Chris Croft
Tips of the Month Archive

Project Management Tip 13


Blow your own trumpet

Be assertive at the start

What is a Gantt Chart?

Avoiding people problems

Listing all the tasks

Internal projects

How to discover the key project driver

Three methods of project costing

Why I love Gantt charts

Three ways to handle uncertainty

Overspend or underspend?

Why PM is difficult

My instant guide

Why review?

Some eccentric PM abbreviations

What exactly is a PID?

Its never too late to plan

Why PM is good

Good questions to ask a project manager

Hi everyone

I'm planning to put an "instant guide" to everything on my website (I like a challenge!) and I thought I'd send you them as a tip of the month as well. Project Management is probably quite a good one to start with since there are a number of people who haven't been on my PM course and who ticked "all" on the tip of the month form, and are wondering what the hell I'm on about with all these Gantt charts and things. I think PM is the only subject that isn't self-explanatory in terms of tips. So anyway, hopefully if you haven't been on the course this will make sense, and if you have then it'll be a quick bit of revision.

By the way, I do realise that putting an instant guide to each subject on my website might make people think they don't need to come on a course, but then again maybe it will make them think "I need to know a bit more about this....". We'll see!

An instant guide to Project Management

1. Define cost quality and time, in writing. If you're not really sure what you're setting out to do then you'll probably suffer from people moving the goalposts during your project and possibly complaining afterwards that you didn't do what they wanted. If you're being asked to do the impossible, for the good of your customer and yourself be assertive - remember that planning makes you stronger!

2. Find out what's the key driver - is it cost quality or time? This is what you'll be judged on - the one area where you must not fail. Do this by asking your customer (or the various stakeholders) what they want, why they want it, and what will happen if they don't get it?

3. List the tasks. Be careful not to miss any! Do a group mind map, ask any experts you can find, look at history if previous similar projects have been done and draw up a structured breakdown diagram of all the tasks.

4. Draw the network diagram - this is best done by sticking post-it notes on a whiteboard, and this is the stage where you have to decide which tasks depend on which. In what order will you do the project? Put estimates of times on each task. This diagram will then tell you how long the project will take - the longest route through the diagram is the critical path which is the quickest you can do the job.

5. Put in some contingency to allow for unexpected tasks and problems, in order that you still deliver on time. This will make your customer happy in the long run.

6. If the critical path is too long you might need to crash it - pick on the biggest critical tasks and think about reducing them by spending more money on them, or reducing their quality. There is always a price for doing something quicker!

7. Use the critical path to draw the Gantt chart. Start by drawing the critical tasks to scale, going diagonally down your chart. Put in the floating tasks wherever they fit between the critical ones.

8. Think about resources / loading - by looking vertically down your Gantt chart you can see how many people you'll need at each stage - do you have enough people? You can slide floating tasks sideways to get rid of any horrible peaks, and you may have to extend the whole project (breaking the critical path) if you don't have enough people.

9. Consider risk - what are all the things that might go wrong? Are they likely, or serious, or both?? How can you make them less likely to happen, or make the effects less serious if they do happen?

10. Once your project has started, monitor progress to your Gantt chart by colouring in the tasks as you complete them and seeing if you are keeping up with the "Now line". If you're starting to run late you can choose between leaving it as it is (= letting the plan slip) or crashing some of the tasks in order to catch up the time. Either way you need to issue a new updated Gantt chart, and check that the new timings are OK with those who need to do the work, and probably also the customer (even if you're still going to achieve the end date the costs and quality will probably be affected so the customer needs to know).

11. Compare costs with Gantt: if you are over budget but ahead of schedule that might be OK. More likely is that you are behind, so an underspend might not be a real underspend, just a sign of lateness. Even being bang on plan financially can signal a problem: you might be going at half the planned speed but spending at twice the planned rate! But these problems will be obvious if you've got a coloured in Gantt chart to show your progress.

12. Review - have a short meeting with your team, and ask "What was good / what was bad / what could we have done better?" This ensures that people get thanked, the organisation learns from its mistakes, and good practices get repeated (and even improved upon).

so there you have it: PM on one page. Hope it's useful

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