Posted by: projectsinpractice | October 9, 2012

It’s Just a Plan

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Bonnie here: Project managers love to plan. One of my favorite planning quotes comes from Dwight D. Eisenhower: Plans are nothing; planning is everything. Sometimes even the best project managers fall in love with their plans. When they get too committed to those plans, however, they lose the ability to respond nimbly to the curve balls that are  thrown in every project. Nimbleness is one of the keytools in a project manager’s toolkit, because it helps get projects done successfully.

The ephemeral nature of plans is easy to remember on large projects. But an overzealous adherence to a plan can sneak up at any time. For example, I realized recently that I was clinging irrationally to a plan I made. This plan revolved around one of my projects, ironically, the recording of the movies for one of my courses, Managing Small Projects (due out Q4 2012).

In early September, I had constructed a tight schedule for myself. I was juggling several small projects: finishing work on QuickBooks 2013: The Missing Manual, recording for my course, a conference for my fiction writing, and some fun to sharpen the saw. Here’s what it looked like:

Sept 6: Finish author review for QuickBooks 2013: The Missing Manual.

Sept 7-9: Attend Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Colorado Gold Conference

Sept 9: Fly to California

Sept 10-12: Record Managing Small Projects course at’s studio in Carpinteria.

Sept 13: Fly home and go to Rocky Mountain Mystery Writers meeting.

Sept 14-16: Drive to Steamboat Springs and carouse with friends.

But things didn’t go as I had envisioned. (Somewhat off topic, a fun example of plans getting derailed is a classic Preston Sturges movie, Unfaithfully Yours.)

Sunday morning, September 9, I was pestered by a slight dry cough. By Monday morning, that had transformed into a sore throat, hacking cough, and what I think is called post-nasal drip. We spent five grim hours recording atrociously nasal and unenergetic audio voiceovers.

After twelve hours of sleep and a lot of cough and cold medicine, I went in Tuesday morning, and the recordings were even worse. By 10:30 am, my producer got out the hook and yanked me off the microphone. He asked me if I could stay an extra day or two. My initial response was “I can’t! I have all these things I need to do.” After all, I had a plan, a schedule to follow…But I went back to the hotel, stumbled around the Internet for an afternoon, and got another marathon night of sleep.

Wednesday morning, I felt a little better, sounded much better, and my brain was working once more. I realized that the Mystery Writers meeting wasn’t a must-do–as much as I wanted to be there. What’s more, with the drubbing the cold was giving me, I wouldn’t be doing much carousing over the weekend either. The project manager in me had re-awoken. I told my producer that I could stay to record the course. (We actually started over from the beginning; and it was so much better the second time around.)

I even came up with a revised plan that accomplished some nice-to-haves I didn’t expect. I suggested that I fly home on Saturday so we didn’t have to guess when we would finish on Friday. Then, I could leave whenever and stay with friends who live in LA. Sure enough, we recorded Wednesday, Thursday, and wrapped up mid-day Friday. I drove to LA, caught up with my friends Friday night, and had a shorter drive to the airport Saturday morning.

In the case of my head cold, Helmuth von Motke the Elder’s planning quote might be the most appropriate: No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. While my original plan didn’t survive contact with a cold, the revised plan resulted in much better recordings and a wonderful visit with friends I thought I wouldn’t see.

Even though it’s “just a plan,” a plan is still essential to every project. Plans are meant to change, and part of the challenge (and fun) of a project manager’s job is to think of those curve balls as opportunities to respond well and perhaps even achieve something better.

Talk back: Have you ever fought changes to a plan only to discover that the revised plan turned out to be better than the original?

Posted by: projectsinpractice | September 20, 2012

The Experienced Project Manager Passes It On

Teresa here. Suppose you are a professional project manager enjoying the full bloom of your seasoned career. You’ve been around the block a few times and achieved a few successes. You have even experienced a project disaster or two, and have survived to tell about it.

It’s essential to the growth of project management in your organization and your industry, and even the growth of project management as a profession, that you do tell about the successes, the disasters, and the valuable wisdom you’ve gained.

Here are some strategies for taking on that responsibility and sharing what you’ve learned.

  • Offer yourself as a mentor to junior project managers, or others who are eager to learn project management skills. This can be a professional development goal you set for yourself which can fit nicely with the goals these others have set for themselves.
  • Volunteer to work with interns or recently hired new graduates who have project management aspirations. Assign one or two as assistant project managers responsible for smaller branches of a larger project you’re managing. Try them out on small responsibilities and steadily increase their authority as they prove their mettle.
  • If your organization has a project management office (PMO), involve yourself in its built-in process for training and mentoring new project managers. In a PMO, you have the opportunity to work with other project managers and set up processes for standardized project management. The PMO is a great way to disseminate your project management expertise in your organization. If the PMO or the training function within the PMO does not yet exist, consider taking this on as your responsibility, if not your privilege. Who knows? The PMO or its expansion could become your legacy at this organization.

By training and mentoring the next generation of project managers in your organization, you can pass on the tried-and-true processes and methods you favor. People tend to remember the first time they’ve done something new, and they tend to regard the standards they learned first as the best, even as they learn new ones. Through training and mentoring, you can have more influence on how your organization implements its projects. It’s project management in your image. Anyone with any size of ego can appreciate that.

