Project Management and the Self Destructing Project Update!

Social media is everywhere.

Of the 7.3 billion people on the planet, 31% or 2.3 billion people actively use social media to communicate, to share and to build a sense of community. In a parallel universe, some of the key drivers of Project Management are to communicate, to inform and to develop high performing teams. Given how popular and powerful social media has become, what will this mean for the way we manage projects?

Communication is considered to be the lifeblood of Project Management. The better the communication within a project, the better the outcome will be. Any tool that will help internal communication has to be seriously considered; particularly in today’s workplace where virtual project teams, spread all over the globe, are very common.

Some organisations already have begun to use enterprise-grade social media, although these business-focussed tools tend to be a little different to the tools that flourish in the wild. For example, Yammer is deployed as a business-focussed alternative to Facebook; various Instant Messaging tools such as Skype for Business take the place of WhatsApp and enterprise tools such as SocialCast are found in organisations as a replacement for microblogging tools such as Twitter.

The value of these social-media inspired tools is well known and this article does not intend to review those benefits in detail. Instead, I will reflect briefly on some key traits that will drive adoption of such tools within businesses and within project teams and I will highlight the important lessons we need to learn if we are to leverage the power of these tools to the potential.

Up until the 1980’s, staff sent and received their internal communications via paper using internal post – the Mail Room was the nerve centre of an organization. Then Email came in, and quickly became the dominant business communication channel. People of my generation started to use web-based email clients such as Hotmail back in the 90’s before they ever started work. Once those people entered the workforce, they were very comfortable with email, knew how to use it and indeed they expected it to be the primary communication choice in large organisations (apart from actual face to face communication – but that is a story for a different day!). The etiquette and rules of engagement when using email were understood by new employees before they even entered the workforce.

Fast forward to today’s new entrants into the workforce. These Millenials consider email to be from a bygone age. They are much more comfortable using more social media related tools. These are the people who will be managing large projects in five years time – and these people will expect to use the equivalent of Whatsapp, Facebook and Instagram to communicate their thoughts and messages to the project team. Moreover, the project managers of tomorrow and will be using tools such ooVoo (Group video chat), Vine (6 second video loops) and anonymous confessional apps such as Whisper, and SnapChat – the self-destructing message intended for short-lived communications.

The important lesson for us incumbents in the world of Project Management is not to learn the latest hot tools that new entrants are using in their personal lives, but to understand that when these people start working in project teams, they will not only be comfortable with social media tools – they will expect and demand that those tools are used. They will view emails to be as old fashioned and cumbersome as we now think of ink and quills and blotting paper. They will treat cumbersome corporate collaboration tools as being a pale imitations of the tools they normally use.

Organisations must understand this change is coming and must design and integrate better enterprise-level social media tools which mimic the ease-of-use and the user experience of the tools used every day by the new generation. Some key traits that have been proven to influence enterprise social media tools are ease of adoption, performance expectancy, social influence and team trust. These elements must be designed into the new set of enterprise social media tools if they are to gain traction. Additionally, effort must be spent to ensure that business social media tools reflect the reality of how social media is used out in the real world.

It may not be long now before Vine-like video loops are used in getting project updates from virtual teams; we may see use of confessional anonymous platforms to reports project issues and how long before we see self-destructing messages are utilised to deliver sensitive news – a great solution to the “don’t shoot the messenger” problem in organizations. It cannot be long until you are live micro-blogging a big deployment in your organisation because that is the way team members expect to receive updates on events in general. If adopting these new social media technologies helps people to be more comfortable in communicating openly within project teams, this will be a huge plus for an organization and it will lead to more successful projects.

For more information on the integration of social media into project management practise please refer to the recently published Strategic Integration of Social Media into Project Management Practice or drop me a line at

The Secret (?) Life of a Business Analyst

Back when I worked in a telecoms company, there were various well defined roles – system engineers, software developers, testers, support engineers and project managers. We never used the term ‘Business Analyst’. Later, when working for Aspira and dealing with lots of different industries, it was a role that I heard mentioned a lot, although I noticed that different organisations seemed to define the role differently.

