Building Blocks of a Successful Project Part 4 – Human Resources

Initiation

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.

Building Blocks of a Successful Project Part 3 – Executive Commitment

Initiation

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:

  1. Are any existing projects competing for the same resources?
  2. If so, do these resources have the availability required for the new project?
  3. Where does this new project rank in the corporate priority?
  4. 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.

Building Blocks of a Successful Project Part 2 – Business Objectives

Initiation

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.

Building Blocks of a Successful Project Part 1 – Business Sponsorship

Initiation

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

The Project Charter – Sign Off

Initiation

The Project Charter can be looked at as a contract between you and your project sponsor or you and your manager. It documents your understanding of the expectations of the sponsor and what you are expected to deliver and when. Like any contract, it should be concluded with a signature indicating agreement.

Why get a real signature? It is amazing how people will pay close attention to what is in a document when they have to sign their name to it! I have seen cases on my own projects as well as those I consulted on where misunderstandings are cleared up prior to charter sign off. This has and will save many hours of effort avoiding taking a project down the wrong path. For these reasons I highly recommend getting a real signature and posting a PDF image of the Project Charter in the project repository.

Once you have a signed-off charter, you now have one of the deliverables subject to formal Change Management. Any request that would change any component of the charter should have a formal change benefit/impact statement signed off and the Project Charter should be changed to a new version and signed off again.

In my next post we will move to the Planning Phase and begin a multi-part discussion on the Project Management Plan.

The Project Charter – Dependencies

Initiation

As part of the Project Charter it is important to define dependencies on the deliverables and resources of other projects and initiatives that are outside the control of the project team. If you have any of these dependencies, they can present major risks to your project schedule. As such, they should be included in your risk management strategy as well as being called out separately in the Dependencies section of your charter

Here is an example of a dependency I encountered in a real-world project:

The project I was managing needed a couple of PC’s to be available in each location for the staff to access for some of their tasks. Another project was ordering and installing these PC’s for a different purpose. I asked to be included in the status reports for that project so I could monitor progress. When I noticed the project completion date slipping to the point of endangering the project I was managing, I offered to advise the person (not a professional PM) managing the project to help them get on track. This was successful and my project avoided any impact.

Be sure to actively identify current projects and initiatives that could impact your project and plan your strategy.

The Project Charter – Constraints

Initiation

Constraints are any limitations to solution options that have been imposed on a project. It is important to know these early on so time is not wasted pursuing these options. Here are some examples:

  • The solution must work with Microsoft Internet Explorer 8 as that is the company standard
  • The solution must be an Oracle product for seamless integration with our other Enterprise systems
  • The new department we are adding as a result of this project must fit into this 30′ x 50′ area

When project constraints are uncovered, be sure to understand the reason why. It is possible the constraint could be removed. I was involved with a project where the service provider was preselected but without looking at the competition. I convinced my business partners to conduct formal “Request for Proposal’s” with the leading competition and the result was a different provider was selected.

Constraints are included in the Project Charter so that the Sponsor and Core Project Team understand and agree.