Better Meetings, Faster Projects, Lower Risk

 

Better Meetings

Andy will help you to improve the efficiency, the enjoyment, and the satisfaction of your meetings and workshops. Through good planning and facilitation, all voices will be heard, progress made towards objectives, and clear actions captured.

For more information click here

Faster Projects

Andy will help you to deliver your project in full, in less time, and with less stress.

For more information click here

For project management training click here

Lower Risk

Andy will help you to reduce the likelihood things going wrong in your projects.

For more information click here

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Why are projects late? What can we do about it?

It’s a sad fact that many, if not most, projects are late. This usually also means budget overspend, lost opportunity, damage to reputation, and employee stress.

Projects are almost never early.

There are many reasons why projects are late, which mostly boil down to four headings:

Unpredictability of task time

The time taken to achieve a certain task has to be predicted in advance, and these estimates are often overly-optimistic.

Availability of resources and queueing

Project networks are often worked out in isolation, and assume that the people will be available to do their tasks without first completing other work, and without multitasking.

Unexpected tasks

Even with good planning, and consideration of what might happen, as the project unfolds it often becomes clear that some substantial tasks have been overlooked.

Unexpected events

Things happen that derail the project, e.g. competitor activity, industrial action, the weather, illness, etc.

So what are the possible solutions?

Task times can be estimated with more accuracy by gathering data from past projects, how long things actually took to complete. However, we must resist the temptation of padding out the timings, as human nature ensures that the work will expand to fill the time available.

Unexpected tasks and events can be predicted and mitigated to some extent if the project has a robust risk management plan. Expect the unexpected, and draft an action plan to avoid or cope with the issue, and then decide whether to invoke it depending on the likelihood and severity of the risk.

That leaves us with resourcing. The higher the utilisation rate (busyness) of critical resources (people doing tasks on the critical path) the slower the project will be. This is counter-intuitive, as you might think that the more utilised people are, the more work the development team will complete.

Wrong

If critical resources are too busy then work just builds up in a queue waiting to be done. Or, worse still, people start more tasks and try to complete them in parallel: multitasking. Despite the perception that this is a useful human trait, in fact it slows everything down, as it takes time to switch from one task to another, and get up-and-running again.

A utilisation rate of 60-70% will help to ensure that critical tasks do not wait to be started, and are completed rapidly. Projects will get completed sooner, and the team members will suffer less stress along the way.

Meeting Etiquette

We all spend too much time in meetings. We accept that they are essential, yet most of them are very inefficient. Almost all business endeavours would therefore benefit from all of us following some simple rules of etiquette.

Of course, we need to be sure we need a meeting in the first place. Peter Drucker had quite an extreme view of meetings, though we know there is some truth in the quote below.

Drucker quote

So, for now, let’s accept that the meeting is essential. If we are going to disrupt our working day and walk along to, or dial in to, a real or virtual (or hybrid) meeting, we should at least all be courteous, and follow some simple, common sense rules.

 

Before the Meeting

Chair:

•      Plan meetings to start on the hour (or half hour) & finish at 5 to (or 25 past) the hour. This helps to avoid people being late for their next meeting

•      Provide an objective for each meeting and an agenda. Regular meetings with a standard agenda tend to use up time covering marginal updates

•      Only invite people who are essential to the purpose of the meeting

•      If a slide deck is to be presented, circulate (the link) by email just prior to meeting in case the technology fails

Attendees:

•      If you cannot attend, decline the invitation

•      Don’t forward the invitation without consulting the chair

•      Test the quality of devices (headset, speakerphone, microphone, screen share) prior to the call and have an alternate phone in standby

•      Be in a quiet environment

During the Meeting

Chair:

•      Start the meeting on time if possible, and no later than 2 min after. This rewards those who arrive on time, and helps to ensure the meeting can finish on time

•      Don’t overdo the roll call as this can waste time. If it is necessary, for people on the telephone, do it once only

•      Ensure the meeting progresses, and finish on time

•      If necessary, interrupt & steer long or off-topic discussions

•      Ensure all people get a chance to talk, and if necessary prompt people

•      Briefly run through the key actions agreed

Attendees:

•      Dial-in on time, and identify yourself by name

•      Use the mute button if not speaking

•      If most people know each others’ voices, there is no need to say your name before you speak

•      Speak clearly into the microphone, as if everyone is virtual, even if sitting next to you; speak clearly, and don’t interrupt

•      Be concise, constructive, build on others’ opinions, and be respectful

•      All attendees are allowed to leave the meeting at the planned finish time

After the Meeting

Chair:

•      Thank everyone for their attendance, and summarise decisions made

•      Circulate the actions agreed

•      State the date of the next meeting, where appropriate

Attendees:

•      Perform the actions assigned to you, and do not wait to be chased.

