Archive for the ‘Execution’ Category

PostHeaderIcon 2014 Strategic Execution Conference

Linking Strategy to Execution through Innovative Techniques

This year’s Strategic Execution Conference takes place on Oct 21-22 at the Hyatt Regency, Santa Clara.

This is the world’s premier event focused on improving the way organizations and their teams execute strategy, with keynotes and 32 presentations combining thought leadership and new ideas with latest industry practices and case studies in three tracks:

  • Strategic Initiatives
  • Bridging Execution
  • Executing Excellence.









The Strategic Execution Conference is designed for:

  • Senior and rising leaders from established or growing global enterprises relying on innovation and technology for success
  • Stanford Advanced Project Management (SAPM) program students and graduates
  • Managers of large programs and portfolios

The conference also helps deepen the connection the many Stanford Advanced Project Management (SAPM) graduates and participants have with the program and each other by providing an environment to showcase new ideas, foster continual learning and network with the best in strategic execution.

Are you involved in execution of your company’s strategy?

Whether you are the head of the PMO or the CIO; work for a global tech company; or an organization from a robust industry such as financial services, energy, manufacturing or others – this conference is for you.

Details and Registration

For more details on this unique event and to register, go to

PostHeaderIcon Making Team Meetings Productive

Avoid a Disappointing Outcome

Much time can go to waste in project review meetings. Mostly this is due to: (a) poor agendas, (b) poor control and (c) poor preparation. The project manager has responsibility for each of these and should recognize each meeting as an opportunity to improve project performance, enhance personal credibility and motivate the team – all as timely and efficiently as possible.

A fine balancing act is typically needed in maintaining meeting focus on project status while ensuring an appropriate environment to re-align the team and foster a positive outlook. Here are some guidelines to keep meetings productive, on-point and on-track.


Set a clear agenda and stick to it-
e.g. Review the:

  • Schedule
  • Changes
  • Issues
  • Risks


Ready the data before the meeting-

  • Don’t waste valuable meeting time getting status updates from team members. Collect this information one day beforehand to allow time for updating the schedule, analyzing variances and identifying specific items needing team review, all in advance of the meeting. Provide team members with any pre-reading that could reduce meeting duration.


Make attendance mandatory-

  • Allowing members to skip meetings without a really good reason will hamper decision-making, dilute communication and weaken the team. Ask the Sponsor to send out a message reinforcing expectations on attendance – and let him/her know how well they’re being met.


Keep meetings relevant and concise-

  • Keep control of discussions, stick to the agenda, ensure cell-phones stay off and stop any side-conversations promptly. Actively solicit inputs from the team on their perspectives of likelihood of success – and probe any concerns thoroughly. Secure clear commitments on actions and due dates.


Rigid or relaxed to suit the culture–

  • It’s a subtle thing but get it wrong and your perceived credibility as an effective leader will be impacted…as will the team’s motivation and commitment. Some cultures respond better to informal meetings, lots of humor and a relaxed environment than others. Know your team members and your organization’s culture.

Virtual Teams

Additional considerations-

  • If the team includes foreigners, speak slowly and avoid using idioms. (Obvious perhaps, but rampantly ignored). If time zone differences are severe, consider rotating weekly meeting times to spread the pain of early morning or late night calls. Consider asking virtual participants to connect into the meeting individually and separately to avoid the risk of co-located groups getting into their own side-conversations while ‘on mute’.


Give thanks-

  • Be sure to take time to express appreciation for any and all noteworthy efforts honestly, openly and consistently. Whether for the efforts of a single individual or a group, conveying words of thanks and using simple positive reinforcement rewards are powerful motivators.

PostHeaderIcon A Checklist for Team Readiness

Just because the plan seems complete and you think you’re ready to go doesn’t necessarily mean that you are. Apparently small details left unattended as the project is poised for execution can become the source of re-work, frustration, delays, conflict and dysfunctional team behaviors later on in the project.

16 Team Readiness Checks

Here are some of those often forgotten pre-launch checks:

  1. Have the overall project objective and scope boundaries been shared with all team members?
  2. Have all known gaps in resource expertise been resolved?
  3. Have clear roles and responsibilities been defined for each individual?
  4. Has real availability been validated with each team member and relevant line managers?
  5. Have time and effort estimates involved input from the team?
  6. Have the team agreed on who owns which deliverables?
  7. Have those owners specified completion criteria for each of their deliverables?
  8. Is the team aligned on deadlines, dependencies, constraints and risks?
  9. Is the project team ready, willing and able to execute the project according to the baseline plan?
  10. Have initial work priorities been communicated to the project team?
  11. Has a procedure for issuing weekly WBS task lists, actions and priorities to the team been set?
  12. Is the team aware of which tasks are critical and will actual slack values be communicated to task owners each week?
  13. Has the team been informed of how and when they should provide status updates?
  14. Has the team been involved in identifying risks and formulating response strategies?
  15. Have procedures for raising, escalating and resolving issues been defined and communicated?
  16. Does the team know how often project review meetings will be held and who should attend?

    PostHeaderIcon Displaying the Late Schedule in MS Project

    Knowing the latest dates that we can start and finish tasks without impacting the overall project schedule is key to effective time management, especially for those projects where schedule is the least flexible component (see Flexibility Matrix).

    Like the critical path itself however, Microsoft Project does not display this information by default. But we can easily set up the display options to reflect the late dates as in the example below:

    Late Schedule Example

    Here’s how we configure this. First we display the critical path:

    • From the menu, select View, Gantt Chart
    • Then click the Gantt Chart Wizard button on the Formatting toolbar
    • Select “Critical Path”, then Finish, Format It, Exit Wizard.

