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Feature May16 40432452 XSOne of the critical factors for project success is having a well-developed project plan. This article provides a 10-step approach to creating the project plan, not only showing how it provides a roadmap for project managers to follow, but also exploring why it is the project manager's premier communications and control tool throughout the project.

Step 1: Explain the project plan to key stakeholders and discuss its key components. One of the most misunderstood terms in project management, the project plan is a set of living documents that can be expected to change over the life of the project. Like a roadmap, it provides the direction for the project. And like the traveler, the project manager needs to set the course for the project, which in project management terms means creating the project plan. Just as a driver may encounter road construction or new routes to the final destination, the project manager may need to correct the project course as well.

What qualities are most important for a project manager to be an effective project leader? It's a question often asked and one that makes us sit back and think. Over the past few years, the people at ESI International, a leader in project management training, have looked at what makes an effective project leader. They quizzed some highly-talented project leaders and compiled a running tally of their responses. Below are the top 10 qualities in rank order, according to their frequency listed.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012 06:00

Project Success Plans - Planning for Success

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Co-authored by Jeff Hodgkinson and Gary Hamilton

"A Project Success Plan can be a platform for ensuring all project stakeholders start off, and continue on, the right footing."

Setting up projects to succeed in the view of the customer/stakeholder is a critical part of the Project Manager's role. We suggest that, as part of project planning activities in the early stages of your project, you should hold a Project Success Plan (PSP) meeting with all key team members to agree on the project's goals, and to discuss the emotional success factors that will ensure the team gels successfully to deliver the required outcomes.

Co-authored by Jeff Hodgkinson

Realizingbenefits4_mainWe believe a simple methodology can be applied to attain Benefits Realization. You can achieve true project success by ensuring that:

  • Project benefits are clear, concise and relevant in 'value creation' terms from the Business Case onwards, and that they directly relate to your organisational strategy
  • People are held accountable for achieving these benefits
  • Benefits stated in a Business Case are actively measured throughout the entire initiative, ie:
    • During the project lifecycle (particularly if it is released in phases)
    • After the project is closed
    • When the product/output starts to be used
  • Appropriate action is taken if required to alter direction (i.e. the organization changes course and the intended project benefits are no longer relevant)

Companies that sell services to other businesses-project management, data management, software development or IT consultancies, for example-often track time in order to automate invoicing, but they may be overlooking the other benefits these systems can provide. Real-time access to relevant Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) such as 'percent billable' and 'completed vs. estimated' can give early warnings of project problems and lead your company to faster growth and more profitability. I would first like to explain what KPIs are, and then show you how to use some simple ones to improve your business or rate of project success that can be calculated from any time and data labor source.

FeaturePT May09 28832785 XSIn the pressure filled world of managing programs and projects, it is a healthy thing to take a break, look at the world around us, and reflect. One major source of reflection can be the approach our beloved pets take to life, and the tasks they look to tackle. Like project leaders, dogs are almost constantly communicating (albeit in their own unique way.) Through continued empirical research, interactive testing and more direct observation, compiled below are the latest techniques for project management learned from dogs. Open your mind, reflect on the dogs you have encountered and take a look…

1. Play with whatever and whomever you have around you

If projects aren’t opportunities to produce “unique products or services”, introduce change to an organization, increase productivity or enhance the capabilities of your customer then they shouldn’t be in your project portfolio. That being said, projects present the chance to make a real difference, and that is FUN. Manage your projects like a “prison camp” and you or your project team won’t be creative, won’t grow, and will not make the most of the collective skills present on the project. Lighten up, take lunches together, organize a project ping-pong tournament or try a new project management tool – there are many free options on the internet. Create a project environment where you can work hard and constructively “play” a bit and watch your success rate soar!

As a Project Manager you are tasked with getting work done through others. It may seem simple, after all these individuals are assigned to the project team and just need to do their job. But this is not reality. 

