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Statistical Sampling

During the election time, agencies associated with the publishing media conducts exit polls to forecast the results. They do not base their analysis on the entire population of the country, instead they take a sample of the total population, which is a true representation of the total population. This is one of the best examples of statistical sampling I can think of. Sampling of defects while formulating corrective actions / preventive actions can be a more relevant example of statistical sampling within the project management domain.

In statistics, quality assurance, and survey methodology, sampling is the selection of a subset (a statistical sample) of individuals from within a statistical population to estimate characteristics of the whole population. Statisticians attempt for the samples to represent the population in question. Two advantages of sampling are lower cost and faster data collection than measuring the entire population.

References

Wikipedia

Project Management Certifications. Which one to pursue?

Which project management career / certification to pursue?..that is a million dollar question which every professional face, at some point in time of their career.  The social media is quite misleading as new certifications are popping up every other day. This discussion is to clear the clutter while deciding on which project management certification to pursue for those who wants to advance their project management career.

Broadly speaking there are two major streams in project management;

  • The Agile project management
  • Traditional project management

Both streams are valuable, and complementary.  Which one will give you the fastest return on investment depends on;

  • The industry to which you belong to
  • The industry where you want to spend your future
  • The country where you will be working

Decision#1 – Choosing between Agile stream and the Traditional Project Management stream

Before choosing the streams, it will be better to understand what is agile or adaptive project management and the traditional project management. Agile comprises of a family of frameworks like Scrum, XP, SAFe etc. The similarity across all these frameworks is the iteration spanning not more than 30 days. The total road map of the product is split into multiple iterations (sprints) not exceeding 30 days. Every sprint starts with a sprint planning meeting and ends with a sprint review. All these frameworks recommend a daily stand up meeting to quickly review the status of the project. Though it is much more complicated than this, as an introduction this much knowledge is sufficient. Agile frameworks are ideal for projects where requirements are continuously evolving and the technology is also new to the team. Hence, they are best fit for new product development.

If you want to know more about agile using scrum, click here

The traditional project management frameworks like (PMBOK, PRINCE) revolve around the famous Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) life cycle. They are ideal for projects where the requirements are frozen and are very difficult to change. For example, in construction projects, the engineering discipline does not allow for change hence requirements must be frozen upfront.

If you want to learn more about traditional project management, click here

So, unlike many, I am not interested to discuss which one is better. It depends on the nature of the projects you are handling. While for some projects agile is the best fit, for certain others traditional project management is best.

  • If you are working on EPC (Engineering, Procurement & Construction) intensive projects, then select the traditional project management stream.  Most of the construction projects falls into this stream.
  • If you are working on new product development projects where requirements are evolving and the technology is also new, then select Agile stream. Most of the I.T projects falls into this stream.
  • If you are from the construction project back ground, or intend to build your project management career in the construction industry, then choose the traditional project management stream.
  • If you are from I.T projects, or R&D projects or intend to build your project management career in I.T or R&D then choose the agile project management stream.

The globally well known certifications for project managers

Traditional project management certifications 

Agile project management certifications 

  • Certified Scrum Master (CSM), by Scrumalliance
  • Professional Scrum Master (PSM) by Scrum.org
  • Agile Certified Practitioner (ACP) by PMI-USA
  • Scaled Agile Frameworks (Safe)

If you are from the information technology domain, it is better to with any one of the agile certifications straightaway. The certified Scrum Master (CSM) by Scrumalliance is expensive and has the early starter advantage, where as PSM is not that expensive, and at the same time it is very authentic, because it is coming from Ken Schwaber’s Scrum.org. For those of you who do not know Ken Schwaber, he founded scrum along with Jeff Sutherland, and both of them together developed the scrum guide, which is the most authentic documentation on scrum, becuase it is coming from the founders. The syllabus for these two certifications (CSM and PSM) are the ScrumGuide, and upon completion of the certification process, one will have the proficiency to play the role of a scrum master (project manager, in the traditional forms).

Then we have the PMI-ACP certification. The syllabus for this certification is a cocktail of all the frameworks available out there and calls for;

  • Complete understanding of  SCRUM
  • A very good understanding of Extreme Programming
  • Some key concepts like earned value management, risk management, communications management from the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK)
  • Complete understanding of Agile body of knowledge

After getting anyone of the agile certifications, then try for PMP credential. Without a proper understanding of the ten knowledge areas of PMBOK;

  • Integration management
  • Scope management
  • Time management
  • Cost management
  • Quality management
  • Communications management
  • Human resource management
  • Risk management
  • Procurement management
  • Stakeholder management

one will fail, when it comes to real life project management. More than that, while the future holds good for the Agile, many customers insist on PMP’s to manage their projects. If you are from the I.T background, these two certifications are mandatory. Start with agile, and then graduate into PMBOK. Both complements.

