Thoughts - Top Characteristic for Leader/Manager in 2015

At a recent Innovation Conference in Toronto, a seminar focused on "What is the key characteristic/trait of a Successful Leader/Manager or PM in today's day and age".

It must be noted this continues to change as our business and personal worlds evolve.

I find this so interesting.  We can be successful, then this can creep up on you and you realize, you need to adapt because the world around you is different.

Humans have an internal desire to get into a routine, feel comfort and then move forward along a defined path.  Then once we get bored, we want a little change (but just a little!!!). Then back to the comfort of a path that we can see for miles and miles ahead.

Unfortunately, this world is gone.  Every quarter there is a global crisis, merger, bankruptcy, terrorist threat, new competitive product, disruptive technology, etc.  The train has left the station.

Okay, lets get back to the question at hand, what is the top characteristic/trait???

  • in the past, knowledge and technical competency seemed to be the top choice
  • then we moved to Communication, which is still very powerful
  • people have stated that the top choice is Leadership, however, that is too broad of a characteristic if you ask me
  • other top qualities have included:  quality focus, problem solving, compassion, passion, humour, ethics/honesty, confidence, etc.   

I am really taken by the one that was selected at the conference, it was:

In today's economy and market, information is readily available, global interconnectivity is exploding and technology continues to advancements (once you get comfortable with a tool or software, be ready to change it next year).

It is becoming less and less about what is delivered, or how it is delivered.  It is becoming more and more about learning from the activity, then continuing to move forward in a more modular, agile approach.

One can do all the risk planning they want, but there will always be road blocks that were unplanned. With a more interconnected world of business, these risks become higher in number and greater in impact.

I align this with project management,  This does not mean you are allowed to fail and screw up and just keep going. You must learn and not repeat.  You must also understand and balance the impacts of the risk events, if your project cannot handle the impact, then the risk must be mitigated.  You must create a project environment so when stuff happens, you must not stop.  You must find the positive, create an environment of innovation, trust, calm and collaboration, and then maximize the resources at hand (use what you got) and move forward!!!

Merriam-Webster defines Persistance as:


noun per·sis·tence \pər-ˈsis-tən(t)s, -ˈzis-\
: the quality that allows someone to continue doing something or trying to do something even though it is difficult or opposed by other people
: the state of occurring or existing beyond the usual, expected, or normal time

Tools - Charter

During Initiation you answer four key questions and the Charter is the formal document that records this:
·         why are we doing this project;
·         what at a high level is the project about;
·         who is leading the project?
·         how is the project aligned to the organization

NOTE: you may have estimates of how much and when it finishes, but put these into the Appendix to emphasize they are initial estimates that have not yet been properly analyzed

The documents developed at initiation may seem insignificant due to the lack of detail but these documents are critical.  They set the stage for planning and help identify key points that will be continually referenced back to throughout the life of the project.  Always ensure that these early documents involve the appropriate stakeholders to get strong buy in and accurate information that covers all angles of the project.  In the initiation stage the most significant document that is developed is the Charter.

At a minimum, a Charter should include the following headings:
A.  Names:
·         Project Name – give it something catchy, memorable, simple, fun, etc;
·         Sponsor – owns the project;
·         Project Manager – manages the project.

B. High Level Description:
·         Why are we doing the project;
·         What are we doing;
·         How is it aligned with the organization.

C.  Influencers: Risks, Assumptions, Constraints and Dependencies:
·         Document primary ones that are strong influencers;
·         May start to also document risks.

D.  Sign-off:
·         Sponsor at a minimum, may include PM and other senior stakeholders.

  1. Supporting Detail:
·         Depending on amount of information available, complexity of project, and stage the project is in (e.g. org chart, budget, milestones, etc.)

The Charter is a one time document, you want to have a stake in the sand from which you can now kick off the project and refer back to.

It is critical that strategic aspects are addressed in the Charter, don’t worry about the details, they will come out in the scope statement and the development of the WBS.  Once the charter is signed, then you begin the scope statement and it can have multiple sign offs and multiple versions as you get more details.  The Charter will not be perfect but it at least will get you moving down the road.   

TOOOOO often, we take too long to develop the charter and try to add too many details into it.  An analogy is that the Charter is a stake in sand.  Then the preliminary scope statement is driven into dirt.  Then Scope Statement is driven into Clay.  Then Project Plan with initial WBS is driven into compacted clay.  Then the baseline project plan is driven into wet concrete, etc.   As you move further along the project lifecycle, that is when the details come out and the changes should become less.

To develop a project charter, guidelines include:
1)    Ensure a Sponsor is identified and confirm their understanding of the project.
2)    Ensure the Sponsor and PM have clear roles and responsibilities.
3)    Allocate required SME (Subject Matter Experts) to the project and gain their commitment.
4)    Document the charter utilizing the standard headings from the organization’s template (or leverage a best practice template).
5)    Plan a Kick off meeting to launch aspects of the Charter or the entire charter itself to formally kick off the project.

