My project management bucket list

For those of you unclear on the concept, a bucket list captures the inventory of activities you’d like to perform or experience before you “kick the bucket”.  The process of creating a bucket list aligns well (though morbidly!) with a basic tenet of project management that to fail to plan is to plan to fail.

After almost fifteen years of managing, observing, triaging and terminating projects I thought it would be a good idea to put together my bucket list of project management practices that I’d like to employ effectively “in the field” as opposed to in a PM course or Gedankenexperiment.  Those of you that have been fortunate enough to perform most of these on real projects might find that these are plebeian objectives, but I’d wager that many current project management practitioners would craft similar lists.

1. Monte Carlo simulation:  for many of us, we learned about this exotically named technique when taking a class on risk management or while studying for our PMP certifications.  Monte Carlo is a good way to understand the range of possible outcomes for our projects and to help to gain confidence in achieving certain targets, but the effort involved in structuring a schedule or cost model to effectively use Monte Carlo, the need for good quality estimates of work effort and resource availability, and the maturity level required of senior stakeholders to accept the (sometimes) unsettling information it can convey tends to impact its utility to many projects.

2. PERT estimation: the principles are sound – incorporate the potential variances for an activity into the determination of a reasonable estimate.  Unfortunately, the biases of the people being asked to provide the best-case, worst-case, expected-case values can significantly skew the outcomes.  Beyond this, if the senior stakeholders who receive the final estimates are operating a low level of project management maturity or simply don’t trust the estimates provided by the team members, the end result of trying to consistently apply PERT estimation is worse than simply pulling estimates out of thin air.

3. Opportunity risk management: conceptually, we can all recognize that the manifestation of uncertainty on our projects can be both positive and negative, but the effort involved in exploiting, sharing, enhancing or actively accepting positive risks can be hard to “sell” to senior management, and (as I wrote in a previous article) the natural biases that team members and the project manager might exhibit towards threats might make it hard for them to fully consider opportunities.

4. Critical chain method: I’ve written frequently about the impacts of poor resource availability and work effort estimation on project schedule predictability so one would think that Critical Chain would be a great method of addressing this.  Unfortunately, the effort involved in educating senior stakeholders that buffers are not just “fat to be cut” and in educating team members to focus on providing reasonable, expected effort estimates instead of padded estimates usually make it difficult if not impossible to use this method in most environments.

Does this match your bucket list?  If not, feel free to share!

Categories: Project Management | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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