The Power of Brainstorming

Identifying project risk, performing risk management planning, and analyzing and responding to risk are all crucial areas when kicking off a new project. Regardless of how complex or straight forward a project may seem, there are always risks. It’s important for a project manager to think of how best to identify and address risks, especially with new projects or prototypes. So where should a project manager start? Brainstorming.

Brainstorming may seem like a very disheveled and disorganized method to generating ideas. However, while parts to this may be true, it’s also highly effective. Brainstorming can either be done individually or in a large group. Obviously we’ve all heard the phrase, “two heads are better than one”; this is certainly true with brainstorming. While the whole idea behind brainstorming is to just think up as many ideas that will pertain to a project and its associated risks as possible, there are some rules project managers need to consider.

1)      First and foremost, and probably even most importantly, there are no stupid ideas. Project managers and/or team leaders should never shoot down ideas. First, the whole idea behind brainstorming is to get creative and think up as many ideas as possible. Secondly, team members should never feel hindered to thinking of an idea or that their idea wasn’t well received or was “stupid”. The whole point behind brainstorming is to open up creativity, go in with an open mind, and just think of creative ways to respond to project risks.

2)      Keep it simple. To maximize brainstorming opportunities, groups should be held with a minimum of five team members and no more than ten team members. Whenever and wherever possible, team brainstorming sessions should include essential team members that will be participating or working on the project in some form. In addition, brainstorming sessions can also include managers, supervisors, and even higher level executives. Different levels of experience, points of view, and vested areas of interest can all be crucial components to a successful brainstorming session.

3)      Document ideas. So we’ve got a risk facilitator or colleague PM running the brainstorming session, we’ve got different team members of different areas of expertise and experience, and plenty of ideas…but how do we record them? They can either be recorded on a laptop or tablet with an overhead projector, a visual bulletin board or dry erase board, or even a flip chart. When team members offer ideas and can read them, then other ideas will “piggy back” off them, which is how brainstorming spearheads. Each team member should have at least one turn in sharing an idea.

All in all, brainstorming is just one effective method to identifying risk and coming up with different, creative ways to responding to them. There are other risk identification techniques such as the Delphi technique or interviewing. However, brainstorming is a great and casual way for team members to get together, bond on a particular project, or even participate in a great project.

Why is Project Management Important?

The importance of project management may seem obvious. However, there are still many organizations and companies out there that don’t realize how much project managers, whether hired as staff members within the particular organization or outsourced to a project management agency or firm, can actually help increase efficiency on many projects…regardless of how much creativity or complexities are involved. So what can project managers do to help projects?

  • Improve Efficiency. Project management and efficiency should go hand in hand. Project managers work on projects to ensure that risks, specifications, implementation and execution procedures, project procurement, and outcomes and deliverables are all met and align with customer requirements. When customers trust in project managers to ensure a particular project is handled, they are entrusting that every area of the project life cycle is dealt with and managed with the proper tools and care and with the client’s end result and outcome in mind.
  • Improve Communication. Project managers also display excellent and thorough communication whether it’s between other team members, other internal users, vendors, or customers. Project managers are well versed in communicating project specifications, customer requirements, shifts in schedule, budget changes, and deadlines with other team members and vendors. Project managers also work with customers on any change in specifications and clearly advise customers on how to proceed with certain changes, how they will impact the schedule and budget, and what they can expect as an outcome.
  • Improve Creativity. Another aspect to project management is creativity. Often times project management involves a creative, analytical, and strategical mind. Many projects and specifications require a certain level of creative thinking. This could be in visioning a project and its outcome or even in problem solving.
  • Improve Strategy. Project management also helps with strategy. This could be strategy in how to go about tackling a new project, strategy in how to respond to a particular project risk, how to go about implementing a particular project method, and how to deliver a particular project. Each project milestone has an impact on the outcome of the overall project. A project manager that is well versed in strategy can help to see through project milestones and steps accurately and ensure that each step is carried through properly to the end.Having a set strategy in mind or documented throughout the project can also help to deal with any problems or issues that arise. This kind of goes hand in hand with responding to risk. Each project comes with its own set of risks that should be identified and addressed in the beginning of each project. Once these have been identified, having a strategy set in place for dealing with them can save on time and cost down the road.
  • Improve Budgets. While it may cost an organization some money in a project manager or project management agency, it can also save down the line. Project managers are trained in how to monitor project-related costs and budgets through the life of a project. If a particular organization has a set amount of money in mind for a project, the project manager will see to it that the project stays within those budgetary constraints.

