First Step in a Team-Based Schedule: EARLY-MIDDLE-LATE

By Nancy Lea Hyer and Karen A. Brown

We recently participated in a strategic planning process with board members of a non-profit organization. The board had generated a long list of initiatives in support of the chosen strategy but was struggling with how to organize the work in a way that would bridge the gap between big picture ideas and implementation tactics.  The Early-Middle-Late process provided the way out.  The group took each initiative and determined whether it was something that should be undertaken right away, in the distant future, or somewhere in between these two ends of the chronological spectrum.   As decisions were made, team members recorded initiatives on a white board under one of three headings: EARLY, MIDDLE and LATE. From here, the detailed scheduling of implementation tactics became manageable.

This same approach can aid any project team in creating a schedule. First, the team must decide what level of detail to use in developing the schedule. The team might decide to schedule at the lowest-level of detail, or perhaps base the schedule on higher-level summary tasks. Once this decision has been made, team members write the name of each work package, activity, or task (depending on chosen… Read the rest


YB4WHAT (Why Before What)

by Karen A. Brown and Nancy Lea Hyer

Some project managers mistakenly ask the question “what” (as in “What do you want us to do, boss?” without asking “why” (as in “What’s the underlying driver for this project?” or “What is the core problem we’re trying to solve?”). In the absence of information about what led to the need for a project, several unfortunate outcomes are likely to emerge:

• Low team motivation because of unclear goals.
• Feelings of discouragement because efforts lead nowhere.
• Conflict over tasks and roles.
• Lost credibility with stakeholders in the organization.
• A project that, ultimately, wastes everyone’s time.

The Coat Hook Story

According to legend, engineers at an aerospace company were told to design a coat hook where pilots could hang their coats in the cockpit during flights. The engineers paid careful attention to style, placement, number, weight, and function of the hooks. After several days of design effort, one of the engineers asked a pilot-advisor “Why do you need the coat hook?” The pilot’s reply? “Because it gets so darned hot in the cockpit.” Bottom line – the cockpit did not have adequate temperature… Read the rest


Whole-Brain Thinking (And Action) for Project Leaders

By Karen A. Brown and Nancy Lea Hyer

Individuals new to roles as project leaders often discover they cannot rely solely on the left-brain, analytical skills that served them in more routine, functional positions. Project roles require a leader to complement well-honed left-brain skills with a more visionary right-brain orientation. A few tools can help a new (or newly enlightened) project leader with the transformation. They offer structures and processes for involving your team, clarifying goals and roles, preparing for uncertainties, and managing decisions about what needs to happen and when. They allow a leader and team to envision the project in a holistic way while also keeping an eye on details. Three we find especially useful include:

• Mind Mapping for WBS Development
• Gut-Feel Method for Anticipating Project Uncertainties
• Sticky Note Method for Project Scheduling

All three of these involve gathering your team around a large (about 1 meter by 2 meters) sheet of wall-mounted paper. We describe them (and others) in our book, Managing Projects: A Team-Based Approach, but here’s a bit of information to whet your appetite:

Mind Mapping for WBS Development: The WBS or work breakdown structure is a hierarchical representation of… Read the rest


Common Pitfalls in Project Leadership











The Project Leader’s Balancing Act

by Karen A. Brown and Nancy Lea Hyer

As a project leader, do you sometimes feel as if you are part of a circus act? In a way, you are. You must balance a right-brain orientation (vision, political awareness, flexibility) with a left-brain orientation (detail, technical savvy, discipline), knowing when and where each is necessary. Additionally, you must juggle a set of intersecting skills, each of which influences the others (in a good way or a bad way – that’s up to you).  We offer more explanation just below the figure.

Communication. By this we mean the two-way exchange of information with key project stakeholders. It appears as the central gear that drives all of the others. Without it, your efforts in the other skill areas will produce a mixed bag of results.

Stakeholder influence. This is all about how you sell your project to others in the organization, and beyond. You need their support and resources, you need them to voice positive remarks about your project to others, and you don’t want them to engage in activities that undermine the project. Stay in touch with them, and hone your influence skills.

Conflict management. Projects are non-routine, and… Read the rest


Top Ten Project Success Factors

by Karen A. Brown and Nancy Lea Hyer

We’ve studied hundreds of projects and mined ideas from organizational leaders, academicians, and even people who have sat next to us on airplanes. Based on our intentional and ad hoc research, we have identified 10 factors that increase the likelihood a project will be successful.

Our Top Ten:

1. Clear and shared purpose and goals. Everyone involved must agree on the answer to the question “Why are we doing this?”

2. Motivated project team and stakeholders. The project must seem important to people, and the idea of being involved must be engaging. You don’t need extra financial incentives. People will flock to an attractive project.

3. Unfailing customer orientation. This means, first, getting everyone to agree about who the customer is and what the customer wants, and keeping this in the forefront as the project proceeds.

4. Adequate support and resources. This usually starts with the big boss. You need his or her support to legitimize your project. And, if you don’t think you have enough resources, rethink project scope, have a tactful conversation with the sponsor, and hone your skills of influence.

5. Clear roles and responsibilities. If team members don’t… Read the rest