Does Your Project Have a Brand?

by Karen A. Brown, Richard Ettenson, and Nancy Lea Hyer

Have you ever noticed that some projects benefit from high-profile status that draws participation and support while others seem to languish somewhere in the back row? If you have observed this phenomenon, you aren’t alone. Our interviews and observations over a 10-year period have uncovered a huge gap in the “common body of knowledge” associated with the project management profession. Too many project leaders get so caught up in the usual tools and metrics that they fail to consider their roles as marketers within their organizations.

We believe the missing link for project leaders is branding. Consider a commonly accepted definition of a brand: a unique value proposition that creates preference and loyalty among key audiences. This translates to project environments as follows: key stakeholders in your organization will be influenced to support your project if they believe in the value your project is likely to deliver. Their impressions of your project are critical to your success as project leader.

In an article published in Sloan Management Review (Summer, 2011) we describe the factors that influence key stakeholders and offer a five-phase process… Read the rest


Viewing Cancer Treatment as a Project

If you’ve been diagnosed with a serious ailment of any kind, the news puts your life on a new path. This new path, focused on the recovery of your health, represents a project. Rather than wallowing in it, rather than seeing yourself as a victim or passive patient, you can take on the role of project manager. For more insights, check out this link from Mayo Clinic:

Cancer Treatment: You are the Project Manager


Project Leader’s Principles of Persuasion and Influence – Request Magnitude Sequence

by Nancy Lea Hyer and Karen Brown

Have you ever found yourself in a situation similar to this one?  “Good morning, Sam.  Thank you for meeting with me. I’d like to talk to you about getting some of your engineering resources for the Kaibab project I am leading.”

If you are like most project leaders, you do not directly control the resources you need for your project. Instead, you must influence others to provide those resources. Persuasion refers to a variety of tools we use to influence others.  Here is one the most powerful persuasion principles, something called “request magnitude sequence.”

Request magnitude sequence says the sequence in which we make requests of different magnitudes impacts the responses we get. People who receive big requests first are more likely to say yes to a subsequent small request.  To illustrate with a home example, one of our children, home from college on spring break made the following request:  “Hey Mommy, may I backpack around Europe for a month this summer with my new boyfriend?”  Being a rather (no, really) protective mom, I said, “Absolutely not.”  The child, well-schooled in request magnitude sequence, next asked, “Well, then can

Read the rest


Traffic Light Process for Ongoing Project Learning

by Nancy Hyer and Karen Brown

Capturing lessons learned, identifying best practices, deciding what to do differently next time — these are end-of-project activities, right?  Not necessarily. Project learning should be an on-going, high-priority activity, not just something a project team considers once the project is complete. In fact, research confirms that we are most invested in identifying what to do differently and better, when the ideas we come up with benefit us. Wise project leaders build in activities that permit learning throughout the project. Consider this example.

The Traffic Light Process

The traffic light process is a simple method for learning during the active stages of project delivery. It requires about 10 to 15 minutes and can be a final agenda item in a regularly scheduled project team meeting.

What should we continue doing? Begin by asking each team member to work silently and independently to record one idea about what is happening in the project that should continue. Team members place each idea on a separate sticky note. The facilitator  collects the sticky notes, reads them aloud one at a time, and then places each on a white board or flip chart, grouping… Read the rest


Japan 2011: In a Crisis Response Project, Communication is Key

by Karen A. Brown and Nancy Lea Hyer

As the world knows by now, on 11 March 2011 Japan experienced a massive earthquake that spawned a powerful tsunami, resulting in thousands of tragic deaths and an unprecedented nuclear emergency. Our hearts go out to the Japanese people in this time of disaster. Our admiration goes out to them, as well, for the incredible spirit of common purpose that has brought them together to halt the progress of damage, bring order to temporary, difficult living situations, and, already, to begin the rebuilding process.

We focus here on the nuclear emergency, dubbed the world’s worst in a quarter century. The earthquake and tsunami damaged the Fukushima nuclear facility  kicking off a series of technical failures. Local organizations, along with a global cadre of high-level helpers, are working diligently to stem the progress of further damage to health, structures, the landscape, and commerce.

