To paraphrase Stephen Covey “project managers do it backwards”

Before you jump to conclusions, I mean project managers “start with the end in mind,” one of the habits Dr. Stephen R. Covey identified in his wildly successful book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. And, the “end” we think about as PMs, is the “end date” of the project.

Why? Because when we are called into the boss’s office and are assigned a project we are basically told what the project is and that it needs to be finished by a date certain. Rarely, at least in my 38+ years in project management, are we called in and assigned a project and then asked to estimate the completion date. This is especially the case if you are a PM in an organization where the sales folks “sell” the project to a client and have already committed to an end date for delivery. Then it’s thrown “over the wall” to the project manager to get it done. I worked in an organization like this for more than 22 years and I consulted with scores of clients who had the very same environment.


So, what most of us do is we take the end date and schedule backwards to today’s date. When we do this we either do all the resource leveling either in our heads, or through some PPM software, but in the end we come up with the resources we need in order to do it by that end date. When we tell the boss (or the Sponsor, or Governance Committee) the resources we’re going to need to meet the end date they reply: “Well, we don’t have all those resources so you have to figure out a way to deliver with limited resources by the date agreed. The client is expecting it and it is written in the contract.” Sound familiar?

Are there ways out of this dilemma? Well, one way I employed is to identify the resources required to meet the date knowing that I won’t get them. Then I start laying out alternatives that usually deal with some type of de-scoping the project to meet the date and engage in some pretty serious conversation about what exactly has been promised or expected. This is an area where a project manager can usually buy some time. Then, I carefully watch the schedule and if I don’t think I’m going to make it, I let everyone, and I mean EVERYONE know as soon as possible (Of course, I have regular meetings with everyone throughout the project to make sure they all know with sufficient lead time.)

What about you? How do you deal with this situation?

Screen Shot 2014-08-17 at 11.18.19 AMBy the way, Covey’s book is celebrating it’s 25 birthday. It was, and continues to be enormously popular on a worldwide scale. How popular? It remained on the NY Times Bestseller list for 220 weeks. Moreover, it helped Covey become a household name in the business world building his influence and author career and helped spawn a training company  (Franklin Covey) worth $200 million. It has also become one of the most widely leadership books in history. Most leadership books are published and then fizzle out. Covey tapped into a leadership approach that was genuine and that resonated with everyone up and down the ladder. I read it and enjoyed it. Maybe you did too. If you did, what was the “habit” that resonated with you the most?



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Do you text a lot as a PM? Be careful, you may not know who you’re talking to

Is Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for PPM tools an objective analysis or a “pay for play” scheme?

If your company is in the market for a PPM tool, and you’re the person responsible for leading a team to identify and select the best one, no doubt you’ve consulted the most recent Magic Quadrant from Gartner. According to their website  “Gartner’s Magic Quadrants depict markets in the middle phases of their life cycle by using a two-dimensional matrix that evaluates vendors based on their completeness of vision and ability to execute.” Gartner has developed multiple Magic Quadrants; one of those is for PPM software.

How does it work? According to Wikipedia-

Gartner rates vendors upon two criteria: completeness of vision[1] and ability to execute.[1] Using a methodology which Gartner does not disclose, these component scores lead to a vendor position in one of four quadrants:

  • Leaders are said to score higher on both criteria: the ability to execute and completeness of vision.
  • Challengers are said to score higher on the ability to execute and lower on the completeness of vision. 
  • Visionaries are said to score lower on the ability to execute and higher on the completeness of vision. Typically smaller companies.
  • Niche players are said to score lower on both criteria. Typically new additions to the Magic Quadrant.
Gartner's Magic Quadrant for 2010

Gartners Magic Quadrant for 2010

Ideally any company rated wants to be in the “Leaders” category and when they’re not there’s a general sense they will lose revenue as a result. You can see this in the advertisements and press releases from companies touting how they are “Leaders” according to the Magic Quadrant. The way I read this is if you’re not a “Leader” you’re a “Loser” (although that’s not an official category!) And some companies believe that their exclusion from this category is not based on an objective analysis but because they have not “played ball” with Gartner. Let’s look at one of these examples.

