What belongs in the status report?

2 min.

Summary

A regular status report is important in the project. The status report is the basic information for the members of the steering committee. It is advisable to create a list of the typical contents of a report, which can be used in any presentation form. Also the status light colours must be well defined to ban the watermelon effect.

Addressees and occasion

A regular status report is important in the project. Regular means that a predefined cycle or on certain predefined occasions is created and delivered to the specified recipients. The objective is to present the progress of the project, to address decision-making needs and to point out risks and problems. The status report is the basic information for all members of the steering committee.

Content

Each status report should include the following:

  • Management Summary
  • Status light
  • Defined indicators (often performance, deadline and costs) and optionally their development in an Earned Value analysis
  • Achievements in the reporting period
  • Planned but unachieved in the period
  • Initiated or planned measures
  • Planned for the next reporting period / upcoming milestones
  • Top (3) risks
  • Necessary decisions

Status Light Colours and the Eternal Controversy

Again and again there are energetic discussions about which colour the status light should have. It often doesn’t make sense to take part in them and as a project manager you should have a clear and above all simple, easy to understand and valid definition for all levels at hand in order to be able to avert the watermelon effect (red inside, green outside). The following definition can be of help:

  • Red = Problems exist which can no longer be solved at the reporting level and which have a negative effect on the defined indicators (usually performance, deadline, costs) or which have already had an effect. Measures were not effective or not possible. There is a need for decision or action at the higher level (level above that of the reporting party).
  • Yellow = The defined indicators show plan deviations. Problems exist that the reporting person plans to solve. Measures have been or are being taken (list of measures required). The need for decision or action on the part of the higher authority is foreseeable if the measures taken do not have an effect.
  • Green = No problems at the reporting level. The defined indicators show no deviations from the plan.

A possible file naming convention for the status report can be found here.

How do I put together the best team?

2 min.

Summary

Team composition and understanding of roles are a success factor for successful project implementation. The Belbin model can be used to analyse and define an optimal mix of colleagues in the team with a wide variety of characteristics. My observation is that in international teams the mix is often easier to achieve due to the different cultural backgrounds. In teams without clear leadership authority it is even more elementary that the team members are deployed according to their strengths and the composition of the team is “optimal”.

Why do I have to take care of this?

In addition to my firm conviction that international and thus interculturally assembled teams are the best, we should take a closer look at why this is so. An analysis in an environment where leadership is given without epaulettes is particularly relevant. This is where optimally assembled teams become particularly important.

The origins of intercultural effectiveness with regard to team composition are determined by the cultural dimensions (e.g. according to Hofstede) and thus the stronger or weaker character of the people involved.

What does Belbin say?

Meredith Belbin presents nine roles in 1981, which should be taken into account when putting together a team. These nine roles are divided into three groups.

  • Action-oriented roles
    • Implementer = implements ideas and plans
    • Finisher = Ensures quality-conscious work and ensures that deadlines are met
    • Shaper = Encourages the team to improve. Eliminates problems.
  • Communication-oriented roles
    • Co-ordinator = Coordinates the team and promotes results orientation.
    • Teamworker = promotes team building
    • Resource Investigator = Promotes the exploitation of opportunities and forms a network in the project environment.
  • Knowledge-oriented roles
    • Plant = Shows ideas and possible solutions.
    • Monitor-Evaluator = Analyzes options for action for their feasibility.
    • Specialist = Brings in his expertise.

How does it work?

Team members and managers can identify the respective strengths and weaknesses in their own team by looking at the various roles and reflecting on them in order to use the potential of the individuals as well as the potential for the composition of teams. The team can be “balanced” through a mutual understanding and awareness of the characteristics. Surely the above mentioned roles will never be found in their pure form, because everyone assumes different roles depending on the project context or the project task, but nevertheless the understanding at least about the tendencies in the role characteristics for team cooperation helps.

From the “Tripple Constraints” to the “Six Interdependencies”

3 min.

Summary

The project objectives, the Magic Triangle, Tripple Constraint or also called Objectives Triangle is a consolidated representation of the project objectives. In the course of time, a further target variable has been added to represent stakeholder satisfaction, especially client satisfaction. The project is carried out in the context of organisations. At least one organization provides resources in the form of project personnel and material resources. A simple resource planning of the project optimized for the project isolated from the context is not target-oriented. Further each project has not only positive aspects, but causes also a damage. These are the “six interdependencies” which also apply to agile project management approaches.