Speaking of ego, by sharing your knowledge, you’re coming as close as possible to cloning yourself. Think of mentoring as your insidious plot for easing your workload and helping your projects achieve greater success.

What’s really happening though, is that as you mentor new project managers to do things the way you do, you are strengthening your organization by building talent and transferring knowledge to the next generation of project managers.

Here are some considerations as you mentor those green project managers:

  • Don’t spew all your knowledge all at once; it won’t be as readily absorbed. Instead, consider the Socratic approach. When your charges come to you with a question, ask them for possible answers, and explore them together.
  • When you and your trainees are investigating an approach to a project problem, lead them to consider alternative outcomes, challenges, risks, and opportunities. Also guide them into understanding the tradeoffs, as in the project triangle, or the advantages and disadvantages of using different qualities of resources. Have them reflect on which essential questions haven’t been asked yet. Stimulate their thinking and broaden their view. You’re training the mind of a project manager.
  • Allow your trainees to make mistakes, as long as the mistakes are not catastrophic. When they take wrong turns or do things the long way, they’ll work hard to find their way back to the right course. Help them think about what went wrong, or what could have been more efficient. Going through this experience will help them remember the lesson for the next time they encounter this situation, and they become a seasoned professional more quickly.

Beyond mentoring and training, speaking and writing are some of the best ways to transfer your knowledge to the field at large and reach an bigger audience. Consider these ways to share your project management knowledge:

  • Speak on project management topics at professional organization chapter meetings, regional meetings, and national conferences. These speaking engagements can be round tables, panel discussions, or case studies. They can be full presentations or training seminars.
  • Offer to teach classes on project management topics at your local community college, technical college, or university.
  • Blog on project management topics related to your industry or other project management specialty. Engage in conversations with those who comment on your posts.
  • Publish articles for trade magazines in your industry or for project management journals.

By sharing your project management knowledge in these ways, you are cultivating the professionalism of project management in your organization and your industry while enhancing your own reputation. By the time you’re ready to move on to another career or retire, you’ll be pleased that not only did you manage a series of interesting and important projects, but you also strengthened the organizations you worked for and passed your knowledge on to other project managers following in your footsteps.

This is the second in a three-part series about the transfer of project management knowledge amassed over the span of a career. The first article was “The Fledgling Project Manager Takes on the World,” which explores how beginning project managers can make the most of their novice status to learn from the experts around them, and make themselves useful rather than annoying. My next article will discuss how senior project management experts can continue to share their expanse of knowledge even after retirement.

Talk back:  What risks and what advantages do you perceive in training or mentoring newer project managers?

Posted by: projectsinpractice | August 9, 2012

Looking Back on My Biggest Project So Far

Bonnie here: I just finished the toughest and longest project I’ve ever worked on. My first novel, Fresh Squeezed, co-authored with my friend James Ewing, is published! I’m excited and exhausted. This novel project truly was novel for me, so I thought it might be fun to look back on this adventure from a project perspective. “Was this really a project?”

The definition I use for a project is:

A unique endeavor with clearly defined objectives and deliverables, clear-cut starting and ending dates, and, most of the time, a budget.

After 23 technical books, writing my first novel was certainly unique to me. For this first book, Jim and I had to learn how to tell stories well, develop characters, weave plot lines, build suspense… Gack! What we still don’t know and need to learn about writing fiction isn’t a project — it’s a lifelong learning operation.

We had to sort out working together, brainstorming the story, dividing up who wrote what, collaborating, editing, making the book sound like one person wrote it, and reaching some sort of agreement on every detail. (Two highly-opinionated Capricorn engineers working on a creative project — now that’s a story.)

Even the next book in the series will be a unique endeavor. Besides a new story line, we have to get the next book out in about 10 percent of the duration that it took for the first book. Clearly, some process improvement is in order.

There were clearly defined objectives and deliverables, although Jim and I had slightly different views of what those were. My objective was a highly entertaining, well-written crime comedy that would make us a lot of money. Jim’s objective was a fun book that would make us a lot of money. If you ask us, we have achieved the first part of my objective. The part about a lot of money remains to be proven.

The final deliverable was a published book. While that deliverable never wavered, its shape changed significantly over time. I have 23 traditionally published books to my name, so I envisioned a traditionally-published novel. Jim, on the other hand, was never keen on the publishing industry. Going the traditional publication route would mean, at the very least, three more years before actual publication. (Figure a year or so to find an agent, another year or so to find a publisher, get on the publication calendar for the year after the contract is signed, and then the rather extended publication process itself.) When the manuscript was finally ready for an outside editor’s eyes (spring of 2012), I finally saw the light. (I can hear my co-author’s eyes rolling in their sockets from 1,000 miles away.) I’m too old and too impatient to wait that long, so we opted to indie-publish.

What about clear-cut starting and ending dates?  The beginning of this project was more like the process of a sentient life form growing from the primordial ooze. The idea started as a joke. For several years, Jim, my husband Pete, and I amused ourselves talking about what actual stupid criminals do and what our stupid criminals might do. After Pete died, I decided that we needed to actually write the book — as a memorial to his warped sense of humor. I talked to Jim about it and on October 22, 2008, we started writing. To me, that’s the actual start of the project.

