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Author: Andrew Miller

Project Management; Final Thoughts

This will be my final blog for Project Times. It has been a great experience for me to write monthly on various topics and various experiences in project management. Over the past two years, I have been fighting the urge to call myself a project manager because I did not want to be pigeonholed as someone that can only manage projects. I wanted to be known as a consultant who also does project management.

What I am beginning to realize is that consulting and project managing have many similar characteristics:

  • Each should have a desired outcome to be achieved;
  • Each requires management of expectations;
  • Each requires a discipline to make effective decisions; and
  • Each requires a strong relationship with the client and/or team.

I guess I am a project manager and a consultant and it does not matter which comes first.

My final thought is that project management is on the rise. Companies need to bring in the discipline that project managers are taught from the get-to: focusing on priorities; managing scope; managing people; staying on budget; and staying within timelines. I defy you to find me a company that would not benefit from people with the skills to perform the above.

As project managers, you should be excited about the future and what it might hold. Market yourself and let people know what you do. Not that you are a project manager, but what that means to your organization or your clients’ organization. It means discipline, fiscal prudence, the ability to prioritize difficult work packages and getting activities completed successfully. Sounds like a pretty appealing set of abilities, no? We are in demand and we need to keep working on advancing the profession of project management forward. So how do we do that? I will make a guest appearance on PT in the future and let you know.

Bye for now, it has been a pleasure!

Making the Client Situation Better

As a Project Manager, what is our main objective? To keep the project on track? On budget? In scope? To implement successfully? There is a strong argument for all of these, but many of them are difficult to manage. Scope is a variable to be debated, project timelines are changing all the time and project budget may be static, but can never be exact.
Maybe we need to look at a different way of determining whether or not we were successful as project managers. Ask yourself this simple question – is the client better off than he/she was when I got here as a result of the work that I have done? (For the purposes of this blog, client can mean external clients or internal business – in each case those benefiting from the project). The reason that I like this question as a gauge of success is it focuses on improving the clients’ position. The reason that you may NOT like it is because it can be a purely subjective measure. Typically you can put measures in place to prove whether or not the client is better off, but most do not spend the time required to do this.

Many of us have found ourselves in a position destined for failure. Project sponsorship is poor, there are not enough resources on the team, the software vendor is non-responsive, etc. In these circumstances, traditional project management measurements (budget, timelines, change orders) would make us look like terrible PMs. But, if we ask the question above, and the client is better off than when we started, then we did a good job. A good PM recognizes that they cannot always fix the problem, but they can improve it.

If a manufacturing organization has a defect rate of 50% on parts and embarks on a project to fix the problem that results in a reduction to a 35% defect rate, did the PM do a good job? Most would say that a 35% defect rate is unacceptably high and therefore the project failed. I would say that on the surface, it looks like the PM did a good job, but what was the project supposed to achieve? Was the target 20%? 40%? Without knowing our objectives, how can we gauge whether we were a success or failure? Traditional measurements do not give us this information, but we are stuck using them because that is what everyone wants to hear.

Maybe we need to look at a different way of determining whether or not we were successful as project managers. Ask yourself this simple question – is the client better off than he/she was when I got here as a result of the work that I have done? (For the purposes of this blog, client can mean external clients or internal business units.) The reason that you may NOT like it is because it can be a purely subjective measure. Typically you can put measures in place to prove whether or not the client is better off, but most do not spend the time required to do this.

Keys to an Effective RFP

As PMs, we are sometimes asked to lead or participate in the RFP process. For those not familiar with this process, it is a formal process used to select a particular vendor (or sometimes vendors) for the purchase of specific products or services. So what makes an effective RFP process? Well, first we need to answer the question ‘What is the impact of running an ineffective RFP process?’ It is the same as making a bad investment decision, because you have to live with the consequences of your actions. The main reason for these ineffective processes is bad evaluation criteria. Too many companies spend little to no time up front in determining the appropriate evaluation criteria and identifying the appropriate team members to evaluate RFP proposals. An effective RFP process will lead to increased value for your organization and ensures that you are selecting the best strategic partners for your organization. There are three things to focus on to run an effective process:

Focus on Value
The biggest mistake most companies make is that they focus very heavily on cost. This mindset needs to be changed. That is not to say that cost is not an important element of any RFP decision, but it should not necessarily be the most important element. Would you rather have the cheapest product that is going to break in a few months, requiring another purchasing process to replace it, or a quality product that will last longer and work better?

