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Remove contingency

How many times have you heard this while creating estimates? Or how many times has the thought of doing this crossed your mind?

Regardless, contingency is needed in all your estimates, and it’s important to protect it.

A few typical misconceptions about contingency

It’s so we can give stakeholders added value throughout the project
Contingency is often seen as this bundle of money we can use to give stakeholders some freebies as the project evolves and they make requests. Although in some circumstances it can help improve or maintain the relationship with the stakeholders if used wisely, it is still scope creep at the end of the day and can have a larger impact on your project then you think.

It adds unnecessary costs
Some people simply do not know what contingency is and think it’s added costs that could prevent a potential contract to be signed.

Without it, we simply need to be efficient with our hours
This one is by far my favorite of them all; when it’s suggested to drop contingency, knowing how important it is, but compensating by “Being efficient with our budget”.

The first thing that comes to mind when I hear this is that we should always be efficient with our budget…But maybe that’s just me😉

A few facts about contingency

It’s used to compensate the fact that an estimate is a guess
No matter how much time we spend on estimates, and how detailed and beautiful it is, it is still a guess. Short of seeing into the future, there is no way to 100 % accurately predict stakeholder feedback, project evolution, issues, or even actual time needed for all tasks.

An estimate is a guess, therefore we can expect to be over or under our estimate and contingency is there to help us prevent overage in these cases.

It’s expected to be spent
There are exceptions of course, but most project will use the contingency that was planned, keeping this in mind will make you focus on making sure your project has one.

It varies per project
Contingency is often calculated as a percentage of the total effort/costs or it can also be fixed amounts. For example, you can calculate 15% of hours estimated for the project, or apply the same percentage to your external costs for vendors, but you could also calculate a fixed amount for procurement based on your judgement or what makes sense.

Regardless, it varies depending of the project just like an estimate will vary, and must not be an amount that’s fixed across all projects (unless they all have the same budget of course).

How to do something about it?


One of the main reason contingency is often put aside is because it’s not properly understood. One of the best way to protect it is to explain to colleagues what it truly is, and how it should be used. Contingency’s definition or uses varies depending of people’s own experiences.

Depending of your role, it might be something you can do agency-wide, or it might be something you can do one person at a time as they tell you to remove it.

If you take the time to explain, you will be surprised how the team members can jump to other alternatives to reduce costs instead of removing contingency.

Be reasonable
Contingency is still more costs to your project, although needed, it still needs to be reasonable, based on knowledge on stakeholders, scope clarity, level of team’s expertise on that type of projects, and many other factors that can influence it. If you exaggerate the amount of contingency needed, you will then create a natural tendency for people to want to remove it, or your costs will be simply too high.

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Need help with a tight schedule? – Part 2

In part 1 of the article, we’ve explored two typical ways to speed up projects and a few alternatives that can also help. Here are a few more alternatives:

Reduce stakeholder delays or revisions for feedback

As the project progress, it is a standard practice for some types of projects to have different kinds of deliveries sent to stakeholders to receive their feedback or their approval before moving forward to the next phase.

When the schedule is tight, you might be able to negotiate fewer rounds of revisions allowed or shorter delays to approve some documents.

Foe example:

  • Maybe typically the stakeholders have 5 days to provide consolidated feedback to your team. In case of a tight deadline, you might be able to negotiate 3 days instead;
  • If 3 rounds of feedback are allowed per delivery, maybe it can be reduced to 2, even 1.


  • Faster approvals or less revisions means the schedule is shorten.


  • This can add risk that stakeholders cannot meet their deadlines given and this might cause some phases to be late;
  • If rounds of revisions are removed, there is also some added risk that they find some issues later on, which you will not necessary be able to negotiate more budget or schedule since they can debate they should have had an additional revision normally.

Combine two deliveries together

This obviously applies to only a few types, but in some cases it’s possible to combien two deliveries into one, this can reduce back & forth and accelerate the project.

For example:

  • A wireframe delivery can be combined with the design phase. The final output are layouts (wireframes are implied within). Both are basically done in parallel with designers & UX designers working together. In this case, stakeholders would approved the user interface at the same time as the design work;
  • Simple website pages that derive from approve pages can be delivered only once developed, without any prior wireframe or design work. All this work is implied inside the develoed pages themselves for the stakeholders to approve.


