Chris Croft's Personal Blog

August 8, 2014

online Project management options

Filed under: Project Management — Tags: , , , , , — chriscroft @ 11:11 am

have a look at the previews and compare the quality….
(scroll down and select one of the 2 min previews)


September 7, 2013

Questions to ask a potential project management trainer

On your course what is the division of time between the people side of things such as leadership and management of teams and the task side of things such as constructing a Gantt chart?
If they are spending more than half of the course on people stuff then it’s not really a project management course. Some trainers pad out their PM courses with people stuff, and although it’s important, it’s a management/leadership course, it’s not why you are buying. The planning of tasks needs at least a day to cover properly.

How practical is what you’re teaching? How many hours a week do you think a person would need to plan and then run a project using your method?
If it’s more than a few hours at the start and then 1-2 hours a week, normal busy managers won’t ever do it

What do you think of the PRINCE2 methodology?
Anyone who still likes this nowadays should be avoided. It’s far too complicated for any normal busy manager to use, and it doesn’t teach you HOW to do basic things like list tasks, estimate costs or times, find critical paths or produce a Gantt chart.

How many proforma forms are required in order to use your method? How many pages and sections are there in your recommended pid?
There should be no more than 5 forms, and the PID should only be 2 pages plus a Gantt chart. Any more than that and normal busy managers won’t ever do it

What method do you teach for estimating the time or cost of a task? Do you recommend the 1-4-1 estimating method?
If they haven’t heard of the 1-4-1 then then don’t know what they are talking about. If they are teaching the 1-4-1 then they are blindly regurgitating ineffective existing theories. Ideally they would know about it but not use it.

How do you recommend that people find the critical path? /Do you teach the use of post it note diagrams as part of your project planning methodology?
Forward and backward passes are much too long-winded and unnecessarily complicated for busy managers to ever do. Much more practical is to just do some post-it notes and add up the longest path. BUT: If they say they don’t bother with critical paths then they aren’t doing it properly.

For producing critical path diagrams Do you prefer PERT or CPM and why?
If they don’t know what you mean, get another trainer! Ideally they will give you a reasoned argument based on whether projects have events (milestones) or activities (tasks to be done), and whether the diagram is for the benefit of the customer or the team doing the job. Either is OK, but personally I prefer CPM (times on the boxes).

What do you teach for the construction of Gantt charts?
Does it involve a network diagram first? Does it involve Excel? Is it quick and easy? Do people actually do one on the training day?

Do you teach the concept of earned value and if so how? How do you calculate the expected finish time of a project?
If they have lots of complicated formulae involving SPI, CPI, estimated / actual costs of work planned / performed, then their method is too complicated for normal busy managers to use.

What do you think of Microsoft Project?
It’s not a disaster to like it, but most PMs find it annoying, and I personally think Excel is cheaper, quicker, and better when it comes to resource planning (especially for multiple projects) and costing.

March 28, 2013

The key Time Management issues faced by Project Managers

Project Managers have to be good at managing time – theirs and other people’s – as it’s one of the big three variables at their disposal: time cost and quality. In fact they have two types of time in their project planning – actual hours worked, which is really money if you think about it, and elapsed time. Both of these can be managed.

The biggest issue they face is that urgent problems tend to cut in and reduce the time they can spend on important tasks like planning, and monitoring progress and quality. These urgent tasks might be from the same project, other projects (maybe the one you’ve started is affecting your planning of the one you haven’t yet started) or from The Day Job. How easy life would be if we were just managing one project, but usually we are managing several projects and a day job, and probably DOING most of the work on some of the projects! So juggling and prioritising is a key area to master. And of course finding ways to control interruptions, be they by phone, physical, or email, is key, or they can steal 20-50% of your day away.

Linked to the above is an ability to not forget any tasks, however small. The small ones have the ability to stop a whole project, so everything must be kept under total control, by writing it down on lists of some sort. Project Management systems have lots of lists – risk logs, issues logs, change request logs, monthly progress summaries, etc, but as we know the problem with multiple lists is that you can easily forget to look at one of them. So the PM needs a system where all jobs-to-do can be accessed and remembered, and the system has got to be very easy to view and update or it just won’t get done.

