My Dad’s Old Flame

Yesterday I won at the Toastmasters Humorous Speech Contest that was given at the Area level in Yorba Linda, CA.   Here is the text of that speech… 

When people ask me about my family heritage, I first give them the simple answer: I’m half German on my mother’s side and half Irish on my Dad’s side. But in reality, many of the so-called Irish side of our family originally came to Ireland from Scotland. So, a more accurate description would be to say that many of our family members are half German, half Irish, and more than a fifth of Scotch.

Fellow Toastmasters and welcome guests, there was a family reunion on my Irish side that happened 20 years ago that I remember as if it happened yesterday. It’s when I found out how well my sister was able to keep calm in a crisis and how much my father cared for my mother. I had just graduated with my Master’s Degree from the University of Illinois, and my sister Nora had just finished her residency as an emergency room physician. She and I were ready for a vacation. That opportunity presented itself when Bob and Betty, our cousins in Indiana, announced that were holding the Rowley family reunion on the 4th of July weekend at their farmhouse in Indiana. My Dad’s birthday was on July 3rd, so we decided to combine the celebrations.

My Mother made his favorite cake, German chocolate (naturally), and I drove Nora, my Mom and my Dad from Chicago to Bob and Betty’s farmhouse in Indiana. We all had a great time catching up with news from our relatives over lunch.

After lunch, my sister Nora and I went to Betty’s kitchen to decorate Dad’s birthday cake with candles. Cousin Bob was in charge of the fireworks for the 4th of July, and he loved his fireworks. When he saw us putting candles on the cake, Bob said, “I’ve got a great idea!” “Let’s put sparklers on it instead!” Nora had this dubious look on her face, but Bob insisted. By the time he was done, there were so many sparklers that, had they been on the underside of the cake, we could have delivered it to the astronauts orbiting up in up in space on the space station.

Bob lit the first sparkler, and about five seconds later–WOOMPH! I was alarmed to see giant ball of flame that had once been my Mother’s cake. I didn’t want to set off Betty’s kitchen fire alarm, so I grabbed the biggest oven mitts I could find and ran with the cake towards the pavilion, singing “Happy Birthday to You! Happy Birthday to You!” in double time. I got halfway across the lawn to the pavilion when I encountered the skateboard belonging to Bob’s son Ben.

I pitched forward and the cake flew out of my hands at 45-degree angle like a shot of a shovel, straight towards the pavilion—and my mother. My mother didn’t see it coming because was walking towards the pavilion and had her back to me, but Aunt Charlotte saw it and yelled, “Duck, Duck!” to warn my Mother to get out of the way.

My mother looked confusedly to the left and right, but just stood there. Luckily the cake just grazed her head and hit the far wall of the pavilion. While the cousins were cleaning up the sparklers and the chocolate and coconut shrapnel from the cake, Aunt Charlotte ran up to mother and said “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, child you gave me such a fright! Why didn’t you get your head down when I told you to duck?”

My mother, asked “Duck?” and then it dawned on her. “When you said, ‘Duck, duck’ I was looking around and trying to see where was the duck.” Aunt Charlotte thought this literal-minded interpretation of what she had said was hysterical, and she doubled up in laughter. She laughed so hard that she could scarcely breathe, and then after about a minute, the expression on her face changed—she said she felt a little faint, and worse, said she felt “palpitations.” Uncle Joe heard this and started yelling “she’s having a heart attack!” at the top of his voice.

This got the whole pavilion in an uproar, and Nora walked through the crowd like the eye of a hurricane. “Excuse me; I’m here to help Charlotte.” Uncle Joe said, “Nora, thank goodness, you’re just in time—we need you to go and get a doctor.” She said, “I AM a doctor,” and gave Uncle Joe a look which told him that he would be the next casualty if he said one more word.