Some organisations seemed to consider a Business Analyst to be a System Tester – someone who would be familiar with system requirements and carry out detailed testing against those requirements. More often, organisations suggested the main responsibility of the Business Analyst (or BA) was to define and document the requirements and then hand them over to the system developers. A few organisations used the BA role exclusively to carry out Business Process Analysis, identifying the “as is” process and defining the “to be” process as part of managing change projects. Some organisations seemed confused about BAs versus Project Managers often using the same people to fill both roles. In order to figure out how to join this secretive Business Analyst club, we first need to understand how to define the role.

At its simplest, the Business Analyst role is to elicit and define requirements, whether that solution is a technical system or a business process. This means pulling people together to figure out what the desired solution needs to do, so the ability to run workshops and organize people is important – a trait the BA shares with Project Managers. Once the BA has completed the requirements definition it proves really useful to have the BA then review the Testing Strategy. This ensures that the Test Cases will give the solution a comprehensive verification and validation prior to the solution ‘going live’.

So it’s easy to see why different organisations emphasise different aspects of the Business Analyst Role – it is a very wide ranging role. What I find interesting is that it is a role that has historically been under-resourced. When Aspira are asked to take over a troubled project and recover it, one common theme we see is that the project’s requirements have not been clearly defined. No project can ever deliver against requirements if nobody knows what those requirements are. I know that sounds obvious, but I bet you can think of some projects you’ve worked on (or are working on!) where there was no proper set of requirements.

What do I mean by “proper” requirements? There are seven criteria that need to be met before I am happy with a set of requirements:

“Some organisations seemed confused about BAs versus Project Managers often using the same people to fill both roles.”

The Secret Seven

Comprehensive: Requirements must be detailed. If you were building a house, would you agree on a specification that just states “a bungalow”? No – you would want to specify the size, the aspect, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, the build quality, etc. etc.

Complete: Requirements must be all-encompassing, covering all aspects of the solution. This means including both the functional requirements (e.g. the use-cases) and the non-functional requirements (e.g. the level of performance required, the level of data security required).

Coherent: The Requirements must be understandable and make sense. Some people go on an ego-trip when defining requirements and use loads of technical jargon that may not be understood. It is important that the people who will be using the requirements to design and build a solution can understand those requirements.

Testable: A good requirement has to be testable, otherwise it shouldn’t qualify as a requirement. We have to be precise enough in our terminology that when a tester goes to write a test case, there should be no ambiguity. The system either does or does not meet the requirement – there is no ‘in between’, and this should make our tester very happy! Ambiguity exists when a requirement can be interpreted to mean different things. Multi-Billion dollar international space exploration projects have failed because of people specifying distance in numbers but no units. The French team assumed it meant metres, the USA team assumed feet. When I moved to Cork and asked if it was possible for an engineer to deliver a piece of functionality, I was told “I will, yeah”, so that was great… I thought. I have since learned that “I will, yeah” is Cork ‘slang’ for “No”. So be careful to define your requirements clearly and with zero ambiguity so that they can be tested.

Realistic: While I may yearn for world peace and to end world hunger, it is unlikely that my next project will achieve such lofty targets, so it would make no sense to state them as requirements of the project. Any requirements specified must be realistic achievable, not a fantasy wish-list.

Achievable: Part of the Project Manager’s job is to balance the project constraints of scope, cost, time and quality. The Business Analyst role is to define the scope into a set of detailed requirements. But that should not be done in a vacuum – the BA must check what the expectation is for the project schedule and budget, and aim to define a set of requirements that can be delivered in line with those constraints.

Non-conflicting: It’s easy to spot conflicting requirements for a small project – if you are told to meet “a tall, small, dark stranger” you will immediately seek clarification on whether the stranger is tall or small. But if you have a list of hundreds of requirements, or if you are passing on those requirements to a bunch of different people to implement, it is quite possible nobody will spot the conflict and will build a solution that doesn’t work. So it is up to the Business Analyst to ensure that the requirements are all in alignment and do not contradict each other.

“A good requirement has to be testable, otherwise it shouldn’t qualify as a requirement.”

Internationally Recognised Standard

Over the past few years, the role of the Business Analyst has become much better defined and standardised. An international body, called the International Institute of Business Analysis (IIBA®) has defined the Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK®). This is analogous to the PMI®s PMBOK® for Project Managers – a collection of best practices that have evolved over time. The IIBA® have established a set of certifications for Business Analysts, which require the candidate BA to have completed 3 days of approved training, have a certain number of years’ experience, and pass a multiple choice exam. Once this is complete, the candidate becomes a Certified Business Analyst, internationally recognised.

