Projects and Dark Matter

Dark Matter

One of the biggest risks that software project managers face is “Dark Matter”. On a software project it is defined as “The entity that we know exists but cannot see”.

It is most prevalent on projects where you require an intimate knowledge of business processes. At the beginning of a project, the Subject Matter Experts are assembled, the scope of work is defined and plan is brain stormed. As a project manager we try to extract every last detail about how we will deliver the scope of work. This typically takes a number of attempts but eventually when everyone has that warm cozy feeling, we agree on the plan and kick off.

Warnings Signs

Some weeks into the project at an update meeting someone brings something to your attention, something new, or an oversight perhaps that could have been captured and planned at the original planning sessions. You take it on board accepting it’s a “once off”, you re-plan, you move on.

Two weeks later a developer or engineer sends you an email stating that they have found something else that they need to do that we didn’t capture at the early stages. You take it on board accepting it’s the second “once off”, you re-plan, you move on.

Two weeks later again a developer or engineer sends you another email or speaks up at a meeting stating that they have found something else that they need to do that we didn’t capture at the early stages. You take it on board accepting it’s the third “once off”, you re-plan, you move on.

Does this sound familiar? Are you making the developers/analysts/engineers accountable and letting them feel some of the pain you feel as a Project Manager?

Managing Dark Matter

When running large complex software project is, it is inevitable that there will be unexpected events. It is important here to distinguish the “known” unknowns from the “unknown” unknowns or Dark Matter. For example during testing you may expect to see some issues or defects that need to be managed. So, you “know” that there will be issues but you don’t know how many or the impact of them – i.e. “known” unknows. Then there are the Dark Matter unknowns – it something that someone completely missed at the planning and estimate phase that needs to be dealt with and will have an impact on the project.

When this happens, you should always ask the question, “How did we miss this?”, and “ Are there any more elements Dark Matter lurking in the background that will surface at some stage. It is human nature that in general people do not like to give bad news but it is very important to encourage the project team to be transparent about all issues or potential issues.

So back to the original question – “How did we miss this?”, could we have approached the scoping and planning phase differently? Did we go into enough detail at that time? You will never prevent all of these items, but you can certainly put measures in place to limit their occurrence.

During the planning phase when you have assembled all the relevant SMEs, and when a milestone or deliverable is identified, list all of the steps and resources required to complete the milestone. Go through the steps at least twice, leave it and come back to it the next day when people have time to think, I can guarantee that someone will add to the steps or introduce some other dependency after they have had time to think.

In GxP (regulated pharma projects) a common source of under-estimation is documentation effort.
For example it is very common to see a single line item in a document named “Design Document” with a timeframe allocated to it. e.g. 5 days.

When you look at the actual time and effort it takes it can look something more like:

Draft the Document – 3 Days
Issue Document for Review – 0 Days
Review wait Time – 3 Days
Update Post Review – 1 Day
Issue for Approval – 0 Days
Approval Wait Time – 3 Days
Approved – 0 Days
Released – 0 Days

So, in this very simple example it would seem that the actual time was double the original estimate. If a deep dive was done into the company’s procedures (and track record) for managing document review and approvals, this would have been captured.

Ownership and Accountability

If you experience a few minor occurrences of dark matter during a project, you can probably live with it. If on the other hand every time you expect to complete a task, you experience another instance of dark matter in the form of new tasks and dependencies, you need to stop, down tools and do a deep dive into the plan. Nobody will want to do this but it I necessary sometimes. Don’t however fall into the trap of follow exactly the same planning method. You will need to do something different. So allocate ownership of specific parts of the plan to individuals. Make it clear that you need their expertise to get int every detail before you can communicate out on another baseline of the plan.

Too often on a project the plan is seen as being the Project manager’s plan – it needs to be the team’s plan and they need to take ownership of their own elements where appropriate. This may be difficult at first but if someone knows that they are being judged on the quality, accuracy and performance of a plan, you will see a different response from the team. Be careful here to distinguish between blame and accountability.

When re-planning, the plan needs to be stress tested by peers and the SMEs to try to break it before you go public with it.


In summary

Dark Matter exists on software projects.
Don’t ignore multiple instances of dark matter, make the SMEs accountable.
Re-plan differently, learn from previous mistakes.
Stress test the plan.
Look for other potential areas of dark matter.

Further Reading

Other reading – Controlling Scope Creep see this previous blog here

We’d love to hear from you on this topic. E-mail us here

Creating Positive Habits for Project Delivery

From working on many projects over the years one can become accustomed to the culture of a project in terms of delivery, habits and work ethic. We can take a lot for granted in terms of what has become the norm for us.

On a recent assignment with a client we had found it difficult to recruit people with the right attitude for the upcoming body of work. We had to place junior graduates with more experienced project team members. The technical knowledge can be transferred over time and with the right attitude and desire anyone can learn how to do anything.

There is however a softer side to project delivery that is seldom written down – the ability to deliver under time pressure and maintain focus on the work at hand. The decision to give the graduates some exposure to more experienced people was not just to absorb the technical knowledge but to observe and learn the habits and attitude of delivery and the value of taking action.