“Aunt Charlotte,” she said, “did you have anything to drink with alcohol this morning?” She then realized where she was, at a Rowley reunion, and she rephrased the question. “Did you have anything to drink OTHER than alcohol this morning?” “Oh, yes, dearie, I had two Irish coffees right after breakfast.” “Your pulse seems okay, but I would like to take you to the hospital for a test just to make sure, is that okay? I promise you we’ll have a party for you when you get back.” “Okay, dearie, let’s go!”

I was Nora’s wingman as she drove Charlotte to the hospital and two hours later, we returned and told the Rowley clan that Charlotte was fine—she had just hyperventilated from all that laughter and would be released later on during the day. She related the story of the nurse who was taking Charlotte’s medical history told her “Now, I apologize for what I have to ask you, but it’s a standard part of our medical history—we are required to ask you a question or two about your … sex life.” “Well, dearie, I’ve got a question for you first.” “What’s that?” “How much time you got?” Everybody agreed that Charlotte was indeed feeling like her old self.

They in turn told us the news that while Nora and I were gone, there had been a bit of a row between Bob and Betty. Betty had come to realize that those sparklers had almost set her kitchen on fire, impaled my mother, destroyed the entire pavilion, not to mention indirectly almost causing Charlotte to have a heart attack, so she had HAD it with Bob’s fireworks. She had the boys secretly gather them up, and she sent straight to their ignominious grave … in the outhouse. I remember thinking that I hope Betty told that to Uncle Joe, because he likes to smoke his cigars back there.

Driving home on the way back, I said to Nora how impressed at how well she did in handling this little family crisis—but she was asleep after all that excitement. I looked at my Mom in the rearview mirror and said, and “Mom, I’m so sorry that I caused your cake you made for Dad to be destroyed in that ball of flame.” She put up her hand as if to say, “macht nichts”–“it’s nothing.” Dad took her hand, kissed it, and said to her, “just remember, Dorothy, you’ll always be my old flame.” My mother, being the stoic German she was, said nothing. But you should have seen her smile.

#Toastmasters—5 Reasons Why Speech Contests are Important

On the big day of a speech contest at Toastmasters all that preparation and hard work will pay off in a well-run contest.  Some people will come back with trophies and certificates, but everyone will come back with memories and impressions that propel them towards being a better public speaker.

This is why I get involved in these contests, to become a better public speaker. But I also do it to be a better leader, which is what organizing a contest can help you become.  However, many people feel that the education and leadership training you get in the clubs are enough. Why go that extra mile?

1. Vision

One of the most exciting things about a hike or a mountain climb is the tremendous view you get when you reach a certain elevation above the ground. Staying in your club will help you grow, but the one thing that you realize when you go to a contest is you get your first glimpse of how wide the world of Toastmasters is. There are people from clubs that have different personalities than yours, whose members may follow a club culture that is different from yours. Yours could be a very structured club, and theirs very freewheeling. In hearing how they interact with others in the audience and on stage as speakers, you can see if some element of that “club personality” appeals to you. If it does, then think, “how could I foster that quality in my home club?”

So contests are where new ideas are made.

2. Confidence

Anybody who has made the journey from a newbie giving his or her Icebreaker speak to earning that Competent Communicator manual after 10 speeches knows that getting confidence in public speaking is a process that takes time. Getting over the initial nervousness in an Icebreaker speech is partially a function of getting used to speaking in front of a group of relative strangers. But by speech #10, they’re no longer strangers; they’re fellow members of dear old home club. Speaking to them is like going to speak at a dinner party with friends. That edge of adrenalin you had when you were speaking to a group of strangers is now gone. How to get back that edge? Speak in front of a group of strangers again. You’ll get it that edge back right away!

So contests are where a higher level of confidence is achieved.

3. Determination

If you go to a speech contest and lose, even in your home club, of course there’s disappointment. You work really hard, and somebody else comes in and gives a speech which really impresses the judges more. Sigh.

There is a voice in you which will say, “why bother with all that effort when you have nothing to show for it?” No, you don’t’ have a trophy, but just remember the benefits that I outline in this post and you will really that you do indeed have something to show for it.