We never had a clear-cut planned finish date. (I hear eye-rolling again.) We struggled with collaboration. We revamped the story line. We edited. We re-edited. We edited after the editor edited. Then, we dove into the tasks for indie-publication like designing a cover, laying out the book, following the mind-numbing rules from the printer and Amazon. Sometime in June 2012, we declared “sometime in July” as the target  finish date. The book was officially published July 16, 2012.

Yes, we had a budget — as little money as possible. We got creative and produced a high-quality product on a shoestring budget.

Now that the book is in print (I have 11 boxes of them in my garage to prove it), it seems like there is more work than ever to do. However, this work belongs to a new project — marketing the book.

You can read more about the journey to publication on my co-author’s blog.

Better yet, read his blog and read Fresh Squeezed.

Talk back: We can go all project management and ask what makes a project feel like a project. But what I really want to know is how do you like the novel, so I can tell whether the project is a success.

Posted by: projectsinpractice | July 25, 2012

The Fledgling Project Manager Takes on the World

Teresa here: When you’re starting out in a freshly hatched project management career, you might find yourself in a push-pull situation. On one hand, you covet the experience and wisdom of more experienced project managers. On the other hand, you’re eager to prove your competence straight out of the gate. You might feel reluctant to ask for a mentorship, or even the occasional bit of advice.

However, as a novice project manager, you actually demonstrate commitment to your career by the questions you ask, the professional development you seek, and the initiative you take. You have a unique advantage:

  • You’re not expected to know much yet.
  • You can ask the most basic questions without harsh judgment.
  • You’re likely to be allowed to try new things and experiment with solutions.

Here are some tips for taking advantage of this small window of time in which you can freely flap about as you gain strength and experience:

  1. Offer yourself as an assistant project manager. This is like being an intern or apprentice, and is a classic win-win situation. You get to learn from a veteran project manager who’s been around the block a few times and who might otherwise be too busy to advise you. In return, you can provide her with much-needed workload relief. You can take on the responsibility of a subproject or a branch of the work breakdown structure, while the senior PM is responsible for the whole banana. In this role, you work with a manageable scale of the project in relative safety while you learn valuable skills about scope, scheduling, budget, and resources. Rather than the “sink-or-swim” method, you’re learning to dog-paddle with a champion swimmer a few feet away to catch you if you start to founder.
  2. Ask questions and listen to the answers. Avail yourself to the wealth of knowledge you find all around you. Learn the specialties of your fellow project managers and other subject matter experts you work with. Figure out the communications preferences of these colleagues. Are they open to sharing project management war stories over a latte? Or do they express themselves only with terse one-line emails? Above all, when they give you an answer or an explanation, listen! The only thing that annoys a busy person more than having their time interrupted with a question is having their answer interrupted by the questioner. Be sensitive to their deadlines and other pressures. Don’t monopolize their time, and express your appreciation for their sharing of expertise.
  3. Be bold and creative. Take initiative. Many senior project managers or would-be mentors are reluctant to work with novices because they’re afraid they’ll spend too much time “babysitting” or leading them by the nose through each miniscule step. Be willing to take general direction, ask enough questions to understand the requirements, then strike out and get the job done. Use your noodle. Impress with your enthusiasm and inventiveness. This is your opportunity to prove yourself. At the same time, be open to suggestions and course corrections as they’re offered. You’re brilliant, to be sure, but you still have a lot to learn.
  4. Communicate roadblocks. Keep your senior project manager or mentor informed of issues and problems. This can be difficult, because the emergence of problems sometimes feels like failure. However, realize that problems are the stuff of projects, and they’re much of the reason why project managers are needed in the first place. To work fruitfully with a senior project manager, everyone needs to make sure you don’t inadvertently burn down the building. Don’t be tempted to hide or neglect problems in the blind hope they’ll work themselves out. They never do, of course, and you end up with a disaster on your hands. With solid communication about issues and potential problems, you’ll learn more from the experience of those around you, and you’ll advance more quickly.

Striking the right balance when working with project management mentors will give your soaring career a tremendous lift. Before long, you’ll be the one that beginning project managers will seek out for advice and guidance.

This is the first post in a three-part series about the transfer of project management knowledge amassed over the span of a career. After so many years, that knowledge can be refined into something like, dare we say, wisdom? My next article will discuss what experienced project managers, in the full bloom of their careers, can do to share the wealth of their project management knowledge to the benefit of their organization, their industry, and their profession.

Talk back:  What advice would you offer to novice project managers who want coaching or mentoring from veteran PMs?

Posted by: projectsinpractice | July 15, 2012

Work Breakdown: Productivity Hack!

Bonnie here: When I read Teresa’s post about getting unstuck (Hacking into Motivation and Creativity,) I started bouncing in my office chair going “Oooo! Oooo!” much like a third grader who knows the answer to a teacher’s question. I was excited because I myself was in the midst of hacking into motivation–in a way she didn’t address directly. And my hack ties into a tool that’s near and dear to every project manager’s heart — the work breakdown structure.