Engage Your Stakeholders
In most cases where the wrong supplier is selected it is because the wrong criteria were used. Procurement departments are generally measured on unit cost savings and are not always have aware of the impact their decisions have on the rest of the organization (additional downstream costs, poor quality, lack of support, impacts on timelines), yet they typically determine the evaluation criteria. For items where specific requirements need to be met, the stakeholders most impacted by the decision need to have input into the decision-making process.

Formalize the Process
Too many companies have informal evaluation processes where changes are made as they go along. They do not follow the identified criteria; they do not formalize the scoring of the criteria, and they allow outside factors to influence their decisions. The evaluation process needs to be formalized and managed.

The RFP process can be a very complicated one and leads to important decisions, which is why I am staggered by the number of companies that do it so poorly. It requires a significant amount of resource time and effort so why not take the extra time to do it right. Too often organizations do not plan appropriately and need to rush through the RFP process. If you implement the success factors mentioned above, you will see increased value being driven from your RFP processes.

Good luck!

Chasing the Schedule

Have you ever wondered if you are managing the schedule or if the schedule is managing you? There are too many projects where the schedule becomes obsolete early on and is eventually dropped. Why is that? Is it because of ineffective project management tools? Is it because of ineffective project managers? Is it because projects are constantly changing, thus impossible to manage? I submit to you that the main problem with schedule chasing is that most project plans never take into account all of the important activities required to achieve a milestone. So why not detail all of those activities, you may ask?
There is a fine line between not enough detail and too much detail in a project plan. I have seen project plans that are 20-30 lines that are unmanageable due to their lack of detail, but I have also seen project plans that are 2,000 lines that are equally unmanageable due to their granularity. It required entire PMOs just to manage the updates. So how do you avoid both of these problems and effectively manage the schedule?

My advice is to always look at the milestones that need to be achieved, and manage to those milestones. That is your 10,000 foot level of whether or not the project is on time. Then you need to identify the dependencies to complete those milestones successfully. This brings you down an additional level, but the project plan still remains manageable. A PM should be spending his or her time ensuring that the project team has the proper tools and a clear path in order to complete those dependent activities. They should be working on nothing else. Issues that block the team’s ability to complete those activities should be prioritized and other issues dealt with at a later date.

I realize that this is not rocket science, but too many projects focus on the number of tasks to be completed, the percentage complete, the number of resources, etc., but some of those tasks do not always relate directly to the milestones to be achieved. As soon as you lose view of the project milestones, you will lose focus on the activities that should be the highest priority and your project schedule will suffer.

Yes, it is that simple!

Why Contract Management is Important

Have you ever been asked to review a contract at the start of a project only to find out some of the details are missing? Have you ever come into the middle of a project only find out that the service levels in the contract are not being met? How about contracts where service levels are not even being tracked? It makes you ask the question
There are too many instances where organizations spend tons of money on legal fees and resource time in the negotiation of a contract, only to never look at it again. The whole purpose of negotiating service levels in a contract is to be able to hold the supplier accountable for a minimum level of performance. If no one is going to track against those service levels, then how does one know that they are being met? If an organization negotiates prices for products or services, what is a reasonable time-frame before those rates need to be reviewed for validity?

Contract management should be an essential part of any project and any organization. You do not need a fancy system or database, just a simple method of tracking the details of your contracts and being proactive in their renewal. I have had clients that are still buying IT equipment from the same agreements that were negotiated 5-10 years ago. Not only have companies significantly increased the service levels that they provide since then, but the price of much of the equipment has gone down significantly. This company is not only leaving money on the table, but they are spending valuable resource time supporting equipment that other suppliers would be supporting for them, at a lower cost than their current contract.

It is imperative that organizations and projects have an understanding of which contracts are active, which contracts are coming up for renewal and when, and what is the value of each of the organization’s contracts. There is other pertinent information that should be tracked as well, but by knowing which contracts are expiring, when they expire and their value, organizations can take a proactive approach to managing those contracts. Priorities can be set as to where resource time should be allocated to re-establishing those contract and time can be allocated to doing adequate research to ensure the re-negotiated contracts provide more value to the organization.

Managing contracts is not rocket science, nor is a specific skill set required. It only requires the ability to manage existing information in an organized fashion and anticipate changes in the marketplace that will be beneficial to your company and your project.

Sounds like a pretty easy way to provide additional value to your organization, doesn’t it?