December 14, 2017


Project management advice, tips, tools and recommended resources for existing and aspiring project managers.

PMP Exam: A fun way to become PMP certified

By Samantha Shore

With many organisations aiming to improve their project management maturity, there has been a big emphasis in the past few years on using professional project managers to execute their project portfolios. Project management is becoming more and more central to conducting all forms of business, hence the profession is experiencing rapid growth.

Brain Sensei e-learningSo, in this climate where the traditional corporate professional is not the only one interested in becoming PMP certified, there are options that exist to prepare the more non-traditional workers and their (potentially) non-traditional schedule for the PMP exam. One of these emerging options is Brain Sensei e-Learning.

A fun way to study

Brain Sensei offers learners an effective and fun way to study, while collecting the needed 35 contact hours at the same time. Founders John Estrella, PhD, CMC, PMP and Chris Stafford, MBA, PMP aimed to offer a service that they weren’t able to find when preparing for their own PMP exams – one that didn’t put them to sleep. Their solution to the problem was to create an e-learning program that pairs key knowledge points with fun animated videos to reinforce them and uses several types of interactive self-assessments to help learners gauge how they’re progressing. These features help users of Brain Sensei to stay engaged with the material, understand it more clearly, and remember key concepts when it counts: for example, during their PMP exam!

PMP Exam Prep Course

Brain Sensei self assessmentThe Complete PMP Exam Prep Course is $399. It is composed of six online modules (also available for individual purchase) that cover the 5 Project Management process groups, as well as over 900 practice exam questions.

Each module follows the story of a female samurai in Feudal Japan as she overcomes adversity. The modules come equipped with summaries of key concepts, self-assessment quizzes, and contact hours. The Complete PMP Exam Prep Course and individual modules are available to users for a period of 6 months after purchase, so that learners can work at their own pace, and easily review material before their exam.

Mobile access

Students are not limited to using their computer to complete Brain Sensei courses, but can also use their tablet or smartphone to access the material, wherever they are. To learn more about how Brain Sensei modules work check out their course selection and for a limited time test out the first module for free.

Becoming PMP certified is a career move that brings with it many benefits – better opportunities, higher pay and increased job stability. With features designed to engage users and cater to multiple learning styles, Brain Sensei is a fresh take on e-learning that makes getting your PMP certification not only achievable, but also fun.

About Brain Sensei

Brain Sensei is a Registered Education Provider (REP) with the Project Management Institute and an eLearning company that offers online courses to help people prepare for the Project Management Professional exam. Their mission is to provide simple and innovative courses by using an animated story to reinforce key project management concepts and to make it easier for you to absorb information. Also visit them on Facebook, Twitter for pearls of Project Management Wisdom.

Best Practice: Project Governance Framework

By Linky van der Merwe

This article will focus specifically on Project Governance that determines the effectiveness of the project manager (PM). You will find an explanation of what Project Governance is, why you need it, who is responsible for it and how to use it, with principles and examples to make it clear.

Project Governance Framework


What is Project Governance?

Project Governance is an oversight function that is aligned with an organisation’s governance model and that encompasses the project life cycle.

The Project Management Body of Knowledge Guide (PMBOK) definition is:

“The alignment of project objectives with the strategy of the larger organisation by the project sponsor and project team. A project’s governance is defined by and required to fit within the larger context of the program or organisation sponsoring it, but is separate from organisational governance.”

Click here for PMI’s Practice Guide on Governance of Portfolios, Programs and Projects.

Projects are undertaken to achieve strategic business outcomes. Many organisations adopt formal organisational governance processes and procedures. Organisational governance criteria can impose constraints on projects especially if projects are for new products or services.

A project manager needs to be knowledgeable about corporate governance policies and procedures pertaining to the product/services in question; this tends to be very industry related.

Why Project Governance?

A project governance framework provides the project manager and team with structured processes, decision-making models and tools for managing the project while supporting and controlling the project for successful delivery. Governance is critical for any project, especially on complex and risky projects.

The governance framework provides a comprehensive, consistent method of controlling the projects. Governance will ensure success by defining, documenting and communicating reliable and repeatable project practices.