NetScout sells software to manage the performance of applications and networks. Just this past week it filed a lawsuit against Gartner in Connecticut Superior Court alleging corporate defamation and violation of the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act. Reason? NetScout alleges that Gartner has “a ‘pay-to-play’ business model that by its design rewards Gartner clients  who spend substantial sums on its various services by ranking them favorably in its influential Magic quadrant research reports and punishes technology companies that choose not to spend substantial sums on Gartner services.” 

Gartner, as one would expect, contends that the suit is without merit. In fact, Gartner has been sued, unsuccessfully, in the past over these kinds of rankings. Gartner has a strong reputation. Organizations spend millions to receive its reports and advice. Is this just a matter of “sour grapes” or will this be the suit that uncovers certain behavior that, if not downright illegal, might call into question Gartner’s business practices? How close are these Gartner analysts with these providers, many of whom are Gartner’s clients and does the suit actually have merit?  I don’t know, but I bet the court will rule in favor of Gartner.

Gartner’s been around a long time. Seems like if it was engaged in these kinds of shenanigans it would have been caught a long time ago. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to follow the suit as it wends its way through the process.

The one thing I do know is that the next time I review a Magic Quadrant it’ll be hard to read it without having some question way in the back of my mind about its objectivity. How about you?


Return to to read Sharon Florentine’s article: 3 Ways To Spot A Bad Boss Before You Take The Job

For pharmaceutical project managers the bar has just been raised

For years the pharmaceutical industry has contended that the cost to develop a new drug is somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 billion (and that, on average, it took about 11 years). These numbers come from a study by Joseph DiMasi of Tufts University and was funded largely by companies in the industry.  One of the motivating factors of the study was to show the American public just how much it costs to develop a drug so that when they have a prescription filled they will understand why it costs so much.

However, research conducted by Bernard Munos of the InnoThink Center for Research In Biomedical Innovation (quite a name!) thinks that that number is not only low, it is absurdly low. He contends that if you take into account current failure rates (because the drug did not perform as expected..not because of project management) he suggests that it actually costs $4 billion to get a successful drug to market. But, hang on there’s more. He says even $4 billion is low if you divide each drug company’s R&D budget by the average number of drugs approved. Forbes author Matthew Harper, whose article The Truly Staggering Cost of Inventing New Drugs, was very helpful in my writing this post, took Munos research and went back fifteen years in a Thomason Reuters database and determined that the cost could approach upwards of $11 billion. You’re talking real money now!

Looking for that molecule that is eventually going to develop into a drug that can be prescribed by your doctor and mine is much like “looking for a needle in a pile of needles.” It’s more risky than a crap shoot, drilling for oil, or potentially finding the Lost Dutchman’s Mine. Project management has only one part to play in all of this, but it is a big part to be sure. The approach the pharmaceutical industry takes in drug development is to determine failure (of the molecule) as quickly as possible. And the reason for this has to do with drug development economics. It costs substantially more to move to the next phase of the drug development life cycle than the one just completed. Not a lot more: several orders of magnitude more. That’s why they adopt a “Fail Fast” mentality.


One Big Pharma company I consulted with for more than 10 years had this philosophy so ingrained in their culture that when a project manager presented project status to its Innovation Management Board he or she had to justify “why the project shouldn’t be killed?”, rather than the common question in such meetings which is “why the project should continue?” It’s a completely different perspective.

Two things strike me. First, if you’re not in the pharmaceutical industry shouldn’t your organization adopt a Fail Fast mentality and have your portfolio committee ask “why the project shouldn’t be killed?” at each major milestone? I think your conversations around the table will be much different than they have been; and, second, if you are in the pharmaceutical industry, and given that you put credence in these numbers, shouldn’t you be looking for ways to fail even faster?

I hope so, I just had a prescription refilled.  Yikes! the price is through the roof.


Return to and read “Top Five Project Management Certifications”