Projects get completed because people take action, complete tasks and achieve objectives. Taking action is fundamental to successful project delivery. In trying to get this across to some of the new members of the project team we tired to categorize the practices, attitude and habits that we need them to adopt to be able to deliver consistently in a challenging environment.

We summarized the points that we were trying to make as follows

Successful Project Teams Take Action
With a ready-fire-aim mentality, nothing beats taking action. You could pull out a great book about success and learn from the greats, but there is no better teacher than experience, which comes only from taking action. Completing a training course may prepare you for what is to come but the experience of taking action will teach you so much more and this experience will stay with you.

People can spend too much time making a decision. They worry about making the “right” decision. A former boss of mine always encouraged us to “Fail Faster” as he was convinced that this would get us on the right track earlier than and long drawn out decision making process.

Even if the action is incorrect – you will learn that it is incorrect quickly and get back on track quickly instead of extensive procrastination and risk analysis.

Completing a training course may prepare you for what is to come but the experience of taking action will teach you so much more and this experience will stay with you.

Taking action will get you where you need to be much faster than detailed analysis. When you are faced with this situation, ask yourself – “What’s the worst outcome? What is the worst thing that can happen if I take this action?”

Consistent Action Creates Momentum
When you have momentum on your side, several benefits kick in. The momentum of being “in the zone” performing any task makes the task easier to perform. Momentum can also make a large body of work appear more manageable and achievable.

As you witness yourself doing more work, taking on additional work does not seem daunting. Surprises or unforeseen issues on a project are just absorbed into the main body of work when the project team has momentum. Have you heard of the saying – “If you want something done – ask a busy person.”

To use a sports analogy, regular training for a football match will prepare you for the match but actually playing more matches affords you the opportunity to get better at playing matches.

Consistent Delivery Becomes a Habit
When you work on projects long enough and get used to consistent delivery, this can become a habit, a positive habit. This can happen subconsciously at first but if you analyse performance between a time when you were not in a high paced delivery environment and being in an environment where consistent delivery is the norm, you will notice the difference.

Some research indicates that it can take approximately 60 days to form a habit, a habit that you don’t need to think about too much – it just happens.

Habits are often seen in a negative light. Looking at the dictionary definition:

Definition (noun)
1. a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.

Doesn’t sound very inspiring does it? I prefer another definition that relates to the psychology of the word.
an automatic reaction to a specific situation.
Now that gives a more positive representation of the word. So as we stated above, where a high paced delivery and continuous execution of work is the scenario in which you find yourself – if we are exposed to this environment in the correct way for a prolonged duration – this can help to form the positive habit if you chose to do so. In acquiring the positive habit you will perform in response to the needs of the project. The same response in reverse would ensue if your response is negative and you form a bad habit,

This is by no means a new concept as the idea of positive habits defining the individual and subsequently success has been well documented for centuries. In the following passage written by one wiser than I, and shamelessly borrowed from the Talmud:

Pay attention to your thoughts, for they become your words.
Pay attention to your words, for they become your actions.
Pay attention to your actions, for they become your habits.
Pay attention to your habits, for they become your character.
Pay attention to your character, for it becomes your fate.

This passage places a huge emphasis on habits and their effect. Bringing this back to personal performance and the performance of teams it may seem somewhat philosophical but it does have some practical resonance in the working world today. If you replace the term fate for your performance. The message here is that strong performance is not an accident.
It is intentional based on your thoughts and your actions. Maintain focus on the task at hand while always keeping sight of the next milestone will ensure that your contribution to the project is positive. Thoughts, words, actions, habits ultimately define how we perform, so ensure they are always moving you forward towards the next goal or milestone and this starts with the right mindset.

Successful Project Teams Take Action
Consistent Action Creates Momentum
Momentum Creates a Positive Habit of Delivery

On a related topic read The Project Mindset

For more information contact us by email: we’d love to hear from you.

Managing Small Project Teams


While working recently with a client, they asked for some specific advice for managing small project teams when delivering software projects.

Previously their project teams were quite large, but the nature of their work now needs small project teams completing software modules in less time. This is to enable them to support ever-changing market needs.

Their teams were used to a culture of clear role definition and never stepping outside that role even if it meant that the project was delayed. They claim that they could remain focused on the task at hand and they could specialize in a field of expertise relating to the client business.

The client knew they needed to adapt but they were fearful of the impact of this change on their operation and if it could impact what they do in a negative way.


The “large team” mindset certainly has its merits. But it only has it merits in a certain context, i.e. where there is a large team of people available. Where there are large project teams there is generally the availability to pick up the slack and reassign tasks to the next available resource. Small project teams do not have this luxury and therefore need a different mindset.

Smaller project teams can drive a different behavior and therefore need to foster a different culture to survive. In smaller project teams flexibility is everything. Although team/members still have a primary role they also have an obligation to do what ever it takes to keep the project moving. For example there is no reason why a business analyst cannot support software acceptance testing or author and review key documents.


The project manager has a similar obligation when it comes to keeping things moving on a project. For example I have witnessed too often where a PM is waiting on a resource to perform a simple review task when the review task is well within the skill set of the PM.

All project team members need to keep focused on the end goal and it is one of the responsibilities of the project manager to ensure that this vision is clear and obvious to all concerned.