When I lost at the Division level in the Spring of this year, after the contest was over I got encouragement from someone who had been behind the scenes helping organize the event. She said she had seen me in the contest the previous Fall, and had seen how I had improved in the six months or so since the last contest. To be honest, I was starting to listen to that small voice I mentioned in the last paragraph, and was thinking of hanging it up and never entering one of these damned contests ever again! But after I got feedback from a kindly observer, I figured well, if working on the contest has improved my speaking ability to such a noticeable extent, I may as well stay in the game just for that if nothing else. I was coming home from the event thinking about what I would do for the NEXT speech contest. I caught myself thinking about this and laughed. “Wow, I am really hooked if I’m already planning my next contest speech!”

So contests are where you stretch yourself behind the comfortable environment of your home club.

4. Network

Your world in Toastmasters consists at first of the 10 to 20 members in your home club. There are three ways to step out into the wider world of Toastmasters: a) training as a club officer in what are referred to as LACE (Leadership and Communication Education) training workshops, b) District Conferences, and c) Speech Contests. I was sitting at a District Conference when I heard someone speaking in a French accent. I introduced myself in French and within 5 minutes, I had met a new friend. Sometimes the interests you have outside Toastmasters will give you a reason to connect. I met someone at a LACE workshop who had just finished her project manager certification exam and I told her I wanted to sit for that exam later on in the year. She told me about a Toastmasters club that was for Project Managers, which I didn’t know existed. Because of that, the Orange County Project Masters club is my second club I’m a member in! So you get so many new ideas and meet such interesting people at the events outside of your club that it is an excellent network you can tap into. Just remember, everyone in that network is motivated by self-improvement, or they wouldn’t have joined Toastmasters. And contests are also great networking events as well.

So contests are a place where new relationships are made.

5. Inspiration

In the past, after I got over my initial disappointment at not winning the contests, I decided to just relax and enjoy the process and start seeing the other contestants not as rivals, but as teachers. What do they do that I am not doing now that will improve my speaking ability? Sometimes you see an effective technique, but occasionally you will find someone that gets their message across in such an effective manner that you no longer become an impartial observer. You are swept away like everybody else in the audience and are captivated by that person’s performance.

That’s the point where you stop saying, “I’m not as good as he or she is,” but rather “he or she is really inspiring. I want to have that ability to inspire too!” And then you mentally picture yourself at some point in the future standing in that exact spot, and seeing yourself deliver a speech that has people open-mounted in astonishment. You are inspired!

So contests are where dreams of the future are made.

These reasons are more than enough reason to join the contests. Now, some of us are the “dip a toe into the water” types rather than “I’ll just dive right into the water” types. So for those I have two suggestions. Get involved in ORGANIZING the contests—there are so many roles to choose from way beyond the variety you get in a regular club meeting. So besides being in one speech contest for my home club, I have volunteered to play a supporting role in the contest for my second club.

And if you are still not sure, then just come out to the contest as an audience member. You will have a good time and the person from your club who is up there on stage will be grateful for a friendly face in the audience.

Go ahead and take a step towards participating in your local speech contests—you will win something no matter what!

#Toastmasters Evaluation Contest—5 Mistakes to Avoid

For those that are wondering what this post is about, a Toastmasters Speech Evaluation Contest is where there is a test speaker who gives a speech, and those entered in the contest all do an evaluation based on that speech.   Although the speech itself is typically from 5-7 minutes long, the evaluator has 2-3 minutes to give his or her evaluation.

Alfred Herzing, a past International President of Toastmasters International has taught those of us in his home club at Yorba Linda Achievers here in Orange County, CA, about the art of making an effective evaluation.   Yesterday’s post was designed on what he has taught us through the years.  However, as I was thinking about yesterday’s post, I realized in anticipation of our own Area Contest coming up tomorrow that there were a few pointers I forgot to mention about what NOT to do.   These are typically things that beginners do, and avoiding these mistakes will bring you to the next level.  I hope contestants in the Evaluation Contest will be able to utilize them to improve their evaluations.

