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In this talk I present sample takeaways from
[Project Management Professional]
study that overlap with concerns we have as
technical communicators. These best practices
aren’t necessarily easy, but they do provide
I’m assuming you’re not the project manager,
but you have input into decision-making
processes. Tailor these practices to your own
industry and your organization. My experience
is in enterprise software. Organizations are
different; your mileage may vary.
Best practices are often interdependent and
iterative. For instance, you might prioritize
requirements, but as you define scope and
schedule, you realize you cannot meet the
deadline, so you reprioritize requirements. This
And you still need critical thinking skills, of
Resolving competing requirements
“For an upcoming project, one VP wants me to
provide training materials but another VP wants
me to keep costs low and focus on technical
doc. Staff is limited.”
It is critical to review project objectives and
the business case with the project leader.
Identify the project stakeholders and learn
their requirements; the project’s assumptions,
constraints, and risks; and, if available, the
project scope statement.
Together with the project leader, prioritize
competing requirements. Consider rejecting
a stakeholder’s requirement if the request is
unrelated to project objectives; related to
objectives but not part of the current business
case; or comes from a secondary stakeholder.
Negotiate invalid or contradictory constraints,
assumptions, and risks (e.g., “planning must
be done by end of week with 100% accuracy”
but “if training quality is poor, we could
lose our number one customer, which is
If the request is valid, consider adjusting
other constraints, deferring the request to a
future project, or negotiating the requirement
with the stakeholder.
Preventing disagreements over deliverables
“We delivered the documentation on time with what we considered good quality. We
even managed to deliver an additional reference guide that wasn’t promised. Out of
the blue, a customer gave us a 4 out of 10 on the deliverables.”
During planning, ensure your deliverables
match requirements by creating a Work
Breakdown Structure (WBS) and WBS
Dictionary. A WBS defines all the project’s
deliverables (not its tasks). The WBS Dictionary
prevents scope creep by defining the scope of
each deliverable. Based on these, you can plan
tasks, dependencies, schedules, etc.
PROJECT MANAGEMENT 101:
Communication is 90% of the job
Presenter: Beth Fischi Spectrum 2015
The dog ate
Before you start work, have your customers
or their representative review all materials and
formally accept the list of deliverables.
During the project, don’t gold-plate (i.e.,
add unasked-for deliverables). At intervals
throughout the project, ask the customer
or rep to inspect and formally accept the
validated deliverables. Whether they accept the
deliverables or submit change requests, their
assessment may provide valuable information
about work performance.
Time permitting, update your planning
documents throughout the project.
At the end of the project, require final sign-
off of deliverables. Keep records of interim
sign-offs. Ensure only verified deliverables
are given to customers (or else carefully set
their expectations as to constraints). In some
industries, putting unverified deliverables into
customer production environments can cause
Estimating tasks better
“My doc task took 10 days longer than
planned because <fill in usual reason>.”
If possible, the person doing the work should
also do the estimation. Make a reasonable
effort to understand and clarify requirements;
clarify how refined the estimate must be; and
record the risks and assumptions you made
Don’t pad the task or include calendar time
yet. Start with pure work effort. (Reserves will
be added later.) Use the same units (hours,
days, etc.) throughout. Involve team members
(communicate!) whenever feasible to get other
expert opinion—but ultimately the person
doing the work should decide.
When you’re uncertain about task estimates,
use one of the three-point estimating
Triangular Distribution (Simple Average)
(P+M+O) / 3
This is just an average of your Pessimistic,
Optimistic, and Most Likely estimates,
weighting each estimate equally.
Beta Distribution (Weighted Average)
Modify the average of your three estimates
when one of them is more likely than the
others. In this example “most likely” has the
Beta Activity Standard Deviation
(P-O) / 6
Use this technique to estimate risk. The larger
the number, the riskier the activity—that is, the
greater the potential variance in the outcome.
Compare the results. Work with project
managers or leaders to assign more reserves to
tasks with larger numbers—that is, higher risk.
Work with project managers before adding
reserves. The PM needs to know the risks to
project and, as project integrator, standardizes
how reserves are created across the team.
