Welcome to the first edition of our monthly Business Performance newsletter for 2013. If you are reading our eNews for the first time, we extend to you an especially warm welcome. We trust that you and your family experienced a joyous festive season and hope that the New Year is off to a great start.
Our two feature articles this month are particularly apt for seeing in the new business year. Many companies have set sizable budgets for a range of mission critical projects that require completion within a set period of time. Even if you are part of a smaller organization with fewer resources or you run your own show, you will have set your project priorities for this year.
Many projects go off the rails early because of poor estimating. You've seen projects start with great fanfare, only for stakeholders to realize quite early that the resources allocated are nowhere near sufficient to meet the project timelines. Project management expert, Adele Sommers, walks us through why this happens and how you can prevent blowouts on your next project.
Our second article this month attacks another major cause of project failure: fuzzy goals. Poorly defined and inappropriate project goals are the death knell for all too many learning and change initiatives. Leslie Allan shows us how to tighten up our new year's goals so that they become winning goals.
Do you need help with your current or future project? Are you looking for a professional trainer, facilitator or coach? Check out our dedicated team of experts ready to assist you in a variety of specialized fields. In this issue, we introduce you to our change management expert, Geoff Hopkins. Find out what Geoff is up to in Meet Our Expert of the Month.
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12 Powerful Project Estimating Strategies
Adele Sommers Ph. D.
Do you excel at predicting the time, funding, and resources your projects will require? If not, you're in good company! Nearly everyone I poll admits having the same challenge.
You may have noticed this phenomenon already: It's extremely difficult to calculate with any certainty how long a particular effort is going to take. This article explores some possible reasons why and offers 12 ideas for increasing estimating accuracy.
What Makes Project Estimating So Difficult?
When you ask any three people how long they think a particular effort could take, you might be surprised at the range of answers you'll hear. The possible reasons for the differences could include unfamiliarity with the work involved to an attempt to factor in unspoken requirements that seemed important to include.
Below are six of my favorite reasons for project estimating variability. I believe these are fairly universal, but are just a few of many possibilities:
- Projects usually differ in at least some essential ways, making a "cookie-cutter" approach infeasible.
- People chronically underestimate (but sometimes overestimate) time and effort.
- Project requirements are typically very fuzzy at the start.
- Requirements invariably shift over time.
- Nearly everything about projects is dynamic.
- Yet, projects are often constrained by finite conditions.
A confounding conundrum from the list above is that projects often involve many dynamic aspects, yet they almost always have finite budgets, schedules, or both. These contradictory forces make it extremely difficult to determine with pinpoint accuracy the hours and funding required, and thus set the stage for plenty of budget and schedule "collisions" during the life of the project.
When my own clients or colleagues ask me, "How long do you think this effort might take?" I, too, experience a knee-jerk reaction. Instinctively, a part of my brain that once excelled at solving math problems on timed quizzes goes into overdrive. "I know the answer!" it screams.
Yet, unless that project or task is something I've performed many times before — under very similar conditions each time, and with good records of my actual hours spent — providing an accurate estimate can be quite elusive.
As I'm striving to imagine all of the stages and steps of a process, as well as fathom the unknown variables or things that could go awry, it's no wonder that I hardly ever guess 100% correctly, particularly for new endeavors!
Among the related challenges are detecting the presence of hidden or unknown variables that are difficult or impossible to anticipate, and sometimes even more difficult to resolve. Furthermore, we seem to have a strong human desire to please other people by telling them what they want to hear — especially in the areas of budget and schedule. (After all, who wants to be the bearer of bad news?)
Robust Estimating Techniques Can Help Manage Project Risks
Did you know that estimating can be an invaluable tool for anticipating and managing these project uncertainties? Whenever we can determine our schedule and budget requirements with reasonable accuracy, it reduces the risk of running out of time, resources, and funding during a project.
Try using the 12 ideas below for boosting the accuracy of your estimates!
the full article for the 12 powerful estimating techniques.
Are you starting a major training project? Manage all phases of your training program design and delivery with our popular template pack. Don't waste time developing project documents and spreadsheets from scratch.
Find out more about our comprehensive
Training Projects Template Pack and download today.
"The templates, guides, and supplementary resources provide everything a training professional needs to ensure application of 'best practices'."
Brenda M. Rodrigurez, BMR consulting
Setting SMART Objectives
Define SMART Objectives
Whether your organization is about to embark on a major learning initiative or a change program, well designed and effective projects begin with clearly stated business goals. As a program leader, you will need to meet with the key stakeholders to thrash out the desired objectives of your training or change program.
Target as your primary meeting outcome a clear definition of what it is your organization wants to achieve with the help of the learning or change initiative. Frame the organizational objective so that it meets the criteria for being a SMART objective. According to the SMART way of defining objectives, each goal should be:
Clearly define in unambiguous terms the scope of the objective, such as which region, which department, which machine, which employees.
Describe how success will look to a dispassionate observer. Use numbers, such as quantity produced, error rate or survey scores.
The objective should be ambitious, yet within the reach of the organization given the resources and time allocated. An unrealistic objective will certainly lead to a failed training or change program.
Relate the objective to the broader strategic and/or operational objectives of the organization. Avoid objectives that do not contribute directly to the end game.
State the point in time that the objective will be achieved by, such as end of financial year.
The main advantage to be gained from defining your objectives as SMART goals is that once you and your management team start using it, wooly, nebulous thinking goes out the door. Everyone knows what everyone else means. And when it comes time to evaluate whether the objectives were met, you will all have a clearly graduated ruler to put up against your results.
Apply the above SMART test to the organizational objectives related to your training or change project. Examples of poorly stated objectives include the following:
- enhance the buying experience of our customers
- produce more value-add products
- build a more productive work environment
- create more happy customers
- hire people who fit in with our work culture
- improve leadership skills
These are fine as broadly stated strategic objectives. However, for underpinning effective learning and change programs, they need to be fleshed out.
the full article for practical examples of SMART goals.
Keep track of how you are progressing with your program goals and communicate progress to your team members and stakeholders with our one-page reporting template. Use the BONUS post-implementation questionnaire to survey your project team.
Find out more about our handy Project Scorecard and download the free sample project report today.
Check out our recently released articles.
Meet Our Expert of the Month - Geoff Hopkins
Have you met
our team of expert consultants, coaches and trainers? This month we proudly feature Geoff Hopkins. Geoff has been a leadership coach, facilitator and change consultant to leaders in organizations for nearly three decades. Geoff explains his approach, "Only one in four change programs deliver what is intended. We've identified the essential elements required for successful change and for dramatically enhancing a team's performance. Working across the organization to understand what's happening and to map perceptions, we reinforce what's good and identify the gaps that, once addressed, will help to cement the organization solidly into the top 25%."
He adds, "The fresh and valuable insights that we uncover through probing questions and attentive listening are always extraordinary. Skills development through coaching and training gives focus to areas such as communication, team dynamics, creating an accountable environment and building staff engagement. We strongly advocate measuring the 'before' and 'after' to get a dynamic sense of what results we're achieving."
Contact us today to find out more about how
Geoff Hopkins can help you.
Visit our web site at
www.BusinessPerform.com for lots of expert guidance and practical tools designed to help you get ahead of your competition. Also, be sure to pass this newsletter on to friends and colleagues who want to stay up with what's on. From all of us here on the Business Performance team, we wish you a productive month and look forward to communicating with you again soon.