1. No gratitude

Although this is a natural thing for beginners to want to do, you should not start or end your evaluation speech by thanking the Contestmaster.  (This principle also goes for any type of Toastmasters speech.)   This is not the Oscars, this is Toastmasters.   Instead you can just address the audience by saying, “Mr. (or Madam) Contestmaster, fellow Toastmasters, and welcome guests,”  and then start into your speech. You can signal that you done with your speech by just signaling with your hand or a bow of your head towards the Contestmaster and saying, “Mr. (or Madam) Contestmaster.”

2. No platitude

Praise and criticism is what evaluation is about, but it is SPECIFIC praise that is called for that points to an example to illustrate it. “I thought you did a wonderful speech” may be nice for the speaker to hear, but it is not an evaluation. Does it convey any information to the speaker about WHAT was good about the speech, so they know how to do it again? Of course, you CAN say that your thought the speech was moving or effective, or whatever, as long as you immediately go into WHY you thought it was so.

Also, closing with “I look forward to hearing your future speeches” belongs in the Toastmasters cliché file and should be avoided.

3. No rehashing

Many people fill in the body of the speech by doing a summary of what was said in the speech. Okay, the audience was there, and they probably remember the words of the speech too.   But you are not there to recount what was said, but to show how the speaker conveyed the message.  You can state the objective of the speech as you saw it, and in fact I recommend this as the first part of your evaluation, but saying, “so-and-so told us the story of …” is not being an evaluator, it’s being a reporter.

4. No low-hanging fruit

What I mean by this phrase is to not pick on the most obvious strong point or point to be improved upon. For example, most speakers will be a little bit nervous, so giving an evaluation that tells the speaker that you thought they were nervous is stating something a little obvious. I have always been impressed with an evaluation that picked up something that either I missed or that I heard, but didn’t register as being important. It shows that the person is picking an element of the speech to either praise or criticize that is original. It will probably be something that most evaluators do not pick up on, and being relatively rare, is therefore more valuable an observation for the person giving the speech. So if you state a couple of things in your notes that you thought were impressive or that you thought needed improving, then pick the one that you think is the most original or unusual observation.

5. No proclamations

What I mean is that you are there to evaluate and explain your point of view. When it comes time to state your criticism, do not say a broad statement as if it is a fact.   This is your opinion, and should be stated as such. “I felt that,” or even “in my opinion,” is important in prefacing a criticism.

This principle, however, works for the praise as well.  Again, saying it was a great speech sounds like an evaluation, but conveys little to the speaker in terms of WHAT was great about it.   However, if you say, “your speech was effective for me“or “I was really moved by your speech,” and follow it immediately by an explanation of what it was in their delivery that caused this reaction, then you have an effective technique of evaluation.  Remember, the whole purpose of the test speaker’s speech is so that his or her purpose is conveyed to the listener, and by reminding the speaker that you as the listener did get that message, you are giving valuable information as well as illustrating ultimately what public speaking is all about.

I hope that these tips will help those in the Evaluation Speech contests that are going on in many Toastmasters Clubs around the world this fall.   I give a shout out to those in Division D (my home club) and Division C (my second club) here in Orange County, CA.

Let the evaluations begin!

#Toastmasters Speech Evaluation Contest—10 Tips towards a Better Evaluation

A Toastmasters Speech Evaluation Contest is where there is a test speaker who gives a speech, and those entered in the contest all do an evaluation based on that speech.

Alfred Herzing, a past International President of Toastmasters International has taught us in his home club at Yorba Linda Achievers here in Orange County, CA, about the art of making an effective evaluation.   Here is what I have learned from him; I thought I would write this post to pass on what I have learned to those who are going to be in the Toastmasters Speech Evaluation Contest.   Please be aware that this is my interpretation of what I have learned; I am responsible for the contents of this post and any errors or omissions rest on my shoulders, not on Alfred’s.

