Archive for the ‘Project Management’ Category

There is no one size fits all for project methodologies. In most cases, teams choose to use a hybrid of several methods depending on the size, nature and complexity of the engagement on hand. Here is a quick reference list to the most commonly used and proven project management methodologies:

AgileShort iterations of work are delivered with little upfront documentation of specs or requirements. Frequent delivery aims to ensure visibility of progress, creating opportunities for real -time feedback and changes in scope throughout the life-cycle.


Kanban: Tasks are placed on physical board to create a workflow that shows team members what needs to be accomplished and in what order. The idea is to encourage small, continuous changes and consensus and consensus-based decision-making without the constant oversight of a leader


Scrum: Project leaders create a prioritized backlog of tasks which teams deliver in sprints, implementing group of tasks top-down. Each sprint has a defined timeframe, after which working iterations are shared with the customer, who then offers feedback. Daily meetings, or scrums are used to keep tabs on progress.

Rapid application development: SW development teams quickly produces prototypes, followed by writing small pieces of code with less planning.

Waterfall: Projects progress sequentially through a series of phases beginning with specs or system requirements, and moving through design, implementation, testing and release. Phases can lasts for weeks or months.

source: the Pulse (

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Earned Value has been in use since the 1960s when the Department of Defense adopted it as a standard method ofmeasuring project performance. The concept was actually developed as early as the 1800s when it became desirable tomeasure performance on the factory floor. Today, it is both embraced and shunned, often in response to prior experience orstories told “in the hallway.”

What is Earned Value (EV)?

A method for analysis of project performance? Is it something that is gained through some progress (ex: completed activities)? Or a measure of progress? Say for instance, a Uniform consistent basis for project performance. Let’s take a closer look:

  • EV improves cost control & provides a reliable indicator of project health.
  • EV metrics also enable forecasting to predict Estimate to Complete (ETC) and Estimate at Completion (EAC).
  • EV compares the budgeted cost of work performed (earned) to the budgeted cost of work scheduled (planned) and to the actual cost of work performed (actual).
  • EV trending helps to identify troubled projects early in the lifecycle before they fail (even though time & money spent seem to indicate “progress”).
  • Note:  Other tracking measurements include:  % Complete compared to planned % Complete; Actuals compared to planned Actuals, # Test Cases completed versus # planned, etc.
  • aka EVA = Earned Value Analysis, aka EVM = Earned Value Management

What are the elements of EV?

Figure 1– Traditional cost analysis

Earned Value provides the basis for cost performance analysis. If you want to know what’s happening to the cost of yourproject BEFORE it is completed, you need to know what the planned cost at any time was and also what the cost of thecompleted work is. Referring to Figure 1, should this project manager be happy or concerned? It seems that the actual costsare considerably below the planned cost. This appears to be good news. However, unless you look at the planned cost of thecompleted work, you don’t really know if this is good news or not. That is exactly the missing information that Earned Valueprovides.

Figure 2– Earned value elements

In order to understand Earned Value thoroughly, we must become familiar with all the elements of the Earned Value method. Figure 2 provides an overview of these elements. While many people shy away from the acronyms used to label these elements, they quite accurately describe the elements. The project management practitioner should be familiar with the formal acronyms.

The BCWS is the Budgeted Cost of Work Scheduled. Quite literally, it represents the budgets of the activities that areplanned or scheduled to be completed. In the discussion of how to apply Earned Value, we shall see how this is developed and why the BCWS curve has the traditional S-curve shape.The ACWP is the Actual Cost of Work Performed. Again, quite literally, it represents the actual cost charged against theactivities that were completed. Later we shall see how we deal with activities that are in progress but not yet completed.

The BCWP is the Budgeted Cost of Work Performed. This is the traditional Earned Value that we speak of. It represents theplanned or schedule cost of the activities that are completed. The distinction between the BCWS and the BCWP is that theformer represents the budget of the activities that were planed to becompleted and the latter represents the budget of theactivities that actually were completed.

These are the three major components of Earned Value. At any point in time, we have the planned work, the actual work andthe cost of the actual work. This allows us to make the full analysis of our project progress and performance. Some of theother, related terms shown in Figure 2, include the Budget At Completion (BAC), the Estimate At Completion (EAC), theSchedule Variance (SV) and the Cost Variance (CV). We will learn more about these in the discussion on how to applyEarned Value.