Finally, project management is crucial part to any project and to any organization or firm. Not only does project management increase efficiency, improve communication, creativity, strategy, it can also save a great deal of time and money down the road not only to assist in monitoring project-related costs and budgets, but to also ensure a project is completed accurately and on time.

Project Management Decision-Making the Right Way

One of the most crucial areas of being a professional project manager, and perhaps one of the most challenging, is decision-making. Professional project managers face many decisions on a daily basis. These decisions can range from the ability to take on a particular project to making a production or manufacturing decision that could ultimately make or break the project. So how can project managers ensure they are always making the best project and team decisions?

So if you’re a project manager and you need to make a difficult decision, what should you do? Where do you start? How do you know if the decision you are making is the correct one?

  1. Consider the impact. Depending on the decision, or the severity or impact of the consequences, a project manager might want to take some time to ponder and weigh the pros and cons of the potential impact on the project. What impact will the decision have on the outcome of the project? What would the customer think? Does the decision put any of the customer’s requirements at risk?
  2. Review the risk management plan. At the beginning of every project, professional project managers should be drafting risk management plans. At the time in a project when a decision needs to be made, project managers should review the risk management plan to see how the outcome of a particular decision ties into the outlined project risks. What course of action should be taken to address the risk as well as the new risks? In some cases the potential decision may have been outlined as a risk in the initial project design and risk management planning stages. It’s important to review the risk management plan and respond accordingly.
  3. Consider project resources. Before making a project related decision, project managers need to review the project’s current resources. How will the decision impact the schedule? Does the project have enough resources allocated to its tasks to accommodate the change or decision? How will it impact the budget? Of course, any delays in schedule will need to be communicated with all resources, relevant team members, and the customer.
  4. Communicate. The last extremely important point in crucial project management decision-making is communication. All risks, potential impact and consequences, schedule or budget changes, client communications, etc. should all be properly documented and communicated throughout the team. In order to effectively carry out the change or decision, team members and resources need to be aware of everything that’s on the table. What and how will tasks be affected as a result? How will all risks be addressed? How will these be communicated to the customer?

It’s true that project managers need to consider all elements and impacts of a potential decision prior to making one. Sometimes it is difficult to determine exactly how a particular decision will create a ripple effect throughout the lines of a project. This is why it is extremely important to consider all risks, resources, and ensure proper communication through the decision-making process. Project managers should also document these particular decisions as well as the process and reasons why it was made so that future projects can model after it during post mortem, if necessary.

Project Management 101

Project managers come in all different shapes and sizes and from all walks of life. Project managers’ experiences, skills, and backgrounds all differ. Some project managers manage only a few projects at a time that last for several months, while other project manages manage up to fifty projects at one time that only last for several weeks. Regardless of what spectrum of project management you are familiar with and currently work in, here are some project management 101 tips that can benefit any project management role in any industry.

Many believe that project management is a complex and difficult role, and it can be. Professional project managers know just how difficult and challenging project management can be at times. However, with the right tools, tips, and attitude, any project manager can be successful.