  • Be combining (or removing) deliveries, hence removing approval phases because of the reduced quantity of deliveries, this shortens a schedule quite a lot.


  • This adds risk of rework since stakeholders see more of the work accomplished at the same time, therefore can have feedback on more elemets, thus creating more rework. In our example above with layouts, if the user interface itself doesn’t please stakeholders and must be revised, this means the layouts must be revised accordingly as well.

Roll stakeholder feedback into the subsequent phase and/or deliverable

This technique can only be applied to certain types of projects, and also depends of actual feedback. Basically, instead of going through one additionnal round of feedback where you send the revised delivery and wait for feedback, you skip on to the next phase and send the revised work fused with another delivery.

For example:

  • The feedback given on the latest copy sent is that several terminology must be changed and they ask that your team proposes new copy. You could send a revised copydeck, wait for approval, then start integrating the copy inside the project, whether it’s a website, a flyer, a software, etc. Or, you could propose new copy that you integrate right away and the stakeholders can vet it directly within staging or inside layouts (a.k.a. the next delivery).


  • This can remove one revision’s delay therefore saving time in the project’s budget;
  • Sometimes this can also help stakeholder approves certain elements (like copy) inside a different context, helping them understand.


  • This can add risk of rework if the revised work done according to the feedback received is still not approved. In order to mitigate this, it’s ideal to use this technique when the feedback is fairly straightforward.

Putting case issues aside or reduce the “pixel perfect” expectations

In IT projects, running into issues with a particular OS or browser that affects only a few people is quite recurrant. When these issues are found, it doesn’t mean it’s worth spending time to fix those issues.

For example:

  • Older versions of Internet Explorer show the form 2 pixels more to the left than it should; this is barely visible to anyone and older versions of IE may be used only by a small percentage of visitors;
  • If a user does 4 specific steps to reproduce the issue, only to have a blank space added to his menu until he refreshes the screen; this is not a showstopper, nor does it happen often that a user reproduces it.


  • You can save a lot of time trying to find solutions to issues that may never be seen by anyone or will not bother many (if any);
  • You can also reduce costs that way, which is an added perk.


  • You still risk users hitting issues and potentially complaining about it; even if the probability is low, you still reduce the quality of the work by using this technique.

Use senior resources

Depending of available resources, some more senior resources might be able to do the work quicker. This allows you to keep the same team size, but still shortened the schedule. It doesn’t necessarily mean it needs to be a senior resource, but basically anyone who can get the work done faster.

For example:

  • One of the resource in the agency is known to be fast but has very little experience with very complex development. He could very well take care of your project that is considered simple, and he’ll be able to do it faster than others;
  • A junior resource on your project thinks he can tackle a task in 35h, but another more senior colleague knows he can tackle it in about 15h;
  • Also, note that senior resources then to provide better quality work, meaning you will most likely also save time long-term by avoiding lots of issues being found in your QA cycle.


  • Tasks are done faster by more reliable resources, this can have a positive impact on your schedule since chances are, things will run more smoothly.


  • These senior resources may not be available for your project since they are already used on other more important projects;
  • These resources tend to cost more, although they should take less time.


I hope these tips can help you when you are stuck in a tight spot with deadlines, do not hesitate to send more ideas below!

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Need help with a tight schedule? – Part 1

Source: dhester

Source: dhester

One of the main concerns for project managers  is delivering the project on time. More often than we would love to admit, this can be hard, and a variety of reasons explain why it can be a challenge (events, client expectations, business need, etc.).

Either while we’re planning the initial schedule, or as the project evolves, there are many different ways to help shortened a schedule so you can deliver your project on time.

In the past, I’ve written an article that listed a few tips to help you out, here is complementary information and more alternatives:

The two typical tools that can applied to all projects are the following:

Fast Tracking

Fast Tracking consists of starting a phase of a project sooner, overlapping with the previous phase.

For example:

  • If design is only partly approve, development could start earlier with what is approved;
  • If only parts of the projects are developed, QA can start for those pieces instead of waiting for the very end of development. This could be considered more of an agile approach.