If you are from any other domain, other than I.T, then the options are either PMP or PRINCE2 or the AACE certifications.

Since the origins of PRINCE2 are from U.K, it is appreciated there, and the rest of the world is with PMP. So, based on where you are, and where your customers are, you have to decide.

AACE Certifications

Please post all your additional queries as comments to this page, and I will reply.

Application of questionnaires and surveys in projects

We use questionnaires based surveys for requirements collection, feed back collection, satisfaction surveys, competitors analysis. The list is incomplete as imagination and creativity is the limit for the application of questionnaire based surveys. In training projects we use questionnaires to assess the knowledge transfer effectiveness of the training programs.

The following sections are taken from Wikipedia

questionnaire is a research instrument consisting of a series of questions (or other types of prompts) for the purpose of gathering information from respondents. The questionnaire was invented by the Statistical Society of London in 1838.

Although questionnaires are often designed for statistical analysis of the responses, this is not always the case.

Questionnaires have advantages over some other types of surveys in that they are cheap, do not require as much effort from the questioner as verbal or telephone surveys, and often have standardized answers that make it simple to compile data. However, such standardized answers may frustrate users as the possible answers may not accurately represent their desired responses.

Basic guidelines for framing questions

  • Use statements which are interpreted in the same way by members of different sub-populations of the population of interest.
  • Use statements where persons that have different opinions or traits will give different answers.
  • Think of having an “open” answer category after a list of possible answers.
  • Use only one aspect of the construct you are interested in per item.
  • Use positive statements and avoid negatives or double negatives.
  • Do not make assumptions about the respondent.
  • Use clear and comprehensible wording, easily understandable for all educational levels
  • Use correct spelling, grammar and punctuation.
  • Avoid items that contain more than one question per item (e.g. Do you like strawberries and potatoes?).
  • Question should not be biased or even leading the participant towards an answer.

Reference – Wikipedia

PM-Tools

PM-Book

Application of market research for projects

Projects deliver unique product or services. How successful the product of the project after deployment determines the success and failure of the project from the owner’s perspective. Conducting a detailed market research will help to validate the assumptions made while justifying the investment into the product idea.

Market research is an organized effort to gather information about target markets or customers. It is a very important component of business strategy. The term is commonly interchanged with marketing research; however, expert practitioners may wish to draw a distinction, in that marketing research is concerned specifically about marketing processes, while market research is concerned specifically with markets.

Market research is one of the main factors used in maintaining competitiveness over competitors. Market research provides important information which helps to identify and analyze the needs of the market, the market size and the competition. Market-research techniques encompass both qualitative techniques such as focus groups, in-depth interviews, and ethnography, as well as quantitative techniques such as customer surveys, and analysis of secondary data.

Market research, which includes social and opinion research, is the systematic gathering and interpretation of information about individuals or organizations using statistical and analytical methods and techniques of the applied social sciences to gain insight or support decision making.

Examples of factors that can be analysed using market research are;

  • Market Information
  • Market segmentation
  • Market trends
  • SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats)
  • PEST analysis (Political, Economical, Social, Technology related external factors

Reference Wikipedia

PM Book

PM Tools

Application of Focus groups

Focus groups are a research method used to gather feedback and opinions from customers. Each person in the group is encouraged to participate in a discussion which is pre-planned by a researcher and is guided by a facilitator. Focus groups are typically used to gauge opinion and gather information from users about products, services, and features before they have been developed.

focus group is a small, but demographically diverse group of people and whose reactions are studied especially in market research or political analysis in guided or open discussions about a new product or something else to determine the reactions that can be expected from a larger population. The use of focus groups is a research method that is intended to collect data, through interactive and directed discussions by a researcher.

Focus groups, or group interviews, is a technique used by sociologists and in different fields of study which include communication studies, education, political science, and public health. Marketers can use the information collected through focus groups to receive insights on a specific product, issue, or topic. It is a form of qualitative research consisting of interviews in which a group of people are asked about their perceptions, opinions, beliefs, and attitudes towards a product, service, concept, advertisement, idea, or packaging. Questions are asked in an interactive group setting where participants are free to talk with other group members. During this process, the researcher either takes notes or records the vital points he or she is getting from the group. Researchers should select members of the focus group carefully for effective and authoritative responses.

Online focus groups

Focus groups typically are conducted face-to-face, but the emergence of technology has enabled qualitative research to reach online approaches. There are two types of online methods; synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous methods allows for researchers to conduct live chats which try to mimic in-person interviews. Asynchronous methods collect participant information through online communication such as forums and email lists. Challenges within asynchronous online focus groups include sporadic participation over time and a potential timely study. Within synchronous online focus groups, challenges include timing not working for participants and lack of accessibility. Online focus group benefits include no transportation necessary and ease of access, while online focus group complications include lack of technology and minimal technological skill .