What is reality is that project resources are often assigned work beyond your project and may even be involved in other projects. It is typical in the popular matrix project organization that team members do not report directly to the project manager, but rather a functional manager. This makes it even more important that the project manager have the skills to get work accomplished through others. Even the most experienced project managers continually report this as one of their top challenges.

Teams and organizations are constantly plagued by project execution errors and failures. These failures create an execution gap -- a gap between what an individual and/or team plans to do and what they actually do instead. Just as retention rapidly degrades after learning, so does project execution after strategic planning. So what can be done?

In 1885, Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist, famously demonstrated a theory concluding that people start forgetting what they learn as soon as they learn it. In his "forgetting curve" study, he demonstrated that humans forget half of what they learn within an hour of learning it, and by the following day, they have forgotten a full two-thirds of the new information. Since Ebbinghaus' study, psychologists have discovered that there are many ways to improve retention and memory; however, if memory is so fragile, what is its impact on project execution and strategic planning – getting the things done that you and your team should do? 

Wednesday, 02 May 2012 09:35

Effective Communications

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The performance reporting process collects and distributes performance information, such as project scope, schedule, cost, quality, risk, and procurement.

The key to successful communications is asking stakeholders what they need communicated to them, and then follow through and provide it to them. I have heard many new project managers complain of "backseat drivers" on their projects, always going around them, asking team members for status (i.e., asking "are we there yet?").

I suspect the reason for this is that many project managers act as if project status is top-secret, classified information that only the privileged few with top-secret clearance can receive. Consider that the project is operating on a "need to know" basis and your stakeholders really need to know. Mark it as confidential if you are so inclined (or if it is appropriate because you are actually dealing with confidential or sensitive data), but send out accurate and timely communications on a regular basis.

By managing the work and reporting the progress regularly to stakeholders, you will avoid the "backseat driver" syndrome.

Another benefit of this is that you will create the environment for the team to do their job uninterrupted without numerous disruptions from various stakeholders asking for status updates because you fail to provide updates sufficiently. If this is happening on your project, know this: it is the project manager's fault.

I'll share a story from my career.

In my colleague's haste to leave the office for vacation, she failed to update a stakeholder on a critical deliverable that was due at the end of the day. I happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time and became the unintended recipient of his frustration. He was extremely agitated and looking for anyone who could give him an update. I was able to get an update for him in less than five minutes and he had the information he needed and the assurance that his deliverable was on target. For something that took so little time and effort, it created a lot of unnecessary stress, frustration, and ill will. So ask yourself, is it worth it?

It is remarkable how many failing projects I have seen rescued throughout my career by improving communications and reporting. In many cases, beginning project managers did not understand their role and were not collecting or disseminating the information accurately or in a timely fashion. The work was in fact being completed; however, it was not being managed, thus timely handoffs (i.e., for dependent tasks) were not occurring between project team members. Nor was there any evidence of progress being presented to stakeholders. Therefore, stakeholders had the perception that the project was way behind schedule and they reported as such to their management. Of course, this causes a rippling effect of escalations. As soon as an experienced project manager reigned in and managed the team and got a handle on the work actually being accomplished, status was adjusted to reflect accomplishment accurately, handoffs between project team members occurred, and the project quickly was back on track. Performance reports present evidence of the work. Without them, how will anyone really know what is being accomplished along the way? The team works hard. It's your job as project manager to ensure this is reflected in your performance reports.

Don't forget to leave your comments below.
Wednesday, 02 May 2012 09:12

How Kanban Can Change Your Life

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Kanban can change your life. More specifically, it can change your professional life and how well you manage your projects.

Kanban provides an enormous range of invaluable capabilities to projects, such as efficiency, focus, communication, limiting work in process, prioritization, and visibility on status. There is great value for your teams using Kanban and for all team members regardless of their role. This article will take a look at some of the benefits reaped from implementing Kanban into your process.