Project Team members (including the PM) have an individual primary responsibility but also have a common secondary obligation to keep the project moving if they have the capacity and ability to do so.

The situation is best managed by a daily touch point with the full team. At the meeting we must understand – What is the priority for today? Do we have the skill set within the team to achieve this goal? Do we have the capacity to achieve this goal? What is the impact of completing this task?


As with each person’s primary responsibility, should come secondary ownership and expectations. If anyone finishes a task ahead of schedule what should they do? Answer – they should review what else needs to be done and what they themselves can do to achieve the next milestone or goal. They should also see if any of their colleagues need any support to complete a task.

Project Team members (including the PM) have an individual primary responsibility but also have a common secondary obligation to keep the project moving if they have the capacity to do so.

The agile scrum approach is an effective means of managing such work. The work tasks are queued up in a priority and the work is reviewed daily. Therefore, a change in priority can be communicated easily. This approach encourages and facilitates regular feedback.

An underlying theme here is strong, effective, clear and frequent communication.


Small teams need to adopt a slightly different approach to large project teams and base their work on the following principles:

1. There can be no 100% demarcation of work

2. The priority can change daily

3. The task you are assigned and working on can change daily.

4. Be prepared to step outside your comfort zone from time to time

5. Project success or failure is the responsibility of all concerned

6. Encourage open honest feedback among the team

7. We all fail or we all succeed.

Set these ground rules with small project teams and review the effectiveness of your approach regularly. Deal with any issues or concerns swiftly and do not let any issues fester. The solution to most project team problems can often be found within the team itself. Encourage feedback from the team on how the project is performing. From these suggestions, don’t be afraid to experiment with tasks, you may be pleasantly surprised, but don’t take crazy risks.

Culture doesn’t change overnight, and some people are not suited to the small team set up. This is a hard reality.

Further Reading

Flexibility does not mean multi tasking. Multi tasking is a myth – see this previous blog here

One person can only focus on one task effectively at a time.

We’d love to hear from you on this topic. E-mail us here

MES Systems and Benefits


With so many different variations of MES (Manufacturing Execution Systems) in use today, it can be difficult to define exactly what MES is and how it is used. The use of the system will vary from company to company.

Manufacturing Execution Systems can be defined as systems that record and control the execution of a manufacturing process from raw material to the finished project. Depending on the product being manufacturing and the level of complexity involved, the systems can be simple or complex.

MES generally exists as the layer between the process control (level 2) system and the ERP enterprise resource planning (level 4) system.

The pharmaceutical industry is a shining example of how MES systems can be used for maximum benefit.

Since their inception, most manufacturing organizations have relied on paper records, Paper SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) and processes to manufacture batches of product.

Although functional, paper records have numerous challenges that can lead to some major issues for the manufacturer.

1. Paper can go missing
2. Paper can get damaged
3. Hand written records can be difficult to read
4. Paper records can be easily falsified
5. There is no accurate verification of timestamps
6. Paper records can be completed anywhere
7. Paper SOPs cannot be 100% enforced or policed.

The removal of paper from manufacturing processed is a major objective of many companies.

MES systems eliminate completely the problems of paper but


For well over 20 years the worlds regulatory bodies have been calling for and providing guidance on the use and implementation of a computer system-based method of producing and maintaining manufacturing batch records.

Many organizations throughout the world have eliminated and reduced paper processed in pursuit of the many benefits can come with the use of MES. There are however still many manufacturing facilities that continue to use paper processes and records as a means of managing manufacturing.

The reasons why some companies stick with paper are:

1. Paper is tangible and flexible
2. People like the tactile form of paper
3. Out of spec or adverse situations can be managed with paper
4. Paper is cheap to run
5. MES systems are expensive to implement
6. MES can be disruptive to the business during implementation
7. Old habits die hard

What are the benefits of MES?

Depending on the use of the system, the benefits of MES can vary greatly. Some of the main benefits include:

1. Removal of paper from the process
2. Faster review time of manufacturing records
3. More accurate records
4. Time stamped audit trails
5. Recording of user access
6. Ensuring people can only follow a consistent process
7. Improved quality
8. Reduced
9. Improved productivity

The case for the removal of paper records

The case for the removal of paper records may seem obvious but there are numerous benefits for example.

Within the software system every transaction is time stamped and therefore it is very easy track the sequence and timing around each event and activity associated with manufacturing and actual product.

The main benefits of Manufacturing Execution Systems include:

• Removal and reduction of paper records (including equipment log books) for the reasons detailed above.
• Reduction in production review and quality review activities
• Ease of Batch Reporting
• Improved quality via consistent manufacturing by enforced workflows (i.e. people can only to the right thing)
• Reduce time to prepare for regulatory audits
• Improved quality metrics
• Increased transparency
• Over time improves peoples’ behaviours
• Free up man-hours for more value-add activity

Investigations into manufacturing problems are much easier when using an MES system because all activity is recorded and is a is traceable back to a specific events or conditions.

Equipment and work efficiency can be measured much more precisely with system timestamps.

Underpinning all of these advantages is the main reason for implementing an MES system and this is patient safety. That is the ultimate goal and standard.