Comments about the technical response to this disaster are best left to nuclear experts. We remark here on the communication plans and actions associated with the crisis response. Many news sources have identified the limitations and liabilities of the Japanese approach to sharing information about the situation, complaining that officials… Read the rest


Project Management Lessons from the Chile Mine Rescue

by Karen A. Brown and Nancy Lea Hyer

On October 13, 2010, 33 Chilean miners who had been trapped 700 meters below the earth’s surface were rescued and reunited with their loved ones after 69 days underground. The successful and emotional rescue effort continues to receive considerable attention. Several observers have reflected on teamwork and leadership lessons. To expand the discussion, we examine the rescue in the context of project management, considering what went well and what didn’t go so well. Here are the top 10 lessons from our perspective:

1. Reconnaissance first. Define the problem before you act.

2. Keep project goals out in front. It’s easy to lose sight of them. Ask “why are we here?”

3. Communicate across parallel activities. Concurrent work can compress a schedule, but it requires coordination.

4. Learn from others. Other projects have had similar characteristics. Don’t think you are alone.

5. Experiment in real time. Run tests inRead the rest


The WBS Checklist

by Nancy Lea Hyer and Karen A. Brown

The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is the centerpiece of the project plan and for a project of any reasonable size, the WBS will eventually be expressed as a document in outline form.  In the project depicted below a team has converted its WBS Mind Map (see blog entry Whole Brain Thinking for Project Management) into an outline format.

WBS Mind Map with Corresponding Outline

Here are a few tips for making your team’s outline format WBS document especially useful.

Incorporate Project Management Tasks in the WBS

When brainstorming project activities, the team should not overlook the activities involved in actually managing the project. All activities essential to executing the project will take time and consume resources. These include: budgeting, milestone reviews, status report documents, project closeout, final celebration, etc. Don’t leave these out!

Conduct a Sum-of- the-Parts Check

Team members should check their work at the end of the WBS creation process to be sure that lower-level tasks sum up to their higher-level parent task. You can conduct a sum-of-the-parts session in which the team reviews a cleaned-up version of the initial WBS. The project manager or a designated facilitator canRead the rest


Five Common Scheduling Mistakes

Nancy Lea Hyer and Karen A. Brown

Project scheduling is a critical part of the project planning process. If done well it enhances team understanding and perspective, sets and manages expectations, highlights uncertainties, creates a foundation for the monitoring system, and generally helps everyone involved to visualize the action plan. Unfortunately, many teams and individuals make serious mistakes when they create and use project schedules.  Here are five common mistakes we’ve encountered in our work with organizations.

1.  Assuming the plan begins with a schedule

Don’t be fooled! Before a team develops a schedule, members must have established an understanding of the project’s purpose, agreed on goals, selected the best course of action for achieving the goals, created a comprehensive work breakdown structure, and assessed project uncertainties. If a team does not develop this shared understanding, conflicts driven by divergent views of what we are supposed to be doing, how to do it, and what might go wrong will surface at very inconvenient times. The result will be lots of rework and considerable angst.

2.  Not involving the team in creating the schedule, assessing it feasibility, or identifying schedule risks

Project schedules are best created in aRead the rest


Use A3 Reporting to Communicate Project Essentials

by Karen A. Brown and Nancy Lea Hyer

Do your boss’s eyes glaze over when you present a series of slides about your project plan? When you prepare a detailed project plan document, does anyone read it? For many project managers, the answer is often “yes” to the eye-glazing question and “no” to the reading question. A recent Wall Street Journal article describes one of the most frequent complaints about newly-minted MBAs: They can’t seem to get to the point. Too many words and… Read the rest


How to Talk to The Project Sponsor When Resources and Time Constraints are Unrealistic

By Karen A. Brown and Nancy Lea Hyer

Has this happened to you? A new project assignment comes your way, courtesy of a high-ranking executive. Let’s say it’s for a product recall effort that is to be completed within six months at a cost that cannot exceed $50,000. You and your team develop a project plan, but when all of the details are fleshed out, you discover the project will require more money, a bigger team, and more time than the sponsor has specified. The situation could be explained graphically this way:

This is no time to be a shrinking violet with the boss. Nor is it time to desperately beg for more resources without further analysis and conversation. Consider this: the mismatch between your estimates and those specified by the boss could be for one or more of these reasons:






1. You might have been imagining a larger scope than the sponsor had envisioned.

2. Perhaps you have not made full use of what you know about scheduling to move activities along float lines or “crash” critical activities by re-allocating resources. (We explain how to do this in Chapter 8 of Managing Projects:Read the rest