Origin and Development

The project objective variables, the magic triangle, triple constraint or also called objectives triangle is a consolidated representation of the project objectives on the basis of the measurement variables

  • scope or service,
  • cost (hours or person days and costs) and
  • time (duration and dates).

In the course of time, a further target variable has been added, which is to represent stakeholder satisfaction, especially customer satisfaction. An extension to the magic square did not take place, but was seen as an extension of the magic triangle.

A magic square in connection with project management was mistakenly included in the literature, in which the quality was recorded separately. However, we must clearly distance ourselves from this, since quality is inherently anchored in the aforementioned goals.

We can therefore state that there are at least four indicators for the success of a project: scope, time, cost and stakeholder satisfaction.

Project success in the context of the environment

The project will be carried out in the context of organisations. At least one organisation provides resources in the form of project personnel and material resources. These are also limited and it is a component of the planning duties and thus criterion of the project success, how effectively the project personnel and how careful/limited the project resources are used for the entire organization. Because the project personnel is often entrusted with other tasks in the line and / or the coworkers are just as urgently looked for in other projects. The material resources such as an excavator become just as important for the course of the project on another construction site, for example. A simple resource planning of the project optimized for the project isolated from the context is not goal-prominent. The optimization needs which the project director, the project portfolio manager or the specialist departments specify for project resources are not only a one-sided process. Perhaps the consideration of this interdependence resource optimization in project success would also nip in the bud the thought construct of “thinking of project members only as inputs”.

Every project not only has positive aspects, but also causes damage. For example, an implementation of software may lead to job losses. Or an environmental protection project for the creation of a new nature reserve leads to the loss of a farmer’s arable land. This causes damage to the farmer, even if he is certainly compensated for it. So here we have a clear contribution to the project success in this case with a negative sign. We cannot simply deduct this negative contribution from the performance. Here we would make it too easy for ourselves, because the service is the desired dimension of the client and automatically does not take the damage into account.

In addition to scope, time, cost and stakeholder satisfaction, we have now established two further success criteria such as resource optimization and project damage.

We have thus outlined the “Six Interdependencies”.

Six Interdependencies

Agility and the reflection of the Six Interdependencies

Now you might think the magic triangle was never relevant for me as an agile product owner anyway, because the performance is never relevant due to “fix” number of story points that can be processed in a sprint. This is deceptive and not really true, because by prioritizing the backlog the most important performance is of course defined as “part” of the project. Reprioritizing, adding or removing stories at the start of each sprint deliberately changes the performance of the project. So the six interdependencies are also likely to be relevant in agile practice.

Activity list – why is that?

3 min.

Summary

After work package planning has been completed, the activity list is created as a table. It is the following method to be applied according to the work breakdown structure. The activity list is the link between the work breakdown structure and the schedule.
The real added value is the task list, as a means of reducing the project duration, in that the core team with its expertise and the project manager identifies as many logical sequences as possible that can contribute to reducing the project duration. Even in an agile environment, dependencies need to be identified and taken into account. Splitting user stories without creating additional dependencies is an important skill of the SCRUM team.

What is the task list?

After completion of the work package planning, the process list is created. It is a table of all work packages and contains essential information from the work package planning from which the scheduling is derived in the further course.

The work breakdown structure (WBS) does not yet have any information on the functional sequence (“technical” dependencies). The activity list helps here. In project management, it is a “bridge medium” between WBS and the schedule. The activity list is a table of activities in the project. Based on the activity list, the project manager can determine the start and end dates of the work packages.

What is the added value of the activity list?

After creating the task list, it can be estimated for the first time whether it is possible to achieve the project goal within the framework of the available resources. Now it is possible to add all costs and capacities that were considered necessary by the WP managers. However, it is not yet possible to draw conclusions about the sufficient availability of the necessary capacities, since normally there is no uniform utilization, but rather individual capacity peaks represent the problem. It is also possible to record which predecessors are necessary to start a work package.

