Posted: October 27th, 2022

Project Plan

I need 5 full pages

Open the project plan file for instructions, you will need to read (Project Idea #1 Assignment) to understand what’s the project about, I also uploaded the book in case you need it. 

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Project Plan

“A [project] plan should communicate your project approach and the process your team will use to manage the project according to scope” (Harned, 2017, p. 85). In this assignment you will provide project plan details for the project you proposed in your idea submission. Be sure to review instructor feedback from your idea submission before beginning this assignment. In addition to a brief introductory and concluding paragraph, please include your previous paper on the front end of this submission and add the following 4 sections:

Project request details (include: how you will determine if the project is a success, how the organization will benefit from the project, any use of technology for the project, the project timeline, project risks, and any other items from the bullet list on page 47 as relevant)

Stakeholder engagement plan

In an Appendix – stakeholder analysis matrix. Be sure to discuss this appendix in the body of the paper.

In an Appendix -stakeholder interview questions. Be sure to discuss this appendix in the body of the paper.

Your paper should be APA format, using APA section headings, 5 new double-spaced pages of writing, plus any font and back matter, with at least 2 scholarly references.

Appendix B

Stakeholder Analysis Matrix






Example: Tanisha Jones

ABC Corp.



Is concerned about the impact on her unit. The project may mean her unit has less work going forward.

*Can be: a) Primary Owner or Core Group, b) Primary Stakeholder, c) Secondary Stakeholder, d) Management Level Stakeholder, e) Executive Stakeholder (see p. 73), also include Implementation-level: those impacted by outcomes, such as f) customers, g) venders, h) suppliers, i) employees, j) etc.

**Unaware (of the project and/or impact), Resistant (aware but resists change), Neutral (aware but does not support or resist), Supportive (aware and supports), or Leading (aware and champions change)

Appendix C

Stakeholder Interview Questions

Delete this block before submitting

Stakeholder interviews are an opportunity to make sure you understand the goals of the project, the client’s needs and expectations, and the make-up of the client team (along with their decision-making process). See Ch. 4 for more detail regarding stakeholder interviews.


Who to ask

Example: Is there anything in your organization that will prevent this project form being successful?

Kaheem Ross (The manager at the department for which this project is being undertaken)

Project management—it’s not just about following a template or using a tool,
but rather developing personal skills and intuition to find a method that
works well for everyone. Whether you’re a designer or a manager, Project
Management for Humans will help you estimate and plan tasks, scout and
address issues before they become problems, and communicate with
and hold people accountable.
“The craft of digital project management finally has its bible.”
Bureau of Digital

“Harned provides specific guidelines, motivational tips, and empathetic advice that will align your
teams and elevate the way you plan, run, and manage your projects.”
President, Aha Media Group
“Finally, digital teams have a reference book that covers everything they need to know about
project management, from scoping and budgeting to managing teams and clients.”
author, Going Responsive
“Brett’s done the thinking about how to make your projects successful, and distilled it into what
you really need to know to deliver on your targets time and time again. Recommended.”
creator of A Girl’s Guide to Project Management
Cover Illustration by Jason Kernevich l Interior Illustrations by Deb Aoki
Helping People Get Things Done
BR E T T H A R N E D Foreword by Greg Storey

Project Management for Humans

Rosenfeld Media
Brooklyn, New York
Brett Harned

Project Management for Humans
Helping People Get Things Done
by Brett Harned
Rosenfeld Media, LLC
540 President Street
Brooklyn, New York
11215 USA
On the web:
Please send errors to:
Publisher: Louis Rosenfeld
Managing Editor: Marta Justak
Illustrations: Deb Aoki
Interior Designer: Danielle Foster
Cover Design: The Heads of State
Indexer: Marilyn Augst
Proofreader: Sue Boshers
© 2017 Brett Harned
All Rights Reserved
ISBN-10: 1-933820-51-9
ISBN-13: 978-1-933820-51-4
LCCN: 2017934297
Printed and bound in the United States of America


Who Should Read This Book?
Project management is not just a role—it’s a critical skill that is
required in everyday life. Whether you’re organizing a party or
building a website, you need the skills to complete a task successfully
(and we all know that isn’t always easy). So this book is not just for
project managers, but it’s also for people who find themselves in a
position where they need to organize and lead projects.
What’s in This Book?
The purpose of the book is to provide a solid foundation on leading
projects, including the following:
• Information on what project management is and how you can
adapt principles and processes to your needs
• Project management techniques to help run projects effectively
• Better ways to communicate and collaborate with multi-
functional teams and clients
• Simple techniques for estimating projects
• Ways to build and manage project plans
What Comes with This Book?
This book’s companion website (
project-management-for-humans/) contains a blog and additional
content. The book’s diagrams and other illustrations are available
under a Creative Commons license (when possible) for you to down-
load and include in your own presentations. You can find these on
Flickr at

I’m not a project manager. In fact, I know nothing
about what project managers do. Can you tell me
a little more about it?
The role of a PM can certainly be a mystery—particularly when it’s
not done well. There are specific characteristics that make a great
PM, like being a clear, calm communicator, or adaptable and flexible.
And there are a ton of tasks that many PMs take on, such as creating
estimates, crafting process, and reporting on project status among
others. It’s equal parts technical and soft skills. Check out Chapter 1,
“You’re the PM Now,” for the full details on what makes a good
project manager.
I keep hearing about Agile, but I can’t tell if it’s
right for me. Is it?
People tend to think that Agile means “fast,” but in the context of
project management, it’s a formal method that is characterized by
the division of tasks into short phases of work and frequent iteration
and adaptation to meet a goal. It’s made up of formalized roles and
meetings or “ceremonies” that help guide projects. There is a lot to
consider when adopting a new process: project types, goals, budgets,
and people. It’s best to learn a little about other processes and discuss
the pros and cons with your team before just diving in. To learn more
about project management methodologies and digital project man-
agement principles, check out Chapter 2, “Principles over Process.”
I’m terrible at estimating projects. How can I
get better?
Hey, creating accurate estimates is tough work. As the word “esti-
mate” implies, there is a lot of guesswork involved. However, if you
want to get closer to a really good estimate, you should examine
projects or tasks and break them down into subtasks to determine a
level of effort. You’ll find that information in Chapter 3, “Start with
an Estimate.”

Frequently Asked Questions v
I’m nervous about talking to my client about
how our project is going to be over budget and
probably late. Do you have any tips for how I can
handle this?
You’ve got to be comfortable addressing sensitive or difficult issues
head on when you’re leading projects, because they tend to come
up quite often. Whether you’re worried about scope creep or you
need to address a performance issue with a team member, it’s best
to take a measured approach that is empathetic and gets straight to
the point in order to resolve it quickly. Check out Chapter 9, “Setting
and Managing Expectations,” to learn about how to set and manage
expectations better in order to avoid some of these conversations,
and Chapter 8, ”Navigating the Dreaded Difficult Conversation,” for
some tips on how to navigate the conversation itself.

How to Use This Book iii
Frequently Asked Questions iv
Foreword x
Introduction xii
You’re the PM Now 1
What Is a Project Manager? 3
The Role vs. the Title 4
The Qualities of Good Project Management 6
Typical PM Tasks 9
The PM Is the Backbone 15
TL; DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read) 20
Principles over Process 21
The World of Project Management Methodologies 23
Devise a Methodology That Will Work for You 31
Principles for Digital Project Management 33
TL; DR 36
Start with an Estimate 37
Set the Stage for Solid Estimates 39
Estimate Time and Materials vs.
Fixed-Fee Projects 48
Apply a Work Breakdown Structure 49
Estimating Agile-ish Projects 55
Estimate Tasks for Agile Projects 60
Get Your Estimates In 63
TL; DR 63

Frequently Asked Questions vii
Getting to Know Your Projects 65
Start with Research 68
Getting the Most Out of Stakeholder Interviews 69
Identify the Players 71
Talk About the Work 75
Getting to Know Your Clients Can Help! 76
Heed the Red Flag 77
TL; DR 82
Create a Plan 83
Project Plans Will Help You 85
Before You Create the Plan 87
Formalize Your Plan 93
What You Really Need to Know 102
Get Planning 106
TL; DR 106
Managing Resources 107
Set the Stage for Organized Resource Planning 109
Match Resource Skills to Projects 111
Save Yourself and Your Team from Burnout 112
Stakeholders Are Resources, Too 113
TL; DR 114
Communicate Like a Pro 115
Solid Communications Earn Trust 118
It’s Not About You 119
Set Communication Expectations 120

viii Frequently Asked Questions
Be Open to Collaboration 121
Quick, Simple Communication Tactics 122
Body Language Speaks Volumes 128
TL; DR 128
Navigating the Dreaded Difficult
Conversation 129
The Anatomy of a Difficult Conversation 132
How to Conduct a Difficult Conversation 137
Meeting Means Talking and Listening 139
Finding the Right Solution 143
The Most Difficult Conversation I’ve Ever Taken On 144
Say Hello to Agreement and Goodbye
to Disagreement 146
TL; DR 147
Setting and Managing Expectations 149
We All Have Expectations 152
Pre-Kick-off Meetings 154
Assign Project Roles with a RACI Matrix 156
Document Requirements 157
Manage Expectations 161
TL; DR 168
Scope Is Creepin’ 169
Managing and Embracing Change 171
Tame the Scope Creep 174
It’s Not Easy, and It’s Not Scary Either 177
TL; DR 180

Frequently Asked Questions ix
Facilitation for PMs 181
People Make Projects Difficult 183
Brush Up Your Facilitation Skills 184
Facilitation Techniques 186
Determine Meeting Roles 194
Make It a Productive Meeting 195
TL; DR 198
On and Up 199
Index 201
Acknowledgments 209
About the Author 210

After more than 20 years of creating and making things for the internet, I’ve learned a thing or two. And when it comes to project management, I’ve found the following to be true:
• Project management is hard. Variables like virtual teams, absen-
tee stakeholders, unknown technology, and scope creep can turn
seemingly simple projects into mission impossible. Sometimes, it
takes every ounce of your energy, patience, discipline, and all the
soft skills you can muster to even complete a project, much less
make it great or timely.
• Project managers are routinely underappreciated. Let’s face it—
if you’re good at your job, your contributions often go unnoticed.
And typically, the spotlight is given to other disciplines, like
design and development.
I am a designer by trade, but I’ve often been put into a leadership
position. Which means that I’ve had to practice project management
out of necessity, not by choice. Until now, there have been very few
resources available to help practitioners like me understand how to
manage people and projects. So when Brett told me that he was writ-
ing this book, I said, “Take my money!” because Project Management
for Humans is sorely needed.
Having worked with Brett for the past seven years, I knew firsthand
that he’d earned his knowledge the hard way. There’s nothing in this
book that Brett has not lived through, dealt with, and, at the end of
the day, delivered as a project manager.
There are two audiences for this book: the dedicated project manager
and everyone else who finds himself or herself tasked with leading
projects and teams (designers, developers, strategists, and executives,
for example).
For all you project managers out there—whether you’re hoping to
learn new ideas, change career paths, or validate the hard work that
you’re already doing—this book provides the advice and ideas you’ll
need to handle any project situation, no matter how complex.

Foreword xi
For the designers and developers who are taking their first steps into
project management, you’re in good hands. The road ahead will not
be easy; pay heed to Brett’s advice in the following chapters, and
it will help you form great teams and launch successful projects
and products.
Finally, a word to the wise: if you are leading projects or teams, seek
out the fellowship of your peers. This book is just a start, and it will
certainly help you take giant leaps in your career. However, col-
laborating with your peers will give you even more confidence and
enable you to achieve victory often.
Go forth and be great!
—Greg Storey
Austin, Texas

What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s a question we’re asked from a very young age.
I knew the answer as soon as the question was posed:
I spent the earliest years of my school career preparing myself for
medical school, without ever actually thinking about why I wanted
that job. When I finally enrolled in college as a pre-med student, I
decided to go on rounds with my family doctor just to see what it
was all about from the physician’s point of view.
Best idea I ever had, hands down.
I won’t speak of the things I saw, but I will say that I left the office
before lunch and went home to tell my parents it was not the job
for me. When they asked, “What is the right job for you?” I had no
real response. So, after a year of trying (forcing) biology as a focus, I
changed my major to English. I liked writing and thought that would
be a good place to start.
When I graduated, I went to the career services office at my univer-
sity and they handed me a giant book of jobs that English majors
might take. That wasn’t helpful, so I found my own opportunity at a
start-up as an editor. It was a unique role, because I was able to test
my strengths: writing copy, managing video shoots, learning HTML
and Flash, creating site maps and wireframes, using Photoshop . . .
managing projects. It was an experience I’d never give back, even if
I did have to go through the highs and lows of working for a start-
up that eventually fizzled out, dashing my dreams of becoming a
22-year-old millionaire.
When I left that job by way of a layoff, I found myself looking for
focus. I reflected on what I did best so that I could find the right fit
for me. In the end, I recognized that I was:
• Organized
• Curious to learn more

Introduction xiii
• Willing to help others
• Comfortable asking uncomfortable questions or addressing
tricky situations with people and projects
• Courageous
• Detail oriented
• A connector
• A communicator
It took me a few years to find the right fit, but I finally found my
calling: project management. For the reasons above, and others to be
discussed in this book, I’ve found that it takes a certain something
to be a project manager, and it’s partly ingrained in you and partly
I’ve always kept that list of my characteristics in my back pocket,
because I knew that it would help me to zero in on what my
strengths are as an individual. It has also helped me to assess the
“fit” on any potential job and project opportunities. If you’re hav-
ing a hard time figuring out the right role for you, try doing the
same and making some connections in your community to help
you land in the right role. It’ll make you happier.
Project managers reading this excerpt will most likely identify with a
similar story. Many PMs—particularly digital project managers—fell
into the role with little to no guidance or formal training. Like many
before us, we have worked hard to do what feels right in the role,
and have adapted systems, processes, frameworks, and guidelines to
benefit us, our teams, and our projects. This book embraces that DIY
style of project management: being deeply involved, testing ideas
and methods, failing, and coming out better. Those are ideals that
resonate with anyone in the digital industry. We’re still coming up
with new ways of working, and we always will, because we innovate.

xiv Introduction
Because digital projects are still somewhat “new,” the way they
are managed is also new. So the minute you come up against
the “It’s the way we’ve always done it” comment, challenge it by
referencing all of the advancements that have been made in the
industry. After all, advancements often call for new ways of think-
ing and new approaches.
Whether you accept it or not, you are a project manager. Sure, you
may identify as a designer, content strategist, developer (or any of
the many roles and titles there are in our industry), but as a human
being, you are a project manager. Think about the most basic things
you do in life, and you can apply project management to all of them:
making dinner, moving, applying to college, attending a conference,
even a night out with friends or a vacation. You’re required to plan,
estimate, and communicate. And it’s not that hard.
This book explores the core functions of project management
through the lens of everyday interactions and situations, because
there is an aspect of project management in a lot of what we do as
humans. The personal stories included in this book are intended
for you to have a laugh (sometimes at my expense) and help you
draw the connection from daily, nonwork situations to real-life
project situations. By calling out these topics in unique, personal
scenarios, you’ll find that you do not have to hold the title “project
manager” to actually be a project manager. In fact, you’re likely
managing projects—and dealing with a variety of issues—in some
way every day. And no matter what you do or whom you work with,
if you follow some of the advice herein, you, too, can be a successful
project manager.

You’re the
PM Now
What Is a Project Manager? 3
The Role vs. the Title 4
The Qualities of Good Project Management 6
Typical PM Tasks 9
The PM Is the Backbone 15
TL; DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read) 20

The heartbreaking truth of being
the project management speaker.

You’re the PM Now 3
I had the privilege to speak at Web Design Day, an excellent conference hosted by Val and Jason Head in Pittsburgh, PA, in 2011. Naturally, my topic was project management, and I spoke
to a room full of designers and developers . . . with a project manager
(PM) sprinkled in here and there. I knew the room was not full of
“my people,” and I was excited about it, because I firmly believed
that PM skills were necessary for anyone to be successful in project
work. I was up for the challenge and willing to take a risk, knowing
that I might put some people to sleep. I made my presentation, which
covered some PM basics, and was met with a positive response and a
good number of questions. It was energizing!
After my session ended, I had a line of people waiting to introduce
themselves, start a discussion, or ask a question. I was flattered by
this until I spoke to the first person in line, who said, “I’ve never
worked with a good project manager.”
It was like he had shoved a rusty dagger right into my heart. Really
hard. And it hurt!
I recovered quickly, and we talked about the expectations of PMs,
how they could help him as a developer, and what their projects
together might look like. At the end of the conversation, I decided
that maybe the PM in question wasn’t that bad. Perhaps the role and
the expectations of that PM were never truly set. I offered my advice
and asked him to have an honest conversation with his PM about
what’s needed from his role and how they could partner to make
the work stronger.
I like to think that my advice helped and that an unknown, wayward
project manager succeeded. I know that the conversation made me
even more eager to champion the cause of digital project manage-
ment and set some standards for the industry.
What Is a Project Manager?
Let’s state the obvious here: project managers guide and facilitate
projects with a keen sense of budget, scope, timeline, staff, and all of
the complicated places in between. No matter where they work, what
kind of projects they manage, or what their title is, project managers
are the men and women on the front lines of projects, defending
their teams, clients, and projects from miscommunication, missed
deadlines, scope creep, and any other failures. They champion the
well-being of the people involved in their projects and look to make

4 Chapter 1
or facilitate strategic decisions that uphold the goals of their projects.
That’s a hefty job description, and it requires a fine balance of man-
aging the administrative details of a project and its people. While
PMs are often lumped in the “behind-the-scenes” aspect of projects,
to be highly effective, they need to be part of the bigger strategic
project conversations.
PMs are not robots. They are not on your team just to take notes and
make sure that you’re recording your time properly. Yes, they do
work in spreadsheets and follow up on deadlines at possibly annoy-
ing rates of speed. But they are not the team’s secretary. They are
the project facilitator and sometimes the guiding force that makes
important conversations, debates, and decisions happen. That means
that while managing the operational side of the project, they also
must be fully informed on the conversations that are happening on
projects so they can drive action in the right direction.
There are so many intangible tasks and qualities of project managers
that it’s not uncommon for people not to fully understand just what
a PM does and if they need one or not. Here’s the thing: you always
need a PM, no matter what. That PM might be called a producer,
account manager, designer, or even developer.
Anyone can be a project manager, as long as that person is clear
on the expectations of the role. If you’re playing a part-time
PM, be sure to discuss what’s expected of you in the role and
use some of the tactics in this book to guide your PM journey
with ease.
The Role vs. the Title
There are many organizations that do not formally employ project
managers. In that case, the project team absorbs the role of the PM.
So, in this scenario, you’ll find a designer or developer leading client
communications, project planning, and any other necessary tasks
taken on to keep the project rolling. Either way, it’s not about a title.
It’s about the fact that keeping up on the project is a necessity of get-
ting the work done successfully.
No matter where you work, if you’re operating projects with dead-
lines and budgets, you need someone to manage them. It’s very

You’re the PM Now 5
possible that your company has a well-established process and
employs someone with those three all-important letters at the end
of their name, like a PMP® (Project Management Professional) or
a CSM (Certified ScrumMaster®). It’s also very possible that you
have an established process, but don’t work with an actual project
manager by title. Chances are, you work with someone who handles
the PM-like stuff. Maybe she doesn’t have the formal title of “project
manager,” but she’s doing the job of a PM, and there is absolutely
nothing wrong with that.
While digital might be new, project management has a rich his-
tory that dates back to the creation of the pyramids. Think about
it—everything is a project. However, it wasn’t until 1969 that the
Project Management Institute was formed. Since then, many
organizations and practices have been formed to help project
managers become better at their jobs. With that recognition
came the creation of formal titles, certifications, and many varia-
tions of the role itself. If you’re looking for more information on
the history of PM, check out
Upon review of those points, you may decide that bringing in a part-
time or freelance PM is a better route for you and your company. You
can find these people all over the place, as the market for freelance
project managers has grown significantly in recent years. Here are
some things you might want to consider when bringing a capable
PM resource onboard:
• Every company works differently, so be sure to be clear about the
expectations of the PM role.
• Get your company’s and project’s onboarding docs or training
together ASAP so that you can feel comfortable that they are
fully up to speed on day one for the new hire.
• It takes time to get to know a team and a new company, so be
open to this new person and willing to answer as many ques-
tions as needed. It will make that person feel more comfortable
and successful in the long run.
• Make sure that the rest of your team welcomes the new person
(and role) to the team and includes her in the project.

6 Chapter 1
• Introduce this person to your team and your clients in a way
that makes her feel included, needed, and a full part of the team.
This person will have great responsibility, so you want that to
be embraced.
• Provide access to tools, email, meeting spaces, and resources as
you would with a full-time employee.
• Have an open door policy so that the PM feels comfortable
discussing issues with you.
What matters the most is that you clearly define the expectations of
the role before dropping someone into it. Take time to think through
what project management means to your organization and then
identify the type of person you want to fill that role. That will lead
you to success.
The Qualities of Good Project
No matter what your background or organizational makeup is,
there are certain qualities that you must embrace and principles you
should follow to do the job well. Sure, you’re going to have to show
some interest in creating project plans, estimating projects, keeping
the project budget intact, and facilitating great communications, but
in order to really do a great job as a project manager, you have to
keep your work organized and your teams informed and happy. This
can be especially difficult when your budgets are tight, resources are
overbooked, and client expectations seem to shift weekly. That’s the
life of a project manager.
The core competencies of a good project manager are rooted in your
ability to navigate rough and still waters with the same level of effort
and ease. It’s one part technical expertise and three parts emotional
intelligence. Consider these core qualities for being a great PM, and
check out the PM principles in Chapter 5, “Create a Plan”:
• Eagle eye for project issues
• Clear, calm communicator
• Empathetic
• Adaptable and flexible
• Curious
• Invested in the work

You’re the PM Now 7
Eagle Eye for Project Issues
Each project is unique and comes with its own set of goals,
challenges, clients, team members, ideas, conflicts, budgets, and
deadlines. That’s a whole lot to wrap your head around. Here’s the
thing: as the PM, you’re dropped right in the middle of all of those
issues, so you’ve got to have your finger on the pulse of everything.
You’re constantly concerned about the well-being of the project and
the team, as well as the happiness of the client. Chances are, there’s
going to be a speed bump or two, and it will be up to you to resolve
them. If you’re good at what you do, you’ll spot those issues before
they become big problems and handle them with ease.
Clear, Calm Communicator
Communication is a huge part of project management. Being trans-
parent, direct, and very clear about important project information
will make any detail or situation easier to handle. It’s also important
to let your own style and personality shine through in your com-
munications when the time is right. The best project managers are
true chameleons when it comes to communication. They have go-to
methods and tools to help facilitate project communications, but
when it comes to one-on-one conversations, they adapt to what will
help them encourage the team, build relationships, prevent and solve
issues, and even share difficult news.
Chapter 7, “Communicate Like a Pro,” is all about good communi-
cation practices. Jump ahead to find better ways to communicate
with teams and clients.
Conflict happens, and as a project manager you have to set your emo-
tions aside and do what is best for your project. This means putting
yourself in the shoes of the people you’re dealing with—whether it’s
a team member or a client—to understand intent, motivations, and
possible outcomes. To truly understand an issue, you have to fully
comprehend and understand it, not just listen. In order to do that,
you have to understand and dissect what is being said to make sure
that you get it. You can’t do that without talking to those involved

8 Chapter 1
with the sole intent of understanding—and solving—the root cause
of the problem. Sometimes, that means you have to be the tough guy
and not show any emotion.
Adaptable and Flexible
There’s no doubt that projects change from the minute you say “go,”
and you have to adapt to the change that is thrown at you. This could
mean changes in scope, team, and even project goals. Regardless
of the change, as the PM you have to find ways to keep a project
moving, no matter what. Sometimes, you have to be flexible in your
process, about the way you communicate, or even on what your team
intended to deliver. Change isn’t always easy to accept, but knowing
that you can find alternate ways to work and achieve success regard-
less of its impact will keep you ahead of the game mentally.
No matter where you work, ideas are flowing and technology is
changing. Teams, particularly in the digital space, are collectives
of creative minds who come together to meet client goals through
design and technology. It’s an exciting place to be, and you’re going
to be constantly challenged with innovative discussions and ideas.
Take advantage of the people and resources around you to keep
learning and to better your understanding of your industry and how
your clients want to leverage your teams’ skills. You might do this by
reading blogs and books, attending meet-ups and conferences, asking
your colleagues questions, or sharing ideas yourself. Additionally,
you should do everything you can to understand how other projects
within your organization (or even a client’s organization) operate.
The more you know about operations and similar efforts—and the
people involved—the more you will be able to make better project
decisions. Lastly, it’s important to always be open to learning (and
teaching) to keep your skills sharp.
It’s not always easy to find great resources to stay abreast
with what’s happening in project management. Check
out this always-updated list of great resources for PMs:

You’re the PM Now 9
Invested in the Work
This almost goes without saying, but the best project managers
are the ones who get out from behind their spreadsheets and play
an active role in their projects. Don’t just attend meetings and take
notes. Participate in them. Hunt down problems and address them.
Share your ideas. Share conversations you’ve had with the team and
clients. Shape the path of the project and be the PM who not only
cares about what happens internally on the project, but also how
your project will succeed when it launches. And, if you are that part-
time PM, embrace the role and give it just as much attention as you
give your other work. Know that taking on the role of PM doesn’t just
mean checking off items on a to-do list. It’s about thinking critically
about the path of the project, its people, and potential outcomes.
Keep your eye on project goals and do your best to help the team
do the same.
Typical PM Tasks
Again, what you do as a project manager will vary from company
to company, but there are some core tasks that will strengthen the
perception of your role as a PM. We’ll cover these in later chapters,
but here’s a high-level view of what you should be doing as a PM:
• Create project estimates
• Craft, build, and manage the process
• Create and manage project plans
• Manage tasks
• Report on status
• Plan your team’s time
• Motivate teams
• Monitor scope
• Wrangle calendars and meetings
• Facilitate communications
• And much more

10 Chapter 1
Create Project Estimates
Without a basic understanding of what it takes to complete a project,
you’ll be lost. You should try to gain a general understanding of
each person’s project role, the effort required, and how that might
match up to your project scope and deadline. A great way to do
this is by sitting down with people who do jobs that you don’t fully
understand. Maybe there’s a developer or designer on your team who
would be willing to walk you through their process to give you a
better understanding of the steps they take and the effort associated
with each. Once you have a good understanding of that work, you
can speak about tasks with confidence and begin to draft estimates.
It can also be very helpful to work with people on your team to create
project estimates (see Figure 1.1). This kind of exercise will not only
help you create sound estimates for projects, but it also can help you
gain a better understanding of different types of work and deliver-
ables, the effort involved, and how they might work together to form
a new project process. Plus, you’ll come up with a sound estimate
that could possibly be reused on similar projects in the future.
Creating project estimates can be tricky. Work with your team to
establish estimating practices that work for you. (Read more in Chapter 3,
“Start with an Estimate.”)
Craft, Build, and Manage the Process
We all love naming our processes—whether it is an existing term or
a newfangled, company-branded one we made up. Either way, you’ll
find nuances to every team’s process, so you can’t necessarily just
step in and pick something up and expect it to work the same way it
did at another company or with another team. You’ve got to do what

You’re the PM Now 11
you can to understand that terminology, because it will be different
from place to place. If you’re working in digital, you may run water-
fall, Agile, or hybrid processes on your projects. No matter what
methodology you follow, you must understand the ins and outs of
how your project should run from beginning to end and be willing
to help your team through it and spend the time to do it right.
Create and Manage Project Plans
Every project comes with a deadline. It’s up to you to understand the
process by which your team will meet that deadline and document
it in order to keep things on track and communicate progress to
others. And guess what? Creating a plan will help you in more ways
than one. You can create a line-by-line plan with specific deadlines,
a Gantt chart with overall timelines, or even a Kanban board that
shows work tasks from initiation to completion (see Figure 1.2).
However you choose to handle your plan, be sure to keep the level
of time and effort needed to complete the tasks in mind, as well
as staffing considerations. There’s nothing worse than missing a
deadline because you didn’t consider the people who would actually
be doing the work.
Project plans can be quick and dirty or complex and measured. Find the
right balance for your teams. (Read more in Chapter 5.)

12 Chapter 1
Manage Tasks
You don’t want to be seen as a taskmaster or a box checker, but you
should always have your finger on the pulse of what’s happening
on your projects. But how do you keep track of so much at one time?
Shared to-do lists and open, regular communication are a start (see
Figure 1.3). But also think about routines when it comes to status
updates, check-ins, and communications with your team and stake-
holders. When you do that, your checking in feels expected and less
of a burden and suddenly you become the helpful PM.
Keeping a master to-do list of all project tasks can help you keep your
team and stakeholders on track.
Report on Status
It’s the PM’s job to keep everyone informed of what is happen-
ing—or not happening—on a project at all times. While on-the-go
communications are a must, it’s important to remember that there’s
information passed in hallway conversations and even meetings that
your whole team might not be privy to. So be sure to keep good notes
and be vigilant about keeping your team and clients up-to-date on
what’s happening on the project on a regular basis. A great way to
do this is via status reports that communicate progress, next steps,
action items, to-dos, and blockers on a weekly basis. Following these
reports up with a phone call to review the items is something that

You’re the PM Now 13
you should also ask for when working with clients. Because let’s face
it: people just don’t read—especially when it doesn’t feel urgent. But
sometimes your status reports do contain urgent info, and you’ll
want to talk through it with them anyway. So schedule a weekly call.
It will prompt you to write the report and send it, and you won’t have
to worry about whether or not someone knows what’s happening.
Status reports keep projects alive! And in order for them to be
effective, they need to be brief, readable, and full of relevant
information. Learn more about writing great status reports in
Chapter 9, “Setting and Managing Expectations.”
Plan Your Team’s Time
Team staffing can feel like a giant game of Tetris when you’re work-
ing in an organization that handles multiple projects. For example,
you work to keep your project moving on a positive path so that you
can keep your teams intact for the course of a project, because you
know that delays could create gaps in availability for those people
who might get pulled onto other projects. As part of a larger PM
team, you must work through new assignments and reduce the risk
of impacting current assignments by talking through the best-laid
staffing plans (see Figure 1.4).
Your team will love you for considering resourcing plans. Learn more about
how to create solid staffing plans in Chapter 6, “Managing Resources.”

14 Chapter 1
Motivate Teams
Times can get tough on projects: feedback can be brutal, meetings
can get tricky, and clients aren’t always easy to please. As the PM,
you act as the cheerleader and motivator to get your team to do the
best job possible (on time and within budget, of course). Whether you
pick up pizza for the folks who have to pull an all-nighter or give
someone props in front of the entire company for doing a great job,
you have to be a motivated PM who is genuine and feels like part of
the team. There’s nothing more uplifting than being motivated by
someone who actually cares.
Monitor Scope
Every project comes with some idea of scope and cost, whether that
is documented in a formal scope of work or presented to you by a
project stakeholder in a meeting. As the PM, it’s your job to under-
stand the overall size and shape of the project and to make sure that
you stay within those boundaries. In order to do this, you must keep
a watchful eye on project requirements, deliverables, and project
progress. Perhaps you’re watching hours spent in your time-tracking
system, or maybe you’re keeping an eye on requirements met or
goals achieved. Either way, you have to keep a keen eye on making
sure that you have quality work, which falls within the scope of what
your team has set out to do.
Check out Chapter 10, “Scope Is Creepin’,” for more tips on
managing scope.
Wrangle Calendars and Meetings
Scheduling meetings can be a nightmare, particularly with large
groups. As the PM, it’s your job to keep an eye on client and team
availability and schedule meetings far in advance to ensure that
important parties can attend. You should also prepare an agenda in
advance of the meeting so that everyone’s time is utilized properly.
The worst thing you could do is to call a meeting and have no plan
for a discussion or a solid outcome. And, when you’re in those meet-
ings, you’ll want to take good notes to communicate decisions and
action items as outcomes of the conversation.

You’re the PM Now 15
Facilitate Communications
The foundation for healthy projects is built on great communica-
tion practices. As the PM, it’s your job to make sure that your team
and clients are collaborating and communicating about the details.
That means playing an active role by setting and managing project
expectations, keeping your team communications consistent and
transparent about progress and blockers, and sometimes helping
your client understand your process, deliverables, milestones, and
any other thing that will impact how they experience the project.
And Much More
There’s a heck of a lot more that PMs do on a day-to-day basis, but
this list covers the most necessary tasks. You may find that you’re
doing some really basic stuff like ordering lunches (to make everyone
happy), scheduling one-on-one check-ins, reminding people to submit
timesheets, and other menial tasks. Those are the things that make
your life as a PM easier, so kudos to you if you’re taking them on.
The PM Is the Backbone
As a PM, it’s important to know that you are critical to your team’s—
and your client’s—success. While some of your tasks may seem
repetitive and sometimes thankless, know that the team would fall
apart without you. And if you’re looking to make your job more
fun and exciting, do it. How you interact with your team is in your
hands, and the more invested you seem to be in your projects, the
more your team will trust you to help them and the project.
Embrace the Role
There will be times as a project manager where you contemplate the
value of your role, and you might see others doing the same thing.
It’s easy to do, because the role is varied, and a lot of what you do
can go unseen by many. If that is the case, be sure that you’re aware
of the expectations placed on your role. Are you holding up to that?
Then ask yourself a few difficult questions:
• Am I contributing to the project in a positive way?
• Do my team and my clients/stakeholders know what I do
with my time?

16 Chapter 1
• How active am I on my projects? Am I watching things happen,
or am I driving them forward?
• When was the last time I actually spoke (with words, in-person
or by phone) with my team?
If you’re a good PM, you are an active member of the collective
project team. So, if you are answering these questions and finding
that you’re really not showing that you are (or want to be) an active
part of the team, you’re headed down the wrong path. In order to
gain any respect, you have to display an investment in your proj-
ect, or the rest of the team will lose respect for you. You can’t just
throw a plan together, schedule and check off the to-dos, and call it
a day. You must engage in the project and know everything about
it and your team.
Stick to Your Guns
Whether you’re working with a project manager by title or perform-
ing PM-like tasks by role, you’ve got to know that the tasks are
contributing to the success of your project. Define what a PM does
at your organization and even spell out how it can be done well. Be
open to the conversation and the ideas that your team puts in front of
you, and you’ll find that both you and your team will be happier. As
a result, you will be set up for project management success.
Make Space for Project Management
Usually, you’ll find a project manager embedded on a team, or
working on several projects, who is responsible for all of the things
that make projects profitable and pleasurable, and sometimes more.
Full-time PMs are dedicated to their craft and work hard to be a good
project manager. But not all organizations employ full-time project
managers. That’s OK, too. Those organizations may have the skills
on staff to ensure that projects run smoothly, or they may experience
organizational hiccups (read: missed deadlines, projects going over
budget) and recognize that they need some better practices in place
around the PM.

You’re the PM Now 17
Solid PM skills will prove to be valuable in many situations—both
personal and professional. Whether you’re planning a move or
have to estimate a new website redesign project, you’ll find that
you’re doing some level of “PM work.” So, if you’re reading this
thinking “not for me,” you’re likely wrong. Pick and choose the
tasks and values that complement your existing qualities, and ap-
ply them. It will strengthen your work overall.
If you find yourself in that situation and still cannot justify hiring
a full-time project manager, you can work to sharpen your team’s
PM skills to help keep their projects on track. Designers, developers,
illustrators, strategists, and anyone else on a team can be multitask-
ing PMs on top of their regular jobs. It’s just important to keep in
mind that adding project management on some folks’ plates could
make them uncomfortable, especially if it’s with a client. Sure, we all
manage our own work somehow, but that doesn’t mean we’re also
good at managing other peoples’ work, budgets, timelines, and all
of the other stuff that goes along with being a PM.
Again, you will need to consider what taking on project manage-
ment responsibility will mean to you, your clients, and the people
who need to make time for it as part of their full-time, non-PM role.
Review the qualities and tasks listed earlier and decide which of
those translates to project management for your organization. From
there, you can think about the qualities that are needed and the type
of person you want to fill the role. That will lead you to success not
only in matching the role to an individual, but also with matching
the role to your organization.
Once you do assign the role, be sure to check in and make sure that
your new PM/designer (or whatever other full-time role they hold) is
comfortable with the responsibility. It can take a good nine months
for a full-time PM to feel comfortable with the job, so you’ll want
to make sure that you’re giving this person enough training and
resources as well as time and space to settle in.