Here is a summary of the key rules (PDF): Meeting etiquette

Print it out, laminate it, and use it. Please.

Meeting etiquette summary with ACF footerIf you can agree to these rules of etiquette in your organisation, you can then politely hold each other to account. Your meetings will see a dramatic rise in efficiency and even enjoyment, and your tasks and projects will get completed sooner.

 

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite quotes…

Smiles quote

 

 

 

 

With thanks to Mike Griffin for his input to an earlier version of these rules.

Swansea Art Gallery Reopens after Long Delay

The Glynn Vivian Art Gallery in Swansea, Wales, has finally reopened after a major refurbishment project that was initially scheduled to take 65 weeks, but took 5 years. The problems began early, and nearly two years into the revamp (already late at that point) the contractor Opco Construction went into administration, apparently due to cash-flow issues, with the loss of 55 jobs. Perhaps Opco had been over-optimistic in its analysis of the work involved, and the council had been seduced by a low quote.

Whatever the cause, a new tendering process took place and work restarted in March 2014 with the expectation of a re-opening of the gallery in spring 2015. But this also proved to be wishful thinking as further delays were apparently caused by the gallery’s Grade II-listed status “and the difficulties working on a busy city centre site.” Of course, both these factors were known at the (re-)tendering stage and should have been adequately factored in.

Swansea Council, and the various contractors involved, have learned some lessons in project management the hard way.

The good news is that this excellent art gallery, opened in 1911 following an endowment and collection donation from Richard Glynn Vivian, and then extended in 1974, has now been improved and re-opened for everyone to enjoy.

The outstanding permanent collection has been augmented by a special exhibition of 10 Leonardo da Vinci drawings, loaned from the Royal Collection.

http://www.swansea.gov.uk/glynnvivian

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-37642916

Japanese spacecraft doomed by software error

On 17th February 2016 Japan’s 31 billion Yen (£200 million) astronomical satellite, Hitomi, was successfully launched. Five weeks later the satellite attempted to shift its focus from the Crab Nebula to the Markarian 205 galaxy. But the gyroscopes reported an incorrect rate of rotation, which onboard motors tried to correct. The effect was to make the spacecraft spin faster and faster. Safe mode was automatically deployed, and thrusters attempted to slow the rotation. This is the point at which the software error sealed the fate of the craft that promised to herald a new era of X-ray astronomy. Rather than slow the rotation, the thrusters made it spin out of control.

It transpired that the software containing the error had been uploaded only a few weeks before the launch, and had not been fully tested.

Clearly, such an important and expensive space project would have had extensive risk management in place. All likely eventualities would have been predicted and allowed for. Everything would have been tested, and tested again. But then a late change to some software code had to be done, and the rigour of earlier risk protocols was apparently not followed. A subroutine intended to slow the rotation of the satellite in fact made it accelerate.

This example shows that it is essential that the risk management of a project should continue with the same vigour until the very end of the project.

(Ref: Nature, 5th May 2016, p18-19)

Contingency – or is it?

On 30th April 2016 the inaugural Women’s Tour de Yorkshire cycle race took place. The richest race on the women’s calendar had attracted the best cyclists and some keen sponsors. The whole event, from Otley to Doncaster, was to have been televised by ASO, the organisers of the Tour de France. But the light aircraft that was needed to transmit the live pictures from motorbike and helicopter to the broadcasting van at Doncaster developed a fault and had to land, thankfully safely.

But there was no effective back-up. The spare plane was in France, and not ready to go. So the entire women’s race, and the first half of the men’s, was not broadcast. Therefore the question worth considering, from a risk management point of view, is this: did ASO think that a spare plane sat on the ground in France was really a back-up? Or did they contemplate having the plane on stand-by in Yorkshire, but decided against it because of the cost? After all, the plane that developed the fault had been used many times before to relay Tour de France broadcasts. Was it a conscious financial decision? Or an error in believing that a contingency was in place?

Either way, the historic women’s race was not broadcast across the world, though it was thoroughly enjoyed by the thousands of spectators lining the roads of Yorkshire.