The real added value is the task list, as a means of reducing the project duration, in which the core team with its expertise and the project manager identifies as many logical sequences as possible that can contribute to reducing the project duration. So a lazy use of the end-start sequence, because this is so convenient and easy to do, would cost the client project time and drive up project costs. Alternative sequences such as Beginning-Start help the project manager reduce the number of tasks on the critical path. This simplifies project control. The work package managers should not define the inputs for the sequence relationship in a quiet chamber, but communicate them to the core team (sub-project manager or project manager in the program), which then determines optimized sequences. The creation and discussion of the process list thus raises the potential for later optimization of the flow and schedule at an early stage.

Differentiation / forerunner to the schedule

From the sequence of the work packages it can be derived when which work package starts. Work packages that do not have a direct predecessor can start immediately. All others follow. An initial schedule can be derived from this. This, however, is not much more than an indication, since diverse framework conditions such as staff vacation, capacity limits of few available qualifications are not taken into account.

What is the task list in an agile environment?

Even in an agile environment, dependencies need to be identified and taken into account. Here, for example, SCRUM teams already take into account how dependencies between backlog items are represented in the overall backlog planning. The split of the backlog items can be done initially by the product owner, but should be validated by the entire agile team lastest during the initial sprint planning. Even within SCRUM teams, dependencies are constantly re-evaluated, since the continuous prioritization of user stories can possibly lead to additional identified dependencies. Splitting user stories without creating additional dependencies is an important skill of the SCRUM team. However, it should be taken into account that the user stories are not only split according to the technical paths, but that the functional questions are also taken into account. Otherwise, the agile approach will be counteracted. Because then an early and small-scale delivery of functions is no longer guaranteed. As already mentioned, this balancing act of splitting up is a core competence of the entire team.

Escalation Rules

2 min.

Summary

Escalations are nothing bad in the project or program. They are the demand for spontaneously necessary or not yet taken decisions in a defined way – provided that a regulated governance is established.

Rules

The facts of the case should always be described and agreed upon by both parties (customer and contractor).

Contents of the escalation

  • Precise description of the facts so that they can be understood directly by third parties.
  • In what area and at what time did the facts arise?
  • Who put the facts on the agenda in which reporting medium (e.g. weekly status report)?
  • What has been done to avoid the original risk or problem, to solve it when it occurs or to mitigate it?
  • Who was involved in the solution search?
  • How time-critical is the situation or by when is a solution needed?
  • Identification of the degree of risk and evaluation of the impact.
  • Which activities are proposed for the solution?
  • Description of the solution approach with estimation of the timeline, the resources and the name of the person responsible for the solution.

Communication

  • Escalation always via e-mail. Mails that do not contain all of the above should be returned.
  • Clear mention of the word “ESCALATION” in the subject line as well as in the mail itself.

Further information on the communication rules can also be found here.

Escalation steps

  • All possible measures should be taken to resolve an escalation issue at the lowest level. Before starting an escalation process, the consequences should be clearly articulated.
  • At each stage, an attempt should be made between both parties to find a solution. If this is not possible, the escalation issue should be passed on to the next escalation stage after prior agreement and taking into account the number of escalation days. (Escalation days = length of stay in working days at an escalation level)
  • The project manager is responsible for solving the problem and remains so at every escalation stage.
Escalation Pyramid

Project Early Warning System in 10 questions

6 min.

Summary

In project portfolio environments or even for project directors themselves, it is often not easy to get clear signals from the projects. This is to check whether they are on the right track. Often quite extensive and complex project portfolio control systems are used to determine exactly this. Practice shows that due to the heterogeneity of the projects (very large vs. very small, in country X or country Y, in business area A or B) these are not available the same number of reliable measurement points for the most diverse projects. This report shows how 10 identical simple questions provide reliable early warnings for a wide range of project sizes and types.

Why do I need a simple project early warning system?

I have already described another early warning here, which has completely different measured variables. Depending on the usage, one these approaches should be applied. In a company with highly standardized methods, processes and tools in project management, the next logical step on the way to even more quality for projects is to check the compliance of these specifications. The project management handbook describes processes, provides templates and tools to handle all types and sizes of projects in a standardized way. Even the specific usage of standard applications such as MS Project is often described and specified in detail. Compliance criteria therefore arise in the areas of policies, processes, templates and tools.