Advantages to online focus groups allow those to participant who are geographically far from each other and increase participation by engaging with those who are more comfortable with internet use. Disadvantages of online focus groups include losing associated non-verbal behavior which could factor into assessing qualitative research.

Reference

Wikipedia

PM Tools

PM Book

Usage of Checklists

People use checklists for two reasons. One is because there is no room for error. Aviation industry uses the maximum number of checklists. Pilots do more than 150+ checks before every take off. They use checklists not because they do not know their job, but because there is no room for error.

People also may use checklists for preventing errors committed by those who are new to the job. Since no two projects are identical, during project planning, one need to plan for the check sheets to be used during the project management life cycle like;

  • Requirements review checklists
  • Contract review checklists
  • Design review checklists
  • Quality related checklists

There is a cost associated with designing check lists, training people to collect and analyse data, collecting data, collating data, analyzing data and then taking corrective / preventive actions. All these costs are part of the price of conformance and must be factored into project cost estimates.

PM Tools

PM BOOK

Designing effective check sheets

The defining characteristic of a check sheet is that data are recorded by making marks (“checks”) on it. A typical check sheet is divided into regions, and marks made in different regions have different significance. Data are read by observing the location and number of marks on the sheet.

Check sheets typically employ a heading that answers the Five Ws:

  • Who filled out the check sheet
  • What was collected (what each check represents, an identifying batch or lot number)
  • Where the collection took place (facility, room, apparatus)
  • When the collection took place (hour, shift, day of the week)
  • Why the data were collected.

Check sheets are used to;

  • To quantify defects by type
  • To quantify defects by location
  • To quantify defects by cause (machine, worker)
  • To keep track of the completion of steps in a multi-step procedure

There is a cost associated with designing check sheets, training people to collect and analyse data, collecting data, collating data, analyzing data and then taking corrective / preventive actions. All these costs are part of the price of conformance and must be factored into project cost estimates.

Sample check sheet

PM Tools

PM BOOK

Reference

Check sheet – Wiki

How to conduct brainstorming?

The moment one is a manager it becomes mandatory to collaborate with others and play on the strengths of others. Brainstorming is a great tool which will help to collaborate intellectually. It is possible to brainstorm even remotely using collaboration tools like skype, teams, zoom, gtalk, gotomeeting, gtalk etc as long as we follow the ground rules of brainstorming.

The objective of brainstorming is to generate as many ideas as possible from the participants of the brainstorming session. The following points will help you to conduct brainstorming sessions effectively. Once again I will use the PDCA framework to explain this.

before doing it. Usually there will be a moderator for brainstorming who ensures that the basic brainstorming gudelines are followed.

Plan brainstorming

  • Identify the topic for brainstorming.
  • Choose the venue with sufficient space and a big enough white board to capture details.
  • Send invitations along with the topic, start time and end time.
  • Identify the moderator

Do brainstorming

  • The moderator must explain the ground rules of brainstorming to the participants first.
  • All participants must get equal opportunity to contribute
  • When someone is expressing their ideas, no one is allowed to validate them.
  • Participants can build on others ideas.
  • All ideas are captured by the moderator or anyone designated by the moderator.

Check the data captured

  • Group the ideas based on their complementary nature.
  • Eliminate redundant ones

Act

  • Prioritise
  • Take action

Effective bench marking steps

When I was working for a product company well known for it’s product quality and testing practices, another product company wanted to benchmark their testing practices with our company. That was my first tryst with Benchmarking.

Do you want to learn and improve fast? It could be your product, project, process or even you as a professional. The best approach would be to bench mark with a better product, project, process or professional with an intent to learn and improve faster. This is a smarter approach than trying to re-invent the wheel by yourself, which is both expensive and time consuming.

Project benchmarking is a process which helps to compare the estimated cost, scope, schedule and project cashflows with past similar projects. It is also possible to benchmark a project against industry standards and frameworks. For example, one can always benchmark a project’s plan with its compliance against leading project management frameworks like PMBOK by the Project Management Institute (USA), Total Cost Management Framework (TCM) by AACE, Projects in Controlled Environment (PRINCE2) by AXELOS, Standards from Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) etc.

The output of bench marking will provide the gaps which needs special focus. Bench marking is commonly used in Public projects as the government has access to large amounts of data of similar project.

How to perform effective bench marking?

1. Plan Bench marking

  • Define the purpose and scope of the bench marking exercise
  • Form the team
  • Identify the source and target to bench mark
  • Define the benchmark study report template
  • Define the time line

2. Do Bench marking

  • Collect data
  • Validate data
  • Develop bench mark report

3. Check the bench mark report

  • Validate the accuracy benchmark report

4. Act on the bench mark report finding

  • Identify the corrective actions
  • Form the corrective action teams
  • Plan the corrective action projects
  • Execute the corrective action projects
  • Evaluate the results
  • Institutionalize