Otherwise, team members will determine the
padding themselves, arbitrarily. The PM will
love you and appreciate your assistance!
HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT
Dealing with conflict
“One of the writers on my team is shared with another team. The
other project lead is hogging my resource!”
Understand the primary sources of conflict
on teams. Rita Mulcahy, an authority on PMP
practices, lists the primary sources of conflict
between teams. In order of frequency:
2. Project priorities
4. Technical opinions
5. Administrative procedures
Mulcahy recommends the following conflict
resolution techniques. In order of desirability
(though all are situation-dependent):
1. Collaborate (problem-solve): Achieve
consensus. A win-win resolution requires
an open attitude and
solution(s) that satisfy
all parties to some extent.
3. Withdraw (avoid): Retreat or postpone
the decision. This isn’t usually the best choice.
However, if emotions are running high,
it is sometimes good to wait a day before
addressing the problem.
4. Smooth (accommodate): Concede to the
other party to maintain harmony; emphasize
5. Force (direct): Insist on your way at the
expense of the other party to achieve a straight
“I’m new to the team and no one listens to my suggestions. I feel unheard.”
With colleagues, develop your sources of
power. These are not just positional (related to
your job title), but also personal. To leverage
personal power, become the expert, go-to
person in a particular area. Be personally
attractive—not (only) by accentuating your
physical features and dressing professionally,
but by being genuine, accepting, useful, and
supportive. Don’t gossip or undermine others;
extend yourself to build a bridge of trust and
cooperation. And when there’s a conflict, see
“Dealing with conflict” above.
Handling project changes
“My customer asked for a new guide in the middle of a project that has already been
planned and scheduled.”
Evaluate the change’s impact on all aspects of
your project: time, cost, scope, etc. Identify
your options: cutting scope, adding people,
Get approval to make the change, including
(if needed) customer approval or buy-in.
Seek to identify and eliminate the root causes
of project changes. Actively identify potential
trouble spots early in the project, so as to
decrease their impact.
“PMI,” the PMI logo, “PMP,” the PMP logo, “PMBOK,” “PgMP,” “Project Management Journal,” “PM Network,”
and the PMI Today logo are registered marks of Project Management Institute, Inc.
Getting your Project Management
The Project Management Institute (PMI) is
a not-for-profit association for the project,
program, and portfolio management profession.
It has about 700,000 members, of whom
590,000 are PM practitioners. PMI’s standards
and requirements for project management are
To apply for PMP certification,
you must demonstrate
prior experience in project
management: 4,500 hours (if
you have a bachelor’s degree) or
7,500 hours (if you have a high
school diploma). You also need
35 hours of professional project
If you’re approved to sit for the PMP
certification exam, the application fee is
US$129 (students $32), plus a $10 initial fee.
The fee for the exam itself is $405 for PMI
members. [Note: Fees subject to change;
consult pmi.org for latest information.] The
exam has 200 questions and lasts four hours.
Tips on getting your PMP certification
Don’t assume you need “project manager” in your title to be PMP-certified. Learn basic
concepts online, or take an introductory course to learn the terminology and to see if
you like it.
Before starting your study, join the Project Management Institute (PMI) and your local
PMI chapter. Membership gives you free access to the digital PMBOK® Guide and more.
Submit your application and set a test date. Try to test no more than a month after your
main study effort.
Study in a way that suits your learning style. To satisfy the PM education requirements,
some students like bootcamps. Many courses are offered. You can supplement your
learning by studying with partners; others do best with solitary study. Take simulated
During the test, you are allowed to make notes from memory. Writing space may be
limited, so decide ahead of time what formulas and other information to write down.
Practice creating your sheet from memory before you enter the exam room.
And don’t panic. If I could do it, so can you.
RMC Project Mngmt: www.rmcproject.com/
Rita Mulcahy’s PMP Exam Prep
PM FASTrack PMP Exam Simulation Software
Concepts Explorer: standardmethod.net/
This handout supplements the presentation, "Project Management 101: Communication is 90% of the Job."