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Critical Path Calculations: Starting at 0 or 1

  • By: pcadmin on 01 Jun 2013

Are you confused if you should start with 0 or 1 for critical path calculations? In short, both methods lead to the same results. Once you understand the reasoning behind each method, it will be your choice which one you find easier and faster for calculations. PMI will not trick you if you prefer one over the other, but it’s a good idea to know the logic behind each method.

Let’s use a very simple network diagram to create a critical path using both the methods.

Figure 1: Network Diagram

Let’s start with 0 as the ES of activity A and do a forward and backward pass. As shown below, the critical path is A-B-C-G and the total float for non-critical activities are D-8, E-8, and F-2.

 

Figure 2: Critical Path using 0 start

Similarly, starting with 1 as the ES of activity A and doing a forward and backward pass as shown below leads to the same results.

 

Figure 3: Critical Path using 1 start

So, what’s the difference in the logic?

While creating a network diagram it’s assumed the first task will begin on the morning of day 1 and finish by the evening (or end of day) of the finish date. The following task (FS relationship) will begin on the morning of the next day. For instance in Figure 3, A’s ES is the morning of day 1 and EF is the evening (or end of day) of day 3. So the next tasks, B, D, & F, start on the morning of day 4 and so on.

So, if we only know the ES and EF, we can see the task duration will be = EF – ES+1

That is the simple logic when we start with 1!

In order to avoid the confusion of thinking in terms of beginning and ending on a particular day on each task, some authors and trainers use 0 as the start of a critical path. With 0 as the ES of the first task, EF is simply equal to ES+duration. The ES of the following task (assuming FS relationship) is simply the EF of the preceding task and so on.

With this method, the task duration is simply= EF – ES.

Solving Situational Questions

  • By: pcadmin on 29 May 2013

Situational questions are the most challenging question type on the PMP exam that test your ability to apply PMBOK concepts in light of your real world experience and best judgement. These questions tend to be wordy and need some practice to be able to identify the real PROBLEM/PROCESS/SCENARIO being tested.

A little practice and a careful strategy to weed out unnecessary information will help you master this question type. Below is my strategy to tackle such questions:

Step 1 – Carefully read the full question and try to focus on the real PROBLEM/PROCESS/SCENARIO being tested. Ignore all the extraneous information and description.

Step 2 – Read all the answer choices and try to eliminate choices that are clearly irrelevant and out of context for the question. Usually, it’s very easy to eliminate 1-2 choices.

Step 3 – Read the remaining choices carefully and decide which one best answers the question. This is where you own experience as a project manager and the ability to apply PMBOK concepts in real scenarios comes handy.

Let’s use our strategy to tackle a situational question:

You are a Project Manager on a new condo development project. This is the first major condo project your company is doing which specializes in townhouse development projects. The project has already gone through several changes and is 6 months delayed from its original advertised move in date. In a recent status update meeting, team lead for door design elements informed you that a major design element (door knobs) was changed as the original door knobs could not be delivered on time due to delays in shipping from China. The team lead mentions that the difference between the knobs is not even noticeable and will not affect cost or schedule in any way. What should you do next?

  1. Complement the team lead for being proactive and taking initiative in implementing a corrective action.
  2. Immediately inform the stakeholders, check for any impacts to scope, schedule, and cost, and update project documents accordingly.
  3. Check if the risk response strategy was correctly implemented and update the risk register.
  4. Demote the team leader as he undermined your authority and didn’t consult you before approving the change.

     

Step 1 

The information about the project is just extraneous information; the comment about project already being delayed for 6 months is also extraneous and not useful for answering the real question, just there to confuse you and make your thoughts go on a tangent.

So what is the real question here?

Simply put, a change was implemented without the knowledge of the project manager. What should a project manager do in this case? Stating a question in your own words can help a lot in visualizing the situation and coming up with an answer.

Before even going to the answer choices, let’s think if this situation occurs in a real project at your work, what is the best strategy? Because a change was implemented without the PM’s knowledge, are you thinking we should do an impact analysis and let the stakeholders know immediately? Did you consider the change may have been a risk response to an identified risk trigger?

Read on!