EV Challenges

  • Time:  Formal EV using off the shelf tools is the ultimate but it takes significant time from PM’s, Development, Testing, Management (Bottom Up estimating @ work package level, WBS maintenance, merging WBS’s, Time Entry precision from everyone charging, working the various exceptions with tasks/resources, etc.)
  • Cost:  Formal EV increases project costs, so estimates must include EV activities and the customer must pay for it.
  • Quality:  Resources who are charging to the project aren’t always accurate (ie. Actuals, % Complete, revised ETC hours, revised End Dates).  Another issue is missing data.
  • InfraStructure:  Tools, procedures and resources are needed to support formal EV.  For example, estimation tools must be configured to align with WBS tasks (not just monthly totals as with IFP tool on the AT&T account).

These challenges are manageable, but many organizations are not practicing EV because of these restrainers.  It’s estimated that less than 30% of all PM’s use EV on their projects.

Here is an example of a very simple excel sheet calculation devised to monitor and evaluate key projects data. (EV):

  1. Planned (hours/value)
  2. Actual
  3. EV
  4. Cost variance
  5. Schedule variance

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Joe Zaarour, PMP

Source: T Wilikins, J Zaarour, IBM GBS

One of the key disagreements I always had with my executive management when I worked at a big 4 consulting firm was old school management techniques.

There was this age gap between them (Traditionals/Boomers) and us (Gen X). The team I managed did not care much about access cards, time management, clocking in and out, logging minutes and seconds of time to cost codes, etc. On the other side of the equation, executive management made key strategic decisions based on this erroneous and misleading data gathered. You get the picture…

Just to put things into perspective, the four Generations as we know them are:

  • Traditionalists   (1922-1945)
  • Baby Boomers  (1946-1964)
  • Generation X  (1965-1980)
  • Generation Y  (1981-2000)

It always bugged me that there was this gap between them and us and this was crippling our delivery capabilities. Managing and motivating employees is quite tricky, is it an art? a science? In the past (old school – and I mean no disrespect here), using external motivators drove employees to perform well. They used monetary rewards and sticks & carrots techniques and they worked well for a certain age group for a while. The new way of motivating people, and this is well proven scientifically and in practical terms as well, focuses on intrinsic motivation techniques  – inwards focus on our desire.

So this mismatch between Science and Business, between Traditionals and Gen X, between 20th and 21st C, led to the discovery of a new technique that focuses on unseen intrinsic motivators that are the building blocks of a new way of managing and motivating:

  • Autonomy
  • Mastery
  • Purpose

Check out this amazing video to take a closer look:

As the author explains, these techniques are used today by innovative and very successful corporations:

  • Google’s 20% time – work on anything you want
  • FedEx day – Deliver something overnight. work on anything you want in the next 24 hrs
  • In a Row – Results only work environment –  no schedules, work anytime, anywhere as long as you deliver

But the best of all was the Example of encarta vs wikipedia ! Management by objectives, anyone? going once, twice, SOLD!

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Joe Zaarour

Getting in touch with your feelings? While waiting for a client at a coffee shop, I just read an article by a talented writer discussing the topic of emotional self-discovery. I immediately identified with the writer. Among other things, he argues that above 80 % of successful people are very ‘self aware’ Ie, they are in touch with their inner self, emotions, feelings… etc.

Check this out:

‘You can never achieve your fullest potential and experience life the way you want unless you truly delve deep within and cultivate self-awareness’.

Three inter-related skills for self awareness:

  1. Emotional awareness – knowing how emotions affect performance
  2. Accurate self-assessment – an internal Ss & Ws (from SWOT)
  3. Self confidence – courage that comes with clear self-knowledge of our capabilities

Too many ‘self’s used in this post. I sound selfish but trust me I’m not! In addition to the above skills, the author argues there are strategies one can deploy in order to maximize self awareness and create positive changes in one’s life. They include:

  • The third eye – look at yourself from an angle – an elevated position – that allows you to escape your emotions for a second – only one second cause he also argues that one should face the truth, sort of face the bull by the horns kind of thing  – take a look from an elevated angle and that will provide you with an objective view and breather before you act.
  • Through the eyes of others – ever felt there was a discrepancy between how you see yourself and others see you?  well maybe if you ask close people around you for feedback and see yourself through the eyes of others,  this will make you see the bigger picture and how your emotions including reactions affect those around you.
  • The physical side of emotions – often times emotions express themselves thorough the body, for example stress in the neck, gut feeling, goos bumps, etc. The body is not far off from the mind. I know this as I practice yoga and in yoga one tries to turn inwards and bridge the gap between the mind, self (emotions included) and body.
  • Find yourself through beauty – not sure if this works for you cause it didn’t do it for me but the gist here is to listen to music, read novels, go to museums and see how you feel in these situations? Getting any closer to yourself – maybe not…
  • Embrace discomfort – I can seal and stamp this one – often times we differ things, procrastinate, put off calling your aunt, your potential client, neighbor, etc. I am the master of procrastination and putting off things to the last minute instead of facing tough situations. When you ignore the feelings that disturb you, they will come back and bite you in the behind at the worst time possible. So face that bull by the horns but be prepared – you might unleash that devil in you! be careful what you wish for!

Happy blogging! To learn more please connect with us or subscribe to our blog

Joe Zaarour

Credit goes to: Richard Labaki, Push magazine, Daniel Goleman’s ‘Emotional Intelligence’

As with Gantt Charts, Critical Path Analysis (CPA) or the Critical Path Method (CPM) helps you plan all tasks that must be completed as part of a project.

They act as the basis both for preparation of a schedule, and of resource planning. During management of a project, they allow you to monitor achievement of project goals. They help you to see where remedial action needs to be taken to get a project back on course. It took me a while to grasp this critical path concept not because it’s complicated but due to the lack of clarity around the available data.

What is critical path?

This seemingly complex topic is nothing more than a logical 2 dimensional tool you can use to determine the so called ‘important tasks’ or ‘hot tasks’ … nothing more than the tasks with the longest durations AND the tasks that fall on a crucial project path that is called ‘critical’ where if any of these ‘hot’ tasks is delayed, then the project outcome is at jeopardy.

Why is it so important?

It gives us a real-time snapshot on schedule lead & lag activity for risk response planning and an accurate representation of the most critical components of the schedule. It is the sequence of events for which, if any event is “improved”, the overall process will be “improved”. Here, “improved” is defined by reference to a specific performance measure.

The precedence relationship notation is included to improve the readability of the model, but the arrows are not used by the simulation. For simulation, the precedence relationships are established by the preconditions and postconditions of the events. A critical path is made up of activities that cannot be delayed without delaying the end date of the project.

How does one compute the critical path?

So what is the critical path and how do we determine it? Well, let’s first take a look at a network logic diagram for a simple sample project.

Each activity has a duration measured in weeks and the arrows show how each activity is depending on other activities to finish before they can start themselves. In the sample activity A must finish before C can start, and D can only start once C has finished etc. We can also see that activity C can only start once both A and B have finished.

From the diagram we can determine three separate paths:

Start – A – C – D – Finish: 8 weeks

Start – B – C – D – Finish: 9 weeks

Start – B – E – F – Finish: 7 weeks

The critical path is defined as the longest path in the diagram and in our example it is path B-C-D that is the critical path of 9 weeks. What’s so critical about it? If one of the activities on the critical path is delayed the entire project is delayed!

Example, if activity D is delayed 1 week, the project will be delayed with 1 week.

But if activity E is delayed 1 week, it will not delay the project because the path activity E is on will just be 8 weeks and still be done one week ahead of the BCD path.

So the critical path is made up of activities that cannot be delayed without delaying the finish of the entire project.

What happens if activity E suddenly is delayed 3 weeks? In that case the B-E-F path becomes the new critical path of 10 weeks and the finish of the project is delayed. The project manager must now determine how to handle this delay or accept it as the new critical path.

Will a project only have one critical path? A project can easily have more than one critical path and in that case the project manager must know all of them.

Hope you enjoyed this quick overview. To learn more please connect with us or subscribe to our blog.

Joe Zaarour, PMP

Ever wondered if there is a structured approach to how new team members bond, fight and perform on projects? Well the cold truth is every project or temporary engagement – with a definite start and end date-  you lead as a team leader or a project manager introduces a new environment; a situation where team members are driven outside their comfort zone , even if some members are familiar with each other’s work.