1. It’s Half-Time!

This means you have a little less than half the time, i.e., 2-3 minutes, to deliver a speech compared to the person who did the speech. You will probably have enough material for a 5-7 minute speech yourself, but you will have to pare down your speech from your notes. You should include

  • An introduction,
  • a statement of the objective (whether stated or not)
  • a statement of praise on how the message was effectively delivered
  • a statement of constructive criticism showing how the message could be how the message could have been more effectively delivered by using an example.
  • A conclusion

Here are the elements of the evaluation speech:

2. Introduction—Acknowledge, but no thanks

You should greet those in the audience by saying, “Mr. or Madam Contestmaster, Fellow Toastmasters, and guests”. You don’t need to say “thank you” as many people do.

3. Objective—What do you think the speaker was trying to convey?

In a manual speech, the objectives are stated, usually by the Toastmaster before the speech begins. In the contest speech, they are not explicitly stated by the Contestmaster. Sometimes people will state their intentions at the beginning of the speech, but they may not. If they don’t, try to discern what the message of the speech was and start your speech with this objective.

4. Praise—be specific

You should give praise or encouragement to the speaker for how effectively they conveyed the message of the objective. But praise should not be open-ended: “you gave a great speech” doesn’t give any information on the speaker about what it was that caused you to come to that conclusion. “I really think you accomplished this objective because of what you did …”, and then explain specifically what it was that caused you think this way.

5. Constructive criticism—be specific

No matter how experienced the speaker, there is always room to improve, and even the most seasoned Distinguished Toastmaster will welcome criticism if it is specific because it is therefore helpful. “The ending was weak” is not specific: weak compared to what? What made it weak? More importantly, how could it be made stronger?

6. Conclusion—tie things up

So many evaluations end when the person sees the red card and then decides to hurriedly dash off something generic like “I think it was a great speech”. The conclusion should start when the person sees the yellow card, if not before. That means you have 30 seconds left. Then you can summarize, and say, “The speaker met the objectives because of [specific actions], but would have been even more effective if [specific actions]. Then add some praise at the end that puts a positive cast on the evaluation. This last one can be more general. Then you can say “Mr. or Madam Contestmaster” to signal that you are concluded with your evaluation.

Here are some more general tips regarding things that will be helpful to you in getting a good score for your evaluation speech.

7. Avoid the stock phrases

Of course, saying “thank you” in your introduction is one think that beginners do, but at the end of the speech, “and I look forward to your future speeches” is something that you may have heard many times before. Why not deliver the same message, that you are encouraging the speaker, in a way that is heartfelt and not pulled off the shelf?   Also, there may be a significant element of the speech delivery that is overlooked by others.   Why not try to be original and find something which the other evaluators may have missed?

8. Objective criteria, subjective delivery

You make sure that you have some sort of an objective against which you are measuring the speech.  However, in delivering your opinion, you should make sure to let the speaker know that this is your opinion, particularly when it comes to criticism.  If the person did not state an objective, and you say what you think the opinion is, make sure to preface your remarks by saying that “I think that …” or “in my opinion”, because it could be that what you think as the objective may not be at all what the speaker intended.   This goes as well for the praise and criticism. The praise needs to be personal because it shows that the speech made a human connection with the evaluator. The criticism needs to be stated as being your own personal opinion so that you are not making the presumption that your criticism is a FACT, but an opinion. It is easier for people to take criticism if the person prefaces it as being something that is his or her opinion.

9. Your speech evaluation is also a speech

You should have an opening which states the objective, a body which gives both praise and criticism, and then a conclusion which summarizes what you have said. These show that you are not just speaking off a list of talking points but have crafted your message in a way that commands the attention of the audience, and you have made it memorable by tying it with a bow at the end in your conclusion.