Of course not every task has to be done in life, though in a project they pretty much all do have to be done. So skills like Saying No are important mainly in order to keep the rest of life at bay so that the project can be done.

Negotiation is a key skill for PMs since most of the people they deal with, from team members and other functions within the organisation to customers and suppliers, don’t report directly to them. PMs often feel that they are always asking for favours and help and often don’t have much to offer in exchange, but they have to find some negotiating strength if they are going to get all the resources they need in order to complete on time.

Procrastination is another factor in projects; if you postpone sorting out tricky problems, perhaps telling yourself that the might fix themselves or go away, then they will probably get worse, and will almost certainly end up resulting in there having to be a last minute confession of lateness and overspend, which is never popular. The sooner problems are addressed the better, but that’s not human nature, so we need systems to reduce our natural tendency to put unpleasant things off.

Meetings are a key part of project management, whether they be a brainstorming meeting at the start to get all the tasks listed, meetings with your team to plan the order of tasks (maybe based on post-it notes and a critical path diagram), meetings regularly during the project to discuss progress and sort out problems, or the review meeting at the end. The PM needs to chair these meetings with authority, keeping them efficient and short, while getting everyone to contribute, and getting clear minutes out as soon as possible after the meeting.

Delegation is also a key part of any project where the PM has anyone apart from themselves working on the project, and delegation can certainly be seen as a time management skill. In fact I would say it’s the number one skill that ‘ordinary’ managers need to master, and if you care about the quality of the work, and/or enjoy it, it can be hard to let go. In the case of a PM I think planning is the number one skill, (and finding the TIME for planning) but on larger projects delegation comes pretty close. Certainly if you’re too busy, and you have people working for you, delegation would be the first thing I’d look at. Are you doing too much of it yourself? Are you monitoring progress closely enough but not micro-managing?

The ideal project manager would be pretty hot on quality and detail, verging on OCD in fact, but there are times when you can be too fussy, and a time management skill that helps is to be able to determine what deserves lots of your time and what can be done “Well enough”. For example you’ll never get EVERY risk listed, but if you can get the main ones then that’s going to cover 90% of the problems. You’ll never estimate every task 100% accurately, in fact you probably won’t even manage to list every task, but if you can get all the main ones listed and estimated reasonably accurately then your contingency factor should take care of the difference. Spending twice as long on listing or estimating may not be worth the time, when you remember that every hour you spend on this is an hour you could have spent on something else.

So to summarise, as well as learning about Gantt charts, estimating, risk analysis etc, Project Managers need to know about:

• Prioritising urgent vs important
• Handling Interruptions and emails
• Listing jobs to do
• Saying no
• Negotiating
• Overcoming procrastination
• Chairing meetings
• Delegating
• Being able to do things ‘well enough’

Good luck – check out all these subjects on my blog (index at the right of this article) and you’ll be fine!

January 14, 2013

There are no alternatives to Gantt charts

Filed under: Project Management — Tags: , , , , — chriscroft @ 10:02 am

There are no alternatives to Gantt charts – that’s why they are still around, everywhere, after 100 years. Resistance is futile.

I was sent this by a friend of mine just now…

Interesting article, but he’s wrong of course.

His first alternative to a Gantt chart is to use a spreadsheet to produce it. Well, I think that’s still a Gantt chart?! I would certainly recommend Excel as a good way to make a quick Gantt chart, and you CAN show dependencies and float without it getting too messy.

His second alternative is to use a network diagram, which is what you should use anyway, BEFORE you make it into a Gantt chart. It’s the step before, it’s not an alternative. In fact it’s impossible to do a proper Gantt chart without a network diagram first.

His third alternative is to use a list instead and his fourth alternative is to use a summary diagram (e.g. “percentage complete”), and for both of these he recommends using a Gantt chart first and then simplifying it for other people to see. So he still needs a Gantt chart, it’s not really an alternative at all. (and of course if he’s planning to use cost reports without knowing the progress from his Gantt chart then he’ll fall into the trap of thinking he’s under budget when really he’s behind). And these so-called alternatives do the job of communication less well than the original Gantt chart.