18 Chapter 1
What It Means to Be a Project Manager
by Dave Prior
Agile expert and Certified Scrum Trainer
Nobody really ever wants to be a project manager. If you ask a group of
kids what they want to be when they grow up, you might hear things like
fire fighter, rock star, Batman . . . but there is little chance that any of them is
going to say, “When I grow up, I want to be held accountable for things I can’t
control and get blamed for things I was not responsible for.” Becoming a PM
is not a choice—it is something that happens to you (see Figure 1.5). It can
happen for a variety of reasons that all play out across your life like a really
slow moving, painfully dysfunctional, superhero origin story. There are some
who embrace it with pride and some who spend years trying to pretend it
isn’t true. Some PMs are driven with a hunger to solve the impossible riddle
of finding the “right” way to do it, and some come to terms with the fact that
there is no one perfect way to handle all projects.
The Dark Knight . . . of Projects. Everything is a project, and he’ll save them all.

You’re the PM Now 19
What It Means to Be a Project Manager
I’ve been managing projects for over 20 years and at various points in time,
my answer to the question of “What does it mean to be a project manager”
has been very different. Early on, I thought it was about managing work, then
I thought it was about getting people to do stuff, then I went from following
the PMBOK (A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge) to abandon-
ing it and “PM” because I wanted to BE AGILE! I spent a lot of time stuck on
that last one, hiding in shame at Agile events because I am a PMP. Eventually,
I got past that and decided to accept what I am. Agile or not, I am a PM.
I was taught how to be a project manager by a guy named John Dmohowski.
He was brought into a web shop I was working at to train me and another
guy. He gave us each a book written by Dick Billows and said, “When I’m
done with you, everything is a project.” I think that may have been the truest
thing that anyone has ever said to me. Once someone teaches you to think
through things in work breakdown structure, you can’t not see things that
way. It permanently warps the way your brain works. You learn to see things
and break them down in a way that normal people can’t. And once you learn
about risk management, you stop caring whether the glass is half empty or
half full. The glass becomes a fragile container of liquid that may fall to the
floor, shatter, and cut people so . . . Band-Aids, we’re going to need lots of
Band-Aids . . . just in case.
My favorite example of a project manager was Radar O’Reilly from M*A*S*H.
Radar always knew what was coming before it happened. He always heard
the choppers before anyone else. Everyone took him for granted—until he
got sent home and Klinger tried to do his job. It was only in his absence that
people understood the true depth of his value. A good PM is like that. If they
are doing their job well, it often seems like they aren’t really doing anything
at all. But take them out of the equation and wheels fall right off the horse.
I’m over 20 years into this job of being a PM. It is my chosen profession and
when asked what I do, I usually respond by saying, “I get hit in the stom-
ach with a bag of oranges for a living.” (See Uncle Bobo from The Grifters.)
But now, with all this experience, all this time, all these failures and a few
successes, my job is not about a schedule, or deliverables, or risk, or Gantt
charts or Burndown charts, status reports, or having a certification . . . all
those things come into play, but they are not what I do. My job is simple and
impossible. I love doing it, I am awesome at it, and every day is an adventure
in learning how to suck less at it.
I am a project manager. I hack people for a living.

20 Chapter 1
TL; DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read)
Solid, practiced project management skills are critical to every-
one, whether you’re a full-time project manager or absorbing the
role for your project team. To fully understand how you can best
serve in that role, consider the following guidelines:
• What does the role mean to your team, and what can you do
to uphold it?
• How do you look for project risks and act on them with
confidence before they become bigger issues?
• How can you be an honest, direct communicator for the sake
of your team and clients?
• How can you be open to learning and adapting to people,
situations, and projects?
• What does it take to embrace all of the tasks that fall to your
role, such as estimating projects, creating plans, managing
scope, motivating teams, and so on?
• Can you stick to your guns and do what is best not only for
you, but also for the project?

Principles over
The World of Project Management Methodologies 23
Devise a Methodology That Will Work for You 31
Principles for Digital Project Management 33
TL; DR 36

There’s not a perfect toolkit for any PM or project.
Find the ones that work for you and make your
own masterpiece.

Principles over Process 23
I’m terrible with directions. Me and any piece of IKEA furniture in a room is a setting for disaster. Anger, curses, quitting. I’ve always been a fan of doing my own thing, on my own time, my
own way. Sure, that sometimes means accepting failure and going
back to the directions to do something “the right way,” but that’s just
a part of my process. It’s the way I have always been.
When I was a child, I would draw for hours. For a long time, I would
focus on drawing people—characters I created, people drawn from
photos, and even family members. It felt like a natural talent that I
was expressing on my own, and I truly enjoyed it. The hobby began
to get a little more serious as I got older, and my parents enrolled me
in classes. My first life drawing course was eye-opening. I walked
in thinking “I got this” and left the first class feeling like I had been
doing it wrong all along. The teacher presented a specific way, in
steps, that you should draw a body and a face. It wasn’t the way I
approached it. So I tried the new way, and the outcome was the same.
So what did I do? I decided to use a mash-up of the techniques, and
I think that helped me to be better and to hone my own craft.
Most people think project management is just about process or
methodology. Those people are wrong. Project management is about
so much more: delicately handling communications, having empathy
for the people involved in your projects, motivating those people
when things go sideways, problem solving, scouting and assessing
red flags and making sure they don’t become real issues, and above
all, providing project leadership that inspires great work and a
positive team environment. The methodology is just a part of the PM
puzzle, and depending on your project or organization, you’ll handle
it in a firm or flexible way. That’s where formal training can come
in handy, because anyone can truly learn and follow a documented
process. While it’s helpful to have guidelines to keep your projects
on the rails, it’s even more helpful to follow a core set of principles
to keep yourself in check as a project manager.
The World of Project Management
Before you go and start outlining your guiding project management
principles, it’s smart to educate yourself on the many documented
project management methodologies. Next, you will find a list of
those PM methodologies with basic descriptions. You won’t believe

24 Chapter 2
just how many there are and how they might not even apply to you.
There are plenty of resources for you to dig in, to understand these
on a more complex level, but having a high-level understanding
of them will help you to understand how you can form your own
principles (which we’ll spell out later in this chapter).
Traditional Methodologies
If you’re a PM purist who needs a checklist and a place for every
single project task, you’ll love these methodologies. Get excited! Load
up that spreadsheet! If that’s not quite your thing and you’re looking
to do something a little “out of the box,” you may want to skip this
section. Go on, be brave. Either way, check out these basic method-
ologies that can be used to inform any process—from moving your
office or home to building a car, ship, or even a spacecraft!
• Waterfall: It’s the most widely known PM methodology, which
requires one task to be completed before the next one starts (see
Figure 2.1). It’s easy to plan a project this way, but as soon as
change occurs, you’ll be faced with scope changes, confusion,
and pushed out deadlines. Waterfall is known for the handoff—
allowing resources to work in silos. It works in some places, less
in others (ahem, digital).
Everything goes downstream in the waterfall method.

Principles over Process 25
• Critical Path Method (CPM): This is a complex method that
is actually quite simple! You map out all of the tasks of your
project, figure out what needs to be completed before each task
starts, and then estimate the time it will take to complete each
task. From there, you calculate the longest path of the planned
tasks to the end of the project, and you figure out the earliest
and latest points each task can start without making the project
longer. That’s how you determine what’s critical and what can be
delayed. It’s kind of like prioritizing tasks to ensure that you get
the most important work done first.
• Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM): This methodology
focuses most on the constraints put in place by resources (people,
equipment, physical space) needed to get the project done. As the
PM, you build the plan and identify the tasks that are the highest
priority so that you can dedicate your resources to them. Then
you place time buffers in your plan to ensure that your resources
are available to get the work done. Seems sneaky, huh?
• Process-Based PM: This methodology is a little more flexible
than the others listed in this section, but a formal process is still
required. In general, the difference is that it aligns a project with
the company’s goals and values. Each project follows these steps:
• Define the process.
• Establish metrics.
• Measure the process.
• Adjust objectives as needed.
• Plan improvements and implement them.
While it’s more of a set of standards than a formal methodol-
ogy for managing traditional projects, you should know what it’s
all about. The Project Management Institute (PMI) created the
Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK),
which outlines the following steps for all projects: initiating,
planning, executing, controlling, and closing. Check out more

26 Chapter 2
Agile Methodologies
Probably the single most buzzworthy project management term,
Agile is based on the mindset that self-organizing software develop-
ment teams can deliver value through iteration and collaboration.
It was formally developed in 2001 based on the Agile Manifesto of
Software Development and is based on a core set of values:
• Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
• Working software over comprehensive documentation
• Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
• Responding to change over following a plan
There’s a lot of confusion out there about what “Agile” means, and
that might be due to the fact that there are several ways to execute
the methodology. Many teams claim they are agile, but they don’t use
the methodology by the book. That’s OK, but that’s not Agile with a
capital “A.” That’s just working faster. So what is Agile then? It can be
boiled down to these main points:
• The product owner sets the project objectives, but the final
deliverable can change. (For example, a goal can manifest itself
in many ways, and you’ll explore them together.)
• The product team works in two-week sprints, which are iterative
in nature. At the end of each sprint, the collective team reviews the
work done and decides what is complete and what needs iteration.
• Depending on sprint reviews, the final product might be altered
to meet the product owner’s goals or business needs, and that’s
OK! (No scope creep here.)
• Everyone collaborates! That’s right—open conversations about
what works best for the product make for a better final deliver-
able, and those comments don’t just come from developers—they
come from the whole team (see Figure 2.2).
Written in 2001 by 17 software developers, the Agile Manifesto
puts forth core values and 12 principles for “uncovering better
ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do
it.” Read the full Manifesto online:

Principles over Process 27
Plan, iterate, review, iterate, iterate, iterate . . . review, iterate, deliver, and iterate
again. That’s the cycle of Agile!
Now that you understand the core of what “Agile” means, you can
understand the “flavors” of it:
• Scrum: The simplest of Agile methods, because it allows teams
to get work done without added complexity that some method-
ologies introduce. Essentially, the team self-organizes around
central roles that suit them: Scrum Master, Product Owner, and
Engineering/Development Team. The Scrum Master’s role (kind
of like the project manager) is to remove any blockers from
the team’s way in order to get the work in two-week cycles, or
“sprints,” to get work done quickly. Scrum calls for “ceremonies”
(meetings for the uninitiated) to keep things on track:
• Daily stand-ups: A short (15 minutes max) meeting held
each day to discuss progress, what’s next, and what blockers
exist. You stand during this meeting in order to keep it short,
because who wants to stand for that long?
• Sprint planning: A creatively named meeting that is a bit
longer (an hour max) and comes with the objective plan of
what will be done within the sprint.
• Sprint review: A meeting to review all work done at the end
of a sprint. In this meeting, you might collect feedback, decide
something is done, or decide on an alternate route.
• Sprint retrospective: A meeting held after the sprint review
for up to an hour to discuss what might make future sprints
more productive.

28 Chapter 2
• Kanban: The literal translation of this Japanese word is “sign-
board” or “billboard.” A visual approach to scheduling that aids
decision-making concerning what to produce, when to produce
it, and how much to produce. It was created for lean manufactur-
ing by an industrial engineer at Toyota. If you’ve used a tool like
Trello, you’ve used a Kanban board to move tasks through stages
to completion on a project (see Figure 2.3).
Place cards on your Kanban board to track progress. Want an example of
a tool that will help with this? Check out Trello, JIRA, or Pivotal Tracker.
• Extreme Programming (XP): It’s not a part of the X Games,
but you might find yourself drinking Mountain Dew while
administering this Agile approach intended to improve quality
by responding quickly to change. In essence, change can happen
within sprints, and teams can change the course of their work
being done/planned immediately.
• Adaptive Project Framework (APF): This one may resonate for
PMs who recognize that you have to adapt your methodology to
the project’s goals. With APF, you document project requirements,
functions, subfunctions, and features before determining project
goals. The team then operates in iterative stages rather than
sprints, but stakeholders can change the project scope at the start
of each stage. So, truly, you adapt to the project and its people.

Principles over Process 29
Change Management Methodologies
Risks are inherent in all projects. You just know something will
come up, and you want to prepare for them. These methodologies
are meant for PM folks who are hyper-focused on what could pull a
project off the rails and subsequently come up with stable ways to get
it back under control.
• Event Chain Methodology (ECM): If critical path wasn’t enough
for you, you want to take a look at ECM. The six principles of
ECM make up a technique that is focused on identifying risks
and their potential effects on a project’s schedule. Think of it this
way: the ECM PM is living in doomsday. Everything is a risk,
and they know how to handle it. On one hand, it makes the team
comfortable. On the other, it can be sort of gloomy to always
think about the worst that can happen. After all, your control
ends somewhere, right?
• Extreme Project Management (XPM): Not to be confused with XP
or a sick afternoon of Parkour, XPM is all about embracing change
and altering project plans, requirements, resources, budgets, and
even the final deliverable to meet changing needs. Extreme!
• PRiSM (Projects Integrating Sustainable Methods):
This methodology for managing change is focused on
sustainability, or using existing organizational resources, to
reduce negative impact on environmental or social impacts.
It follows six principles that are derived from the UN Global
Compact’s Ten Principles. This is serious process work that can
make your lives better in major ways.
Other Business Processes, Methods
New ways of working materialize every once in awhile and catch
some traction. In fact, one could easily pop up before the publishing
of this book, because we’re always looking for better ways of work-
ing based on what we deliver. While not all of these may really be
classified as “methodologies,” and they might not apply to you, they
are worth mentioning because you might be able to lift an ideal from
one methodology to apply it to your own work.
• Lean: Do more with less! This methodology is focused on
removing unneeded steps, resources, and budgets in order to
deliver a product.

30 Chapter 2
If you’re in the web world, you’ve likely heard about applying
the Lean methods to user experience work, which has tradition-
ally weighed heavily on project budgets due to an abundance
of deliverables (site maps, wireframes, flow diagrams, content
inventories, taxonomies, and so many more). Lean UX brings
ideas and the actual design of the experience to the forefront of
the process, with less emphasis on deliverables. A simple process
might look like Figure 2.4.
Brainstorm, build, launch, test, iterate . . . and keep going until you
get it right.
• Six Sigma: This is a disciplined, data-driven methodology
developed by an engineer at Motorola, and it has been adopted
by many large organizations focused on manufacturing. It
seeks predictable process results to improve the quality of final
products by following a set of steps and removing the cause for
defects. A Six Sigma process is one in which 99.99966% of all
opportunities to produce some feature are statistically expected
to be free of defects. That’s quality assurance and profitability!
• PRINCE2 (PRojects IN Controlled Environments):
This methodology was developed for use by the UK government.
The project is tightly controlled and planned before it begins,

Principles over Process 31
with stages clearly structured. This process-based approach
leaves very little room for questions, as it is based on seven
principles, seven roles, and seven process phases with direction
on very specific documentation. The role of the PM is a bit
different with PRINCE2, as he or she is responsible for basic
activities like scheduling, while an appointed project board
handles activities like resourcing and goal setting and the team.
• Benefits Realization: This methodology’s first focus is on the
value you deliver to your customers and stakeholders rather than
the fact that it was completed. This seems like a core value that
should be a part of any project.
Devise a Methodology That Will
Work for You
While it’s important to have a solid understanding of the many
different ways to operate a project, you don’t have to feel as though
you’re tethered to just one way of working, particularly in the digital
space. After all, you need to do what works for your team, your cli-
ents, and your project. Maybe that means you take a Lean approach
to deliverables to meet a smaller budget, or an Agile approach
because your team wants to work iteratively and share work rapidly.
You get the idea: do what feels right. Don’t overthink your process.
Try something new, adjust when you see the need, and focus on solid
communication and delivering quality work.
If you’re having a hard time deciding what steps in a process will
work for you, think through these questions and scenarios:
• What is the intended outcome of your project? Is it a product
you’ll create? An experience? A specific deliverable?
• What are the goals of the project?
• Who needs to be involved in the project based on the answers to
the first two questions.?
• How do the people you’d like to assign to the project like to
work? Is anyone certified or really, really hard core about stick-
ing to a methodology?
• If you’re working with a client, do they subscribe to a methodol-
ogy? Are you aware of how they work and how their way of
working will impact your team?

32 Chapter 2
• Are there any outside factors you need to take into account
when planning? (Think about dependencies, project or client
values, etc.)
• What is already working for your team? What is working for
your clients? Also, what isn’t working?
Many methodologies come with training and certifications. While
they aren’t 100% necessary to learn about and administer a meth-
odology, they can be very helpful when trying to understand the
foundation of each and deciding what will work for you, your
organization, and your projects. So, if you have the resources to
be trained and certified, go for it! If you don’t, you’ll be just fine
without those three letters, trust me.
It’s amazing what sitting down to think through what the project
actually needs versus just doing what you always do can help you
accomplish something when searching for alternative ways of work-
ing. It will take you no more than 30 minutes to answer all of these
questions and come up with an approach that could work for you.
Maybe you’ll select a single methodology, or maybe you’ll try pieces
of a couple. Don’t get caught up in a “this or that” conversation.
If you’re lost and you want some help picking a process, think about
it this way: boil the decision down to two very basic principles for
understanding all of these methodologies:
• The more traditional methodologies like Waterfall and Criti-
cal Path are good for teams who want or require a high level
of structure and management. They want tasks spelled out
and planned accurately, and a PM who will take control of the
details—both for the project and for them.
• The Agile methodologies like Scrum and Kanban are great for
teams who are flexible in nature. They prefer a high level of col-
laboration, are open to change, and are willing to take control of
the work and be held accountable for it.

Principles over Process 33
Principles for Digital Project
Formalized methodologies are well thought out and considered from
the earliest steps to the finalization and wrap-up of projects. When
gaps are found on projects, the methodology provides an answer.
There are strict guidelines, templates, and microprocesses for admin-
istering them, and it’s great if you absolutely must follow it by the
book, or if you’re new to project management. But as you mature
as a project manager, you will learn that any old monkey can kick
out a templated project plan or report. You’ll find a yearning to do
more, be more. But what is that? It’s furthering your role as a project
manager to be an active member of the team who not only facilitates
the decisions made on a project, but also contributes to those deci-
sions, provides meaningful input, and keeps a keen eye on where the
project is heading.
Project management as a whole is strategic in nature, but many
individuals, teams, and companies miss or avoid that aspect of the
role. That belittles the role and the value of it, and you end up with
that job any old monkey can do. As digital project managers, we’re
missing critical threads to tie us together and make us stronger
professionally—i.e., principles. You see, we’re all operating on dif-
ferent planes as digital project managers. We’re approaching the job
with differences in experience, practice, and attitude. This is to be
expected in some ways, but by following a set of principles, you will
strengthen the perceptions of the role and show what it means to be
a digital PM or even a traditional PM with a renewed sense of value.
The following principles do not suggest that we all operate using a
set of the same templates, a single process, or any defined tactics.
In fact, that would be horrible, because we need to celebrate the fact
that all projects are not created equally. But, operating under the
same principles, we create a standard to be used across industries
and projects, which will increase effectiveness, help achieve better
outcomes, and produce stronger project managers.
1. We are chaos junkies.
We thrive on problems because we know how to solve them.
We are highly organized and do everything in our power to
maintain order with a calm presence in the face of chaos. When
things get out of hand and we can’t solve problems on our own,
we know whom to pull in at the right moment.

34 Chapter 2
2. We are multilingual communicators.
We speak to management, finance, legal, IT, marketing,
UX, design, code, content strategy, and more across a wide
variety of industries and verticals. We have a broad range
of skills and knowledge, and are confident in linking up
different perspectives from different specialties using our
base communication skills. We work hard to understand the
motivations of our teams, stakeholders, and users. We can
translate tech-speak to the uninitiated, discuss design without
imposing an opinion, and drive conversations to important
decisions that will guide our projects to success.
3. We are lovable hardasses.
Digital project managers walk the line between servant and
leader—caring equally about numbers and people. It’s a chal-
lenge that requires much thought and consideration about the
way we behave. While we are not managers with direct reports,
we work hard to build relationships with our team members to
serve as confidants, counselors, and friends who have their work
and best interests in mind at all times. At the same time, we chal-
lenge nonsense when we see it, stand up for our clients and our
teams when it’s easier to stay quiet, speak up to save our projects,
and work darn hard to keep our teams motivated, our clients
happy, and our projects on target.
4. We are consummate learners and teachers.
Working in an industry that moves so fast, we are inherently
adaptable and open to new processes, ideas, practices, and deliv-
erables. We follow what’s happening in our industry—from all
angles—and do what we can to account for change to make our
projects more successful. We’re open to bettering ourselves and
our peers by sharing our work and practices openly and freely
with other DPMs (data protection managers), as well as our
team, clients, and stakeholders. We recognize that learning and
teaching builds trust in what we do, benefits others, and leads to
stronger partnerships and outcomes.

Principles over Process 35
5. We are laser-focused.
We expect change on projects, because we understand that
business goals evolve and change, processes fail, stakeholders
come and go, and new ideas arise. When asked to change, we
use project goals as a basis for discussion on whether or not the
change is acceptable. We wade through comments and feedback,
and analyze and discuss change to help guide our teams and
clients to the best decisions given our focus on project goals.
6. We are honest, always.
Everyone who works with us, clients and partners included,
trusts us because they know that we’ve got their best in mind
when guiding process and decisions. We don’t cover up mis-
takes; we illuminate them with the intent of not repeating
them. We stay transparent when it comes to scope, budget, and
timeline changes. We resolve conflict by remaining neutral and
honest about causes and solutions. We truly believe that the truth
always prevails, and we champion that in all interactions and
7. We are pathfinders.
We’re not box-checkers or micromanagers. We give our teams
the agency to create and build without the burden of nagging
process overhead. We find new roads to delivery while sticking
to principles rather than following the words in a book or train-
ing. We forge paths on every project by focusing on the strategic
vision first, while having a keen sense of process, timeline,
and budget.
These principles apply to anyone who assumes the role of PM or
digital PM on a project, and are meant to serve as guideposts for how
you conduct yourself in the role. Not every project scenario, issue, or
process point is covered in these principles, because the principles
will guide your behavior when taking on these challenges. Embrace
them. Make them a part of your ethos. Build on them to make them
more specific to you. That will make them stronger and more valu-
able not only to you, but also to the people who have the pleasure of
working with you.

36 Chapter 2
Project management isn’t just about methodologies or process,
it’s about people, embracing empathy, communications, problem
solving, and so much more. That said, having a firm grip on
process, formal methodologies, and principles will help you
long-term. Here are some things to consider:
• Exploring and understanding all of the methodologies that
exist will help you understand what is possible and what
you can adapt in your own project processes.
• It’s quite possible that no methodology or process is perfect
for you. Use your knowledge to craft one that will work for
you and adjust it as you see fit.
• Traditional methodologies like Waterfall and Critical Path
are good for teams who want or require a high level of
structure and management.
• Agile methodologies like Scrum and Kanban are great for
teams who are flexible in nature.
• Using a set of guiding principles for how you behave as a PM
can be valuable not only for you and your team, but also for
anyone else who takes on the role of a digital PM.

Start with an
Set the Stage for Solid Estimates 39
Estimate Time and Materials vs. Fixed-Fee Projects 48
Apply a Work Breakdown Structure 49
Estimating Agile-ish Projects 55
Estimate Tasks for Agile Projects 60
Get Your Estimates In 63
TL; DR 63

Finding the right estimate for a project can be difficult,
especially if there are unknowns.

Start with an Estimate 39
The roof deck on my South Philadelphia row home has been an issue for us from day one. Every time it rains and the water comes at the house at a very specific angle, we’ll get water in
the room below. We’ve had several contractors and roofers visit our
house to fix the issue, and every time we’re left with a description of
work and an estimate for what it will cost, we’re completely baffled.
One roofer says he’ll seal the roof for $500, and it will last us for “a
few years” before it needs to be done again, while the next contractor
comes in and says “we need to rip it all up and start over” to “find
out what’s underneath.” His estimate starts with a $350 fee to do the
demolition, but he doesn’t know what he’ll charge after that. These
are obviously two very different approaches to the same issue with
varying costs.
The gaps in approach and cost (or unknown costs) leave us wonder-
ing what the best approach is. One roofer can give us a solid estimate
because he knows what he’ll do and how much of his time and
materials it will take to get it done. The other wants to find the bigger
problem and isn’t comfortable even giving a price range beyond the
first set of labor needed to find the problem.
So, if we do decide to rip it up, what will happen if they find some-
thing else to fix? The house is a money pit, and we don’t want to keep
spending money, but it needs to be fixed. We’re left questioning the
budget and the timeline, but we know we need to do what’s best.
• • •
This is a classic case of estimation confusion, and it happens all
over the place. The biggest issue is that when we hear “estimate,”
we suddenly come up with a concrete number or date. But it’s just
an estimate, which means the number is a best guess (and will very
likely change). This happens just as much on digital projects as it
does with construction projects, and that’s because we’re humans
and just can’t answer unknowns.
Set the Stage for Solid Estimates
No matter what the type, size, or budget of a project is, estimating
can be a daunting task. Every project request comes with a set of
unknowns, or a gray area that makes a team or individual nervous
about expectations concerning cost, timelines, and level of effort.
Because the gray area changes from project to project, there is no
simple way of saying, “It always takes us this long to do this thing”

40 Chapter 3
without qualifying it with some additional factors (“with these
people, on this project, in this place, at this time, etc.”). It’s just not
possible to build one solid estimate without doing some investigation
of the work at hand. In order to create a workable estimate, you need
to know your team, deliverables, tasks, and process like the back
of your hand. You also have to be comfortable asking questions to
figure out the things that you (and maybe even your potential client
or customer) do not know.
You have to be very comfortable with knowing that there are
unknowns on your project that might not become apparent until
you’re really deep in things. At the same time, you must be very
confident about the things that you do know, because those things will
help you get to the unknowns at the right time—or avoid them with
some additional work. A combination of knowing and not knowing
details of your project will give you the confidence to come up with an
estimate for your project that is workable and possibly even flexible.
This is the Merriam-Webster definition of estimate. Keep it on
hand for when you have to remind someone when your estimate
goes off track (because, yes, it most likely will).
ESTIMATE transitive verb
a : to judge tentatively or approximately the value, worth, or
significance of
b : to determine roughly the size, extent, or nature of
c : to produce a statement of the approximate cost of
Why Estimate?
While building digital products is not the same as building a roof,
someone—your team or clients—requires a general understanding
of what is needed to get it done successfully. Whether you’re working
for a client or on an in-house team, you’ve got to answer to someone
who’s in need of a project estimate. Sometimes it’s hard to under-
stand why that person needs an estimate, so consider these reasons:
• Estimates are based on a level of effort and times. Typically,
the cost of a project is based on the time spent on a project. Your
estimate helps calculate a rough determination of that cost and
sometimes whether or not the project is worth the investment.

Start with an Estimate 41
• A good estimate will be based on specific tasks and the talent
used to complete them. Your estimate will help you staff the
project properly. For example, you can say a senior developer
will need four weeks to complete a project, but a junior might
need twelve weeks with some support. That’s a pretty large
detail that will impact your estimate!
• More complex projects can be dependent on other projects or
tasks. Knowing just how long it will take to complete your proj-
ect might answer an important question about another project
(and when it may have to start or finish).
• Working with a team can often be a challenge, particularly
when no one is in agreement on the project. Working together
to produce an estimate can be a great way to pull the team
together to talk about staffing, responsibilities, process, and tim-
ing. And guess what, that all helps produce a solid estimate.
It would be very easy, at this point, to just say, “This is how you create
an estimate.” But that wouldn’t work in your favor, because there is
a mindset that is required to do this the right way—and feel good
about it.
Learn What You Can
I work in the web industry, and I’d never sell myself as a web designer
or a developer. I’m a project manager. That said, I’ve learned enough
about design and code over the course of my career to make me
horribly dangerous. I would never step into a project and say, “I’m
the best resource to design or code this,” but I know enough about
how things are done to ask the right questions and make the proper
assumptions about how they should or could be done. This knowledge
helps immensely when estimating project work because I can give a
gut check on the level of effort related to any task on a project.
I learned a lot of web skills in my career and have had to stay on top
of industry standards and major changes ever since. In addition to
that, as a PM, I had to learn a whole new set of people, processes, and
clients every time I started a new job with a new company. A career
in project management means that you have to stay on top of trends,
changes, and deliverables in your industry. It isn’t easy, because
things change fairly often, but it’s worth it because it will directly
affect your success as a PM.

42 Chapter 3
There’s a lot to be said about what you know at the front end of
the project versus what you know downstream. There’s this thing
that PMs call the cone of uncertainty that is helpful in illustrating
the fact that you can only estimate so well up front and your abil-
ity to estimate increases as you move through the project. Check
it out:
There’s an ongoing, and constantly updated list of resources on
my site here:
So how do you stay on top of things? Aside from reading relevant
trade publications, websites, and blogs and attending training
and networking events, you should leverage the people who sit
on your team. They are your best asset to stay on top of trends,
discuss potential paths and ideas, and create estimates.
Understand the Roles on Your Team
Who the heck are these people on your team and what are they
doing all day? Sure, it’s easy to read Jim’s job description and find
out what he “does for a living,” but that doesn’t tell you much about
the mechanics of what he does on a task level. That’s what you really
need to know. So, how are you supposed to understand Jim’s role on
the team and how his work will impact an estimate?
You just have to talk to Jim.
One of the best things you can do in your career is to be genuine and
honest about what you don’t know. If you really want to know how or
why someone does his or her job, just ask that person! It might sound
silly, but most project managers feel like they’re supposed to just
know everything. You don’t, and that is OK. Remember that it’s bet-
ter to admit what you don’t know and ask questions. Doing so gives
you an opportunity to connect with your team on an individual level,
and it will help you understand the inner workings of your projects.
After all, figuring out the steps one person takes to create a deliver-
able will work wonders in helping you calculate a true estimate.

Stay Informed

Start with an Estimate 43
What Do All of These People Do Anyway?
Of course, every team is different, and there are a lot of teams out
there who make do without every single role, but these are the typi-
cal roles you might find on a digital design team:
• Strategist/researcher: This is the person who spends time at the
beginning of the project to understand its users and goals, and
who crystallizes its strategic path. This person might conduct
research and interviews to get to the root of the goals and how
the project might solve the problem at hand.
• Content strategist: This person plans for the creation, delivery,
and maintenance of content in conjunction with the research and
design of a product. This person isn’t necessarily the copywriter,
although that could be the case on some projects. This person
might deliver content analyses, an overall strategy that guides
content development, voice and tone guidelines, and more.
• UX designer: This is the person who focused on the strategy and
the usability, ease of use, and pleasure provided in the interac-
tion between the customer and the product. This person might
design site maps, wireframes, or prototypes of the product.
• Graphic designer: This person designs the look and feel of the
product and provides further input on the design of the UI. This
person might deliver style tiles to determine the look and feel of
the product, and design full pages or unique parts of the UI in
order to create an overall design system for the product.
• Front-end developer: This person is responsible for producing
HTML, CSS, and JavaScript for a website or web application.
It’s referred to as “front end” because it’s stuff that users see—
a design come to life via code. This person might deliver full-
page templates or widgets via code.
• Back-end developer: This person builds an application (using
server-side code like PHP, Ruby, Python, .Net, etc.), which con-
nects with a database (using MySQL, SQL, Access, etc.) to look
up, save, or change data and return it back to the user in the
form of front-end code. This person delivers code that runs the
platform for a product; sometimes, that comes in the form of a
content management system.

44 Chapter 3
• QA tester: This person is responsible for testing live pages
against design and copy needs to ensure that the product is func-
tional and bug-free. This person will most likely deliver bugs or
questions to various team members via a report or tickets in a
bug tracking system.
• Project manager: Hey, I know this person. He or she will be
responsible for planning and facilitating a project. This per-
son will deliver communication plans, project plans, status
updates, and more.
• Account manager: This role typically only exists on agency
teams, and it is responsible for overall client satisfaction and
strategy. This person delivers meeting notes and updates on
client conversations and decisions.
Depending on where you work and the type of projects you work on,
this might seem like a big team. The thing is, not every team uses
or needs all of these roles. While there are plenty of specialists out
there, there are also plenty of generalists who can do it all. The most
important thing to remember is that knowing your team’s strengths
and weaknesses will help you formulate a plan and create an esti-
mate for completing your project.
Understand the Process and What Works
Once you’ve got a good grasp on who does what and how, you need
to figure out how all of your project’s moving parts fit together—or
could fit together.
You may work for a company that abides by a singular process like
Agile, Waterfall, a hybrid of the two, or maybe one of those newfan-
gled processes that’s popped up on the internet. Or, hey, maybe you
created one all of your own. No matter what process you’re using,
you should study it, know and understand all of your unknowns,
and run with your estimates.
If you work in a place that’s more liberal with the process and likes to
experiment, make it your mission to understand how things are done
and what might happen if you shift things around. For instance, if
you work for a construction company, will there be a huge impact
if you plan for your baseboards to be painted before the carpet is
installed? Sure, you can do it, but will it affect the quality of the
work or the time needed to get the work done? (I’ve done my share

Start with an Estimate 45
of home improvement projects and can comfortably say the answer
is “yes.” When the carpet installers scratch up those newly painted
baseboards, your client will not be happy to learn they will need to
be repainted.)
Different processes will require different types of estimates. Keep
that in mind when discussing process with your team.
Do everything you can to understand your process, but don’t just read
a book or a manual. Use the rigid methodology taught in a book or a
manual to start conversations about how your team employs a method.
Talk to your team, ask questions about what you don’t know, and feel
free to question how, why, and when things are done. The more you
know, the better you can strategize with your team or your clients to
find alternate ways to make projects work and save on effort.
Also, always be sure to include your team in any discussions related
to estimating projects and process. When estimating projects, talk
about the process you might envision taking on with the impending
project. This will certainly impact how you think about effort and
scope. You’d never want to sign on for a project that the team is not
invested in.
Study History
Without a doubt, historical data can help you with new projects;
when history is documented, you can analyze the information to
create better estimates. A great place to start is asking your team
to track their time on tasks, which will give you a better sense for
a project’s overall level of effort. It’s not about cracking the whip or
playing big brother and hanging over someone’s shoulder—it’s being
honest about the effort needed to complete a single task.
It goes without saying that every project is unique. Typically, you’ll
encounter variety in your clients, their communication styles, person-
alities, constraints, technologies, and so on, but seeing how long your
team spent on a certain task or deliverable will give you a sense for
estimating a similar task on a new project. The more you work with
an individual team member, the better you can estimate what they
do, because not only will you know how long it took them to do X,
but you’ll also know how far off they were on the last estimates they

46 Chapter 3
gave you. And the more times you manage a specific task, the better
able you will be to judge how long it will take the next time. Over
time, you’ll have a way to map the experience level of the people
doing the work to the amount of time it will take to complete it.
You also might find it very useful to look up old project plans to
get a sense for how similar projects were scheduled and how long
they took. Just having a general sense of time and deliverables will
certainly help when estimating something new.
It’s very easy, as a team, to get excited about work and underestimate
the time you need to do it. The problem is, when you create inaccurate
estimates, you’re likely doing everyone a disservice and stressing out
over not hitting estimated budgets and timelines. Listen up! Drop the
stress. Check your tracked time and plans and use them to help create
realistic estimates. If nothing else, reviewing the history to make sure
that you’re not habitually underestimating is a great practice.
If you’re sensing a potential issue with an estimate, or if expec-
tations are not aligning with an estimate on a possible project,
speak up now. There’s nothing worse than wasting time estimat-
ing a project that might not ever happen anyway.
Get the Pertinent Details
Whether you’re estimating a project based on a request for proposal
(RFP), a discussion, or an email from a client, you need to know
every possible detail of the project before you can provide a realistic
estimate. This often means that you have to ask more questions. You
never know what kind of errors—or confusion—could be wrapped
up in your request for a new project. Don’t be bashful! Many stake-
holders or product owners don’t realize that you need a tremendous
amount of information in order to prepare a true and fair estimate.
They also might not realize that they already have the answers to
your questions.
One of the biggest culprits behind underestimated projects is the
lack of pertinent information and background provided on would-be
projects. Get your project stakeholders to clear up that gray area and
help you break the project down into pieces. That way, you’ll be able
to create an estimate based on what they need, not what you think
they need.

Start with an Estimate 47
What You Need to Know
It’s often easy to take a project request at face value. The problem
with doing that is the fact that there are likely a lot of details to
uncover. So put your thinking hat on and scrutinize the request.
Here are some things to think about on any project request:
• What is the goal of the project? Is it realistic?
• How will you and your client determine if the project is successful?
• What returns will you and your clients see as a result of the project?
• Who will participate from the client side?
• What range of services does the project require?
• What is your client’s budget for the project?
• Is there technology involved? If yes, what is the technology?
• Does your client employ anyone with expertise on the topic?
• What is the timeline for the project and will your client require
your services after your work is complete?
• Are there any risks associated with the project?
• What would make the project a failure?
• Are there any additional assumptions or dependencies to be
aware of?
This list could go on and on depending on the level of information
you’re provided. Be persistent and get the answers you need. If you’re
doing this as a precursor to a client project, and your client contact
is not inclined to answer every question, take it as a sign. If it’s too
much to answer a set of questions to help you form a good estimate
now, will it be too much for them to be a good partner when the
project is underway? Use your judgment in this respect. Not every
estimate becomes a real project, so not every request needs to become
a real estimate.
Never be afraid to ask questions about projects to get to the
right estimate. Doing so doesn’t show weakness in your domain
expertise; rather, it shows that you know what to expect, and that
you’re willing to ask the hard questions to make sure you get it
right the first time.