10. Your speech is for the benefit of the audience, not just the speaker

I have seen evaluators look at the entire time at the speaker, thinking the speech is for them. Well it is, but it is for the benefit of the audience as well. Looking at the speaker when you start your speech is fine, but include the audience in your gaze when you are explaining what it was that made the speech effective and what you thought could be improved. Everybody in the audience can learn from the pointers you give, and you should include them in your attention when you give the speech.

Those are the principles that have been taught to me in my home club. I hope they are helpful for those who are planning to be in the Speech Evaluations Contest this fall.

#PM Time Management—What are Your Options to Shorten a Schedule?

One of the problems that a project manager can be faced is when the project duration is estimated to be X number of months, but you are told by management that it must be done according to a shorter schedule, i.e., X minus some number of months. What are your options?

Well, the basic iron law of constraints says that if one constraint, in this case, time, is affected, then this will affect the other constraints. Some techniques for shortening the schedule affect one constraint, while others affect other constraints. Sometimes you are faced with a situation question on the PMP exam that gives you information about the project, says that the scheduled must be shortened somehow, and asks you how would do it. The answer depends on what changes in the other constraints can be most easily accommodated by the project, and this in turn depends on the information given about the project.

1. Options to Shorten a Schedule





1. Crashing ↑ costs No ↑ risk Crashing involves adding extra resources to get the same activity done in less time with no appreciate rise in risk.
2. Fast-tracking ↑ risk No ↑ costs This takes activities which are sequential and makes them concurrent; increases risk.
3. Reestimating ↑ PM management time to do reestimate ↓ risk Reviewing risk assumptions inherent in time/cost estimates is a way to reduce risk and therefore reduce time estimates.
4. Scope reduction ↓ customer satisfaction No ↑ costs, risk, time You can reduce the scope as a last resort, but customer may balk at reduced scope.
5. Quality reduction ↓ customer satisfaction No ↑ costs, risk, time You can reduce the quality level to save time/money, but customer may not be satisfied.

There are two options which are NOT recommended by PMBOK® Guide or the PMP exam prep text by Rita Mulcahy. These are a) stand your ground and insist on the original schedule, because you do not have authority to do so as a project manager vis-à-vis the sponsor; b) work overtime. Working overtime in an emergency is one thing, but working overtime on a regular basis on a project is a symptom of poor planning.

2. Example

If the question talks about few resources on a project, then fast-tracking may be the best bet. For fast-tracking, one more requirement is that the activities have a preferential dependency, meaning that they CAN be made concurrent (with higher risk). If the dependency between activities is mandatory, and therefore they MUST be sequential, then fast-tracking is not an option because they CANNOT be made concurrent.

If the question talks about abundant resources and low risk, then crashing is okay.

If the question talks about high risk on a project, then reestimating is a good choice because this will involve lowering risk.

If the questions talks about how there are fewer resources (and so crashing is not feasible) and the activities cannot be made concurrent (and so fast-tracking is not feasible), then you may have to consider reducing scope and/or quality on a project.

3. Summary

The purpose of this post is to give you confidence in answering situational questions about a compressed schedule.

#PM Time Management—What makes the Critical Path so Critical?

1. Introduction—Critical Path method’s place in the processes

Once the network diagram connecting the activities has been created in the process 6.2 Sequence Activities, and the processes 6.3 Estimate Activity Resources and 6.4 Estimate Activity Durations have been completed, it is time to go to the final planning process in the Time Management Area, 6.5 Develop Schedule.

The key to finding out the accurate estimate of the entire project is the critical path method. The purpose of this post is not to outline this method, but to discuss a little why it is so critical. Of course the length of the project depends on it, which you would think makes it critical enough.

But if studying the PMBOK® Guide has taught me anything, it is that project management is like an ecology, albeit one with processes rather than organisms. What happens in one process will affect all of the others. Knowing the critical path is crucial to managing other knowledge areas as well. That is what I will discuss today.

2. Critical Path and its effect on other knowledge areas

The critical path is the path of activities that has the longest total duration, which gives the shortest possible time the project could be completed within. This statement seems contradictory to some in our study group at first, but it really isn’t. The important point is that any delay on the critical path WILL delay the end date of the project. A delay on a non-critical path will not delay the project until the delay becomes longer than the activity’s float.