  • Planning. The key to successful project management begins and ends with planning. Tasks, budgets, and resources all require proper planning. Planning may involve running reports, allocating resources (including restructuring, recruiting, etc.), assigning and monitoring tasks, and reviewing and analyzing budgets. Project managers can plan and organize these tasks however he or she sees fit. This may include tracking them with reports, spreadsheets, or even setting calendar reminders.
  • Risk Management and Response. One major element to project management is risk management and response. Each project, regardless of how large or small, simple or complex, comes with its own sets and levels of risk. As a result, identifying, categorizing, and developing a risk response plan is necessary. The type of project, and ultimately the type of risk, depends on the how the risk is categorized and the best response plan. For example, for many projects that work on tight deadlines, schedule is often categorized as a “risk”. However, schedule in itself isn’t a risk, but weather delaying a construction project, which would impact the schedule, is the actual risk.
  • Resources. A project manager’s and even a project’s overall success is only as successful as the team working behind it. Allocating and recruiting resources as necessary is a great way to put together a fully functional and competent team to ensure a project’s overall success. Gathering the best resources for the project can be lengthy and even costly, so planning this stage up front, or as soon as possible prior to the start of the project is the best course of action. This will allow time for training, troubleshooting, and for the team to get acclimated and organized.
  • Organization. One of the most important areas of project management is organization. If a project manager isn’t organized, then the team isn’t organized, and ultimately the project isn’t organized…which are all ingredients for a recipe for disaster. Staying organized is crucial. This doesn’t necessarily mean tidiness (although it certainly helps!) but organized in having specifications documented, filed appropriately, open communication, and having a good handle on schedules, deadlines, and specifications. Also, if team members see that the project manager is organized, then the team will become organized.

In conclusion, these tips are all crucial areas of project management. Project managers cannot function or deliver quality products and meet stakeholder requirements without identifying and allocating the above areas. In addition, regardless of how experienced a project manager is, where or in what capacity he or she works, or what industry or organization, these key project management tactics will help any project manager be successful.

A Basic Overview of FMEA

Most professional project managers have at least heard of the basic FMEA principles. For those who haven’t heard of them, or aren’t sure of what they are, or need a refresher on them, here is a basic overview of the FMEA principles for project management.

So what is FMEA?

So what is FMEA exactly? FMEA stands for Failure Mode and Effect Analysis. These techniques help project managers in analyzing and identifying risk in projects. The reason why FMEA is so successful is because these tactics help prevent problems, issues, and defects in projects and even enhance customer safety and satisfaction.

FMEAs are universal because they can relate to any area of project management in any industry. They can be utilized for technical and nontechnical project managers and in such industries. According to FMEA, its important for project managers to remember that even some of the simplest and least complex projects and products can fail.

What are the three factors FMEA risk factors?

There are three factors the FMEA principles use to determine risk. These factors include:

Severity – the consequence of the failure, should it occur. This basically outlines the severity of a failure. If the product or service fails, what happens? What is the worst possible outcome? A perfect example of this would be a product or even service that causes a customer physical harm or even death such as a faulty car part, medical device, or even a medical device manual.

Occurrence – the occurrence is the probability or the frequency of the problem occurring. How likely is the problem to occur in a particular project? And ultimately, what is the impact? So let’s revisit the example mentioned in the previous factor. If a mechanic or manufacturer is putting together a car, and let’s say he or she is using a new part, what is the probability that, that part will fail?

Detection – this refers to the probability that the issue will be detected or recognized before failure occurs. What is the detection plan for the particular project? What is the likelihood that the issue will be spotted before production is complete? Are there any QA steps involved in the process that would likely detect the issue? Again, going back to the example with the car assembly. Once a product is tested, manufactured, and assembled to the vehicle, what is the detection method to be sure of the functionality and safety of this particular part? Is there a manufacturing or production QA step that would test the parts before delivery?

What are the best ways to identify FMEA?

So how do project managers go about identifying and addressing the FMEA principles in their projects? Most project managers will develop or design a flow chart or some form of assessment sheet. These methods can help determine each of the FMEA steps and risk factors and how to respond to each of them.

Most commonly, each of the risk factors are identified and later addressed in team meetings and regular planning meetings for each project. This effectively communicates the risks involved and helps make sure everyone is on the same page.