Productivity Hack #6. All I Have To Do Is…

In project management, a work breakdown structure conveys the work behind project scope; simplifies estimating, assigning work, and tracking progress; and more. Breaking work down can also act as a hack for getting started (or unstuck) in smaller assignments or personal projects. (Along the lines of Teresa’s hack, “Just Do One Thing.”)

Suppose you’re facing a task that seems overwhelming, never-ending, or downright tedious and unappealing. The typical response is to find reasons to procrastinate. Instead, you can apply the “All I Have To Do Is” hack to break down work into pieces that are so small that it’s easy to talk yourself into doing them.

Try it. Say “All I have to do is” and fill in a really small chunk of work. Do that a few times and before you know it, the entire task will be done and you’ll feel great.

Here’s a personal example of this hack in real life:

The task:

Here in Colorado, wildfires have been consuming forests and homes like, well, wildfire. I can’t control whether a fire starts near me, but I can take steps to prepare for disaster. (Risk management in action, but that’s a topic for another post.) So, I recently decided to prepare a new inventory of my belongings and move irreplaceable items to someplace safe. Preparing a household inventory is not something I enjoy.

The procrastination:

First, I did some research on house inventory programs. But someone as nerdy as me doesn’t need inventory software. how else could I procrastinate? Suddenly, my work assignments took on new appeal. This deadline, that deadline. Wait, I’ve got it! How about a new project? Isn’t it time I finally sell the stuff that’s been gathering dust for years?

As a professional freelancer, I have finally learned to recognize the signs of procrastination.

All I Have To Do Is — Step 1:

I identified the first small “All I Have To Do Is” step, which was to take photographs of everything in my front hallway and document them in a spreadsheet. My front hallway has a coat closet, a rug, and a couple of things hanging on the wall. After five minutes, I had seven photos and a spreadsheet with a few summarized entries along with a cell that identified the corresponding digital photo filenames.

Gosh, that wasn’t so bad. So, I moved on to the powder room and another hallway. Easy-peasy.

All I Have To Do Is — Step 2:

Knowing when to take a break is key to this hack. It’s important to stop before the overwhelming feeling returns. The next space in my house’s floor plan is the kitchen and pantry. I’m a foodie. I have lots of gadgets, spices, cookbooks, and other cooking stuff. I took one look and could feel my motivation draining. I stopped.

All I Have To Do Is — Step 3:

After some time passes — a few hours or a few days, at the most — it’s time to say with renewed vigor “All I have to do is…” I finished the pantry and my cookbook shelves. I still felt inspired, so I got through about half of the kitchen cabinets. Mind you, I did not add individual entries for every kitchen gadget I own.

The results:

After three days of this hack, the contents of my house and garage were recorded in photographs and a spreadsheet (which, by the way, are stored on the cloud and on an external drive in my safe deposit box.) I had packed up the irreplaceable items as I encountered them and took them to a friend’s house for safekeeping. I also had photos of items I wanted to sell, posted them on craigslist and eBay, and discovered to my delight that people really did want to buy the crap, er, fine belongings, that I didn’t want any more. The icing on the cake was when my homeowner’s insurance agent told me that I inspired her to do her own inventory.

I feel great and motivated to get more off my to-do list.

Read more about breaking down work in Chapter 5, “Identifying the Work to Be Completed” in Your Project Management Coach or in Successful Project Management, turn to Chapter 4, “Building a Work Breakdown Structure”.

Talk back: What tricks or hacks do you use to get unstuck or motivate action?

Posted by: projectsinpractice | July 7, 2012

Hacking into Motivation and Creativity

Teresa here: One of my ideas of bliss is the deep concentration that happens when I’m completely engrossed in a creative endeavor. That activity can be anything from planning a new project, designing a service delivery program, or writing a story, to even just compiling a report or developing a presentation. Such total engagement is intoxicating, not to mention immensely efficient for accomplishing any task that calls for design or development.

However, sometimes the road to that level of concentration and creativity is significantly blocked.

In fact, even now, you or one of your project’s team members might find yourself stuck in an activity, not making sufficient progress. Here are five ideas for “hacking” into the brain to break free the flow of motivation and inherent creativity.

Hack #1. Just Do One Thing.

Perhaps you’re facing a task that requires that you be creative, smart, decisive, or all of these at the same time. Instead, unfortunately, you’re feeling dull, tired, or uninspired.

You can trick yourself into making some kind of progress by giving yourself just one thing to do, something very easy.

Of course, that one simple thing depends on the task. You might need to review a document, set up some files, find some email addresses, whatever. Most tasks include doing some important but relatively mindless things. Use these to trick yourself into making incremental progress. This has a side benefit of getting your mind in the place it needs to be. Once you’re there, you might find other easy things to do. The more you do, the more you find to do. Some of the difficult aspects of the task will no longer seem so difficult.

Recently I was faced with writing a grant proposal and the non-negotiable deadline was fast approaching. I was dead-tired, but I forced myself to sit down and just do one thing. The one thing I chose was to fill in the cover form with the basics of the nonprofit organization and the project; stuff I could do with very little thought. After filling in the form, I was sufficiently warmed up and felt that I could handle answering some of the easy questions about the project. After that I was completely engaged and suddenly wide awake. Ninety minutes later, I realized that I had written most of the proposal.

