The watchword for a successful project is clarity. To set your team up for the best experience and outcome, you have to be clear about your project’s objectives as well as each team member’s role and responsibilities. Before getting your project started, break down pre-project preparations into these five steps:
I recently attended the APM (Association for Project Management) yearly conference in London. The overarching theme was Adapt, and called on the project management profession to adapt its thinking to address the increasing expectations of society – a society that has a growing intolerance to failure and expects all projects to succeed.
One of the most stimulating speakers of the conference was Tim Harford, who writes the Undercover Economist column for the Financial Times and is the author of Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure. He addressed the more-for-less culture that sprung from the financial crisis, and how people are still waiting for this trend to fade once the economy is back on its feet.
But in reality this will never happen.
According to Harford, after each financial crisis we continue to operate under more scrutiny and with fewer resources. The new benchmark of delivering better projects with less funding and in less time is here to stay. What that means for project managers is that we continuously need to look for new and better ways of optimizing how we work, and that we might have to justify project expenditure through well-documented business cases. But there’s a catch for businesses that want to excel in a competitive environment.
Don’t stop at marginal gains
There are many benefits to outsourcing IT services that can empower and grow your business. Many software vendors and enterprises have employed outsourcing as a strategic plan to keep pace with technology and support evolving applications, many of which are moving from legacy enterprise services to cloud-based applications.
Whether you are interested in outsourcing business analysis, architecture, development, or quality control, there are a number of mission-critical services that can be successfully handled by a strategic outsourcing partner. Services such as public facing web applications, mobile applications, business intelligence, and other applications supported by a cloud-based SaaS model are ideal for a partner to develop and support.
The issue today isn’t whether outsourcing is a viable business model – indeed it’s proven to work for numerous companies. The issue is how to select a partner, integrate the teams and manage a successful relationship.
“We are scheduled to arrive 17 minutes early,” announced the pilot before takeoff on a recent flight.
“Excellent,” I said to myself. Then I got to wondering if it really was.
In fact, I wasn’t sure quite what to make of it. Does that mean we’re going to be early or does it mean we were originally scheduled to be late? And most importantly, if I decide this is a good thing, how can I use this expectation-setting strategy on my projects?
It’s critical to know what stakeholders really want. Many of them would argue that they want the truth. They want to know when things really will be done and what they’ll cost.
Back in 2008 when Bruce Taylor and I were writing our book the “Project Management Communications Bible” we found that a certain number of project managers were struggling with their project communications. Back then, we found surveys on the Internet that showed that project communications were the biggest reason for project failure and we talked to project managers and saw firsthand the problems they were having trying to deliver a successful project. Over and again we saw that project managers were consistently ignoring project communications on their projects. For example, we saw that many project managers were not building effective communication plans. We saw that most were not treating communications seriously at all. At a minimum, they would send out a status report and feel like that was all they needed to do from a communication perspective. Frankly, it was bad, and it was something that needed fixing right away.
Projects can represent an investment of billions of $US over a development period that can be as long as five or more years. With such large investments at stake, it’s important to use a well-integrated set of best-in-class tools and methodologies to reduce the risk of either a less-than-projected return on investment, or worse, a total failure. If the chosen approach can also reduce the new product development (NPD) cycle time, its value is even greater.
Many large organizations have adopted a gated approach to reduce NPD risk. One of the key features of such an approach is a set of “go/no-go” decision gates which, in principle, ensures that each project remains aligned with its original strategic intent and its value remains high enough to justify its continuation to the next stage of development.
As well as processes and methodologies, there are a few fundamentals that companies must remain true to when developing new products: call them best practice or just plain common sense. Sometimes small deviations from these fundamentals cause problems. On the other hand, small modifications may be identified that make the process work even better in situations that are a little different from the usual.
As Project Managers when confronted with making important decisions, we always find ourselves carefully analyzing the situation before acting. We list all the alternatives, all the consequences, identify all the pros and cons for each option, and then employ very sophisticated tools to compute all utilities before reaching the optimal decision. Decision trees, linear programming methods, payoff tables and operations research are all at our disposal in the decision making process.
Sounds soothing and elegant, but the reality is that all the above are exceptions. In fact, I probably lost those readers by now who were interested in reading about real life Project Management. Just like life itself, our projects have become more complex with more uncertainty, which does not call for more sophistication, and further complications, but rather teaches us that “less is more and usually more effective”. The fact that our information processing capacity is finite, that we are unable to think through problems in any depth, coupled with the pressure of time, leads us to use heuristics for solving problems.
Definition of Risk
The official definition of a Risk & Risk Management as per the PMBOK Guide is:
A Risk is an uncertain event or condition that if it occurs, has a positive or negative effect on a Project's Objectives.
I have a confession; the first time I read this it was like reading VCR instructions. I had to read it over and over again just to make the statement sound right in my head. After a while I realized exactly what they were trying to say. Simply put:
Project Risk is the possibility that something will not happen as planned.
It really is that simple. So why doesn’t the PMBOK just say it that way? Unfortunately, too many project managers and business analysts assume that something not planned has to be a bad thing. However, change is not always bad.
Considering life, time is a unit of measurement since all events occur within its intervals. In fact, no two recurrent activities in history can be absolutely described without due reference to it. For instance, when intercontinental events such as the Olympics, Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) world cup and Wimbledon are occur repeatedly in the same location, they are mainly referenced based on their years or dates of occurrence. Again, time is generally an independent resource which we spend and can never retrieve –we can only attempt to compensate for it presently or in future. Therefore, in achieving project objectives and producing deliverables, time is a critical constraint to which all human resource must be sensitive.
When customers, sponsors and other stakeholders outside an active project team appraise the team or their projects highly, they often adjudge them based on the team’s ability to maximally influence the main constraints of time, cost, scope and quality. This suggests that a team’s collective ability to produce the totality of expected deliverables in a satisfactory manner at a friendly budget within the appropriate schedule is what qualifies them as an ace project team; not the presence of a few highly-skilled or vastly-experienced individuals. While it is true that the presence of an effective project manager makes a team prone to being more successful, most successful teams are actually constituted by members who each understand the overall effect of working in proximity to planned schedule. If a team of fourteen members contain seven persons that are variously certified by PMI as CAPM®, PMP® and PMI-RMP® credential holders and these individuals apply and transfer the knowledge obtained from the consulted editions of the Guide to Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) across the entire team, the likelihood of the team’s overall success will escalate as the factor of time will be handled more efficiently.