Step 2 

Read the answer choices and try to eliminate answers that are either irrelevant or doesn’t address the real question. In the above example, choices 1 and 4 are clearly out of context. You can’t award or reprimand a team lead for each change carried out correctly/incorrectly.

Even if you were to award a team member for anything, your HR plan will guide you on when and how. Always remember, you have already made all these decisions in your PM plan.

So, that leaves us with answers 2 & 3 as possible choices.

Let’s move on to Step 3.

Step 3 

Are you thinking answer 2 is the correct choice?

If there wasn’t answer 3, 2 would have been correct. But, as a seasoned PM, didn’t you do a good job with risk management? Your team lead would have mentioned this as a risk, listed a risk response strategy, and will be the risk owner. Another hint that a risk was already identified is the use of the word “major” in “…major design element…”.

As the risk event occurred, the team lead implemented the documented risk response strategy and made sure there weren’t any secondary risks. You can check the effectiveness of the risk response strategy and update the risk register and record any secondary risks.

Are you thinking, we should still let the stakeholders know? You are correct, after implementing the risk response for change to a major design element, it’s always a good idea to let the relevant stakeholders know as detailed in the Communication Plan.

Good luck with your practice!

Project Benefits Management

  • By: pcadmin on 27 May 2013

APMG(1) has recently published a document on benefits management in the project environment. Many project management standards identify that benefits resulting from a project should be identified at the start of a project in measurable criteria usually in a business case. The business case is often written by the project manager. But the benefits resulting from projects can only be measured after a project is finished, sometimes long after a project is finished. Often the project manager is no longer around to take responsibility for the achievement or non-achievement of those benefits.

This results in an interesting scenario. A project manager is interested in a project, wants to see it implemented as managing it provides income and may add to the project manager’s resume and qualifications, but shortly after its closing, the project manager moves on to another project. This project manager is charged with writing the business case, and obviously will write it in such a way that the benefits are positive and the project is approved. But this same project manager is not really responsible for the business case, as it is unlikely they will be around long enough to answer for achievement of those benefits.

International development projects struggle with this contradiction. Aid is granted to projects though an agency. We, the taxpayer, would like to ensure that our money is well-spent. So the organizations responsible for assigning that aid money, such as CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency), develop mechanisms to ensure that the granted funds achieve results. They call it “Results-Based Management” (RBM). But I question the effectiveness of the “RBM” approach.

CIDA says on their website that the RBM is “a way of working that looks beyond activities and outputs to focus on actual results; the outcomes of projects and programs.” CIDA has developed a comprehensive toolkit for measuring those outcomes and risks to the outcomes. Unfortunately, most of those outcomes cannot be measured until a project is near its end or completed and a project manager has moved on to another project, or at least not until a good portion of money has been spent. Okay – perhaps success is measured earlier, but I suspect that those measures are skewed to favour approval to keep going, for the same reasons a business case is often skewed to approve a project. One of the issues with the CIDA process is that it seems that it was written without any project management expertise. There is no mention of measuring project performance using well-accepted project management tools, such as earned value, schedule baselines, work breakdown structure, etc.

But benefits, outcomes, results do need to measured and someone needs to be accountable for their achievement. This is one element of a strong governance framework. The project “owner”, the person or organization requesting, championing and/or funding the project can be the only logical answer. This person or group are responsible for identification of benefits and project selection, as they are typically attached to the outcomes over the long-term. Whoever this is needs to be identified in the governance framework, named in the project, and continuously involved in the project, providing oversight and direction. This is the missing link in many project management methodologies and would close one of the gaps in the Results-Based Management framework.

(1) APMG International is the accrediting body for the UK Government’s Office of Government Commerce Best Practice guidance portfolio.

PMP Exam and Question Types

  • By: pcadmin on 16 May 2013

The PMP examination is a 4 hour exam comprised of 200 multiple-choice questions. Out of these 200 questions, only 175 are used to determine your final score; 25 questions are not counted towards your score and are considered “pretest questions”. PMI uses these pretest questions to test out new questions for future exams.

The exam is computer based and conducted at Prometric Testing centers. In limited circumstances, a paper based exam is also offered.

It usually takes candidates less than the allotted four hours to complete the exam. There are no scheduled breaks during the exam, although you are allowed to take a break if needed. If you take a break during the exam, your exam clock continues to count down.