Doing just one thing can be motivational when you’re feeling unmotivated.

Hack #2. Brainstorm.

Unlike the case in Hack #1, maybe you actually have the energy and inspiration to move forward with the task, but you don’t quite know how to start. Brainstorming, even by yourself, is a great tool for getting ideas going. You release the pressure to produce anything finished. Instead, you might create a mind map, write some random notes, jot a list, or even just doodle.

With brainstorming, you’ve shown up ready to work. However, there’s no pressure. You’re not demanding that you produce a finished project, at least not yet.

I was part of a project in which my assignment was to write a series of Web articles about moving: buying and selling a house, packing and moving, and so on. I found I was most effective when I would start writing about what I was going to write about. My brainstorming took a form almost like journaling: “I want to talk about how to declutter your house (and I’m a fine one to talk!) before putting it up for sale. This will also help when you’re starting to pack. Moving will be so much easier, blah blah blah.” By the time I was done writing about what I was writing about, I found I had worked out a story line to the article and had fleshed out the main points. I could then establish the article’s structure, cut and paste the brainstormed content into their proper places, and then draft the actual article.

Brainstorming helps you focus on the heart of what you’re working on, laying the groundwork for the actual deliverable.

Hack #3. Stew About It.

Creativity, innovation, design, and development take time. When you’re having trouble with an activity, actually schedule time in your calendar to sit with the problem or the activity.

And you might not just sit. I get my best ideas while driving. Bonnie gets hers while walking her dogs. My husband gets his best ideas in the shower (I know there’s a joke in there somewhere…).

Give yourself permission to ponder the problem. Once you give an idea enough time to gestate, the results will bear fruit soon enough.

In the course of the stewing, you might do Hack #2, Brainstorm, or Hack #1, Just Do One Thing. Or you might just sit there and daydream. However you use the time, it’ll be productive for the task in the long run.

Hack #4. Give Your Mind an Assignment.

I learned this trick years ago from an engineer I worked with on a contract at Boeing. She said that when she has a sticky problem to solve or an approach to a project to work out, she gives her mind an assignment just before she falls asleep. She purposefully thinks about the conditions of the problem or project, including her questions. Then she sleeps and allows her unconscious mind to work on its assignment. Invariably, in the morning, the right solution or approach comes to her as a new idea.

I’ve tried this trick, and it works astoundingly well. It’s kind of like Hack #3, Stew About It, except that you’re sleeping while stewing.

Hack #5. Get Some Rest.

When we’re feeling too overwhelmed or uninspired to work on a difficult task, sometimes the solution is as simple as getting some sleep. Many times I’ve worked on a project late at night, feeling increasingly that the current task was overly difficult or even incomprehensible. I’d finally give up and go to sleep.

In the morning, I’d return to the task, and suddenly it was all too easy. What changed? It could be that my brain continued working on it, as in Hack #4, Give Your Mind an Assignment. It could also be that I really was too tired to deal with it, and now I was approaching the task with a fresh, well-rested mind.

A Final Word

You see that these five hacks are all somewhat related. They all have to do with relieving some of the pressure and letting your mind do what it does to work on the activity. And these aren’t just means for “gaining unauthorized access” into your motivation and creativity. You might find they’re actually magic tricks that give you an abracadabra moment, allowing you to conjure something out of seemingly nothing.

Read more about working with your team during project execution in “Making Things Happen,” in Chapter 14 as well as in Chapter 16, “Transforming People into a Team” in Your Project Management Coach.

Talk back: What tricks or hacks do you use to motivate creativity in your team members or in yourself?

Posted by: projectsinpractice | June 23, 2012

The Importance of CAPM® Certification to Project Managers

Teresa and I are pleased to have Steve Caseley as a guest blogger this week:

Steve has over 30 years’ experience in IT consulting, with more than 20 of those years in project management. He has taught project management at several universities –  both at graduate and undergraduate levels – and has developed and delivered project management training programs for organizations in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Switzerland, Ghana, and Dubai. To help project managers prepare for CAPM® certification, Steve offers online training videos available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through CBT Nuggets.

Here’s a MicroNugget video that Steve authored called Estimating Games.

If you think that project management (PM) might be a good career but are new to project management, how do you get started? The Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM®) is a good starting point. For those with some experience, the certification is also a good way to validate your skills and show the boss that you really do understand this PM stuff.  Studies show that project managers who demonstrate proficiency through certifications receive more promotions and betters raises than those who don’t.

The Project Management Institute (PMI®) Project Management Professional (PMP®) certification is the world’s most recognized PM certification. However, many new and entry-level project managers are intimidated by the requirements, don’t have the 7,500 hours of real-life experience and 35 hours of formal Project Management training needed, or just don’t have the confidence that they can pass the exam. They give up and vow to do it in three years when they’re more qualified. There’s no need to procrastinate!

CAPM® removes all those barriers. Requiring only a high school diploma, 1,500 hours (less than 10 months) of experience  and 23 hours of formal PM training, it is within reach for just about anyone who considers themselves to be a PM.