Because efficient and above all uniform methods are often lacking, which could quickly identify core problems of projects (and can quickly avert them), senior management – despite high standardization in project management – is often surprised by projects which

  • are behind schedule,
  • overrun the budget
  • and do not achieve the agreed scope

which in turn leads to

  • Customer dissatisfaction and
  • not achieving the business goals

An early warning system (EWS) contains questions on the project status, which are to be answered monthly by the project managers in the form of a questionnaire.

Objectives of the early warning system

The objective of the Early Warning System is to develop and/or integrate a set of tools and processes that quickly identify potential project problem areas and provide a meaningful tool for escalation and problem resolution as long as they are still available in a simple form to avoid surprises.

The detail goals can be:

  • Introduction of a simple, scalable system that is easy to maintain through state of the art technology.
  • Introduction of a system that enables problems in projects to be identified and eliminated in the quotation phase, start up phase and run & maintain phase.
  • Introduction of processes and tools that cannot be bypassed and ignored; to confirm compliance to processes and tools.
  • Use the EWS results to extend existing reports with the EWS information.
  • Ensure tight time-boxing from problem identification to resolution.
  • Develop a management communication plan to continuously inform senior management about the consistent implementation and enforcement of EWS tools, processes and reporting across the organization.

The success factors of the early warning system

In order to ensure a global early warning system, the following success factors must be observed:

  • Timely and accurate evaluation of program/project status related to key indicators.
  • Line management with profit & loss responsibility for programs and projects is responsible for responding to negative responses and tracking actions until completed.
  • The questions must be examined intensively by senior management.
  • The questions must be used globally unchanged in all possibly existing regional systems.
  • Program and project managers answer these questions monthly for each project.
  • Standard reports are made available to program/project sponsors to support action tracking.

Objectives of the early warning system

The following questions represent a selection for an early warning system. When adapting for specific organisations, the relative deviations are also adapted in the form of numerical values. The so-called risk response indicates the response option, which leads to a forced commenting of the entry and serves as an “alarm signal” in a consolidated evaluation.

#QuestionRisk Response
1Did the last customer survey score more than 3.5 points (out of 5)?
No
2Is the project plan updated and recalculated weekly with work done and remaining work?
No
3Are all approved change requests mapped in the project plan?
Yes
4Does the staffing run according to the planning in the project plan?Yes
5Has joint project governance been adopted?Yes
6Has a steering committee been held in the last 30 days?
No
7Is the Schedule Variance > 10%?
Yes
8Is the cost variance > 10%?
Yes
9Has the project done any work outside the approved project defined scope? Yes
10Have all deliverables performed so far been accepted?No

In a database system, the questions in the “Answer” field must be answered with “Yes/No”.

If a question is answered positively, then this question is finally answered.

If the answer to a question is negative, the project managers are asked to enter measures to solve the negative situation.

  • “Action” field: Enter measure to solve the negative situation
  • “Responsible” field: Select the name of the person responsible for the action.
  • “Planned date” field: Enter the date by which the task is to be completed (planned date).
  • “Status” field: Select the status of the action.

The results are ideally presented in a company-wide web-based EWS tool to create central reports and evaluations.

The link with a project management handbook questionnaire

If (worldwide) uniform guidelines, processes, tools and templates are available in the project management area, an extension of the questionnaire should be considered.

A detailed survey should be carried out initially at the start of the project and in the case of significant project changes by means of a detailed self-assessment questionnaire, which clearly goes beyond the following possible questions on the EWS supplement.

#QuestionRisk Response
1Was the project definition template from the project management handbook used?No
2Has the estimation procedure and the estimation templates been used according to the project management handbook?No
3Is there a weekly Earned Value calculation based on the current project plan?No
4Are problems, risks, acceptances, change requests continuously recorded in the template from the project management handbook?No

Personal observations on the EWS

I was able to observe the following findings during the supervision of project managers on the subject of EWS and the evaluations:

  • Despite very precise and unambiguous questions, additional explanations (ideally in the form of a manual) to the project managers and, in the other direction, comments on specific issues by the project managers are often required. Uniform guidelines by the central authority for specific non-standardized cases are to be ensured. This ensures the quality of the early warning system in these cases as well.
  • The project management handbook supplementary questions confirmed that only project and program managers who had already been trained could provide meaningful answers. It is better to not ask as a mandatory question in order to not dilute the quality of the statements.

