Tuesday, 04 March 2008 02:29

Project Management for the Masses

Written by David Barrett
This is a rant of mine from a year ago, but I think it’s well worth repeating.

Many industries, organizations, departments, divisions and people find our professional world of project management intimidating, confusing and all too much to be able to apply to their projects.

Their projects are not big enough to apply most of our processes. But more importantly, the people managing these projects are not full time project managers and they will never be full time project managers. Typically, these people are part time project managers with MANY small projects on the go at once. They are office administrators, operations people, managers and directors of departments. To all of them, there is no time or energy for PMBOK, PMI, Gantt charts, pert charts, risk assessment plans nor a quality plan.

But what is there time for? What can our big bad world of project management offer these people and their projects to help them deliver on time, on budget and within scope?

If I had to pick the key ingredients to small project success I would group them into three areas:

  • A solid foundation
  • A stake in the ground
  • A plan and a process

A Solid Foundation
Every project, regardless of its size must be built on a solid foundation. A well-defined objective answering the question: what are we building? You should create some sort of scope definition document or project charter. Force every initiative into a brief, simple series of questions: who, what, why, when, where.

But there’s more. You also need a key stakeholder – someone who is ultimately responsible, who you can count on for support, funding and receipt of the final product.

The right team – making sure you have the right people in place before you start. This could include suppliers, vendors and, of course, anyone internal or external who you need to complete the project.

Enough time – you need to take time out to outline the schedule of work – no detailed scheduling tool required, no task dependencies – just a simple, to-the-point schedule.

Enough money – do a budget! No matter how small the project. Be sure your stakeholder understands ALL the costs.

A Stake in the Ground
By this I mean a solid start date, end date and all major milestones defined. And a name! Give your projects a name. All of this will give the initiative some sort of form – and form is important when it comes to communicating to the outside world. It is also crucial to the declaration at the end that the project was a success or failure it terms of delivery.
A kick-off meeting is difficult if there is just one of you. But more than one? You should be sitting down at least over coffee to shoot off the start pistol. This is great opportunity to confirm you are all on the same page.

A Plan and a Process
Here is where all full time project managers fail when we are asked for help on small projects. You do not need a detailed plan. But you do need a simple, high-level list of work to be done, who will be doing it and when it should be complete. You should establish a series of regular meetings with stakeholders and a regular reporting method. Communication within every project is the key to success – but it is one of the hardest things to do – because we all want to ‘over report’. Do a simple communication plan – who will get what information, when, how and WHY? Go through this exercise and you will start to wonder why you have been sending detailed 100 page reports to people who don’t care, shouldn’t care or never read it because it is too long.

And finally - after the project. You should take a moment to close out – record lessons learned, say thank you to all involved and make a graceful exit.

Simple? Sure. Be there are lots of risks to every project:

People are the toughest part of any project. They must be managed as much as you are managing the work they are doing. Technology will kill you at the 11th hour – we all know that one. And beware of change – the change in corporate direction in the middle of your project, the change in personnel, change in technology, to name a few.

All projects, regardless of size deserve to be managed properly. For those people out there who are not full time project managers, we need to help them with some simple, basic guidelines from our professional world of project management.

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