The CAPM® exam is based exclusively on the PMI Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®) guide, which is a significant change from the PMP® exam. Although the PMP® exam is based on the PMBOK®, the best answer to many questions requires a practical application of PM based on a wide range of PM best practices.  In contrast, preparing for the CAPM® requires only a thorough understanding of the PMBOK® as the questions are focused on the basic principles of project management as defined in the PMBOK® and are well within the capacity of anyone with a good understanding of how to successfully deliver projects.

You will need to prepare for questions on the nine knowledge areas: scope, time, cost, quality, human resources, communication, risk, procurement, and integration management and the five process groups: Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring and Controlling and Closing.  CAPM® questions are based directly on the content of the PMBOK.  In a nutshell, CAPM® validates understanding of PM principles while PMP validates the application of these principles.  Sample multiple-choice CAPM® questions include:

“Which of the following is not a PMBOK® knowledge area?”

“A mandatory dependency defines what type of task relationship”

“The main purpose of the Executing Phase is to:”

To take your interest to the next level, start by investing in some education to formalize your knowledge of the principles of PM by getting familiar with the PMBOK®.  Then, make the commitment to take and pass your CAPM®.

My advice is to treat obtaining your CAPM® certification as a project:

  • Set specific goals (Scope)
  • Define a specific schedule (Time): in 2 months I will have completed my study of the PMBOK®; by 4 months I will have completed the required 23 hours of formal education; and by 6 months, I will complete the CAPM® exam.
  • Obtain approval to attend training from your boss (Cost)
  • Commit to passing the exam on the first try (Quality)
  • Find a peer group to share your newfound knowledge with (Human Resourec Management)
  • Let everyone at work and in your private life know how important this is to you, and keep them up to date on your progress (Communication)
  • Eliminate the obstacles to success (Risk)
  • Pay for your training (Procurement
  • And most importantly, integrate everything you’re doing into a comprehensive approach to getting your CAPM® (Integration).

With the CAPM® certification under your belt, you can ask your boss for a chance to put your PM skills to work. The projects you manage will contribute to the hours of practical experience you need to be eligible for the PMP® certification. That way, in three years you will be prepared and confident enough to complete your PMP®.

Posted by: projectsinpractice | June 17, 2012

Tell’m, Tell’m, and Tell’m: More Tips for the Accidental Trainer

Teresa here: Have you ever been a student in a training setting in which you not only learned something valuable, but also were stimulated, entertained, or inspired in the process?

I don’t have to ask whether you’ve also been a student in a program in which you learned nothing more than creative ways to count the interminable minutes until you were finally released. Unfortunately, we’ve all been there.

When you’re the teacher instead of the student, think about what made your past student experiences successful or unsuccessful for you. Use these experiences to make the training program you create more effective for your students.

A couple weeks ago, I posted an article called The Accidental Trainer Discovers Learning Styles. I discussed the effectiveness of varying the activities to speak to different learning styles, whether you’re teaching a hands-on skill or conceptual topics.

Here are a few more snippets of advice to consider for your training program.

Set the motivation and the outcomes

Establish the context and motivation for the training. The student needs to know why the topic is important, before they learn the how and the what. When they know why they’re learning, they’ll give you their attention.

Articulate the goal of the training, along with the objectives of what the student will be able to do at the end of the session. Orient the students to the course outline, essentially your training agenda.

While you’re developing the program, the goal and objectives will keep you focused and prevent you from veering off-topic. For your students, clarity about the outcomes directs their attention to the results of successful training. They’ll understand what they’ll actually be able to do if you do your job and if they meet you halfway.

Create visual representations of your topic

Whether your topic is concrete or abstract, represent it with images. If you’re teaching how to use a piece of equipment, include photos or diagrams of the equipment itself. If you’re teaching a form or a process, show the form and create a flowchart. If you’re teaching abstract concepts, create a visual metaphor that will help students understand and remember.

A great example of a visual representation of an abstract concept is the project triangle. Whenever we discuss the triple project constraint of time, cost, and scope (or various permutations thereof), we use a flexing triangle to show how changing the conditions of one side of the triangle invariably affects the other two sides.

Make your visuals more, well, visual

Related to your visual representations is your use of presentation slides. Create slides that are engaging, perhaps even surprising. Don’t be lulled into the same old format of title and three bullets for slide after slide. What a rut. Use bigger graphics and fewer words.

Fewer words will also help you avoid the bad habit of reading your slides rather than using your slides as prompts to explain each point.

Metaphors or themes can make your presentation more appealing, and they can help your students more easily follow your thread. For example, if you’re walking through the features for a new tool, you might use a journey or tour guide theme. If you’re discussing methods for data gathering, you might draw a metaphor of harvesting fruit.

Animated graphics catch our interest in news stories and documentaries. Personalization and drama keep us riveted to reality shows and movies. Borrow techniques of characterization, suspense, even humor if you can pull it off. These can make your slides, and therefore your training program, all the more entertaining and therefore engaging and effective.

Tell’m, tell’m, and tell’m

You’ve probably heard the old training adage: “Tell’m what you’re gonna tell’m, tell’m, then tell’m what you told’m.”