  • The duration that the 2 phases overlap is the duration removed from your overall schedule.


  • The more you fast track, the more risk you add to the project. For example, unapproved design parts that are being finished might have an impact on what was approved, and if development was started, there is a risk of rework. If you decide to fast track even more and develop before any design is approved, you add risk of rework if the client approves only parts of it (or none of it!).


Crashing is adding more resources to tasks so their duration is reduced. If you are working with external resources, it could also mean paying more to have a deliverable done faster.

For example:

  • If a website requires 240h of back-end development, and was planned with 2 resources for  3 weeks; you could add a third developer;
  • Overtime.
  • Third-party is developing the website you designed, they will deliver 2 weeks sooner, but at a cost.


  • Tasks will get done faster, meaning the project’s duration can be reduced.


  • Adding more resources can be costly, meaning the budget will take a hit. In our example above, separating 200h of work between 2 developers does not necessarily mean 100h each, just like you will not get your website done in 1 hour with 240 developers. There is added management time to communicate information to more people, there is also overhead between these people so they can communicate who does what, and if whatever they are working on is linked to one another, one’s code affect the other’s;
  • Too much overtime will tire the team, and if abused, might have worst consequences like team members leaving or left unmotivated to go on.

There are also  several other ideas that can be applied to some types of projects:

Separate project into different phases

Applicable for many types of projects, its scope can be separated into more than one delivery until the project’s completion.

For example:

  • If a software is due in 2 months since a conference is being held shortly after, only part of the software might be realistic to be delivered. You can decide to include fewer features for example, planning to roll-out updates in the subsequent weeks;
  • If a massive social campaign is starting on a certain date and you have an absurd quantity of posts to create, they do not need to be all created for the launch of the campaign. A first batch could be ready for the launch, and while those are being shared with the community, a second batch can be done, and so on.


  • Allows the on time delivery of what is realistic. This can give an enormous amount of flexibility with a project that has an unrealistic deadline, or a typical client expectation to get a project out the door as soon as possible.


  • This can add costs to your project. If a website is going live with half its pages, and you plan updates every week to add more pages, this creates the need for more deployments, which adds costs;
  • This may not fully satisfy your stakeholder(s), so it is important to manage this expectation as early as possible, ideally at the very beginning.

Reduce scope

A scope might be defined by stakeholders’ requests, or might be defined by what the team thinks is ideal for the project’s success. However, sometimes, there is just not enough time to do everything, and splitting the project might just not work. In these cases, reducing the scope might be your best bet.

For example:

  • A client asks a contest in time for summer, and they have enough budget to do something “cool” where users play a mini game to enter the contest. Unfortunately, they have decided to go forward with this last-minute, leaving very little time before the deadline. This might be a case where even if budget permits it, the idea of the contest might need to be reduced to something simpler like a simple contest where users fill a form.


  • Less work means the project can be done faster.


  • The client might not be fully satisfied with the reduced scope;
  • The grade of the project is diminished since it wasn’t built as it originally should and might not satisfy objectives as much as it could have been.
  • This removed work will also reduce the budget, meaning the organization will benefit less from this project.

Stay tuned for part 2.

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5 tips to give great project briefs

Briefing your team on the new project is a very important step and one that will give your team a good/bad first  impression on how things are going to go until the closure of the project.

Recently, I wrote about a few examples on how to give a very bad first impression ( and headaches) by giving very bad project briefs, now let’s concentrate on how great ones are given:

1. Think of it as a story

A colleague of mine gave me this great tip and I couldn’t agree more! A story is built so that anyone can jump in and understand what is going on by reading it; the same should apply to your project brief.


Describe the context of the project so that anyone can understand what they will be working with. In other words, describe  the current situation and summarize why things are as they are.

For example: a website has been build 8 years ago, back when  responsive design did not exist, and no CMS could be afforded. Today technology has evolved and CMS are more affordable with open-source platforms.


What is the issue or what causes this project to exist all of a sudden? If we use our website example, then the issue could be that the website is not mobile friendly and the client cannot make any simple modifications without the need for a developer.

This creates the need, and gives birth to the project just like it would with a story.