48 Chapter 3
Estimate Time and Materials vs.
Fixed-Fee Projects
Before you create an estimate, you’ll want to figure out how you
should structure your work agreement with your client. In essence,
do you want to bill them directly for the time and expenses spent on
the project, or do you want to come up with one price to cover every-
thing? It’s not an easy thing to figure out, and there are advantages
and disadvantages for each. Let’s explore it a bit further.
Time and Materials
When you set up a project this way, you’ll provide an approximate
time estimate to complete the project, but you will bill your client
based on an hourly rate and total time spent. So there is an oppor-
tunity to make changes on the fly and change the scope as needed.
Issues arise when more hours are spent. Remember that clients have
an inherent desire to do more and spend less. This fact can mean that
a client will be less inclined to explore ideas, make riskier decisions,
or possibly even pay for project management services. But that’s OK.
If you are setting up this type of project, you can set expectations
early about how your team operates, how you will manage the work,
and how you will communicate about time spent. Doing this will
make your clients more comfortable.
Fixed Fee
Creating an estimate for a fixed-fee project means that you are
setting parameters around what is in scope for your project, what
activities will be performed, and what will be delivered in a specified
time frame. There is very little flexibility to change requirements or
change approaches in a fixed-fee project, because you’re operating
on a fixed budget that was based on an estimate of what the project
might be. Sounds like a lot of guessing, right? Right.
The following sections explore approaches for making both of these
approaches work. Regardless of what you do, establishing some core
estimating practices will help you to create more on-target estimates
for new projects.

Start with an Estimate 49
Apply a Work Breakdown Structure
If you’re working on a large project and you want to get a sense of
how long tasks will take to accomplish, take a step back and figure
out how you can attack the project one step at a time. Try to use a
work breakdown structure (WBS), which is a well-known traditional
project management tactic.
A fixture in classic project management methodology and systems
engineering, the WBS is a deliverable-oriented decomposition of a
project into smaller components. A work breakdown structure is
composed of a hierarchy of specific elements; for example, an element
may be a product, data, service, or any combination thereof. A WBS
also provides the necessary framework for detailed cost estimating,
and it provides guidance for schedule development and control.
Essentially, by using a WBS, you should be able to take a top-down
look at your project and break it into the tasks and subtasks that will
get you to completion (see Figure 3.1). By breaking your project down
into tasks, you’ll find that you can start to see the forest through the
trees. It’s a simple, yet methodical way of organizing and understand-
ing your project scope in smaller, manageable components. Sound
easy? Well, maybe not. But keep reading and you’ll get there fast.
Creating a WBS can help you break down a project into phases,
deliverables, and tasks and then apply effort estimates to them.

50 Chapter 3
How to Use a Work Breakdown Structure
When you’re comfortable with the overall process of creating a WBS,
you will be able to adapt the practice to any project—from moving
your house to building a complex database with 75 offshore teams.
That’s right, the WBS will be your friend. But before you go off and
start creating these documents (and on-point estimates), let’s walk
through a process that will help ensure a solid, workable estimate.
Step 1: List High-Level Deliverables
If you’ve got a project scope, you’re going to find getting started on
your WBS very easy. If you don’t have a scope, you better turn right
around and talk to your clients or boss about the scope. Starting any
project without a scope is dangerous because it sets the stage for
what will be delivered and when.
First, sit down with your team and list out what will need to be
delivered in order to meet your project’s end goal. For instance, if you
are building a new website, you might deliver the following items:
• Site map
• Wireframes
• Page designs
• Front-end code
• Back-end code
Make sure that you’re being very inclusive of all tasks, and that you’re
not leaving anything out. For instance, if you’re working on a website
redesign project, have you accounted for content? If you miss a deliver-
able now, you will regret it. So, listing things as a team is very helpful,
as it ensures that all of your bases are covered. A team conversation
will set expectations for who will be responsible for deliverables and
tasks, all while engaging the team on the overall process of the project.
Step 2: Think About Tasks
After you’ve identified the high-level deliverables for your project,
you’re going to take a deeper look into what actually needs to be
done within each one of them individually. This isn’t just a simple
exercise where you say, “Who will do this and how long will it take?”
It goes much deeper than that—and that’s a good thing because that
is how you will be able to create a better estimate.

Start with an Estimate 51
As you dig into the high-level deliverables, you should discuss
(or ask yourself):
• What needs to be done to create this deliverable?
• What other related project tasks will contribute to completing
this deliverable successfully?
• What are the requirements of the tasks?
• Are the tasks dependent on other tasks? What should come first?
• Are we cutting any corners here? (Make sure that you list every-
thing and anything—don’t cheat yourself!)
As you conduct this exercise, keep in mind that you truly want to
list every possible task that could go into the high-level deliverable.
Remember, the point here is to account for all time so that you can
create a reasonable estimate. You won’t be able to do that if you’re not
thinking it through properly.
Using the website redesign as an example, here is how you might
break up the first deliverable, which was “Site map”:
• Review the current site.
• Test the current structure with five site users.
• Review the test findings.
• Organize the site map in a spreadsheet.
• Review the first low-fidelity version with the team.
• Revise the structure using the team’s input.
• Create a visual version of the site map.
• Annotate the sections.
• Write a description of the new site map.
• Present the site map to the clients.
• Review the client feedback.
• Implement the feedback.
• Deliver v2.
• Conduct a meeting with the clients.
• Finalize the site map.

52 Chapter 3
This list of tasks is an estimate for all of the work that will need to
be done in order to get to a finalized site map. When you sit down
with your team to discuss these tasks, you’ll want to be sure that
you’re operating with a common understanding of how things are
done, or that you’re at least talking through the process. Listing every
single detail will help you spell out the effort it will take to complete
the deliverable.
Step 3: Get Granular
Get granular, because you want to make your WBS as detailed as
possible. The only way to do that is to examine every step that you’ve
identified and list tasks. It’s all about examining effort and deter-
mining the work that will need to be done in order to complete the
deliverable successfully. If you make an investment to do this, you’ll
find less room for missed expectations and budget overages in the
long term. Using the website redesign as an example, here is how you
might break up the deliverable, which was “Test the current structure
with five site users”:
• Recruit users.
• Schedule sessions.
• Write the test script.
• Conduct five sessions.
• Compensate users for their time.
• Write up the findings and recommendations.
This one task is proof that any single line item in a scope can be an
expensive one! Not only did this example include six subtasks, but
also a line item that required payment to an outside party. You’ll
want to know about these expenses in advance of scoping your proj-
ect, and your clients will, too. So be sure to account for them early on
so that nothing comes as a surprise.
Step 4: Format and Estimate
Traditionally, you’ll find that work breakdown structures are pre-
sented in flow charts that resemble website site maps. That format
works well because it shows a hierarchy of tasks and is easily
numbered and referred back to. But some people like to list them on
whiteboards or put them in spreadsheets. The format isn’t what mat-
ters here—it’s the completeness and accuracy of the tasks included.

Start with an Estimate 53
When you’ve listed all of your tasks and subtasks in a format that
makes sense, you’ll want to re-review it and make sure that you’ve
included everything. Once that’s confirmed, go through the list and
discuss each task in terms of the level of effort. This could be in
minutes, hours, days, or weeks—it really depends on how granular
you need to get and how your organization estimates projects.
Assigning an increment of time to each task will help you add up a
total estimate of time (and possible costs) and create a project plan
when you get to that step in your project. When you’re done, you
will know if you’re in scope, out of scope, or actually operating on
another planet. It’s true that you might run this exercise and find that
you’ve articulated too much time or effort to do everything within
the scope of the project. The good thing is that you’ve set the baseline
for what’s needed, and you can scale back on tasks to fit the scope
or the timeline.
Here is a very basic WBS for a very common deliverable—moving (see
Figure 3.2). Check out the tasks and every aspect related to the event
that the author has taken into consideration. Is anything missing?
Here’s an example of a WBS I created before I moved. Full disclosure: my
estimates were off!

54 Chapter 3
WBS Example: Moving
If you estimate your projects based on units—whether it is weeks,
days, or hours—using a WBS will help you understand very
quickly if your estimate will exceed the intended budget. Let’s take
this example further and assign estimated hours to each step, but
just remember that it could change when you dig into the actual
work. (These time estimates should be based on a combination of
experience and hypotheses.)
Current House
Kitchen 1 day
Bathroom half day
Bedroom 1 half day
Bedroom 2 half day
Living Room 1 day
Dining Room 1 day
Basement 2 days
Garage 2 days
Total 8.5 days*
* Sum of tasks includes wrapping objects, packing in boxes,
and prepping for movers.
This type of exercise can be extremely helpful during the sales
process when a client tells you they have X dollars to spend. Based
on your estimates, you can easily map a set of tasks or deliverables
to something that works for both the dollar amount and the client’s
goals. And, if a potential client comes back and says, “Well that
seems a little more than we want to spend,” you can lean on your
work breakdown structure to negotiate the cost down based on
what’s included in your scope. For instance, if I had to cut down
on the cost/time of moving based on the hours that I estimated, I
could likely remove the “cleaning” step from my “moving” WBS
(though I’m sure someone might be unhappy about that). Use
the WBS to your advantage this way, and you’ll not only create a
project estimate that maps to a specific budget, but you’ll also work
out a solid set of project requirements.

Start with an Estimate 55
Estimating Agile-ish Projects
Before diving into the brave world of Agile, it’s important to note
here that your project stakeholders need to be OK with having a
fixed time frame and budget but a variable scope if you’re going to
take a more agile approach. This works really well when you’re on
an in-house team, but can be particularly difficult if you’re working
at an agency or just with clients. It’s typical to vary the scope with
Agile in order to achieve a result that’s defined at a high level. In fact,
you could make the time or budget variable as well, but that has its
trade-offs. It’s not advisable to make everything variable, though.
That’s usually a mess.
“Scrum” is a silly word with a big meaning. It’s an Agile software
development model based on a self-organizing, dedicated team
working on one project, iteratively to completion. The term is
named for the scrum (or scrummage) formation in rugby, which
is used to restart the game after an event that causes play to
stop, such as an infringement.
Many teams have moved to an Agile process (mostly Scrum), or at least
are picking up parts of it in an effort to be more nimble and efficient.
It’s very exciting! Making Scrum effective when you’re working with a
client or internal stakeholder can be a challenge. Some teams embrace
Agile by running entire projects in sprints, or set periods of time
during which specific work has to be completed and made ready for
review. This works quite well when stakeholders embrace their roles,
can make decisions quickly, and actively take part in team discussions.
Other teams take a more hybrid approach and apply the same idea of
sprints, but after research and design is complete. This tends to work
better when working with external stakeholders or clients who can’t
make decisions alone—or quickly—and need to be guided through
a project rather than actively play a role in it. Whether you’re using
Agile with a capital “A” or trying to be more agile to deliver your
projects more quickly, you will want to remember some very core
values that make Agile work.

56 Chapter 3
Dedicated Teams
If you’re truly working Agile, you’ll require a full-time team work-
ing on a project. This can be difficult in an agency setting, but it
makes estimating easier. Here are some things to consider when
assembling teams:
• What roles do you need?
• How much time is considered “full-time”?
• How will you think about company meetings, management
tasks, etc.?
• Will your team be truly dedicated? (Are there any other projects
happening, pulling their time away?)
• Will there be holidays or time off during the project?
• Is there a blended rate for the team?
You should also make sure that your clients understand the ideas
behind your version of Agile and how you can make it work with
them. More importantly, you will want them to understand how
they will need to be involved in the process. In fact, you might want
to define your client’s role and explain to them what it means to the
process. There’s more on that at the end of this section.
In the Scrum method, work is confined to a regular, repeatable work
cycle, known as a sprint. The timing of the sprint is typically deter-
mined by the team, but you’ll see sprints that range from one week to
one month. Regardless of the timebox you choose, know that work-
ing in sprints requires the focus of a dedicated team. During each
sprint, it’s up to the team to create a shippable product or feature.
Because projects require multiple sprints, each iteration of work
builds on the previous one, building on or even replacing some of the
previous work. You see, Scrum is loose, but the sprints provide the
structure needed to keep the project on track.
Every sprint begins with the sprint planning meeting, where the
team and product owner determine what work will be conducted
over the course of the sprint. Then, after work is in progress during
the sprint, team members check in with each other daily at a stand-
up meeting. Finally, after the sprint is complete, the entire team

Start with an Estimate 57
conducts a sprint review and a retrospective meeting to review and
demo the work done and discuss how things have gone.
A lot of planning and effort goes into a sprint, not only to execute
the work, but also to make sure that you’ve given yourself the right
amount of time to get it done. But how do all of these sprints add up
to a deadline? Well, Scrum is iterative, which means you can launch
and iterate. But we all know some projects have hard deadlines.
Knowing your project’s deadline will help you determine how many
sprints you need. And knowing the team dedicated to the project
will help estimate the cost.
Scrum Team Meetings
A lot of time goes into making sure that Scrum teams are com-
municating and are on task. In effect, this ensures that projects are
delivered on strategy and on time! Below is a list of meetings that
typically take place on Scrum teams:
• Sprint planning: A team planning meeting that determines
what to complete in the coming sprint.
• Daily stand-up: Also known as a daily scrum, a 15-minute mini-
meeting for the software team to sync.
• Sprint demo: A sharing meeting where the team shows what
they’ve shipped in that sprint.
• Sprint retrospective: A review of what did and didn’t go well
with actions to make the next sprint better.
So What Does It Mean for Your Client?
Clients working with agency Scrum teams cannot sit back and wait
for deliverables to come to them to review. They are an active member
of the team and have daily insight into the operations of the project,
and in some sense, they control it. So that means that they have to
account for a fair amount of time spent with the team, and they have
to consider how they make decisions and communicate with their
own teams. When you’re running sprints, you are able to iterate, but
feedback has to be timely and decisions have to be made quickly.
It also means that clients can always depend on a fixed sprint cost for
any additional change or request. When they ask for a new feature,
you can say, “OK, it will take one more sprint to complete that,” and
they will immediately know the cost. Pretty great, right?

58 Chapter 3
Example: Agile Estimate
Using the two principles described previously, the outline that follows
illustrates how you can create an estimate for a modified Scrum
process. For the purposes of this example, imagine that a client is
asking for a website redesign project to be completed in six months.
This example implies a sample rate, using a monthly blended rate of
$2,500 for the individual. You can easily come up with this monthly
number by multiplying the number of estimated billable hours for an
individual per week by the rate. That means there will be some work
for you to do in order to start, but it’s fairly simple if you’ve got the
information you need on hand.
1 RESOURCE, 4 WEEKS = $10,000
This means that the cost for one person to work on a project for
4 weeks is $10,000.
Most projects operate on 2-week sprints to get sizeable chunks of
work done to review as a team and with your client.
1 RESOURCE, 1 SPRINT = $5,000
Given the monthly rate, this is what it will cost for 1 team member to
work on your project per sprint.
If your project is 6 months long, you might work 12 sprints. It’s
important to check calendars to see if you have to adjust sprints or
timing due to the calendar. If you don’t do this, you will end up with
an inaccurate estimate.

Start with an Estimate 59
Example: Agile Estimate
Let’s say you only need 4 people on this project over 12 weeks.
4 x $5,000 = $20,000 x 12
Simple math here—the number of people multiplied by the individual
cost per sprint gives you a total cost per sprint. Multiplying that by the
number of sprints will give you the total cost of the project: $240,000
Of course, this is never going to be perfect. And it requires dedication
to the process. But, wow, does it make estimating easy! You’ll always
need to watch out for the usual project suspects: additional require-
ments, late or missing client feedback, missed meetings, and so on.
But do your best to define roles and meetings early on.
For instance, if you are using the Agile team roles on your project, define
who fills them. Most likely, you will want to use this kind of setup:
• Scrum Team
• Product Owner: Client
• Scrum Master: Agency PM
• Development Team: Agency Creative and Technical Team
What does this mean? Well, it means that your client is an active
member of the team who helps set the course of each sprint and
makes decisions on the areas of focus on your project. The client is
truly leading your team while your team’s PM is facilitating. That
requires a lot of time!

60 Chapter 3
Estimate Tasks for Agile Projects
Once you’re embedded on a team and are running an Agile meth-
odology, you’ll quickly find that you’re up against estimating tasks
rather than the big picture project. In effect, by running sprints,
you’re taking sips from a water fountain rather than drinking from
the fire hose.
An advantage of working in the Agile methodology is that you
involve everyone on your team to create realistic estimates. Because
each team member brings a different perspective to the table, and
they can clearly articulate the work that is required of them on a
single task, you’ll find that creating estimates can be easy as a team.
This open way of discussing what’s needed can uncover potential
issues, changes to workflow, and sometimes the need for outside
expertise. Go ahead and round your team up for an hour and
estimate tasks together.
User Stories
If you’re not familiar with the Agile methodology, you might confuse
the term “user story” with a self-written tome on the day in a life of
a person who uses your product. Well, kind of, but not really! A user
story is a tool used in the Agile methodology to capture a description
of a project feature from an end-user’s perspective. The user story
describes the type of user, what they want, and why. A user story helps
create a simplified description of a requirement, and can lead you to a
very distinct estimate for the design and build of that requirement.
An example user story statement might be As a (ROLE) I want to
Forget Weeks, Days, and Hours . . . Use Story Points
The most basic way to estimate a task is in what we know as hours,
days, weeks, or months. The Agile methodology erases your memory
of any estimates created with increments of time and requires a
different way of thinking about estimates: story points. This is a
number that tells the team how difficult the user story (or feature) is,
due to complexity, unknowns, and effort. Teams use different scales
to determine story points. Some might use the following: extra small,

Start with an Estimate 61
small, medium, large, and extra large. More commonly, Agile teams
use variations of the Fibonacci sequence to estimate effort:
0, 0.5, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 20, 40, 100.
The most confusing part of using story points is determining what
the numbers actually mean in relation to effort. For instance, how do
you know that a “3” means the same thing to the whole team? The
best way to determine this with a first-time team is to sit down and
define the story points together. Take one story, dissect it together,
and determine that you’re all in agreement on the ratings. This might
mean that you change or simplify the sequence or come up with your
own rating system. That is completely fine—what matters most is
that you’re working with the same understanding of the scoring.
Planning Poker
Want to have some fun with estimation? Planning poker is a game
that team members can play during planning meetings to come up
with collaborative estimates using story points (see sidebar). This
game requires the full project team in order to ensure that every-
one on the team understands the stories and has a chance to voice
concerns and provide input into estimation.
The coolest part about story points is that they require you to keep
estimates on the lower side. If a story is rated at the upper limit, the
team should reassess it and possibly even break it up into smaller
Make Your Own Planning Poker Cards
You can have some fun by designing and making your own decks
as a team, or check out these nicely designed cards by Redbooth.
They’re available for free on Github under a creative commons
To begin, each team member is given a set of cards with your
team’s selected rating system on them. One person reads the user
story, and each team member holds up a card that represents the
level of effort for that story. Scores may vary, and that is normal,
but in order to get to an agreement, ask the team members with
the lowest and highest estimates to explain their scores. Through
discussion, the team will come up with a final score and document
it with their stories.

62 Chapter 3
stories. The goal here isn’t to get deep into the nitty-gritty details of
every task like you would with a WBS. It’s to keep it at a high level so
that you have a high-level understanding of the level of effort, so you
can then flow it into your sprint with complementary tasks.
Collaborative meetings should be fun and foster a sense of team
unity. If there’s debate, keep it light and seek to resolve it quickly.
If scoring takes too long, you may be overthinking it. Drop it for
the time being and come back to it.
Why Stories and Points?
Still not sold on story points? Here are a few reasons why Agile
experts prefer to use points (it’s all very psychological!):
• Dates can never account for the unexpected work and life
elements that come up on a daily basis. Using story points pulls
all of that cruft out of day-to-day operations and allows you to
focus just on the task. Never mind meetings, Slack conversations,
impromptu discussions, and all of the other things that pull you
away from your tasks; points will score just the work.
• Holidays, birthdays, anniversaries—they all imply an emo-
tional connection. And they are dates. Story points focus on just
the complexity of the task, no matter when it is being completed
(so forget about missing a task, or work, for your gran’s birthday).
• We all work differently. You might be able to accomplish a
task in less time than your teammate, but that doesn’t matter.
Each person is assigned a story and can rate it based on how
they will approach it—and that is completely acceptable. This
methodology allows the team to work at its own pace and meet
commitments on their estimates.
• You can’t track time while running Agile projects. It defeats the
purpose of points and can confuse your team when estimating.
You can always do your own thing. Be a consummate learner and
understand different estimating techniques. This will help you to
come up with processes of your own.

Start with an Estimate 63
Get Your Estimates In
Are you ready to dig in and estimate a project of your own? Whether
you’re going to break projects down to tasks and hours or use the
Agile story points system, you’ll want to give it a test run and try it
out for size. Make up a project of your own and list all of the steps or
user stories that need to go into completing a project. (It can be some-
thing simple like moving.) Run it by someone else and see what that
person thinks. Did you miss anything? Did you underestimate the
hours? Are the stories on-point? Doing a test run will get you ready
for your first real estimate, or hone your skills for your next one.
You’ll find that there is no right or wrong way to create an estimate;
it’s consistency that matters. Your own personal style of estimat-
ing projects will include a mixture of project knowledge, historical
review, client inquisition, and a ton of gut instinct.
New projects pop up often. Before you dive in, you need to know
some basic information about how long the new project might
take, or how much it will cost. When time is tight, all you need
to do is:
• Understand the project.
• Know who on your team can do what and when.
• Look back at similar projects to see how they were done and
how long they took (or what they cost).
• Ask questions to fill the gaps on what you don’t know related
to the new project.
• Create a new estimate:
• List tasks and apply time estimates.
• Create user stories and apply a rating system to them to
understand their complexity.

Getting to Know
Your Projects
Start with Research 68
Getting the Most Out of Stakeholder Interviews 69
Identify the Players 71
Talk About the Work 75
Getting to Know Your Clients Can Help! 76
Heed the Red Flag 77
TL; DR 82

Gain the confidence to get the information you need
out of people, even in the most stressful situations.
You’ll be proud of yourself for it.

Getting to Know Your Projects 67
I have a storied past when it comes to jobs. I’ve worked at start-ups, in higher education, at agencies, and as a consultant. I’m happy to have landed this most recent job as my own boss, because I didn’t
have to go through the interviewing process. I like to think I’m a
good interviewee, but I recognize that what I expect of the interview
experience may not be in line with the interviewer . . . or interviewers.
In the early 2000s, I was on a search for a new job because the
dot-com I was working for was on the verge of explosion. I went
for an interview with a well-known retailer in New York City to
be their producer. I was excited about the opportunity and did my
research before getting into the interview. I found out everything
I could about the new role, the company, its employees, and most
importantly, the people who would be in my interview. I showed
up confident in my suit and tie.
The interviews went really well. It felt like the right fit. The people
were great—we were having a conversation. It never felt like an
interview. As I thought the conversation was coming to a close, they
asked if I could hang around for another hour to meet more people.
I couldn’t decline. I wanted it. Within five minutes, three executives
came into the room and grilled me for about 45 minutes. It was
intense, uncomfortable, and completely different from my previous
interactions. I immediately felt like it was over, but I was not about
to give up.
I turned the tables on them when they asked me if I had any ques-
tions. I immediately asked them to tell me about their backgrounds,
their tenure with the company, and how they might see this new
producer helping them achieve their goals. Honestly, I was amazed
by my courage and ability to think so quickly, but I wanted it, and I
knew that I had to win them over. The only way to do that was to get
to know them, because success always comes out of making connec-
tions and understanding other people’s motivations.
In the end, the interview turned around. I was able to command a
presence and enjoy the second part of the interview as much as the
first. But it took some work! That doesn’t mean I left feeling great. In
fact, I left confused. I wanted the job, but something just did not feel
right about the experience I had. And when the offer for the job came
in, I was able to assess the situation in a critical way. Did I want to
work for an organization that tried to blindside its employees and
intimidate them? No. So when I declined the offer, I told them why.

68 Chapter 4
I let them know that it felt like a red flag to me—not one that I was
willing to take on. Instead, I eventually lost my job and moved back
home with my parents to find a much less glamorous job in higher
education. The rest is history.
• • •
There is no doubt that having a full understanding of your proj-
ect—and the people involved—will help you manage it better. There
are so many important details to be uncovered through just a bit of
investigation. The thing is, you have to make time for it. As soon as
you’ve agreed on a project scope—or maybe even before there’s a
contract in place—someone (typically a stakeholder or client) will
inevitably ask you for a project plan. Be careful about planning
without knowing the full details of the project. While a plan is fairly
easy to construct, remind everyone involved that the journey of
creating a plan does not consist of sitting down and writing up your
approach and dumping it into your project planning tool of choice. In
fact, that’s the opposite of how you should handle it.
A solid plan is created after you’ve done your own project manage-
ment research about the team, your clients, and your project and
have determined all of the factors that will make that plan change.
You should build a plan with inevitable changes or delays in mind.
Make sure that you’ve done your due diligence by asking about the
factors that could delay your project, but go beyond that: good project
managers plan for the unplanned. They do this by devising an
optimal route through the project, with contingencies and backups
in place and ready to go. If you have a solid construct for why you
built a plan a certain way, you’ll be able to roll with the changes and
quickly communicate time delays and impacts.
Start with Research
Before you start a plan, you have to stop yourself and make sure that
you know all of the facts. Take a deep breath and then dive into the
documents and communications relevant to the project. Print the
scope of work and all the details that come along with it (maybe an
RFP or notes from sales calls or meetings with your client team) and
read them end to end. Be thorough. Understand the details and ask
thoughtful questions before you commit to anything. A good project
manager is well-informed and methodical in the way he or she

Getting to Know Your Projects 69
guides a project. At a minimum, you’ll be responsible for possessing
a thorough understanding of the following information:
• What are the goals of the project?
• Do you know your client’s needs and expectations?
• What is the makeup of your client team and their decision-
making process (i.e., how they’ll review and approve your
team’s work), which might answer these questions:
• Who is the project sponsor and how available is that person?
• What does success on this project mean to them personally?
• Who is the client-side PM and will they plan on being in
constant contact with you (they need to be)?
• Who are the additional stakeholders your team should be
aware of? What does success on this project look like to
each of them?
In addition to all of your questions about your client team and their
expectations, set some time aside with your main client contact and
ask them some tough questions about process, organizational politics,
general risks, and what project failure looks like (and means) to them.
Doing so will not only convey that your team has the experience to
handle any type of difficult personalities or situation, but it also shows
that you care about the project and want it to run smoothly.
Getting the Most Out of Stakeholder
If you’re running a full-scale project, chances are your team is going
to conduct stakeholder interviews. These interviews with a variety of
people and positions can give your team a very clear understanding
of goals, challenges, feature requests, and even personalities within
the organization. Be sure to use this time to ask important questions
about the success of the project and how you might navigate the
organization to ensure that your project is discussed, understood,
and becomes a complete success.
If you are not conducting the interviews yourself, suggest some of the
questions from the previous list to incorporate into conversations with
higher-level stakeholders. It’s best to get a deeper understanding of the
culture around projects and how they are run, so talk about it with a

70 Chapter 4
variety of people to get a true, well-rounded perspective. Questions
about how projects have worked in the past and how decisions are
made, combined with questions about goals and values can truly help
inform your approach to managing the project and its stakeholders.
At the same time, be sure to record these interviews. If you’re able
to sit in on the call, great! Take copious notes and listen for details
that will help your team understand the organization and how your
project may roll out. Listen for comments about the following:
• Ownership of processes, documents, and tools
• Politics surrounding decisions
• Opinions about similar projects, design, process, communica-
tions, etc.
Ask Questions Early and Avoid Project Issues
• Has your team discussed how you will gather feedback?
• Who is the final sign-off? Or who owns the project?
• What is the project deadline? What are the factors or events that are
calling for that date (a meeting, an ad campaign, an event)? What is
the business impact of not meeting that date?
• Are there any dates when you will be closed or not available?
• Will there be any meetings or points in the project where you’ll want
to present on the current project status to a larger group (i.e., a board
• Has your team been through a project like this in the past?
• How did it go?
• Is there anything that would prevent the project from being
• Is there a preferred mode of communication? Are there any commu-
nication plans in place that you should know about? Will those modes
or plans differ by person or department?
• Are there any points in the process that some stakeholders might not
understand that you can explain?
• Is there a stakeholder you need to consider who is not on your list
(a president, dean, the boss’s wife)?

Getting to Know Your Projects 71
• Related projects, partners, and possible dependencies
• Details about routine meetings, presentations, holidays,
outages, etc.
• Details around the launch of your project (events, campaigns,
meetings, etc.)
• Mention of other stakeholders, relationships, disagreements, etc.
Just listen and take notes. Anything that could be a project risk or
potential issue to think about is something you should call out and
eventually discuss with your team and your main point of contact.
If one nugget of truth about an opinion, person, issue, or process is
raised and you can adjust your plan slightly to avoid a major prob-
lem, you win! And we all like winning.
Depending on the size of the organization you’re working with, you
might have to do some fact-finding to figure out who those players
are so that you can understand what makes them tick. It’s your job to
make sure that you’re playing the politics of the organization you’re
working in or with. It sounds somewhat daunting, but you can take
some very simple steps to identify and understand the people who
can make or break your projects.
There is no way that you can be all-knowing when it comes to
the ins and outs of an org chart and all of the politics that might
come with it. Make that known and ask for the help you need
when it comes to identifying and understanding stakeholders.
Or do some Google or LinkedIn magic (read: stalking) of your
own to get information about stakeholder roles, histories, and
organizational roles and interests.
Identify the Players
If you’re working with a client organization, chances are that you
have no idea who the top brass are and how to get in touch with
them. But you want to make sure that you’re accounting for them in
your process. Are they concerned about your digital project? If they
aren’t, are they comfortable with someone else calling the shots? Get
answers to these questions by working with your client or project
sponsor to help you determine how the decision-making process
will impact your project. Whether you’re working with a client or

72 Chapter 4
an internal team, mapping out their hierarchy and involvement level
will help you make decisions on what you deliver and how those
deliverables will be circulated through the organization.
The size of the client organization and the number of approval layers
will affect any plan. Of course, not all organizations will be the same
size, but the roles in the organization tend to stay similar. You might
work with a very small team, but consider asking about the hierarchy
in the organization based on the number of iterations you expect on
deliverables. Here are some very high-level groupings to think about
across any organization.
Avoid the “Swoop and Poop”
Before you do anything, be sure that you know and understand what
motivates the people who will make the decisions on your project
(see Figure 4.1). After all, if you leave them out, you might end up at
square one after doing a whole lot of work. That’s right, they could
swoop in like a big ol’ bird and poop all over the work you did, just
because they can! So you need to do everything you can to avoid it.
Project Owner/
Core Group
(i.e., Marketing)
(i.e., IT)
Management Level
Be sure to think through all of the layers of stakeholders who may exist.
Sit down with your clients to review who may be involved in your project
at critical points.

Getting to Know Your Projects 73
• Project Owner/Core Group: These are the people who are
responsible for the day-to-day success of the project. They came
up with the idea (and likely the budget) for the project, they
wrote the RFP for the project, found the right team to work with,
and will hold most of the answers about the project. Your point
of contact sits on this team and is responsible for making sure
that things go well on their side of things.
• Primary Stakeholders: These are the people who are most
connected to the goals of your project. They’re invested in what
you’re doing and took part in sponsoring the project. One of
these people—or their supervisor—may sit on this team. On
many digital projects, this might be a marketing team.
• Secondary Stakeholders: This team may not have written the
goals for the project, but they will be a part of making sure it is
a success. Or maybe they have some sort of responsibility for the
project. On many digital projects, this might be an IT team.
• Management Level Stakeholders: These people aren’t the doers,
but they are the decision makers—possibly the people who oversee
the primary and secondary teams, or even the people who oversee
a whole division of the organization you’re working with. These
people tend to be very connected to the vision of the organization
and how your project can succeed, so you want to understand their
goals, set their expectations for the project, and keep them close.
• Executive Stakeholders: These people pay the bills. They make all
the important decisions, and they can completely kill your project if
they feel out of the loop. So do your due diligence and get to know
who they are, and what their motivations are. These people could be
C- or executive-level people within organizations. They may also be
on a board of trustees, directors, or something similar. This means
they’re not in the day-to-day operation of the company, but oversee
it. You’ll want to think through ways to engage them.
Always ask if there’s someone you haven’t met and should con-
sider. You want to uncover unknown stakeholders who may be
hiding behind the boardroom doors just waiting to step in. These
people could be deans in colleges, remote board members, ex-
ecutives who travel a lot, the boss’s spouse, or anyone else who
may not seem obvious to you. Everyone has an opinion, and it’s
your job to make sure they’re heard at the right times.

74 Chapter 4
This Template Is Practical in Use!
I developed this template shown in Figure 4.2 as a whiteboarding exercise
when I was working with an organization that claimed to be “flat.” That
worried me, because I knew there would be some sort of politics when
it came to making decisions. Presenting these high-level groups helped
my clients understand the layers of people in various departments that
would eventually become a part of the project. My intuition was correct,
and together we mapped out our stakeholder teams and then came up
with a plan for how we’d handle presentations, meetings, project updates,
and approvals.
Use a version of this stakeholder decision matrix to map out your
project’s stakeholders and how they will be involved in the process.

Getting to Know Your Projects 75
Talk About the Work
Let’s face it—your project isn’t totally about the people. It’s about the
work. But if you don’t fully explain the intent of the work and how it
might affect other areas of your project, you’re going to confuse and
upset someone.
It’s very important to think about and discuss the types of deliver-
ables you’ll work on and present during your project, and present
them in the context of how decisions will be made on the project. If
you have not planned your project approach, think through the types
of deliverables your team will create. List them by project phase and
discuss them with your stakeholders. Be sure to detail the type of
documents, designs, templates, etc., you will deliver. Dig in and talk
about their intent, their dependencies, and overall importance to the
success of the project.
An in-depth conversation about deliverables will lead to conclusions
about who will need to be involved with reviews and responses at
the deliverable level. Never forget to ask, “Who is the final approval
on this deliverable?”
It’s a good practice to have some white-labeled work on hand to
share with your stakeholders. Showing a simple example of what
a deliverable looks like and how it may be presented can help
stakeholders understand what level of education will be needed,
who will need to be involved, and possibly even how long it may
take to review it with a team.
If it’s helpful and you want to formalize things (which is recom-
mended on particularly large projects), map out a stakeholder
decision matrix, as seen in Figure 4.2. First, sit down with your point
of contact to outline the decision-making groups (as listed previously
in this chapter) and then map out the deliverables that go along with
them. At the same time, be crystal clear about how the decision-
making process will impact the progress you make on a project. For
instance, what would happen if a stakeholder came in and decided
to reverse a decision on an approval of your very first deliverable? If
you let your stakeholders know the impact of their disorganization
before they even get to that point, you’ll avoid potential disasters.

76 Chapter 4
The best way to help stakeholders understand how they can ruin
the progress of a project and miss deadlines is to share similar
project stories. If you’re feeling overly dramatic, show them the
first version of your project plan next to the last version. There’s
nothing more impactful than a real-life example of a disaster to
keep you on your game to avoid your own disaster.
Getting to Know Your Clients Can Help!
I managed a website redesign project for a very large organization
that had several departments involved in the project. Every depart-
ment had a stake in the project, and they all thought their piece of
the project was the most important. After sitting in on stakeholder
interviews and doing my own investigation into the people on the
project, I knew I was in for a real challenge when it came to feedback
and approvals. In fact, when I asked my clients about who owned the
project, they told me that it was seven people. RED FLAG!
You see, seven people cannot own one project. Maybe they can
contribute to it, or be involved in some way, but there’s no way that
seven people will agree on the same decisions all the time. So it was
my job to break the news to them: Having seven decision makers
would be a pretty sizeable risk on the project, and our timeline and
budget might suffer if they were unable to agree on decisions within
our already established timeline. Of course, they told me they would
handle it. In that case, all I could do was call out the issue.
Fast-forward three months: our team had delivered design concepts
to five of the seven stakeholders, because two of them had missed
the very important meeting. Not shockingly, the client was one week
late with feedback. I inquired daily about feedback and finally heard
that not all feedback was in, and that there was disagreement. My
immediate response wasn’t “I told you so!” (as much as I wanted it to
be). Instead, I sat down with my main point of contact and discussed
the issues and the impact to the timeline—and eventually the budget.
I also recommended that we revisit the decision-making process. If
two people were not placing enough importance on the decisions,
maybe they should be asked to step down. It wasn’t an easy recom-
mendation to actually say, but it had to be done.

