Published here February, 2007.  

Introduction | Book Structure | What We Liked: Content
What We Liked: WBS & PMO | Downside | Summary

What We Liked - Content


The text is well written in a crisp style, and with a little lighthearted humor. For example, in Planning the Project, Jolyon observes:

"The dictum that 'failing to plan is planning to fail' is better poetry than advice. While nobody plans to fail, simply creating a plan is no guarantee of success. Planning divorced from reality of the project is worse than no planning because it gives the illusion of control. A less lyrical, but more accurate statement is 'Poor planning guarantees failure.' "[3]

Or this one under "Identifying Project Risks":

"If there is one risk that is universally the most dangerous for all projects, it is the following: Corporate management views the project manager's risk analysis as alarmist and will not take the risks seriously until they materialize."[4]

The text is also well illustrated with many simple descriptive examples so that it is easy to follow. Where lists of check items are called for, these are provided as bulleted lists or exhibits, some of which are quite long. In this way, the book provides an excellent reference source without interrupting the flow of content for those reading it as a study text.

What If?

We have already mentioned the presence of "What if?" scenarios in the text. These vignettes act to illustrate the advice being dispensed by the author and are most helpful. In fact, so helpful that it would be nice to see a list of them following the Table of Contents, for quick and easy reference. Here are a couple of examples both of which situations are not uncommon.

What If?
Your Estimators Present You with Estimates That You Think Are Too Low

If your estimates are low, your project will overrun its schedule and budget, and you and your team will become frustrated in trying to meet an impossible set of targets.
Clarify in your own mind why you think the estimates are low. This could be because of your experience on similar projects or because you know that this particular estimator is always optimistic. Present your concerns to the estimator and ask for a commitment to complete the work within the estimate. If the estimator declines to change the estimates but fails to convince you that they are achievable, prepare your project plan using your higher estimates. However, if during the project you can assign the work to the estimator, use the lower estimates that you were given. If the team member meets the lower schedule, you will have come in under budget. If not, your schedule will accommodate the 'slippage', and you will have some background to better judge future estimates.[5]

Note that the estimator in this example is one of the production team, not a trained estimator. Few production people are given instruction on how to estimate - it's not recognized as a necessary part of their skill set. If they were given training, perhaps they might do better. We have experienced this situation first hand. Given that the workers do not normally account for such things as progress meetings, coordination, personal administration, coffee and washroom breaks, to say nothing of supervision overhead, or rework arising from sheer fatigue, we have found that a useful multiplier is "three". Yes, three!

What If?
The Client Does Not Agree to Prepare an Acceptance Test Plan

You will find it extremely difficult to get project signoff. You need to determine why the client is reluctant.
If the client is reluctant because of concerns about how to prepare a test plan, offer to show the client some samples of acceptance plans for similar projects or to provide some guidance to the client's resources in preparing the plan. If the client is reluctant because there are not sufficient resources, you can offer to refer the client to an experienced test-script writer, either internal or external. If the client is reluctant because he or she does not want to get locked in to an acceptance process, this is a symptom that the client is not comfortable with the defined scope and does not want to be committed to specifics. You may need to involve your management to negotiate with the client.[6]

In our own experience, the client will not agree to more than cursory testing unless it is written into the original agreement for the project. Indeed, the "cursory testing" may be no more than a period of "trial use and comment" - after which expect more work! Serious testing requires serious quality control expertise that the client often does not have, so following Jolyon's advice is most important.

If after doing so, the client will still not agree, then we suggest that you, as project manager, should explain that "client satisfaction" is vital to the success of your project and, of course, in his or her best interests. So, then pose the question: "Under what conditions would s/he be prepared to undertake some form of review/testing and sign off on the project deliverable?" We cannot second-guess an answer that may, or may not, indicate an increase in scope, but if there is total reluctance, it is indeed time to refer such a recalcitrant client to higher management!

Book Structure  Book Structure

3. Ibid, p95
4. Ibid, p96
5. Ibid, pp144-145
6. Ibid, pp179-180
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