Finding out the critical path is important, but finding out those near-critical paths and non-critical paths are important as well. Near-critical paths are those that are very close in duration to the critical path. If the critical path is compressed, this near-critical path may then become by default the new critical path. Non-critical paths are useful for a project because they contain float, which is described above as the amount of time an activity can be delayed before it affects the overall project schedule. By definition, activities on the critical path have zero float because any delay in those activities will affect the overall project schedule.

Project Management Area What effect does knowing Critical Path have?
1. Integration Management When it comes to integrated change control, a critical question for evaluating the change is the effect that that change will have on the project schedule, which can be seen through its changes on activities on the critical path.
2. Scope Management If the scope is to be changed, then its effect on the other two major constraints, time and cost, must be analyzed. The critical path will show if additional activities to account for the additional scope will delay the project.
3. Time Management If you want to compress the project schedule, then the critical path gives you the options of which activities to crash.
4. Cost Management Crashing is where you add resources to an activity to reduce the time it takes to complete it. Conversely, if you need resources somewhere else in the organization, you can remove resources from an activity and delay its completion as long as that activity is not on the critical path.
5. Quality Management If it is necessary to shorten the schedule, then seeing how quality management may reduce time-consuming rework, etc., may assist if those activities are on the critical path.
6. HR Management Those human resources that are less experienced can be put on activities not on the critical path, with the experienced people being reserved for activities on the critical path.
7. Communications Management If you are asked by management, “Why will the project take so much time”, you can answer the question.
8. Risk Management Activities which are on the critical path have an inherit risk in terms of the overall project schedule. Finding ways to reduce risks which may compress that schedule are vital, and the critical path shows which activities need more attention with regards to risk responses and risk prevention.
9. Procurements Management Knowing that a subcomponent that is contracted out is on the critical path will help you work with the procurements manager to design a contract that will give incentives and/or penalties to make sure the subcomponent is delivered on time.

So knowing the critical path and, by extension, what the non-critical paths of the project are, can be helpful in all knowledge areas related to project management. It isn’t called a critical path for nothing.

Time Management—Formulas relating to PERT analysis

In preparing for the PMP exam, it is of course a good idea to get a PMP exam prep text that has sample test questions at the end of each chapter covering one of the knowledge areas on the exam, but to really make sure you are ready for the exam, I strongly recommend getting text prep software that will allow you to test yourself on a larger bank of exam questions.

When reviewing the Time Management chapter, it seemed that questions involving the formulas involved with PERT analysis came up with high frequency on the practice mini-exams. The purpose of this post is to review these formulas and to give an example of the kind of question you would get on the examination that would involve them.

1. Introduction

Well, what is PERT? It is a variation on the three-point estimate, which can be used for estimating costs or time durations. A one-point estimate would be a “best guess” of what the time duration would be, let’s say. However, a more accurate estimate would be a three-point estimate, with one of the points being the most likely duration, then a pessimistic estimate of the duration, and an optimistic estimate of the duration.

Anybody who drives in LA is intuitively familiar with the concept, even if they are not a project manager, quality engineer, or have any interest in statistics whatsoever. If Mapquest tells you that to go from point A to point B it takes 30 minutes, then you assume that it is the most likely estimate. However, if there is a risk to your being late, let’s say, if it is an appointment with a client or a job interview, then you would probably do a more pessimistic estimate of, say, 45 minutes, to account for the risk of there being a traffic accident or something that will slow you down. And if you are fortunate to have a GPS system or even a smartphone that tells you about any traffic accidents that have occurred on your route, you have the possibility of reducing the risk by taking an alternate route. An optimistic estimate might be 25 minutes, if you just happen to hit all the green lights on the way to the freeway. So this concept of optimistic and pessimistic estimates is something people do all the time, but the PERT analysis formalizes it in the context of project management.