Your introduction grounds the participants’ expectations. Then you launch into the meat of the matter. Afterwards, the summary provides a short review and closure, giving students the satisfaction of confirming that they have indeed learned the material.

The introduction and summary also serve the purpose of repetition. It’s said that people need to hear a sales message at least seven times before it starts to glimmer in their awareness. In training, in which the student typically wants the message, hearing it three times is still advantageous. The repetition, even in a brief introduction and summary, reinforces the information in the proper context.


If you create your slides and other content without rehearsing, it’ll show. The dangers include too much preamble, too much repetition throughout, too much reading from your slides, and possibly a big rush at the end.

Consider first rehearsing on your own, possibly with an audio tape or video tape, or simply in front of a mirror. Next, rehearse with one or two others, as long as you all won’t giggle too much. Finally, rehearse before a friendly audience of several friends or colleagues, and incorporate useful feedback.

You’ll find that with each rehearsal, your presentation becomes tighter — you’re actually able to convey more information in the allotted time without sounding like a fast-talking auctioneer. Plus, you can smooth out your beginning, your transitions, any motivational moments, and your key takeaways at the end.

Use lively examples, but kill the “shaggy dog” stories

Don’t get stuck in the conceptual and the abstract. Just as you need visual representations to convey information and knowledge effectively, you must tell compelling stories. Your students love to be entertained. In the course of being entertained, they’ll learn. Lively stories and examples help students remember important concepts and points; they’re the framework on which your students hang ideas and acquired wisdom.

However, don’t descend into boring “war stories” or “shaggy dog stories.” Such stories are meant to be examples, but instead, they go on and on without much return. The time it takes to tell the story far outweighs the narrative’s worth as an illustration of the point.

Make sure your examples are concise, lively, and relevant. They’ll end up being the stories your students will repeat to others when they’re explaining what they’ve learned.

Talk back: What kinds of training do you need to support your project? What training tips can you share?

Posted by: projectsinpractice | June 10, 2012

The Trouble with Assumptions

Bonnie here: I was writing about assumptions for a project management training course and struggling to think of a good example. Fast forward to the first day of my vacation and I now have a great example of an assumption and the trouble it can cause.

suitcasesWith two flights, an overnight en route, immigration, and customs, I opted for carry-on luggage. No baggage fees and faster all around. So I assumed.

At the entrance to the jetway, the attendant handed me a gate check tag. I attached the tag to my roller bag, placed it on the cart, and got on the plane without another thought. Why didn’t I take the ticket stub when I have done that on every flight I’ve been on for the past 40 years? I suppose I was still in my carry-on mindset and trying to slip into a holiday state of mind. I subconsciously assumed the bag was traveling a mere 50 feet from the cart to the belly of the plane and then, in Toronto, would travel another 50 feet from the belly of the plane to my waiting hand on a different jetway.

A few hours later, the baggage handler finished tossing gate-checked bags onto the jetway and I stood there with a disappointed look on my face instead of a roller bag handle in my hand.

I headed for the baggage carousel. Maybe the bag got mixed in with the checked bags. Nope. My only consolation was that several other people were missing luggage as well. Visions of X-Files-esque conspiracies arose. Hmmm. Maybe the airline came up with a different solution to the weight restriction problem they had on the flight…Pull a passenger off or temporarily inconvenience a few passengers with delayed luggage? Whatever.

As I spoke to the airline folks and filled out a form, I kicked myself about my erroneous assumption. Each person I spoke to asked for the gate check stub. When I admitted I didn’t have it, these people shared the same reaction – a slow, sad shake of the head accompanied by a quiet “That’s going to make it tough.” I felt like an idiot. Then, I wondered whether I had an ID tag on the bag.

At the Toronto airport, this disaster cost about an hour and a half. More annoying, I’m on a rare vacation, yet I’m in project manager mode. What do I need to buy? I can change plans and rent a car so it’s easier to shop. I’ll have to go shopping for clothes so it’s going to take more time and cost money—and I HATE to shop. If the bag stays lost, it’ll cost me even more time and money to replace those items.

What makes assumptions so dangerous is that they lull us into thinking things are fine when they might not be; or lead us to believe that we should proceed one way when we should go the other. In many cases, the assumptions and subsequent choices pass by in a moment, so we don’t even realize that there is something to consider.

  • What can we do to identify assumptions and get them out in the open?
  • Pay attention.
  • Ask questions.
  • What’s happening?
  • Are there other ways to look at the situation?
  • How do you see this process working?
  • How about you?
  • And you?
  • Has something changed?
  • Do my plans still make sense?
  • What are the risks?
  • Are there consequences?

Luckily, this story has a happy ending. When I arrived, I was ready with a list and set to buy a bare minimum to see me through the week. But first, I had to file a delayed baggage report in tropical paradise. As I walked toward the baggage folks, my eyes caught on before my brain. There, waiting with several other bags, was my wayward roller bag with a RUSH tag attached. Now, if only I could find out if Sculley and Mulder had anything to do with the reunion.

Talk back: What methods do you use to uncover assumptions? Did any sneak through despite your best efforts? What did you learn from those situations?