The examination is preceded by a tutorial and followed by a survey, both of which are optional and both of which can take up to 15 minutes to complete. The time used to complete the tutorial and survey is not included in the examination time of four hours.

Tips and tricks

  • There is no way to know which of the 25 questions are pretest. So, try your best to answer all 200 questions.
  • The 15 minute tutorial should be used to familiarize yourself with the testing interface. It usually takes a couple of minutes to go through the tutorial. Some candidates use this time to do a brain dump of formulas and key terms to their scratch papers.

Question Types:

The following are some major categories of questions on the PMP exam, some questions may be a combination of different types:

  • Situational/Scenario
  • Formula/Calculation
  • ITTOs/Theory/Definitions
  • Interpretation

Situational/Scenario: The most challenging question type that tests your ability to apply PMBOK concepts in light of your real world experience and best judgement. These questions tend to be wordy and need some practice to be able to identify the real PROBLEM/PROCESS/SCENARIO being tested.

Sample Question 1: You are a Project Manager on a new Condo Development project. This is the first major condo project your company is doing which specializes in townhouse development projects. The project has already gone through several changes and is 6 months delayed from its original advertised move in date. In a recent status update meeting, team lead for door design elements informed you that a major design element (door knobs) was changed as the original door knobs could not be delivered on time due to delays in shipping from China. The team lead mentions the difference between the knobs is not noticeable and will not affect cost or schedule in any way. What should you do next?

  1. Reward the team lead with a bonus for being proactive and taking initiative in implementing a corrective action.
  2. Immediately inform the stakeholders, and check for any impacts to scope, schedule, and cost.
  3. Check if the risk response strategy was correctly implemented and update the risk register.
  4. Demote the team leader as he undermined your authority and didn’t consult with you before approving the change.

Formula/Calculation: Questions that require using formulas and calculations. They are usually simple, but read the question carefully.

Sample Question 2: A new team member was just added to your present team of 10 including yourself as the PM. There will be                       additional lines of communication.

  1. 55
  2. 45
  3. 10
  4. 100

ITTOs/Theory/Definitions: Questions directly from the PMBOK Guide. Some questions will be directly related to ITTOs, some may require knowledge of process groups and sequence of activities, and some related to understanding key definitions.

Sample Question 3: You are evaluating the proposals from various vendors for a database upgrade project. You are in which process?

  1. Plan Procurement
  2. Conduct Procurement
  3. Monitor and Control Project
  4. Manage Communications

Interpretation: These questions will test your ability to interpret information or a calculation and to use such information for monitoring and controlling the project.

Sample Question 4: Your project is 30% complete, EV = $50,000; AC = $80,000; and, BAC = $120,000. The project is:

  1. Under budget and ahead of schedule
  2. Over budget but ahead of schedule
  3. Under budget but behind schedule
  4. Over budget and behind schedule

 

Answers: Q1 – A3; Q2 – A3; Q3 – A2; Q4 – A2

PMP Application Process

  • By: pcadmin on 12 May 2013

Now that you are convinced that PMP is a worthwhile effort with a positive ROI, let’s get started with the tedious task of putting together your PMP application.

To make your life easier, download one of the free templates available out there to organize your application and summarize your experience. Here is one that is very comprehensive: http://procept.com/spreadsheet.html

Tips and tricks:

  • Summarizing your project management tasks in 300-500 words can sometime seem like a frustrating task. My suggestion is to summarize the main project and its product, service, or result in a few words, and then summarize the main tasks and your role during each of the project management process group – initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and control, and closing. Below is an example to help you with your summary. Always remember, it never hurts to use PMBOK terms and terminology while aspiring for a PMP.
    • “Project Manager for the selection and implementation of a CRM.
    • Led a team of business analyst, sales executives, and vendor consultants.
    • Conducted project feasibility and led RFP development.
    • Created a project plan including a WBS, schedule, cost, responsibility matrix, risk management, vendor management, and change management plan.
    • Used Earned Value to track project against baseline.
    • Provided monthly progress report to Project Sponsor.
    • Closed project with a lessons learned report and plan for training the staff in CRM.”
  • Even though overlapping months will be counted only once towards your 3 (or 5) year experience, all overlapping experience hours from multiple projects within a particular month will be counted. In other words, if in a year you were working on two projects concurrently, only 1 year will be counted towards the 3 (or 5) year requirement; however, you can count the hours from both the overlapping projects towards the 4500 hr (or 7500 hr) requirement. Be careful, there are only 24 hrs in a day, don’t try to claim 25hrs (or for that matter 16hrs) a day working on two projects, PMI will catch it!
  • Save all your project plans, documents, WBSs, emails, etc in a folder to be able to use it in case your application gets audited. Start thinking about risk management!
  • Ensure agreement from your primary contact (manager, sponsor, or client) on the project summary and the number of hours allocated to each process group. They could be your best friend and ally in case of an audit.   Another risk mitigated!

