PMP® material, spiced up

This being my first blog post, I need to get the essentials out there – quickly.  We’ll be focusing on what it takes to pass the Project Management Professional credential exam.

If you’re still with me, you are probably aware of the massive marketing power the PMP® carries for your resume.  Many employers’ doors simply are will not open without it.  The number of PMP®-credential holders has exploded, reaching over 1/2 million credential holders globally and the pace is expected to quicken as more and more companies are looking for the assurance that their project managers understand a framework that delivers projects with minimal human wreckage.

Trouble is, the PMP® exam is TOUGH.  True, some people pass the exam on their first try without even studying.  The majority of folks, including me, however, need some assistance.

In future  posts I will describe:

  • a proven strategy for obtaining your PMP®
  • some common trouble-spots in the PMP® exam content
  • mnemonics for remembering the dull stuff on the exam
  • some bizarre graphics that make remembering the dull stuff even easier
  • my quirks, idiosyncracies and pets

Hope to have you along for the ride.  Meanwhile, cheers!

You are great!


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40-year project??

The Netherlands floods, a lot. They passed a law setting acceptable losses due to seawater and freshwater flooding. This law was used to frame the design of all kinds of water abatement strategies (dikes, sea walls, and a bunch of other things I had never hear of), allowing communities to weigh in when a design impacts them (one design from the 1960’s would have dried up a neighboring community, killing off their oyster farming and wetlands) and redesign, when needed. 
This collaborative, long-term vision and planning is what inspires me. 
Wish we had more of it here on the good ‘ol USof A.

The picture is my cat, Gingy. He digs long-term planning, too.

Meow, y’all.

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Do what you love

Constructing a project resource plan is an opportunity to match up people with work they love. Chances are we haven’t seen the work of project management in this light. I know I didn’t when I was actively managing projects.

How can we make the work of projects more rewarding for everyone involved? Building out the work breakdown structure provides an opportunity for everyone to see all the project deliverables and begins to illustrate dependencies across work efforts. It’s when we take each of the deliverables and break those deliverables down into work activities that we get to the meat of engaging in meaningful work.

Some activities are best executed by individuals, others by teams. When was the last project you led where people were given a choice as to when and how they would work as a team? What about feedback? Do team members get an opportunity to shape the procedures used to gather, analyze and incorporate feedback into their work product?

Team members differ in their desire to create processes. You will find some people prefer to follow a pre-described procedure. They take comfort in having a path to take and sticking to that path. Other team members may find it stifling to be required to follow a procedure, preferring to take cues from the evolving situation to adapt their data gathering and analysis to each, unique situation. This “bespoke” approach may be deeply satisfying to the individual. Is it beneficial to the project and its stakeholders? Will this tailored approach produce unintended impacts on future efforts or other projects?

If your organization values consistency across projects, having a team member that strays from the established path (not using Organizational Process Assets in PMP jargon) will cause friction both for the team member and the project overall.

Activity attributes, the conditions under which the work is executed, can help make staffing decisions better matched to personal preferences. Consider the visibility of the work. Do you have team members that want to be noticed as future leaders? How can the work you assign them meet this need? What if the team member wants to get the work done with a minimum of attention? They want to simply do the work and get home on time. How can you help them make that happen?

A good friend of mine, Doug Hensch, managed a team of training developers at Nextel. He started his assignment by meeting with each of the developers he supported at a time the developer selected. The meetings lasted between 90 minutes and two hours. Additional time was scheduled, if requested by the developers. Several people did ask for more time to discuss Doug’s questions with him. The questions Doug asked his team were simple:

  • What do you want from me as your manager?
  • What would make this next project great for you?

Two questions. That’s it.

What have you found effective in matching people with work that they love? I’d love to learn from you.

All the best,


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Learning from land-fills

What can we learn from our trash? Looking at what has been thrown away twenty years ago, one hundred or a thousand years ago teaches us many things: What was valued? What was common-place? How were things constructed? Who likely owned it? How are those things (tools, clothes, other human works) similar to what we are producing, using and throwing away today?

