Ten common problems that can undermine your project’s success

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Risk management can be boring, complicated, difficult, overwhelming, obscure, overly technical, overly detailed, and not detailed enough. It’s hard to get it right. Here are ten common risk mistakes we see all too often on projects.

The key with risk is (1) measure against a baseline, and (2) provide enough information in the definition to be able to estimate likelihood and impact. “Weather” is not a risk. “Bad weather” is not a risk. “Worse weather than typical, resulting in additional costs and schedule delays” is getting there, but still might need…


The simple but profound insight behind earned value.

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Let’s say you’re renovating your kitchen. It’s been a long year and half staring at the same walls. It’s time for a change. You get some quotes, choose a contractor, and brace yourself for washing dishes in the bathtub. It’s going to be $10,000 and it will take ten weeks.

You’re at week five. The contractor’s billed you $5,000. Are you going to be finished on time? Are you going to be on budget?

The answer is… maybe. This is where the concept of earned value comes in. It is a very…


Fit your process to your project needs

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Risk management is one of the most valuable tools in your arsenal as a project manager. It should be part of all planning and inform every decision.

But your process shouldn’t be one size fits all.

While it’s not good for projects to have under-developed risk management processes, it’s also not good for an organization to adopt a rigid risk management process that is applied unilaterally to all projects. This is for three reasons: first, if it’s too lightweight it may not be good enough for very large or complex projects, and risks…


Schedules need to move. Two key tests for whether your schedule will work for you or against you.

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Scheduling is an art, but it’s also a science. A good Critical Path Method schedule is a network of interrelated tasks that captures duration, constraints, and relationships, and spreads them all across available work time and resources. It is also a huge pile of assumptions, a central battleground in disputes, and a fragile document made using specialized software that needs constant feeding and care to be relevant. And when you get down to it, everyone just wants to know (1) how it’s going, and (2) when things will be done.

CPM schedules evolved into their current form between the 1940s…


Don’t start with an agenda, start with ground rules

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Rudeness is relative. Every culture and subculture defines their own rules. There are thousands of books and articles on etiquette in different countries and different cultures, covering topics like the difference between “low-context” and “high-context” cultures and how to improve cross-cultural communication. Your organization is located in a broader culture, has its own organizational culture, and is made up of individuals who each were raised in a variety of cultures and subcultures. They have their own personalities and their own levels of power within the organization.

In this sea of potentially conflicting spoken and unspoken rules and preferences, we still…


Six tips for transferring risk and why it’s like Halloween candy

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When someone writes a contract, they’re selling risk; when someone else writes a quote, they’re buying it. Transferring risk is one of the main purposes of a contract. In the construction world, the contract makes the bidder responsible for various aspects of the job at a certain price, and if the job costs more than that to build, the responsibility falls mostly on the bidder. If the price of steel doubles between now and when the bridge is being built, too bad.

Why would anyone sign that contract? Well, if the price of steel actually drops 30% between now and…


Seven techniques to help you supercharge your team’s creativity, find innovative solutions, and look forward to your brainstorming sessions

Engineer writes on whiteboard
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“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”

— Maya Angelou

Everyone has experienced the World’s Worst Brainstorming Session. You’re in a meeting room with your coworkers and maybe your boss, staring at a blank whiteboard, trying to come up with something. You write down a couple of things. Then you all start talking about why the second one isn’t a good idea, or why the third one is. Your boss likes the fourth one, so you discuss that one too. Will it cost too much? Accounting points out we tried it before and it…


Five principles for training your project management spidey sense.

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Project management can be called an exercise in applied risk management. As a PM, almost everything you do is aimed at seeing trouble down the road and doing something about it before it gets out of control. With experience, you get a sixth sense about things. Michael Lopp calls it the spidey-sense — it’s that little voice at the back of your mind that says “oh no”, generally without conscious thought and sometimes without an obvious reason. It’s what people mean when they say to pay attention to your gut. It’s the voice of experience, speaking quietly, making you uncomfortable…

Holly Parkis

The world of project planning and management on capital projects, large and small. Consultant and Portfolio Manager at SMA Consulting Ltd.

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