Company Leadership Must Drive the Culture

As with all initiatives and journeys upon which a company may embark must have the sincere support of the company leadership. The manufacturing leader’s mindset is hardwired to keep production moving and keep high volumes of product leaving the plant and entering into the supply chain. This is a valuable character trait and is an essential contributor to the success of many organizations.

Underpinning all of these advantages is the main reason for implementing an MES system and this is patient safety. That is the ultimate goal and standard.

When operators are driven down the road of enforced workflows (using and MES system), i.e. they must to the right thing at the right time, as opposed to filling in paper records whenever is convenient, the initial high-level observation is that the new system has slowed down activity on the line.

While enforced workflows can indeed slow operations down slightly, is this a fair price to pay for compliance and quality? Looking at one single facet of the operation can be short sighted. A wider view needs to be taken if the full benefits of MES are to be acknowledged. Instead of measuring one single element of the process, look at the end to end benefits and savings.

In removing paper from the manufacturing process, many types of human error are removed. For every manual signature or data entry removed, a verification of that entry is removed. Hand written data entry errors occupy a huge time portion of the batch review and release process.

Given time, MES can reap many benefits but pharmaceutical manufacturing company leaders must be patient focused and not numbers focused. In these organizations, (and there are many) the leaders make it clear that the priority is to serve the patient at the end of the supply chain. The patient takes the ultimate risk with the end product.


When implementing MES on a new site or existing facility, be clear on the reasons why MES is being implemented. Set a clear vision for the organization.
Ensure everyone in the organization knows why it is being implemented, what the benefits are and how it will be used.

Keep patient safety at the forefront of the implementation. That is the only standard.
Measure the benefits post implementation and how they compare with expectations.
Nothing is final or ever 100%. The best systems will continue to evolve with the needs of the business and the industry.

For further support book an online session with one of our project specialists here

PMSummit Dublin July 2018

PMSummit Dublin

PM Summit is an annual event that takes place in Dublin, Ireland hosting a global community of project, program and portfolio managers regardless of whether they use traditional, lean and/or agile approach to their projects. Unlike other project management events, the PM Summit catering to all sectors of industry, from engineering to pharmaceutical, from government bodies to IT and beyond.



About PMSummit

Project Management is critical to business performance and organizational success. The importance and visibility of Project Management has never been higher. The PM Summit was established in 2015 in response to the growing trend in all business sectors towards incorporating project management into their organisations. The aim is to deliver an event different than any others, where PM professionals from all industries can network and grow their knowledge together, adding real value to their professional development.

This year our founder and Principal Consultant Barry Curry will be speaking at the event.

Find out more here

Barry will be presenting on a topic that has huge significance in many organizations. “Rescuing and Reviving Troubled Software Projects”

“Delighted to be speaking at the PMSummit in Dublin, my home town, in July in a fantastic venue, the Conference Centre. I’ll be speaking about Rescuing and Reviving Troubled Software Projects. I will describe the tools and techniques used to take a failed or failing project from the initial stages of an investigation right through to root cause. I’ll then look at how by making some key changes we can we re-plan for Success, Kickstart the project with Confidence and ensure that the same as issues do not happen again.” – Barry Curry


The Importance of Software Projects

Software projects are the lifeblood of business change, often driving competitiveness and adaptability. When a software project is delayed or cancelled, the impact on the business can be devastating. This is why more so than ever before, the capability to deliver software projects is becoming a key skill set in industry today. Based on many years of rescuing and reviving software projects of all types, this presentation offers a simple but effective approach to resolving project issues and getting the project back on the road to recovery.


Software projects are the lifeblood of business change, often driving competitiveness and adaptability. When a software project is delayed or cancelled, the impact on the business can be devastating.



Speaker Profile for Barry – Managing projects for some of the world’s largest companies for over 20 years, Barry has gained an outstanding reputation for rescuing troubled software projects internationally. His approach to project management is both innovative and effective and has seen him become one of industry’s leading consultants.

Here is the presentation delivered to the PMSummit 2018 – Here


The Project Sponsor – How good is yours?

The Project Sponsor
What is a Project Sponsor?  Simply put, a project sponsor is the clients representative on a project.

As a project manager one of the many challenges we face is working with and seeking support from the project sponsor.

The role of a project sponsor starts before the appointment of the project manager. It also continues beyond closure and departure of the project manager. Ideally the project sponsor should be a leader within the business. He or she should be empowered to make project influencing decisions on behalf of the client. The project sponsor should also have the ability to walk across corporate and functional boundaries to gain the support required.

Before the project starts the project sponsor should be clear on the work to be done, the benefits being sought for that work and the cost and risks associated with delivering the benefits. These may seem obvious but from my experience they are bound together by enforcing the “why” or raison d’être of the project. Why is the project being delivered in the first place?
Absence of a project sponsor
From experience it is common practice for large organizations to run multiple large projects and programmes concurrently. They often draw on the same pool of resources. Among those resources are the project sponsors. It is not uncommon for one person to be a sponsor for multiple projects on behalf of the business. This is not an impossible or difficult scenario to manage once the priorities are clear from the business. For the individual project managers this can be a challenge. If the sponsor has limited availability, key risks or asks for the business may not be communicated in advance of an issue becoming real.