There are fewer certified BAs than there are PMs at the moment, but the rate of growth for BAs is far higher as the industry recognition of the value of qualified Business Analysts has grown considerably.

Aspira has invested heavily in building a range of Business Analysis services, from consultancy to help our clients create better requirements, to provision of BAs, to provision of the 3-day certified BA training courses, we offer wide range of BA services.

For technical Project Managers, we have found that attending the 3-day BA course is very useful. It provides the PM with a far deeper appreciation of the BA role and how to elicit requirements, and even if the PM is not interested in becoming a certified BA, the training will deliver 24 PDUs to help the PM retain his/her PMP®  certification.

If you are interested in talking to us on how to de-mystify the BA role, or for advice on the most suitable BA training, please contact us at

Mission Complete!


The Project Management Professional (PMP) is a registered mark of the Project Management Institute, Inc.

The Challenges of Managing Global Projects

Global projects are an increasing reality for those working in a Multinational environment. It is commonplace to work with people in far-flung corners of the world, across different time-zones, united by the goal to deliver the project on time. There are lots of advantages to global teams, eliminating the need for shift-work, giving access to niche expertise, and facilitating lower project cost through use of a blend of near-shore and far-shore locations.

It’s not all plain sailing once the global project kicks off. Everyday tasks are more challenging, trying to get everybody across different locations to reach consensus can be like herding cats – a challenging pursuit. A few months into the project and the initial positive outlook can be a distant memory, with cultural differences and mixed messages causing distrust and negativity within the team.

We at Aspira have the capability and experience to cope with these challenges and set up a global project team to be successful. Our experience of working on international projects with a team spread all over the globe helps us to assist and manoeuvre around obstacles in a proactive manner – we have learned how to gather up those cats.

“Building up trust between team members requires that you demonstrate consistency between what you say and what you do.”

Managing the Global Team

Trust is an important element for any high performing team. It takes time to build up, but can be easily lost. Poor communication and mixed signals can cause some parts of the project team to feel superfluous to requirements and exposed. Then defensive behaviours set in and the circle of trust gets broken. It’s downhill all the way after that.

As with some many things in life, the key to successful management of global projects is to have strong channels of communication. Communicate, communicate, communicate, and then communicate some more. Building up trust between team members requires that you demonstrate consistency between what you say and what you do. That means communicating clearly and then living up to what you’ve said.

It also helps to be mindful towards the others working on your dispersed team – be aware of the different time zones in which the individuals operate. It will not always be possible to get that perfect time slot that suits everyone, but having consideration for the team is important so that the same people are not expected to climb out of bed to join conference calls each week – the pain should be shared. There are various online tools which are available to help you to quickly work out timings for cross-time zone meetings.

Our experience is that global teams will appreciate you simply asking the team at the start of a project what their time zone is and explaining you will do your best to ensure that any online conferences or calls with take this into consideration. You explain that there may be the odd occasion where calls need to occur at an inconvenient time for someone, somewhere. Variation in the times is key as everyone will feel like their individual time zone is being taken into consideration.

“We are all guilty of pinging off emails and forget sometimes that we have a phone.”

Religious and National Holidays

Not as easy it sounds. If you are a global manager, understanding your team’s background is crucial. Being aware of local custom and events is definitely an important part of successfully managing a global team. National holidays can easily be picked up off the internet, it is always a good idea to put these into any project calendar, and then ask the individuals to check the project calendar to ensure these are correct. As religion is always a personal subject, a private email or message is recommended to ensure inclusion without prejudice. We use which has both time zones and holiday information collated in one place for easy access.

Collaborate Effectively

Checking in with team members and occasionally using the phone is a great way to encourage collaboration. We are all guilty of pinging off emails and forget sometimes that we have a phone. If you have a long list of questions, firing off emails might seem like a good idea, however we suggest that the occasional call , and sometimes a little bit of chit-chat goes a long way to getting the best out of the team. Speaking on the phone can often help to convey a complex message which might otherwise be misconstrued over email. It is good practice to encourage team members to do the same. Remote working can sometimes feel a little like you are disconnected with head office or others in the team so this small gesture can go a really long way.

