Thursday, 26 April 2012

How tight do you run your projects?

I submitted a project plan, along with costs to the senior management last week and was told, off-the-record, that my timescales were too short and the expense budget was too small.

I have been a PM for a number of years and I am often told that my budgets are either too high or too low.  At the beginning of a project, this often concerns me and I always wonder what I have missed, or what the other person knows... that they have not told me.

I have the disadvantage, in one way, of a being a contractor, but also the clear advantage of being a contractor in another. 

For the disadvantage, I do not know the project history or "norm" within the specific company.  I do not know if projects historically tend to run to time and budget.  I do not know if suppliers are particularly difficult, or is procurement can hold the ordering and payment processing up.  I do speak to the other project managers and build relationships with all parties involved, from procurement, finance, technical teams and testers etc and I do find if there are any lessons learned from previous projects, from either the project managers or the PMO department.

The advantage I have is that I know different companies work in different ways.  To mitigate this, I build the relationships between the key teams and make sure that they can accurately estimate their timescales, costs and highlight any risks and issues for me.  I of-course build in a certain percentage of time and additional cost to enable any overrun.

What are you best tips for dealing with forecasting within an unknown company?

A Project Manager's CV

I had a CV come across my desk this week, which was given to me by a very reliable source.  The CV on first impressions looked quite good, with over 16 years of Project Management experience, all in the Investment Banking industry.

I looked at it in a little more details today and realized there was very little detail within the CV.  It made me wonder what level of detail we should go into on a CV.  My thoughts are that there should be enough information for each work placement to give an outline of what you have been working on, but leaving out enough detail to be a feeder for a discussion in the interview.

As a PM, I would suggest you explain the basics of any project you have managed, along with the timescales, budgets, project team size and any technology used, replaced or removed.  Again, I would suggest this is at a high level as to not give away any confidentiality and to keep enough information back for interview questions.

In addition, I would highlight any particular issues or risks that were dealt with successfully along with any management reporting levels, SLAs, third party vendor communications etc... All of this I would see as secondary to the actual project details listed in the paragraph above.

The CV in question only came with the secondary information.  I understand it was from an investment banking background, but there is still a certain amount of detail you can add to a CV without it breaking any confidentiality agreements... or am I wrong?

Why Contracting?

I wrote on a forum some advice to a permanent member of staff considering the option of contracting.  The question was "How much experience do you need before you go contracting?".

My answer was fairly short, but I thought it was interesting enough to make into an article to share with you, especially in a time when contractors are getting a bad press.

I left university and after 18 months in two jobs, I went contracting.  Not consulting, contracting.  I was simply a developer assigned to a project to work on the Y2K project (remember that folks?).  I knew I was a good developer and had the confidence to leave the full-time security and branch out on my own.

Rule Number One as a contractor is to have the confidence in yourself to be able to step out and say "I can do this".  Confidence.  Simple.

The knowledge comes second.  This may surprise some people, but the reality is there is always an answer on the internet.  I remember my parents not being too happy about leaving the security of a full-time role and not knowing where I would be working, but I knew that I would be OK, I had the confidence.

I feel that knowledge must be backed up by qualifications.  People often undervalue qualifications, but the reality is that you are able to get a rounded education, the more you look into specific qualifications.  An example was while working within the Lotus Notes Arena, I was able to understand more of the theory and have a deeper understanding of the intricacies, over colleagues without the additional education and research.  My Father was a great believer in education and I am committed to this day to make sure I continue in his three-word mantra... "Education education education".  

Along with knowledge, a contractor is expected to make an impact to the team / project very soon after starting.  Often a day or two to show the processes / governance is all you are allowed before you actually start making progress on the task you have been taken on for.

Contractors get quite a bit of negative press and many full time employees often begrudge a contractor working along side them.  Usually the main reason is down to money.  This simple little thing makes many people jealous in all walks of life, but the issue between contractors vs permanent staff can often be very visible and difficult.

My reply for this is often the fact that we are actually paid more money that the usual member of staff, but we are only paid for the time we are working.  The eight standard bank holidays, sick pay and our annual holiday is not paid, neither are the extras such as Training and Qualifications (remember my paragraph above).  We do have other "perks" such as our subsistence and travel are paid before tax, we can pay ourselves in a way to minimise our tax, but we still have all the additional paperwork, research, accountants fees etc to make this happen.

Anyone can be a contractor.  You need to have the confidence, the knowledge, the qualifications and the self motivation to go out there and sell yourself.