Sunday, February 19, 2017

Project Subject Matter Expert Tracker

Even after all these years it still surprises me sometimes how complex projects can get fast, and one of the things I recently experienced on a project was how hard it was for newer team members to keep track of who to talk to about what.

Who knows the most about the Product Category Page requirements?
Who is it again that is handling the monetate integration?
Who are we supposed to email about booking a conference room at the client site?

Of course these questions aren't that surprising now that we've grown as a team from a handful of collocated folks to a large team in over 5 cities on 2 continents. So we found ourselves having to implement what we called an "owner board," or as I've titled this post a Subject Matter Expert (SME) Tracker.

The concept is really simple - list out who is the best person to go to for each topic (or functional area, screen, tool, technology, etc.) along with a secondary who will cover for them if that person is unavailable.

An alternative approach more appropriate for software development lists each screen or component out, along with an owner for each of the major workstreams to complete the project - in my example this is requirements, UX, technical design, code, and QA, but you should customize this to fit your need.

Of course if you're on a bigger project, hopefully someone has you using collaboration software like a wiki or Atlassian's Confluence. In which case you could just implement a table similar to mine as a page, and link contact info there.

(If not you might want to start looking for another project, and soon.)

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Don't use a RACI Matrix

First of all let me get this out of the way - I think the RACI Matrix is one of the worst project management tools ever invented, unless you look at it from the ‘number of consultant billable hours needed to complete’ $$$ perspective.


It is the type of thing only consultant would dream up, or insist on completing for every project (and I say that as a consultant). Hence, this is not a post on how to build or complete the best RACI Matrix possible, rather I suggest you fire anyone who suggests that “what you need is a RACI Matrix.”

Let’s take a look at the problems with the RACI matrix.

Responsible versus Accountable: while these words actually have different meanings, people tend to struggle with the difference between them and a lot of time gets wasted in debating and explaining the difference between the two. Then people forget and we have to have the debate all over again after a few months.

Consulted: This is the category that signals political power to the other stakeholders, and people will fight for their inclusion in this category. They don’t want to do or be held accountable for the work, but they do want veto power over decisions. And to look down on the “informed” plebs.

Informed: No one wants to be in this category, especially important people, and I’ve had to sit through too many meetings with people lobbying why they should be Consulted not just the lowly informed, and this becomes a political play between the project sponsor who is signing off on this document and the marginal stakeholder we dared to put in this category.

People have tried to address these issues by choosing better words to differentiate the roles (particularly responsible) which is how it is that that there are so many variations such as:


I think that many variations (really attempts to fix the underlying issues) is a sure sign of a bad idea.

There is however one thing a RACI Matrix is excellent at - identifying a dysfunctional organization. I once had a client who insisted on building one for a large program and it literally (I am not making this shit up) took five (F-I-V-E) weeks to complete and sign off. Over a month. From this experience I learned that the time it takes to complete a RACI Matrix correlates to how screwed up an organization is. And the RACI’s use as a test of dysfunction is highly underutilized.

All that said if you are forced to use a RACI:
  1. Do look at the various configurations and alternatives and use one that works for you.
  2. Take the time to agree/educate the team and sponsor on the terms and roles.
  3. Build an introductory presentation and share it each time you meet with a new stakeholder to discuss their roles.
  4. Include or attach an explanatory sheet every time the RACI is shared out

Of course, this blog is all about simple project management, and keeping things simple for overloaded PMs, and I like to keep an owner list for the team with a backup in case the primary is out for some reason.

It can be as simple as the below:


Have a better tool or a different perspective? Let us all know below.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Corporate speak: Out-counseled

Stupid corporate speak overhead this week: "out-counseled" as in, we don't have the balls to fire him/her so we're just going to keep giving him/her negative feedback and performance reviews until he/she quits. Stupid.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Next Steps Tracker and Tutorial

As mentioned in a previous post I am rolling out a series of free project management templates. The first one is the Next Steps Tracker (sometimes call Action Items, bleh.) The free template is available here and I have also prepared a short tutorial below.

Creative Commons License
TGPM Project Management Templates by TGPM are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Free Project Management Templates

I am releasing a series of free project management templates that I have found myself using over and over again across many different projects. I hope you find them as useful as I have for smaller projects and/or projects where you aren’t using project management software of some kind.

These are being built in Google tools, and I encourage you to use them that way as I find the performance and collaboration features to be way easier to use than MS Office. Of course you can easily export these to MS Office and modify them if you need to for whatever reason.

Let me know if you find these of value, and I will keep them coming. I don’t customize these, but feel free to share your improvements for other readers via comments.

The free project management templates are all available at, just bear in mind these will be built out over time, if there’s something you are looking for that you don’t see let me know or check back soon.

Tutorials for each template will also be available on my YouTube channel

Creative Commons License
TGPM Project Management Templates by TGPM are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Saturday, March 21, 2009

5 Simple Rules for Joining a Project Underway

Okay, there's really nothing simple about joining a project as the PM when the project is already underway. You're going to need to jump right in and keep the project on track while you ramp up on everything about the project.