Governance provides important deliverable acceptance criteria and success measures to measure the benefits and success of your projects.

Who is responsible for Project Governance?

In many organisations a Project Management Office (PMO) exists. The PMO is responsible for  defining and owning the project governance framework.

The PMO also plays a decisive role for project governance that involves:

  • Documented policies, procedures and standards
  • Health Checks – Are we doing right things? Are we using right process? Do we conform to standards?
  • Stakeholders

Where to document Project Governance

The project governance approach should be described in the project management plan, which is the planning document compiled by the PM to describe how a project will be executed, monitored and controlled.

The PM is responsible and accountable for setting realistic and achievable boundaries for the project and to accomplish the project within the approved baselines.

How to use Project Governance

Use project governance to ensure that Project Portfolios are aligned to corporate goals. It will then form the basis to see that projects are delivered efficiently and that the interests of project staff and other stakeholders are aligned.

Governance will also ensure that the Project Board/Steering Committee and major stakeholders are provided with timely, relevant, and accurate information.

Principles of Project Governance

Here are a few key principles for project governance:

  • Projects should be clearly linked to key business objectives.
  • There should be clear senior management ownership of projects.
  • There should be effective engagement with Stakeholders.
  • Projects should be driven by long-term value, rather than short-term costs.
  • Projects should be broken down into manageable steps.

Examples of Project Governance Framework elements

Here are examples of elements included in a project governance framework:

  • Guidelines for aligning project governance and organisational strategy
  • A process to identify, escalate, resolve issues that arise during the project
  • Relationship among project teams, organisational groups and external stakeholders
  • Project organisational chart that identifies project roles
  • Processes and procedures for communication of information
  • Project decision-making processes
  • Project life-cycle approach including the transfer to Operations and readiness of business
  • Process for stage gate or phase reviews – Authorise to proceed. Approval of process/documents.
  • Process for review and approval for changes to budget, scope, quality, schedule which are beyond the authority of the PM

Operate within the Project Governance Framework

You can see that Project Governance is an oversight function that is applicable throughout the life cycle of a project.

Project governance determines the effectiveness of the project manager, because governance gives a framework for making project decisions, defines roles, responsibilities and accountabilities for the success of the project.

It’s important that you as project managers, understand project governance, that you document it on your projects, that you apply it as a consistent method of controlling your projects, and by doing this you will hugely improve your chances for successful project delivery.

Every successful project you complete, will bring you closer to being recognised as a competent, efficient and professional project manager who can be followed as a leader and entrusted with strategic projects and programmes.

How can I use this information as a Project Manager or PMO?

I’ve created a free Project Governance Framework Reference Guide to remind you of the What, Why, Who, When and How of Project Governance.

Click below to download the Free Reference Guide today!
Download a free Project Governance Framework Reference Guide


Governance is one of the 6 pillars of the Growth Framework that I have developed to help you remember the essential elements of running projects successfully. Visit Project Manager Growth to subscribe for more information and a free Growth Framework Infographic.

PMI Survey – Pulse of the Profession 2016

By Linky van der Merwe

PMI Survey - Pulse of the ProfessionRecently PMI has conducted their 8th global project management survey and published the results in the PMI’s Pulse of the Profession 2016 Report, called: “The High Cost of Low Performance”.

While expecting to see improvement from previous years, the results showed a decline in projects meeting their goals. The aim of this research is to strengthen conversations about the benefits project management delivers to organisations.

Here are a few highlights of the report, and click here for Pulse of the Profession 2016.

In line with the PMI Talent Triangle that embodies a skill set combination of technical, leadership, and strategic and business management expertise, 40% more projects will meet their goals and original intent if they are managed by PM’s with these skills.

Organisations that align their EPMO with strategy report 27% more projects deliver successfully, and 42% fewer projects with scope creep.

When more than 80 percent of projects have an actively engaged executive sponsor, 65 percent more projects are successful. Yet, on average, only three in five projects have engaged executive sponsors.