2. PERT formulas

The regular three-point estimate is simply the average of the pessimistic (P), most likely (M), and optimistic (O) estimates or

(P + M + O)/3

PERT analysis takes the weighted average, which gives 4 times as much weight to the most likely or M estimate. Here’s the formula for the PERT or weighted average:

Formula 1: Weighted average

(P+ 4M + O)/6

Here’s how to remember the six in the denominator: instead of the regular average, with the weighted average, it is like you are adding M four different times to the sum, but since you have now six terms to cover in the average, and hence you divide by six.

The standard deviation is the measure of the difference between the values in the distribution on either end and the value in the middle (the average). The bigger the standard deviation, the wider the spread of the values. The formula for the standard deviation for PERT analysis is

Formula 2: Standard deviation

(P – O)/6

NOTE: This is really an approximation of the standard deviation for the purpose of statistically challenged project managers. Any person with a Six Sigma background would take a look at this formula and laugh. However, in the spirit of professional harmony, a project manager can safely ignore any sound of derision coming from the quality department and use the formula safely in the knowledge that it’s what’s recommended by PMBOK.

The variance is just the standard deviation squared, or

Formula 3: Variance

[(P – O)/6]2

This is used if you trying to get the estimate for the whole project. What you do is get the total of the estimates for all activities A through Z along the critical path. Then you take the variance for each activity, sum them up across the whole project, and take the square root to get the standard deviation for the project estimate. However, for questions only involving one activity, you will only need formulas 1 and 2 for the weighted average and standard deviation, respectively.

There’s one more thing you need to know for PERT analysis question is the following three figures for the standard deviations:

±1σ = 68.27%

±2σ = 95.45%

±3σ = 99.73%

If you have a “normal” distribution, and you try to calculate those values which are plus or minus 1 sigma or standard deviation from the average (aka the mean), you can be assured that 68% of the values fall within that range. Now on the exam, it will say “95.45%” and you are expected to know that that is 2 standard deviations, similarly with “68.27%” for 1 standard deviation and “99.73%” for 3 standard deviations or 3 sigma.

NOTE: That is, by the way, the origin of the term “six sigma”, meaning three sigma or standard deviations above and below the mean, meaning you are striving for quality such that 99.73% of your production is without defect.

3. Sample question

Let’s take a three-point estimate example from the world of IT. If programming a certain module will take an average programmer 25 hours to do as the most likely estimate, the pessimistic estimate of 35 hours may be based on the assumption that a newbie is assigned to the task, whereas the optimistic estimate of 20 hours may be if they can get the veteran programmer Jones, who is rumored to dream in code. Using the weighted average technique, you determine that there is a 95.5% probability that the module will be completed in:

  1. Between 25.83 and 28.33 hours
  2. Between 23.33 and 28.33 hours
  3. Between 25.83 and 30.33 hours
  4. Between 20.83 and 30.33 hours

Step 1: What is the PERT weighted average?

Weighted average = (P + 4M + O)/6 = (20 + 4*25 + 35)/6 = 25.83 hours

Step 2: What is the standard deviation?

Standard deviation = (P – O)/6 = 2.5 hours

Step 3: What is the range?

This last step means that the upper end of the range equals the weighted average + (1, 2, or 3 standard deviations), and the lower end of the range equals the weighted average – (1, 2, or 3 standard deviations). How do you know how many standard deviations you add or subtract? You have to infer that from the 95.5% probability figure, which is a confidence level corresponding to 2 standard deviations away from the weighted average.

So the upper end of the range = weighted average + 2σ = 25.83 + 2*2.5 hours = 30.83 hours

And the lower end of the range = weighted average – 2σ = 25.83 – 2*2.5 hours = 20.83 hours

The answer therefore is D. The other answers are for people that assume that it is only one standard deviation and/or those who remember you have to get the range by adding AND subtracting from the weighted average.

In the next post, I will move onto the question of the critical path and how you can make it work for you as a project manager.