur later, the contractor will not have any buffer and may suffer economic losses or pursue litigation. And, so the argument continues……

Your comments are welcome!

References:
Project Management Institute (PMI). (2013). A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) (5th ed.). Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.

PMBOK® Transition: 4th to 5th Edition

  • By: pcadmin on 01 Oct 2013

With more than 100 new pages,the addition of planning processes, a new Stakeholder Management knowledge area, and supporting revised PMP and CAPM exams, the new PMBOK® Guide 5th edition is a major update. Keith Farndale hosts this webinar which takes a practical approach to describe the new content and structure of the PMBOK® Guide.

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