I am no archeologist but I would venture to say we can learn many things about ourselves and how our choices today will carry over into future generations. Land-fills are time capsules.

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Costing a project

Is your team able to accurately estimate work?

Invest in Your Mind written on the roadIf not, here are four common things you can evaluate:

  1. Are they given enough time for the estimate?
  2. Do they know the work well enough?
  3. Are there punishments achievement?
  4. Do processes “bottle-neck” up or downstream?

Too little time / too early to tell? The first issue in estimating is asking for an estimate too early in the project. There are simply too many unknowns. Are the requirements stable? Do the resources have the skills needed? Do we have an agreement in place? The answers to these questions impact the quality of your team’s estimates. Academically, we are taught that a team can’t estimate work until they have had time to evaluate the work, ideally in the form of Work Breakdown Structures and detailed Scope Statements. But, how often do you have those documents in-hand? Factor in more time to do the estimating.

Does the team know the work well enough? Pulling historical data for the estimates is a good start but do the team members each know the work they are expected to deliver? You may need to schedule half a day for the team to get together and share what they need to learn about the project work to be better able to define what needs to get done and base their estimates on this work. When’s the last time you had a “gap analysis” workshop with your team?

Punished performance? When people are punished for being late, they will typically pad their next estimate. “Fool me once …” But are we also punishing people for being successful at their work? Are estimates shortened based on past history? We know that Amy is twice as fast as Arnold so we give Amy 1/2 the time to do the work and assign her twice as many tasks. Amy, after all, is career-minded and we want her to be highly promotable. But, have we checked in with Amy to ensure this is what Amy wants?

Choked work at a bottle-neck? Looking at the work from a more holistic stand-point, where do its inputs come from and where do its products go? We might find that our portion of the work is stalled or delayed by up and down-stream work. We might also find that work is hindered by a shortage of materials, a person that isn’t responsive or other issues. By identifying and removing these bottle-necks, you’ll find performance (and morale) gains.


I’ve surely left out many strategies that have worked for you. What have you found effective in increasing the accuracy of your cost estimates? Drop me a note here or at You are great! Keep doing your good work.

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D-Day, 1944: a study in project management

Today, June 6th, 2017, marks the 73rd anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy, a turning point in World War II. Wikipedia’s article on the lead up to, execution of and follow-on support for D-Day are an excellent study in project management.


The world we know today would not exist were it not for the thousands of people that engaged in project management activities all across the globe, virtual teams — planning, logistics, transportation, security, vendor management, risk management, intelligence, counter-intelligence, stakeholder management, budgeting, scheduling, contingency planning, morale, training, communications — all wrapped into a package of international collaboration and cooperation.

I had breakfast this morning with a group of military veterans, one of whom served in the Pacific during WW((. We didn’t discuss project management, just the awe that all the pieces came together, despite the set-backs, losses (which were horrific, as is any loss of life), and the determination to defeat what seemed to be an invincible foe.

Amazing things happen when people work together for a common cause.

Make the world a better place today, through your projects and your people.