So basically all of those alternatives are not as good as the original. Gantts rule and that’s that.

There, that’s told him!


CC – The Gantt Chart Guy

January 7, 2013

What to do if your project is going pear-shaped

Filed under: Lists, Project Management — Tags: , , , , — chriscroft @ 2:38 pm

A slightly experimental and unfinished list, but one which I hope you will still find useful (and may want to add to!)

What to do if your project is going pear-shaped:

Customer options
(one or more of the following)

wait for them to finish
agree new timescales
find someone else (maybe start looking secretly)
ditch the project so we no longer need it
sue them
get more visibility of what they’re doing
take more control
take it over and finish it yourself
negotiate to reduce the price
do some work ourselves to help them finish it
give them more money to help them finish it faster
agree to reduced quality

Supplier options

slip the project (quality remains OK but delivery is late)
crash the project (throw resources at it – time is OK but cost goes up)
reduce quality in order to achieve time and cost promises
decide whether to tell the customer what you are doing – if in doubt, tell them!
stop and end it (and take the flak)
deliver what you have & let the customer finish it
buy in an answer from someone else / subcontract
buy in a team who can help you do it
believe in what you have (add more resources and hope to solve)
renegotiate contracts – price / cost / quality
restart from scratch
do the minimum to fulfill the contract (bit of a last resort!)

what did I miss?


October 11, 2012

Project Management mini-course on-line right here

Filed under: Project Management — Tags: , , , , , , — chriscroft @ 8:01 pm

Check this out!

it was made by my good friend Andrew Bourke of Studioverse.

If you’d like to load it up onto your in-house Learning Management System so that your people can use it and you can track who has done which parts and who has passed the quiz at the end, please get in touch.

also, if you want us to make anything else like this for you – we could do any management subject, and with your company colours, real examples from you company referred to in the content, etc – then please do get in touch.


September 18, 2012

SCRUM burn down chart question

Filed under: Project Management — Tags: , , — chriscroft @ 9:18 am

SCRUM burn down chart question

Does anyone out there know about the trendy ‘agile’ project management methodology scrum? I’ve looked into it a little bit and It seems to me that a lot of it is just rebranding of exisiting ideas to make them sound more exciting – e.g the project manager is called a scrum master. Oh Per-lease…. So my question is: Is a burn-down chart (see photo attached, showing hours of work remaining to be done against time remaining) really just the same as a conventional cumulative spend chart? – or have I missed the point? If I have missed something then great, I’d love to learn a better way. Let me know!

August 3, 2012

50 Shades of Project Management

Filed under: Books and Culture, Project Management — Tags: , — chriscroft @ 9:06 am

50 Shades of Project Management

Sally had an appointment to interview Roger Prodger, the famous project manager. “I hope he’s my type”, she giggled to her friend Jenny, though deep down she expected him to be boring.
“What IS your type?”, asked Jenny.
“Well, I always insist on a PID” Sally replied.
“What’s that?”
“A Powerful Influential Dominator of course” Sally tittered.

Arriving at Roger’s offices, Sally was impressed by the smooth granite entrance hall and the immaculately coiffured receptionist who looked down her nose at Sally. Could this be the PID she had dreamed of for so many years?

On entering Roger’s office Sally was stunned to see the most gorgeous man she had ever met – he was wearing a slightly-too-tight light grey suit, with an enticing glimpse of his brown wool/nylon blend socks just visible above his expensive leather brogues. Standing behind his granite desk he swung his Burton jacket off to reveal a light blue short-sleeved shirt, with epaulettes. He loosened his navy blue tie slightly and reached for one of the four biros in his breast pocket. “Welcome to Project S” he boomed in a powerful, masculine voice.
“What’s Project S?” she queried?
“Project Sally of course. Everything’s a project, didn’t you know?”

As soon as he saw her, Roger had decided that he would pass his wisdom on to her, and that she too would become one of the master race like him – a Project Manager. They would travel the beaches of the world, calculating resource requirements together and logging key events.

“But I’m not qualified – I don’t have the three qualities of pessimism, OCD, or assertiveness!”, she cried. “Don’t worry”, he breathed, “you’ll soon be just like me. I’ll make you into a measurably high quality project manager within a fixed time, to an achievable budget. Anything’s possible once you have a Gantt chart”. She felt electricity running through her bones at the thought!