Upon new project assignments, project managers can sometimes feel overwhelmed when trying to schedule, budget, and even identify, plan, and respond to risks. The FMEA principles can really help project managers identify, analyze, and determine risks in any project. Once risks are properly identified and documented, managing them, with the help of team members, is that much easier.

How to Ensure Risk Management Success

We’ve talked many times before in this blog about projects and risk management. We’ve talked about identify and analyzing risks, the most common risks and the most common mistakes in risk management, the facets and categories of risk management, and even project management and risk management methodologies. So how do project managers tie all these together to make sure they really capture and ensure successful risk management?

This takes some experience and practice. Project managers are constantly on the go and often times doing several tasks at once. While multitasking is an excellent skill—and one that many project managers perfect over time—this can also have a negative impact.

  • Identify Risks – As Early and as Often as Possible While we are busy multitasking, we may be forgetting to pay attention to crucial areas at crucial times, such as identifying risks. Identifying risks should occur at the very, VERY beginning of a project…even if the project isn’t technically a project yet, or is still only a lead or in the bidding stage. While it may seem like this takes more time overall, it can save project managers headaches throughout the project’s life cycle. In addition, it’s true that much of the identifying and analyzing risks should occur as early on in the project as possible, that doesn’t mean you don’t see them through. Depending on the probability and impact of the risk, it may be worth having regular risk or planning meetings with your team to monitor and analyze them through each project phase.
  • Prioritize and Analyze Once project risks have been identified, and then re-identified, it is then important to assign tasks to team members as applicable. Each risk can come with its own set of responsibilities and tasks associated with it. In addition to the project manager, of course, each team member can be responsible for a risk or tasks. These tasks will need to be prioritized, analyzed, and then re-prioritized and reanalyzed through the life of the project. Again, this can be done at weekly risk or planning meetings, through documentation methods (such as checklists), or whichever method works best for the team as a whole.
  • Communication and Project Management Communication is another big element that we’ve discussed in this blog on more than one occasion. Communication and project management, and communication and risk management go hand in hand…always. Projects will never be successful without implementing proper and open communication. Communication doesn’t even have to mean talking or conversing with one another about what’s going on, it’s about communicating risks, specifications, schedule changes, etc. Everyone should be on the same page at all times. This is of course a challenge for many teams, especially for those teams that work together on an off site or virtual basis, but closing the gap in communication will make everyone’s job easier and will ensure overall project success.
  • Engage Team Members At All Times This is somewhat of a spin off of the point on communication listed above. All team members working on any project need to be privy of the specifications, correspondence, schedules, timelines, and especially the risks. Not only will this open the doors of communication and keep everyone on the same page, but it also lets team members know they are valued in every stage of the project.

Again, the challenges teams face today is that most team members work off site, virtually, and even in different time zones. When we all rely on email technology and electronic communication today, it is very easy to miss a detail here and there. Moral of the story? Project managers should do whatever necessary in order to keep ALL team members up to date and practice open communication, no matter where they are.

All in all, while dealing with risks many not be the most exciting part about being a project manager—some may argue that it is the most challenging—it is certainly not an area that should be taken lightly. Practicing the items outlined above will ensure that the proper measures are taken to identify and deal with risks, as well as develop and design risk response plans. This will help ensure that projects transition and are completed smoothly.

Dealing with Programmatic Risks…Such as Hurricanes

Every project has its own certain levels of certain risks; risks that are analyzed and identified from the beginning of a project or during the development and submission phases. However, each project also comes with a number of uncertain risks, or even risks that project managers have no control over. Some of these uncontrollable and uncertain risks are related to weather. How many projects do you think are now suffering from a decrease in productivity due to Hurricane Sandy?

Dealing with risk management is a crucial step in every project. Project managers could spend all day putting together a risk management plan for risks that are both certain and uncertain. The truth is, project managers can’t devise a risk management plan for every risk that could occur. However, they can identify where these risks could occur. For example, each project has its own set of programmatic risks, which are basically those risks that affect project direction, but also fall outside of the project manager’s control.