Getting to Know Your Projects 77
In the end, I had to tell my clients that it was my job to call out red
flags (or risks) as I saw them. They respected the fact that I was there
to keep things in check, but, of course, they did as they pleased.
What does that mean? Well, they kept all seven stakeholders, were
late with feedback, and disagreed quite often. Here’s the thing: I
didn’t care that they did that, because I was able to clearly state the
issues and the impacts every time one came up. In turn, we were able
to extend the timeline and the budget when it was necessary.
I really like being brutally honest about project red flags, and clients
usually do, too. It can be quite difficult to do, because sometimes it
requires calling out where your clients are being difficult or flat-out
dysfunctional. That’s when it gets tricky, and you have to use a cer-
tain level of decorum when communicating details. But, in the end,
calling out the risks and knowing about them will help you.
Heed the Red Flag
You are bound to hear some things during the course of a project that
will make you cringe. Or giggle. Or just be flat-out angry. An age-old
example of this is when a potential new client asks to see your team’s
creative approach to their project before signing a contract. We call it
“spec work” in the design industry, and we really dislike it, because
it requires work to be done for free with no promise of winning a
project. And the work has to be done in a vacuum without the benefit
of research, process, or even a simple conversation with key stakehold-
ers. This is a frustrating scenario that happens all too often on projects.
Red flags and general project issues are unfortunately normal. As a
PM, you are never going to be 100 percent happy about everything
project-related. But you can do everything in your power not to make
those cringe-worthy facts full-blown issues. Here are some scenarios
that should make you raise the red flag with your team and your
stakeholders (as painful as that may be).
• Stakeholders or team members who have no interest in talking
about how the project gets done. Everyone has to take part in
the project process in order to make it a complete success. They
don’t all have to be in the weeds with you, but they should have
a general interest and understanding of how things work. It’s
your job to keep them informed. If they aren’t showing interest,

78 Chapter 4
raise that flag and have a conversation with them to understand
why they’re disinterested and come up with a plan that works for
you and them.
• Stakeholders who don’t have clear answers about decision
makers. Someone has to have the final say on your project. If no
one knows who that is, or is not taking responsibility, you will
have problems actually completing your project. Be sure to have
a conversation about the types of decisions and approvals that
are required to make the project a success . . . or just to complete
it. This may be a few people on some projects due to hierarchy,
subject matter expertise, or even interest in the project. You may
even find that design, technology, and content involve different
teams of people on your project. Keep that in mind when getting
started and push to identify the right people for the process and
discuss it with them.
• Stakeholders who underestimate the time it will take to get
approvals. It’s always tough to estimate the time it will take
other people to review and comment on things. Project manag-
ers know this. Stakeholders? Not as much. If a stakeholder tells
you that their team of six will have feedback to you in 24 hours,
raise that red flag. It may be an ideal situation that day, but what
happens when one of the six is out? Or in meetings? It’s your
job to help them think through those scenarios and make your
plan realistic.
• Stakeholders who invite everyone to everything. You know
the scenario: You walk into a room to present a design, and it
seems like everyone, including the interns, are there to give you
feedback. It’s tough to ask people to leave a meeting, so do your
due diligence before meetings and walk the clients through the
decision-making matrix. Or give them a suggested list of attend-
ees before the meeting. Avoid design by committee, however you
can, and your team will thank you for it.
• Stakeholders who are not familiar with your type of project.
OK, this isn’t as much of a red flag as it is a warning that you had
better put your educator’s hat on. You might have to make some
extra time to explain why, how, and when you do things on your
project. Or maybe spend some time in advance of a presentation
to explain the ins and outs to your main point of contact so they

Getting to Know Your Projects 79
can inform your team. Sure, it will take you more time to do, but
if you do it well, you will save a lot of time and make yourself
and your stakeholders look and feel smart.
• Team members who work in silos. We all need our space and
time to get work done. But we all know there is no “I” in team,
right? Well, sometimes, as the PM you have to remind others that
they have to check in with the team on their work. The best thing
you can do when someone seems to be disconnecting is to check
in with them to see what they are doing. Or even better: require
a regular team check-in so that everyone is accountable to report
on the work they are doing (or not doing).
• Stakeholders who want too much in too little time. Typical.
People always want more work done faster. I mean, I wanted this
book done last year! Too bad, it’s not possible. Again, you have
to put your educator’s hat on and explain why you have to take
certain steps and why they take so long. A simple description, or
even a work breakdown structure (see Chapter 3, “Start with an
Estimate”), can help to set the pace of your project.
• Big, awesome, amazing ideas! There’s no doubt that, as a PM,
you should encourage collaboration and creativity on your
projects. After all, you want the team to be happy with what they
produce, and when they are free to create, they will be amazing.
But at the same time, you need to watch out for your scope. Keep
an eye on what’s being discussed, designed, or built and make
sure that the whole team is doing the same. If they aren’t, there
is a chance that you’ll collectively lose track of scope and create a
red flag together. And you know what happens then: You have to
figure out a plan B, or ask the client if they’re willing to change
the scope of the project. Not fun.
• Stakeholders with a tendency to gossip. You’re a likeable
person. There will be times when stakeholders get comfortable
with you and start divulging too much information about what
happens behind closed office doors. Do. Not. Engage. Always
keep it professional and never take sides. Your first responsibility
is your project, and you want to make sure it is completed on
time and under budget. Don’t let any stakeholder disagreements
or politics get in your way. If they do, you might just have to
engage a senior stakeholder to sort out the madness.

80 Chapter 4
Defining Working Relationships
by Paul Boag
UX designer/consultant, speaker, and author of several books
including Digital Adaptation and User Experience Revolution
Our client had another project for us. At face value, this sounded
great. But the last time we worked with them, it was a nightmare!
Our point of contact was a confrontational kind of guy who enjoyed
pushing his luck. We had gone through endless iterations, and he had
ended up micromanaging design decisions.
After much debate, we decided we would accept the new project. But
this time, we were determined that things would be different. For a
start, I wanted to define the working relationship.
Of course, I didn’t want the project to begin with a confrontation. So
in the initial meeting, we talked a little bit about roles. I made no men-
tion of the previous project, instead suggesting that it might be nice to
have a clearer definition of who was doing what.
I proposed that the client should champion the users’ needs and
business objectives. After all, I argued, he understood both of them
better than we did. That massaged his ego! My hope was this would
move him away from personal opinion toward more objective
I also encouraged him to focus on identifying problems with the user
experience design and its job in fulfilling business needs. In turn, it
was our responsibility to find solutions. I explained that by sharing
problems and not solutions, he would get more from the designer. It

Getting to Know Your Projects 81
Defining Working Relationships
would push him to come up with better solutions and give the client
more value for his money.
I was encouraged that this seemed to go down well. The client
enjoyed having something specific to focus on. He also relished the
idea of challenging our designer with problems. I confess I was a little
nervous as to what would happen as a result.
All went well to begin with. But the point came when he fell back into
bad habits. He started asking us to make color changes and tweak the
layout. As the designer ramped up for confrontation, I decided to give
the client a quick call. I gently pointed out that he had started to focus
on solutions rather than problems. I reminded him that we needed to
understand the underlying issue. Only then could we challenge the
designer to come up with something even better.
I was over the moon when he turned around and apologized for
forgetting what he had agreed upon! He then took the time to explain
the problem as he saw it. As it turned out, his solution made a lot of
sense once we understood the underlying issue. Even the designer
grudgingly agreed.
This was not the last time that the client fell into the habit of suggest-
ing solutions rather than problems. But now that I had established
clear responsibilities and processes, it was easier to nudge the client
back on track. Sometimes the suggestions the client makes are good
ones. But often, the designer comes up with something better. When
that happens, we praise the client for pushing the designer. Every-
body wins!

82 Chapter 4
Research isn’t just about setting the project strategy or getting
the design just right. In fact, well-rounded research that engages
your stakeholders can truly help you run a better project. Do
these things to ensure that you’re doing right by your team and
your stakeholders:
• Understand your project.
• Goals
• Stakeholder needs and expectations
• The makeup of your client’s team
• Any possible issues or risks
• Identify stakeholders and talk about the best times to
engage them.
• Participate in stakeholder interviews to gain a well-
rounded point of view on the project and its impact on
the organization.
• Ask questions that will help you understand any potential
issues or risks that may impact your plan.
• Watch out for red flags and resolve issues early on.

Create a Plan
Project Plans Will Help You 85
Before You Create the Plan 87
Formalize Your Plan 93
What You Really Need to Know 102
Get Planning 106
TL; DR 106

It’s always a race to the final deliverable.

Create a Plan 85
The holidays at my house are always festive and hectic. With two young daughters, the anticipation for “THE DAY” to arrive always puts a little extra pressure on us to make sure
it’s great. Of course, there are 500 steps we need to take leading up to
the day: decorating the tree, decorating the house, buying presents,
making cookies, and the list goes on. Most importantly, we love
to host our family on Christmas Eve. We know that we must have
everything done by the time they ring the doorbell because that is
truly when the holiday starts.
Last year, we slacked a little and didn’t get everything done in time.
We had a to-do list about a mile long, and rather than tending to it,
we decided to watch Christmas classics and relax. That was a big
mistake. By the time Christmas Eve rolled around, we were freaking
out, trying to get everything done—picking up last minute gifts,
wrapping them, preparing dinner—all of the last minute things we
hadn’t accounted for. It piled up, and we just weren’t ready.
We slapped dinner together and hosted a great party, but our job was
not over. We failed to plan our time properly, knowing that the goal
was to have everything looking perfect by the time the kids woke
up early on Christmas morning. By the time we basically shoved the
last family member out of the house, it was game on. We put toys
together (while cursing ourselves and the manufacturers), wrapped a
bunch of gifts, stuffed stockings, set out cookies and milk . . . and got
to bed by 3 a.m. To wake up at 6 a.m.
Had we properly planned what we needed to do from Thanksgiving
to December 25, we might not have had such a hard time the night
before. Alas, we kicked back and had a good time, and ended up
putting ourselves under an immense amount of pressure in the last
24 hours. So typical.
It’s also very typical of project work. You’ve got to have a good plan
in place to ensure that you’re taking the right steps to meet your
project’s goals by the established deadline.
Project Plans Will Help You
A project plan is arguably the most important document created on
your project. At its core, a plan should communicate your project
approach and the process your team will use to manage the project
according to scope. If handled with care and great consideration,

86 Chapter 5
a good plan should act as an agreement on project objectives, scope,
major deliverables, milestones, timing, activities, process, and even
resources needed to deliver your product. If you take the time to
create a good process around how your plan is built and you con-
sider all of those factors, you can create a great plan that will work
for everyone.
Project planning is at the core of what all project managers do, no
matter the industry, type of project, or their level of expertise. A
project plan defines your approach and the process your team will
use to manage the project according to scope. Every project needs a
plan: not only does it go a long way toward keeping teams honest in
terms of scope and deadlines, but it also communicates vital informa-
tion to all project stakeholders. If you approach it as something more
than a dry document and communicate that aspect of it differently
to everyone involved, it can and will be seen as integral to your
project’s success.
This chapter explores a planning process that works best for
traditional projects. If you’re working in the Agile approaches,
you probably won’t need to create plans with the level of fidelity
suggested in this chapter.
You could easily slap together a document that shows dates and
deliverables, but if you’re managing a project that has a hefty budget,
lofty goals, and a whole lot of decisions attached to it, you’ll find that
it’s important to take the time to get this document right. With the
right amount of background information on your project’s scope and
requirements, and with a good level of input and collaboration with
your team and your clients, you can make a solid, workable plan that
will guide everyone through your project. Here’s the thing: it doesn’t
have to be difficult to create.
Just like projects, project plans come in all shapes, sizes, and
formats. Some people like lists with dates, some want a calendar
view, and others like Gantt charts. There are several ways to ren-
der a plan. Pick the format that will best communicate the details
to your team and stakeholders.

Create a Plan 87
The fact is, a plan is more than just dates. It’s the story of your
project, and you don’t want it to be a tall tale! Like any well-written
story, there are components that make it good. In fact, any solid plan
should answer these questions:
• What are the major deliverables?
• How will you get to those deliverables and the deadline?
• Who is on the project team and what role will they play in those
• When will the team meet milestones, and when will other
members of the team play a role in contributing to or providing
feedback on those deliverables?
Your plan should educate any reviewer—coworkers and clients
included—on the logistics of the project. They trust that you’ve got
this, so when reviewing the document, they truly believe that you’ve
considered every possible risk. If you have, it feels good to know that
you’ve done a good job and you’re trusted.
Before You Create the Plan
After you’ve done your own research and you feel that you have
acquired all of the possible information about the project that you’ll
need to craft a plan, it’s time to get serious. Chances are, you’re
feeling fully prepared and ready to dig into the hows and whens of
the project. Well, that’s great, because now it’s your turn to crank
out some work and create a project plan that will impress your team
and your clients.
Start with a Sketch
It’s so easy to jump right into your project-planning tool of choice to
create what looks like a well-thought-out plan. If that’s your process,
that’s fine! Just be sure to think through every possible scenario
before you put the time and effort into a formalized document. If you
don’t, you’ll have to go back through your work and make adjust-
ments, and we all know that could end up taking more time than you
bargained for. So why not start with a simple sketch to map out and
communicate your ideas on process, deliverables, dependencies, and
timing? (See Figure 5.1.) It can take you as little as 20 minutes and
will sell your ideas to your team before delivering something that
feels “written in stone.”

88 Chapter 5
Sketching your ideas first will help determine deliverables, process, tim-
ing, and constraints. Do this before jumping into a tool, because it’s quick.

Create a Plan 89
Grab a pen and a notebook, or stand in front of a whiteboard and
sketch out your ideas. Feeling overwhelmed, or don’t know where
to start? Take a look at your scope document. Does it outline
specific deliverables or timing? Refer back to your meeting notes.
When you asked your clients all those questions, did any specific
process tweaks come up? Are there dates or events you need to
keep in mind?
If this is new to you, you can feel slightly lost, but it’s important to
remember that the tool you put the plan in won’t do the thinking for
you. You control the process, and you can craft a plan without any
tool at all. Just keep the following factors in mind.
An Overall Approach to the Project
What’s the first deliverable? What comes after that? How do those
deliverables help you get to the end goal? Does your team prefer to
work within the framework of a mindset like Agile? What are the
frameworks that you can apply to this project, given the variables
you discovered in your pre-project client Q&A?
The Tasks That Will Need to Be Completed
Don’t think about your project in phases. Think about deliverables
and the value that each of them provides. For instance, if you’re
delivering a design concept, what work needs to be done before
that can begin, and what work can happen when it’s approved—or
concurrently? Knowing about each task and planning its dependen-
cies will help you string everything together.
The Roles or People Who Will Work on the Project
Who’s on your project team and what do they do? Also, how can
you leverage their expertise and collaboration to get things done
more efficiently? If you have an idea of how your team could work
together and present ideas to them, they’re going to be more open to
discussing the process and coming up with ideas on how to approach
the project together. If you harness the power of team collaboration
before your work starts, you’ll find that the work product will be
stronger and the team will be happier. Using a RACI matrix might
help you here. Check out Chapter 9, “Setting and Managing Expecta-
tions,” for details on how to set up and use one.

90 Chapter 5
You’ll also want to keep resourcing in mind. If your organization
allows people to be on more than one project at a time, it can poten-
tially cause conflicts on your project. That’s a headache you’ll want to
avoid. Be sure to review resourcing plans and ensure that your team
is available to conduct the work on your project over the course of
time you’re estimating.
The Time You and Your Team Need to Execute Work
Be honest about the time your team will need to get their work done.
Don’t forget to look back at your project estimate (if you have one)
to see how many hours were scoped for tasks. This can be a huge
help in determining timelines. Of course, there are other things to
consider as well.
Other Project Work
If you’re working on a team of people who are working on multiple
projects and have everyday operations tasks to manage, you’re going
to want to have a complete picture of each person’s availability.
If they are responsible for other projects, you’ll want to discuss key
dates to avoid so that you don’t make the mistake of double-booking
(and stressing out/upsetting) your team.
Client Reviews and Approvals
This is the ultimate project curveball. You must account for enough
time for your clients to review, discuss, and approve deliverables. But
is that time going to be the same for every deliverable? Once you’ve
had the conversation about who will make decisions and who will be
involved on the project, think through the deliverables and how long
you’d estimate your clients should take. Be generous with that time at
first and see if you can negotiate any time back when you review the
final plan with your clients.
Your plan will crumble as soon as you hit a date that doesn’t work
for your team or your clients. Check schedules on both sides of the
fence and be sure to account for holidays, closings, vacations, meet-
ings, and any other possible date that could cause outages. If you
get ahead of that kind of information before you commit to a plan,
you won’t have to freak out about delays and risks due to a missed
meeting or deadline.

Create a Plan 91
Get Realistic About Timing: Break Down Tasks
Having a hard time sorting out how long it will take you to get a task
done? Try a work breakdown structure, a fixture in classic project
management methodology and systems engineering that breaks a
project task into smaller components. Creating a work breakdown
structure for any plan or set of tasks helps you get granular about
the work that needs to be done on any given project. Check out this
sample work breakdown structure for creating the wireframes for the
Gantt Museum website redesign project (see Figure 5.2).
Internal Meeting
Personal Brainstorming
Create Wireframes
Internal Team Review
Internal Iteration
Prep presentation
Review with Client
Collect Feedback (x3)
Iterate (x2)
Total Time: 2 days
Total Time: 10 days
Total Time: 15 days
Try this version of a work breakdown structure by simply listing tasks
and subtasks.
The Benefits of the Work Breakdown Structure
In Chapter 3, “Start with an Estimate,” we talked about the WBS in
terms of estimating. You should be able to apply the same methodol-
ogy when planning, and it will help do the following:
• Be granular quickly and create a simple time estimate.
• Confirm steps with your team in an easily digestible way.
• Create to-do lists related to tasks.

92 Chapter 5
• Create a detailed view that will educate your client on the effort
involved with any task.
• Create templates for similar projects or tasks.
It’s All in the Assumptions
When you’re working on a draft plan, you’ll probably make some
assumptions about the way things will go. These could be details
about the overall process, who’s doing the work, your internal pro-
cess, feedback timing, and so on. As you’re sketching, be sure to list
those assumptions. This will help you remember all of those details
when you discuss the plan with your team. If you’ve got a list of
assumptions in front of you, you can confirm or change them when
you’re confirming the plan.
What’s It Look Like?
Presentation is everything, at least that’s what our designer friends
say. But it’s true—you need to be proud of the way your plan looks!
Maybe it’s a Gantt chart, maybe it’s a calendar, or even a line-by-line
masterpiece. No matter how you’re doing it, you should know the
fundamentals of using your plan to its fullest and how to commu-
nicate its most important points. The way your plan looks should
be secondary to the points you need to convey with it. The way it
functions, however, can matter, especially if you want to be able to
respond to and project the impact of changes. If it is overly manual,
then updating it and managing it for changes will be very time
consuming, especially if it is detailed.
Wondering what a Gantt chart is? Well, it’s a chart in which a
series of horizontal lines show the amount of work done or pro-
duction completed in certain periods of time in relation to the
amount planned for those periods. Looking for an easy way to
create Gantt charts? Try TeamGantt:
Get Buy-in Early
As soon as you’re comfortable with your plan, take some time to
review it (and all of those assumptions) with your team. It can be a
short, relaxed meeting to work out the overall process, deliverables,
responsibilities, timing, and anything else under the sun that could

Create a Plan 93
impact the success of the project. As a team, you should be able to
agree on what’s going to work. When you have everyone’s buy-in on
the overall approach, you’ll be one step closer to having a plan that
not only looks great, but will also feel appropriate and workable.
You don’t have to use a planning tool to formalize your plan, but
keep in mind that you do want the flexibility to update it easily
and see the impacts of changes. Remember: one changed date
can cause a waterfall effect with the following dates. Tools help
with that kind of thing.
Formalize Your Plan
After you’ve sketched your plan and confirmed the most important
process details, you’re on your way to putting it into a digital format.
Working in the project planning
tool of your choice to lay out tim-
ing, tasks, dependencies, and so
on will make the plan easy to read
and update. While this work is easy,
there are some things you should do
to make your plan readable.
1. Enter tasks in groups.
Creating groups of tasks will
make your plan easier to read,
and it will allow your readers
to see which tasks are part of
a deliverable or a phase (see
Figure 5.3).
2. Get granular with tasks.
The more detail you can spell
out when it comes to tasks, the
better you will be able to track
your progress and the steps
leading up to a deliverable.
Refer back to your work break-
down structure and list the
steps you used to create that.
Breaking parts of your project into
groups will help you keep track of tasks
by phase and deliverable, and it makes
scanning a long document much easier.

94 Chapter 5
3. Identify responsible parties (company, people).
Identifying which company is responsible for each task will help
your readers seek out their tasks more easily (see Figure 5.4).
When creating a task, you can put the company name (or an
acronym) in front of the task. You’ll also want to take that a step
further and assign a responsible person for each task. This will
help you with resource planning and accountability.
Use company or
individual initials to
call out responsibility
in your plan.
4. Be sure to display start and end dates for each task.
Seems like a silly tip, but it’s easy to hide this info in some apps!
Regardless of what tool you’re using, you’ll want to make it clear
not only when a task ends, but also when it starts (see Figure 5.5).
Again, this will help to keep your team and clients accountable.
Showing start and end dates in a plan leaves no question as to when something
should be worked on or is due.

Create a Plan 95
5. Account for time off and holidays.
Now is your chance to block time off in your plan. This is impor-
tant now, because as soon as your timeline shifts (you know it
will, don’t fight it), you’ll open yourself up to making an error
and dropping a deadline on a date that should be blocked. If you
note them in your plan, that won’t happen.
6. Note dependencies.
If you’re not going to move forward on the project without an
approval, or one task must be done before another, now is your
chance to note it (see Figure 5.6). Not every planning tool offers
dependency functionality, and it can be a huge help. As your
plan shifts, the flow of the work will stay intact.
Noting dependencies in your Gantt chart or notes can help your team and stake-
holders know what must be completed to proceed with the following tasks.
7. Use the “notes” field to capture details.
Sometimes your team and clients forget what they committed
to, or maybe they don’t fully understand the intent of a task or
group. Use the notes section of your plan to spell things out.
8. Check team availability.
If you’re lucky enough to use a product that shows your overall
team availability, you’d better use it! Knowing how your team is
booked and what projects they are part of will play a huge role in
how on-time your project will be. Having an overall view of their
time available and conflicting work will help you adjust your
plan to either meet the needs of existing project work or shift
the milestones you’ve put in your plan.

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Double-Check Your Work
Creating a project plan is just like writing an article, creating a
design, or building a bike. You want to be sure you get it right before
it’s read, viewed, or used. If you deliver a plan that has a mistake,
misinterprets a task, or even misses a date, you’ll end up looking bad.
People lose faith in project managers easily, so you must be diligent
about the quality of your work. Grab your teammates and ask them
to review the plan before you post it for review.
Of course, you’ll also want to be ready to get some feedback on your
plan. Formalizing a plan means that you’re taking a set of ideas
and expanding on them. That also means that you might interpret
something differently than a teammate. That’s OK! If you set up your
plan using the guidelines in this chapter, you’ll have an easy time of
managing and updating.
Get Plan Buy-in
The first version of your plan will not be the final one. In fact, any
good plan will be flexible enough to be updated and changed easily.
So before you try to commit it to project history, be sure to under-
stand that you’ve got some work ahead of you. First, you’ll want to
confirm your plan with your team and make the necessary updates;
then you’ll want to review it with your clients. From there, you’ll
manage your plan and make updates as the project dictates. Use the
advice in this chapter to “baseline” and manage your plan through
the course of your project.
Make It Readable
There is no doubt that reading a project plan can be boring. In order
to stop your dear readers from skimming your work of art, use some
formatting skills to make sure that tasks, durations, milestones and
dates are crystal clear. No matter what tool you’re using, you should
be able to do these things:
• Include all pertinent project info:
• Client name, project name
• Version number, delivery date

Create a Plan 97
• Break out milestones and deliverables in sections by creating
headers and indenting subsequent tasks. (Reading one long list
of tasks is really monotonous and can be mind-numbing even to
the best of us.)
• Call out which team is responsible for each task (example:
“CLIENT: Provide feedback”).
• Add resources responsible for each task so there is no confusion
about who is responsible for what.
• Be sure to show durations of tasks clearly. Each task should have
a start and end date.
• Add notes to tasks that might seem confusing or need explana-
tion. It never hurts to add detail!
• Call out project dependencies. These are important when you’re
planning for the risk of delays.
Include your company’s logo and your client’s logo if you’re feeling
fancy. Use your company’s branded fonts if you’re feeling really fancy.
In addition to all of this, you should be as flexible as possible when
it comes to how your plan is presented. There is no absolute when it
comes to how you represent your plan as long as you and your team
understand what goes into it. Remember, people absorb information
differently. While some people prefer a list view, others might prefer
to see a calendar or even a Gantt chart. You can make all of those
variations work if you’ve taken the steps to create a solid plan.
Step 1: Team Review
If you followed the steps presented in Chapter 3, you discussed your
plan at a high level. You determined overall process, deliverables,
and assignments as a group and agreed to the way things should
work—all based on a high-level sketch. Then you created a detailed
plan that outlined the specifics: phases, tasks, deliverables, due dates,
dependencies, and resourcing. You put a lot of thought into how the
high-level plan could be executed on a day-to-day basis.
That means that some of the details you discussed about the high-
level plan may have shifted when you formalized the ideas with
real dates and restrictions. This is completely normal—you have to
get specific about things like deadlines, working time, resourcing
and other project work, and the time your clients need on projects.

98 Chapter 5
So what do you do when you see those shifts happen? Whether they
change or not, you have to take the formal plan back to your team
to review. If you don’t, you run the risk of someone not agreeing to
a new detail or date, and that will cause frustration on the project.
Follow these steps for a thorough review process that will get your
team aligned on the plan:
1. Make a copy or send access to the plan to each of your
team members.
Or post physical copies in a place where your team and stake-
holders can always see them—like in a project war room, a team
space, or even the lunchroom. You want them to see the new
plan and have access to it at all times. Keeping your plan in an
accessible place means that everyone is accountable not only for
reviewing and confirming it initially, but also for checking in on
it as the project progresses.
2. When sharing your plan, reiterate the overall process.
Go over where you’ll start (and what the immediate next steps
will be), the key dependencies, major meetings, holidays blocked,
and, of course, the deadline. At the same time, be sure to note
any major differences in the new, formalized plan. Explain why
any details may have shifted in this version and be open to
alternate approaches. Showing your team that you’re not trying
to control the process and plan will build a collaborative team
atmosphere, and it will show them that you’re there to facilitate
a great process.
3. Give the team some time to review the plan individually
and schedule a short meeting to go over the specifics in
detail in person.
Allowing them time to review the document on their own
ensures that you can keep the meeting short.
4. In your meeting, reiterate what you emailed.
If you see issues with this version or anticipate any confusion,
address those immediately. This is your chance to present the
plan and explain why you’ve made certain decisions or explain
any decisions that might make you slightly uncomfortable. After
all, you should be assessing the plan for risk from day one. If
everything seems too perfect, you might want to think about
it a little further. No plan exists without some sort of risk or

Create a Plan 99
potential issue. From there, open it up to conversation. Because
this plan is based on an earlier agreement, you should be able
to do this meeting within 30 minutes. Or, if the project is short
enough and the plan is very straightforward, you might even
skip this step altogether.
5. After your meeting, make the adjustments needed and check
the final version.
Make sure that you’re comfortable with it and post it for your
team to review. This time around, feel free to give your team a
short review time so you can speed up the process. The last thing
you want is for your team to think they are being bogged down
by the project management process. But, it’s also important they
know that they’re just as accountable for the plan as you are.
Now you’re one step closer to confirming your plan and getting
things underway.
Step 2: Client/Stakeholder Review
When you’re working on a project with a client or even a product
owner, it’s critical to be 100 percent sure they understand all of the
details your team has discussed. Remember, your clients may not
be familiar with your process or deliverables so this is your chance
to enlighten them. You may want to send the document to them
in advance, but be sure to set up a call or an in-person meeting to
review the plan in detail. Chances are, they will be confused by what
they’re looking at, so you’ll want to take the opportunity to review
it line-by-line. This may sound painful, but it’s an important step in
ensuring that you’re in agreement not only on timing, but also on
how you’ll deliver the final product. Use the initial review of your
plan as your chance to explain.
Explain your overall process and how you, as a team, arrived at
the approach. Feel free to explain how it has worked on previous
projects, or how you’re trying something new. You also might want
to talk about ways the process might change during the project.
Cover all of your bases and set the right expectations. No mat-
ter what, stand behind the approach and be confident about its
potential for success.

100 Chapter 5
Review the deliverables and all of the details that will help you, as
a team, produce your project on time. It’s important to explain what
work must be done to complete a deliverable, and why it will take the
time you have allotted. If you explain these details now, your clients
will not push for unrealistic deadlines. And if your plan shows tasks,
your client will understand just how much work is being done.
While reviewing your plan, your client may have questions about
what a deliverable is and what it does. This is great, because it means
they are engaged in the process and look forward to seeing what
the team will deliver. If you can, share some similar documents or
deliverables from other projects and explain what they are intended
to do (and not do) and how they relate to other project deliverables
and decisions. The more you can educate your clients early on, the
easier time your team will have at winning them over when pre-
senting your work. After all, a client who is invested in and truly
understands your work is not just a client—they are a partner.
At the same time, you should set expectations for your deliverable
review processes. In your plan, you’ve probably made some estimates
based on the amount of time your clients will need to review your
work as a team and provide feedback. If you’ve had conversations with
your clients early in the process, you know how much time they need.
This is your chance to point back to that conversation and tell them
the timing is based on that discussion, but if that is no longer the case,
this is the time to make adjustments. At this point, you want to be as
realistic as possible about how the project will go. There’s nothing
worse than changing the review process—or the people involved—
midstream on a project. Explain this to your clients, and they will
think twice about timing and what is realistic for them. And when
they see the time they need in relation to the time you’re taking, as
well as the deadline, they will most likely be motivated to work hard
to meet their dates.
Don’t forget to point out dependencies. If your client misses their
deadline, what will that do to the project? Where can you be flexible,
and what makes you nervous? Put it all on the table now and docu-
ment it in meeting notes so that everyone is aware of the potential
issues you’re spotting early on.

Create a Plan 101
People and Other Project Work
It’s never just about the work—it’s about the people who are doing
the work. Be sure to communicate the fact that the team has reviewed
the plan and mention some of the items you discussed as a team and
how you arrived at some decisions. There’s a lot of value in showing
your clients the human side of your process and your team, because
it’s often easy for them to think of you as a “shop” that just gets the
work done. They don’t know all of the details, and maybe they don’t
want to. But if you share some details about who’s doing what, and
any other key things they’re working on, it will help them relate to
it a bit more.
It can be tricky talking to clients about other work you’re doing, but it
shouldn’t be. The fact is, you’re a business and you have other clients
and projects. Show your clients the fact that you take great care to
schedule your time and projects in a way that works for you and for
them. If you’re really good at this, you’ll have scheduled your project
around others, and there will be a little bit of a cushion in your
timing to make future shifts. Even if that isn’t the case, it would not
be a terrible idea to set the expectation that a one-day delay on your
client’s side may not equate to a one-day delay on your side. Simply
let your clients know that their plan is crafted around others and
a carefully crafted resourcing plan will help them understand the
importance of sticking to the dates and process you’ve outlined.
Step 3: Confirm Everything
You’ve put a heck of a lot of work into creating this plan, so talking
through the details to make sure that everyone is comfortable with
it should be pretty important to you. If this means giving your client
and team some extra time to think things through on their own, so
be it. Of course, you never want this process to take so much time
that it delays any of the project work. You can create the plan while
work is underway—but don’t let it go unconfirmed for too long. You
want to be sure that you have an agreement, because the details in
your plan will dictate so much, including your immediate next steps.
Step 4: Manage and Update
Just because you’ve confirmed your plan does not mean that you’re
done with it! In fact, you’ll find that your plan is a living and breath-
ing document. At a minimum, you should update the “Percent
Complete” column on your project on a daily or weekly basis.

102 Chapter 5
It’s gratifying to see that number go up! Plus, the chances that you’ll
have to make adjustments here or there are pretty significant. It’s
not common for every project to stick to its plan 100 percent of the
time. Life happens, ideas change processes, deadlines are missed,
and plans change. That may mean that your deadline has to shift, or
maybe your process will no longer work for the project. As long as
you are flexible and can adapt to the revolving door of changes, so
can your project plan.
It’s really easy to be frustrated by a change in plans. Don’t let it get
to you—remember that you’ve got a team who has already commit-
ted to coming up with a plan that works and a client whom you’ve
educated on your process and deliverables. You’ve done a lot of work
to get these people on board with the plan, and they’re now invested
enough in the plan and the project so they’ll be willing to help make
adjustments or think through new ways of working if needed.
Be sure to provide updates to your team and your clients as plans
change—or stay on track. Keep your plan in an accessible place, but
communicate how things are going based on the plan. For every
change to the plan, there’s a cause. You usually either make a change
because you’re adding more value or because a specific task was not
executed according to the plan. In the first case, you need to explain
the trade-off to everyone. In the second case, you need to understand
the implications of the change as soon as humanly possible and
work to minimize it. You’ll always end up on top if you’ve commu-
nicated or resolved an issue early on or even paid a compliment on
a job well done.
Wondering how to categorize all of these random notes and
ideas? Make a running list of issues, questions, risks, and ideas.
Categorize them by topic and address them one by one.
What You Really Need to Know
Quite often, you’ll receive a tome of project details. Pages upon pages
of requirements, team biographies, invoicing instructions, contractual
clauses, and the like. It’s very critical that you read through all of that
documentation. But when it comes to creating a plan, this is what you
need to know, no matter what type of project you’re managing.

Create a Plan 103
Project goals:
• The client or team’s intended process or methodology
• The team and their expertise
• Expectations on deliverables
• Expectations on iteration and collaboration when creating and
revising deliverables
• Who the client stakeholder team is, and specifically who the
main decision makers are
• The amount of time the client will need to review work and
provide feedback
• Dependencies
• Deadlines
Never leave any of these items unanswered. If you’re responsible for
creating the project plan that means that you must be sure that all
factors have been considered. If you don’t, the project will definitely
hit a bump in the road and every finger will be pointed at you. For
instance, if you have not fully explored the decision-making process,
there is a great chance that you’ll encounter the good old “swoop and
poop” during the process. If you don’t know what that is, it’s when a
stakeholder you weren’t aware of swoops into the project at the 11th
hour and poops on the work—and puts you back at square one. It’s a
budget and timeline nightmare that will become a reality if you don’t
practice your due diligence.
It’s best to sift through documentation away from your desk, or
at your desk with all of your favorite apps closed. Get some alone
time with that document. Read it thoroughly and make notes on
the things that are red flags, questions, risks, or discussion points
in the document. This will ensure that you’re not missing any
potential risks.
Just remember, you can get as much info as possible, and details can
change. Do your best to document the information you have so that
you can account for it in your plan. The next chapter will present
ways you can dig deeper to create a plan that will work for you.

104 Chapter 5
Sample Project and Plan
The best way to illustrate best practices for creating a project plan is to actu-
ally show you an example of a well-done plan! The example included here
(see Figure 5.7) is of a website redesign, so if digital PM is your thing, you
will get it immediately. If your background is non-digital by nature,
Want to see the whole sample plan? Visit

Create a Plan 105
Sample Project and Plan
that’s just fine! There’s enough guidance here for you to apply the principles
presented to your own projects. Look at the language, structure, and timing
used and you’ll pick up what you need. Plus, you might learn a thing or two
about what it takes to build a website.

106 Chapter 5
Get Planning
Sometimes projects are smooth and alarmingly easy to manage, and
sometimes they are a complete nightmare that wakes you up at 3 a.m.
every other night (it happens). Regardless, plans will change. With a
good team and a clear scope of work, you’re on your way to making
a solid plan that is manageable and well-thought-out. In the end, hav-
ing a solid plan is your best defense against project chaos.
Not all projects or processes are the same. In fact, some processes call
for a more open, flexible way of project planning. If your team and
your clients are happy with less detail, then you should absolutely
work that way. Maybe this full planning process won’t work for your
organization—and that is OK. The goal here is for you to understand
that the core principle of planning and managing a project is through
good communication tactics. One of those tactics is a well-crafted
project plan that has been reviewed and discussed by all parties
involved in the project. If that plan ends up being a simple sketch,
a Kanban board, or a daily stand-up meeting, you’re doing it right!
Just because you create a plan in the beginning of a project
doesn’t mean that you’re done with it. In fact, your project plan
is a document that you and your team should review regularly,
especially when working on large projects. As the PM, you should
check in at least a few times per week. Just to make sure your
team is paying attention, you might want to schedule review
meetings to review and validate the plan.
Projects come in all shapes and sizes, but they all require you to
track the details: process, tasks, people, decisions, dependencies,
and more. In order to make sense of the chaos, you should:
• Sketch a draft plan to share with your team.
• Discuss the draft plan and answer your questions on
process, tasks, pacing, timelines, and responsibilities.
• Formalize your plan in a project-planning tool.
• Get buy-in from your team and your stakeholders.
• Manage and update the plan regularly.

