Posted by: kerrywills | April 11, 2014

Be a master chess player

In order to be good at Project Management we must be like master chess players and always think several moves ahead. It is not enough to manage the plan day to day as we must be looking ahead to ensure that upcoming activities will run smoothly…

  • What meetings are needed to drive decisions, approvals or reviews?
  • What steps are dependent predecessors that must be completed?
  • What resources are needed to be lined up in advance?
  • What communications are needed or messages that need to be socialized before key decisions?
  • What risks and issues are on the horizon that need to get attention?

The only way to win is to think several steps ahead

So it is important that we always spend time looking ahead to ensure that future activities have high probabilities of success and any issues cropping up can be addressed early. This is how great chess players work; they always think several moves ahead before making their current moves. If we just focus on the issues of the day or the current activities then we may run into problems as other activities come up that haven’t been thought through, causing more issues and resulting in a cycle of constantly chasing problems.

Maybe I should get one of those clock timers that you hit during a chess match so every time we hit a milestone I can hit the clock.

Posted by: kerrywills | April 4, 2014

Family “Vacation”

This week, I got to execute on one of my most complicated and risky projects yet…taking the family to Disney in Florida. This project required significant planning to execute properly. Here are some of those activities that required planning…

  • Logisitcs – Getting to Florida, getting a rental car, booking the hotel
  • Activities – Figuring out where to go (scope), obtaining Disney Park┬ápasses, researching what times the parks opened and the best things to see
  • Packing – Bringing the right clothes, toys and assorted sleeping ‘lovies’ (and, no, I did not bring mine)

After much planning, it was finally time to execute on our plan. Our travel down had a few delays, but generally made it per the plan. As expected in Florida, the roads and parks were packed so we leveraged out planning to do the best things first. We made our way from attraction to attraction in an efficient manner. There was the usual complaining of being tired, too hot, too cold, not wanting to see things, wanting to go somewhere else, etc but I suspect those are the usual ups-and-downs of this type of project. Keeping the team motivated was important and required techniques such as frequent breaks and slushies.

Lots of planning and lots of waiting

Lots of planning and lots of waiting

In the end, I think everyone had a good time and we met our scope and were somewhat within budget so I suppose this could be considered a successful project. Now, I need a vacation from my vacation.

Posted by: kerrywills | March 28, 2014

You can’t teach neurotic

In Basketball there is a saying that “you can’t teach height” meaning that people are either tall or they are not and no amount of teaching can improve that. I believe in a similar saying for Project Managers in that “you can’t teach neurotic.” PMs are either neurotic and obsessed over dates, milestones and progress or they are not and I believe that we are born this way. Therefore, I usually look for signs of OCD or neuroses when I interview people because I know that these are the people who will drive for closure, never stop thinking about how to meet commitments and focus on removing obstacles.


I believe that it is much easier to teach someone about a particular industry, tool or technology than it is to teach them how to be a good worrier and planner. Therefore, I recruit PMs assuming they know the PM fundamentals but look more for the personality traits in my interviewing. If they have business or technical acumen, then that is ‘gravy’ unless the role we are interviewing for requires deep acumen in a particular are.

So, I say lets embrace our neuroses and drive our projects to closure!

Posted by: kerrywills | March 21, 2014

Evolution of Program Stability

I have run many programs and been dropped into many and they all seem to be in various degrees of stability. I was thinking the other day on the car ride home from work about this and came up with an evolution scale for stability. Here is what I was thinking about…

  1. Chaos – This is when programs don’t have clear scope, plans are not solidified, resources are not all on-board and there are many outstanding actions/issues/risks that are not being addressed
  2. Structure – Whether it is starting up a new program or re-evaluating an existing one, the first critical step is to set up structure. This can include organizing the work into projects, identifying the team structure, crafting plans and aligning resources to them
  3. Transparency – Once there is structure in place, the program can then show insights against that structure – including scope of work, timing of work, milestones, cost, and outstanding risks/issues
  4. Manage/Control – This means tracking against milestones, reporting progress, and setting up processes such as change control and work intake


These steps may seem obvious but I often times see programs that don’t have a solid structure, are lacking transparency of work and do not manage against the structure well. It’s like a big game of “chutes and ladders” because without having steps 2-4, you will ultimately wind up back in step 1 (chaos).

Posted by: kerrywills | March 14, 2014

Make time for what’s important

On our projects, it is really important to make sure that we are spending our time on activities that drive value. Often our teams get caught up in the activity of the moment and forget to take care of those activities which could be considered “investments in time” – that is, spend some time up front to save time later. Some of these investments could include creating plans, looking at upcoming activities to ensure they are ready to start on time, and building strong relationships with stakeholders. I have seen many projects that don’t spend the time investing in things like project plans only to spin and then, ironically, say that they don’t have time to maintain these plans (which is part of the perpetuation of chaos).


Too busy for what is important?

We should all continue to challenge ourselves to make sure that we are spending time on what is important on our projects..and making sure that our teams are doing the same.

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