Furthermore, programmatic risks also deal a lot with uncertain risks, or risks that involve environmental impacts. These could include breakdowns in communication, labor strikes, or severe, inclement weather. For example, Hurricane Sandy was a programmatic risk that many project managers face right now. Of course project managers at the start of their projects probably did not bet that a category three hurricane would put a halt to productivity or maybe even risk deadlines or project completion. This is a clear example of a risk that is out of the project manager’s, and even the organization’s, level of control.

So what can project managers do about uncertain programmatic risks?

Of course project managers at the start of their projects could not predict earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, or blizzards that could result in closed offices or interruptions in communication. However, if project managers could be aware of the possibility of these environmental impacts, then perhaps schedule adjustments could be made in advance in order to accommodate the drop in productivity or the breach in deadlines. This could be as simple as messaging or emailing team members to have a back up plan in order in the event inclement weather is predicted. This will give team members the chance to tie up any loose ends, adjust schedules and deadlines as necessary and as possible, and just be ready for the impact.

Again, project managers should not waste valuable time in drafting risk management plans at the beginning of each project to include the likelihood of a hurricane. A big part of designing a risk management plan not only includes identifying the risk, but also analyzing the impact or probability of a particular risk occurring. For example, project managers that took on new projects a week ago could easily factor in the hurricane as a certain risk to the project, because it was a real possibility at the time.

In conclusion, every project comes long with its own set of risks that can be analyzed and identified by the five facets of risk management. Designing an effective risk management plan in the beginning is one sure way to make sure your projects go smoothly. In the future, how can you hurricane proof your projects?

The Four Categories of Risk Management

As professional project managers, we all know that each project comes with its own set of risks. Those risks depend on the project specifications and scope, and no two projects are alike. Each project’s risks can be categorized into specific risk response categories in order for project managers to effectively address and respond to each of these risks and track their progress accordingly.

Avoidance – Avoidance doesn’t necessarily mean that project managers should avoid or ignore the risk, but that the risk itself should be avoided at all costs. Examples of such risks to a project that absolutely must be avoided clearly depends on the organization, but can include late product delivery to the customer, or the severe injury or even death of a customer.

Mitigation – This is one of the most popular risk response methods in project management. Although it can be an expensive measure, it is extremely effective and a popular approach. Mitigation is the category that risks fall into but aren’t extremely critical. All risks are critical and should be dealt with, but mitigation allows for project managers to address the risk and reduce the probability or impact of a risk actually occurring.

Transference – Transference is the method in which project manager can take a risk—or the consequences of a risk—in a project and transfer it to a third party or a party outside of the organization. A common example is when an organization works with insurers, such as warranties on particular products or machinery, subcontractors, or vendors. Transference is also known as “deflection” in project management.

Acceptance – Finally, acceptance is the risk response category in which project managers have addressed certain risks and have accepted the consequences of those risks. For example, if a project is submitted late and ultimately will incur late product delivery. Typically the customer is informed of this ahead of time and everyone accepts that the risk will most likely occur.

In addition, there are two types of acceptance: passive and active. Passive acceptance is when project managers don’t take any action in managing the particular risk. On the other hand, active is when project managers do in fact take action in preventing a risk for occurring or even developing fallback plans or contingency plans for if the risk occurs.

So what are some basic actions project managers can take when developing risk response plans? Communication is one of the biggest areas where project managers can identify each of the risks, develop risk response plans, and address each of the risks. Some communication methods can include holding planning or team meetings on a regular basis, or develop a project risk register to document each of the risks, the plans of attack, and address each of them with the team members.

The Best Ways to Make Sure Projects Go Smoothly

As professional project managers we’ve worked on a number of different projects all with different specifications and unique cases. We’ve also seen our fair share of challenges, risks, and inadvertent schedule delays. As project managers, we’ve seen it all. Here are some of the best ways to make sure projects go smoothly.