The project is being delivered to either solve the current business problem or to deliver a specific value of benefits for the future state of the business. Therefore if the sponsor has been assigned to the project the sponsor should support the project and hold the project manager and project team accountable. Sounds simple but this is often not the case.

As multiple projects reach high levels of activity, the priorities become difficult to manage for any organization. The project manager needs to shout loud enough to have their concerns voiced. Any risks need to be made visible to the main project stakeholders.

The role of the project sponsor cannot be completely separated from the role of the project manager. Both roles must work together to establish a robust process of communication from the start of the project.
A Good Start
The project sponsor and the project manager need to work closely together to ensure that the objectives of the project and the needs of the business are being met on a regular basis. Both will be judged on the outcome of the project. In many industries project managers are external consultants or contractors.  Project sponsors however are generally senior members of staff. As a project manager I always ask the project sponsor if the success of the project is a key goal for the sponsor as part of their annual performance.

Depending on the individual you are dealing with, the response can vary.If the question is posed in a subtle, professional manner there should be no issue. If the project in question is business critical then the success of the project should be included as part of the goals and objectives of the senior leadership team. (Tread carefully here)

What often follows in large multinational organisations today is that once the project has been pre-approved, set up and kicked off, the project sponsors tend to disappear. Their only interaction with the project manager is to have a brief discussion once a week on general project status.

This can result in the project sponsor believing that the job is done. Unfortunately, this can leave the project manager and project team somewhat isolated and unsupported. In addition to a regular project meeting the project manager should arrange a weekly 1 to 1 meeting with the project sponsor. This meeting should be informal in nature, face to face if possible, brief and to the point. It is an opportunity to build and develop a good relationship with your project sponsor.
Manage your sponsor
Meeting actions and minutes should be followed up swiftly and used to hold all parties accountable. If there is a pattern of cancelling meetings then it is your duty as the project manager to call a separate meeting with the project sponsor. Always come prepared. Professional people have no problem with accountability and ownership of tasks and commitments no matter what level they are at.

To run the project successfully you need the support of the sponsor. Issues may arise that require a decision by the main stakeholders. The project sponsor is your link to the stakeholders. Equally if the main stakeholders need to communicate a decision or a change request to the project team, then this information needs to be communicated formally by the project sponsor.
Be honest
If you hit a major crisis on the project or a major unforeseen event you must get this message to the main stakeholders at the earliest opportunity. Frame the issues in clear, concise language to minimise spreading panic. The project sponsor will want to know a few basic pieces of information such as:
Basic description of the issue or problem
The impact of the problem – based on Schedule, Budget and Risk
If relevant, the cause of the issue
Options going forward

Frame all potential crises in a simple form. A single slide or one page (A3 is a good method for this) will give the project sponsor the overview.When you are sure there is a crisis coming down the line, communicate the issue well in advance of the risk becoming a problem. This will give everyone involved time to absorb the knowledge before being put in a position where a decision is needed swiftly.
Openness, transparency and frank discussions are always effective for building relationships.
Play it by the book
All organizations have their own specific procedures for project management. These procedures will contain role descriptions. I recommend that you familiarize yourself with the roles and responsibilities for both the project manager and the project sponsor. Ensure that you frame your tasks and meetings around this framework.

If you are asked to do something that you perceive to be off-piste in terms of the roles and responsibilities, seek clarification from the project sponsor. If anything, this will communicate to them that you are following procedures and you are aware of your responsibilities.
In summary
The project sponsor is there to represent the client on the project and to support the project manager and project team in the delivery of the project.
The project sponsor has the same interests and concerns that the project manager does.
The stronger the relationship between the sponsor and manager is, the easier all issues will be overcome.
The project sponsor and the project manager must support each other and hold each other accountable.

If you are struggling to come to terms with repetitive project issues and you need some advice or support, contact us by email: with some background on your specific issue and we’ll be in touch.

Download our Project Team Motivation Guide Here


Essential Advice for a Project Manager

Project Managers
Many people aspire to become a project manager early in their career. There may also be a scenario where their company needs a project to be managed and therefore an opportunity presents itself. What normally happens is some training in the organization’s project management procedures followed by some formal training by a third party to receive a project management qualification. Although all training and certification in project management is important – is it enough to become a successful project manager?

What about the practical hands on mentoring and coaching required to master any skill or discipline? This is particularly important when it comes to project management. What about the person? Is the person suited to the rigours of a project management role.

Before you embark on the journey to be a project manager or before you recommend one of your colleagues here are some useful points and some soft skills that aren’t covered in any conventional project management training. These are focused on the practical side of delivering projects effectively and being a better project manager.

Choose the right team

Like any manager the ability to select the right team around you is very important. Working with people that you respect and trust can be the single most important element in effective management of any type. This only happens by understanding people, reading people and getting to know what makes people tick. Everyone is different and it is often beneficial to have a good mix of youth, experience and personalities in a project team. Above all they must respect and support each other. This may take some time to achieve but it can be a very effective culture if you get it right. The objective here is to encourage openness and transparency. A team that continually supports each other will become very effective and work well as a single unit.

