EFFECTIVE PROJECT MANAGEMENT
Plan the Work then Work the Plan
Plan the Work: Documentation Is Key
In our experience with IT projects there is a tendency to ‘jump in’ and ‘start working’ to accomplish a task quickly. Therein lays the problem. A project is a collection of tasks with a common goal. Unless we state the goal and build a plan for all associated tasks we will not achieve success. Our project management experience has taught us that the time spent properly planning the project will result in reduced cost and duration and increased quality over the lifecycle of the project. Our project life cycle is engrained in our Software Development Lifecycle (SDLC) which you can read about here. (Link to SDLC page) The requirements sessions result in documentation that when approved comes to the office of the project manager. Here we then produce project definitions. These describe 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. Our project definitions include the following:
- Project overview: What are the business goals? What are the benefits?
- Objectives: What do you hope to achieve/end goal?
- Scope: What are the detailed features that must be included? Excluded?
- Assumptions and risks: What items are you taking for granted? What are you worried about?
- Approach: What is the process? Is there a tight deadline?
- Organization: Who is responsible for each phase or section? Who is the sponsor?
- Signature page: Require the sponsor and key stakeholders to approve this document, signifying that they agree on what is in scope.
- Initial effort, cost, and duration estimates: These should be derived from the SDLC documentation.
Create a Planning Horizon. We Use Our SDLC Requirements with Traceability Matrix and Estimations Our SDLC process defines solutions based on requirements and the output is a table matrix showing tasks needed to accomplish the business goal. The requirements are very detailed outlining dependency between items to ensure nothing ‘falls through the cracks’. For project management, this is your planning horizon.
Define Project Management Procedures Up Front. And Communicate them to the Team The project management processes and procedures outline the resources that will be used to manage the project. This should be documentation which includes sections on how the team will manage issues, scope change, risk, quality, communication, and so on. It is important to be able to proactively manage the project through documentation to ensure that the stakeholders have a common understanding of how the project will be managed.
Project Management Office (PMO) – This ‘grouping’, often abbreviated to PMO, is a group or department within the enterprise that defines and maintains standards for project management. The PMO is responsible for the repetitive, standardized functions and processes in the execution of business projects. The PMO is the primary source of documentation, leadership, guidance, metrics, and reporting related to projects and project management enterprise-wide.
Manage the Workplan and Monitor the Schedule and Budget. We Stay on Task, on Budget We manage projects based on our documented plan. Every project needs attention. Every project needs to be measured. We accomplish these items through periodic reviews and milestones. Periodic reviews are stakeholder meetings, generally very brief, to review project accomplishments to date with specific emphasis on tasks accomplished since the last periodic update. Milestones are pre-project defined status markers that indicate a set number of project tasks need to be accomplished by that milestone. Defining milestones ahead of time and monitoring progress keeps project son time and budget.
Manage Scope. Changes Require Sponsor Approval, Deadlines Change Managing and maintaining project scope is the most important activity required to control a project. Many projects fail because deliverables that were not part of the original project definition or business requirements are injected after estimates are documented and approved. Even if there are safeguards in place, there are two major areas of change management that are critical to be successful: understanding ‘who the customer is’ and ‘scope creep’.
Requests for scope changes will most often come from decision makers and stakeholders. Different agenda from these business elements can cause fractures in the plan one implementation is underway. Stakeholders may feel strongly about a feature that will cause scope creep, however, they cannot approve scope changing decisions. By following our processes and protocols for change management only the business sponsor (or a designate) has the authority to give the approval for scope changing features and items. This is derived from the fact that they are the only ones who can add funding to cover the additional resources needed for success. They are the appropriate party to determine if the project impact is acceptable.
Communicate and Mitigate ‘Scope Creep’ through Proactivity Our project management team knows change management procedures if required by the business sponsor to add a major new function or a major new deliverable to their project. Business users generally aren’t aware of the volume of small scope change requests. We mitigate this by recording and advertising all scope change requests to the entire team at each periodic review and milestone meeting. Scope creep is the term used to define a series of small scope changes that are made to the project without change management procedures being used or being used properly. When a project is afflicted with scope creep, small changes, none of which appear to affect the scope of the project individually, can play a major role and impact in the delivery of the project. Proactively identifying each small request and seeking proper approval is critical. This will begin change management procedures which will change the milestones, milestone dates and ultimately project completion timelines.
Identify Risks Up Front Early in project planning, the project team should identify all known risks. For each risk, a probability factor defining the ‘chances’ that the risk event will occur should be documented. A summary of how this event will impact on the project is also required. Any events identified as high-risk should have risk mitigation plans put into place. Medium risk items should be evaluated to determine whether they need to be proactively managed. Some risks are unavoidable, while other risks may be mitigated through proper resources, training or consulting. All risks should be documented regardless of the stage of the project. Proper mitigation plans should be implemented.
Assess Potential Risks Throughout the Project Once the project begins, periodically perform an updated risk assessment to determine whether other risks have surfaced that need to be managed. If any new risks or risk factors are identified, work with the project team to mitigate them as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Resolve Issues as Quickly as Possible Issues can become big problems. For The project manager should manage open issues diligently to ensure that they are being resolved in timely fashion. 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 or there may be a misunderstanding about the issue. Communication with team members is critical to resolution. It may be a potential risk that can be resolved at some later point. Issues that pose a danger to the project need to be resolved as quickly as possible.
Constant Vigilance. We Measure Progress We constantly stay on top of our projects. These could include the following:
- Early project tasks take longer than expected, causing a delay in initial progress.
- Milestones have not been met.
- Other competing projects with deadlines.
We measure proficiency by the ration of milestones hit. We measure project progress by the number of tasks and milestones accomplished.
Why Leale Solutions?
As a company who understands the challenges which come with projects of all sizes, we use a standardized methodology that is a direct extension of our Software Development Life Cycle to manage projects.