Posted by: projectsinpractice | June 4, 2012

The Accidental Trainer Discovers Learning Styles

Teresa here: As our careers run their courses, some of us find ourselves “accidental project managers.” In a similar way, sometimes we become “accidental trainers” as well. The following are possible scenarios:

  • Some team members need a workshop on an aspect of your project, for example, how to use a new process or automation tool that’s been developed for the project.
  • Your team leads or resource managers want structured guidance on conducting effective meetings or working with the time tracking and status reporting system.
  • Your managing stakeholders have requested hands-on coaching on Microsoft Project Web App or your other project collaboration tool to find and analyze high-level project information they need.
  • Your project management office (PMO) has charged you with conducting seminars on project management best practices.

eyeWhether accidental or on-purpose, you can make your training sessions engaging and effective by varying the activities. That is, instead of a four-hour droning lecture, you break things up by alternating periods of lecture, demonstration, group work, and individual work, for example. Variety is the spice of learning. Not only can you present content in the most appropriate ways but you can also accommodate different learning styles.

When developing your own training presentation or workshop, understand that your students have different dominant learning styles, as follows:

  • Visual learners understand their world through their eyes, and learn best with presentations, diagrams, handouts, and videos.
  • Auditory learners learn best through formats such as lectures, discussions, and tapes.
  • Kinetic or tactile learners learn best with hands-on activities, exploring and experimenting, trying things out for themselves.

Although people typically have one prevalent learning style, we all share the three styles in differing degrees. This is fortunate, because certain content lends itself more toward visual than toward kinetic, or more toward kinetic than auditory.

For example, I’ve discovered that my dominant learning style is auditory — really great when I was in school and sat in all those lectures and discussion groups. However, when I was being taught how to change the oil in my pickup truck, I found that for hands-on skills, I learn in three distinct steps which incorporate all three learning styles:

  1. Explain and demonstrate the process to me (auditory and visual).
  2. Let me do the process myself under the teacher’s close supervision (kinetic).
  3. Let me do the process again independently with the teacher’s followup and feedback (kinetic).

earI don’t change my vehicle’s oil anymore, but understanding my own learning pattern always helps when I want to learn to operate or repair any mechanical or electronic device.

This knowledge has also helped me design classes for others learning to operate or maintain anything, whether it’s semiconductor equipment, computer hardware, a PC operating system, or project management software. It has even helped when teaching largely conceptual topics.

The following are examples of how I applied the three learning styles and varied activities to teaching hands-on skills and to teaching more abstract concepts.

Example 1. Teaching hands-on skills: Microsoft Project

When teaching Microsoft Project, first I explain and demonstrate the skill, whether it’s creating a new project, assigning resources to tasks, generating reports, or whatever. Depending on the topic, I might show visuals in a combination of presentation slides and a projection of the demonstrated software.

For the majority of time, however, students are doing it themselves. Ideally, students are at a computer, and after my demonstration, I ask the entire class to try out the procedure together, step by step.

handWhen we’ve answered questions and solved problems, I cut them loose. The students go through the same or similar procedure again independently as I wander around the classroom providing assistance and checking results. When students get into trouble and then find their way out, that’s when they really learn. I also have students help each other, because when one student teaches another, the information is reinforced in the student teacher’s brain.

I finally assign independent homework that combines several learned skills. In this way, the students continue to practice their newly acquired skills with increasing independence and confidence.

Example 2. Teaching abstract concepts: project management basics

This varying of visual, auditory, and kinetic activities also works with teaching more abstract concepts.

A while ago, I was contracted to give an eight-hour workshop on project management basics to an optics manufacturing company. I struggled with how to design a training program that would convey the concepts in eight hours while ensuring that the students wouldn’t drop off to sleep, or worse, slip out of the classroom back to work on “a pressing emergency.”

I decided to apply the principles of “doing” to project management concepts. I did the normal presentation stuff, with my slides and concepts — covering project initiation, project planning, reporting on progress, adjusting for changes, and closing a project.

After each of these major concepts, however, I broke the class into three teams, and each team applied the concept we just covered to an example project. One team planned a company picnic, another developed an operations process, and the third developed a new area for the company website. I gave the teams problems and constraints depending on whether they were developing their work breakdown structure or cutting the budget of their in-process project by 15 percent.

Working with project management software was not the focus of this workshop, so the participants worked with their projects with pen and paper as well as plenty of discussion and discovery. We came back together and discussed their experiences. Then we went on to the next concept, and within a half-hour, they were back in groups again, taking their project to the next level to practice the new concept.

I’m happy to say that this was a very successful workshop. Although the exercises were not necessarily “kinetic,” students were still able to put concepts into practice by applying them to sample projects in a safe and experimental environment.

Coming attractions

So you see, by mapping the learning content to the most appropriate activities, accommodating your students’ different learning styles, and varying the activities throughout your training session, you can ensure that the precious project time you spend to train will pay off in spades.

In a future article or two, we’ll explore additional tips for effective training to support your projects.

Talk back: What kinds of training have you needed to do to support your project? What technique do you recommend for teaching a hands-on skill? What’s your favorite technique for teaching abstract concepts?

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