PMP Application Process

Register for a new account with the PMI to use their online application process: http://www.pmi.org/Certification/Project-Management-Professional-PMP.aspx

 PMI advises – Before you begin, check to make sure you meet the credential eligibility requirements and can record the necessary information on the application.

Once you start an online application, you cannot cancel it. You can save it unfinished, come back to it later, and edit any information you already entered. The application will remain open for 90 days during which time PMI will send you an email reminder to complete the application.

  • Enter the required information for education, experience, and project management education. If you skipped the tips and tricks above, please read them, they can save you some headaches later.
  • After you are satisfied with your application, press Submit and keep your fingers crossed.
  • Within 5 business days, you will hear back from PMI that your application has been reviewed and approved and are required to pay the exam fee and proceed to the next step.

The fees for the PMP exam are as follows:

  • Computer Based Training – non-member rate USD$555
  • Computer Based Training – member rate USD$405
  • PMI membership – USD$139

Joining the PMI and paying the member rate will cost you less than paying a non-member rate. Plus as a PMI member, you get access to the online PMBOK Guide and e-reads library and a good collection of exam preparation books. But, of course, it’s your choice.

  • After you pay the fees, this is the moment of truth! You will either receive a confirmation that your application has been approved or an email informing you that your application has been randomly selected for an audit (5-6% of the submitted applications).

Don’t lose hope if your application has been selected for an audit, remember we mitigated the risk above. Just provide the requested information and you will be good to go in no time.

  • Once your application has been approved, PMI will provide you with a registration code which you can use to book your exam at a Prometric Testing Centre. You will have 12 months to schedule and write the exam from the date your application has been approved.

Congratulations!

Now that your application has been approved and you have successfully completed your PMP application project (did you create a WBS for this project? just kidding), let’s focus on preparing for the exam now.

PMP: A Primer

  • By: pcadmin on 03 May 2013

Project Management Institute (PMI) is one of the world’s largest not-for-profit membership associations for the project management profession.

PMI’s Project Management Professional (PMP®) designation is among the most globally recognized and demanded credential in project management. A PMP designation demonstrates to employers, clients and colleagues that a project manager possesses project management knowledge, experience and skills to bring projects to successful completion. As the demand for skilled project managers is at a critically urgent level, practitioners who hold the PMP credential are well positioned to provide the professional skills necessary to lead project teams and achieve successful project results. [1]

The PMP recognizes the competence of an individual to perform in the role of a project manager, specifically experience in leading and directing projects. Year after year, the PMP credential has garnered global recognition and commanded a higher salary for credentialed individuals over non-credentialed individuals. [2]

Some other popular project management designations include PRINCE2 (http://www.prince-officialsite.com/) and IPMA Four Level Certification (Level D-A) (http://ipma.ch/certification/competence/4-l-c-features/). PMP still remains the most popular and globally recognized designation, especially in North America.

 

PMP Eligibility Requirements

In order to qualify to write the PMP exam, you should meet either of the below requirements in terms of education, experience, and project management education.

Requirement 1

  • Secondary degree (high school diploma, associate’s degree or global equivalent)
  • Minimum five years/60 months unique non-overlapping professional project management experience during which at least 7,500 hours were spent leading and directing the project
  • 35 contact hours of formal education

OR

Requirement 2

  • Four-year degree (bachelor’s degree or global equivalent)
  • Minimum three years/36 months unique non-overlapping professional project management experience during which at least 4,500 hours were spent leading and directing the project
  • 35 contact hours of formal education

Tips:

  • The scope of “professional project management experience” as required by PMI is very broad, refer to the PMP Credential Handbook[3] to check if you meet the experience requirements.
  • 35 contact hours of formal project management education can be acquired through various means, classroom PMP preparation courses, online courses, or relevant training related to project management.