Set the Stage for Organized Resource Planning 109
Match Resource Skills to Projects 111
Save Yourself and Your Team from Burnout 112
Stakeholders Are Resources, Too 113
TL; DR 114

Staffing teams can feel a bit like a game of Tetris,
but don’t forget your teams are human beings.
They have interests, strengths, and qualities that
should be considered above their availability.

Managing Resources 109
I loved the game Tetris as a kid. I played the Game Boy version for hours. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the concept of little shapes coming together in a logical way to clear a goal. The pieces
complement one another, yet they all naturally work in different
ways. The game has stuck with me since I was a kid (and, no, I’m not
a gamer). I now have it on my phone and iPad and find myself play-
ing it when I’m on a flight or bored, waiting for something to happen
(which is never these days). Whether I’m playing the game a lot or
not, the idea of making tiny boxes fit in neatly and clearing out rows
of work is ingrained in my brain. It’s the project manager in me.
But here’s the thing: What project managers do on a daily basis when
it comes to managing resources or staffing is similar to Tetris, and
it’s a big project management challenge that we all face. The biggest
difference between resourcing and Tetris? The team members we’re
trying to assign tasks to aren’t blocks. They’re human beings, and
they need to be treated as such.
Let’s move away from calling people “resources,” please. We’re
really just staffing projects or assigning tasks. We’re not using
people to just get things done. We’re asking them to solve chal-
lenges that are presented in our projects.
Set the Stage for Organized
Resource Planning
The challenge of managing a team is making sure that they stay busy
and working on tasks, yet are not completely overbooked. It’s a diffi-
cult balance to find, particularly when your projects require a variety
of skills at different times, which seem to change all too often.
At the most basic level, you want to set up a system for tracking your
projects and your team members’ time on those projects (see Figure
6.1). A simple goal is to ensure that you can confidently commit to
deadlines on projects with the knowledge that your team is actually
available to do the related work. It seems like a simple goal, but it’s
often a difficult one to keep up with due to changes on projects,
changes in personal schedules (hey, life happens), and an influx of
new work and requests. But it’s not an insurmountable challenge.

110 Chapter 6
In fact, a simple spreadsheet could help you, particularly if you’re
managing a smaller team. At the core, you want to track these items:
• Projects: List them all, even the non-billable ones, or the other
things that aren’t projects but end up taking a lot of time—like
business development.
• People: List every person you work with.
• Estimated time: Track hours, days, weeks, etc. Make your best
guess—based on your timeline or calendar—on how much each
person will spend on a project or a task.
Use a Google Spreadsheet, Numbers, or Excel to input your project
and team data.
A couple of notes on how to use a spreadsheet to forecast team
• This should be set up on a week-by-week basis to minimize
confusion. (Use tabs in your spreadsheet for each new week.)
• Always consider the “nonbillable” things that people must do
(like stand-up meetings, internal tasks, sales, etc.).
• The final cell contains a formula that tallies the hours for you;
if the hours go over your typical limit (think of a 40-hour work
week), it will turn red to notify you. You’ll want to have a good
idea for just how “utilized” someone should be (32 hours/week is
usually a good target).
• You can input the actual hours logged in your time tracking sys-
tem if you’d like. It could help with future estimating. (If you’re
not tracking time, check in with your team on time percentages
to get a gut check.)

Managing Resources 111
• Check your estimates with your team to make sure that the
hours actually align with their assessment of the task. (This
might help with avoiding that red number!)
• Communicate these hours to the entire team each week. Making
sure that everyone “is in the know” will help on any project.
Discussing it with individuals will help you understand effort,
blockers, and possibly even different ways of working.
The landscape for project management tools is changing con-
stantly. There are a number of tools in the marketplace for helping
you manage and communicate this data. If you’re working with a
team of 10 or more, you might want to abandon the spreadsheet
approach for something more official, organized, and supported.
Bonus: Many of these tools handle more than just resourcing!
Here’s the thing—it’s not just about numbers. The issue that makes esti-
mating a team’s project hours difficult is that everyone works differently.
There is no way to standardize the human factor here, and that’s what
makes it tough. Forget the fact that no one on your team is a robot, and
they all work at their own pace. Think about sick days, vacations, client
delays, changes on projects, and so on. It’s a never-ending flow of shapes
that must fit into the box that is a project. Be sure to have an ongoing
dialogue about your staffing plans and challenges.
Match Resource Skills to Projects
Projects only slow down when decisions are not made. In that magi-
cal moment when things are actually going well, you want to make
sure that your team can continue the pace. The only way to do that
is by connecting with your team and understanding what motivates
them. Here are some things to consider:
• Interests: If you have a team member who loves beer, why not
put that person on the beer design site? Maybe you have multiple
people who want to be on the project, but they are all busy on
other projects. These are the breaks. You’ve got to do what is
right for the company and your budget. If you can put interests
first, it’s awesome. It won’t always work out that way for every-
one, but it’s a good first step to try.

112 Chapter 6
• Skill sets: It’s as simple as getting to know each and every team
member’s work. Some people are meant to create specific types of
designs or experiences. It not only has to do with interests, but it
also has to do with strengths within those tasks. Sure, I may love
beer, but that doesn’t mean that I am meant to design the site that
caters to the audience the client is trying to reach.
• Moving schedules: Projects will always change. One week you
know you’re working against a firm deadline, and the next week
that has changed due to the clients, the needs of the project,
or some other reason someone conjured up. It’s tough to know
when that change will happen, but when it does, how you’ll fill
someone’s time with other work should be high on your mind.
• Holidays: People always extend them. Plan for that!
• Vacations: It’s great to know about these in advance. Be sure you
know your company’s policies around vacations. You never ever
want to be the PM who says “Well, you have a deadline on X date
and that will conflict with your very expensive/exciting trip, so,
um . . . no.” Ask people to request trips at least a month in advance
so that you can plan ahead and make it work.
• Illness: We are all humans and that means we’re fine one day
and bedridden the next. You’ve always got to be ready for a back-
up plan. It shouldn’t fall on your client stakeholders to make up
time, but sometimes it has to. Or sometimes you need to look for
someone to pitch in on intermediate tasks to keep things on track
while your “rock star” or “ninja” is getting better.
When you’re working hard to keep up with staffing plans, you’ve
got to have updated project plans. A small change in a plan could
cause a change in staffing—even by a few hours—and throw ev-
erything else off.
Save Yourself and Your Team
from Burnout
If you’re busy and not slowing down any time soon, you want to
keep this spreadsheet (or tool) updated often. If you’re working at
an agency, knowing what’s in your pipeline can also help you. Stay
aligned with the person in charge of sales or assigning new projects

Managing Resources 113
so that you can anticipate upcoming needs and timelines. In some
cases, you may even want to put some basic data in your spreadsheet
or tool so that you can anticipate needs.
The value of tracking this data goes beyond your projects.
It can help business owners make important decisions on
growing a company.
No matter what you do, be sure to communicate about staffing as
much as possible. If you’re in an organization that is constantly han-
dling change, you’ll know that it’s a tough target to hit. In fact, your
numbers will often be slightly off, but you’ll find comfort in knowing
that you’re doing everything you can to stay ahead of the resource
crunch. At the same time, your team will appreciate that you’re doing
everything you can to protect their work-life balance.
Stakeholders Are Resources, Too
When you’re working on a team with a project, you have to consider
the stakeholders as decision makers, too. Let’s face it—no one has
ever been trained to be a good client, stakeholder, or project sponsor.
In addition to that, they are likely to be working on several projects
with several people at one time. Life as a client can be hectic! So do
everything you can to help them plan their time appropriately. In
general, you should let the stakeholders know they’ll have to plan
for these things:
• Meetings: You’ll conduct a kickoff meeting, weekly status
updates, deliverable reviews, etc.
• Scheduling: You’ll need stakeholders to wrangle calendars to
get folks into said meetings.
• Gathering feedback: This sounds easy, but it is not. You will
need this person to spend time with all of the stakeholders to
get their feedback and collate it for you to make sure there are
no conflicting opinions.
• Chasing down decisions: There are points on every project
where one person will need to make sure there is agreement and
decisions can be made to keep the project moving.

114 Chapter 6
• Daily ad hoc email, phone calls: Questions and requests will
pop up, and you’ll need timely responses.
• Operations: You might need invoices to be reviewed and
approved or change requests to be reviewed and discussed. The
stakeholders will need to make time to operate the project from
their side of things.
This is a lot of work. And just like PM work, it is very hard to quan-
tify or plan. If you’re in good hands, you’re working with someone
who has good PM skills. If not, give them the list above along with a
copy of this book. But seriously, if you can assist them with planning
their time, it might be as simple as including action items or to-dos
for them in a weekly email or in your status report. Just remember,
they are busy and want the project to run smoothly as well. Help
them make that happen.
Managing projects is hard enough, but being the person to
manage who works on what and when can be even more difficult.
However, if you don’t keep track of this basic information, you’ll
likely find it hard to meet deadlines and wrap up projects without
major issues. Here are some simple things you can do to make
sure that your team stays busy, yet not completely overbooked:
• Set up a simple spreadsheet to forecast projects and hours
per team member.
• This data should be based on what’s included in your
project scopes and timelines—be sure to double-check that.
• You may want to check out one of the resourcing tools
that are out there now.
• Be sure to account for a number of factors that you can’t
necessarily control in this process—for example, interests,
skill sets, moving schedules, holidays, vacations, and so on.
• Account for your sales process if you’re in an agency and
stay ahead of new project requests.
• Remember that you’re dealing with people here.

Like a Pro
Solid Communications Earn Trust 118
It’s Not About You 119
Set Communication Expectations 120
Be Open to Collaboration 121
Quick, Simple Communication Tactics 122
Body Language Speaks Volumes 128
TL; DR 128

Being a clear communicator when you’re nervous
or your emotions are running high can be tough.

Communicate Like a Pro 117
I played baseball, soccer, and basketball from my toddler days up until high school. In my freshman year of high school, I decided to give football a go. (I was asked to give it a shot, because as a
big guy, they figured I would be good.) So I gave it a shot. And man,
was that eye-opening. Immediately, I noticed an intense shift in the
way I was talked to (or at). Coaches and assistants barked orders.
They were aggressive. It wasn’t for me, but I stuck with it for as long
as I could (three weeks).
Upon deciding to leave the team, I felt as though I needed to have
a one-on-one conversation with the coach to explain why. Looking
back, that was very adult of me. But the words that came out of my
mouth were far more mature than I think I would have expected.
I told him the reason I couldn’t stay on the team had nothing to do
with my ability or my interest in the sport. It was about the way I
was constantly barked at—even when things were good. I told him
that I’d been playing sports for the better part of my life, and I always
enjoyed them. But this? This wasn’t fun for me. I also explained that
I knew it was the norm, but that it never made me feel like I was a
part of a team. It never gave me a great feeling. After spitting that
out, I expected to be yelled at, told to leave.
But it didn’t happen.
The coach told me that he understood, and that it wasn’t for every-
one. His coaching tactics were rooted in his experiences as an athlete,
and they worked for him. Also, he couldn’t change the way he
coached for one person, so there was nothing he could do. That was
fine with me—I didn’t want special attention. I just wanted him to
know why I was quitting . . . because I’d never been a quitter.
That night, I lay in bed thinking about how things could have been
different had I just sucked it up, or had the coach taken the message
and changed his approach. I probably would have a Heisman trophy
on my desk right now. No, but seriously, it might have changed my
high school and college careers. Before falling asleep, I thought,
“Who cares? I’m owning this change, and I’m making my own
decisions based on what will make me happy and not stress me out.”
I was proud that I had the guts to talk to the coach and to question
the way I was being communicated to. It left an impression on me.
It taught me that I needed to consider the way I communicate with
others in any situation. It prepared me for my career long before
I had one.
• • •

118 Chapter 7
Imagine managing a project without any form of communication.
Unless you’re producing something on your own for yourself, it
would be wholly impossible. That’s because projects are often com-
plicated with various layers of details, requirements, and decisions.
Each step requires a new task to discuss, because it’s dependent on
another task or decision—or even another person. Sure, you can
make it so that all of those decisions are funneled through your
favorite project management planning tool, but just a plan or a tool
won’t help you complete a project successfully. You’ve got to use your
most basic human skills to manage a project: communications. And
it’s not just about the words coming out of your mouth or the words
you type in a message. It’s about intent, tone, openness, and general
comfort with the work and the people around you. It’s not easy, but
you can do it. It’s very important to remember that no matter what
role you’re playing on a project, if you’re not making a strong effort
to communicate with your team, you will likely fail.
Solid Communications Earn Trust
The foundation of good project communications starts with building
trust among your team and stakeholders. The best way to get to a
place where everyone is trusted and respected is by being honest.
That’s right, drop your guard and recognize that hiding mistakes,
ideas that could put you over scope, awkward client conversations,
or whatever else that gives you the project heebee-jeebees will never
be good for the team or the project. Earn trust by simply sharing
important project details and conversations in the open. At the same
time, take time to form relationships with your team and stakehold-
ers. This can be done through conversations or interactions that not
only focus on the project, its goals, and how you’ll work together to
meet them, but also about yourselves.
It’s critical for project managers to make time to interact with their
teams about nonproject things. That’s right—get personal. Tell jokes.
Have some fun. Talk about your interests, your home life—anything
that will help you find common ground with your team. You’ll
want to do that at appropriate times and be sure that personal
conversations don’t get in the way of your work. After all, you’re
there to work. But it’s the little interactions that set the tone for how
you’ll work together, and more importantly, how you as the PM are
deeply interested not only in the project logistics, but also the people
involved. After all, they’re going to help you deliver a successful

Communicate Like a Pro 119
project. And as soon as those relationships are built, it’s immensely
easier to ask for things, have difficult conversations, and guide the
project to success.
The most difficult part about written conversations is getting the
tone right. It’s very easy to be direct, but it’s just as easy to come
off as a jerk. If you’re feeling like you can’t get it right and don’t
want to upset someone, ask a friend or colleague to review your
message for you before sending it out. Call it a “tone check.”
It’s Not About You
Remember, it’s not all about you and your process as the PM. It is all
about you working with the team to come up with a structure that
works for everyone. You may ask: why change your communication
strategy from project to project? This approach could get confusing
for you—particularly if you’re a manager or are working on several
projects with many team members. That’s OK, and maybe it won’t
work for you because you need to follow company-wide standards.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a personal approach. Think
about it: if you put the time and effort into getting to know your team
and creating a plan with them, everyone will buy in. In effect, they
will communicate in a way that makes them comfortable and will
deliver on your projects with less effort, confusion, and fear.
Inevitably, there will be times in any project where left-field ideas
arise, new requirements surface, and questions occur that will come
to you. Proceed with caution, project manager! If a client, partner, or
team member is approaching you about any of these things, it’s best
to make sure the ideas check against your project scope, require-
ments, plan, and capabilities. The documentation isn’t always the
bottom line, but it’s best to be open about any idea or conversation.
Knowing when to involve the team to help the conversation and
the decision-making process is critical. As humans, we want to
please others and get answers quickly. But sometimes that is just not
possible. The last thing you want to do is answer a question or make
a decision on behalf of your team only to find out that you were
wrong. For instance, if a client is asking something that is design- or
development-specific, pull in the appropriate people. They can help
answer the question and possibly even do it better than you. That’s

120 Chapter 7
where things get tricky: don’t think of yourself as “just the PM,” but
recognize that you are “just the PM.” Not the PM, design director,
and consultant. It’s more about owning your role and being honest
about your expertise.
You will never know everything, and that’s OK. If you’re on a call
with a client and they ask you a question and you don’t know the
answer, or even the whole answer, stop, take a note, and tell them
you’ll get back to them as soon as you’ve spoken to the person
who has the proper answer.
Set Communication Expectations
A general rule in project work should be that there’s no such thing
as over-communication. You need to be very detailed and constant
when it comes to things like ever-evolving project requirements and
tight timelines. If a detail is missed or miscommunicated, goals can be
derailed, and you’ll lose time and budget, as well as cause frustration.
So how do you stay on top of it? As a team, come to an agreement on
how and when you will communicate. At the beginning of a project,
sit down to discuss your budget, scope, timeline, requirements, and
any other factors that might play into kicking off a new project. This
will help to ensure that everyone on the team is aware of all of the
critical pieces of information relating to project formalities.
In that meeting, be sure to assign specific project roles and the explicit
responsibility of making sure that communication is flowing and is
being documented in well-written meeting notes. But don’t always
rely on one person for notes, but rather make it a shared responsibility
outside of meetings. For instance, if you’re in a hallway and something
interesting or impactful comes up organically in a discussion, don’t
forget to document it. Taking three to five minutes to share potentially
critical info with your team could save you time and money.
Using a project communication/management tool to hold all of that
information will facilitate good communication and knowledge
sharing. Knowing when and where communication should happen,
and how it will be documented is half the battle in the war against
poor project communications. For a more complete discussion, see
Chapter 11, “Facilitation for PMs.”

Communicate Like a Pro 121
Be Open to Collaboration
The most successful project teams are ones that are comfortable with
tight collaboration, and that requires making time to share ideas,
discuss and debate them, and make decisions together. It’s not easy,
but it’s well worth the effort. Projects become stronger through those
interactions, because they can help you do the following:
• Articulate project goals.
• Set better expectations about those goals and how you’ll
meet them.
• Formulate a project process that works for everyone.
• Discuss task dependencies and how they’ll be met (or not).
• Communicate risks and issues—and solve them.
• Understand one another’s roles and your impact on the project.
• Build a strong bond as a team.
• Enjoy your work.
Many times, uncontrollable factors (hard deadlines, locations,
working hours, and the like) will place inevitable constraints on how
teams collaborate on their own or with clients. But opening up your
process to ideas from other team members and clients can make for
more open, fun communications, and you might end up with some
great, new ideas.
Good collaboration happens through the general understanding that
your team is open to discussion. When setting your communication
expectations early on, agree to collaborative sessions and open dia-
logue. From there, set up a series of sessions where you can discuss,
sketch, and debate ideas as a team. Be sure to have a goal (or agenda)
for each session and record takeaways. It’s always easy to schedule a
session and come up with 500 amazing ideas, but remember that you
have to agree on and commit to at least one.
From there, keep your collaboration going with shared to-do lists.
You can track subtasks as a team and keep each other in the loop on
progress and dependencies with the help of a trusted app. There are
a ton of tools out there, so find one that your team agrees on.
Once you’ve got your list documented, make sure that you’ve clearly
assigned responsibility for it and check in often. If you see that a

122 Chapter 7
team member is behind, be proactive and comment on that to-do list.
The point of an open list is to make sure that you’re all up-to-date
on the status of work at all times. A list like this will foster real-
time communication, whether that is through in-person discussion,
instant messenger, in-app messages, or email. The idea is to work in
the open and share progress to build team support. This is the type
of activity that helps people build products faster.
Work is busy. Project management tools like TeamGantt, Slack,
Basecamp, Trello, and many others can make busy days a little
easier, but they can also get in the way of—or even distort—
simple, human interactions. Don’t forget about the value of face-
to-face conversations, or even phone calls, when you want to
move things along quickly.
Quick, Simple Communication Tactics
Relationship building (and joke telling) aside, think about your
project communications in terms of routines. As a PM, you want to
be sure that you’re facilitating the flow of information in a way that
feels expected. Doing so helps your team share information more
easily or ask for it when it’s needed. Some basic ways to ensure there
is a consistent flow of information are the following:
1. Establish what “success” means.
When you kick off a project, you’ll want to make sure that your
team and stakeholders are aware of what’s expected of them
throughout the course of the project—and for you to understand
what’s expected of you from the team as well. What’s most
important is to get the details on the table and ask, “What does
success look like for us and how might we fail on this project?”
Being truly honest about what’s going to make you all feel good
about the project when it’s over—from the administrative end of
the project to the front-line project communications—will help
you set expectations early on.
2. Discuss deliverables.
It’s easy to check boxes off on a plan and do that on time. But
if you’re not actively checking in on those deliverables and
reviewing them as a team, you’re missing a huge opportunity

Communicate Like a Pro 123
to collaborate as a team and build a stronger product. When
you’re building your plan, make sure that you’re working in
some time for team deliverable reviews. Sit down and discuss or
critique your deliverables. This will generate more confidence in
what you’re building and will also hold team members account-
able for project decisions throughout the course of the project,
even if they’re not responsible for those items at the time. Essen-
tially, through short review and discussion, you’re eliminating
the risk that a current deliverable will have a negative impact on
your scope later in the project. It’s well worth your time.
3. Conduct status meetings.
Status meetings (scrum, stand-ups—whatever you call them as
a team) are necessary. Create a routine that will keep everyone
informed about progress or blockers. Maybe you’ll meet daily
as a team, or maybe it will be weekly. You should be able to
make that decision as a team to ensure a good flow of informa-
tion. You’ll want to do that with your stakeholders as well to
ensure that they’re seeing progress and know where they fit
in the process.
4. Ask questions.
Being a PM requires you to be inquisitive—you have to under-
stand processes, people, and deliverables. Chances are, you’ll
work with someone who comes up with a new way of working
or takes a new spin on a deliverable. That’s great! Just make sure
that you understand it—and that you can articulate the what,
why, when, and how of that new thing. And never be afraid to
ask questions. Your team will likely be happy to share infor-
mation or resources about the work to help you understand it
better. And in the end, it’s a win-win situation for you and your
team, because the more you understand the work, the easier it is
for you to advocate for it with stakeholders, or plan for similar
activities in future projects.
5. Schedule working sessions.
Scheduling collaborative brainstorming or “whiteboarding”
sessions gets project team members invested in project ideas
before they become more concrete, and it helps deal with poten-
tial scope issues. Simply having a developer sit with a designer
to talk through the level of effort an idea might require can be a
lifesaver when it’s discussed before it goes to a client.

124 Chapter 7
6. Be the cheerleader.
You may not be a peppy cheerleader by nature, but every project
needs a leader who owns and supports the process. A good
project manager will enforce the process and keep everyone on
the team in sync. Juggling timelines, deadlines, and deliverables
is key, but a project manager who also supports the process, the
team, and the client, brings true value to a project. Be the one
who says, “Wow, this is really nice. Good work.” Celebrate the
wins and encourage the team to do the same.
7. Play devil’s advocate.
This is a tricky one—particularly because no one likes to be
questioned. So, proceed with caution! But if you see something
that might not be in line with project goals, or reminds you of
an offhand comment from a client, raise it. Maybe you’d say
Innovating Project Communications
by Elizabeth Harrin
Elizabeth Harrin is a project management expert and
director of the Otobos Group, a project communications
consultancy based in London, England. She also founded, a great resource for all PMs.
I worked on a large software rollout that was going to fundamentally
change the way people did their jobs. There was a lot of communica-
tion around what was happening, and I produced a monthly project
newsletter that was sent out to heads of departments to cascade to
their teams. When I visited some of the 40 affected locations, I’d
often see it printed out and put on the wall, which was excellent.
Some teams went above and beyond that, with their own local
change champions managing a display of relevant information on an
entire notice board.
That was fine in the early days, but when it really came to the count-
down to go live, we knew we needed more. The project sponsor and I
discussed how best to engage everyone—predominantly because what
we were asking them to do was difficult. Change is always hard, and
we knew this one was going to be a lot to ask. However, the business
case was solid, and we also knew that it was going to happen. The
challenge was bringing people along with us and knowing that com-
munication was going to be key to driving that level of engagement.

Communicate Like a Pro 125
Innovating Project Communications
We decided that an in-person presentation would enable us to discuss
the impact and answer questions directly from a wide group of stake-
holders. We did some planning. We worked out the logistics. And we
realized that it would take over two months to do the job properly. It
wasn’t practical for us to take that much time away from managing
the project to focus solely on this communication strand.
So we made a video of what we would have told them if we had been
It took some creativity to make a video about launching new software
interesting. We included short video interviews with key stakeholders
in each area, explaining why the project was important to them and
how they and their teams were supporting it. We included screen-
shots and photos, too.
The video was watched by people at all locations, and we had excel-
lent feedback on it. It was a simple way to promote the project, reach a
wide audience, and give people a consistent message without having
to meet them individually. On the plus side, we probably reached
more people than townhall-style meetings. On the negative side, I had
to rely on phone calls, emails, and capturing queries via the intranet
instead of hearing and responding to questions face-to-face in real
time. There are payoffs and choices in every communication decision.
something like, “Did you think about X?” and explain why
you’re thinking it. At the end of the day, you must look out for
the best interests of the project and your team. This type of
behavior not only supports your team and your project, but also
shows everyone involved that you are genuinely engaged and
not just worried about the PM basics.
8. Informal check-ins.
Between deadlines, check in on the upcoming document or
delivery and chat with the team about what each will entail.
Are your deliverables changing based on previous work? Will
that impact the scope and the timeline? Explain the benefits of
check-ins and how their constructive, helpful feedback will make
the end deliverable stronger. Remember when it comes to setting
expectations, there is nothing wrong with repeating yourself as
long as your repetition is meaningful and timed just right.

126 Chapter 7
Motivating Teams
by Holly Davis
Holly is an Agile project manager and delivery lead at Deeson,
a digital agency based in London, England.
About a year into my role as a project manager at an agency, I was
given one of the largest projects I’d ever worked on. It was a big
budget project with a team of three developers and one UX designer
working full time for six months. We were brought in to work closely
with the client’s in-house development team and provide UX and
front-end services for a complete site rebuild.
There were challenges around ensuring that there was enough
UX/design done ahead of sprints started, that dependencies between
stories were explicit, and that there was enough work for three
developers to work on.
I found it really rewarding working on a project with three people
from the front-end engineering team, because it’s a rarity that a proj-
ect arises where they can work as a team together on the same project.
It was great to see them working together as a team and pushing for
best practice and web standards to get the best result for the project
and our client.
However, there were points in the project where I found it difficult
to challenge some of the decisions being made on the project. For
instance, it was fairly regularly that the team was asking for a
significant amount of time in the sprint for “refactoring.” For me, and
for many PMs, reworking code that has already been shipped is a bit
of a red flag. Sure, it often makes for stronger code and will be easier
to update in the future, but spending time and budget on something
that clients do not directly see, or experience a benefit from, can be
difficult to communicate.
There was also occasional pushback from the developers in terms
of constraints they faced when implementing the design. Over time,
this caused friction between the designer and the developers work-
ing on the project. At points, the implementation failed to match the

Communicate Like a Pro 127
Motivating Teams
client-approved designs, and the developers would just say “it doesn’t
work,” or “we used another component to make it more consistent.” It
often felt like the designs were being compromised, and the designer
on the project was not invited to review the work or even consult with
the developers to resolve issues together.
One of the elements of the project that helped to resolve these ongo-
ing issues with reviews was visualizing the workflow. We used a
physical Kanban board to track story level progress, i.e., the subtasks
were tracked in JIRA, and the story level progress was tracked on the
Kanban board.
We used different color cards for different team members and added
a column for “design review.” This was a really easy way to start
embedding design reviews into our process. At first, it was difficult to
get buy-in for the team to use the task board in addition to our online
Kanban board. I suggested it in an end-of-sprint retrospective and
said we would try it for one sprint to see if people found it useful. I
invested time and energy in making it as engaging as possible, being
creative and playful with the story titles and descriptions. By the end
of the sprint, the team was actively using it to manage their workload,
and everyone was keen to continue using it for the rest of the project.
The frequent end of sprint retrospectives gave the team feedback
on what was going well and what wasn’t. It also gave the team the
opportunity to receive direct feedback from the client and helped
us navigate through some of the more difficult interactions among
team members.
With a long project like this, you may find that motivation trails off
toward the end of the project. I certainly found that. This can be
resolved to some extent by regularly changing the format of routine
tasks or activities. Don’t be afraid to vary and try new things. If it
doesn’t work, you don’t need to do it again! I had great fun exploring
different ways to run Scrum and different retrospective formats. And
despite feeling reserved to begin with about how the client would
respond, he loved it, too!

128 Chapter 7
Body Language Speaks Volumes
You can do everything in your power to control your voice and tone,
but your body can still manage to send a mixed message. In fact, a
large part of communication and the way you’re perceived comes
from body language. Your deepest thoughts and feelings can be
manifested through your facial expressions, eye movements, posture,
stance, and gestures. That’s a lot to think about on top of just getting
the message right. Simple cues like keeping your arms uncrossed,
smiling, not clenching your fists, and other things that you might just
tend to do naturally will help you convey a more in-control and posi-
tive message. These actions can make you feel more self-confident
and positive, which is evident to the people you’re talking to. It’s
pretty powerful!
Successful project management starts with impeccable communi-
cation skills. There are a lot of factors that can make it difficult to
master communications: processes, tools, and people. But you can
do a better job communicating. Here are a few things to consider:
• Always be open and honest. There is no such thing as a
project conversation or detail that you cannot share openly.
• Adapt your communication style to the project and people
involved to get better results and build trust.
• Talk about the way you’ll communicate and get everyone on
board with some standard practices.
• Pick up the phone! Some of your best and most productive
conversations will happen by phone or even (gasp!) in person.
• Find ways to get your team talking about the project. Set up
sessions where you can collaborate and execute together. It
will make you more productive and much happier as a team.
• Create communication routines to engage your team and
keep expected communications going.

the Dreaded
The Anatomy of a Difficult Conversation 132
How to Conduct a Difficult Conversation 137
Meeting Means Talking and Listening 139
Finding the Right Solution 143
The Most Difficult Conversation I’ve Ever Taken On 144
Say Hello to Agreement and Goodbye to Disagreement 146
TL; DR 147

Difficult conversations are a part of the job,
but also a part of life.

Navigating the Dreaded Difficult Conversation 131
I’ve always been a conscientious project manager-type, especially when I was a student. I never really disliked school or all of the work that came with it, but I was never really fond of group
projects. And that’s not because I didn’t like my classmates; it was
because I never felt 100 percent comfortable with everyone else’s
ability to get the work done in a cohesive way. Any time there was a
group project, I would do everything I could to make sure that roles
were clear, the work was defined, and the deadlines were set at least
a few days in advance of our due date. See, I was a fully blossomed
PM by college . . . lucky for my classmates, huh? (They likely wouldn’t
totally agree.)
The thing that made me get to that point was one chemistry project
where I had to work with three other people to conduct an experi-
ment, document it, and then present it in front of the class. Everyone
outlined their pieces, we met to check in, and we discussed the work.
As we got closer to the due date, it was becoming clear that one of my
group mates was not pulling his weight. I wasn’t the only one getting
nervous—the two others on the team were as well. We didn’t know
what to do. We’d been checking in, and the deadline was looming,
but he just didn’t seem to care. The three of us discussed the mat-
ter one night. Should we do his work for him, just in case he didn’t
complete it? Should we tell the teacher? How would we make sure
we got the grades we deserved without causing a major conflict and
destroying a friendship at the same time?
In the end, we decided that we needed to address the issue with our
teammate together. After all, it wouldn’t be fair (or very mature) to
“tell on him,” and we knew that would just make matters worse. We
sat him down and asked him what was going on. The conversation
went something like this:
Us: Hey, the project is due next week. Our parts are done, and
we’re waiting on yours to wrap up. We were hoping to have it
done four days ago. What’s up?
Him: I’m working on it. Things have been really crazy for me
lately. I’m sorry.
Us: OK, well what can we do to get this done today? We’re all
very nervous and feel as though you’re putting our good grades
at risk. Not cool.
Him: I said I was working on it.
Us: We know, but we need to know when it will be done.

132 Chapter 8
Him: My grandmother died. I have to go to her funeral tomorrow.
I will work on it after that.
Us: Man, we are so sorry to hear that. And sorry for pressuring
you. Let’s work it out.
Him: Thanks. I will get it done, but I really just need the time.
Us: Yes, we totally understand. Maybe Professor Burk will give us
an extension. We can prove to him how much of the work is done,
and who wouldn’t understand that you need some time? We’ll
handle it and let you know what happens. Focus on your family.
We had no idea that this could possibly be the outcome of the
conversation. In fact, we expected it to be contentious. On one hand,
I left the conversation feeling really awful for not thinking things
through or asking about his work in another way. On the other hand,
I was glad that we had talked to him and had a possible solution. The
next day, the three of us went to Professor Burk’s office to tell him
what had happened. He gave us a one-week extension. We met the
deadline and proudly got the grade we deserved. And all it took was
15 minutes of discussion to sort it all out.
I’m still friends with those three people today because that one
conversation changed our friendship forever. We were able to be
honest and vulnerable with one another, sort out a difficult situation,
and succeed as a result.
The Anatomy of a Difficult Conversation
We’ve all been there. Someone did or said something you or someone
on your team did not agree with, and you were the person who had
to handle it. You actually didn’t even want to handle it. Others knew
that you didn’t want to handle it. But if you’re leading a team, it’s part
of your job description to keep the peace on your team—so you do
what you can to make this conversation less awkward, edgy, tense,
or even humiliating. But before you jump in, you’d better prepare,
because these situations are never easy.
How do you assess a conversation to be sure you can handle it
properly, especially when every individual perceives these exchanges
differently? There is a lot that goes into any conversation—difficult
or otherwise—but keep in mind that if you initiate the conversation,

Navigating the Dreaded Difficult Conversation 133
you’ll want to think through every possible argument, statement,
or outcome before you even speak a word about it. Your assessment
won’t always be correct, but dissecting the factors that will play into
your conversation will help you understand the situation and the
other person (or people) better—and conduct it like a professional.
The Situation
Every difficult conversation stems from an encounter, a situation, or
a scenario. Think through it first. What actually happened and why?
Chances are, you will hear multiple stories about a situation, but
you will never know what truly happened without fully hearing all
parties involved. Hearing a couple of accounts of the story might help
you gain perspective, but it can also confuse or upset you. So this
means that in many cases, you might have to stay neutral in order
to get to an outcome that will work for everyone involved. The best
way to stay neutral—because you must—is to listen and not provide
any opinions or additional accounts of the story. Gather informa-
tion, formulate your own opinions privately, and do what you can to
simply understand what has happened.
If you are a part of the situation, but you want to resolve it with a
conversation, it might mean that you have to remove your personal
or emotional attachment to the issue and try to resolve it peacefully.
A good way to do this is by figuring out how the outcome of the
situation will affect the product/end user. Keeping things focused on
the product and customer is a good way to rally the team back to a
singular point of focus. This will certainly be difficult, and it will test
your professionalism and workplace decorum, but you can do it. No
matter what you do, keep in mind that we all have our own points of
view, and we want to be heard. Give time and space for everyone to
share their feelings about the situation, and the conversation will be
less difficult.
Six Thinking Hats by Ed de Bono is a good resource for
facilitating objective conversations, difficult or otherwise.
If it’s helpful, jot down the issues you’re seeing within the situation
and break them down. For example, if the issue is that someone has
missed a deadline, you might write these points down and use them
as talking points later on:

134 Chapter 8
• The Issue: You missed a deadline by three days.
• The Impact: Someone else on the team had to scramble to get
their work done more quickly to make the final deadline. That
person stayed late and came in early to get the work done. Upper
management noticed it and is now questioning me about your
reliability and accountability.
• How I Feel: Disappointed, worried. I also feel bad for the person
who made up for your issue. You should thank them.
• Resolutions: You apologize to the person who made up time. We
set up an internal schedule to review your work at least one day
ahead of your deadlines.
Sometimes taking 5–10 minutes to think through your emotions and
write them down can help you organize your thoughts—and pos-
sibly even find a resolution. Your personal example may be far more
complicated than the previous situation, but if you think through the
issue, impacts, feelings, and resolutions, you will prepare yourself for
a productive outcome.
Be careful about asking others about the situation. The last thing
you want to do is create a back channel or gossip about it. Keep
it to yourself and the other people involved, and you’ll ensure
trust and honesty.
The Other Person
There’s always a culprit, and you’ll have to handle that person, or
people, with great care. Knowing the ins and outs of the situation
before you approach this person about it is important, because you’ll
want some sense of how this person will approach the actual conver-
sation. We all handle these conversations differently, so you really
won’t know how they’ll react in advance.
Keep in mind that no one likes to be on the receiving end of a diffi-
cult conversation. You’ll have to think about how to lighten the blow
and to truly understand the situation to make it feel less difficult.
Why did he or she do it? What’s motivating him or her? And, are you
worried about your relationship? Will this conversation be the way
you’ll interact from here on out? It could end up that way if you don’t
handle the situation with care.