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Grieving & project teams

I am writing this entry two weeks after my older brother, Keith, died. I am finding my ability to focus is diminished, my task completion rate has plummeted and my range of creativity has reduced.
And these things happen to teams, too. The recognition of grief by project managers is a significant source of interpersonal connection.
You probably won’t find that people that are grieving are openly sad, crying or down-trodden at work. However, you may recognize:
  • a decrease in conversation, especially in group meetings
  • shortened attention span, minds wandering at times
  • a desire to commit fully to work, denying the personal loss and taking on more commitments than usual
  • team members expressing empathy which is met with flat responses from the grieving team member
  • no change at all
So, what does a project manager do when they learn their team members have suffered a loss? I recall speaking with a team member about the loss of her husband. The conversation was as free and natural as if she had misplaced a coupon for lunch. She had processed her grieving and was well beyond any pain she felt discussing his death. There were also cultural implications I did not understand. I said, simply, “I am sorry to hear you lost your husband.” She nodded her head. That was it.
In another work setting, a workplace filled with cutting humor and personal slights, I offered a co-worker a word of support when his wife became ill to which he responded, “you are so full of sh**!” Context matters. I was a visitor to the office and hadn’t built up enough trust points with this person to have him understand my meaning. He thought I was making a joke out of his personal situation.
In a third situation, as our team was developing our project’s funding pitch to our executive board our project sponsor suffered a terrible loss. His wife died in an athletic competition the week before the presentation, leaving him devastated. We all mourned his loss. His charisma and energy had moved the project this far along and was needed, going forward, to sustain interest in the new technology we were proposing. The project was not funded.
In addition to death, people experience grief for a variety of other things which may trigger grieving:
  • loss of job
  • fear of losing a job
  • co-worker lay-offs
  • loss of a home due to finances, weather, fire or robbery
  • sexual abuse
  • awareness of the loss of others through social media
  • the loss of a family pet
  • a poor performance appraisal
If you are familiar with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) you may benefit from knowing if the person you are speaking to prefers Extraversion (thinking as they speak) or Intraversion (thinking it over BEFORE they speak). The Extraverting speaker will tell you lots of information as it becomes available to their minds, which may seem like rambling, while the Intraverting speaker will respond with a short courtesy such as, “I am fine. Thank you.” But you don’t need to know the person’s type to figure out how to best interact with them.

Go with your gut. Listen. Watch their eyes, their body language. You’ll get all the cues you’ll need to communicate effectively with a grieving team member.

How long is “long enough” for a person to grieve? We project managers expect quick results. If we have said we are sorry for someone’s loss, we’ve checked if off our To-Do List, and somewhere inside us we expect them to be “over it” and ready to move on, right? Back to normal. Plop, plop, fizz, fizz! It just doesn’t work that way. Know that the grieving process takes different amounts of time for different people and may change significantly for the same person depending on the relationship with the deceased and other life events the loss may trigger.
There is no fixed formula or schedule of events. A friend of mine, Doug Thompson, COO of Texas Roadhouse, says that love is spelled T-I-M-E, which plays well for those grieving losses of all types.
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You are great — why we believe YRG is the right coach for you


Working with a coach should be delightful. Here are five reasons why being coached by the Young Resource Group is different and may be the right fit for you:
  1. We recognize, honor and leverage spirituality. This is not religion. Our parents taught us to avoid discussing two things – religion and politics. We believe that each person brings to work the sum total of their faith, desires, hopes and passions and we are influenced by factors we can’t quite put into words. It’s often a gut feeing that points us towards life’s most rewarding experiences. And we often just know. This is what we mean by spirit.
  2. We believe that each person was put on this earth for a specific, unique purpose. Rare is the person that has discovered their own life purpose, but, oh, those people shine, don’t they? We want that glow, that energy, that love of life for you. What’s YOUR life purpose? We help you find it, articulate it, believe, and shape your choices and actions around your life purpose. It’s a powerful gift and it’s right there for you to discover and leverage.
  3. We believe you have the answers within you. When we tell a person something, we give them advice, for instance, it’s of limited value, often worthless. Rarely do they follow through. And if our advice fails to give them what they want, who is at fault, in their minds? Even if the advice works, we are building a dependency. They need us. The things they discover for themselves, however, are precious, beyond value. These discoveries are the fuel of transformation.
  4. We coach for a fixed time period. Individual coaching is usually complete within 5 months. Team coaching is one year. Beyond that time period, we know counterproductive dependencies develop. We encourage you to be wary of coaching relationships without a defined time period. If you are considering a coach, ask them, “how long is this going to take?” If their answer is ambiguous, beware. One recent coaching article listed the absence of a long-term client view as a short-coming of the International Coaching Federation core competencies. We see this as a strength of the ICF competencies. An effective coach should help the the client become aware of their own methods of being successful. Together with the coach, the client records, reviews and refines their own, unique strategies for living their life according to their own, unique purpose. When the relationship is viewed as temporary both parties are empowered to serve on larger scales beyond the client-coach relationship.
  5. Measures of growth, learning and results are built into our processes. We are authorized to use the tools and techniques of the Success Unlimited Network. It is amazing to see the looks of awe on the faces of coaches using  other systems when they see how methodically and transparently our methods capture, reinforce and leverage client learning and awareness. If you have time to compare the methods of several coaching approaches, we welcome your comments about what works best for you. Hundreds of clients and coaching competitors have said the SUN approach gives them so much more — fulfillment, awareness, documentation, return, joy, laughter, honesty, trust, confidence, power, direction — the things you may be looking for, too. Perhaps?

