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Do You Know Where Your IT Projects Are? Part 2

DoYouKnowWhereIn this second of four articles, Yogi Schulz describes more of the 12 signs of impending IT project doom that are visible months before catastrophe strikes. 

Project Manager

To evaluate the state of project management, you as project manager, can perform a little candid self-assessment.

Good – You work as the full-time project manager.  You have the confidence of the project sponsor.  You have appropriate experience and hide nothing from management.  For example, on your last assignment, you led a successful CRM implementation.

Bad – You have insufficient experience given the project characteristics or have competing responsibilities.  Your track record is inadequate.  For example, the project manager just led a successful but simple MS Office upgrade project.  For example, the project manager just led a project to improve the time-keeping system that upset some groups.

Ugly – My project is being managed as a self-managed team.  Project management is divided among several individuals; no one is really in charge; I’m just a figure-head.  A self-managed team may be a wonderfully positive working environment but it rarely delivers much due to too much debate and no way to bring competing visions to a consensus.  For example, the project manager role is shared among the more experienced project team members; they make decisions by consensus that consumes an enormous effort for even the smallest decision

The Fix

Appoint an IT professional with a record of successful delivery as project manager.  For example, appoint the project manager who just completed a successful integration of the data from an acquisition.  Business professionals rarely have appropriate IT project management expertise.  For example, don’t appoint a capable manager in supply chain.

Successful project managers produce project management deliverables such as updated Gantt charts, project status reports or Issue analysis reports.

Project Benefits

Good – I can articulate the benefits.  The benefits are credible to me, as a project manager, and are credible to the management team.  For example, benefits include reducing the cost of new customer acquisition.

Bad – Perceptions about the reality of benefits vary.  No one, including the project team, has had time to quantify benefits.  For example, the benefits are vague like improved customer service.  For example, the benefits are in dispute:  Some groups challenge that the goal of reduced elapsed time through the manufacturing process is achievable.  It doesn’t matter whether or not you, as a project manager, agree with this point of view.  However, without some consensus, it’s difficult for the project team to know what to work on or what’s a priority.

Ugly – I don’t see anyone accountable for securing the benefits.  Ensuring that the benefits promoted at project inception will actually be realized is not receiving any attention.  For example, the project plan is dominated by software and computing infrastructure deliverables; not good.  Ensuring that business benefits of the associated CRM application will actually be realized is assumed but not ensured.

The Fix

Ask the project team to list the benefits.

Quantify benefits that can be quantified.  Knowing the benefits enables the project team to effectively make the many trade-offs that every project demands.  The absence of quantified benefits makes it difficult to know if a project should be approved in the first place.  For example, staff time savings or reduced time for customer interactions from better performing applications are benefits that can be measured and quantified.

Link intangible benefits to key organization goals.  Intangible benefits that can’t be linked convincingly to key organization goals are nice-to-have benefits that likely don’t deserve funding.  For example, the intangible benefit of a new website that contains more content and improved navigation improves the customer experience and enhances brand value.

Dubious projects need to be cancelled.  You can recognize dubious projects by the project team’s inability to create a compelling list of tangible and intangible benefits.  For example, proposed projects where it’s difficult to identify a project sponsor, where the benefits sound really vague or distant and where the size of the projects is difficult to estimate need to be cancelled before they soak up valuable resources.

Successful project managers lead the project team in producing benefits analysis deliverables.

Project Plan and Status

To evaluate the quality of the project plan and the status reporting, you as project manager can perform a little candid self-assessment.

Good – I’ve created the same summary Gantt chart, showing plan and progress on at least two occasions.  The project plan is based mostly on effort.  Small tasks have been rolled up into deliverables.  Reported issues are resolved.  For example, I recognize the tasks in the project plan where I know progress has occurred.

Bad – I’ve never produced a Gantt chart or no comparability exists among the Gantt Charts I’ve produced.  The project plan is based more on duration than effort.  The project plan includes generic resource names like programmer or analyst or infrastructure guy.  Few issues are reported; little attention is paid to issue resolution.  For example, from one month to the next, the project Gantt chart looks dramatically different.

Ugly – What’s a Gantt chart?  Do we need a project plan?  I believe everyone has a good, shared understanding of the project goal and scope.  For example, we measure progress by monitoring cumulative spending.

The Fix

Lead the project team in creating a detailed project plan.  A detailed project plan is one where:

  1. no task exceeds 40 hours of effort
  2. every task is assigned to a known person
  3. no task has more than one assigned resource
  4. major tasks are linked into a precedence chain

Use the project planning exercise to resolve the many scope and approach ambiguities that typically hover around a project and threaten to derail it.

Use a credible project management software package to manage the project plan; not Excel or Visio or PowerPoint.  Ensure that progress reports against the project plan be produced and presented to the steering committee monthly.

Successful project managers produce successively more accurate project plans and project status reports.

Project Budget and Status

To evaluate the quality of the project budget and the financial reporting, you as project manager can perform a little candid self-assessment.

Good – I lead the creation of the budget and produce to regular updates of variance and cumulative spending.  I create spending projections.  For example, the monthly spending amounts are reasonably on target.  The projected variance at completion fluctuates modestly from month to month.

Bad – Budget and spending amounts I’ve produced change over time.  Projected spending variance at completion fluctuates wildly from month to month.  For example, the project budget and monthly spending amounts vary a lot from month to month for unknown reasons.

Ugly – No budget has been proposed or approved to my knowledge.  Projected spending variance at completion is not calculated.  For example, we’re spending money as needed as we go along.

The Fix

Lead the project team to create a budget derived from the project plan.

Make sure the project budget contains the following items that are often left off:

  1. Contingency to recognize the risk of under-estimating.
  2. Allowance for change orders to recognize the likelihood that one or more change orders will arise during execution of the project.
  3. Estimate of end-user effort; typically not costed,

Produce monthly update reports showing cumulative spending variance against budget and projected cost at completion.

When the projected variance at completion increases significantly, it’s likely time to recognize that some change in project scope or project approach is occurring that needs to be documented in a change order for discussion with the project steering committee.

Successful project managers produce project budget and spending outlook reports.

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Yogi Schulz is a partner at Corvelle Consulting.  The firm specializes in project management and information technology related management consulting. Mr. Schulz holds a B.Com. from The University of Calgary, is a member of CIPS and holds its ISP designation. He has presented at many conferences, writes for the Microsoft web site and appears on CBC’s Wild Rose Forum. Mr.Schulz can be reached at [email protected]


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