Explain what will happen so that the project can be completed. In other words, list deliverables and what’s expected for each. For example: the team will deliver a concept idea for a new contest, than layouts of the contest, and then the team will develop it.


Talk about all stakeholders (team, client, third-parties, etc.) and everyone does.

2. List clear, measurable objectives

The objective of the project will guide the team towards the right path. If one of the objectives is to “create brand awareness” then the social media campaign they build will differ from a campaign that used to gather emails to send future promotions.

Make sure the objectives are measurable, if they are not, then they will be open to interpretation and you will not be able to assess properly if they are met or not. A good example of measurable would be “Gather 5000 new fans on the Facebook page” versus “Gather new fans…”.

3. Make sure it’s clear who does what

Here you want to make sure to explain what the team will be doing; is it a website? social media campaign? Mobile app? Is it more than one thing?

Within this, list what needs to be done is not implied/guessed; list it clearly.

Keep in mind that third-parties or clients are also stakeholders that have responsibilities within the project and listing their responsibilities is important to the team; both to make them understand the full context and also to know who to talk to during the project.

4. Answer all questions

The team will ask questions when they are briefed, that’s practically inevitable; you have to make sure all questions are answered. If you cannot answer right away, list all questions  so that you can speak to who you have to in order to get the answers as quick as possible.

If you do not answer your team’s questions, how can you expect them to deliver what is needed?

5. Keep it simple to read

Just like every document you create, if it’s too long and hard to read and nobody uses it, then even if all important information is available, the goal of the document will be skipped. Makes sure it’s well formated including proper titles, use lists, you can even highlight key information, and keep sentences as short as possible.

In conclusion

How a project starts gives a good idea of how the project itself will be throughout it’s life-cycle which is why it’s important to give good project briefs so that the team can be confident the project will go well. This will not only make sure they know what they are expected to do, but also it will motivate them to deliver.


If you have more tips, don’t hesitate to share below!

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Is negativity affecting your team?

It’s not new that people talk or write about how it’s important to be positive in every aspect of your life. There are also thousands of examples of how/why positivity can a great impact on your life whether it’s in your personal life or at work. However, we often overlook the impact negativity has on us, and everyone around us.

Online project management technology research and review site Software Advice recently let me know that they conducted an online survey of 1,552 adults to reveal whether people observed negative emotions at work, and whether this impacted their personal mood and performance.

Key findings of their report indicated that:  

  • 84% witnessed a co-worker exhibiting negative emotions with varying levels of frequency
  • 73% witnessed a manager exhibiting negative emotions with varying levels of frequency
  • 75% reported both their mood and productivity would be affected by negative emotions in the workplace

You can view the full report here.

As a project manager, why should I care?

There are two sides to why this is important to any project managers:

1. This negative impact means it affects your projects

If team members working on your projects are unmotivated by the negativity, this means that the quality of your project will suffer. It also means you can expect overage and lack of support when the going gets tough. This can have a dramatic effect on a project if it’s not controlled. Software Advice’s report states that productivity can be affected up to 40%; this is a huge impact on your projects.

2. As a leadership role, you can spread this negativity

This is really important because it means you have a lot of impact on your team’s emotions. Make sure you are aware if you are being negative, otherwise you may be causing damage to your team’s productivity without knowing it.

What can we do as project managers?

The most important thing you can do is always have a positive attitude. The positivity will spread and help fight negativity. Furthermore, if you are constantly positive, and you need to have a one-on-one talk with a negative member, it will be easier to convince him.

If a project gets tough (or ridiculous) and you need to vent, either do it far away from your team, or do it with a smile and laugh about it; turn the situation into something you can laugh at as a team. Believe me, it works a lot more than complaining!

If you don’t think you can handle the negativity by yourself, have others jump in (managers, directors, team leads, etc.) and ask them to spread positivity; it will spread a lot easier if many jump-in.

Software Advice mentions a few other tips that are very interesting, namely: Track Your Team’s Emotions, Promote Emotional Intelligence, Be Attentive to Anger, and Have One-on-One Conversations.

In conclusion

Negativity is something we all face one day or another; make sure it doesn’t come from you, and make sure to do your best to eliminate it from your team. You will then notice that your projects tend to execute a lot better.