Mention this post when setting up your FREEpersonal coaching experience and receive a 20% coaching prograyrg-logo-horizontalm discount, if we both decide to work together. You can arrange a convenient time by clicking on my email link here:



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PM “parade of stars”

Looking for a way to increase the effectiveness of your project management team? A simple technique I’ve used to help organizations bust silos, increase collaboration and decrease learning curves is what I call the project management “parade of stars.”
Believe it or not, that title sells itself in some circles. It’s a quick meet and greet where each person describes their role in projects, what they need from the project managers, and a word of advice..
People at a telecomm company who held their own project management parade of stars invited:
  1. their project management office team, who shared templates the project managers could use and any mandatory reviews before, during and after the project
  2. their finance director who had several large infrastructure projects underway, shared how to request capital expenditures, types of costs the project managers should be aware of and how they might link up parts of the project to capitalized accounts or operating expense accounts
  3. product managers who were responsible for the projects executed under their product umbrella, shared how they like to receive reports about progress so they can forecast resources impacts (delays, cost over-runs) on their product lines
  4. a procurement manager who offered advice on writing a solid SOW and how much time project managers should factor into their schedules for contract negotiations depending on the complexity of the SOW — they showed examples of the very easy (a few hours) to very complex (a few months due to the number of sign-offs and terms)
  5. a member of their legal team who shared a few war stories of poorly constructed contracts causing headaches. The situations were purely hypothetical, of course.
A defense contracting company emphasized allowable and unallowable expenses and how those could be identified early in the project and monitored according to federal regulations.
An aerospace company focused on a new technology and critical contract that the project managers needed the synch their work efforts with, otherwise they would incur penalties.
The project management parade of stars can be delivered during the lunch break as a lunch and learn so people have an established network of people they need to work with outside of class. The organization benefits by having collaboration opportunities built into the session, increasing their return on their human capital investment.
Hope this helps,


You are great!

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What goes into your costs?

Young workers checking blue print at building place

Think of project costs as a blueprint for project work — no pay, no play 

Project cost estimates are based on several categories:

  • Direct costs — labor & materials, things you can see
  • Overhead — utilities, legal expenses, marketing, etc
  • Fixed costs — leases on equipment, facilities, financing costs
  • Variable costs — commissions, pay-per-hour resources

OK, how do you assign those costs to your project? Get help. Most likely, you will not have to do this work in isolation. In fact, you shouldn’t. There are a number of managerial and financial considerations that your financial, legal and managerial teams can share with you so that your project accounts for all the necessary costing. Leave out a key costing element and your career as a project manager may be short, at that organization, at least.

Where do you start? Your project scope statement defines the work to be done. It can be a challenge, however, to assign a price tag to the scope statement. Direct costs can be associated with the scope statement using a rough guess approach, comparing similar efforts (called analogous estimating) or a per-unit figure such as cost per unit (a technique called parametric estimating). These techniques are quick although the estimates created from these quick methods may not reflect the reality of the work, leaving money on the table, under-funding work or loss of profit. Project managers, especially those in the commercial space, should be keenly aware that profit represents the ability to do good things — pay bills, taxes, and do other projects in the future. Your role as the project manager is to sew up the gaps in understanding by creating as detailed an estimate as time / knowledge permits and to continually revise your estimates as the work moves forward (this practice is called “progressive elaboration” if you are preparing for the PMP exam or just want to impress your colleagues with jargon, and who doesn’t secretly love intimidating the uninitiated, right?).