“But first, a brief kick off meeting” he commanded masterfully. “Some things you need to know about me…..
1. I would like to invite you out on a date but I have a morbid fear of scope creep, so clearly visible briefs are essential at all times.
2. My deliverables are well defined within my work package.
3. I don’t enjoy feeling a little behind.
4. In order to perform optimally I need a predicted spend profile for the evening, with hourly milestones and a half way budgetary and progress review”.
“Oh I do like a man with a well-resourced timeline and a substantial issues log”, Sally cooed.

…Later, back at Roger Prodger’s house….

On the granite drive to his Grade 1 listed Tudor mansion, Sally tripped at the boundary gateway, but Roger was there to catch her in his strong arms. “Oh, you’re my Prince!” she quavered.

His face darkened: “No!” He stormed, suddenly angry. “I won’t have that filthy word mentioned in my house – I’m strictly an APM man – VERY strictly in fact, as you will no doubt find out…. in fact I don’t like anything that’s not PERT. I always like to evaluate and review my programmes. It’s because of my father. He was no ordinary man; some called him the Prince2 Of Darkness, and he used to make me read 100 page reports, he made everything much too complicated, and he used to stop me starting anything. That’s why I have a deep horror of the P word and why I, er, have issues with control….

Realising he’d lost her, he softened and said
“OK, let’s G.a.n.t.t. – if you’re ready?”
“Let’s grab a naughty time together”, he barked, slightly impatient at having to explain himself. Communication wasn’t his strong point, and he often spoke in TLAs.
“Are you…… Prepared?” she asked with some embarrassment.
“Yes of course”, he grunted “…preventative and protective”.
She marvelled at the rigour of his risk analysis.

He ushered her down the long marble corridor and she entered a large room through something called an Initiation Gateway.
“Welcome to my project management dungeon” Roger announced – there were whiteboards and post it notes on every wall, and at the far end, a flip chart with handcuffs.

“If you fail to identify the critical path I might get upset”, he murmured huskily in her ear, and she started to wonder if she was out of her depth.
“What have you got planned for me, she quavered?”
“Just a bit of critical path analysis followed by resource planning, he purred”.
“Single or multiple projects?”
“Multiple of course….”

…And the next few hours exceeded her wildest dreams. First he put on some seductive music – it seemed to be some kind of project management rap. Then he began his work…

His strong hands were a blur of marker pens and post-it’s.
It wasn’t till 3am that they finally collapsed together in a sweaty heap.
“How was it for you?”, she asked, as Roger lit a cigarette and updated his highlight review with a colour coded marker.
“Well, quality was 10% above specification, with good attention to the non critical tasks, but there was some slippage on the expected timescale”, he rasped.

Finally he asked
“So Sally – lessons learned??”
“Er….,” she hesitated
“If you can’t remember the twelve step process I might have to issue an exception report”, he smirked sternly.

End of Part 1…

October 29, 2011

Two project management stories

Filed under: Project Management — chriscroft @ 11:24 am

For those of you who learn by stories (that might be most of us!) here are two educational youtube clips


There is no alternative to Gantt charts:

You need a Gantt chart if you are going to keep a track of the money you are spending:







October 23, 2011

A whole Project Management talk

Filed under: Project Management — chriscroft @ 7:51 pm

I’ve uploaded a recent talk, unedited, in five parts
(you tube doesn’t like videos longer than 15 minutes)

You can dip into any bits you want to know about
– each video segment has notes underneath of where you can find what you want, just click on “Show More”

Part 1 – Get it in writing, and Listing the tasks –

Part 2 – Estimating and critical path (posit-it note) diagrams –

Part 3 – Gantt charts with Excel –

Part 4 – Gantt Charts and resource planning –

Part 5 – Risk, Finance and Reviews –


but of course a video doesn’t do justice to the actual life experience – why not get me in to do a talk for you….?

other subjects include:

  • The meaning of life
  • Happiness
  • Personal Efficiency
  • Negotiating
  • Selling
  • Influencing and Persuading
  • Handling difficult people




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