When analysing the adaptation of a comparable system in an organisation, the following basic considerations arise:

  • The first questions can be transferred almost completely to other companies.
  • Such a supplementary (parallel) reporting can only be enforced by global guidelines. Regional or even departmental initiatives would experience too much resistance.
  • An automatic notification and reminder for the creation of the EWS report must be provided.
  • A monthly frequency may prove to be too low for companies with smaller projects on average.
  • An automatic analysis of the results is required, taking into account the additional manual comments. An analysis without consideration of the additional comments results in a wrong picture of the overall evaluation.
  • As with all other reporting, it should also be noted here that an early warning system can also be excluded for particularly confidential projects / customer environments.
  • The reports must be mapped IT-technically in such a way that they (almost) cannot be circumvented and ignored; in order to confirm the compliance to processes and tools. These should, for example, be linked to the filing of the official status report.
  • The EWS results should be integrated into existing reports in order to inform the classic addressees of the project status report about the additional status of the early warning system. This ensures that this group of recipients also carries out a direct or indirect quality assurance of the information.
  • The results of the early warning system should be regularly compared with complete project or programme audits in order to validate and continuously improve the meaningfulness.
  • In a project, the early warning system must not be triggered initially by the first filing of a project status report, but by the creation of project numbers or project codes, for example.
  • The early warning system should be introduced in stages. First, only projects with high project volumes or complexity should be included in the scope (it is important to apply hard criteria). This also allows the analysts to better manage the project manager’s support efforts.

Handover of a Program in 6 Phases

2 min.

If you are leaving a program, you should consider a few things when preparing and handing over the program. Here, a 6-phase approach has proven to be the best for me, which I use again and again.

1. Preparation (as early as possible!)

  • Align with stakeholders
  • Outline Knowledge-Transfer-Plan
  • Agree budget for knowledge transfer period
  • Search for successor and receive okay on specific person from stakeholders
  • Confirm final start date of successor (adapt timeline of knowledge transfer plan)

2. On-boarding (-3 weeks)

  • Successor starts on project as additional source
  • Project assignment to be defined
  • Onboard successor following all regular administration activities as access rights, calendar invites, handover process documentation etc.
  • Introduce successor in newsletter
  • Shadowing (-2 weeks)

3. Shadowing (-2 weeks)

  • Successor is your current stand in if anyhow possible
  • Successor attends all of your meetings too
  • Successor is watching all of your core activities
  • Successor updates and amends joint knowledge transfer plan and ticks off activities

4. Re-Shadowing (-1 week)

  • Show less presence, only attend team meetings but no customer meetings
  • Be there for any help for your successor
  • Be prepared to take over some operational activities
  • Send all still incoming requests / questions to your successor

5. Backup (starts with day of handover)

  • Show less presence, only attend team meetings but no customer meetings
  • Be there for any help for your successor
  • Be prepared to take over some operational activities
  • Send all still incoming requests / questions to your successor

6. Phase Out (+1 week)

  • Process all off-boarding activities for yourself
  • Release Project Assignment
  • Be there to help your successor
  • Do not take any operation tasks anymore
  • Give a farewell party and say good bye in the newsletter.
  • Send all still incoming requests / questions to your successor
  • Leave! (+2 weeks)

Success factors for a proper handover

  • Involve customer and all stakeholder in an early stage.
  • Do not arrange processes program / stream person centric but process / accountable centric.
    • Do not be single point of contact for multiple processes yourself,
    • Instead make each of your team member accountable for one or more processes from the beginning of the engagement (Management by Objective).
  • Plan and prepare your leave as an own project itself.
  • Prepare a knowledge transfer plan which must be agreed by all stakeholders.
    • Break down knowledge transfer in granular activities (1-3 hours).
    • Ask your successor to maintain this plan and tick each closed activity off.
    • Handle this plan and update it like any other project plan.
  • Communicate your leave to whole team latest at beginning of knowledge transfer period.
  • Foresee a backup period after successful knowledge transfer of up to two weeks.
  • Define a clear handover date in knowledge transfer plan.

Have fun in your new project / program!

Project planning software – everything just crap?!

2 min.

Summary:
Using a project planning and control software only as a visual representation of the planning status is a waste of time. A few tips have to be followed and MS Project and Co are also very useful for project monitoring and control.