Tools - EVM Formulas

EVM (earned value management) is often discussed but often not understood.

EVM combines the management of scope, schedule, and cost into an analytical set of formulas.  EVM can play a crucial role in answering management questions that are critical to the success of the project, such as:
  • are we ahead of or behind schedule;
  • how efficiently are we using our time;
  • when is the estimated completion date;
  • how efficiently are we using resources;
  • at this point in time are we under or over budget;
  • what is the remaining work estimated to cost;
  • what is the entire project estimated to cost;
  • how much will we be under or over budget?

If the project EVM results show that the project is behind schedule or over budget, the project manager can use the EVM methodology to help identify:
  • where problems are occurring;
  • whether the problems are critical or not;
  • what it will take to get the project back on track.

Organizations have such confidence in the EVM method that they require it as mandatory trending and reporting starting as soon as the project has resources.  The attraction to the use of the earned value is that it provides accurate measurements of performance as early as 15 percent into the project.  With an accurate “early warning” signal, actions can be taken by a project manager to avoid final cost and schedule over runs.

Earned value management involves calculating three independent yet related variables.  These include:

·         Planned Value (PV) - describes how far along a project is supposed to be at any given point in the project schedule. It is a numeric reflection of the budgeted work that is scheduled to be performed, and it is the established baseline (also known as the performance measurement baseline) against which the actual progress of the project is measured. Once it is established, this baseline may change only to reflect cost and schedule changes necessitated by changes in the scope of work. PV is also known as the Budgeted Cost for Work Scheduled (BCWS).

·         Earned Value (EV) is a snapshot of a project at a given point in time that reflects the amount of work that has actually been accomplished, expressed as the planned value for that work.  EV is also known as the Budgeted Cost for Work Performed (BCWP).

·         Actual Cost (AC) is an indication of the level of resources that have been expended to achieve the actual work performed to date or in a time period.  AC is also known as the Actual Cost of Work Performed (ACWP).

EVM (earned value management) formulas include:

Earned value if not provided:
  • EV = % Complete x PV

Schedule variance and cost variance can be calculated by:
·         SV = EV – PV
·         CV = EV – AC
Note: negatives are unfavourable, positives are favourable

Variance at completion can be calculated by:
·         VAC = BAC – EAC (budget at completion – estimate at completion)
Note: negatives are unfavourable, positives are favourable

Schedule performance index and cost performance index can be measured by:
  • SPI = EV / PV
  • CPI = EV / AC
Note: if SPI > 1 this is good (ahead of schedule) or < 1 behind schedule, if CPI is > 1 this is good (under budget) or < 1 over budget

Estimate at completion can be measured by:
Note:  ETC is estimate to complete, BAC is budget at completion)
  • EAC = AC + ETC (original estimates were flawed and a new estimate is needed)
  • EAC = AC + (BAC – EV) (variances will not follow the trend to date, future performance will not be the same as the past)
  • EAC = AC + [(BAC – EV) / CPI]
variances will follow similar trend to date, future performance will be the same as all past performance
  • EAC = AC + [(BAC – EV) / ((EV+ EV+ EVk) / (AC+ AC+ ACk))]
Future cost performance will be the same as the last three measurement periods (i, j, k)
  • EAC = AC + [(BAC – EV) / (CPI x SPI)]
Future cost performance will be influenced additionally by past schedule performance
  • EAC = AC + [(BAC – EV) / (.8 CPI + .2 SPI)]
Future cost performance will be influenced jointly in some proportion by both indices

Emerging EVM practice formulas:
  • SV(t) = PT - ET (planned time - elapsed time)
  • SPI(t) = PT / ET
Note:  this method gives another perspective for projects that run over schedule and do not want only a work based method to evaluate schedule

IF this all sounds complicated, it is because it can be.  So until you start to feel comfortable, do not over do it.  Stick to accounting basics.

Understand what your stakeholders need to know (ask them if unsure) and understand what you need to know and report on.

At a minimum, any point in time you must have in your back pocket, info that can be communicated related to (and ensure the entire team knows this):

1 - are you ahead or behind schedule
2 - what percentage are you ahead or behind schedule
3 - what was original and new estimated end date

1 - are you ahead or behind in budget
2 - what percentage are you ahead or behind in budget
3 - what was original and new estimated budget

For more information regarding EVM methodology, you can refer to the Practice Standard for Earned Value Management (2nd Ed.), published by the Project Management Institute (PMI).

Also, the two links listed below provide more details and understanding related to the EVM methodologies. You will find a deeper level of detail and examples.