Archive for August, 2009

PostHeaderIcon Adieu Triple Constraint

Triangle in flame.

RIP project triangle

Its good to see the PMI moving with the times and dispensing with the sacred Triple Constraint. Now we’re advised to balance additional constraints such as quality, risk and resources. So no longer is project success to be measured per the old PMBOK 3, in which we learned that “High quality projects deliver the required product, service or result within scope, on time and within budget”.

This change has been nicely acknowledged by Telstra, Australia’s privatized telecommunications giant. According to, the telco recently revealed payment of a $2.2 million bonus to its ex-COO for outcomes relating to its IT transformation program despite it running $200m over budget and behind schedule with currently only half of the legacy systems planned for consolidation switched off. The chief exec declared it a ‘good result’ apparently.

I wouldn’t mind trying for just a mediocre result under this new approach – say half the bonus for double the cost overrun… the Triple Constraint has a lot to answer for!

PostHeaderIcon Using Indicators to Track Schedules in MS Project

Custom fields in Microsoft Project offer a host of possibilities for tracking and managing schedules. I like to use the indicator functionality to help monitor and control progress. In the example below I’ve used the custom field “Number1” to indicate task status based on total slack.


Here’s how to set this up-

  • Select Tools, Customize, Fields
  • Select the field “Number1”
  • Click Rename to relabel field as “Schedule Indicator”, then OK
  • Click on Custom Attributes, Formula
  • Enter the formula:
    IIf([Baseline Finish]>100000,-1000,IIf([Actual Finish]<100000 And [Finish Variance]=0,-998,IIf([Actual Finish]<100000 And [Baseline Finish]>[Actual Finish],-998,IIf([Actual Finish]<100000 And [Actual Finish]>[Baseline Finish] And [Finish Variance]>0,-999,[Total Slack]/480))))
  • Click OK
  • Click on Values to Display, Graphical Indicators, and set up the images in the order below:
    White = -1,000 (will show tasks that are not baselined)
    Blue = -999 (tasks that finished late)
    Dark green = -998 (tasks that finished on time or early)
    Red <=  -5 (incomplete tasks that are late by 1 week or more)
    Yellow <= 0 (incomplete tasks that are up to 1 week late)
    Green >= 0 (incomplete tasks that are early or on time)
  • Click OK, OK

Lastly, we set a Deadline on the Project Complete milestone to provoke negative slack values when behind schedule-

  • Double click on the milestone name, then go to Task Information, Advanced, Deadline

That’s about it!

PostHeaderIcon Interface Definition – The Essentials

PMI gives only scant coverage to interfaces (inter-project or external dependencies) in its Standard for Program Management. However, mis-managed interfaces have the potential to cause days or even weeks of delays and consequently wreak havoc with schedules – and often do.

Effective interface management involves full and complete interface definition. A good list of defining attributes would include the following:

Outputs don't always match input requirements

Outputs don't always match input requirements

  • Interface name
    (unique naming and identification)
  • Interface description
    (nature and purpose of the interface)
  • Output source
    (which sub-project supplies the output)
  • Output owner
    (who is accountable for the output)
  • Input receiver
    (which sub-project is the ‘customer’ for the output)
  • Input owner
    (who is accountable for receiving the input)
  • Completion criteria
    (what the interface ‘looks like’ when its done)
  • Date constraints
    (if applicable)

The completion criteria should be defined as a checklist of requirements from the input owner. He/she will then use these as the basis for full acceptance of the interface as ‘done’ or ‘not done’.

PostHeaderIcon Creating Hammock Tasks in MS Project

A hammock task can be defined as either a summary task that aggregates a related set of activities, or an actual ongoing activity whose start and finish is driven by other tasks or milestones that may or may not be related. In the first case, summary tasks are easily created using the outline feature in Project of course but the second case can present more of a challenge.

In the simple example below, two non-summary hammock tasks are shown.