Many challenges remain, like the fact that only 6 out of 10 organisations use standardised project management practices and benefits realisation remains low on 17%.

The demand for skilled and experienced project/program managers are on the rise.

Recommendations are made to address the situation including the following:

  1. Invest in ongoing project manager training
  2. Offer defined career path to those engaged in project or programme management
  3. Establish formal processes to develop project management competencies
  4. Transfer knowledge

Many benefits of formal project management are given, but the most important message is to keep spreading discussion around the strategic value of project management by following proven practices like aligning the PMO with organisational strategy, and more as explained in the Report.

In response to the challenges that exist and following recommendations made by the PMI, I have developed a Fast-track Growth Program to assist business professionals who are new to the project manager role, to help them become competent, confident and efficient. The online education teaches critical project management competencies like technical skills you need for the role, soft skills you use daily, the importance of governance, how to overcome common challenges and avoid typical pitfalls. It also addresses career options and helps to define a career path.  Project managers will walk away with a personalised growth and development plan to take action immediately.

Fast-track Growth ProgramThis accelerated Growth Program is available to all new or accidental project managers, as well as PMO Managers who want to improve skills of new project managers at their organisations. Please visit today and help to improve the project management maturity that will lead to more success!

Time Management: Gantt Chart as a Planning Tool

By Linky van der Merwe

Most existing project managers would know that Gantt Charts are popular tools to use for a visual presentation of a project schedule. Although numerous software tools make provision for Gantt Charts, the most widely used tool remains Microsoft Project.

For new or aspiring project managers, it’s important to understand that Gantt Charts come about as a result of the Time Management activities in the Planning process on a project.

Schedule Creation

When creating a project schedule, the order of the planning activities is important as explained below:

  1. Define activities by identifying all the specific actions to be performed to produce the project deliverables
  2. Sequence activities by identifying the relationships among project activities.
  3. Estimate activity resources by identifying the type and quantities of material, human resources, equipment etc to perform each activity.
  4. Estimate activity durations by analysing the work effort needed to complete each activity with the estimated resources.
  5. Develop the schedule – this is where activities are documented in a schedule (gantt chart) in the right sequence, with durations, resource assignments and constraints

History of the Gantt Chart

Wrike has created an interesting Infographic to display the origins or timeline of the Gantt Chart, the anatomy and how it’s used, as well as the benefits of using Gantt Charts on projects.

What is a Gantt Chart
Wrike Project Management Software

6 Email Productivity Tips

Time management tips for emailAs project managers, we are all inundated with emails daily. Therefore, I want to share the 6 Time Management tips to manage your email from BrightWork to help us become more productive as professional project managers.

Tip #1

Set special time aside for emails and turn off all email notifications.

Tip #2

Clear your Inbox once a day or at least weekly. This one I struggle with, but I do manage to read and action all my emails daily.

Tip #3

Eliminate multiple folders for different type of emails. Create one ARCHIVE folder for emails you want to keep and use the Search function to find them. With my ‘blue’ analytical personality, I still prefer folders, hence, it takes longer to clear my Inbox.

Tip #4

If you get the same questions again and again or you need to share the same information weekly, create an email in drafts answering the common questions.

Tip #5

Don’t reply to an email when you are angry. I believe anyway that it’s better to deal with conflict in person and keep emails for information sharing that is unemotional; that is more professional.

Tip #6

Have a systematic, simple email management process in place.

Click here for the Infographic: 6 Time Management Tips to manage your email

Let us know in the comments sections what other email tips you have!
Please click below to subscribe to Virtual Project Consulting not to miss any future updates!

Virtual Project Consulting

Book Review: Leadership Toolbox for Project Managers

By Linky van der Merwe

Leadership Toolbox for PMThe aim of the book, Leadership Toolbox for Project Managers, written by Michel Dion, is to help equip project managers to manage projects in a dynamic, complex and unpredictable environment. The book is focused on Leadership including self-awareness, vision, strategic thinking, decision making and interaction with others.

Career Advancement

Many project managers were experts in other fields before they learned the skills of Project Management. As project managers are assigned to more complex, strategic projects they need to add leadership skills to their Toolbox of Technical Project Management skills.

