Table of Contents

Successful Projects

Studies prove that most projects, especially large ones, do not end successfully. You might think that companies would be happy to just have their project finish with some degree of success. However, in spite of the odds, organizations also expect projects to be completed faster, cheaper, and with higher quality. The only way that these objectives can be met is through the use of effective project management processes and techniques. Consider the size, complexity, and other characteristics of your project, and build the right project management Processes to manage and control your project. It is important to understand that “one size” does not fit all. The management approach needs to be varied depending on the size, type of project, how the team is geographically dispersed etc.

Most projects start from a simple idea, that is stated as a brief or mandate. The Brief is used to examine the idea and see if it will fly. There is little point spending time investigating a project that has, for example, no benefits.

Plan, plan and plan

Your schedule is your backbone. Without it people do not know what is expected by when and you will not know when things are going wrong. The time spent properly planning the project will result in reduced cost and duration and increased quality over the life of the project. The project Definition is the primary Deliverable from the planning process and describes all aspects of the project at a high level. Once approved by the customer and relevant Stakeholders, it becomes the basis for the work to be performed.

The schedule provides the step-by-step instructions for constructing project Deliverables and managing the project. You should try and build up a tool kit of prior schedules from a similar project to use as templates, particularly ones that have worked well. If not, build one the old-fashioned way by utilizing a product breakdown (Product Breakdown Structure) or work breakdown (WBS) structure and network diagram.

Try and make the schedule as detailed as you can, including assigning resources and Estimating the work as far out as you feel comfortable. This is your planning Horizon. Past the planning Horizon, lay out the project at a higher level, reflecting the increased level of uncertainty. The planning Horizon will move forward as the project progresses. High-level activities that were initially vague need to be defined in more detail as their timeframe gets closer.

The more specific you can be in your project planning, the more accurate your schedule will be. If you leave functionality or other items unspecified in your plan, then you will, at best, only be able to approximate them in the Schedule. Don’t go overboard, though, there is a balance. If you are spending time adding detail to tasks which will have no impact on the project delivery date, then you are probably wasting your time.

Establish all the procedures up front

The project management procedures outline what processes will be used to manage the project. This will include sections on how the team will manage issues, scope change, risk, quality, communication, and so on. It is important to be able to manage the project rigorously and proactively and to ensure that the project team and all Stakeholders have a common understanding of how the project will be managed. If common procedures have already been established for your organization, utilize them on your project. The procedures are recorded either in a project handbook or quality plan.

Monitor and control

Once the project has been planned sufficiently, execution of the work can begin. In theory, since you already have agreement on your project definition and since your [Schedule |schedule]] and project management procedures are in place, the only challenge is to execute your plans and processes correctly. Of course, no project ever proceeds entirely as it was estimated and planned. The challenge is having the rigor and discipline needed to apply your project management skills correctly and proactively. Review the schedule on a regular basis to determine how you are progressing. If your project is small, this may need to be weekly. For larger projects, the frequency might be every two weeks. Identify activities that have been completed during the previous time period and update the schedule to show they are finished. Determine whether there are any other activities that should be completed but have not been. After the schedule has been updated, determine whether the project will be completed within the original effort, cost, and duration. If not, determine the critical path and look for ways to accelerate these activities to get you back on track. Monitor the budget. Look at the amount of money your project has actually consumed and determine whether your actual spending is more than originally estimated based on the work that has been completed. If so, be proactive. Either work with the team to determine how the remaining work will be completed to hit your original budget or else raise a risk that you may exceed your allocated budget.

Look for warning signs

Probably the most important part as projects do not go wrong because of a cataclysmic event but due to many small changes that individually can go virtually unnoticed. Look for signs that the project may be in trouble. These could include the following: A small variance in schedule or budget starts to get bigger, especially early in the project. There is a tendency to think you can make it up, but this is a warning. If the tendencies are not corrected quickly, the impact will be unrecoverable. For example;

If these situations occur, raise visibility through risk management, and put together a plan to proactively ensure that the project stays on track. If you cannot successfully manage through the problems, raise an issue.

Manage Scope

All projects are subject to some change. This is normal. However any change needs to be agreed with all the stakeholders. Scope creep is uncontrolled change that little by little consumes all the project budget and resources. Guard against scope creep by having any change recorded, the impact analysed and the change agreed.

Many project failures are not caused by problems with estimating or team skill sets but by the project team working on major and minor deliverables that were not part of the original project definition or business requirements. Even if you have good scope-management procedures in place, there are still two major areas of scope-change management that must be understood to be successful: understanding who the customer is and scope creep.

In general, the project sponsor is the person funding the project. Although there is usually just one sponsor, a big project can have many stakeholders, or people who are impacted by the project. Requests for scope changes will most often come from stakeholders—many of whom may be managers in their own right. It doesn't matter how important a change is to a stakeholder, they can't make scope-change decisions, and they can't give your team the approval to make the change. In proper scope-change management, the sponsor (or a designate) must give the approval, since they are the only ones who can add funding to cover the changes and know if the project impact is acceptable

Manage Risk

Many projects fail because although they plan correctly the things they need to do, they fail to plan the things they might have to do and make allowances for them. These “mights” are usually driven by unexpected events or risks. For example; something was harder than expected.

When the planning work is occurring, the project team try and identify all known risks. For each risks, they should also determine the probability that the risk event will occur and the potential impact on the project. Those events identified as high-risk should have specific plans put into place to mitigate them so they do not, in fact, occur. Medium risks should be evaluated to see whether they need to be proactively managed. (Low-level risks may be identified as assumptions. That is, there is potential risk involved, but you are “assuming” that the positive outcome is much more probable.) Risks may include not having the right level of expertise, unfamiliarity with the technology, and problems integrating smoothly with existing products or equipment.

Risk is not a one off exercise but must be done continually through the project. It is useful early on in a project to record any additional activity not in the original plan or schedule and use this as an indicator for additional work likely for the whole project.

Manage Issues

One of the sure signs a project is in trouble is that the issue register is not being worked. Issues are things that are stopping your project from succeeding. Issues are big problems. For instance, the servers you ordered aren't ready and configured on time. The project manager should manage open issues diligently to ensure that they are being resolved. If there is no urgency to resolve the issue or if the issue has been active for some time, it may not really be an issue. It may be a potential problem (risk), or it may be an action item that needs to be resolved at some later point. Real issues, by their nature, must be resolved with a sense of urgency.

Use Tools wisely

There are many Tools that can assist you as aproject manager. Use them wisely. Remember that a pretty schedule done in MS Project is just a pretty schedule. A schedule that has involved the input of everyone and recored as a task list may not be pretty but it will succeed.

25 January 2009 (10)