Navigating the Dreaded Difficult Conversation 135
The bottom line is that you must approach this conversation with a level
of empathy if you want to truly resolve it and uphold the relationship.
You (and Your Emotional State)
You’re probably scared. Or nervous. Or possibly even angry. It’s
totally normal. No one likes to call someone out. In fact, you might
be frustrated or annoyed that you even have to address the situation.
Wouldn’t it just be easier to let it slide?
No, absolutely not. Letting one difficult conversation slide will not
only set a precedent for accepting poor behavior, but it will also
prove you to be a coward. It’s not going to be easy to sit in front of
someone and call them out for wrongdoing—but maybe you won’t
handle it that way. You’ll address the issue head-on and share your
own concerns or feelings about it (without making it about you).
First, figure out what is stopping you. Is it the fear of hurting
someone else, the fear of destroying a relationship, or the fear of
perpetuating a misunderstanding? That’s a whole lot of fear, and it’s
completely normal to feel that way. You’re a human being, and if you
care at all about others or how they perceive you, you will be scared
to address an issue head-on. But you have to set that fear aside by
preparing yourself for the conversation, stepping up, and facing your
fear (and the other person, as well as the issue).
It’s OK to let your feelings show . . . because other people might
see them anyway. When you experience a strong emotion but try
to conceal your feelings, you let out a quick involuntary expres-
sion of emotion, or a micro expression. These often happen so
fast that it’s tough to see them in real time, but they’re uncontrol-
lable and sometimes obvious. Keep that in mind!
The Outcomes
Before stepping into the conversation, you should think about what
you’re hoping to get out of the conversation. Are you looking for
an apology? A physical action to resolve the issue? Another meet-
ing? Understanding exactly what you want from the situation will
definitely help you formulate an approach for the conversation—and
hopefully ease your fear.

136 Chapter 8
Also, remember to think about how you will follow up on the out-
come. There is nothing worse than talking through an issue, coming
to a mutual agreement, and dropping it. Very often, it’s the case that
an issue won’t be fully resolved with just one conversation. If you
truly own the issue—and its healthy resolution—you will commit
yourself to following up on it regardless of how uncomfortable that
may be. So think through your ultimate outcome and a useful plan
for how it can be rolled out. Maybe it will truly be one conversation.
Maybe it will be a series of check-ins to discuss progress and feel-
ings. Whatever you do, make it comfortable for everyone involved.
Talk about the plan. A simple, “Do you feel good about our next
steps?” can go a long way toward solving an issue.
The Conversation
After you’ve taken some time to think about the situation, you’ll be
ready to approach the conversation. Put your fears aside and don’t
worry about being wrong. Remember, keep the other person’s feelings
in mind, and handle it in a way that feels positive and productive.
The best way to conduct a difficult conversation is in an open, honest
way. You’ll want to create a meeting atmosphere that promotes
positive energy. Do whatever you can not to hold the meeting in your
office or in a conference room. Go out for lunch or coffee instead—
stay in a setting that feels neutral and less daunting. The pressures of
work can seep into situations like this, and you want everyone’s full
attention, so go off-site and speak freely.
Don’t Sweat It
Remember that you are at the heart of the anatomy of your difficult
conversation. You can control the tone of the conversation if you
approach the situation with the level of care it deserves. You’ll obvi-
ously never be able to control what the other person contributes to
the conversation, but you can be calm, understanding, and resolute
with a little bit of preparation.
Are you feeling prepared to conduct a difficult conversation? The
next section will highlight ways to handle the actual conversation
with a level of comfort you never knew you could bring to the table.

Navigating the Dreaded Difficult Conversation 137
Forcing a smile can actually make you happy. It sounds corny,
but it’s true: studies have found that if you change your facial
expression to reflect a certain emotion, you may actually feel that
emotion. Try it!
How to Conduct a Difficult Conversation
It’s a fact: addressing situations that result in disagreement or tension
can be stressful. No one wants to handle them, but sometimes you’re put
in positions where you just have to. Actually, these conversations do not
have to be that difficult if you prepare yourself for a positive outcome.
Prepare Yourself
It’s important to know what you are getting into when you address
“difficult” conversations. While you don’t want to script your conver-
sation and get your mind set on one outcome, you do want to have
an idea of how you will handle the conversation, and the possible
outcomes—both positive and negative. Read “The Anatomy of a Dif-
ficult Conversation” to gather tips for preparing yourself for the best,
and remember, it’s your job to keep a healthy, positive attitude while
trying to address the issue. It’s easy to get worked up and upset, but
at the end of the day, that will only stress you out more and show the
other parties involved that you’re not equipped to stay cool.
As soon as you’ve done your prep, you will be champing at the bit to
just get the conversation over with. Maybe that’s because you’re eager
to resolve it, or maybe it’s because the stress of the situation is eating
away at you, or maybe it’s because the situation is getting worse. No
matter the case, you won’t want to spend too much time planning.
Get to it and resolve the issue.
Impromptu Conversation
There’s something nice about approaching someone briefly and just
saying, “Do you have a few minutes to chat?” In general, it feels very
nonconfrontational and in some ways it minimizes the magnitude
of the situation. Use your judgment, but if you’re trying to resolve an
issue quickly and you think you’ll be able to “grab” someone for a
quick chat, do it.

138 Chapter 8
Before you do, make sure that the other person is the type to be OK
with being approached like this. Remember, a lot of people live and
die by their calendars. An impromptu meeting could throw them off
and upset them.
Scheduled Meeting
There is no doubt that scheduling a meeting will send a message.
Many organizations require an agenda for any meeting sched-
uled—and many people will want to know what the meeting is
about anyway. Be sure to think this through: will the person or
people you’re going to meet with react negatively if they know you’re
addressing the situation? Depending on the person or the situation,
extra time to mull over the issue could make it even worse.
No matter what, the best path is to be 100 percent honest about the
intent of the meeting. Keep a positive tone and express that the
intent of the meeting is to discuss an issue and resolve it—together.
The language you use and how you position the meeting will most
definitely impact the mental state or attitudes that people will go into
the meeting with.
Not sure how to handle it? Here are some traits or questions to
consider when thinking through the venue for the meeting:
• What is the level of intensity of the situation? If it’s one that could
cause someone to be fired or quit, you will most likely want to
call an immediate, impromptu meeting.
• How well do you know the person or people? Personalities play
a large role in how you handle these interpersonal situations.
If you know the person and feel a more relaxed approach will
work, call an impromptu meeting.
• What’s your workplace culture? If you call an impromptu meeting,
can you run out together for coffee or lunch? Or will you have to
stay in the office? Where the meeting takes place can certainly
impact how people feel about it. Keep in mind, while a formal
atmosphere may feel necessary for more serious situations, a
relaxed atmosphere—like a coffee shop—may be more conducive
to conversation and working issues out in a relaxed, friendly way.
You will need to pick an approach, time, and format that you feel
will work best for the situation and the people involved. Sometimes,

Navigating the Dreaded Difficult Conversation 139
you’ll get it right; other times, you may not. No matter how you
handle it, admit mistakes and stick to your decisions and work hard
to resolve the issue.
Only you can determine the appropriate place for this conversation.
Keep in mind that things could get awkward if you are in a public
place and the conversation gets heated, or if you’re in a conference
room with glass walls and the whole office can see you.
Meeting Means Talking and Listening
As soon as you’ve pulled everyone together—whether it’s a one-on-
one or group meeting—establish the purpose of the meeting. You are
together to resolve the issue. In order to get there, express the desire
to have everyone be happy and heard, not just to avoid interpersonal
issues or conflict, but for the health of your work. These meetings can
bring on a level of stress that makes people uncomfortable, so they
often do not realize that their personal opinions and emotions can
get in the way of a productive outcome. When they do get in the way,
work and working relationships fail. Be sure to express a goal that
everyone can agree on: to speak freely and be heard.
Start with a general description of the issue. Keep it high level and
don’t add color commentary to the story. State the facts and follow
them up with ground rules for your meeting:
1. The purpose of the meeting is to resolve the issue at hand.
Issue management can be confusing. People will have varying
opinions on any given scenario, and it’s your job to listen to all of
them. Facts will be hard to check or verify, and you’ll sometimes
feel like you’re caught in a web of disaster. But you can stand in
the middle and ensure that everyone is heard and that each story,
point, or argument points to a resolution.
First, end the issue right then and there. Turn the focus from
finger pointing to resolving. You want the team to know that the
issue has ended and that you’re in this meeting to end it together.
Additional finger pointing or arguing will only make the issue
worse and drag out the outcome you want and need.

140 Chapter 8
2. Speak now or forever hold your peace.
The environment of this meeting is one of discussion. In order to
keep a positive attitude about a resolution, everyone should have
a chance to be heard. Do your best to moderate the meeting and
make sure that all parties have a chance to speak up. This may
mean that you go around the room and have everyone state how
they feel about the issue. Or maybe you will bring in an outside
moderator to ensure that all parties are being vocal. (They could
do the job of calling on people and asking them how they feel.)
However you handle it, be sure to consider all parties and where
they sit in the situation. Some people will be heated and will
speak up. Others will be quiet and listen. Try to maintain a
balance and allow everyone to weigh in, but don’t cut anyone off.
When you close the meeting, be sure that everyone has said their
piece. If they haven’t, you’ll open the door for additional issues—
or resentment—to creep in.
3. Listen.
Establish a modicum of respect. Everyone will not only have a
chance to speak, but everyone will also be expected to listen.
This means not cutting people off, no side conversations, and no
questions unanswered.
Again, you might want someone to moderate this conversation
if you’ve got a larger group. If that’s not possible, do your best to
keep the flow of conversation headed in the direction of an out-
come. Don’t let one person dominate the conversation and don’t
let an issue go unaddressed. Conversations can wind around ten
different ways with one comment. If you feel as though things
are getting off track, keep notes or track issues mentioned on a
whiteboard that everyone can see. This will ensure that everyone
is not only given a chance to speak, but also that their issues—
large or small—are being heard.
4. The meeting will not end without a resolution—or a plan for
one—in place.
If you truly want to address the issue, you must come up with
a resolution for it. This is the point of your meeting, of course.
Moreover, you want to come to an agreement of that solution as a
team. As you circle the issues through conversation, ask “How can
we resolve it?” of the attendees. Or suggest solutions as you see fit.

Navigating the Dreaded Difficult Conversation 141
Letting attendees know that this meeting is not just a venue to com-
plain, but one to resolve the issue at hand—together—will greatly
impact the way your conversation happens. This is especially true if
your meeting is taking place with limited time. Possibly think of a
rough agenda for the discussion. It could look something like this:
1. Identify issue.
2. Discuss outcomes.
3. Team decides on a solution or action plan.
4. Discuss next steps.
Keeping focus on the outcome will keep you on track. If you give the
group a goal, they will focus on the solution more than the problem.
Avoid Verbal Conflict
Heated conversations or situations tend to bring out the worst in peo-
ple. Whether that means taking over a conversation, raising voices,
cutting others off, or simply re-stating ideas as their own. There are a
lot of things that people can do—intentionally or unintentionally—to
make others more angry or upset. So when you step into a forum that
feels heated, keep yourself in check. You never want to be seen as the
person who can’t keep their cool.
That said, there is nothing worse than being cut off—or flat out
ignored—when you’re trying to make a point. Check out these quick
tips to make sure that you can stand your ground on the meeting or
debate battlefield:
• Set expectations with the room at the top of the meeting.
Simply say, “I know this conversation is a big one, and we all
have things to say. Let’s please show each other respect and not
step on each others’ toes. We’ll all have time to make our points.”
This will hopefully put some people on notice and allow others
to get a word in.
• Set expectations again when you’re about to make your point
(particularly if it’s a long one). Start off by saying, “I have a few
things to say, so please give me the time to make my point. I am
more than open to your ideas, but I just want to be sure I can
state my thoughts in full.”

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• If you’re really intent on making a point, keep talking.
Sometimes someone needs to be talked over to understand that
what they are doing is rude. Or maybe you’ll stop briefly and say,
“Sorry, I am not done. Let me finish.” You’ll know what works
when you’re in the moment—you just can’t be bashful.
• Let’s say you let that person talk over you. Hear them out.
Understand what they are saying and use that information to
ask them questions, or even make or strengthen your own point.
When you are polite and it shows, you win, no matter what. Why
is that? People will be more inclined to work with you, listen to
you, and show you the respect you deserve. Meeting room bul-
lies never get that respect.
• Be ready to give in. Sometimes these arguments are not worth
battling over. You can always follow up with someone separately
to express your concerns or share more ideas in full. True profes-
sionals can sense when the time and place are right, so use that
instinct here.
Keep your body language in mind during this meeting, and think
about the people you’re speaking to. Body language can be
interpreted differently by a variety of cultures, and the last thing
you want to do is upset someone!
Use Thoughtful Language
The way you express your emotions, describe facts, and even
interact with others in this meeting will impact the course of the
conversation. Disagreements are tricky because they might be about
a hard, cold fact, but emotions always come into play. As humans,
we express our feelings in different ways. One person might show
outright anger through harsh language, while another might be calm
and collected but express the same ire. Either way, be mindful of
your language and how it could be perceived.
Inclusive language shows the team that you are invested in resolv-
ing the issue with them, not for them. It also shows that you are
dedicated to rebuilding the trust of the team and strengthening the
bond of the working relationship. No matter how it ends, you want to
share a common feeling of respect and dignity, and that can be done
with using words that are:

Navigating the Dreaded Difficult Conversation 143
• Inclusive of everyone: We, us, our, team
• Polite: Please, thank you, excuse me
• Solution oriented: Next steps, solution/resolution, plan
Research has proven that people unconsciously mimic the emo-
tional expressions of those around them. Keep that in mind when
you’re around your team. If you’re miserable, they might catch
on—or a simple smile could make their day better.
Finding the Right Solution
Discussing (or complaining about) issues is easy. Finding solutions
that work for everyone can be difficult. Guide the conversation in
a way that points all parties to possible solutions. Here are some
scenarios and quick solutions that could help you.
Personal Conflict
It happens: two people have a professional disagreement, and it
escalates. Maybe you’re one of those people. If you are, address the
issue head-on. Approach the person and talk to them about a way to
fix it together. If you’re managing people who are in conflict, it might
be best to have them sort it out on their own. The best thing to do is
ask them to speak to one another before involving you. Facilitating a
solution can be far more successful than prescribing one.
Group Conflict
If an issue is impacting a larger group, you’ll have to conduct a meet-
ing. After everyone has had a chance to speak, transition the meeting
to solutions. You might not hear solutions, so it could be up to you to
identify them for the group.
Of course, there will be times when no one likes any of the solutions
raised. That’s fun! If it does happen, ask for alternatives and discuss
why the solutions proposed will not work. If you run out of time,
start a collaborative document and follow up within 24 hours to see
what you have come up with.
There’s a definite chance that you’ll end up frustrated in group
situations, because it’s hard to gain consensus. At some point, you

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will need to be the authority figure and decide on an outcome. This
can be unnerving, because the decision sits only with you, and you
become acutely aware of how the success or failure of the solution
will be seen as yours and yours alone. If you’re working with a team,
you don’t want to operate that way. Do your best to share the burden
of the decision and involve individuals in the execution of the plan.
This will spread that feeling of accountability.
Whether your issue is big or small, with one person or tens of people,
you need to follow up on your solution to ensure that it’s actually
working. This can be done with one-on-one meetings to help you
understand and monitor progress and feelings. Make sure that your
plans are clear and that your communications about them support it
100 percent. This can also be done with in-person meetings or even
simple team status updates via email or in a shared communication
tool. Do whatever feels right for your team and do everything you
can to pay attention to the details and rebuild (or help rebuild) trust
and relationships.
The Most Difficult Conversation I’ve
Ever Taken On
Years ago, I was working at a large agency on high-profile projects
with major corporate clients. This made for an intense project setting
with many moving parts, people, and deadlines. It was critical for the
team to be working like a well-oiled machine, and it was my job to
keep it that way. But, of course, I couldn’t.
We were one month from a site launch, and the clients were still
going back and forth on color decisions—a simple change that could
impact all of our work. It was frustrating for everyone, but I was try-
ing to keep the team’s spirits up. But there was one person who just
couldn’t muster the energy to have a positive attitude: the designer.
I got it. In fact, I got her. Not only was this a frustrating situation that
was difficult her not to take personally, but she also had a personality
that gravitated toward negativity. She was sarcastic and quiet—quali-
ties that many, many people can take the wrong way, particularly in
a stressful work setting. And they did. I got a handful of desk visits
and instant messages all about the designer’s attitude. It was enough

Navigating the Dreaded Difficult Conversation 145
that I knew I needed to address it quickly, or it would damage team
morale. So I initiated the difficult conversation that afternoon.
I stopped by the designer’s desk and asked if she had a few minutes
to talk. We took a short walk and got a cup of coffee around the
corner from the office. I wasn’t sure how to start the conversation. It
was awkward because I kind of knew what her response would be.
But I prepared myself for the worst (remember that college story I
told earlier). I jumped right in:
Me: Hey, I just wanted to talk for a few minutes because there’s
an issue I am seeing with the team that I wanted to let you in on.
(I didn’t want to point the finger right away because that would
open things up in a very negative way.)
Her: Yeah, what’s that?
(Not happy. I was not surprised.)
Me: Well, we are *this close* to launching the project, and I know
it has been a challenge for everyone, you in particular.
(Expressing some empathy here.)
But I’m worried about how you’re feeling about it, and so are oth-
ers. Is the project dragging you down?
Her: What? No. That’s just who I am. You know me by now. I’m
not a smiley, happy person, and when I am constantly dealing
with bullshit client requests, I don’t get happier.
(Again, no surprise here. A huge sigh within.)
Me: Right. Well, the thing is that you’re worrying the team and
bringing them down. I know you probably don’t mean to, but it’s
happening. A couple people have raised concerns.
Her: Why not just come to me?
(I knew this was coming too! This was my chance . . . )
Me: Well, I think they felt comfortable talking to me about it
because they see it as more of a project risk, and they don’t want
to burden you any further. They know you are stressed, but they
also don’t feel comfortable with the way you are handling it.
(That was fair, not candy-coated.)
That’s why I decided to talk to you today so we could just handle
it. Is that fair?
Her: Sure. I mean, I don’t want to upset anyone. I never really
thought I would bring anyone else down. I feel kind of bad.

146 Chapter 8
Me: Don’t feel bad! You’re under a lot of pressure, and we all
know it. But let’s figure out some ways that you can maybe
channel that negative energy and not let it get to the team. I
mean, you can vent to me as much as you need/want, you know
that, right?
Her: Yeah, thanks. I’m going to think about this some more.
Thanks for bringing it to me in this way, though. I appreciate it.
That was that. She thought about it and followed up with me. The
outward complaining to the team stopped and the venting instant
messages to me started. I didn’t mind that, because I understood.
And I knew I could help her make light of the negative situation. As
a PM, I wished that I had someone I could reach out to in the same
way! Eventually, I did. It was my new designer friend.
Say Hello to Agreement and Goodbye
to Disagreement
When you’ve made it through the prep, the meeting, and ended up
with a workable solution, you’ll feel gratified in knowing that you
played a key role in fixing the issue. But there is one thing to be said:
conducting a difficult conversation never gets totally easy. And we
all know that disagreements pop up now and again, so you’ll be
tasked with sorting out a new issue at some point. Using the tactics
presented in this chapter, you’ll be able to assess a situation, put your
emotions aside, and plan for a positive outcome.

Navigating the Dreaded Difficult Conversation 147
Face it: no one likes a difficult conversation. But if you’re man-
aging people, you will have to face them head-on. Follow this
advice to ensure that you’re handling them well:
• Be sure to understand the issue first and set your personal
feelings aside.
• Have empathy for the people involved and do what you can
to understand their points of view.
• Think through the outcomes of the conversation before
conducting it.
• Respect privacy and preserve the personal relationships.
• Use thoughtful language.
• Have a follow-up plan for your meeting.

Setting and
We All Have Expectations 152
Pre-Kick-off Meetings 154
Assign Project Roles with a RACI Matrix 156
Document Requirements 157
Manage Expectations 161
TL; DR 168

Don’t let others set expectations for you.

Setting and Managing Expectations 151
When I was a kid, my parents took me to Disney World. Leading up to the trip, all I could think about was meeting Mickey Mouse—at his house, one-on-one. I was five, so
I had no idea what Mickey’s house looked like, but I knew I’d find
it, and we’d sit down and talk. I was wrong. Not only was there no
house, I wasn’t going to get my one-on-one time with my idol. In
fact, I’d have to shove my way through a bunch of other kids to get
in front of him. I barely got a minute with him, but I got a hug. Still,
I was crushed.
• • •
Thinking back, I realize that I was pretty much set up for disappoint-
ment. I remember specifically saying I could not wait to meet Mickey
and see his house. I probably said it about 75 times leading up to the
trip. My parents laughed it off and carried on. After all, I was five,
and they thought the notion of me meeting Mickey was cute. What
they didn’t think to do was tell me that my dreams were grandiose.
Had they informed me of how it likely would have worked out, I
wouldn’t have been so upset.
This was my first lesson on managing expectations—or rather miss-
ing expectations and knowing how it feels to be on the other side of
the fence. Had my parents made one simple statement, my outlook on
that day and my feelings and behaviors would have changed.
Fast forward 30+ years—I’m on a project, and I’m seeing the same
thing happen all over again. We had a wonderful project kick-off
meeting where we did some collaborative brainstorming. Great
ideas were sketched and discussed. We took them back to the office
for project inspiration, knowing that not every idea would be used.
When we presented our first round of ideas, our clients asked, “What
about that cool home page feature we sketched at the kick-off?” Oh,
right, that. Well, we decided that didn’t work with the rest of the site
design, so we opted for a different feature. We can’t design them all.
But why didn’t we just say that in the kick-off meeting? If we were
really doing our jobs, we would have set the simple expectation of
what would actually come out of those collaborative sessions. Idea
generating, team building, and eventually a prioritization of what
could be included based on research, design aesthetic, scope, and
timeline. Just like the Disney World situation, one simple statement
would have set the tone for what to expect out of that one meeting.
Lesson learned.

152 Chapter 9
We All Have Expectations
Our most successful projects are established with clearly defined
goals. From day one, we can embark on a project journey and know
what we’re striving for. How we get there can be a whole different
story, but if you’re managing projects (and personalities) you should
do your best to make the actual journey as crystal clear as those
goals. If you truly want to make that journey easy, you’ll work hard
to set and manage the expectations of your team, clients, stakehold-
ers, and anyone else who may be taking part in or watching your
project from the sidelines. If you don’t set and manage expectations
from day one, you’re going to be in for a miserable ride. Get ready
for missed deadlines, hemorrhaging budgets, and tons of difficult
conversations with very unhappy people.
Set Expectations Before the Project Begins
The best way to set expectations is early and often. As a project
manager who sits between an internal team and a client, you have
to be very detailed and persistent when it comes to communica-
tions and relaying vital parameters to the collective team for what
to expect at every turn of a project. If you’re not laser focused on
the details, things like project requirements and tight timelines will
become painful issues for everyone to deal with. If a detail is missed
or miscommunicated, goals can be derailed, time can be vaporized,
budgets compromised, and frustration catalyzed. And the PM will
always—always—be blamed for it.
So how do you stay on top of it? From day one on a project, be very
clear about what should be expected of you as the PM, your team, your
process, and your clients. Every person and aspect is integral to the
success of the project, and it’s better to lay it all out; loopholes all too
often set the stage for scope creep, confusion, and conflict to manifest.
Understand Your Scope
Chances are, if you’re a project manager, projects are sold or initi-
ated and then assigned to you to lead. In an agency setting, you’re
suddenly armed with a scope of work (SOW), a team, and a phone
number for your new client. If you’re managing an internal team,
you’re given a brief, a deadline, a team, and maybe some require-
ments. Either way, starting a new project can be really daunting, and
it’s up to you to figure out just how you will get it done. But before

Setting and Managing Expectations 153
you even think about planning, you’d better sit down and read every
page of that SOW or project brief and take notes. You’d be surprised
by how little details can creep into a document like this, so review
it in depth to make sure that you do not have any questions. Specifi-
cally, be sure you’re looking for the following information:
• Goals of the project
• Budget for the project
• Deadline for the project (and the compelling reasons to meet
that deadline)
• Requirements for what is to be built, including:
• Design or branding elements to be used
• A specific technology that will require certain expertise
• A list of required functionality to be designed/built
• Outside factors to be considered, such as external systems,
APIs, and even partners or agencies
• People who will be involved, including:
• Client team (what are their roles, and who are your
decision makers?)
• Stakeholder groups involved (management,
executives, boards)
• Partners (third party agencies, developers, designers, etc.)
• Special project requirements, including:
• Terms for billing that the project timeline must adhere to
• Milestone or delivery review processes
• Clauses on timeline delays
• Requirements for specific meetings
After you’ve done your due diligence, request a meeting with the
person or people who can answer all of your questions. This may
be a sales person, a manager, a project manager, or even a project
stakeholder. The beginning of your project is just as critical as the
launch or delivery of it, so make sure you treat it that way; don’t let
any minor question go. The more you know about the project and
its background or intent, the more confident you will be in leading a

154 Chapter 9
team to manage it. Plus, just showing that you’re fully invested in the
project early on will exhibit your true position as the project leader.
Many agency PMs find themselves handed projects with budgets
that don’t match the effort. The only way you can overcome
this issue and get projects with adequate budgets is to change
your sales process. Find a way to have your sales conversations
documented and shared with your project teams. Work together
to create project estimates in the sales process and start projects
on the right foot.
Your project contract is something you need to know inside and
out. Be sure to keep a copy of it on hand. You may even want
to print it out and makes notes on it. Whatever you do, make
sure that you can pull it up when you’re on a call or in a meet-
ing because whenever it’s in question, everyone will look to you
for answers.
Pre-Kick-off Meetings
Once you’re 100 percent comfortable with your scope, get ready to
talk about it with everyone who will have a role in executing it. At
the beginning of a project, set up two separate meetings—one with
your team and one with your stakeholders—to discuss all of the
detailed documents and processes that will make or break your
project. Things like scope, timeline, requirements, and even reviews
of conversations that were conducted during the sales process can be
very valuable to anyone who is invested in a new project. Review the
formal documents using a low-pressure discussion—even a Q&A—to
make those things feel more accessible and understandable. This
will help to ensure that everyone on the team has had a chance to get
their questions or issues addressed, and that they are aware of all of
the critical pieces of information relating to the project.
Sample Client Pre-Kick-off Meeting Agenda
• Introductions: Kick it off by telling your new client how excited
you are to work on their project. Be genuine—talk about the
features, subject matter, or whatever else seems like a good fit for

Setting and Managing Expectations 155
your team. Then introduce the team. Talk about their expertise,
project interests, and what they will be responsible for. You can
set the right tone for your project with this meeting, so make it
equal parts comfortable and informative.
• Review scope: As it turns out, your client may not have read
the final version of your SOW. So review it at a high level. You
don’t have to read it line by line, but at least call out the main
points. Are there goals, terms, or specific deliverables to review?
If yes, then talk about them now before they can become ques-
tions or issues. At the end of this meeting, you want to be sure
your client understands what is included and excluded in your
scope of work.
• Discuss the timeline: The biggest expectation on a project can
be the deadline, so talk about it. Be clear about the final deliv-
ery date and ask what’s driving that date. Is there an event or
campaign tied to the launch of your project? You’ll want to know
about those things now so that you can set the right expectation
for how you will make that date. Discuss reviews and approv-
als of your deliverables and make it very clear what potential
dependencies will be. Also, be sure to bring up delays, because
they always happen! But if you discuss how you will handle
those potential project delays now, you will set the right expecta-
tion for timing.
• Discuss project requirements: Every project comes with require-
ments, whether they are tied to look and feel, functionality, or
even content. You need to be sure that you have these things
documented. If detailed project requirements already exist,
review them and make sure that you completely understand
what is expected of the project based on what they indicate. If
they aren’t documented, start the conversation and talk about
how you will come to an agreement on what’s needed. (We’ll
get into the specifics for how to document requirements later in
this chapter.)
• Discuss project communications: Your project will fail if you’re
not in agreement on how you will communicate through the
course of the project. Will you use a communication tool to
document conversations, or are you OK with email? Will you
schedule a regular call to discuss updates and progress? Do what
will help you set the proper expectation of what’s happening and
what’s to come on your project. Invariably, what works with one

156 Chapter 9
person may not be a good fit for another. So you’ll need to adjust
your approach based on the discussion you have in this meeting.
Come to the meeting with suggestions for what works for your
team, and don’t leave the meeting without agreement on the
avenues and frequency of communications.
• Next steps: It’s always helpful to recap expectations and assign-
ments. Help keep your team and clients on target by reminding
them of what’s next on their plate. Take a few minutes to call out
action items and next deliverables before ending any meeting.
And always follow up with meeting notes!
Assign Project Roles with a RACI Matrix
Large projects can be complex: tasks often overlap, are dependent on
other tasks, or are so voluminous in scope that more than one team
member ends up working on them. If you don’t set expectations on
who does what and when, staffing and responsibilities can get con-
fusing quickly. Be sure to assign specific project roles and the explicit
responsibility for each task, as well as making sure that communica-
tion is flowing according to agreed-upon standards. A helpful tool
in determining team responsibilities is a RACI matrix (see Table 9.1),
which describes the way that various roles participate in completing
tasks or deliverables for a project or business process. It is especially
useful in clarifying roles and responsibilities in cross-functional/
departmental projects and processes. The acronym RACI represents:
responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed.
Project Plan R, A C, I C, I C, I C C
Site Map A C R I I I
Wireframes A C R C I I
CMS Setup A I I I C R

Setting and Managing Expectations 157
Roles of the RACI
Rather than thinking about the roles of your team by practice area
or even title, think about them in terms of who is responsible for
what. For instance, if you have two UX designers on a project and
10 UX tasks, you’ll want to make clear who is responsible for what.
That will help you to avoid double work, dwindling budgets, and
disappointed team members. Below is a list of each RACI role and a
definition for each.
• Responsible: The team member who does the work to complete
the task. There will be at least one person on your team who is
the responsible party, sometimes more.
• Accountable: This is the person who delegates work and is the
last person to review the task or deliverable before it is deemed
complete. There must be only one accountable specified for each
task or deliverable. Note: It may not be your PM! Also, you may
find that the responsible party is also the accountable one.
• Consulted: Every deliverable is strengthened by review and
consultation from more than one team member. Consulted par-
ties are typically the people who can provide input based on how
it may affect their work later on the project or have some domain
expertise on the deliverable itself.
• Informed: Some team members don’t need to work on every
deliverable, but it’s best to keep them in the loop on project
The RACI is a pretty formal way of figuring out who will do what.
It may feel too formal for you, especially if you are on a small
team. If that’s the case, that is OK! Just remember to always
keep a clear definition of responsibilities as they relate to project
tasks, and you’ll be A-OK.
Document Requirements
It would be nice to start every project with a set of marching orders
or a laundry list of what’s needed. The problem with that approach
is that it leaves little room for creativity or innovation. Plus, when
you build a list without actually discussing it, you’ll likely miss or
misinterpret something. That’s why it’s important to understand the

158 Chapter 9
people you’re working with and their motivations. Yes, sometimes
you have to play mind reader. Well, not completely! You’ve got to ask
the right questions to get what you need. That means getting into
their heads and figuring out what they want. It’s definitely not easy.
Dig for Information
Before you plan or build anything, and as you begin to get to know
your clients and their business, make time to identify the high-level
business requirements of your project. This practice will ensure a
clear understanding of what must be included in your project. You
won’t need to worry about getting too much in the weeds at first.
Gather the high-level business requirements right away, and your
detailed functionality requirements will follow.
It’s important to remember that not all stakeholders think like
you do in terms of features, functionality, and time to build. In
fact, it could be a big black box for them. This is your chance to
connect their business goals and requirements to your project.
The best way to understand what your stakeholders actually want is
to ask questions. Shocker! Here’s the thing: you can’t necessarily take
a cookie-cutter approach to every project. Sure, you may have some
core questions to use (we’ll get to those). But before you dump a set of
questions on your stakeholders, be sure you understand what you are
asking and why. It may be helpful to ask yourself these questions first:
1. What requirements information already exists in the SOW,
project brief, or supporting documentation?
2. What kind of information am I looking for?
3. How will this information help the project and my team?
4. Is there any question about what can be done within the scope
of this project?
5. Where is there confusion?
6. Do I understand my client’s business and how our project goals
map to it?
7. Will these requirements help me set the proper expectations?
8. Am I about to ask the right people these questions?

Setting and Managing Expectations 159
Answers = Documented Requirements
The answers to your questions will eventually turn into expected
interactions, features, or functionalities that will help you begin your
requirements documentation. So, set yourself up for future iterations
of your requirements documentation by formatting these responses
in a readable, shareable format. This will set the expectation of what
goals the project will meet, and how what you will deliver will map
back to those goals. The best way to document these requirements
is in a spreadsheet or list that works for your team. Essentially, what
you must document are the following:
• Requirement name and number: A unique name that describes
what is being discussed and can be easily referred to. You’ll want
to number these in case you have many and can easily find them
in your document.
• Requirement description: A simple statement that defines the
business need the requirements fulfill.
• Category: A group identifier for similar requirements that all
project resources will understand. This could be the section in
your site map, a technology, etc.
• Notes: A place to capture questions (yours or the client’s) that
will surface as a requirement evolves.
As soon as you’ve documented the high-level business requirements,
you’re ready to compile the questions you need to ask to get into the
true details. Start broad with a top-level question about functionality
and use the response to dig deeper. Here’s an example question with
follow-up questions that could arise:
“Will your site require users to log in?”
Does registration require payment?
Will the site display a logged-in user’s name?
First and last name, or username?
Where is login information stored currently?
Will it stay there?
Do logged-in users have access to more information or
functionality than non-logged-in users?
What happens if a user forgets his or her password?
Do you have error states currently designed into your system?

160 Chapter 9
There are several questions that could come out of one single
response, and each response could add requirements to your work.
That means that one simple “yes” or “no” answer could have a cost
attached to it. So this exercise is important to understand what your
team can do within your scope.
Gathering requirements is something that your whole team should be
responsible for, because one simple requirement could have different
timeline and scope impacts for each resource. For instance, a Twitter
feed might take a designer 20 minutes to design, while a developer
might need a few hours to find and execute the right solution.
As soon as you’ve determined all answers related to a piece of
functionality, add them to your requirements document. An example
might look like Table 9.2.
Requirement ID
Name Description Category Notes
1.0 Login Users must
be able to
register or
log in from
all pages
1.1 Login,
Header When a user clicks
on register, she will
be directed to reg
form with payment
options: Visa, MC,
AMEX, PayPal
You may be adding to this document through the course of your
design phase—and that’s OK, as long as you are sharing these new
requirements with your team and having an open conversation about
how they might impact your budget or timeline. This is the ultimate
tool in setting project expectations because there might come a point
where you’ve added too much to this list and you’ve got to prioritize
features. If you’ve got all the items in a spreadsheet, you can rate each
item in terms of effort and decide what’s in and what’s out. Finally,
when it’s time to launch your project, this document can serve as
your final checklist to make sure you’ve delivered as promised.

Setting and Managing Expectations 161
Manage Expectations
As soon as you’ve laid the foundation for what to expect on the proj-
ect, it’s your job to maintain those expectations and manage them as
new ideas, issues, and details arise. On any healthy project, expecta-
tions can change over time. It’s your job to continue the conversation
about those expectations and ensure that they’re not being missed at
any point in your process. It can take as little as 30 minutes a week
to keep your project in check, so make the time and keep things run-
ning smoothly with some simple techniques.
Foster Good Communications
You’ve got to be a good communicator and facilitator in order to
lead a team and set and manage the right expectations for everyone
involved. At the same time, you’ve got to help others communicate
and foster openness on your project. If you’ve done your job, your
team will understand that over-communication is welcomed, because
the more you know about their progress or potential issues, the more
you will be able to help them resolve issues. With open communica-
tion, your team will always know what is happening, will set their
own expectations, and will likely meet timeline and budget expecta-
tions without question. If your clients’ expectations are outlined and
discussed, they’ll be happy that they’ve helped you meet or exceed
them, and will be reassured because they most likely know what to
expect from the final product.
Build a Communications Plan
If you’re managing a large project with a lot of stakeholders, you
should consider building a communications plan. This kind of docu-
mentation will ensure that everyone involved in your project is fully
clear on who is working on the project, how you will work together,
and how you will document and communicate issues, status, and
special circumstances. Essentially, a good plan will ensure that you
have effective communications throughout the life of your project. It
takes some effort to pull together, but it can be invaluable if you’re in
need of some guiding principles for your project.
A basic communications plan should include the following information:
• Plan’s purpose and approach: A high-level statement of why the
plan exists and why it’s important to follow.