Michel emphasizes Continuous Learning as part of the Foundation you need before focusing on Leadership skills. What I liked about his book, is that he starts with looking at the leader as a Person, and looking after your own well-being first, instead of putting it as an after-thought at the end of the book. He gives guidance on modifying your behaviour with the key qualities of a leader and to develop a high level of self-awareness. He puts much focus on values and ethics that influence leadership actions and decisions.

I like his opinion that people is the critical asset to the project’s success, including the team, the project sponsor, users and any other stakeholders. And I agree that the value contribution of a project will be measured by all these people.

Leadership skills

Another important Leadership skill is Delegation for which Michel provides the questions to ask when delegating tasks. He explains how to create a learning environment and how to keep adding value while delegating.

Towards the end of the book Michel publishes interesting Leadership survey results about project challenges, strengths and weaknesses in being effective leaders.

Michel laid out strategic thinking and decision making in the project context very well, convincing the reader that learning leadership is a journey and not a specific formula that can be applied the same way on every project.


In my opinion, the only improvement that can be made to the book, is to provide some exercises or perhaps actions steps that the reader can take to help them along on their leadership growth journey.

I will recommend this book to all aspiring project managers as well as existing project managers who seek to develop their leadership capabilities to help them cope in the increasingly dynamic and complex project environments that we are having to manage projects today!

The book is available on Amazon: Leadership Toolbox for Project Managers: Achieve better results in a dynamic world by Michel A. Dion (22-Apr-2015) Paperback, as well as on Michel Dion’s website, Project-Aria.

Reflections on 2015

2015Another year is coming to an end which calls for a personal reflection on the year of 2015. What a wonderful journey it has been with numerous highs and very few low points.


Memorable moments

There were plenty of highlights in 2015. At work we concluded a 14-month long Programme successfully. I facilitated a number of closing workshops and project reviews on lessons learnt. Many new relationships were developed with a few growing into friendships that will outlast the projects. What will make this Programme very memorable, is the honour of receiving a CIO award for Delivery Excellence at the end.

As one Programme came to an end, I moved on to the next Programme with its own challenges, complexities and relationships to be formed with new team members. And in that lies the pleasure and fulfilment of being a professional project manager. There is never a dull moment and what an interesting journey to get to know new processes, systems and new people. To work with and appreciate all the talented individuals who are chosen to work on big corporate Programmes.

Virtual Project Consulting

As far as Online activities are concerned, our presence through Virtual Project Consulting, continued to grow as a website with the most comprehensive recommended resources about project management software, training, products, books and events.

In the blog section appeared several articles covering leadership, change management, project methodology, project success stories from experienced project managers, guest posts, reviews of different project software, how to compare online project management software, Agile project management and emotional intelligence among others. Podcasts of our Best Practice articles, as well as the Success Stories have been published.

Contributing Author

This year a Book opportunity presented itself to me through an invitation to contribute a Chapter to a book about the Strategic Integration of Social Media into Project Management Practice, due for publishing in 2016. This came about as a result of the extensive research I have conducted in prior years around the use of social media for small business marketing, and more specifically in the project management context. See more in Social Media for Project Managers.



On the personal front, I am privileged to share that 18 December 2015 is my 22 year wedding anniversary, and I consider it a blessing to be happily married with three children as a reminder of our faithful commitment to each other.

Game Changers

There were a few events that shifted my priorities this year. I worked with a coach who really helped to broaden my perspective, but at the same time, who guided me to focus on getting specific things done that will contribute greatly to growing my online business in future. Some strategic partnerships were also formed which could lead to interesting new opportunities in the new year.

Growth Program for New Project ManagersI had my first experience of running my own webinars, of doing a Pilot training program and eventually developing a fully online, self-paced Growth Program for New Project Managers aimed especially at the many Accidental Project Managers in every organisation.

This makes me look forward to making more contributions to the project management field in future. Like a quote from Audrey Hepburn saying: “Nothing is impossible, the word itself says I’m possible”.

