The Project Management Institute (PMI) encourages its members to advance the profession. One of the ways to do this is by helping others increase their project management skills. The target audiences for this blog are professional PM’s early in their careers as well as those who manage projects but are not PM’s by title or trade. I will be posting every week or so, offering practical tips and tools on the full range of project management topics. I hope you will find this useful and help you advance your career.
It is important in both project management and life in general to have a solid decision-making process. This doesn’t mean that every decision you make will always have the best outcomes, but it puts the odds in your favor that more often than not you will make good decisions.
Here are the main consequences when you don’t use a good decision-making process:
- Regret – You know you are not using a good process if you find yourself saying “I should have…” or “I shouldn’t have”. If you use a good process, you understand that sometimes the outcomes don’t go your way, mostly due to circumstances beyond your control. You avoid regret. Wouldn’t it be great to live a life of no regrets? Or like in the song “My Way”, you can say “Regrets, I’ve had a few, but too few to mention”.
- Unintended Consequences – This usually happens when a decision is not well thought out. You intentions are good but it turns out bad. An example is “use it or lose it” budget policies. This almost always causes organizations to waste money to avoid future budget cuts. Sometimes, a decision can be so complex as to be unable to avoid unintended consequences. In a future post in this series, I will show how good Risk Management can minimize the damage.
When you have a good decision-making process you don’t measure success by the outcomes, you measure it by answering the question “Was my process sound?”. I will expand on this in a future post.
In both project management and our daily lives, we are faced with many decisions every day. The size and importance of the decisions vary but every decision we are faced with burns some amount of brain energy. If you have a good decision making process, you can minimize this energy drain.
There are many reasons why we struggle with some decisions. Here are some of the most common:
- Too many choices – Our minds are comfortable with 3 to 4 options but when the alternatives grow much beyond that it could cause a “decision paralysis”. We see this in our daily lives when shopping. How many varieties of Cheerios are there? Dozens! When faced with too many choices, we sometimes shut down and don’t choose anything (which of course is also a choice).
- The apparent choices are all bad – This is the case where none of the options are a win. But how do we determine which alternative is the “least bad”?
- The apparent choices all seem equally good – In this case, we may regret choosing an option if it means we miss out on the good outcomes of the other options. Why can’t we have our cake and eat it too?
- Loss Aversion – We fear risking something we have, to gain something we want even if the odds are in our favor.
- Fear of being wrong – Most of us beat ourselves up (mentally) when we make a mistake. Sometimes we fear our own self-lambasting if we make the wrong choice.
- Fear of being criticized – No one likes criticism. We want everyone to love us, right? We want to show everyone how smart we are by never making a bad choice. This is obviously unrealistic.
In the upcoming posts in this series, I will show how a good decision making process can eliminate (or minimize) all of the reasons we struggle with making decisions.
If you are a Project Manager, you make numerous decisions every day. Some are minor, some major and some in-between. Good communication and decision making are the top two skills needed by the Project Manager for sustained success. In the upcoming series of posts, I will share some thoughts and methods for effective decision making.
Here are the topics that will be addressed:
- Why we struggle with some decisions
- The consequences of poor decisions
- The outcomes of a good decision-making process
- The eight step process
- Begin with the end in mind
- Identify and analyze your alternatives
- Identify and mitigate your risks
- Distance yourself from short-term emotion
- Make contingency plans
- Make the decision
- Evaluate the outcomes
- Evaluate the process
If you have been following this blog you will recognize a common theme in almost everything you want to do: Know your outcomes (aka “Business Objectives”). Before establishing a PMO, you need to understand the PMO Sponsor’s vision of what problems they are trying to solve and/or what opportunities they wish to exploit.
Here are some possible problems your business may face that can be mitigated by having a PMO. You may have one or more of these to solve:
- We aren’t maximizing our Return On Investment (ROI) from our portfolio of projects.
