The Project Management Institute (PMI) encourages its members to advance the profession. One of the ways to do this is by helping others increase their project management skills. The target audiences for this blog are professional PM’s early in their careers as well as those who manage projects but are not PM’s by title or trade. I will be posting every week or so, offering practical tips and tools on the full range of project management topics. I hope you will find this useful and help you advance your career.
Many in the working world, who are not Project Managers by trade, manage projects. In many cases, they do not recognize they are managing a project and treat it as just another task assignment without applying project management disciplines. This can be very stressful as projects can descend into chaos without proper management.
If you are given a goal and it has a due date you now have a project. It can range from the trivial (“let’s go out to lunch Friday”) to the very complex (“we need a new payroll system”). There is a tipping point where you need to start applying project management discipline, with the depth varying with the complexity.
If you are the person responsible for meeting the goal and the date, then congratulations, you’re the Project Manager, whether that is your formal title or not. Recognizing your role is the first step to improving your chances of success. There are many more ways to fail than to succeed. By applying fundamentals, you eliminate ways to fail.
In the upcoming blog posts I will introduce you to fundamentals that will help you succeed in your job and your life.
The first step in obtaining your project’s human resource needs is to create a “Roles/Responsibilities” matrix. In the first column, you define the project roles required. For example “Project Manager”, “Business Analyst”, “Subject Matter Experts”. These are not job titles but roles defined for the needs of the project. The second column describes the scope of responsibilities for that role. The third column is the name or names of those people assigned to that role. The rest of the columns contain contact information, and the assignee’s department and manager.
The next step is obtaining the commitments for these resources to work on the project. I have seen many projects given the approval to begin without the commitment (or even awareness) of key stakeholders (business units that will have project task assignments). This leaves the Project Manager in the position of negotiating with the business units for resource time and priority. This is typically the result of lack of Project Portfolio Management and control of the project intake process, especially in regard to resource capacity.
A best practice in Project Management is to secure the resource commitments prior to the approval of the Business Case. This means doing a thorough stakeholder analysis of all of the roles and responsibilities needed for the project. A brainstorming session with those having a broad knowledge of the business functions can help identify key stakeholders.
The Executive Sponsor (with support from the Project Manager) is responsible for communicating with the affected business units and securing the commitments. If these commitments have not been made and the project is directed to proceed, then this must be handled using formal Risk Management (which will be addressed in a future post).
In addition to having committed resources, they must also be the right resources. They must have skills that match the assigned roles. If they don’t and you have no resource alternatives then your project must include a plan for skills development and your task estimates must take into account the skill levels of the task assignee.
For your “core” team (the small group that attends almost all meetings and contribute to planning) you must make sure they are empowered as decision makers. If your team is constantly saying “I have to get my manager’s approval”, your schedule may be significantly impacted.
If your company actively manages its Project Portfolio, then this building block should already be in place. However, many companies begin new projects without any consideration of the impacts to projects already in progress or in the “pending” queue. This is the single biggest root cause to the Project Manager’s #1 headache: resource contention.
Before projects can begin, you should have satisfactory answers to the following questions:
- Are any existing projects competing for the same resources?
- If so, do these resources have the availability required for the new project?
- Where does this new project rank in the corporate priority?
- Is there a process in place to prevent the next new project from interfering with this one?
The answers to the above will tell you if you have Executive commitment for your project. Without it you will every day be at risk of losing key resources and jeopardizing your schedule.
There are certain fundamentals that need to be in place to increase the probability of project success. The second of these is to have well-defined Business Objectives. These should be established as part of the original Business Case for the project. It is surprising how many times I have seen these absent from an initiative.
Business Objectives are the “CEO’s view” of the project. They should make or save money, take advantage of opportunity, respond to new law and regulations, or increase competitive advantage. They should be specific and measurable to avoid what I call “Mom and apple pie” objectives like “We will be more efficient”. Really? Exactly how efficient? Will we be able to cut costs or deploy those efficiency savings to revenue opportunities?
I will go into more detail on this topic when I address the Project Charter. Suffice to say for now that the main reason for having solid Business Objectives as a building block for project success is that it guides all decision making on a project. Whether you realize it or not, all of the project team members are decision makers, typically making many micro-decisions every day. The Business Objectives act as the beacon of light for these decisions. Any decision that will reduce or modify the impact of the Business Objectives must be escalated to the Project Sponsor.
The “Building Blocks” series of posts will help you identify key prerequisites that must be in place before you begin your project. Whether you are the Project Manager from the start of the project, or taking over someone else’s already started project, make sure these Critical Success Factors are in place.
There are certain fundamentals that need to be in place to increase the probability of project success. The first of these is to have an active and committed Business Sponsor. The Business Sponsor is the person (or persons) who initiated the project and authored the Business Case. The primary roles of the Business Sponsor are to provide funding, help clear obstacles to success, provide resources and make key decisions.
It is surprising how many projects (IT projects especially) proceed without this key building block. The thinking is that the merit of the project itself will drive it to successful conclusion. This is a huge mistake. Projects like this will typically encounter a lack of cooperation from the business units as their priorities do not match the priorities of those driving the project. It is OK for IT to get the ball rolling, but before the project is officially approved, the Business Sponsor must be identified and take ownership.
The Business Sponsor will play a key role in your Organizational Change Management Plan. Their responsibilities will include:
- Being the “Face” of the project communicating directly with employees and management
- Participating actively and visibly throughout the project
- Building a coalition of sponsorship and manage resistance – identify other Executives who will Champion the change
In the preceding series of posts, I presented a process I use for making key decisions. Now I will present a brief summary of those posts.
- We struggle with some decisions because…
- There are too many choices
- The apparent choices are all bad
- The apparent choices seem all equally good
- Loss Aversion – we fear risking something we have for something we want
- Fear of being wrong
- Fear of being criticized
- Poor decision making process results in…
- Unintended consequences
- Good decision making process will…
- Eliminate decision paralysis
- Reduce stress
- Keep you moving forward
- Eliminate regret
- Look at decisions as a “portfolio” instead of isolated events
- The process in 8 steps…
- Begin with the end in mind – know your desired outcomes and how you will measure success
- Analyze your alternatives – there may be more than you think!
- Identify and mitigate risks
- Distance yourself from short-term emotion
- Create contingency plans
- Make the decision
- Evaluate the outcomes
- Evaluate the process
Try using the process on your next key decision. Tweak it as needed for your specific circumstances. Leave some comments on this post as to what worked and what didn’t.
For the eighth and final step in the decision making process you will evaluate the process itself. You do this in the spirit of continuous process improvement. This will improve your future decision making process and outcomes.
Here are some questions to ask yourself regarding your process:
- For good outcomes:
- What process steps were the most useful?
- What could you have done to make the good outcomes even better?
- For negative outcomes:
- Did the process fail or was it circumstances beyond your control?
- Did you skip steps?
- Were there some steps you did not give sufficient time and energy?
- Did you anticipate and plan for this negative outcome? If not, what would you have done different?
The next post will be the final post in the Decision Making series and I will summarize and give you some additional thoughts on the topic.