Delegate everything that you can

Delegation is key to being an effective leader and project manager. You are not washing your hands of everything but you are ensuring that it gets done. Remain focused on the big picture in driving the project forward. Delegating tasks to individuals in the project team is a great way of testing people and proving that they can do the job. This is a development opportunity.
On occasion the project manager is required to roll up their sleeves. However, if this becomes a habit or the norm, it can be detrimental to the project and to your own development as a project manager.
Delegate where possible. It will keep your workload clear and provide you with the space to handle unplanned events which are commonplace on software projects.

Avoid meetings

There is a common trend in industry today where meetings take up a huge part of your working week, leaving a project manager with little time to actually get the work done. Think about the process. You attend a meeting and take an action.The more meetings you attend, the more the actions you acquire. At the end of the week, time is limited in which you can actually complete those actions. One week runs into the next and so on. The “To Do” list gets bigger and your time remains limited.

In an operational environment this can be manageable but in a project environment where you have a fixed time to complete the job, this can be a serious distraction particularly for the project manager. Meetings can drain your time and your energy and become a huge distraction from the objectives of a project.

At the beginning of a project set out the required governance and touch points. Be as practical as possible here. Why arrange a 1 hour meeting when you can give an update in 15 minutes?

There will always be a need for meetings but they should be brief, to the point and useful. If asked to attend a meeting that is not part of the regular project schedule, always challenge. When the invite arrives in, ask the questions – What is the objective of the meeting? What do you need from me? As the project manager am I needed for the full duration? Can I send a delegate in my place?

Avoid falling into the trap of multiple meetings that often go over the same ground. You must continually assess each meeting by asking – how will the project benefit from this meeting? Is it a priority over my time now?

Be good to your team

As the project manager one of your main functions is to protect your team. Protect them from politics, noise and distractions. Communication is key here. Insist on knowing all risks and challenges and assess these risks at the earliest convenience. (There is a fine line here between doing the right thing and encouraging whiners that can cry wolf on a project)

Ensure that your team are confident that if all issues are made transparent and there is no attempt to hide anything then you will support and protect the team through thick and thin. (Moving back to the delegation point here – you will not have the capacity to protect your team if you are continually bogged down in tasks that you could delegate.)

As project manager avoid being petty as a leader. If you spot a potential trap coming down the line, inform them discretely. Never take anyone on or vehemently challenge anyone in front of their peers. If you have an issue to discuss, always do this on a one to one basis. You will both appreciate it in the long run. They will learn to trust you more because of this.

A project manager should also ensure that each member of the team understands the contribution that they make to the project is valuable. Project teams are bound together by understanding that they have a contribution to make to a bigger goal than their own work. See our recent article on project team motivation Here

Talk like there is someone watching and listening

When discussing anything project or work related always talk like there is another person watching and listening. If your meeting was played back you, how do you want to perceived?
You must always come across as a professional. You should become disciplined in speaking like this in all professional discussions. It helps to build a very positive habit, one you will only acquire with practice.

Keep the ship on course

Avoid getting bogged down with every detail of the project. Leave the detail to the experts, the technical gurus and the business analysts. A project manager needs to stay focused on the key performance indicators of the project and the end game. The captain of a ship does not keep the ship on course by working in the engine room. The captain does most of his work on the bridge where he or she can maintain a clear view of the entire operation.

Over the course of my career I have observed that the most effective leaders and project managers generally only have 1 item on their desk at a time. Their workspace is uncluttered so they focus on the issue at hand. Each issue will have his or her undivided attention.


In summary an effective project manager will do the following:

1. Choose the right team around them
2. Avoid unnecessary meetings
3. Protect your team
4. Talk like there is someone else listening
5. Maintain a long term view to keep the ship on course

If you are struggling to come to terms with repetitive project issues and you need some advice or support, contact us by email: with some background on your specific issue and we’ll be in touch.

Download our Project Team Motivation Guide Here

project management

Controlling Project Scope and Preventing Creep

Project Scope Creep
Although our organization specializes in the rescuing and salvaging of troubled or failing projects, we spend a lot of time reviewing performance and results to understand where the project when wrong in the first instance. Saving a project before it needs to be saved is a much more positive experience than arriving in to try to rescue a project that has already clearly failed. Project scope creep is a major contributor to the failure of projects. Worst case scenario is that the project cannot be rescued.

One of the main causes of failure is scope creep. This is the slow but steady of expansion of the original scope of work without proper management of that scope. Management of the scope and management of the requests to increase scope are crucial if you are to be successful as a project manger.

As a Project manager have you ever been in apposition where you find scope creep has slowly started to have an impact on your project and the ability of your team to deliver on time and on budget?

How Scope Creep Starts
Verbal requests and meetings or water cooler conversations can often find you subconsciously accepting extra scope into your project.

This is particularly prevalent in software projects.
“Can I have another screen that……….?”
“Is it possible to have another field or value in that report that……?”
“Could you visualize that trend here……?”
“My team needs to have access to ……”
These will all add to your burden as a project manager.

This may be an important client that you do not wish to upset AND if it is an early engagement in the client /supplier relationship you do not want to come across as completely rigid.
If your default response is “No”, you may come across as negative and non co-operative.
This type of dilemma faces software and system project managers on a regular basis across all industries.