Don’t sweat the small stuff!

Unless something absolutely impacts results, it’s important to try not to get too worried about people’s individual approaches to their work, or their unique work style. Everyone communicates differently and each person has their own style. There are many different ways to get the job done; one way isn’t always the only way and some of these variations might be because of cultural differences. At the end of the day, the project is about getting the right results, it’s about achieving goals.

How to Estimate a Job for a Customer

The three-point estimation technique is simple yet can be very powerful when planning a project for a client. Aspira CEO, Pat Lucey, was asked by popular business planning website, to contribute a piece on estimating a project for a client.

Planning and estimating a project

When it comes to planning and evaluating a project, the three-point technique is much more efficient than wild guesswork. When planning a project, the estimation phase should happen early on, when there are a lot of unknowns and uncertainty is high.
A three-point estimate can give a good indication of the cost, duration, and effort that will be required, without tying anyone down to the last cent. For example, if I’m thinking of implementing a new CRM system, and come up with an early estimate that says it will cost somewhere between €20,000 and €50,000 – that may well be all the information I need if my budget is only €5,000. There is no reason to get the exact figure because I know I can’t afford to do the project.

“It is useful when estimating to get a few people involved, precisely so they will remember all the different aspects of the project and help build out a comprehensive estimate.”

How long is a piece of string?

When it comes to planning and evaluating a project, the three-point technique is much more efficient than wild guesswork. When planning a project, the estimation phase should happen early on, when there are a lot of unknowns and uncertainty is high.

A three-point estimate can give a good indication of the cost, duration, and effort that will be required, without tying anyone down to the last cent. For example, if I’m thinking of implementing a new CRM system, and come up with an early estimate that says it will cost somewhere between €20,000 and €50,000 – that may well be all the information I need if my budget is only €5,000. There is no reason to get the exact figure because I know I can’t afford to do the project.

Don’t forget all the elements of the job

Other things to note when estimating is that there is a tendency to forget ancillary activities. For example, it is very common for software developers to include the technical tasks, like defining the system requirements and the architecture and writing the software. They may even remember to include an estimate for the testing. But they will often forget to include the effort to deploy and support the system, to create any documentation required by the system users, to deliver training to those users, and the time needed to project manage the whole thing.

It is useful when estimating to get a few people involved, precisely so they will remember all the different aspects of the project and help build out a comprehensive estimate.

The final step is to effectively communicate your three-point estimate. Some clients will just want to see a single number, but it is more useful to walk a customer through the three-point estimate. It will help them appreciate that there are uncertainties and that perhaps they can make some decisions (or set constraints) that will contribute to reducing the effort and cost of the project. This allows the client to see a range of possible outcomes and lets them see the most uncertain – and therefore the riskiest – parts of the project.

The ‘three-point’ is a simple technique but one of the most powerful and efficient you can use. Try it out for yourself and watch the success rate of your projects soar. Article by Pat Lucey, CEO.
Original article available at

Kick-Starting a Project | Pat Lucey, CEO and Founder of Aspira

Getting started on a project is tough. Usually people are still busy focusing on other projects that are being delivered, or supporting projects that have just been delivered. For a new project there can be lots of uncertainty and people will tend to procrastinate in the hope that the uncertainty will resolve itself. It won’t.

The challenge is a by-product of the 80/20 rule, which is that 20% of the work takes 80% of the time. For projects, that 80% of the time can be taken up by delays in getting started and delays in getting finished. Of course, it is precisely at this early stage that you need the experts involved – the people who have the battle scars and are best placed to put a realistic set of estimates and a realistic plan together. But because those people are like Hen’s Tech (i.e. extremely rare) there can be pressure on the Project Manager to just get going and use whoever is available to build the plan. Are that approach generally means you are storing up trouble for later in the project. In Aspira, we developed the Project Kick-Start service as a way to accelerate through the ‘getting started’ phase.

Novel Project Tools

We found that by combining a streamlined process with novel use of project management tools, we are able to generate 3 months of progress on a project within 2 weeks duration. Aspira has achieved that degree of acceleration consistently, across different industries and across projects of different size.

