Posted by: kerrywills | October 17, 2014

Adding a New Tool to my toolbox

I have been working on large programs for nearly twenty years and have added to my ‘toolbox’ over time with such skills as Project Planning, Earned Value and Risk Management. I have recently added a new ‘tool’ to my toolbox which is superstition. The program that I am on now is very large and complex and seems to constantly have problems. I find myself becoming more superstitious each day. For example,when we are testing a capability and blocking defects get fixed, I don’t want to get too excited and therefore somehow ‘jinx’ it into not working. Or I don’t want to suggest we are past an issue just to have it come back again.



What I do know is that luck is not really something that can be used on projects. Ignoring problems does not make them go away and, in fact, probably makes them worse by the time they do get realized. So the key is staying on top of risks and issues before they become problems.

That being said, if having a lucky clover or other items will help make progress I am not above trying them either!

Posted by: kerrywills | October 10, 2014

Attitude vs Aptitude

I have been on several projects now where there are project resources who are very talented in their particular field but who have a pessimistic and almost toxic impact on the team morale. These are the people who know a system or business area very well and therefore everyone comes to them for information. Because of this they get a sense of entitlement which makes them believe that they can act however they want and say whatever they want. Examples I have seen in my own career include…

  • Aggression towards vendor partners
  • Aggression towards other team members
  • Flagrant comments about management and other team members
  • Negative attitude about the project goals


I suspect that because they are viewed as critical resources that management glosses over the attitude and doesn’t make a strong stand. My view is that, on my projects, I take attitude over aptitude any day. I would much rather have an optimistic resource who views themselves as part of the team than an expert who makes the project horrible for everyone who has to work with them. I have been on projects where I have rolled off talented people because their attitude was toxic and causing problems for the entire team. Obviously the issue needs to be identified and brought to that person’s attention, but if the attitude does not change then I believe action is required.

Posted by: kerrywills | October 3, 2014

A Word from our Sponsors…

I am taking a break this week to do some shameless plugging for my Project Management materials and upcoming activities…

  • On October 16th I will be presenting my case study of Climbing Mt Kilimanjaro in Westchester, NY (Link)
  • My Webinars on Consulting Approach and the Kilimanjaro Case Study can also be found on the ITMPI library
  • My second book, Applying Guiding Principles of Effective Program Delivery has been out for a little over one year and focuses on HOW to manage programs using Consultative Skills
  • My first book, Essential Project Management Skills was published four years ago and is still very much relevant today as PMs need to have more entrepreneurial and consultative skills
  • I will be bringing back one of my favorite presentations, The PM Kung Fu Theater, via a webinar on 6/16/15 so be on the look out. It creatively ties our profession to the classic Kung Fu movies of the 1970s


Ok, now back to your regularly scheduled blogging

Posted by: kerrywills | September 26, 2014

Dealing with difficult people

Every place I have worked at has their share of “difficult” people. These are people who seem to enjoy making everyone else around them miserable. They yell, they berate others, and they look to find fault in everything.  To top it all off, somehow they even move up the management chain and get into positions of power.

I have found several techniques to work with difficult people.

1. Maintain composure – The worst thing that a PM can do is to react to a situation, which will empower the difficult person even more. Stay calm

2. Learn what sets them off – Hopefully there are others who can advise on triggers, otherwise it becomes a (painful) learning process. Identifying these triggers will allow you to tailor your approach to be conscious of them

3. Focus on the facts – People have a hard time debating the facts and this way the conversation focuses on that versus the people themselves

4. Play to their egos – While this sort of condones their behavior, playing to their egos is usually a good way to gain their support

Not sure what other techniques people have but please share them. As long as we have to work with people, there will always be difficult people and we will have to deal with them.

Posted by: kerrywills | September 19, 2014

Project Management is Issue Management

In my opinion and experience, projects are successful due to two main factors (1) Diligence in planning and (2) Rapid issue closure. For this article, I will ignore diligent planning and assume that all projects plan properly with the right assumptions, estimates, plan, etc (I know, I know, but bear with me).

With a good plan in place the key to successful execution then becomes all around how quickly issues are identified, raised and closed.  An issue can be with resources, stakeholders, code, logistics, or anything else that affects the project. Even the slightest issue can have implications on the project  – for example, not booking a conference room for a meeting may delay a critical meeting where decisions are needed and now the team’s productivity slows. I will touch on the main areas of Issue Management below.

Issue Identification – It is imperative that the Project Manager has a good pulse on the team and the operations of the project so that issues get identified early. Techniques such as Earned Value, status meetings, Management by Walking Around, and stand-up meetings are intended to facilitate information from the project to note risk areas and issues early.  PMs should be conscious that identifying issues is a critical part of their jobs – because usually they spend a significant amount of their time on issue closure which just perpetuates the loop (see my soccer article).

Issue Escalation –  A good issue escalation path must be in place for the project. This means that team members need to understand who they should raise something to and when they should raise it. PMs should have a culture of honesty, quick identification of issues and a focus on resolution (vs blame). People who get ‘punished’ for raising issues will not do that again, and by the time the issues are known they are much bigger.

Issue Closure/Prevention – Once issues are identified they need to be aggressively managed and closed. In my opinion, this is the primary job of the Project Manager during the course of the project. With the plan in place the PM should be looking at anything that could cause a delay to that plan and look to eliminate that as early as possible to keep the team moving. The PM should also consider ways of making sure that that same type of issue doesn’t happen again.

Issue Management is about early identification which relies on a clear escalation path and rapid closure. If a Project Manager can stay on top of the issues and help the team to resolve them, then there is a greater chance of project success.

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