I often hear from prospective project managers, but also from experienced project managers, that a project management tool such as MS Project is not practicable. It is too complicated and the actual control is not really possible.

If you consider the following tips nothing will go wrong anymore:

  • Set in the options that MS Project or the tool of your choice will base the planning on “fixed work”.
  • The availability (hourly capacity and holidays) of resources/qualifications must be entered in the project calendar.
  • Do not set a manual date (fixed date), except project start or finish date.
  • For each task / work package, a predecessor (at least the project start milestone) and successor (at least the project end milestone) must be entered.
  • Do not enter a duration, only the effort for the task / work package.
  • Only one resource/qualification should be entered for each activity.
  • Always display the critical path in the schedule (Gantt). This must be displayed throughout the entire project duration without interruption. Otherwise there is an error, e.g. manual date set.
  • Only plan detailed for a maximum of 2-3 months in advance (resources and effort).

And the last obstacle is again and again that your company does not invest an MS Project license for you. Then get ProjectLibre as Opensource or another freeware.

Meeting Agenda

2 min.Effective meetings are always a challenge. There are many guidelines and checklist available for meetings. But up to now I have not found a good template for an effective meeting agenda.

In my daily usage I identified the need for two different agenda formats depending on the length of the meeting or better the number of agenda topics.

Having a telco I always use following simple format (in case not many topics need to be covered) since years:

INITIAL SITUATION/AUSGANGSSITUATION

  • Project status needs to be reported to steerco until Friday 12:00 CET

PREPARATION NEEDED / ERFORDERLICHE VORBEREITUNGEN (including owner)

  • Please update your work packages until Thursday 10:00 CET Server Link (ALL)
  • Please update action items status / resolution Server Link (ALL)
  • Update reporting template (ML)

AGENDA

  • Review interface issues between work packages (MW)
  • Align on action items across work packages (MW)
  • Align on Team Discussions items on project server (ML)
  • Issues and risks to be aligned on (ML)

RESULTS EXPECTED OF THE MEETING/ ERWARTETE ERGEBNISSE DES MEETINGS

  • Aligned view on the project status

NEXT STEPS AFTER THE MEETING/ NÄCHSTE SCHRITTE IM NACHGANG ZUM MEETING

  • Report to be consolidated (ML)
  • Report to be reviewed and send to steerco (MW)

 

For face2face workshops or long lasting telcos I prefer using following format also for many years:

Berlin, Hauptstr. 14-16, 1.OG, Room E1.15a, Monday 05. Feb 2018 – CMO FMO Big Picture
Goal: Common understanding of CMO and FMO Big Pictures and related activities
Approach: Time Boxing
Preparation: Presentation: Link on Server
Materials: 2 beamers, moderation suitcase
Time (CET) Topic Host Input and preparation needed / Owner Result expected / Owner  Attendees 
09:30 – 10:00 Introduction and target of meeting MW  Introduction – no preparation needed  All  All
10:00 – 10:30 CMO Picture Overall  LI  Slide deck / LI Common understanding of the CMO  All
10:30 – 10:45 Break        All
10:45 – 12:45 CMO / FMO INM  LI Understanding CMO slide deck on specific process / LI Black Board FMO Picture / CS LI, CS, MA, UA and UA
12:45 – 13:30 Lunch break in restaurant        All
13:30 – 14:15 CMO / FMO PRM  LI Understanding CMO slide deck on specific process / LI Black Board FMO Picture / CS LI, CS, MA, UA and AB
14:15 – 15:00 CMO / FMO CHM  LI Understanding CMO slide deck on specific process / LI Black Board FMO Picture / CS LI, CS, MA, UA and SE
15:00 – 15:30  CMO / FMO CFM  LI Understanding CMO slide deck on specific process / LI Black Board FMO Picture / CS LI, CS, MA, UA and ME
15:30 – 15:45 Coffee Break       All
15:45 – 16:15 CMO / FMO CPM  LI  Understanding CMO slide deck on specific process / LI Black Board FMO Picture / CS KE, CS, MA, UA and KL
 16:15 – 17:00 Wrap up and next steps  MW   Action item log updated. / MW

Work package descriptions amended. / work package owners

Steering Board Decision preparation / LI

 All

 

Advantage through early warning in the project – team spirit as an indicator

4 min.