162 Chapter 9
• Communication goals and objectives: A list of reasons why/
when your teams will need to communicate in order to keep
your project on track. Examples of this could be:
• Project status updates on tasks, timelines, and budget
• Deliverable presentations and feedback sessions with
key stakeholders
• General project presentations to larger audiences (e.g., board
of trustees, executive management, etc.)
• Communication roles: Your whole team will have a role in com-
municating and so will your clients. Define who is the key point
of contact, as well as the additional team members who will play
a role in the project at certain points.
• Communication tools and methods: Define the tools you
have agreed to use and how you will use them. This is a great
place to define the routine communications you’ll create, like
status reports.
• High-level project communication messages: Outline certain
points or milestones in your project that will change the way you
will communicate and who the communications will be directed
to. This will ensure that your messages are seen by the right
people. Depending on how large the organization is, you may
want to map out a hierarchy of which people see communications
and when, depending on the level of decision being made. This
can get very tricky, so it’s good to get it out in the open early on.
Your communication plan can take shape in several ways: it could
be a formalized document, a page on your project intranet, a spread-
sheet, or a nicely designed PDF. No matter what form it takes, make
sure that it actually speaks to your clients and stakeholders. Take the
time to review it in depth with them and make the details very clear.
This document will set very clear expectations on how you will com-
municate and how you will be communicated to, so getting it right
and approved early on is critical.
Conduct Status Meetings
One of the best ways to manage expectations is to discuss them on
a regular basis. You can do that very easily by setting a routine that
provides you with project information around progress, tasks, to-do
lists, and blockers. Not only does sharing that information help a

Setting and Managing Expectations 163
team work together and make everyone feel included, but it also
helps to have a general understanding of what to expect on any given
day on a project. Whether you’re a one-man team or a team of 20,
working in an office or remotely, sharing progress is one of the most
important things you can do in order to keep communication flow-
ing. A common and helpful way of doing this is by implementing
project status meetings.
Team Status
In general, a 15-minute in-person (or via videoconference/phone)
review of the day’s tasks is a nice way to catch up with your team
and can work to your advantage. There are several ways to conduct
a status call, so be flexible and work with your team to determine
what to do.
Simply go around the room and give everyone a chance to talk
about what they’re working on that day. A quick check-in will force
everyone to organize project priorities prior to the meeting, adding
to a feeling of accountability for tasks. Before wrapping things up, it’s
always helpful to ask, “Does anyone need help or have time to help
with tasks if needed?” Doing so helps you build trust and rapport
with your team.
How you approach status meetings will depend on the project you’re
working on, your team’s schedules, and maybe even the intensity of
the work. At some point in a project, you might feel like you need to
check in a few times a day, maybe because you’re handling lots of
moving pieces, or you need to make sure that everyone is on track.
Remember: communication is good!
Client Status
It’s a good practice to keep an open, consistent line of communication
with your clients. Ensure that you’re staying current on all project
issues by providing a weekly status report in the form of a written
notification or phone call, and check in regarding alignment with
project objectives.
Status reports not only help you and your clients stay on track, but
they also help keep you honest about your work, process, budgets,
and issues. Making the time to sit down and discuss these things
pays off in terms of your relationship with the client and with
helping your team see it through to completion. When you conduct
regular status meetings, you’re ensuring that the expectations

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you established in the beginning of your project are consistently
reviewed and reaffirmed as you proceed to the delivery of the final
product. These regular check-ins give you an opportunity to build
the relationship, but also be sure to make time to talk about non-
project related things. Find some common ground, like hobbies or
interests, and make small talk. When you’ve built a relationship that
is based on trust and friendship, it makes the more difficult news
easier to swallow. Plus, you’re a human—you have to find ways to
connect with the people you’re working with.
Reveal the Difficult News
Are you going to go over the budget on a project? From a client’s per-
spective, there is nothing worse than finding out about a project issue
that could have been avoided until it’s too late. Use the status report
and meeting as a way to communicate and discuss the issue. Pull that
report together, hop on the phone, and keep an open dialogue going.
A good status report covers the following information:
• What was done last week?
• What is being done this week and next week?
• What are the action items?
• What is the update on the timeline?
• What is the update on the budget?
• What are the potential project risks?
Take and Share Notes
Expectations are rooted in conversations. The things people say in
meetings, hallway conversations, and online chats can have a major
impact on what you do on your project. So it’s critical that you create
a project culture of documenting conversations and sharing details
with everyone.
Make sure that your entire team takes responsibility for documenting
meetings, conversations, and especially decisions. Often, a project man-
ager will be responsible for note-taking, but there are tons of meetings
and conversations that a busy PM will miss out on. Don’t always rely on
one person for notes; make note-taking and circulation a shared respon-
sibility. For instance, if you’re in a hallway and something interesting or

Setting and Managing Expectations 165
impactful comes up organically in a discussion, don’t forget to docu-
ment it. Taking three to five minutes to share potentially critical info
with your team could save you from time and budget worries.
Using a web-based tool to hold all of that information will facilitate
good communication and knowledge sharing. Half the battle in the
war against poor communications and missed expectations lies in
knowing when and where communication should happen and how it
will be documented.
Note-Taking Tips
Many of us are terrible note-takers, especially when we’re trying to
take part in conversations and document them at the same time. If
it’s possible, have someone join your meeting with the sole purpose
of documenting the meeting. If that’s not possible (which is com-
pletely reasonable), do your best to document what you can. Here are
some quick tips for taking useful, actionable meeting notes:
• Train yourself to listen for keywords and phrases. Sticking to
what’s important to the conversation is key.
• Write notes in your own words. That’s right, you don’t need to
document the conversation verbatim.
• Categorize your thoughts by key points, decisions, and action
items. This will help you communicate the most important
details and follow up on them. This takes some work, so it might
be something you do after the meeting.
• Use a tool that works best for you and utilize it as much as
possible. For example, some people like the iPhone text expan-
sion feature for quick word recognition and less typing. Others
like Evernote for its formatting and filing capabilities. No matter
what tool you pick, be sure to familiarize yourself with it and get
the most out of it.
• Share your meeting notes in a place where they can not only
be viewed, but also be commented on or edited. This helps to
share the responsibility of the accuracy of your notes. Win-win!
Tactical Tips to Keep Expectations in Check
Setting expectations feels like the easy work once you’re knee deep
in project land. The tough work comes when you have to keep your
expectations in place. You’ve got to rely on the groundwork laid

166 Chapter 9
to get everyone on the same page and follow up on those things
regularly. Here are some ways to keep your team in check with
project expectations.
1. Create shared to-do lists.
Lists always help to track tasks, milestones, and related deliver-
ables. When your whole team has access, there’s never a question
about who is doing what and when to expect task completion.
You can track subtasks as a team and keep each other in the loop
on progress and dependencies.
After you’ve got your list documented, make sure that you’ve
clearly assigned responsibilities and check in on them. If you’re
seeing that a team member is behind, be proactive and comment
on it through the shared to-do list. The point of an open list is
to make sure that you’re all up-to-date on the status of work at
all times. A list like this will foster real-time communication,
whether that is through in-person discussions, instant messages,
or emails. The idea is to work in the open and share progress to
build team support. This is the type of activity that helps teams
build trust and gain project efficiencies.
2. Don’t worry about delivering bad news.
If you think something might go wrong, talk about it. There is no
use in keeping worrisome news hidden. Be sure to always keep a
“Risks” section in your status report, because the last thing you
want to do is surprise a client with news that something is going
over budget or past your timeline. At the end of the day, this is
business, and if you have the project’s best interests in mind,
you’ll look for and be honest about those risks without question.
Keeping an eye on those risks can let you anticipate the needs
of your team or your client before they even realize they exist.
When you do that, you feel like you’ve won.
3. Ask questions and listen to responses.
Don’t be bashful about figuring out what you may not know or
understand. Chances are, asking questions will help you and
your team sort out expectations related to project requirements,
feedback, processes, and even the client’s happiness levels. When
you hear an answer, don’t take it at face value. Think about how
it may impact your project and be sure to follow up with more
questions (if needed, of course).

Setting and Managing Expectations 167
Setting Expectations with Status Reports
by Sam Barnes
Sam Barnes is the engineering manager at Marks and Spencer in
the UK. He’s also a seasoned digital PM, and partner in Pathfinder
DPM, a training company for digital project managers.
I once found myself in the unusual position of running two almost identi-
cal projects with the same client and production teams. In effect, it felt like
a project management A/B test. I took over project A about three-quarters
of the way through and found the client and production teams were really
unhappy. The project was sold with a realistic budget, scope, and timeline,
so I wondered how it could have all gone so wrong.
After discussion, it became clear that the project-specific problems weren’t
the root issues. Instead, the team was experiencing issues due to poor
expectation setting and management. For months, the clients thought
everything was going well until suddenly the project manager asked for
additional budget and time. As you might expect, this shocked the client,
and he asked why. He received weak reasons that ultimately translated to
“digital projects are hard and things happen, sorry.” Ouch. Not acceptable.
From that point forward, everyone had a negative experience on the project.
The client felt duped and demanded delivery with no additional budget or
time, causing stress to the project manager and production team. Realizing
it was too late to repair the relationships, I focused on delivery and helped
the team get the project finished as quickly as possible.
There is no winner in this scenario. Only through making these mistakes
myself did I know there was a better way, but for now I just hoped the
experience had not put the client off working with us again. Luckily, it
didn’t. Three months later, the same client and agency teams had to work
on another similar project together (the “B” in this A/B test).
At the kick-off meeting, everyone, including myself, was apprehensive. But
this time, I introduced a weekly status report. Would this mean we’d encoun-
ter no problems? No, of course not. Would it ensure that we delivered on time,
budget, and scope? Nope. But what it would do was minimize the chance of
anyone involved not understanding what was happening and why.
So, on the first Friday after the project started, I sent the first weekly
report to both the client and production teams. To most, this seemed like
a pretty uneventful moment, perhaps even a bit dogmatic, but I knew this
was the foundation on which the rest of the project would sit and would
demonstrate its power later on.
continues on next page

168 Chapter 9
Time is tight, and so is your budget. But you can’t get away
without doing some of this work to make sure that your team
and clients are aligned in order to meet project expectations. Do
these things to ensure that you’re keeping expectations in check:
• Review your SOW in detail and make sure that you under-
stand it through and through.
• Conduct pre-project kick-off meetings with your team and cli-
ents to ensure that everyone understands the following items:
• Project goals and scope
• Timeline and dependencies
• Communication expectations/needs
• Create a weekly status report that communicates the follow-
ing information:
• What was done last week?
• What is being done this week?
• What is the update on the timeline and budget?
• What are the project risks or blockers?
• Make time to take meeting notes and share them with your
team and clients.
Setting Expectations with Status Reports (continued)
Did project B encounter issues? Absolutely, but this time everyone knew
about them quickly, or by Friday at the very least. Instead of keeping quiet
and hoping we could make up the time, problems were openly discussed,
and we came to some sensible agreements.
This approach resulted in a more harmonious working relationship and
despite the project coming in over budget and a little late, the consensus
was that it had gone well. Some people even commented that they’d
enjoyed working on it! This rare A/B test showed me the true power of
setting and managing expectations and how it can be achieved through
very simple methods.

Scope Is Creepin’
Managing and Embracing Change 171
Tame the Scope Creep 174
It’s Not Easy, and It’s Not Scary Either 177
TL; DR 180

An exercise in paring down scope
at the art supply store.

Scope Is Creepin’ 171
My eight-year-old daughter, Juliet, is an artist. I’m amazed by her talent at such a young age, and I want to encourage her to exercise her creativity. Part of that encouragement comes
with art supplies. I mean, you can’t be inspired to learn about and
create great things without the proper tools, right?
She recently got into drawing and shading, and asked if she could
get a few new pencils. I was more than happy to take her to the art
supply store the next day. She offered up the $45 she got for her
birthday. It seemed like a good budget for some supplies. We walked
the store for a good 40 minutes before she picked up one pencil. After
she chose that, she decided to go back and snag all of the things that
caught her eye.
Before I knew it, I was holding $150 worth of art supplies. And it was
my fault because I didn’t clearly explain that she was nearing—or
exceeding—her budget after just three items. We stopped for a
minute and laid everything out. I explained to her that what she had
picked up was worth about $150, and she had $45. I was happy to
add $25 to that so she could get some extra stuff, but she still had to
cut $80 worth of supplies. It was not an easy thing to do—I felt like
it was my fault. But I couldn’t buy it all for her—for so many reasons
that any parent would agree with. She wasn’t happy, but she was
cool about it. We itemized what each cost, and I helped her decide
on what she could afford. Thirty minutes later we left the store with
$70 worth of supplies.
Managing and Embracing Change
Projects change constantly. Whether a client’s business changes, a
new stakeholder gets pulled into a project, a team member comes
up with a big, new idea, or a piece of functionality just isn’t working
the way the stakeholders expected, you’re going to be forced to have
discussions about how to handle that change. These are the things
that completely destroy your timelines and tend to upset teams who
have worked so hard on something. But most of all, these changes
will affect your project scope and potentially drain your budget.
Our initial reaction to scope creep—or even just simple change—
as humans is to recoil and reject. But with a project run by clients or
lofty stakeholders, that’s impossible. The best thing you can do is to
accept the change, question it, and mold it into something that will
make the project a success.

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The Devil Is in the Details
The minute you hear about a change, or a request to push the bound-
aries of your scope, you’ll get worried. It’s normal. But when you’re
caught up in the moment, it’s always good to remember that you’ve
got a lot to fall back on, provided you’ve done your due diligence and
have truly read and understood your scope, built a plan based on that
scope, and have completely vetted it with your team and your clients.
If you have faith in the fact that you’ve kept your project on track by
tying everything back to what’s in scope, you’ll have an easy time
of figuring out what to do with any request for change. When that
request does come, don’t feel as though you have to accept or deny
it immediately. Always feel free to stop a conversation and say, “Let
me refer back to the estimate/scope/plan and get back to you.” You
should never expect to (or be expected to) have every detail com-
mitted to memory—especially if you’re responsible for more than
one project. So take your time, don’t jump to provide an immediate
answer, and always remember that a solid response is going to have
the best impact.
You’ll never remember every detail of your scope. Or your plan.
Or any of the documents on your project. Keep a quick link to
them so that you—and everyone else on your team—can access
them to review at any time.
Keep Your Plan Updated, Save Heartache
The first version of your plan is your baseline, and it outlines every
step you need to take to get from the beginning to the end of your
project. However, it won’t be the last version of your plan either. If
you’ve done this right and put some real thought into your plan,
you’ve based it on your estimate and scope. Sure, plans can change, but
referring to that first plan as your baseline will help you in arguing the
case for more time or more budget when new scope starts to creep in.
Not every project change will result in a scope change. Sometimes,
unexpected things happen: someone gets sick, a stakeholder has
gone missing and can’t provide feedback, a baby is born! You get the
idea. But when your plans do change, make an update and notify
everyone involved. Always communicate it in several ways. Here are
some helpful strategies for communicating changes.

Scope Is Creepin’ 173
1. Provide an updated project plan.
Update all impacted tasks and keep notes on extensions in your
newest version. For instance, if a client milestone is missed and
a deadline is extended, make a note in the planned task. Most
planning software includes a handy “notes” field, so it’s easy to
note, “Baseline date was . Actual was adjusted
in this plan on due to .” After
you’ve updated everything and double-checked your dates, make
a new version and save the old one in a safe spot.
2. Provide an update in a project status report.
Always report on your timeline in your project status reports.
You can provide a percent-completed update based on what’s in
your plan. If you want to be really consistent (and you should),
replicate the note made in your plan in your status report.
3. Discuss changes and impacts.
A date is a date. If someone misses a deadline, your next delivery
date might be impacted as well as the final deadline. Missing
deadlines will most often cause an impact, whether it is on
your resourcing plan, the next delivery, or the final deadline.
Don’t fear the conversation about timeline issues and impacts,
especially if you’ve made the time to discuss and review your
baseline plan. Talking things out while a change is happening
will help everyone to understand what is being affected.
4. Note or add the change in your project requirements document.
This document is created for your team to review/revise and
check against throughout the project. Don’t forget to refer back to
it and keep it up-to-date, since there are times when the docu-
ment can become buried in the project.
5. Be open about your change control process.
This is equal parts setting expectations and creating processes.
If you’re in a larger organization, you might be required to com-
plete a series of approvals to ensure that everyone on your team
agrees to a change in plans or timeline. On smaller projects with
smaller teams, it’s often easy to merely take everyone’s word for
it and keep moving on with the changes. In that instance, it’s not
a horrible idea to create a “paper trail” associated with a particu-
lar conversation or change.

174 Chapter 10
Write a Simple Change Request
Use your judgment here, but it’s never a bad thing to write a change
request for a non-scope-related change. It can be a good way to cover
your bases and ensure that no one will go back on what had been
verbally agreed to via email. Any good change request will include
the following information:
• Description of the change
• Approach to change
• Schedule/timeline impact
• Risk
• Cost (if applicable)
• Signatures (always require these)
Money, Money, Money
People hate talking about money. It’s your job to talk about things
that people hate. That’s just how it is for project managers. The best
way to approach topics like budget overages and scope creep is to
handle them head-on with a conversation and a change request.
A change in scope should never be a surprise to you or your clients.
They wouldn’t call it “scope creep” if it didn’t slowly slither up on
you. Sure, some requests are obviously out of the boundaries of your
scope, and you can address them immediately. But there’s often that
one feature or requirement that starts as a manageable piece of scope
and slowly evolves into something else. This, my friends, is scope
creep. And it’s your job to keep an eye on these things and make sure
that they are not killing your budget.
Tame the Scope Creep
When you do realize that they’re going to kill your budget, use your
documentation and status reports to call out the scope creep issue
(see Figure 10.1). The first step would be to reassess the budget and
note where the work is trending. Take a look at the project hours and
estimated effort, and then check in with your team to see if they would
estimate an overage. If they confirm, you need to make your clients
aware right away. If they think it’s fine and you’re just being an alarm-
ist, you might want to let your clients know about the potential risk

Scope Is Creepin’ 175
anyway. It never hurts to show that you’re thinking ahead and being
budget conscious. The best way to do this is to make it formal. Create
a “Risk/Issues” section in your status report so that you can write out
potential issues and then discuss them with your clients.
Beware the scope creep. He’s not an actual guy, but sometimes he manifests
himself in ideas, conversations, and actual work. He’s around . . . and he’s out to
get your time and money!
Discussing the issue might feel uncomfortable, but it doesn’t have to
be. Calling things out early will give you the time to think through a
mitigation plan and discuss it with your clients. Plus, by not waiting
until the very last minute to call out the issue, you’re positioning
it in a way that will help everyone involved to devise a reasonable
approach to the change; you always have your scope and timeline to
back you up. A well-researched and planned discussion surround-
ing the risk of scope creep will help put you, your client, and the
potential issue at ease. Anything can be sorted out with planning
and discussion.

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Some of us estimate in hours. Others in weeks, minutes, light
years? No matter how you are estimating, be sure to have a way
that you can reasonably check in on that budget. If you can’t, you
will have a really bad time of trying to manage your scope.
The word “no” is one of the most powerful words you can speak.
Use it wisely and stand your ground. Think about when it’s easy
to say and when it’s hard, and consider alternatives you can
present before using the word. Practice when it’s harder, and
it will get easier, I promise.
When a Change in Scope Is Not Acceptable
Sometimes you’ll get to a point where the team can’t continue work
without a budgetary change request, but the clients don’t want to
agree to it. Talk about uncomfortable! It’s never easy to proceed
under these conditions, but as the PM, you have to come up with
options. Here are a few scenarios to think through:
• Can you trade scope? Meaning, if your team does let scope creep
commit a hostile takeover, can you cut something else from the
project to make up for lost time and/or budget?
• How will the change impact the quality of the product? If it’s
going to make it worse, how does that impact your bottom line?
• Is your company willing to “eat” some of the cost in order to
develop a better product and keep the clients happy? If yes, what
is that cost?
No matter what the answer is, you’ll need the buy-in of your team
and management to make the change that is best for your project,
your clients, and your company. It’s never an easy decision to make.
Don’t Forsake Quality
At the end of the day, everyone wants to deliver a quality product
that is successful and evokes a sense of pride. While it’s important
to complete and deliver on time and under budget, you should never
lose sight of delivering a quality product; the expectations of what
you’re to deliver should never be overshadowed by the scope or

Scope Is Creepin’ 177
timeline. You’ll always use your timeline and budget as the guiding
light, but it’s important to set forth what will make the project a suc-
cess in the eyes of your clients and your team. Just a few questions,
asked at the beginning of a project can help establish an agreement
on what success looks like to everyone involved.
• What are the goals of the project?
• What will make the project a success?
• What can we do to ensure success?
• How will we measure success after completion of the project?
Asking these questions will allow your team to set some targets
within the context of your project budget and timeline. Having goals
sets the stage for how you can meet them within the constraints of
the project. Goals can also enable you to gauge the validity of new
requests as they come in. If you’re experiencing scope creep and the
work doesn’t actually meet a goal, it’s much easier to cut it out.
It’s Not Easy, and It’s Not Scary Either
A good project manager can sense scope creep the minute it’s hinted
at. A better project manager takes the time to diagnose the scope
creep, study it, and develop an approach to accept or deny it. The best
project managers take the time to get through all of those steps and
approach the situation with a level head. Any project problem—scope
related or not—can be resolved with a conversation that references
previous work you’ve done on your project. In fact, all of the time
you put into creating an estimate, scope, and timeline will make
approaching any problem easier.

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Defending Your Scope
by Rachel Gertz
Rachel Gertz, cofounder of Louder Than Ten, is training the
next generation of digital project managers.
“I have a really good idea. Can we just add a giant pop-up with a
monster on the screen and when it jumps out on the home page, it can
introduce our services? It’ll be, like, really interactive.” We were well
into our final app design review with a client, and monsters were not
part of our scope.
Clients have ideas. Lots of them. Some of them are good, some not so
much. This is how I handled one particular client idea while PMing
and doing content strategy for a web project: First, I watched for the
scope creep words: can we, just, add, adjust, move, but, a little. These
types of words reek of scope creep. If you see them, be prepared to
fine-tune your PM nose. Tune up your goals.
One of the key things I’ve learned as a PM is that everything you do
needs to tie back to what the organization wants to do—their business
goals—not just the project’s goals. This keeps the project and every
deliverable focused on reinforcing those goals. It also gives you a
strong business case for why a certain path might hurt the project or
the company. Scope increases aren’t bad unless they sneak by you or
derail your direction. So I told the client that the idea sounded inter-
esting, but that we’d have to revisit their goals to increase revenue and

Scope Is Creepin’ 179
Defending Your Scope
have a customer-friendly interface to see if this monster idea lined up
with those. Of course, it didn’t, and I introduced some other ideas that
we could schedule and scope together, but the client held fast. She still
wanted her monster.
When clients have ideas they share with you, you’ve got to be sensi-
tive about how you respond. They make themselves vulnerable when
they express themselves and if you’re not careful, shutting them
down directly without context can hurt them or your relationship.
Your client is really just you in a mirror—you want the same things.
Not all your ideas are good either, but a tactful response is worth the
uncomfortable conversation it will take to clarify both of your wants.
I told the client that the idea didn’t fit with their goals and that the
distracting experience would potentially lose them money, and then
I finished up with a solemn: “We just wouldn’t feel good about doing
that and couldn’t stand behind our work. What else can we do to
accomplish what you’re after? We’d be happy to test some things if
you can put aside some extra budget.” Instead of shutting her down or
ridiculing her idea, I made sure to communicate that it was now going
to impact the work we could do and that we weren’t prepared to do it,
but were willing to try other things. A soft “no.”
After a couple conversations around the goals of the page and company,
and some gentle but firm guidance, the client and I nixed the monster
idea and continued our development schedule without a hitch.

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There is no denying change when it comes to digital projects.
A number of things can happen to test the boundaries of your
scope and timeline. Your best bet to handle or adapt to these
changes is to embrace them and do these things:
• Ensure that your plan is based on the reality that is your
project scope.
• When a change does occur, update your project documenta-
tion and communicate the change to everyone involved.
This will ensure that everyone is aware and not ignoring
the issue.
• If you’ve got to increase your budget for a change, talk about
it and document it.
• You don’t always have to accept a full change. Talk through
options of how you might make something happen
without fully increasing your scope. Remember, projects
are partnerships.
• Don’t ever forsake the quality of your project for a change.
Keep your project goals in mind because they could help you
rule out an impending change.

for PMs
People Make Projects Difficult 183
Brush Up Your Facilitation Skills 184
Facilitation Techniques 186
Determine Meeting Roles 194
Make It a Productive Meeting 195
TL; DR 198
On and Up 199

Helping shoppers can actually develop
great facilitation skills.

Facilitation for PMs 183
I worked in retail when I was a teenager. Yup, I was a mall rat for a summer or two. I sold expensive sunglasses. Looking back on the experience, I can say that it gave me the perspective to understand
how people make decisions when spending a lot of money on an item
that they could get for much cheaper elsewhere. It was interesting to see
what would drive someone to make a final decision to purchase a $200+
pair of sunglasses. As the salesman, I was incented to make sales for a
commission. But I was also paid a base hourly wage, so I wasn’t a viper. I
like to think I helped people make decisions on their purchases.
I remember a time when a couple came into the store and told me
they were looking to purchase a gift for a family member. I asked
them what styles they were looking for and gave them some options.
We started with five pairs of sunglasses, and they narrowed it down
to two options. They discussed the merit of the two (very similar)
styles for what felt like four hours. Because I wanted to make the
sale, but I didn’t know the person who was to receive the gift, I did
everything in my power to help—without being that annoying sales-
person. I shared facts about the glasses: lens colors, weights, quality,
return policy, etc. I also asked them things like, “When do you
picture her wearing these?” and “What is her style?” Lots of ridicu-
lous questions that I couldn’t believe were coming out of my mouth.
Personally, I didn’t like either style. But I would never tell them that!
Eventually, they made a decision that they both agreed on and were
happy about it. While I was processing the credit card, they thanked
me for the help because I helped them make a decision. All I could
think was, “Sure, great. I just hope she doesn’t come back next week
to return them!” Thankfully, that never happened. And it helped me
understand what actually helped my customers to make a purchas-
ing decision. I was able to use that experience to sell more and
eventually to assist other people outside of the store to make deci-
sions that felt right for them—not just for me.
People Make Projects Difficult
It’s not the technology or the creativity—it’s the people who produce
the ideas and make the final decisions. Often, a project manager’s
role becomes that of a facilitator, because part of keeping a project on
track is keeping the people on track. That doesn’t mean forcing deci-
sions, but maybe gently suggesting ways to arrive at decisions. That’s
right, it’s part process and all human, because effectively managing
people and their interactions is part of managing the project.

184 Chapter 11
Effective project management doesn’t happen without good facilita-
tion skills. Project success depends on how the team is facilitated to
make decisions, solve problems, and respond to risks and changes.
PM facilitation provides a foundation of organization that allows
a team to be creative and explore options together, but also make
decisions, perform at a highly functioning level, and deliver on
specific outcomes.
As a project manager, you walk the line between managing and
intervening to make sure that work progresses with efficiency and
stability. Essentially, you want to be an active member of the team,
and that is done through facilitating the best decisions for the success
of the project.
Brush Up Your Facilitation Skills
What does it take to be a great project facilitator while also being a
project manager? In a perfect world, you would have a person who
could act as just a facilitator—looking from the outside in to ask
questions, challenge ideas, resolve disagreements, and generally help
the team progress. In reality, that work typically falls on the shoul-
ders of the project manager. And it’s no easy feat. Do you have what
it takes to do the job? Sure you do, especially if you think about it in
terms of what a facilitator might do. For instance, you might have to
do the following:
• Understand your team, their relationships, and the way they
work together.
• Keep an eye on project goals and how decisions being made
might meet them.
• Analyze and understand team issues and conflicts.
• Recommend techniques or tools to sustain project momentum.
• Manage team meetings effectively.
• Ensure that the team is always making the best use of time.
• Champion effective communications.
That’s a lot to keep an eye on, particularly when you’re also responsi-
ble for managing the process, to-do lists, a budget, scope, and maybe
even project stakeholders. No matter what you do, it will be difficult

Facilitation for PMs 185
to manage your own time and the project, its process, the team, and
its decisions. Think you’re up to it? Yes, you are. If you’re feeling
hesitant, or even a little confused, here are some core values to guide
you when taking on the facilitation role.
Be Neutral
You want to deliver a successful project, and to you, success is rooted
in meeting project goals. Don’t get wrapped up in the end result.
We’ve all got opinions, particularly when it comes to how something
looks. But that is not your role on the project. Put your personal
opinion aside and focus on what will get you to the desired result
rather than the result itself.
Keep Planning
Project plans are great because they show you the long-term trajec-
tory of a project. But you should know that every decision, meeting,
or task might require its own plan to ensure success. As a PM
facilitator, you’ve got to have a plan for how your team will arrive
most effectively at a conversation, decision, or deliverable. It’s your
job to plan that.
Be Energetic
The best way to lead teams to decisions is by motivating them with
an energy that inspires a positive outcome. If you’re sitting on the
sidelines just watching or keeping quiet, then you’re doing it incor-
rectly. When you put a plan in place and you have faith in it, you
can facilitate with an energy that will inspire action. It’s one of those
magical parts of great project management that is truly hard to
define. If you just be yourself and do everything you can to motivate
a team, you will absolutely see results (and people will see that you
helped in a major way).
Be a Great Communicator
Not to beat a dead horse, but a good PM doesn’t happen without
great communication skills, and good facilitation can’t exist without
effective communications. As a project facilitator, you will contribute
to your team reaching mutual understanding of project goals and
the best path to meet them. How do you do that? You pay special

186 Chapter 11
attention to each individual and how they are contributing to the
process and the project, and make sure that their opinion is not only
heard, but valued. When times are difficult, you do everything you
can to understand each point of view and ensure that all options are
being considered. Sometimes, you’ll act as a translator; sometimes,
you’ll be a mediator; and at all times, you’ll be a friend and confidant
to the whole team.
Be an Authority
Someone on the team has to set the boundaries for how you will
work, how long something should take, and when a conversation
has to stop. You’ll find yourself in conversations that go round and
round, and it feels like there is no end. As a facilitator, you need to
step in, set (or even reset) boundaries, and do everything in your
power to get a conversation back on track. Remember, keep the goals
in mind, and you’ll have a great filter for how to resolve any scenario.
Don’t be afraid to speak up! You may not be the final decision
maker, but you are there to keep things on track, and sometimes
that final decision maker needs your help to set boundaries.
Facilitation Techniques
Anyone can host a meeting, run a brainstorming session, or collect
ideas from a team, but not everyone can do it efficiently. It takes the
right balance and knowledge of project goals, team expertise, timing,
tools, and you guessed it, facilitation skills. Before you jump in to a
meeting, be sure to think about what will make for a great session:
Be Prepared
If you want to get the most out of your session, then prepare yourself
and your team for the session. This might mean that you have to
spend some time thinking about how the meeting will flow, what
you will present, or what questions you will ask the team in order to
ignite conversation and debate. Alternately, if you need someone else
on the team to take some responsibility, make sure that you give that
person time to prepare as well. After all, there is nothing worse than
attending a meeting that feels disorganized.

Facilitation for PMs 187
Create the Right Environment
Meeting space comes at a premium in many offices. In order to
run an effective session, make sure that the work you do will be
accommodated by the space you have. Think about it. Will you
need the following?
• Whiteboards
• Group seating
• Wall space
• Flip charts, sticky notes, markers
• Technology set up for remote attendees to see/participate
• Round tables with seats
• One large table
The more you have prepared in terms of space and materials, the
better the environment will be. And the more excited your team will
be to participate.
If you’re running a remote meeting or session, get into your
meeting room 10–15 minutes in advance of the meeting to get the
technology sorted out so that you can start without any delays.
These sessions can often take longer than in-person sessions
because of communication challenges. This is something to con-
sider when scheduling and planning your agenda.
Ensure That the Expected Outcomes or Objectives Are Clear
Set an agenda that includes a statement of meeting goals. At the top
of the meeting, be sure to review these goals with the group. You
may even want to discuss what meeting these goals will mean to the
rest of the project. Setting context can help to keep everyone on track.
Establish Expectations
Your agenda and meeting goals will set expectations for the meet-
ings. At the same time, try to set some ground rules for your
meeting. For instance, if you have limited time, you might agree that
any mention of an outside topic will be shut down by the facilitator
and added to a list of things to discuss later.

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Do What Works
Your facilitation style needs to meet the needs of the group and the
goals for the meeting. For example, you may want to facilitate by
stepping back and letting conversation take place so that you can
witness interactions and record decisions. Or you may lead a group
exercise to see outcomes and discuss them as a group. No matter
what, you have to recognize that a “one-size-fits-all” approach to
facilitating meetings does not work.
Helpful Facilitation Tools
There are plenty of ways to engage a team, lead them to healthy
conversations, and even make decisions. Some are simple conversa-
tional tactics, while others are interactive activities. You’ll do what
feels right based on the goals and people involved. Here are a few
that can help you.
Gate Keeping
The loudest voice can’t win! Everyone on a project should have equal
footing when it comes to collaboration and discussion. With gate-
keeping, all participants have an equal opportunity to influence the
decision to be made. As a facilitator, you can help make this happen
by gate opening and gate closing.
• Gate opening: There’s always a quiet team member who tends
to sit back and speak less or not speak at all. The problem is, that
person may have information and thoughts that could impact
decisions, or better yet, help make them. As the facilitator, it’s
your job to get those people talking. Open the gate by asking
direct questions of that person. Engage them with the group. You
might be putting them on the spot, but it’s important to do when
you want a well-rounded, inclusive conversation.
• Gate closing: Don’t let one person dominate a conversation or
meeting, because when you do, you will end up with annoyed
team members who are less motivated to act on ideas. It’s simple:
inclusion builds trust, motivates teams, and helps decisions to
be made. So, if John is dominating a meeting, simply interrupt
him and ask if anyone else has a perspective to add. It might feel
awkward, but your team will thank you for it later (and, you’ll
get a better conversation going).

Facilitation for PMs 189
Use Flip Charts, Post-it Notes, and Sharpies
Sounds like an endorsement of specific merchandise in office sup-
ply stores, huh? Well, it kind of is (see Figure 11.1)! It’s amazing how
much our highly technical teams use paper to generate ideas and
consensus. But providing a hands-on experience allows all partici-
pants to provide ideas or input (bonus points for those shy people
who’d rather write than speak), discuss them, merge them, and even
come up with visual ways to represent complex ideas.
Ironically, the digital industry seems to be keeping 3M in business.
Want some ideas for exercises to run? Check out Gamestorming
by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufo. It includes
several group activities, exercises, and games that help generate
ideas and even build consensus.

190 Chapter 11
We all conduct brainstorming sessions with the intent of generating
as many ideas as possible, but are they always effective? Probably
not. If you’re going to conduct a brainstorming session, you should
structure that meeting and set some basic ground rules. If you truly
want to create an environment that is accepting, open, and ready to
be creative, remind everyone of the following tenets:
• There is no such thing as a bad idea.
• Good ideas can come from anyone on a team.
• The goal of the meeting is to get as many ideas out as possible.
• You’ll discuss the merits of all ideas as a group.
• You’ll refine the list of ideas and remove the ones that just
won’t work.
• There are no hard feelings if your idea is not selected.
• You will end the session with at least one final idea.
Need to get an answer to a complex question or gain consensus on a
topic or issue? You can get your team to come to a decision quickly
with a clustering exercise. There are a number of ways to do this, but
you can start with this technique.
Pose the question/topic/scenario and have each attendee record their
responses on Post-it Notes (one response per note). Then have meet-
ing participants quickly place the stickies into groups. Again, they
make the decision and do the work. You can step back to facilitate
the process, watch for emergent themes/outcomes, and then question
the final results. This approach should lead to productive conversa-
tion with the goal of making a decision. This kind of exercise can be
very helpful when you’re trying to diagnose an issue or a pain point,
generate ideas, gain feedback, and much more. Plus, it’s a quick and
easy way to get anything and everything on the table (or wall).
The “T”
The “T” is a focusing technique that can put an end to what may feel
like a never-ending unstructured debate. At the same time, it can
help your team come to a decision with confidence and ease.