  • Know Your Clients and Customers. Knowing and establishing relationships with clients and customers is half the battle. This can help you immensely in determining schedules, budgets, and deliverables. This may be more difficult for less experienced project managers to grasp at first, but each detail-oriented project manager should be able to get to know the organization’s clients or customers after some time, or at least understand what their goals are. Knowing these goals can make all the difference in how effectively you project manage that particular client’s projects.
  • Recruit a Great Team. The other key are in effective project management has to do with the team. Recruiting and managing a good team can make all the difference in how a project is managed and carried out. Team members should all be working to one common goal: serving the client. Remember that a team is only as strong as its weakest link. In addition, project managers should keep in mind that they aren’t “managers” but rather “leaders”. This is vital to remember when leading teams and projects. The difference between a manager and a leader lies with the project manager. He or she should encourage team member success rather than solely delegating tasks.
  • Identify Risks and Establish Risk Response Plans. One of the most crucial points in project management is identifying project risks. Each project has its own set of challenges and risks that come along with it. A project manager should spend time at the beginning and identify any and all certain and uncertain risks and the probability and impact levels for each. Then, the project manager should design risk response plans for each of the risks. This way if and when each risk comes about the project manager and team can address them according to the plan that was put into place. Some of the best ways to address these as a group is hold planning meetings on a regular basis and keep all team members informed as to the project status and progress of each risk and how each is being addressed.
  • Archiving and Documentation. Another key area of project management—before, during, and even after the project life cycle—is documenting each step and archiving the project properly so that other project managers or team members can resurrect the documentation or information on a particular project should it be needed for future projects. One of the great benefits to doing this is a lot of time and effort can be saved on the part of the project manager if he or she has another similar project to reference to, to see how the completed project was carried out.

Of course these are only some of the ways that professional project managers can make sure projects go smoothly. Each project has its own unique cases and specs attached to it, so you may need to get creative in how to deal with certain challenges and risks.

The Most Common Mistakes in Project Management

Project managers know that in the realm of project management, projects can encounter many risks. Most risks range from internal and external risks, technical risks, and even legal risks, depending on the project and organization, of course. However, project management in itself is considered a risk.

Here are some of the most common mistakes in project management.

1.)  Lack of project management experience. Many projects today are assigned to project managers of various levels. Some of the less experienced project managers may be forced to take on projects that have higher level or complexities that he or she may not be familiar with. As a result, this becomes a major risk. The project manager may not understand how to properly allocate resources or schedule in an effective manner.

Solution: So what can project managers do to mitigate this risk? One of the best ways to address this is to document project steps and even create checklists for less experienced PMs to follow. This will ensure that typical project steps and/or risks will be addressed.

2.)  Miscommunication in project scope or specifications. This is something that most of if not all project managers have experienced at one point or another in their roles. Often times project managers receive instructions that may be vague or incomplete or are perhaps interpreted incorrectly.

Solution: Although this may be an area that is difficult to mitigate, project managers should be prepared or have a process in place in the event that scopes change mid project. This will help the change take place more effectively and successfully without further risks to the project. The object here is not to anticipate every possible scenario, but to anticipate the obvious risks and the risks that are most evident and probable.

3.)  Don’t be a boss, be a team leader. Some project managers can go on a power trip when they are assigned to projects, especially those that are complex or that are worth high revenue. However, if projects are managed and recognized as team efforts, this mitigates the risk and the power struggle.

Solution: It is important for project managers to keep in mind that eve though project managers are at the forefront of the project and there to align all project milestones and deadlines along the way, that doesn’t mean that one person is better than the other. Each functional area that grabs hold of the project throughout its life cycle is a crucial team member that is just as important as the next.

Project managers certainly encounter different risk and mistake areas in various projects and their life cycles. These are some of the top risk areas that occur in the project management risk category. However, it is important to take each step in project management seriously in order to recognize and mitigate each area of risk in order to avoid errors or compromise the project integrity, quality, and delivery.