– Methodical usage of emotions in the project –

Summary

As a project portfolio manager you want to avoid full blown up project audits in all of your projects to identify potential deviations. Therefore you may use a very simple survey to avoid any surprises.

As project director or project portfolio manager, you also have another early warning system at your disposal.

As a project or program manager you want to compare your current endeavor with previous engagements in a very simple way.

There are multiple ways to gather the team morale in project teams. I am using following approach for a few years now with reliable and sound results.

There is a systematic way in doing so by gathering “SmileyPoints” via an online survey tool. Examples for free tools are kwiksurveys.com, the free version of surveymonkey.com or Google Forms.

Questions to gather in the survey

  1. “How happy are you being on the program/project?” Then the below picture should be attached to this question.
  2. “What can Program / Project Management do to improve?”
  3. “What can you do yourself do to improve?”
  4. “Rumor Box: If there are rumors around and you have any questions related to these please let us know here to clarify.”

In larger programs you may add a question to identify the participant’s team assignment to be able to give indication on the discrepancies between the different teams within the program.

The survey should be run every second week in case of a longer lasting projects or programs. It can be a good trend indication during the project life cycle. The minimum participation of project members should exceed at least 10% of all project team members. Less will not be representative. For smaller teams a higher minimum participation ratio must be achieved.

Result interpretations

The average and the standard deviation of all results of responses to question number one gives you a clear indication on the team morale within the program or project team.

The higher the standard deviation of all values to question one the more obvious are
– a lack of communication within the team
(especially from top to down and bottom to up)
– roles and responsibilities not well defined or not transparent to the team and
– the scope not well defined or not transparent – at least to the extended team

The lower the average value of the results to question one is the less attractive is the project for the team members. Therefore the enthusiasm being part of the project is lower too. In very critical project situations (e. g. work life balance not achievable due to work load) the average tends to be low.

Now the question comes up of there is a *correlation between standard deviation and average”? Not really in all instances. The standard deviation should be low in a well-organized program. In the same over-worked organization if such things as structures, roles and responsibilities, communication channels, scope are well defined and transparent to the team the standard deviation should be still low.

The next questions is what is low and what is high”? A good one! Experience shows that values between +2 and +4 as an *averageare very common for projects in good shape. Of course there is a tendency for new joiners in a project to rate their personal happiness in areas of +6 to +10. These artifacts need a critical mass of responses to balance out.

This does not support the hypothesis that a new project with new team does automatically mean a good SmileyPoint average value. The team as a whole is well observing all team quality criteria before providing their SmileyPoints and in average the rating will be again to the “real” value.

On the other end of the SmileyPoint scale low average values as -6 to -2 indicate projects which are in a turnaround mode or at least in a need to turnaround. Immediate actions need to take place.

For standard deviation following pattern can be identified. Values of 6 show massive deficit of structures implemented, missing role definitions or at least transparency on it. Criteria e) to i) from below listing do impact the standard deviation up to my experience. Programs in a good shape show a standard deviation of less than 3. 

Of course a survey like this will not replace individual talks and interviews but it gives you a very precise supporting evidence of your findings in conversation or at least an initial feeling in case you did not have any contact to the program at all.

In a next posting I will list a couple of elements and ideas on what to implement to improve the SmileyPoints in your team.

Your comments and participation to improve SmileyPoints

Use SmileyPoints actively in your projects!

Your comments and active participation are welcome. Both can be entered in the following survey and you will be informed about new findings on request.

This values shall be gathered
– average and
– standard deviations
– number of participants out of total number of team members

from some of your projects and programs. Especially helpful would be if you can add a typical auditors or your personal rating on the same scale from below on following topic clusters:
a. team morale within the extended team
b. program financials in good shape and transparent to the project management
c. infrastructure well established (e. g. printers, office space)
d. right skills on board
e. architecture and solution well defined
f. methodologies applied properly
(e. g. project planning, issue and risk management)
g. roles and responsibilities and structure well defined
h. scope and acceptance and completion criteria well defined and transparent
i. governance well defined and in place

Please use this form to submit your feedback to improve SmileyPoints.

This article was originally published on 23.07.2011 on GooglePlus.