Should I stay or should I go…..

Joe Strummer, 1982.

I loved The Clash when I was young. Many an hour was spent listening to them, though in reality I probably spent more time pulling a seemingly endless stream of tape out of a cassette player, followed by the laborious task of and reeling it all back in with a pencil than listening to “White Man in Hammersmith Palais”.

Kids these days. They don’t know they’re born. Download a track from ITunes or stream from Spotify and away they go, and in the same way a modern day football fan can apparently change allegiance between the Manchester clubs each season, they can switch favourite bands with a click of a button – not quite the case for us who spent our spot-filled teenage years in the 70s and 80s.

Anyhow, let’s leave adolescence and punk behind and get back to 2014 and to my recent predicament – my most recent assignment was due to complete at the end of October and, fortunately for me, my current clients were sufficiently impressed with my performance to discuss an extension.

This particular situation encapsulates the good and bad bits of contract work.

The freedom to move away and jettison corporate baggage versus the uncertainty that a contract expiry brings – though it must be said as you get experience, top companies on your CV and a good network of former colleagues, that uncertainty diminishes, but it never quite disappears. There’s always the shrill voice of Fergal Sharkey warbling “A good contract is hard to find….” in the back of my mind at times like this.

Then there’s the art of timing and trying to synchronise finishes and starts. I feel like I’m in a plate spinning act on Britain’s Got Talent with half an eye on evil smug Simon Cowell’s hand hovering over the red button, or perhaps Harry Redknapp during the transfer window.

All of which leads to the temptation to take the path of least resistance and stick with what you’ve got. However, one of the main attributes you can bring as a contractor is experience absorbed from different organisations and programmes and the fact that you aren’t a one-trick pony.

When you think about it, in these negotiations you, the contractor, are the one holding with the aces. I’m not suggesting an acrimonious argument or brinkmanship, just a realisation that there’s a quite a cost to the client of finding, recruiting and on-boarding a new person onto a busy programme or project. If you take that mind set with you, you’ll approach the meeting concerned with a bit more confidence.

As for me, I’ve decided to reach a halfway house and move contracts to a company and people that I’ve worked with before, taking Joe, Mick, Paul and Topper along to keep me company.

Throwing out the baby with the bathwater….

Being UK based, I’m not entirely sure if the saying travels, so apologies if this offends and I’m certainly not encourage anyone to launch young children across the room at bathtime!

If you stick with me, I’ll hopefully make some sense to give the saying a bit of context.

When people want to improve PMO process and reporting, the temptation is to initiate a programme to overhaul the complete project management landscape (the bathwater), throwing out all the existing project management artefacts (the babies) and implement a shiny new portfolio management tool.

I’ve seen lots of cases where this has happened, PMO drive the implementation of a new system without the buy in of the project manager community and guess what? A few months down the line, lots of areas of the portfolio management tools are either left unused, or are used by the PMs through gritted teeth with the bare minimum being done to comply with standards whilst a plethora of other tools (mainly MS Office) are used on a day to day basis.

This leads to a worse situation – increased licence and infrastructure costs, disaffected PMs as they have extra work, poorer information in PMO.

I’d suggest taking a good hard look at what is in place, and if the artefacts have the information required by the PMO and it’s working for the PMs think about other ways to improve PMO.

This is where automation can come in – for a modest investment (a book on Amazon, or a short course), encourage PMO staff to become conversant with VBA (I’m guessing most information will be in MS Office) – with some knowledge, you can get some real time savers and improve quality too.

Contact me if you want some suggestions for book that help.

Alternatively, check out for a service which will have most of the automation prepared for you.

Now where’s my rubber duck and soap on a rope…..?

PMO Automation

You could say I’ve been “around the block a bit” in terms of contract work the PMO arena.

However, the journey at each client has been very similar.

It starts with a variety of methods being used to collect the plethora of information usually needed as part of a large programme of work. Specialist portfolio tools, Excel, MS Project and other software may be in place, which a PMO will have to work with to manually pull information together, reformat and then publish in governance reports.

A common phrase I hear on arrival is “why does it have to be like this?”, to which my response is “It doesn’t.”. Thereafter it’s a case of developing automated solutions to that provide an antidote to this inefficient and labour intensive processes and putting a smile back on people’s faces.

Over the last 10 years I’ve automated a number of processes. Now, rather than offering the standard commoditised PMO service, I am talking to clients about a different offering:

a short sharp period of analysis and development of a toolset that maximises the efficiency and value to be extracted from the people and tools in place with ongoing support for in situ PMO staff after that.

The results can be dramatic – some examples are changing a pack production process that previously took 2 days run in 30 mins, PMO teams halved in size etc.

On the basis that a picture paints a thousand words, the clip below gives one example of such an automation. The whole process from pressing the Generate Report in Excel to running a Powerpoint screenshow of output takes approximately 2 mins. For those who’ve worked in PMO, you’ll understand the time saving this can bring:

Click PMO Automation for a PDF providing more details.

Calm down dear!

How to avoid confusion and temper tantrums when not seeing quite what’s expected in MS Project.

I was rubbish at the Rubik’s Cube.

Impress your friends by changing the structure of your MS Project plan (OK – maybe not, but useful all the same).

The Path to Happiness?

This simple to use macro for MS Project can save lots if time by filtering the plan to show all the predecessors or successors of a selected task (it shows the full path and not just the direct decedents or precedents).

Nice tip for useful MS Project filters

A really useful tip on how to use MS Project custom date fields in filters.

Taming the MS Project beast

A few random thoughts on getting Project Managers to use MS Project.