- Our project mix is not aligned with our long and short term business goals
- We don’t have control of our project request process
- We have key resources frequently overloaded causing project bottlenecks and delays
- Our projects are usually late
- Our projects are usually over budget
- We under-deliver on the agreed upon scope
- Our projects often have the scope expanded without knowledge or approval
- Our project quality is frequently lacking
- We take on too much risk
- We don’t take on enough risk
Depending on the problems you wish to solve, here is just a sample of the measurable business outcomes you can obtain my investing in a PMO:
- Regular financial analysis reviews showing the ROI on the current active project portfolio and the ROI on alternative combinations of projects
- No resource bottlenecks; Resources obtained and deployed in the most effective manner
- Deliver projects on or under the approved schedule and budget
- Deliver on the approved scope
- Control how much risk we are taking on (possibly by regular review of the risk/reward matrix of the current portfolio of projects)
In the next post I will present some possible Project Objectives for the establishment of a PMO.
If your organization is embarking on creating a PMO, congratulations! You will typically find one in the best run companies. If you are not sure how to go about it, I will offer some guidance and suggestions in the upcoming series of posts.
Creating a PMO is a goal. Presumably, you want to have it done by a target date. The combination of a goal and a target date means you have a project! You should treat the establishment of a PMO as a project and use formal project management techniques to do so.
Here are the topics I will address in this series:
- Part 2 – The Business Objectives
- Part 3 – The Project Objectives
- Part 4 – The Stakeholders
- Part 5 – The Scope
- Part 6 – The Timeline and the Budget
- Part 7 – Risks, Constraints, Dependencies
- Part 8 – Summary
Something as business critical as creating a PMO should never be done via undocumented, ad hoc conversations. Following the guidelines I provide in the upcoming posts will give you a much greater chance of success.
In part 1 of this 2 part series, I gave you some good reasons why you should get your Project Management Professional (PMP) certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI). In this part, I will share the methods I used to prepare for the exam.
There are many excellent exam prep courses available but they are usually very expensive (over $1,000) and in my opinion are not necessary. If you are comfortable with self-study, you can prepare for this exam for a lot less money.
Here is what I did:
- Purchased a self-study book that had excellent reviews
- Took as many free practice exams as possible
The book I used and the one I recommend is “The PMP Exam: How to Pass on Your First Try” by Andy Crowe. The author does an excellent job leading you through everything you need to know, with practice exams at the end of each chapter. The most important thing this book does, though, is change the way you think about project management to be in alignment with how the PMI wants you to think about project management. If you go into the exam trying to pass just based on your project management experience, in the words of Andy Crowe, “The exam will chew you up and spit you out.”
Here is a link to the book on Amazon:
I personally went through the book three times to make sure I thoroughly understood the material. You will have to decide for yourself how many times you will need.
The other thing you need to do is practice! There are many free PMP practice exams available on the internet. Just use Google to find them. A general principle in learning anything is to “try, fail, correct, try again”. This is the best way to master any skill or subject. The practice exams will reveal your areas of weakness, where you need to focus your study time. Take as many of these as your schedule allows. I even found one that had a full 200 question, four hour timed exam. That was a very valuable exercise. The practice tests in the Crowe book tend to be a bit easier than the real exam so you need to seek out difficult practice questions.
Be prepared to put in many hours preparing for the exam. It is not a slam dunk and you need to be well prepared. I studied over the course of six weeks, about 1-2 hours per day. If you fail the exam there are no refunds and you will have to pay to take it again so it is in your best interests to pass on the first attempt.
Good luck to all of you preparing to take the exam!
If you are planning either a career in project management or having project management as a critical part of your job function, you should absolutely get your Project Management Professional (PMP) certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI). There are two primary reasons for doing this:
- It will greatly enhance your job opportunities and career advancement prospects. The PMP certification is a validation of your knowledge and experience, and shows a commitment to ongoing education in the discipline. Many organizations use the PMP certification as a filter to select qualified candidates to interview. Without the PMP, in many cases you will not even be able to get a phone screen interview.
- It will make you a better Project Manager! In my personal experience, just studying for the PMP exam will improve your abilities as a Project Manager. How? It will introduce you to processes, tools and techniques you will likely have never used as a “seat of the pants” Project Manager. You will use this additional knowledge in your future projects and see how they greatly improve the quality of your outcomes.
You cannot go into the PMP exam hoping to pass it just based on your project management real-world experience. The PMI wants you to know and understand best practices, and also wants you to approach project management using their paradigm. You cannot pass without knowing these things.
In Part 2 of this post, I will share with you the methods I used to study for and pass the exam on the first attempt. It didn’t cost anywhere near the $1200 or so some companies charge for PMP prep classes. I hope you find it useful and informative.