Facilitation for PMs 191
Here’s what to do: Draw a “T” for each item under debate on a white-
board or flipchart; then have the group brainstorm and record the
pros and cons (again, one point per sticky note). When they are done
recording, they will place their points on the “T.” From there, you
will begin to see emergent themes, which will show consensus or
allow for further debate, which is a discussion that you will facilitate.
This exercise is really great for figuring out issues or discussion
points that stand in the way of a decision (see Figure 11.2).
Use the “T” when you need to get consensus—or discussion about
issues—quickly. You can write directly on a board or have participants
write responses on sticky notes and then cluster them.
Beat Meeting Fatigue
Every project manager’s day is filled with meetings. These can be
meetings about projects, meetings with clients, ad hoc team gath-
erings, internal and client status meetings, and so on. The list of
possibilities for work gatherings seems endless. That can be a problem!
Too many meetings can mean lower team productivity, and too few
meetings can cause strains in team communication and gaps in knowl-
edge. There’s certainly a tricky balance to find the right amount of
meeting time, and it’s tough to ensure that each one will be productive.

192 Chapter 11
Finding the right balance and offering the team value in each and
every meeting often lies on a project manager’s shoulders. But don’t
worry, you can become a PM meeting master by finding the balance
between the “art” of communicating a meeting’s importance and the
“science” of how it’s best managed.
First Step: Determine Meeting Value
Of course, there is no mystery in what makes a meeting successful or
abysmally bad. Just scheduling a meeting can be difficult, what with
ensuring timeliness of the discussion, navigating the issues at hand,
and coordinating people (and their busy schedules). Plus, you have
to deal with internal factors. For instance, in some organizational
cultures, meetings are seen as unnecessary or bad. In others, they are
healthy places to exchange ideas, or even to get work done. Whether
you think they’re good or a hassle, you should know that you, the
project manager, can help determine the time, length, agenda, and
value of a meeting.
Before you “throw something on the calendar,” it’s best to think stra-
tegically about your meeting. Part of the reason many professionals
sigh or grunt at the thought of a meeting is because it could be seen
as an interruption in their day. Think about it—if you’re working
with a team who is making a product, they need a good amount of
time to sit down and focus on what they’re making. A meeting about
something peripheral to the project can throw their concentration
off very quickly. So how can you determine if a meeting is actually
needed? Follow these guidelines:
1. Be clear about the meeting’s goals.
It may seem silly, but going into a meeting knowing what you want
to get out of it will help you make decisions on who should be there,
when it should happen, and how long it might take. Before you
schedule anything, ask yourself, “What is the goal of this meeting?”
and “Do we actually need a meeting to hit this goal?”
2. Who needs to be in this meeting?
Look back at that goal. Is it something that your entire team
should be involved in? Be sure to protect your time as well as
your team’s time. The last thing you want to do is pull people
into a meeting if they are not needed. Think about it this way:
“Will this person talk in the meeting?” If the answer is “no,”
he is off the hook.

Facilitation for PMs 193
3. What is needed to make this meeting a success?
Give attendees everything they will need for this meeting in
advance. Your best bet is to attach the information to the meeting
invitation. This could include advance notes, handouts, docu-
ments for review, etc. The more prep you can provide, the more
productive the meeting will be.
4. Does this meeting have to happen today, tomorrow, or even
next week?
Think back to that meeting goal. How will it impact your project,
decisions that are being made, the people in the meeting (and
the work they have going on), your clients, your budget, and
timeline? There’s a lot in play there! Project managers often think
every issue is the most important, but when it comes to deter-
mining the best timing—or if a meeting can wait—take the time
to think through those impacts and create priorities.
5. How much time do we need?
Again, protect that time! If you only need 15 minutes, take it.
If you need an hour and a half, that’s OK, too. Be sure to com-
municate the intent and value of the meeting to attendees so
they come into it knowing that you’re not wasting their time.
Remember, you are the PM, and you control the calendar. If a
meeting will stress your calendar or your team’s, you can take
responsibility for finding a better time.
6. What is the agenda?
Always create a meeting agenda, even for the shortest meetings.
Be sure to include the meeting agenda in the meeting invitation
and add names next to conversation or presentation points so that
attendees know their responsibility for the meeting. Having an
agenda will help you stick to the meeting goals, formulate what
potential to-do items could be, and keep the conversation on track.
Never double-book someone for a meeting. If someone is unable
to make a meeting and you can’t find another time, approach
that person and ask if they are OK with missing the meeting.
Promise thorough meeting notes and offer a follow-up if you just
need to make a meeting happen and that person is secondary to
the conversation at hand.

194 Chapter 11
Want to save yourself time? Set a team rule: No meetings should
be scheduled without an agenda. After all, if you don’t know
what a meeting is about or for, why attend? You deserve to know
that, as well as to have the space and time to prepare.
Ensure Meeting Greatness
After you’ve determined that your meeting will happen and you’ve
set the agenda, it’s up to you to make sure that it lives up to every-
one’s expectations. Remember, you are the project facilitator, so it is
absolutely your job. No fear, you can do this! You can lay the ground-
work for a highly productive meeting by establishing some rules,
creating some roles, and addressing potential distractions.
Determine Meeting Roles
If your meeting is fairly formal, make sure that you have some basic
roles and responsibilities covered. Read through the following roles
and determine what’s right for you and the people you’re gathering.
• Leader: The leader is the team member who calls the meeting
and takes responsibility for communication before and after. In
addition to being a participant, this person may guide discussion
on all items or perhaps ask others to lead the entirety (or parts) of
the meeting.
• Facilitator: The facilitator keeps the discussion and decision-
making process moving along. Typically, the facilitator is not
involved in the content of the meeting—rather, they guide
conversation through the agenda and help the group with
• Recorder: The note-taker is a non-negotiable role in any meet-
ing. Meeting notes are very important. Having someone record
general points made, action items, and to-dos is critical to the
success of any meeting. On that note, meeting notes should be
distributed as soon after the meeting as possible. It can be very
helpful to store notes in a system where meeting attendees can
review and update points made.

Facilitation for PMs 195
• Timekeeper: If you want to be really expedient, ask someone
to keep an eye on the clock. Start on time and end on time, and
everyone will be happy.
Record a meeting’s audio or video if you think it may come in
handy later.
These roles are only meant to be general guidelines. Not every meet-
ing will even have enough attendees to make this happen! A general
rule of thumb should be that the folks whose attendance is critical to
the conversation at hand are in attendance with no additional “job”
in the meeting. If you need help with moderation or note-taking, by
all means, ask for help. After all, you’re a PM, not Superman.
In many cases, the PM may play all of these roles, as well as the
participant role. It’s a tricky balance. If you don’t feel as though
you can do it all, ask someone to help. Your best bet is to find
someone to help you take notes so that you can actively join in
the conversation.
Make It a Productive Meeting
All too often, attendees will show up with a laptop or devices in tow.
It’s really hard to disconnect these days, but if the people meant to
be engaged in the discussion are sidetracked by what’s happening
on their screens, they will be distracted from your important con-
versation. If you’re feeling brave, ask attendees to leave laptops and
devices on their desks.
At the end of the day, it’s your job as a PM and facilitator to make
sure that the team stays on task and that the goals of your meeting
are met. Maybe you’ll employ an exercise or facilitate a conversation,
or maybe you’ll sit back and record results. But no matter what you
do, make sure that you’re not wasting anyone’s time.

196 Chapter 11
Facilitation Through Activities
by Sara Wachter-Boettcher
Content strategy consultant, author of Content Everywhere and
co-author of Design for Real Life
I started doing content strategy work because I kept seeing clients with the
same problems: overwhelming navigation, big blobs of inconsistent copy, and
pages and pages of fluff that didn’t need to be there. So I set out to fix them:
audit the content, rewrite the copy, reorganize the site around a new informa-
tion architecture. I was pretty good at it, too.
Eventually, I found myself working with a large government agency with
thousands of pages of content—and I was excited to whip that site into shape.
I built content models, established style guidelines, and edited my heart out.
By launch, I had transformed their mess into something I was proud of.
It didn’t last. Pretty soon, the copy grew back into a blob. People stopped
following the style guide. Critical CMS fields were left empty.
What I realized is that my content expertise wasn’t cutting it. I also needed
to bring people along with me—people who might not be web experts, but
who would be responsible for sustaining things after I’d gone. That’s when
I found facilitation.
Rather than trying to control the content myself, I learned to focus on helping
teams see their content differently, build skills, and make content choices
themselves. It’s a skill I’ve been honing for several years now, and it’s com-
pletely changed how I work.

Facilitation for PMs 197
Facilitation Through Activities
For example, I recently had another client with thousands of pages of content
cluttering a dated, hard-to-use website. This time, I didn’t jump into “fix”
mode. Instead, I invited everyone who had a stake in the site to help make
content decisions, right from the start.
In our first major workshop, when we were deciding what was most impor-
tant to communicate, I facilitated an activity that used mad libs—a simple
fill-in-the-blank statement about the website’s goals and audience that the
team had to collaborate on and come up with a plan they could all agree to.
This gave people who often didn’t feel like they had a say, a chance to be
included and heard, and it also forced everyone to forget their pet projects
and focus on what really mattered. Everyone left the workshop with a core
understanding of what we were trying to do—and a tool they could use later
to keep the content on track.
Later on, we needed to determine how the existing content needed to adapt
for the new strategy. Rather than me telling them what to fix, I instead facili-
tated an audit workshop, where the people who owned the content looked
at pages together and assessed them using the strategy they’d all agreed on.
This made the strategy click—taking it from an abstract concept to something
that would drive even tiny writing decisions. That never would have hap-
pened if I’d done it for them.
The results weren’t perfect, of course. The team still ended up with a little
more jargon and a little longer copy than I would have liked. That’s OK. They
made progress—and when their website launched, they had the skills and
habits to keep it on track.

198 Chapter 11
Understand what it means to be a facilitator: Set the tone for
conversations. Allow for the space and time that projects require
for work to be done and decisions to be made. Often, people and
their opinions get in the way of those things being done in a
timely fashion. It’s the PM’s job to facilitate the conversations and
process that lead teams to wrap up projects successfully. Here’s
how to do it:
• Decisions, plan for the best ways to meet them.
• Remember, you have to be the PM, not a critic. Stay neutral
and help teams to achieve consensus.
• Be authoritative. Lead a process that helps your team make
decisions. Step in when they need to be reeled in, because
your team needs you to keep them on track.
• Set the tone and make sure that the environment is condu-
cive to making decisions.
• Always work through the lens of project goals and remind
your team of them as needed.
• Build your facilitator’s toolkit so that you can use techniques
that will generate ideas, build consensus, and lead to
• Understand the value of meetings and how to run them
effectively without wasting precious work time.

Facilitation for PMs 199
On and Up
I won’t indulge you here with another personal story that relates
to endings. Rather, I’ll tell you that this is just the beginning for
elevating digital project management in the industry as well as with
traditional project management. We’ve only begun to explore the best
ways to work as digital teams, and I expect more to be introduced
and uncovered in the future.
This book serves as a foundation for how to handle any project with
any team successfully, even under the most frustrating circum-
stances. Trust me, I’ve been there, and I wish I had thought through
some of these principles and practices before jumping into those
fires. But I never would have been able to correct my mistakes and
formulate better practices without making those mistakes. And I
urge you to do the same.
Share your experience and practices with those around you. Build
upon the principles and practices shared in this book. Have the
confidence to lead, facilitate healthy communications, craft processes
that work, and be a human who can make mistakes—and recover
from them. You can do this.

burnout, 112–113
buy-in from team on project
plans, 92–93, 96
certification in project management
methodologies, 5, 32
change control process and change
requests, 173, 174, 176.
See also scope of work
change management methodologies, 29
chaos junkies, 33
cheerleader and motivating teams,
124, 126–127
clients. See also stakeholders
getting to know them, 76–77
manage expectations with status
meetings, 163–164
organization and players, 71–72, 73
responsible parties, in project plan, 94
review of project plan, 90, 99–101
setting expectations in pre-kick-off
meetings, 154–156
clustering as facilitation tool, 190
collaboration and communication,
communication, 115–128.
See also difficult conversations;
documentation; status reports
asking questions, 123.
See also questions
body language, 128, 142
and collaboration, 121–122
deliverables discussions, 122–123
account manager role, 44
accountable role in RACI matrix, 157
adaptability of project manager, 8
Adaptive Project Framework (APF), 28
Agile-ish projects, estimating, 55–59
client time and costs, 57
dedicated teams, 56
example, 58–59
Scrum team meetings, 27, 57
sprints, 27, 56–57
Agile Manifesto of Software
Development, 26
Agile methodologies, 26–28
Agile projects, estimating tasks
for, 60–62
planning poker, 61–62
user stories and points, 60–61, 62
assumptions in project plans, 92
authority as facilitation skill, 186
back-end developer role, 43
Barnes, Sam, 167–168
Benefits Realization, 31
Billows, Dick, 19
Boag, Paul, 80–81
body language, 128, 142
brainstorming sessions, 123, 190
Brown, Sunni, 189
budget and change requests to scope
of work, 174, 176

communication (continued)
discussing in pre-kick-off meeting
with client, 155–156
as facilitation skill, 185–186
informal check-ins, 125
innovating project communications
(anecdote), 124–125
motivating teams, cheerleading
(and anecdote), 124, 126–127
multilingual skills of project
managers, 34
project manager’s task to facilitate, 15
as quality of good project manager, 7
setting expectations, 120
status meetings, 123
with team, before estimate,
45, 46, 47
team involvement, 119–120
and trust, 118–119
what “success” means, 122, 177
working sessions for brainstorming,
123, 190
communications plan, to manage
expectations, 161–162
cone of uncertainty, 42
confidentiality in difficult
conversations, 134
consulted role in RACI matrix, 157
content strategist role, 43
conversations, difficult. See difficult
Critical Chain Project Management
(CCPM), 25
Critical Path Method (CPM), 25, 32
CSM (Certified ScrumMaster), 5
curiosity of project manager, 8
daily stand-ups, Scrum meetings,
27, 57
in project plan, 90, 94
and scope changes, 173
Davis, Holly, 126–127
de Bono, Ed, 133
communication about, 122–123
estimating with work breakdown
structure, 50–52
in project plan, 89, 100
devil’s advocate, 124–125
difficult conversations, 129–147.
See also communication
anatomy of, 132–136
body language in, 142
conflict, personal and group,
follow-up, 144
impromptu conversation, 137–138
the other person, 134–135
outcomes wanted, 135–136
preparation for, 135–137
resolution of issue, 140–141,
sample of, 144–146
scheduled meeting, 138–141
setting expectations, 141
the situation, 133–134
talking and listening, 139–140
thoughtful language, 142–143
verbal conflict, 141–142
your emotional state, 135
Dmohowski, John, 19

communications plan, 161–162
of conversations, sharing notes,
expectations in kick-off meeting, 120
note-taking in meetings, recorder
role, 194
note-taking tips, 165
project plans. See project plans
requirements document,
155, 157–160, 173
scope of work, 152–153, 172–173
status reports. See status reports
eagle eye of project manager, 7
empathy of project manager, 7–8
estimates, project, 37–63
for Agile-ish projects, 55–59
Agile projects, tasks for, 60–62
creation of, by project manager, 10
dictionary definition, 40
historical data, 45–46
learn your industry, 41
need to know, ask questions, 47
pertinent details, 46
process, understanding what works,
reasons to estimate, 40–41
roles of people on your team, 42–44
time and materials vs. fixed fee, 48
work breakdown structure, 49–54
Event Chain Methodology (ECM), 29
executive stakeholders, 73
expectations, 149–168
assign project roles with RACI matrix,
build a communications plan,
of communications, 120
conduct status meetings, 162–164
in difficult conversations, 141
document requirements, 157–160
managing, 161–166
pre-kick-off meetings, 154–156
set before project begins, 152
set with status reports (anecdote),
take notes, 164–165
tips to keep in check, 165–166
understand the scope, 152–154
Extreme Programming (XP), 28
Extreme Project Management (XPM), 29
facilitation, 181–199
determine meeting roles, 194–195
make meetings productive, 195
managing people, 183–184
skills for, 184–185
techniques, 186–194
through activities (anecdote),
facilitator role in meetings, 194
fixed fee for estimate, 48
flexibility of project manager, 8
flip charts in meetings, 189
front-end developer role, 43
Gamestorming (Gray, Brown, and
Macanufo), 189
Gantt chart, 92, 95

gate keeping in meetings, 188
Gertz, Rachel, 178–179
gossip, 79
graphic designer role, 43
Gray, Dave, 189
group conflict, 143–144
A Guide to the Project Management Body
of Knowledge (PMBOK), 25
Harrin, Elizabeth, 124–125
Head, Val and Jason, 3
historical data, studying for
estimate, 45–46
holidays, vacations, and time off,
95, 112
honesty of project managers, 35, 118
illness, 112
imprompu conversations in difficult
conversations, 137–138
informal check-ins, 125
informed role in RACI matrix, 157
interests of team members, 112
investment in work by project
manager, 9
Kanban, 28, 32, 127
laser-focus of project managers, 35
leader role in meetings, 194
Lean, 29, 30
as principle for digital project
management, 34
resources for project managers,
8, 42
your industry for better estimates, 41
Macanufo, James, 189
management level stakeholders, 73
M*A*S*H, Radar as project manager, 19
agenda and objectives, 187, 193, 194
determine value of, 192–193
for difficult conversations, 137–141
environment of: space and
materials, 187
facilitation techniques, 186–194
gate keeping, 188
meeting fatigue, 191–194
project manager’s task to schedule,
14, 192
remote, 187
roles of team members, 194–195
Scrum team, 27, 57
set expectations, 187
methodologies. See project management
motivation of team, 14, 124,
126–127, 185
“no,” saying, 176
notes. See documentation
O’Reilly, Radar, 19
pathfinders, project managers as, 35
personal conflict, 143

plan creation, for project. See project plans
planning poker, 61–62
planning time. See time
PMP (Project Management
Professional), 5
Post-it Notes in meetings, 189
pre-kick-off meetings, setting expecta-
tions in, 154–156
primary stakeholders, 73
PRINCE2 (PRojects IN Controlled
Environments), 30–31
principles for digital project
management, 33–35
Prior, Dave, 18–19
PRiSM (Projects Integrating Sustainable
Methods), 29
project manager building and
managing of, 10–11
understanding what works, for
estimate, 44–45
Process-Based PM, 25
project management, principles for
digital, 33–35
Project Management Institute, 5
A Guide to the Project Management Body
of Knowledge (PMBOK), 25
project management methodologies,
Adaptive Project Framework (APF), 28
Agile, 26–28
Benefits Realization, 31
change management, 29
Critical Chain Project Management
(CCPM), 25
Critical Path Method (CPM), 25, 32
Event Chain Methodology (ECM), 29
Extreme Programming (XP), 28
Extreme Project Management
(XPM), 29
Kanban, 28, 32
Lean, 29, 30
PRINCE2 (PRojects IN Controlled
Environments), 30–31
PRiSM (Projects Integrating
Sustainable Methods), 29
Process-Based PM, 25
questions to choose a methodology,
Scrum, 27, 32
Six Sigma, 30
traditional, 24–25, 32
Waterfall, 24, 32
project manager, 1–20
hiring team member as, 16–17
importance to team and client, 15–17
job description of, 3–4, 23
personal description of job (anecdote),
principles for digital project
management, 33–35
qualities of, 6–9
role on team, 44
role vs. title, 4–6
typical tasks of, 9–15
project owner/core group, 73
project plans, 83–106
assumptions, 92
buy-in from team, 92–93, 96
client/stakeholder review, 99–101
before creation of, 87–93
documentation you need to know,
formalizing the plan, 93–102
importance of, 85–87

project plans (continued)
project manager creation and
managing of, 11
readability of, 96–97
sample project and plan, 104–105
sketches, 87–90
team review, 97–99
update for scope changes, 172–173
using a work breakdown structure,
project requirements documentation,
155, 157–160, 173
projects, getting to know, 65–82
begin with research, 68–69
defining working relationships
(anecdote), 80–81
know your clients, 76–77
players, identifying, 71–73
questions to ask, 70
red flags, 76–79
stakeholder decision matrix, 74, 75
stakeholder interviews, 69–71
talk about the work, 75–76
pros and cons in the “T,” as facilitation
tool, 190–191
QA tester role, 44
quality and change in scope, 176–177
asking, and communication, 123
to choose a methodology, 31–32
details for estimates, 46–47
getting to know your project, 70
in requirements document, 158
RACI matrix, assigning project roles,
recorder role in meetings, 194
red flags, 76, 77–79, 126
remote meetings, 187
request for change, 172.
See also scope of work
requirements documentation,
155, 157–160, 173
research to understand project,
researcher role, 43
resource management, 107–114
burnout, 112–113
matching people skills to projects,
planning team availability, 109–111
stakeholders as resources, 113–114
responsible role in RACI matrix, 157
multiple owners of project, 76
section for issues and bad news
in status report, 164, 166,
sales conundrum, 154
sample work to show, 75
scope creep, defined, 174
scope of work (SOW), 169–180
and budget, 174, 176
defending (anecdote), 178–179
documentation, 152–154, 172–173
managing change, 169–174
monitoring, as project manager’s
task, 14

and quality, 176–177
review in pre-kick-off meeting with
client, 155
risk section in status report, 174–175
setting expectations, 152
when change request is not
acceptable, 176
writing change requests, 174
Scrum, 27, 32, 55, 57
secondary stakeholders, 73
Six Sigma, 30
Six Thinking Hats (de Bono), 133
sketch of project plan, 87–90
for facilitation, 184–185
matching team members to
projects, 111–112
spec work, 77
spreadsheets for managing resources,
sprints, 27, 56–57
stakeholder decision matrix, 74, 75
stakeholders. See also clients
identification of players, 73
interviews with, getting to know the
project, 69–71
as resources, 113–114
review of project plan, 90, 99–101
scenarios raising red flags, 77–79
setting expectations in pre-kick-off
meetings, 154–156
status meetings
bad news and expectations,
164, 166
and communication, 123
to manage expectations, 162–164,
status reports
as project manager’s
responsibility, 12–13
risk section for issues and bad news,
164, 166, 174–175
update for scope changes, 173
using to set expectations (anecdote),
strategist role, 43
“success” and what it means, 122, 177
swoop and poop, 72, 103
the “T,” pros and cons as facilitation
tool, 190–191
estimating for Agile projects, 60–62
of project manager, 9–15
project manager managing of, 12
in project plan, 89, 91, 93
in work breakdown structure,
50–52, 53, 54
availability, in project plan, 95
communications and knowing when
to involve, 119–120
dedicated Agile, 56
managing expectations in meetings,
154, 163
matching team member skills to
projects, 111–112
requirements document
responsibility, 160
resource planning, 109–111
responsible parties, in project plan, 94
review of project plan, 97–99
roles of people on project, 42–44,
89–90, 156–157

for each task in work breakdown
structure, 53, 54
and materials for estimate, 48
planning for team, by project
manager, 13
planning for work, in project plan, 90
time off, vacations, and holidays,
95, 112
timekeeper role in meetings, 195
timeline, setting expectations, 155
to-do lists, shared, 121–122, 166
tone check, 119
traditional methodologies, 24–25, 32
training in project management
methodologies, 32
trust and communications, 118–119
UN Global Compact’s Ten Principles, 29
user experience (UX), Lean UX, 30
user stories and points in Agile
methodology, 60–61, 62
UX designer role, 43
vacations, holidays, and time off,
95, 112
verbal conflict, 141–142
video as innovative project communica-
tion (anecdote), 125
voice of reason, 186
Wachter-Boettcher, Sara, 196–197
war stories, 76
Waterfall, 24, 32
whiteboarding sessions, 123
wireframes, 91
work breakdown structure, 49–54
assign time to each task, 53, 54
benefits of, in project plan, 91–92
deliverables, 50–52
details on tasks, 52
example, 54
format, 52–53
working relationships, defining,
working sessions and
communications, 123

I wrote a book! It took a lot of hard work on nights and weekends, but I made it happen. The thing is, it wouldn’t have happened without the support, encouragement and guidance of these
people: My wife Emily, who gave me the time I needed in solitude to
think, plan, and write. My daughters, Juliet and Sylvie, who inspire
me to do more, be better. My family, who probably won’t read this
book, but are still proud. The folks at Happy Cog, who pushed me
to be a better PM and supported me in this weird journey of writing
and speaking about a topic that no one else was really talking about.
My friends at TeamGantt, who pushed me to write a guide that
inspired a book. The fine folks who contributed stories to this book
and rallied around the process of writing this book: Sam Barnes,
Holly Davis, Sara Wachter-Boettcher, Dave Prior, Rachel Gertz, and
Elizabeth Harrin. The people who were kind enough to review the
book and provide valuable feedback: Tera Simon, Aaron Irizarry,
Dave Garrett, Greg Storey, Sam Kapilia, Trish Tchume, and Cecily
Storey, who helped me with all of my formatting issues (MS Word?
Not my thing.). And the folks who generously read the book and
provided kind words: Karen McGrane, Carl Smith, Ahava Leibtag,
and Alison Wagner.
Lastly, to anyone who has read this book: I hope it provides you with
the information you need to lead well and be successful. I recognize
it takes a village to make a great project happen. I’m grateful for hav-
ing such a talented, respected, and caring village. Thank you.

Brett Harned is a digital project management
consultant, coach, and community advocate from
Philadelphia, PA. His work focuses on solving issues
that are important to organizations that want to pro-
duce quality digital projects in harmony. He loves to
build processes and communication tactics that work
not only for projects, but also for the people involved in them. He
works with product companies, digital agencies, and in-house teams
with a variety of processes, talents, goals, and challenges. Prior to
starting his consultancy, Brett was vice president of project manage-
ment at Happy Cog, where he mentored a team of PMs and managed
projects for companies like Zappos, MTV, and Monotype.
Brett began blogging about his adventures in project management
at when he realized that there was a void in the
industry for people in the digital PM role. Since then, he has had the
privilege to speak at various events internationally and has written
for widely read industry websites and publications. He also founded
and curates the Digital PM Summit, an annual conference with a
focus on supporting a community that leads digital projects.
When he’s not wrangling processes and people, Brett likes to discover
new music, experiment with photography, and explore the City of
Brotherly Love with his wife, two daughters, and their French bulldog.


Title Page
How to Use This Book
Frequently Asked Questions
Chapter 1: You’re the PM Now
What Is a Project Manager?
The Role vs. the Title
The Qualities of Good Project Management
Typical PM Tasks
The PM Is the Backbone
TL; DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read)
Chapter 2: Principles over Process
The World of Project Management Methodologies
Devise a Methodology That Will Work for You
Principles for Digital Project Management
Chapter 3: Start with an Estimate
Set the Stage for Solid Estimates
Estimate Time and Materials vs.
Fixed-Fee Projects
Apply a Work Breakdown Structure
Estimating Agile-ish Projects
Estimate Tasks for Agile Projects
Get Your Estimates In
Chapter 4: Getting to Know Your Projects
Start with Research
Getting the Most Out of Stakeholder Interviews
Identify the Players
Talk About the Work
Getting to Know Your Clients Can Help!
Heed the Red Flag
Chapter 5: Create a Plan
Project Plans Will Help You
Before You Create the Plan
Formalize Your Plan
What You Really Need to Know
Get Planning
Chapter 6: Managing Resources
Set the Stage for Organized Resource Planning
Match Resource Skills to Projects
Save Yourself and Your Team from Burnout
Stakeholders Are Resources, Too
Chapter 7: Communicate Like a Pro
Solid Communications Earn Trust
It’s Not About You
Set Communication Expectations
Be Open to Collaboration
Quick, Simple Communication Tactics
Body Language Speaks Volumes
Chapter 8: Navigating the Dreaded Difficult Conversation
The Anatomy of a Difficult Conversation
How to Conduct a Difficult Conversation
Meeting Means Talking and Listening
Finding the Right Solution
The Most Difficult Conversation I’ve Ever Taken On
Say Hello to Agreement and Goodbye to Disagreement
Chapter 9: Setting and Managing Expectations
We All Have Expectations
Pre-Kick-off Meetings
Assign Project Roles with a RACI Matrix
Document Requirements
Manage Expectations
Chapter 10: Scope Is Creepin’
Managing and Embracing Change
Tame the Scope Creep
It’s Not Easy, and It’s Not Scary Either
Chapter 11: Facilitation for PMs
People Make Projects Difficult
Brush Up Your Facilitation Skills
Facilitation Techniques
Determine Meeting Roles
Make It a Productive Meeting
On and Up
About the Author

About the Author

Running head: PROJECT PLAN

Emad Alkhadabah

Central Michigan University

MSA 647

Dr. Michael Dillo


February 7, 2021


Project Plan

  • Section 1: Summary
  • The project is on the construction of an adult education center that promotes literacy for

    individuals of all ages. The center would provide a positive ambience where the older persons

    would engage with their peers. The center would be constructed as part of the university’s

    buildings so that it would be easier to integrate the program with the university’s programs. It

    would be easier for the learned university staff to promote intelligence in the local community

    members. The center would not be limited to faith-based, for profit, non-profits, and union

    organizations. The adult center requires a project manager, human resource development team, and

    workplace assessment (Nylander et al., 2018). There should be an effective management team led

    by a project manager highly experienced in running projects. This would improve connection of

    the public with the project’s stakeholders.

    The project promotes the development of an effective method of dealing with the rising

    cases of unemployed adults due to lack of education in certain areas. The appendix section of this

    paper contains all stakeholders involved in the project’s development. It is imperative to involve all

    the persons mentioned since they would deal with the issues using their unique expertise. The

    project shall involve a planning phase that aligns the various activities involved in the conception

    phase that this paper has dealt with. The next phase shall be launch phase that shall connect the

    project with the public’s expectations. It would be possible to determine whether the project

    adhered to expected outcomes.

    The next phase of the project is performance assessment. This improves the quality of the

    adult education center since it provides insight into the public’s behavior as the project got

    implemented. The next phase is the close of the project after it gets determined that the expected

    Michael Dillon
    you should have 3 appendices


    outcomes were achieved. The adult education center that focused on all these areas would provide

    an effective method of limiting the government’s budget on supporting persons with lack of self-

    sustenance. Even after the project closes, the tasks would be ongoing so that the overall objective

    of promoting economic development would be promoted.

  • Section 2: Phasing
  • Phase I:




    Phase II:


    Phase III:

    Install and

    Test needed


    Phase IV:




    Testing for


    ty and ease

    in use

    Phase V:



    Phase VI:



    and Roll out

    Phase VII:


    and Post



    30 days 120 days 30 days 30 days 30 days 30 days 90



    Section 3: Schedule – Milestones

    Deliverable Recipients

    Delivery Method

    Statement of Work Subcontractors 1/3/2021 meetings

    Work Breakdown


    Integrators 1/3/2021 meetings

    Status Reports C-level managers 2/3/2021 meetings

    Construction Construction Team 3/3/2021 On site

    Training Employees 6/6/2021 In person

    Implementation c-level



    8/7/2021 On site

    Evaluation c-level managers


    9/11/2021 On site

    New student login and

    joining program

    Students 12/7/2021 Onsite/website

    Section 4: Resources

    1. Development: During this phase, the organization will be conducting a market research

    to identifying the possible number of students in the area that will be interested in joining the

    program. Furthermore, research will be conducted on the best time for the students to attend their

    lessons. The collected data will guide the overall planning of the whole program.

    Michael Dillon
    always have discussion between figures


    2. Test: In this phase we will be investigating the program and testing for various

    scenarios. A testing team shall be assigned to carrying out this phase.

    3. Production: During this phase, the organization will be deploying the new classes that

    are part of the program in various locations. Our team might be travelling to other locations to

    ensure that as many people know of the program and are ready to join.

    Section 5: Organization

    Project Team: This includes a group of resources that work on the deliverable of the full




     Completing the project tasks that are within the set budget, timeline, and meet required


     Proactively communicate status and managing expectations.

    Project Manager/Leader: Manages the full project, which includes leading and planning

    the development of all aspects of a project (McClory, Read & Labib, 2017).

    Duties include:

     Developing a project plan.

     Recruit staff.

     Assign tasks and roles to project team members.

     Provide current updates to upper management.


    Project Analysts: Responsible for guaranteeing that all requirements are met accurately

    and effectively before the solution is developed and implemented (Abad et al., 2019). Duties


     Gather requirements from all units.

     Document all technical and operations requirements.

     Verify if project deliverables meet the requirements.

     Test solutions.

    QA Manager: Help to convert project requirements and design documents into testing

    cases and scripts. These scripts are often used to verify if the project meets the needs of the client.

    Designer: Responsible for fully understanding the project requirements and build and

    design a solution to correlate to those needs.

     Determine the best approach to the solution.

     Determine the model and scope of the solution.

     Determine student needs.

    Tester: Tests the program to ensure there are no defects before its full implementation.

    Section 6: Change Management

    The purpose of this change management plan is to ensure that an appropriate plan is in

    place regarding all facets of the project plan. This plan is designed to prepare the project

    stakeholders for any operations and technical changes that result from the implementation of the



    A change management team will be created to facilitate, communicate, analyze and

    implement changes. The Change Management team will consist of a Change Manager and a

    Change Analyst and the Project Manager.

    The duties of each member are as follows:

    The Change Manager:

     Be accountable for all changes resulting from the project.

     Facilitate all communication between project management team and stakeholders.

     Document all suggested changes and record said decisions on those changes.

    The Change Analyst:

     Identify, document, and assess changes for their impact on the project scope/cost/timeline.

     Define and provide guidance on implementing changes.

     Participate in change evaluation.

     Monitor the effectiveness of made changes.

    The Project Manager:

     Work with change manager and change analyst to keep project scope updated with

    potential changes.

     Communicate any potential changes with the project team.

     Define new timelines and expectations as needed to project team and stakeholders.

     Keep an open dialogue between the project team, change management team and the



    Section 7: Risk Management

    Risks would include: delays such as in weather-related delays issues that would cause days

    of not working on the construction and site set up, waiting on approvals for more resources, lack of

    communication between departments for approvals, and difficulties in training on the new duties.

    Also, website outages would affect student logins. The risks should be identified and addressed

    immediately by the project manager in order to making adjustments as needed for the project.

  • Section 8: Performance Assessment
  • performance assessment is meant to improve the quality of the adult education center since

    it provides insight into the public’s behavior as the project got implemented. The project

    management team will have to employ the use of key performance indicators (KPI)

    1. Budget control-by recording the salaries paid out to permanent staff during a

    reporting time. By assigning specific departments and people budgets and holding them


    2. Using a survey will be done on the students every month to rate the program on its

    effectiveness. Every quarter of the year a test will be issued out to students to stablish whether the

    program works.

    In order to implement a performance measure on the provision of education the use of the

    balance score card on the teaching staff can be implemented. The balance score card would have a

    direct implication on whether the concerned staff was effective at his work.


    Abad, Z. S. H., Gervasi, V., Zowghi, D., & Far, B. H. (2019, May). Supporting analysts by

    dynamic extraction and classification of requirements-related knowledge. In 2019

    Michael Dillon
    always have a concluding paragraph


    IEEE/ACM 41st International Conference on Software Engineering (ICSE) (pp. 442-453).


    McClory, S., Read, M., & Labib, A. (2017). Conceptualising the lessons-learned process in project

    management: Towards a triple-loop learning framework. International Journal of Project

    Management, 35(7), 1322-1335.

    Nylander, E., Österlund, L. & Fejes, A. (2018). Exploring the Adult Learning Research Field by

    Analysing Who Cites Whom. Vocations and Learning 11, 113–131.


    Appendix B

    Stakeholder Analysis Matrix

    Name Level* Engagement** Concerns

    John Owen Project

    Resistant Is concerned about the impact
    on her unit. The project may
    mean her unit has less work
    going forward.

    Mary Oak Human

    Resistant Is concerned that the professors
    may feel overburdened by the
    new duties

    Cate Bolt Shareholders/

    Concern Concerned whether the
    proposed project might lead to
    the attainment of expected

    Brian Harper Engineering
    firm/ through
    the project

    Concern Is concerned that the new
    constructions might
    compromise existing structures
    and related systems

    Phyllis Octo Architect Concern Is concerned whether the
    construction will be done in the
    allocated time

    Job Bernie


    Resistant Is concerned that students
    might not be willing to learn in
    the same environment as
    college students

    Michael Dillon
    were is A?


    Appendix C

    Stakeholder Interview Questions

    Question Who to ask

    Is there anything that you anticipate challenging the success
    of the project?

    John Owen (the project

    What are the challenges that you expect to deal with by
    having the new program site next to the college?

    Phillis Octo (architect)

    Do you have a contingency plan in place, incase, the project
    does not yield the returns you anticipate?

    Robert Hedge (investor)

    Michael Dillon
    should have more questions

      Section 1: Summary
      Section 2: Phasing

    • Section 3: Schedule – Milestones 
    • Section 4: Resources 
    • Section 5: Organization 
    • Section 6: Change Management 
    • Section 7: Risk Management  
    • Section 8: Performance Assessment

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