Project Scope Creep First Response
You need to fire the burden of work back onto the requester. (Often when you give the “easy rider” people work to do, nothing will happen!!! These are the people that make generic statements during meetings that have no intention other than to derail your work)
It is too easy for someone to state that they need something else included in the scope of work that they had not anticipated at the beginning when developing requirements. The easier you make their life, the more likely they are to keep making your life difficult.
Through trial, error and experience we have developed the following approach for responding to and managing such requests.

Project Scope Creep Questions
This is a simple response followed by a set of 4 direct questions.

Let us consider this request against the original scope of work and we will run it through the process of Project Change Management to see how we respond and manage this new information. However, before I do that we need to understand the following information:

1. What are you trying to achieve?
Please provide a written detailed description with graphics of exactly what is required. One of our Business Analysts can assist you in putting this together once you are clear what is needed.

2. What is the business requirement?
Business projects are typically executed to serve the needs of the business and therefore for every requirement there should be an underlying business issue being resolved or a need of the business being addressed.

3. What proof is required that will indicate that this requirement has been satisfied?
Software systems projects typically incorporate a User Acceptance Test whereby the vendor and the user can verify that the system serves the needs of the business and operates as expected. Both happy path and challenge tests should be considered here.

4. What are the steps, effort (and therefore cost) required to achieve this deliverable once the need is understood?
From the user perspective, they will need support from the project team to understand this impact. Involving the requester in assessing this impact is a very effective means of providing insight to the design and development process without being secretive. You will come across as being transparent.

These 4 questions if answered honestly will provide you with enough information to allow you make a clear assessment of the impact of what is being asked. You will also come across as structured, disciplined and professional.

Be careful not to fall into the trap of getting into arguments that you cannot win. i.e. this is too expensive, this was in the original scope etc. Keep to the facts and it is difficult for anyone to argue.

Project Scope Creep – Protect You and Your Team
On many occasions, I have had a finance director telling me that my estimate for the project was far too expensive only to find that they had no basis for the statement when challenged. I normally answer that statement with “We are expensive compared to what?” or “What is your expectation and what is the point of reference for this amount?” Always make a concerted effort to come across as non-confrontational. In many organizations confrontation is non-productive and only delays the inevitable. The inevitable in all instances of disagreement is that people come to a compromise and work together in order to move on.

Be careful not to fall into the trap of getting into arguments that you cannot win. i.e. this is too expensive, this was in the original scope etc. Keep to the facts and it is difficult for anyone to argue.

Project Scope Creep Conclusion
Project management is a contact sport and it is not for the faint hearted. This doesn’t mean however that you need to get badly injured every time you “lock horns” with an adversary (someone trying to make your project more difficult). Rugby can be a brutal contact sport but some of the most skillful athletes emerge from most games unscathed.

If you apply the approach described above I can guarantee that it will yield results.

If you are interested in further information you can download our Guide to project rescue here.

Need help?

If you are struggling to come to terms with repetitive project issues and you need some advice or support, contact us by email: with some background on your particular issue and we’ll be in touch.

Download our Project Team Motivation Guide Here

The PM v BA on a Project

The PM Role and BA Role on a Project

One of the main challenges in setting up a project is defining the roles. No two roles’ boundaries are as close and in some areas overlapping as the roles of the Project Manager and the Business Analyst.

Both the PM and BA play leadership roles—the PM for leading the team and delivering the solution and the BA for ensuring that the solution meets the business need and aligns with business and project objectives. And both roles, equally, are required for project success.

Business Analyst and Project Manager Comparison

I have a hard time deciding whether “versus” is a good word to compare the two roles. On one hand, the project manager and business analyst should be working collaboratively. On the other hand, the two roles do offer a healthy contest in project related decisions. The issue at hand is that there is a lot of uncertainty about the difference in these roles. The result of this uncertainty is cases where one person plays both roles without enough skills for each, and other cases where the team members do not know who is responsible for what. Hopefully, we can clear this up.

The core of the difference is in the title.
The Project Manager manages the project – “The application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to provide activities to meet the project requirements.”
The Business Analyst conducts business analysis – “The set of tasks and techniques used to work as a liaison among stakeholders to understand the structure, policies, and operations of an organization, and to recommend solutions that enable the organization to meet its goals.

Analysis of PM Role and BA Role

Stakeholder analysis is one good example of collaboration between project manager and business analyst. The business analyst focuses on stakeholders specific to the requirements and scope of the project. The project manager is looking beyond this to stakeholders whose interest is outside of the project scope. Perhaps the project manager is recording a competitor as a stakeholder to aid in the identification and tracking of potential project risk. The stakeholder analysis is a joint effort. Assign items resulting from the stakeholder analysis to either the project manager or business analyst based on stakeholder interest and influence.

Another point of confusion is in the PMBOK® task of Collecting Requirements. It looks as though the project manager is responsible for collecting requirements. When you look further at the PMBOK® tasks you also find Quality Control, yet we know the project team has members responsible for product quality. The intent of the PMBOK© is that project managers take responsibility to ensure activities for collecting requirements are covered in the project management plan and monitored along with the project. Not the project manager collects the requirements.

In either case the boundaries of the role definitions are often blurred. In any professional environment, I would expect that the Business Analyst can manage a small project if the need arose. Equally I would expect a Project manager to be able to stand in as a Business Analyst on a temporary basis or on a short assignment.
I would encourage this practice as this will give either discipline a strong sense of what it is like to walk in each other’s shoes. You will also build a team that is structured but flexible.