However, while you could probably write a small book or a long article on this topic, I have found that five is the magic number as far as the limit of "action items" or feedback points you can give someone and hope that they would retain it. Three is probably better, but I am hoping my readers are brighter than that. [;)

1 - Invest in Relationship Building
Take the time right up front to meet with all your team leads and key stakeholders one on one. Have an agenda going in, but try to keep the meeting informal and ask open ended questions to get people talking: ask each how they feel the project is going, what is working well, and what could be improved. You want to get several things out of this meeting - you need to quickly build rapport and find areas of common interest you can leverage to begin to build relationships with those you haven't worked with before; you want to see what areas are highlighted for improvement, so you can direct attention to them; perhaps most importantly, you want to try to sense how people are feeling about the previous PM no longer being there, which is probably why you would be joining after the project started. While the urge will be great to bury yourself in the project charter, scope statement, WBS, and project schedule, resist, RESIST!

2 - Get the Up to Speed, ASAP
In direct juxtaposition to the above, you will need to ramp up quickly on the project, but don't do it at the expense of rule 1 above. Ideally, you can get access to the project repository/library/whatever and gain an understanding of what the project is about, but if you have to do it after hours or on the weekend, it is an investment well made. I usually go for the project charter, scope documents, schedule, and risk register. You need to demonstrate competence and confidence to all the stakeholders you interact with in that first week or two, when everyone will be judging the new PM, and the team will be deciding if they are going to rally around you. As you review, make a list of questions you want to ask of team members and stakeholders as you meet with them.

3 - Trust the People on the Team
It may be the hardest thing to do sometimes, but you are going to have to trust the people already on the project to do the right thing. They have history on the team, they (should) know what they are doing, and you aren't going to succeed without them. More than this though, you need to show them that you trust them, by word and deed. In relationship to point 2 above, tell the team that you don't know everything, they are the project experts and you am going to rely on them. When an issue comes up or decision needs to be made facilitate the decision making process, but get the people with the project tribal-knowledge, so to speak, involved. Another thing that seems to work with most people is to ask them to explain aspects of the project they are the expert on.

4 - Do Something to Shake Things Up
I am not a psychologist, so I can't put this in proper technical terms, however I have found a significant, positive mental burst of energy and motivation can be had from the team by make some changes right away. It can be how meetings are run, how reports are presented, or even something like changing around how people are physically seated. Go for some low hanging fruit that you know will benefit delivery or the project. Certainly, you will be approaching the project with a fresh set of eyes, and you should try to bring enthusiasm with you to the assignment. Share your observations and ideas with the team in an engaging and motivated fashion.

5 - Resist the urge to blame the other guy (or gal)
I can't remember a single project where I have jumped in after it was started where people on the team didn't blamed issues on the previous project manager. Don't be that guy, it's shows a clear lack of accountability for the project you now are responsible for, and it is unprofessional. Be proactive and identify all the deliverables, action items, issues, etc. assigned to your predecessor and put them on your to-do list. Stay classy PMs!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Passing the PMP

I sat today for the PMP and am very pleased that I can report that I have passed it. So, what can I recommend for anyone else who may be planning to take the PMP? Here are a few suggestions, but bear in mind that these are coming from the perspective of an experienced project manager. If you are just out of school, these points may not be as relevant.
  • Have a study plan and stick to it. If you are a PM, you really shouldn't need to be told this, this should be second nature.
  • Start with a good study guide. I recommend going to a book store and looking at several to see which format works best for you. Then check your local library to see if they have a copy. Save a tree and save some money.
  • Purchase a copy of the PMBOK Guide, or join the PMI since you get an electronic copy free.
  • Speaking of which, you should join the PMI anyways, since the cost of membership pays for itself if you are taking the PMP.
  • Supplement your reading with other learning activities that engage other senses. I used the PM PrepCast, which I highly recommend, to listen to while driving and hiking, and I also took some CBTs on the areas I was having trouble with (for me that was QA and QC, which we don't deal with as rigorously in IT as in other industries.) The CBTs I took were available thru online training provided by my employer, check with your HR, you might have a similar benefit you aren't aware of.
  • I also made lots of flash cards, one set focused on the ITTOs for each process, and another set of terms, definitions, formulas, etc.
  • Let's see, what else? Oh, take as many sample questions and exams as you can. This is an area where I could have done more preparation, but I have never been much for practice exams. However, the PMI has some peculiar ways of asking questions, and taking a lots of pratice exams or questions is a very good way to get an idea as much for how questions will be asked as what will be asked.
  • Review. Especially review those topics you studied first - this was an area I had trouble with. I did the worst with the Initiating Process Group, which surprised me because it is one of the most straight forward (I thought), but it was also the first Process Group I started with and so it had actually been a while since I had reviewed it.
I guess that is pretty much it. And that is probably the last I will blog on taking the PMP exam. I am gearing up to join a big eCommerce project, and need to quickly switch gears from the PMI view of the world to the Agile methodology that is being employed on this project. Anyone have good tips or ideas on agile project management, please leave a comment.