Spread the positivity, have any tips?🙂

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5 tips to help control your project’s budget

Controling your project’s budget can be challenging; there are many obstacles that can lower your budget’s health but there are many tactics you can use to keep it healthy.

Here a are a few tips to help:

1. Reduce scope

As simple as this may sound, we may be so focused on the client’s requests that considering to reduce scope skips our mind. However, often the scope includes lots of “nice to haves”, which means that your project could be just as successful without a few of the requested features .

By identifying and removing those “nice to haves”, you can reduce costs and focus on what’s really necessary.

2. Leverage past work

Leveraging work from other projects can save a lot of time in a new project. This is often an overlooked strategy and for 2 main reasons:

  1. Lack of visibility of what’s been done: We cannot be aware of everything that is available within an agency. Therefore, there may some parts of past projects that could be re-used that you are not aware of.In order to help with that, communicate with your colleagues, or search through the agency’s archives.
  2. Lack of actual available materials: Not everything that is created is made with flexibility in mind. This means that the chances you can re-use most elements can be very low. Creating something that is re-usable generally takes more time initially, and people will often use the faster path due to tight deadlines or simple lack of time. This approach is good for short term, but on the long term you can leverage less work.

3. Use experienced resources

Resources with more experience are bound to cost more, however, they will execute the work in less time. Furthermore, they will require less effort to manage them. All of this will save

Be mindful that depending of the work, experienced resources may not be motivated and render them less cost-effective; make sure it is interesting or challenging enough for them.

4. Reduce meetings

This one can be tough since people like to set meetings. They give the illusion of being productive when in reality they are known for the exact opposite; unproductive, and often useless. If you have regular status meetings with your team, consider reducing the amount and fill the gap with a few quick emails or maybe even just making sure whatever PM tool you use is updated properly and you can simply have a look.

If you do some quick math, imagine a weekly 1h meeting with your team consisting of 10 members. This goes on throughout your 6 month project. That’s 260h hours spent in meetings. Opinions vary but meetings are often up to 80-90% inefficient, this means that around 200h are potentially wasted on your project.

5. Use a smaller team

Smaller teams cost less and they are easier to manage. Furthermore, if no two people share the same role, than there is no need to spend additional time to make sure the team members do not overlap their work.

In order to be able to have a small team, this requires a realistic schedule that enables the team to work with a smaller velocity.


4 tips to be diplomatic in tough conversations

Often you will be faced to tell someone something he may not want to hear, whether it’s a bad news, giving an answer to a question that you know will not please, or maybe it’s a last-minute request.

Regardless, there are many different ways to communicate this, some of which are more efficient than others. Here are some tips to help you deliver a message the right way:

1. Watch your facial expression and body language

One thing that can speak louder than words is your body language , so be careful how you look when you have something “tricky” to say or ask.

For example, avoid having a smile when you are announcing a bad news to someone; it may be because you are nervous, but you still need to be careful because it can greatly offend who you are talking to.

There are many things to consider when thinking about body language which will not be covered in this article, but a quick research on the web and you’ll easily find plenty of tips🙂

2. Do not beat around the bush but balance it

If you have something to say, say it in a reasonnably short amount of time.  If you talk, and talk, and talk, and never get to the point, the person you are talking to may get irritated, more worried, or worst, and will be less likely to be open-minded about what you are going to say.

Do be careful and balance how you handle this; a short introduction or a small “Sorry but…” never hurts, if you cut everything to the bone and drop the bomb, you may also come as too abrupt.

3. Explain why

Receiving a bad news or a last-minute request is never really fun, but not knowing why it has to be that way can be even worst; take the time to explain the context and answer questions, this will help motivate or attenuate any negative feelings.

4. Listen, and care for the response

Most likely the person will want to explain/justify or even ventilate; whatever it is, part of being diplomatic is not only how you share the information but also how you are overall inside the conversation. If you do not care about what the person replies, or if you listen but give no follow-up answer, it will frustrate the other even more.

In conclusion

Diplomacy is very important and will help you in all the communication you are involved in. Take this seriously and the result may surprise you!