New Standards from PMI

  • By: pcadmin on 21 Apr 2013

PMI members can now access the three new standards from PMI as PDF files for their own use.

PMBOK® Guide 5th ed, The Standard for Program Management 3rd ed, and The Standard for Portfolio Management 3rd ed. Go here to see the FAQ about this.

Canadian Military Helicopter Project – Commentary

  • By: pcadmin on 10 Apr 2013

Various articles in newspapers have painted different pictures of the project to replace Canada’s aging fleet of Sea King helicopters. The first article I saw was in the Toronto Star, by Murray Brewster published April 16, 2012. Mr. Brewster pointed the finger at the Harper government for “go(ing) easy on the maker of the air force’s long-delayed maritime helicopters after winning a series of economic concessions”, then explains that this project is over budget and behind schedule, and the manufacturer is at fault and the Canadian military is allowing Sikorsky to get away with it. Of course, there is always more to projects than simple explanations like this. The Canadian military is quite disciplined when it comes to contract management, so when I read that they have not threatened Sikorsky with application of the liquidated damages, I am suspicious of Mr. Brewster’s accusation that Sikorsky is at fault for the delays. Probing deeper it becomes evident that this is another project that is suffering from scope changes and “requirements creep” (Globe and Mail, Feb. 11, 2013 “Five decades, two contracts and still no helicopters for Canada”). Notice to journalists: Liquidated damages cannot be applied when the client is the source of the delays.

Speaking of clients being the source of delays, an excellent commentary on these types of projects was printed in the Toronto Star on February 19, 2013, by the same authors of the Globe and Mail article (Michael Byers and Stewart Webb). They suggest a lack of discipline in the management of requirements and scope changes in military projects. This brings me to question whether lessons learned from similar past projects are considered and applied. In the Project Management Journal of September 2002, Bud Baker wrote on “The Fall of the Firefly: An Assessment of a Failed Project Strategy”, a lessons learned summary of the US Air Force’s acquisition of the T-3A “Firefly” trainer. Some characteristics of this failed project are remarkably similar to the Sikorsky project. The T-3A trainer was also based on existing commercial flight trainers, with the thought that it would be more cost-effective to build on an existing design, then the Air Force decided to change the engine and a number of other client initiated changes were requested. Suffice it to say, that the project did not end well. I have asked this question of experts who are in this type of business, and the answer has been unanimous that changing an engine is a substantial change that effectively changes the fundamental nature of the product. So it brings me to wonder whether effective change management was implemented on this project with full understanding of the impact of changes.

Maybe I am simplistic, but faced with a fundamental redesign of a product, especially one that is well into its project life cycle, means going back to square one, pressing the reset button, or in our wonderful project management language, reassessing the business case, and developing new baselines of requirements, scope, schedule, costs. Of course, the contract may be structured with considerable costs to the Canadian government for this type of revision. Canada already paid once for cancelling the helicopter contract during Chrétien’s time in office. But contracts can be structured differently if scope change is anticipated.

A reminder to study these topics…

  • By: pcadmin on 13 Mar 2013

Just a reminder to study the following: decision trees (be prepared for a question with an actual decision tree shown), crashing (be prepared for a question similar to our question 3.27), critical path calculations, fast-tracking, earned value (be prepared to calculate EAC).

Exam writers tell us there are lots of long situational questions. Situation, then a blank line, then the question itself. But you should also expect a few blatant input/output questions such as (not a real question) “What is an input to “Control Costs”?

There is a new PMP Handbook

  • By: pcadmin on 31 Jan 2013

The language has evolved from “leading and directing project tasks” to “leading and directing projects”.

This will not affect the way I address it with candidates. You have to show experience leading and directing your project. But remember that PMI is liberal at interpreting “what is a project”. Your project could be small or could be a small portion of a larger project.

You can view the handbook here.

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