Project management (PM). To many, just hearing those words conjures up a myriad of negative emotions —uncertainty, anxiety, and concern, to name a few. When some people think of PM, they often think of very expensive software systems and large project implementations that last years, leading to countless capital costs yet yielding marginal and unquantifiable savings. This is the wrong approach to PM. PM is not frightening, but trying to function on a day-to-day basis without it is. PM is concerned with all kinds of things that make jobs easier — stress reduction,gaining control, providing tools for their organization and saving money.
It’s that simple. Understanding PM and knowing how to create an effective PM process can improve productivity as well as your bottom line.
Defining Project Management
Of the projects you are currently involved with:
1. Can everyone on the project teamaccess a common, regularly updated, project schedule that identifies independent tasks for each individual on the project?
2. Does everyone know where to locate all project forms and documents, including the project scope and objective?
3. Is the correct version of a document always used by project stakeholders?
4. Is scope creep always handled in a standard, manageable manner in which budget, resources, and schedule concerns are addressed?
5. Are project issues captured for everyone to view?
6. Does management always have buy-in to new projects?
If you answered no, then there is a very simple solution — provide a standardized controllable approach to solving these issues. This can be done with Project Management.
The Project Management Institute defines PM as, “the application of knowledge, skills,tools, and techniques to project activities in order to meet or exceed stakeholder needs and expectations from a project.” There are four main application areas in that definition— knowledge, skills, tools and techniques. To simplify, “knowledge and skills” are elements of experience that someone who has experiencein projects possess. ‘Tools and techniques’are application areas that a PM methodology will provide. Tools and techniques are part of the process that can be tailored to meet your organization’s needs.
When Good Projects Go Bad
Why do good projects to bad? Reasons include:
1. Unclear scope or direction
2. Unclear requirements
3. Lack of resources
4. Undefined project end date
5. Lack of clear deliverables
6. Not having timeframesfor tasks
7. Not knowing who ison the project
8. Poor communication
9. Lack of planning
10. Not knowing where to go toaccess project information
11. Changing requirements or scope
12. Cost and schedule overruns
13. Lack of buy-in and accountability
All of these problems have one thing in common — lack of PM. How does an organization go about putting together an effective PM methodology? Use this Top 10 list as a guide.
The Top 10 Tips for Instituting Effective Project Management
1. With new projects, capture the known project objectives, scope, deliverables, stakeholders, project manager, assumptions,risks, budget constraints and senior management personnel responsible for approving the project. Sound like a lot? But if management orthe project manager doesn’t know the answer to Step 1, then how will project team members? Often times, team members havea different opinion of the scope and head in a different direction. Avoid this pitfall.
2. Determine who you need on your team to plan and execute the scope outlined in Step 1.
The level of experience is often critical to project success. The leadership and technical expertise varies from project to project. The team responsible for planning the project must have some ownership and accountability in the project in order for the planning process to be successful.
3. How are project stakeholders going to communicate with each other? Who needs what information, when, how and at what frequency? This applies to all people affected by the project. This is one of the most important overlooked elements to the planning process and includes steps such as when and where the project team will meet, what technology will be used to send information, and how will people be notified.
4. Where and with what structure will project information be stored? This step is critical, especially for larger projects that touch many stakeholders. For example, a project team could specify a common drive or web site location where all project forms and documentation will be stored along with a folder structure to allow team members to quickly and efficiently locate project information. It’s also important to have a PM methodology to locate documents across projects.
5. Develop your schedule. Start by creating a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) to capture the tasks required to support and relate project deliverables. After the WBS, capture the task relationships — what needs to happen first. Estimate the time duration and assign a responsible person to complete each task with a discrete output.
6. Determine your project budget. Use the WBS and the project schedule to determine when spending will occur. Set a tolerance band on expenses to flag variances and create actions to address the variance.
7. Record project issues and risks. Issues and risk will arise throughout the entire project life cycle. Assign individuals to issues with a discrete output, meaning that issues need to be written to identify if the associated task(s) are completed.
8. Capture and document project approval steps. Add approval steps throughout the process to ensure management support and to capture team member buy-in to the planning process. Capture the approval steps in the project schedule (Step 5 above) to communicate major milestones and reviews. Documented approval steps should include not only the approval to plan the project but also during technical review points throughout the execution of the project.
9. Identify steps needed during the project execution phase. This is a critical step because it measures how accurate the planning was for a given project. This information can be used to increase the accuracy of the next similar project. Various Earned Value methods will provide an estimate of how the project is performing relative to cost and schedule.
10. Institute a continuous improvement process to capture lessons learned. It is obvious to each of us that documenting lessons learned after and during a project is beneficial. The problem is that many organizations do not capture them and, if they do, they take place in the form of a meeting or discussion around the coffee machine. All potential lessons can be forwarded to the respective process owners, and a proactive approach can be utilized to institute change before the next project begins.
Taking Baby Steps
You’re probably thinking that while PM sounds great — theoretically — that practical implementation is a whole other ballgame. And you’re right — to an extent.
Some companies roll out very comprehensive PM methodologies within divisions and across organizations. They work to create a project and provide reference material that will address almost every situation. Manuals are often thick and training classes, if they exist, can be weeks long. While this may not always be the wrong approach, it is if an organization didn’t have many tools in place to begin with. Introducing new protocol has to be manageable and in small enough steps to encourage acceptance. PM is a living methodology that should be periodically updated to meet the needs of the users.
Therefore, manageable steps are needed to have sustained, proficient success. This is affectionately known as taking “baby steps.” Throwing too much at an organization will result in poor acceptance.
The Bottom Line
So what’s the bottom line? It’s simply this: you don’t need to have a large investment to institute an effective PM methodology at your organization. By following the Top 10 tips for effective project management and using very simple tools, that are already present at your company, you can often create an efficient system to manage your product development and service projects. It doesn’t have to be difficult, but if you still have questions, it is often beneficial to utilize the support of experts in this area to kick-start your internal efforts and create a systemic approach that can be quickly implemented.