Both hammocks reflect ongoing activity from the start to the finish of the project. To create Hammock A:

  • Click in the Start cell for the project “Start” milestone and choose the Copy command
  • Click the Start cell for “Hammock A” and choose Edit, Paste Special, Paste Link, and click OK
  • Click in the Finish cell for the project “Finish” milestone and choose Copy
  • Click in the Finish cell for “Hammock A” and paste as a link again

A problem with hammocks is that they may show up as critical items (as here with Hammock A) whereas in reality they do not actually drive the project schedule. Hammock B shows how we can avoid this by linking the finish date to a ‘dummy’ milestone “Finish -1” that we set to finish just before the project finish (predecessor is Finish milestone SF-1).

Using either approach above will allow the hammock to ‘stretch’ or ‘shrink’ as the durations of the other tasks change, during plan updates for example. If necessary, a manual click on the F9 key will force a correct recalculation of the hammock’s duration.

PostHeaderIcon PMP Mania and a Favourite Quote

As each year passes, the number of PMPs grows exponentially. I don’t have the latest stats but here are some data points:

  • 1986 – 100 PMPs
  • 1998 – 10,000 PMPs
  • 2007 – 250,000 PMPs

You get the picture.

Anyway, swept along in all this enthusiasm at seemingly the same rate of knots, is a fast-growing band of HR Managers, (or “Talent Managers” for the politically correct), who have been misled into believing that a PMP certification makes for a better project manager. In fact there is ample evidence that knowledge of the PMBOK does not make for a better PM. I have trained plenty of PMPs who by their own admission did not fully understand how to actually develop a high quality tactically viable schedule.

When organizations and recruitment agencies get locked onto PMP as a primary hiring criteria for candidate project managers, my first reaction is despair. My second reaction is excitement at another opportunity to provide some coaching in practical project management.

Which brings me to my favourite quote:

An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory.

(Friedrich Engels)

PostHeaderIcon Linking Projects to Strategy… er, what Strategy?

All good portfolio managers know that their organization should select and value projects with respect to its chosen strategies. This is intuitively rational given that strategy lays out future direction and projects exist to transform that vision into reality by satisfying needs for change and improving on what was or what is.

Ocean pier in the mist

Blue Ocean or Misty Ocean?

The reality however is that core company strategies are oftentimes not widely communicated, or at least, they are not well understood across the organization. I confess this does not make much sense to me. Why spend time conceiving Blue Ocean strategies or creating Balanced Scorecards if the outputs (and importantly, the consequences for project work) are not plainly articulated to all? (Ok, I’m forgetting the cost reduction or downsizing strategy which tends to be conveyed without much ambiguity).

The Future is Now

There are some exceptional standouts of course – I once consulted at a global bank that had its core strategies posted on everyone’s cubicle – but in the main I meet disturbing numbers of managers and PMO staff who readily confess that their organization’s strategies are pretty much invisible or at best opaque. (When I hear this, my mind heads off into scenes from the visionary 1927 movie “Metropolis” which portrays a segregated world of workers slaving underground, achieving goals without vision, while the ruling elite above the surface – the Thinkers – make grand plans without knowing how things work).

Without clear strategy, we have no context of purpose. The entire organization needs context of purpose. Purpose inspires. Without clear strategy, good ideas and smart programs cannot be developed, projects cannot be optimally aligned, evaluated and prioritized, and resources cannot be effectively mobilized and motivated.

PostHeaderIcon The 5 Laws of Effective Project Management

Over the years I’ve had the good fortune to observe, lead and coach dozens of project teams in all sorts of organizations in a variety of countries and cultures. It struck me that while we have a multitude of overwhelming specifics and references for sound project management, (think PMBOK, PRINCE2 etc.), many project managers would benefit from simply absorbing a few basic realities—or, put another way:

Universally Useful Mantras

So some time ago I started wondering if we could condense recognized best practices in project management into a simple set of guiding principles. My answer – YES, I think we can.

A few simple rules

A few simple rules

So here are my own personal mantras:

1 –  Ambiguity kills Projects


2 –  Credibility requires Detail


3 –  No Truth, no Trust


4 –  Uncertainty is Certain


5 –  Satisfaction is not Guaranteed


I believe these realities hold true irrespective of the nature or complexity of project. They reflect the strongest forces for shaping success or failure on most projects, most of the time.

I’ll be expanding and evangelizing my perspectives on each of these in future blogs… so stay tuned!