    The critical path tasks are now visible in red. Next we set up the late schedule for the noncritical (blue) tasks:

    • On the menu, select Format, Bar Styles
    • Then click Insert Row to add a row just above the Critical Path display row (note that inserting a row at the top of the list may not work)
    • Enter “Late Schedule” for the ‘Name’ and select your preferred bar styles for the ‘Appearance’ – (in the example above I used a navy horizontal line bounded by small triangles)
    • Select “Normal, Noncritical” for ‘Show For … Tasks’
    • Lastly ensure that you select ‘From’ “Late Start” and ‘To’ “Late Finish”
    • Click “OK”

    Now you should see the late schedule bars showing for the noncritical tasks indicating the latest each task can start and finish.

    Useful Information

    Showing the columns for Total Slack (the difference between the early and late dates) and Free Slack (how long a task can be delayed without delaying a sucessor task) as in the simple example above tells us the following:

    • The critical path runs through tasks E, G, J
    • The noncritical tasks have varying total slack
      • Tasks B, C, H, L have only 2 days, so are near critical and should be monitored closely for any slippage
      • Tasks A, K have 7 days
      • Task F can be delayed by up to 11 days before the project finish date is impacted
    • Tasks B and C have zero free slack so any delay will immediately impact their successor tasks

    Track the Slack

    Knowing not only which tasks are critical and which are not, but also how much float or slack there is on each non-critical task, helps us prioritize work (according to slack value) and monitor trends in schedule variance (changes in slack week-to-week).

    PostHeaderIcon Three Agenda Items for a Lessons Learned Review

    Every project should be closed with a proper review of lessons learned. I’m always amazed at the tremendous amount of feedback, ideas and value that comes out of a well run project closeout review session. Regrouping the team for this one final meeting is one of the most important events in the life of the project.

    The agenda for this meeting – best run as a facilitated workshop – should comprise these three items:

    1 – What Worked?
    2 – What did Not Work?
    3 – What must we Do Differently Next Time?

    Structure for Best Results

    Some structure around each of these will maximize the quality of the output. For example, solicit feedback with respect to specific areas, such as:

    • Categories – Planning, Resourcing, Risk Management, Requirements, Technology
    • Enablers – Commitment, Competence, Communications (see The Fifth Law)
    • Phases – Solution Design, Development, Testing, Deployment.

    This provides proper focus and balance for identifying lessons learned. Also, use of the Nominal Group Technique in the workshop ensures the optimal mix of individual contributions and team discussion.

    Lastly, just capturing lessons learned is only half the job. In the spirit of ‘kaizen‘ or continuous improvement, they each need to be transformed into action items for implementation, in order to guarantee future projects will use them.

    PostHeaderIcon Ten Vital Items for Project Progress Reports

    There are countless variations on content for project progress reports but there are ten items that should be on every report:

    1 – Business Context
    Why does this project exist?
    Briefly summarize the desired business outcomes as a reminder to all of the rationale for doing the project – and include the names of the sponsor and customer.

    2 – Objectives
    What are the project’s tactical objectives?
    Always keep the schedule, scope and resource goals in view. The Project Objective Statement provides a concise way of describing these.

    3 – Flexibility Matrix
    Which is least flexible – schedule, scope, resources?
    Reflect the Flexibility Matrix on the report to remind stakeholders of the project priorities.

    4 – Schedule
    What is the schedule performance of the project?
    Identify variance of current progress and forecasts against the baseline schedule for key milestones, phases and/or deliverables. Better yet, include performance trends over the past few reporting periods.

    5 – Cost/Resources
    Is the project meeting cost and/or staffing targets?
    Point out significant variances with the plan such as staffing shortfalls or cost overruns.

    6 – Risks
    What significant risks exist?
    Highlight those risks of highest severity and in particular those with high impact that may occur soon.

    7 – Issues
    What significant issues remain unresolved?
    Identify the key issues and what is preventing their resolution.

    8 – Changes
    What changes have occurred?
    Identify any major changes that were approved and/or implemented since the last progress report.

    9 – Accomplishments
    What has been achieved?
    Capture the most important recent accomplishments such as completed deliverables, milestones that were met, or finished major work components.

    10 – Next Steps
    What major components of work remain?
    Indicate what the focus will be for the immediate future and set expectations of what will be reported on in the next progress report.

    Configuring these vital ten into a 1-page format is ideal for executive presentation. These items are of course in addition to the more obvious title and subtitle mentions of project name, report date and author/project manager name. (Surprising how often the obvious gets overlooked).

    PostHeaderIcon The Art of Giving Thanks

    It doesn't have to be complicated

    It doesn't have to be complicated

    It shouldn’t be hard but giving thanks to team members doesn’t always come easy to project managers. Yet those two small words “thank you” can sustain an individual’s drive and enthusiasm long after the project is completed.

    Whether for overcoming adversity, going the extra mile for the customer, infusing the team with drive and energy or just plain hard work, thanking contributors for all forms of outstanding performance should be high on the daily watch-list of any project manager.

    Acknowledgement should be expressed in the following ways:


    • If it doesn’t come from the heart it won’t be valued. And mixed messages, such as conflicting verbal and non-verbal communication, imply insincerity – thanks that will be quickly discounted by its recipient.


    • Recognizing one person’s achievement but overlooking another’s is the swiftest way to divide a team. Staying in touch with the challenges on the ground and paying attention to what’s really going on in the team is crucial.


    • There’s no point in keeping gratitude behind closed doors. Proclaim it, proudly. Thanking someone publicly, in front of the team, demonstrates how important it really is and sends a meaningful message that inspires and motivates.

    A little thanks goes a long way.

    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!