Public or Private?

When and where to correct bad employee behavior

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Recently, someone at my place of work sent an email to the entire organization. The email was well-intentioned, but it wasn’t work related. In fact, the subject matter could technically be considered an endorsement of a political candidate by the sender. A couple of other people responded to the email, some in favor of what the original person wrote, other against, and in each case replying to the entire organization. Over two hundred employees were, in a sense, spammed.

Work Breakdown Structures (WBS) – Quick Tip #6

Recognizing that Perfect is the Enemy of Good Enough

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While a well structured WBS is what you’re aiming for, the truth is that its organization doesn’t have to be 100% perfect; much more important is content than structure. Like many things in project management, laying out and structuring a WBS is a balancing act: it’s important to spend enough time up front to get to something that won’t have to be changed later, but the honest truth is that things will indeed likely change. Try to build in simplicity and flexibility in the WBS organization to accommodate these future changes. It’s also useful to utilize methods like Progressive Elaboration; i.e., worry about the big picture items during the first pass through the WBS creation, get those things nailed down, and then fill in details in each successive iteration.


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Work Breakdown Structures (WBS) – Quick Tip #5

Organize your WBS to align with your contracting strategies.

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After you have collected all of your individual scope elements, you should begin organizing these into logical groupings and categories. On my current project, we used butcher paper and note cards to shuffle and move things around on a big table and whiteboard. (Another method is to use so-called “mind-mapping” software to capture content. I’ve personally used products like coggle.it and MindNode for this purpose on small and large projects alike with very good success.) 

During the initial layout, management should give the engineering team almost complete carte blanche to sort and organize, but they should be given some over-arching guidance; namely, when grouping items together, ask your team to think in terms of contracting strategies. How you’re going to subdivide the procurements on a project should align as closely with your WBS as possible; you should strive to avoid components in a single procurement package spanning multiple major branches in a WBS tree.

Way back at the start of my current project, we were a small team, and the plan was to stay “lean” for a while and try to leverage involvement from industry and partner institutions. This meant larger than typical contracted sub-packages for combined design and fabrication for many of the subsystems. Even if we assumed we were going to self-perform a task in-house, we acted as if we were going to subcontract out that package when organizing the WBS; this kept us focused on ensuring discrete, standalone and self-contained “contract” packages for which we could readily write SOWs, specs, acceptance criteria, and interface control documents, as well as estimating cost and schedule.


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Work Breakdown Structures (WBS) – Quick Tip #2

Early Brainstorming of Scope—Independent of Structure

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Early on my current project, we held a series of WBS brainstorming sessions with the most experienced engineering and science members of our team. We did this at a retreat, away from our normal work location, so that we could focus and work uninterrupted. We started by creating individual lists of delivered elements and subsystems of the new telescope. We used dry erase white-boards, big sheets of “butcher paper,” and lots of yellow sticky notes and index cards to capture this information in real-time. Another beneficial tool other projects have used successfully is mind mapping software. The immediate focus should be on listing and capturing everything, not sorting and categorizing them; i.e., identifying all elements of work scope at this point was significantly more important than deciding with absolute certainty where those elements should reside in relation to each other in the WBS.


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Work Breakdown Structures (WBS) – Quick Tip #1

A WBS Should Include 100% of Project Scope

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While the layout of a WBS doesn’t need to be perfect, the content does. In other words, you absolutely have to account for 100% of the work scope of a project. You must strive to not leave anything out. If you do miss something that is discovered later, you’ll have to ask for additional money and/or time to perform that missing scope, you will have to draw upon contingency reserves to pay for it, and/or you’ll have to sacrifice other, lesser important work scope to pay for the newly discovered scope. None of these are good options.

One way to find the entirety of project scope is via the application of Progressive Elaboration. Hit the higher-level WBS elements first. Review to ensure you have all the big-picture scope accounted for, then drop down a level and subdivide and breakdown the scope. Rinse and repeat at each progressively lower level of the WBS until you get to the work package level. Visualize how a subsystem comes together; what are its constituent components, and what is and isn’t included. Start big and decompose.


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The Four Major Phases of an Engineering Project

Knowing what stage your project is in will help you focus your efforts correctly

Most projects transition through a series of distinct stages or phases from the time they start, through execution, and ultimately close-out. There are a number of different and equally valid ways to label these phases, but for consistency, we’re going to use the Project Management Institute (PMI) method as a basis. We won’t be following it precisely, but close enough that it will make sense for those with PMI backgrounds.

Four Phases

An Introduction to Work Breakdown Structures (WBS)

Create a WBS to help organize your project into manageable pieces

Many new project managers (and some experienced ones, too) struggle with the concept of a work breakdown structure, or WBS. They put the wrong types of things into their WBS. Or they put too many elements in it, or too few. Or they treat it as a schedule, or a plan, or a chronological listing of actions that have to be performed. Or perhaps they eschew the need for a WBS altogether. Fortunately, all of these are correctable mistakes.

A simplified Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) for the construction of an office building. This is just a partial WBS, and are many missing elements in this example, such as procurement of land, permitting, outfitting and furnishing, etc.

A simplified Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) for the construction of an office building. This is just a partial WBS, and are many missing elements in this example, such as procurement of land, permitting, outfitting and furnishing, etc.

PM Success Habit #7: Don’t Just Manage– Lead!

Effective leadership begins with character

Core Character Traits: Trustworthy, Decisive and Professional

“Say what you think, and do what you say.” –Dr. Tony Beasley, Director, National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO)

“Walk the walk, don’t just talk the talk.” – Dr. William Burgett, Deputy Project Manager, Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT)

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PM Success Habit #6: Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Listen, Disseminate, and Document -- In A Highly Organized Manner

Core Habits & Skills: Listening, Disseminating, Documenting, Information Management

“The problem with communications is the belief they have occurred.” – Dr. Matt Mountain, President, Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), past-Director of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) project.

One of the most commonly cited ingredients for success listed in the survey was successful communication.  A majority of the forty-three highly experienced PMs that we interviewed commented on the importance of constant, transparent & honest communication, disseminating information efficiently, follow-up and documenting as important job functions.

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PM Success Habit #5: Meeting Stakeholder Expectations

Engage & invest stakeholders in contributing to project success

Core Habits & Skills: Know Your Stakeholders and Consistently and Honestly Communicate With Them

“Ultimately, your key stakeholders decide whether you have been successful or not. You have to keep them informed so that you can mange their expectations. So the first order of business is to define the Who, What, When, and How’s related to these most important people. Who are your key stakeholders? What information do they need to know? When do they need to know it? And how do they want to receive that information?” – P. Gretchen, Program Manager, Honeywell

Most projects have attached to them many types and categories of external stakeholders. Chief among these in large scientific engineering projects are funding agencies, partner institutions, and the scientific community that will benefit from the project upon completion. As a whole, most experienced project managers understand that these stakeholders represent their “customer base,” and that their interpretation of how the project is or isn’t meeting its goals is paramount to the perception of project success that gets promulgated to the outside world. Said another way, if the qualitative expectations of its key stakeholders are not met, a project can be permanently tainted with an air of failure, even if its entire scope is delivered on time, within budget, and to the required quality specifications.

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Managing stakeholders–and their expectations–is a key tp project management success.