I will continue to live and work my passions and to always be grateful. I wish you a happy and fulfilling time with your loved ones over Christmas and a Prosperous New Year in 2016!

Virtual Project ConsultingIf it’s your first time visiting, please subscribe to Virtual Project Consulting not to miss future future articles, tips and success stories!



10 Principles for Effective Steercom Meetings

By Liz Dewing

Steering Committee effectiveness is achieved by keeping things: Sufficient, Objective, and Succinct (SOS)!

An Executive Sponsor’s worst nightmare is to be surprised by a development on a project….. particularly if that surprise occurs in a public forum when they haven’t had the opportunity to prepare themselves. One way to avoid surprises is to maximize the effectiveness of Steering Committees.

What are the needs

Executive needs are relatively straightforward:

  • To be kept up-to-speed on progress in general and security of benefits in particular.
  • To be informed about specific issues or obstacles that are hindering progress (and any significant risks threatening to materialize.)
  • Opportunity to collectively discuss and determine what actions can be taken to address these – with the RIGHT people at the RIGHT time.
  • To inform the project about anything forthcoming that may affect the work / require changes.
  • To achieve this in the least possible time.

On the other hand Project Teams need:

  • Decisions and Actions and commitment to doing it.
  • Information – to help move things along.
  • Guidance – about things they may not know with their limited organizational view.

Regular one-on-ones between the Sponsor and Project Manager can address the bulk of these needs. Where Steering Committee Meetings add real value is when robust collaborative discussion is needed amongst invested leaders who may have differing perspectives and agendas but who must arrive at mutually acceptable decisions in order for work to progress.

Ten Key Principles

Here are 10 key principles to support really effective Steercoms.

#1 Keep the attendee as limited as possible

Only those people who have designated authority to make things happen should attend Steercoms… they are NOT a place for people who simply need to be kept informed.

#2 Avoid repetition

Finalise Minutes and address and resolve actions from previous meetings BEFORE the next Steering Committee. Anything that remains unresolved can be discussed as an Issue.

#3 Avoid revisiting things

If a topic is coming up at Steercom over and over again it is an indication that there is an underlying issue that is NOT being adequately addressed. Identify it. Express it clearly, and escalate it.

#4 Keep an action focus

Make it easy for the Steercom members to make decisions by providing sufficient relevant information in the right formats and be very explicit about what is expected.

NOTE : Make sure the group understand the difference between discussion and decision. Many Steering Committees discuss things at length but fail to ever actually formalize a clear decision as a result.

#5 Keep the ‘routine’ consistent and predictable

Following a consistent process and format using a consistent process, format and tools, allows members to focus on content with full attention.

#6 Make sure mechanisms that are used are understood

For Example – Red / Amber / Green statuses are often interpreted very differently by different people.

#7 Celebrate achievement

This is so that successes become part of the routine as well as challenges – Steercoms that focus purely on problem-solving are very draining!

#8 Always be fully prepared

Minutes circulated and approved, progress on actions up-to-date and distributed for review, a detailed agenda and any pre-reading required sent out in advance, and an up-to-date dashboard available for review. Being prepared also means the Sponsor has had a briefing ahead of time and knows what to expect in terms of content AND potential for conflict.

Build a culture of preparedness and lead by example.

#9 Insist on Ownership from the Steering Committee members

A Project Manager is a Facilitator of outcomes, not an Owner. The Executive and Business Owners are the ones who need to live with, derive benefit from and continue to operate the outcomes of a project, so they must take responsibility for ensuring what is delivered WILL meet their needs.

#10 Steercom SOS

Remember that Steering Committee effectiveness is achieved by keeping things: Sufficient, Objective, and Succinct!



Liz Dewing-Magnetic NorthAbout the Author: Liz Dewing has an extensive career in IT, Project and Project Office Management with various organisations, including 13 years with Old Mutual South Africa. After 8 years running a Strategy Delivery Project Office for the OM Mass Market division, Liz left to focus on Magnetic North – a Consultancy through which she helps people to use their powers of speech more effectively in business and career.

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