So, how do you sew up the gaps in understanding? The most accurate method of estimating the work is called bottom-up estimating. This is a team effort. In bottom-up estimates, the team that will be doing the work or has expert knowledge of the work (as is the case on large projects that use professional project estimating teams), breaks down the scope statement into distinct deliverables. Often, the project contract, an agreement to work with an outside organization and a precursor to the project’s charter, contains this lower-level information. When it does, you can take the deliverables and break them down into the work needed to create those deliverables (this approach is called decomposition). While you are decomposing the work, it is a good idea to use the four cost categories as a checklist.

  1. Have we accounted for all the direct costs? Where will the work take place? Do we know the costs of doing work in that location, especially internationally?
  2. Are there any indirect costs we haven’t considered, especially risks associated with the activities and management of those activities?
  3. What are policies and laws governing how we apply overhead to the project? Are we missing cost elements that could cause revenue leakage?
  4. Have variable costs such as the additional costs for overtime and extra equipment hours been included, just in case? Have we included money for testing and inspections? Remember, what we fail to invest in quality we usually pay for later as the result of poor quality.

Details on these approaches can be found in a number of resources, which I will gladly share should anyone be interested — just drop me a line. Cheers! Gordon


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The (Lasting) Power of Acceptance

I was speaking to a group of project managers the other day about team-building. We shared examples of ropes courses, timed games, and other high-adrenaline situations that are designed to bring people together, depend upon one other in stretch situations (things out of one’s comfort zone), and foster deeper understanding and trust. I added that team-building can leverage these events but a project manager’s primarily responsibility is to build that productive, trusting environment for the team. No one else is going to do it.
At that moment two podcasts from National Public Radio came to mind. The first is a new jobs program in CA providing increased access to work for transgender employees. Kristy Ramirez, interviewed for the story, owns 6 Pollo Loco franchise stores in CA. She opened her first store prior to transitioning. In 2012, when she hired her first transgender employee, that employee told her how tough it was to find a job. Turns out that transgender people have twice the unemployment rate of the rest of the population. Ms. Ramirez hired several more transgender employees and found that her business increased, beyond transgender customers, that one might expect on the surface. Respect for individuals seems to be a recognizable, marketable practice, I told the project managers. Nods of recognition.
I shared a second NPR story that supported my point — Subaru’s profound business turn-around linked to the lesbian population. Turns out that in the 1990’s Subaru recognized a small but dedicated following of its all-wheel drive vehicles were lesbian. This happened almost by accident as Tim Mahoney, head of Subaru’s marketing team had a colleague that was gay and he shared this insight with Mahoney. Smartly,  Subaru pursued this market segment. Subaru hired a small advertising firm to create subtle cues to lesbians in their national advertising. Appealing directly was too risky at that point in time. Subaru could alienate heterosexuals from the brand if things didn’t work out. Subaru took the plunge. Using inside jokes that were  glaringly obvious to the lesbian community but innocuous to the rest of the population (that’s a hidden joke, after all), Subaru hired Lucy Lawless, the actress behind Xena, Warrior Princess to appear in their ads. The also placed a few clues on license plates in the ads, all inside jokes to the community. That campaign reinforced what Subaru learned, effectively saying, “Hey. We know you are out there. Thanks for doing business with us. We like you.” And it worked. That ad campaign was nearly 25 years ago and the power of acceptance, the power of saying, “I see you” has stuck.
Wow! How’d you like to make THAT happen on your projects, in your business? That’s some powerful stuff! At that point in my stormdp-otaku-obsessed-with-drivingy to the project managers I noticed the hair on my arms standing on end. I was electric.
Recognizing and accepting
people for who they are, where they are and appreciating them.
Now that’s something to drive home.
You are great!
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