Project Management and Delivery

The PMBOK© and the BABOK® will not in themselves get a project delivered but they provide an excellent point of reference for organizing activates, managing people and creating schedules. The administration system behind these two BOKs is extremely effective in laying out a project at the onset and in running the project and reporting on progress.

People deliver projects, we mustn’t forget that.

I would love to know your thoughts on this topic.
Need help?

If you are struggling to come to terms with repetitive project issues and you need some advice or support, contact us by email: with some background on your particular issue and we’ll be in touch.

Download our Project Team Motivation Guide Here

The Project Mindset

The Project Mindset
I have been thinking about this topic for many years. Is the Project Mindset real? Is there a culture or a set of habits or behaviours that can define the Project Mindset?
What makes some people more suited to projects than others?
What are the traits to look for when selecting a team for a project that may not necessarily have direct project experience?

What basic knowledge sharing can happen so that the team members understand the project culture? Is this more intuition than knowledge?
Can operations and support staff run projects successfully? This scenario is becoming more prevalent in industry as operational staff in many organizations are increasingly expected to work on projects as they have intimate knowledge of the business processes impacted. Although operational targets are similar – they tend to be repeated so the team know how to achieve them and improve how they are done.

The Project
When we look at a project in general and key elements of a project, here are some of the ways in which a Project can differ from an operational environment.

• A Project has a beginning, it is not a pre-existing entity.
• A Project has an End – once the scope is delivered the project will finish.
• A Project is a temporary state – it will not continue for ever. Project teams, Rooms and Ways of Working are temporary.
• A Project is unique – even if the project is being delivered as part of a wider program – this project is unique to this team, this site and this installation. The same project will not be repeated.
• A Project is generally not part of business as usual. Processes, documents, tests systems are needed outside of normal business. Sometimes these need to be created.

Project Resources
Looking at the above features. The First two items, i.e. the Project has a beginning and an end are obvious to most people and need no explanation or introduction.

The other three elements Temporary State, Unique and Not Part of Business as Usual create some of the biggest challenges for Operations or Support teams that are suddenly thrust into projects or find themselves on a project team.

A Project is unique – even if the project is being delivered as part of a wider program – this project is unique to this team, this site and this installation. The same project will not be repeated.

Operations and Support teams are used to routine. Each week looks and feels that same, standard work practices, standard activity and a fixed meeting schedule for each week.
Project activity will vary as the pace changes from Kick off to Specification to Design to Build to Test to Qualification and into the Use phase.
Witch each of these project phases comes a different challenge, a different pace and the ability of the project resources to adjust the pace and change the level and type of activity is critical to the success of the project. This change of routine, pace and activity is what most operations based people can tend to struggle with for the first time they are working on a project.

Project Culture
A Project Manager or engineer with years of experience will instinctively know when to adopt a different pace within a project whereas the operations resources will just become comfortable with a way of working.
When the pace needs to change and changes some of these resources will adapt and deliver even if they are moving out of their comfort zone. Personally, I have always encouraged people to keep learning and to move out of that comfort zone from time to time – this experience will promote the growth of the individual.
As project leaders are we best to avoid this or to address this? Is prevention better than cure? i.e. If we know that someone has no project experience should we consider them for business-critical projects at all?
Or should we offer them advice, coaching and support to facilitate the transition from the “non- Project “ to a “Project” way of working. Are people capable of adopting the “Project Mindset”? This is an opportunity for you to develop as a leader by coaching someone into a position of confidence in their new role.


Team Selection
When selecting Operations based resources for projects the above items need to be considered.
Is the person suited to a change of pace, change of activity change of routine? Just asking the person directly may or may not yield the correct answer. You need to do a little research on the individuals as you would when recruiting for any role.
Find out if they have a track record of adopting change into their daily work. How have they responded in the past to new company policies, procedures, processes and systems? How have they responded to pressure situations in the past or to last-minute changes of direction?
You need to do your research when hiring project resources for several reasons but above everything else the biggest constraint is time. As projects generally have a fixed planned duration you may not have the time to take a risk on a resource.

In Summary
Moving from operations to project based work should be seen as an opportunity to grow as an individual and expand the capability of the person and the organization.
There are no hard and fast rules to selecting project resources but I look for the “Project Mindset”. I define this as a set of characteristics that will provide an indication of how a person will respond on a project.

How I summarize this is:

1. The ability to cope positively with change
2. A willingness to dig deep to complete a milestone
3. Does not tend to knee jerk react to every surprise that is encountered on a project
4. The Capability to move roles and/or work multiple roles to get the job done
5. The ability to switch off and chill after a period of high intensity working
6. Must not take any work-related discussions personally
7. Can keep focused on the end goal
8. Believe the end goal is possible
9. Can support the team to deliver the scope at all costs

Sounds easy, doesn’t it?
I would love to know your thoughts on this topic.
Need help?

If you are struggling to come to terms with repetitive project issues and you need some advice or support, contact us by email: with some background on your particular issue and we’ll be in touch.

Download our Project Team Motivation Guide Here