The process centers around approx. 2 days of direct engagement with stakeholders. There will be a couple of hours with the project sponsor, a day with the project manager and then a day-long workshop which requires the project team (or relevant stakeholders if the team has not yet been formed). The workshop is focused on building out the project Work Breakdown Structure, with the goal being to define the breadth of the project. This is a hugely important activity as it forces the team to consider all aspects of the project. It often unearths elements of work that people didn’t realise would be required. In parallel with doing that, our consultants leverage the existing project team dynamics to identify a comprehensive set of dependencies, risks, assumptions, constraints and action items to populate the project logs.

One point to note here is the importance of having the right people and right degree of management commitment in the workshop. You cannot just pluck random people from the canteen and send them in. It has to be the right people, with the expertise to answer detailed questions and the influence to make decisions. The biggest commitment for an organization in running the Kick-Start process is that they will commit to freeing up the right people for that 1-day workshop, and that might be a challenge for organisations as certain people can be in demand across multiple projects.

Once we have identified all the work packages we investigate different ways of structuring the project to make it easier to manage – for example by group related work under the same work unit, and therefore minimizing delays and dependencies.

The next step is to use that data to automatically populate our estimation worksheet. This is a tool that uses the expertise of the team to come up with effort estimates for the work to be done, even when there is a high degree of uncertainty involved.

Finding Problems, Not Solutions

We finish up the 1 day workshop by carrying out a risk pre-mortem session. This is a technique where we use people’s creativity not to find solutions, but to find problems (I bet you don’t get asked for that very often!). In other words we get people thinking about what might go wrong. We find taking this approach will lead to a different type of risk getting identified early – the type of risk that people may voice in the canteen but not raise as part of a formal risk identification meeting.

At this point, the participants go home having emptied their brains. Our job is then to take all that data – the work packages, the estimates, the dependencies, the risks, and use them to create a high level schedule (MS Gantt chart) for the project, plus create a RAID log (Risks, Assumptions, Issues, Dependencies). There will be some to and fro with the project manager to get this right, and for smaller projects it might take 5 days rather than 2 weeks, but usually within two weeks we have a project charter, WBS, High Level Schedule and detailed RAID log. This gives the project great momentum, and puts the PM in a position where he/she can push the team to maintain that momentum.

Aspira then provide options to our clients. Sometimes we just stop after the Kick Start and the client PM just takes over. Other times, we provide an enterprise project planning service, where we take the high level schedule further and work alongside the PM to build out a detailed schedule, including resourcing, etc.

One of our clients likes to use the Project Kick-Start approach as a way to evaluate different project options. Rather than just kick off a project, they have us work with their team to complete a Kick start for 2 or 3 different approaches to implementing that project, and then they have lots of data to help them decide which approach is likely to be faster/cheaper/less risky.

Applies across Industry Segments

Hopefully this gives you an idea of how it all works. We have used it for projects in a host of different areas – Medical Devices, Software Development, Natural Resources, Construction, IT, Manufacturing, Financial Services, and we have found that it consistently delivers. I can never predict exactly how any one individual session will go – sometime we have projects that we expect to be straightforward but during the workshop a question is asked which turns everything on its head. Other times there are projects which seem to be full of unknowns, but just getting the right people in the room can bring clarity and structure.

There is an apt saying “A good start is half the battle”. By using Aspira’s Project Kick-Start service, you can make use of a proven technique to get a great start on your project. If you’d like a specific discussion about how this might apply to your project, please contact us at – our door is always open to you.

Project Management Experts On Call

Project Management as a business discipline is the ability to deliver any particular project result using certain guiding principles. It can also be defined as the discipline of initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing the work of a team to achieve specific goals and meet specific success criteria. Aspira has a long track record of delivering project management as a specialist service to enterprise organisations and companies globally.

Often in larger organisations Aspira Project Managers are on hand to work with many different strategic business units in completing assigned packages of work. The initiation of a project often starts with gathering the project team and selecting the project manager, who will then oversee communication and plan the different parts of the project including the executing and controlling activities. In this article we will look at some guiding principles of project management, will review some methodologies within project management and consider some projects where these methodologies can be applied, such as Mobile, ICT and Change Management.

The Project Planning stage includes estimating the duration for a project to reach completion, breaking down that project into its constituent work packages and allocating that work into a series of achievable milestones. Once the plan is approved, we move into the Executing phase. This is generally where most resources and most cost is eaten up on a project, so it is is especially important to have a solid plan so that the execution is as efficient as possible. Throughout this time the project is monitored and controlled by the project manager, who communicates progress to all stakeholders, including the team members and project owners and senior management.