Every new situation (project) imposes a new set of game rules at the beginning until the rough edges are smoothed out and every member gets a better understanding or acknowledgement of their size, function, responsibility and role on the team. So, without further ado,  we introduce the well known concept of ‘stages of team development’.

Assumptions underlying this model:

  • Every group will go through some part of each stage; the more the group members. know each other and have worked together before, the less time spent in the first three stages.
  • Each stage is critical to the team’s development as a high performing team—without the first three stages there may not be highperformance
  • Teambuilding, ground rules, charge clarification, task understanding, and gaining of member commitment is key to stage one.
  • The stages often play out simultaneously or in different order.

Teams go through different performance cycles throughout the project – each of these cycles requires a different leadership style. These stages are classified into 4 groups; Forming: Initial judgments about teammates are made, Storming: Control issues emerge, Norming: Productive works begins, Performing: Optimum productivity reached. Using Project Management Institute’s terms, there is one last ‘stage’ called Adjourning: Project is done, team moves out of the project

Stage One: Forming (Awareness): The Immature Group

  1. Theme:  orientation
  2. Behaviors desired:  commitment to group goals as task behavior, friendliness and concern about others and interest in relationship with others
  3. Outcomes desired:  commitment and acceptance of team and of others
  4. Actions and activities:  learning what’s expected
  5. Leader’s role:  high-task, low-relationship to compensate for low follower readiness
  6. Leaderships skills and techniques:  value clarification, visioning, communication through myth and metaphor, and goal setting to develop acceptance and commitment as individuals need to understand how they relate to team and team’s relationship to organization
  7. Task of individual:  getting acquainted, assessing strengths and weaknesses, participating in goal setting

Stage Two:  Storming (Conflict):  The Fractionated Group

  1. Theme:  resistance
  2. Behaviors desired:  acknowledgment and confrontation of conflict openly at task level and listening with understanding to others at relationship level
  3. Outcomes desired:  clarification and belonging
  4. Actions and activities:  leadership struggles, incomplete communication, arguments and personalizing events; members appear confused and dissatisfied and output is low
  5. Leader’s role:  maintaining adequate production while building group competence requires high-task, high relationship
  6. Leadership skills and techniques:  active listening, assertiveness and conflict management to resolve stage two issues, and flexibility and creativity to support open environment and set climate for new ideas
  7. Task of individual:  listening actively and attentively to all viewpoints, supporting the development of and encouraging supportive environment for expression of ideas, confronting and managing disagreements to clarify purposes, roles and procedures

Stage Three:  Norming (Cooperation):  The Sharing Group

  1. Theme:  cohesion
  2. Behavior desired:  inclusion of others in decision making to meet task needs, recognition and respect of differences to meet relationship needs
  3. Outcomes desired:  involvement and support
  4. Actions and activities:  open exchange of feelings, facts, ideas, preferences and support; less dissatisfaction as ways of working together are clarified
  5. Leader’s role:  low-task, high relationship to promote participation and involvement, providing more opportunities for group members to take responsibility
  6. Leadership skills and techniques:  use of the techniques of playfulness and humor, entrepreneurship and coalition building (networking) promote involvement and support communication, feedback and affirmation
  7. Task of individual:  appreciation of differences, recognition of group success as source of personal power and resources, use of feedback to support collaborative working relationships, greater involvement in decision-making

Stage Four:  Performing (Productivity):  The Effective Team

  1. Theme:  interdependence
  2. Behaviors: contribution and valuing of new ideas and the ideas of others
  3. Outcomes:  achievement and pride
  4. Actions and activities:  working collaboratively to challenge their potential; celebrating success in the achievement of more complex goals helps sustain enthusiasm and maintain momentum
  5. Leader’s role:  delegation reduces need for interaction with staff to low-task, low relationship
  6. Leadership skills and techniques:  problem solving, planning, and decision making skills provide opportunities for achievement; mentoring helps to foster achievement in others
  7. Task of individual:  sharing in group accomplishments and productivity lead to sense of satisfaction and pride

Enhancing team performance can result from various activities. Examples include:

  • Involving team members in the planning process
  • Establishing rules for dealing with conflict
  • Improving the climate for team discussions
  • Improving stakeholders interactions by holding off-site facilitated events …

Hope you enjoyed this quick snapshot. To learn more please connect with us or subscribe to our blog.

Joe Zaarour, PMP