The Right Answer

The project managers in our building sit near each other when we’re not in meetings all day long.

The other day my neighbor had applied for an open position in the company and done her interview. During the interview she was asked what one thing she would change in how the project management office is working. She shared her answer with me.

It was awesome and articulate. It spoke to a real problem. As she was talking about what changes could occur I easily found myself becoming a champion of her solution. I thought it was great.

She was disappointed in the response. I asked why.

She explained that she felt her entire answer was inaccurate. No analysis was done to demonstrate that her answer was the correct one, so while she may have articulated her idea well, she couldn’t prove to herself that the idea had value beyond her own experience.

I tried to demonstrate that it did.

She didn’t accept my perspective. She was firm that the right answer could only be a researched answer. So I decided to use a bit of a research technique to help.

The technique is the 80:20 rule. It’s known as the Pareto Principle and paraphrased states that 80% of your value comes from 20% of the effort. Now, this is a principle, not a hard fast rule. Sometimes the ratio is 73:27, or 85:15, but the idea is still the same and usually remains close to 80:20 regardless of the industry or environment.

I asked my neighbor to consider the Pareto Principle means that she didn’t need to be 100% accurate about whether her response was truly top of the list. It just needed to be in the top 20%.

The conversation didn’t end with my neighbor changing her mind, doing a 180 on her perspective, and walk away with a new positive attitude. She’s not that type of person. Some people take time to change how they see things. My neighbor is one of them. I was grateful she listened in the moment. She’s the sort of person who also listens after the moments and considers other’s perspectives.

While I don’t think my answer was life changing, I do think it was truthful and uplifting. Since that conversation we’ve shared more thing that indicate the way we talked that day help to build a stronger bond of trust between us.

Trust is a good thing to have.

The right answer isn’t singular. It’s plural. Being in the range of right is better than not doing anything. Had I tried to search for the exact right words I wouldn’t have strengthened a friendship.

Photo by Septimiu Lupea on Pexels.com

Charting the Project Ocean

Navigating the risky waters of a project requires the same tools that helped navigators travel across the ocean, good charts.  In this post I review the usefulness of using tables and charts in communicating project risk.  Two common types of charts used in communicating about projects are Pareto diagrams and Probability & Impact Matrix.  Risk in projects occurs in some combination of four interconnected areas, Project Scope, Budget, Schedule, or Resources.

It’s important first to understand that scope, budget, schedule and resources are all interconnected.  One way to look at these is to consider them as parts of the same object.  If scope increases so will the budget and the schedule for the project.  Similarly, if any of the others increase it will affect the other three.

Scope is one of the more difficult things to chart because it may not include all of the project’s requirements.  The requirements it does capture can be charted and both the Pareto Diagram and Risk Probability & Impact Matrix can be useful in visualizing and communicating about the project’s risk.  

The Probability & Impact Matrix visualizes information based upon two scores, the probability and the impact.  These scores can be recorded qualitatively or quantitatively.  The PMBOK recommends qualitative analysis prior to a quantitative analysis.  When used as a qualitative tool this matrix’s inputs are usually in the form of rough descriptions.  When used quantitatively the descriptions of the risk become matched with a numeric value based upon their likelihood and severity.

Whether used qualitatively or quantitatively this matrix can be useful to identify parts of a project’s scope that communicates risk.  The process of building this matrix forces those involved to have a thoughtful conversation about different aspects of the project without worrying immediately about which risk is more prominent than another.  Because of the simplicity of its design this communication tool requires very little training for teams to discuss and build.  Similarly it requires very little explanation for the audience who it will be presented to.

Pareto Diagrams are solely quantitative.  Its input requires a dataset comprised of a frequency or similar sets of values.  This dataset must be arranged in descending order from largest to smallest.  Once the data is organized in this way, each datapoint must be calculated as part of its contribution to the whole.  The Pareto Principle is based on the philosophy “that roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.”  So the goal is to find where the 80% mark lies on any given dataset.

If used to analyze risks in a project’s scope the Pareto Diagram can quickly focus the group on the largest 20% (known as the vital few) and monitor, but not be distracted by the trivial many.  The Pareto Principle requires a valid dataset and an audience familiar with the principle and the format.

Any project is likely to hit some rough seas and choppy waters.  Good charts can be crucial in helping the team navigating past them and safely arrive at the intended destination.