IT Projects are often completed as part of wider business projects. IT and software development organizations are a particular area of challenge for project managers. The requirement to regulate and control the creation of new applications and software has led to the growth of specific project management certifications and protocols for the IT and software development areas.

“There are several approaches to project managing and one which has become increasingly popular in the IT world is the Agile methodology.”

The Project Management Institute® is the world’s leading professional body for the project, program and portfolio management profession. Founded in 1969, PMI® delivers value for more than 2.9 million professionals working in nearly every country in the world. PMI® has globally recognized standards, and certifications which are the most widely accepted measure of professional competence as a Project Manager – in some countries it is seen as the only option for project management career development.

The PMI organization incorporates other related sources of knowledge: Human Systems International (HSI) provides organizational assessment and benchmarking services; while and create online global communities that deliver more resources, better tools, larger networks and broader perspectives.

The PRINCE 2 Project management methodology has also contributed to the certification and education of Project Managers. PRINCE2 (an acronym for PRojects IN Controlled Environments) is a de facto process-based method for effective project management. Used extensively by the UK Government, PRINCE2 is also widely recognised and used in the private sector, both in the UK and some other countries. The PRINCE2 method is in the public domain, and offers non-proprietorial best practice guidance on project management.

Key features of PRINCE2 include its focus on the business justification for the project and on defining an organisation structure for the project team. It has a product-based planning approach with the emphasis on dividing the project into manageable and controllable stages. One benefit of PRINCE2 projects is that the team and the project normally has a flexibility that can be applied at a level appropriate to the project.

There are several approaches to project managing any project and one which has become increasingly popular in the IT world is the Agile methodology.

Agile is growing in use as it can be cost effective and easily organised system. Self organised teams form a large part of the process, which appeals to people who enjoy autonomy and ownership of their commitments. It is also reliant on constant feedback. There are different flavours of Agile, with Scrum being the most popular. Scrum promotes daily stand-up meetings which encourage the team to focus only on the essentials and avoid waste.

“Communicating clearly both outside and within the company will help to ensure that the transformation happens easily and with as few challenges as possible.”

Project Management is all about delivering change, and can be used as a tool within the business sphere of change management. The particular skill of Change Management as is often required during turbulent times in businesses, where senior management within an organisation seek to align and manage the culture, people, values and behaviours of that organization to achieve a tactical and strategic objective. Often change management specialists can help keep a stable environment while these objectives are deployed. Communicating clearly both outside and within the company will help to ensure that the transformation happens easily and with as few challenges as possible.

There are some basic principles for the successful implementation of change management within any organisation. These include starting at the top, ensuring all levels within the company are involved within the transformation, always articulating the formal case as to why the change is needed. Individuals often question the need for change because it is difficult and can be hard to understand. Having a specialist change management manager can ensure that the process is not only smooth but fair to all employees.

Mobile optimisation of all software and project management tools continues to be very important for organisations as many team members are using mobile devices. For project management this is something that continues to attract discussion as organisations strive to be efficient while giving employees a strong sense of work/ life balance.

The ongoing trend continues in 2016 where project management sees the increasing popularity of remote teams. Virtual team members, working from different locations and using mobile collaboration technology will become the new norm. Aspira often work with clients in-house, on-site or on remote teams. The needs of the clients and team members within client locations are always considered before a decision on location for teams should be made.

In addition to the increasing geographic spread of team members another trend is emerging where Bring Your Own Device ( BYOD) is more popular. Costs associated with ensuring each team member has the same device and understands how to work it can be cut by allowing each employee to use their own devices for work projects by adding IT software and programmes. Ticketing software within the organisation however has to be resourced to help with the IT Help Desk as this often gets busier after the implementation of a BYOD policy. Often Project Managers will seek to combine the ticketing software for IT projects and the regular project management software in use within the organisation.

Project Management is an exciting and continually evolving area within the IT and ICT sectors. It is an area of expertise and continual development for Aspira. Our specialists regularly push boundaries within the various projects which they lead in client organisations and within our own project management portfolio.

For more information on Project Management services contact: