“In our competitive world, across all verticals, many companies are going lean. Every dollar counts and head count can be one of the most expensive resources a company deals with. This leaves little bandwidth for people or departments to implement change, and change is necessary to a company’s success; without it they will lose their competitive edge and relevance in their industry! Most change comes via projects, and the success of each project is critical for growth and survival. Because of this importance, businesses of all sizes and in all markets are investing in project management.”
I wrote this in another blog back in 2018 … and it is just as pertinent to our world today, if not more so. But “Project Management” is a vast subject with lots of theories, methodologies, rules, applications, perspectives, and tools, we’re going to zoom in on some very basic, specific building blocks.
One perspective on developing successful Project Management is the difference between subjective and objective skills … subjective being the ability to be in tune with your team members, understanding their capabilities and bandwidth and how they can work best together and best with their customer. This blog will focus more on the objective skills, the tools and activities used in a best practices manner to help ensure the success of a project to come in on time, on budget and in scope.
There are 3 pillars that are important to focus on, especially for smaller companies who want sound business practices with foundations in the PMI principals, but may not have the time, personnel or money to establish a formal PMO and participate in the setup, documentation and reporting that requires high levels of effort. These 3 pillars are methodology, templatizing and reporting. Taking just a more focused approach with these 3 ideas will help to ensure consistency and will save time in the long run so that each project is not requiring anyone to re-create the wheel with each project.
The first of these pillars is methodology … how do you get from inception to completion for any project, but more importantly, what steps will increase your chance of success. Every project has 5 stages: Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring and Closing. They may look a little different depending on the project, but they are there and if you take the time to focus on each at the beginning you are less likely to miss important success factors.
Starting at the beginning, when a project is proposed your team should put together a Statement of Work (SOW) to clearly define the scope of what you are aiming at achieving. Clearly understanding the purpose and the boundaries of what will be done provides the road map for your project and not only helps achieve actual success, but just as importantly the perception of success. While something may end up being completed … was it done in the time frame that project sponsors were hoping for, and only cost what they had originally budgeted for and does it look like or “do” what they had hoped for?
Once agreement on the SOW is complete, a sound Project Plan needs to be put in place. Does that mean that you need to have a 100 line Gantt chart for a 2 day project – no. But planning out what is needed to make those 2 days successful is well worth your time, the teams time and helps tremendously to communicate out to both the team and the sponsors what expectations should be. A good project plan has a section for each of the 5 stages of a project … so how do you put a project plan together in the planning stage when there is an Initiating section? That is why templatizing your project plan is not only a time saver but also a quality control feature. There may be items in “Initiating” that you do before you move on to a project plan, but some of the boxes can be checked in parallel with putting together a project plan, they are tasks you just need to ensure are done towards the beginning of your project.
When you start the project there should be a kickoff meeting, but it’s very important to continue those meetings throughout the life of the project with either weekly status meetings or daily standups depending on the type, length and intensity of a project. Most Project Managers will tell you that efficient, accurate and timely communication is the key to the success of projects. While methodologies and tools may vary between Project Managers and different companies, the one thing they all have in common is good communication. There is both verbal and written communication, it is the written communication, however, supplied on a regular basis, that will keep a project on track and provide an historical overview of the progress and the decisions that are being made.
Maybe more than any other stage, this is where you are able to prove your success and ensure end user perception that you have been successful. Anytime you make a change or implement something new, you need to run tests … system tests as well as end user tests to make sure its working the way you need it to and that there are no negative impacts on other systems or applications. Putting together a Testing template will help to ensure that your testing is comprehensive and by documenting your testing you have proof you can share and keep in your project files. It is also good practice, that despite comprehensive testing, an environment or system is monitored closely for 1 day to 1 week to validate the work. Closure should not take place before this is completed.
There are a lot of reasons why there should be a formal closure for any project. First so that everyone can agree upon successful completion and you can make sure that there are not any tasks that have slipped through the cracks. You want to get a closure document signed by all project sponsors that they are in agreement. Second, and along the same lines, there are a lot of things that can change an environment and it’s critical to establish successful completion so that any changes in an environment made 1 week, or one month or even a year later cannot mistakenly come back and be attributed to the work performed in a project. Third, often the act of closing a project has a financial impact and triggers either accounts receivable or accounts payable … depending on who you are.
The last act of closing a project is important, you need to hold a Lessons Learned meeting with all project team members, and this is a step that some forget to follow through on. A lessons learned document fulfills a couple of goals, it allows us to learn from our mistakes, and this is imperative to our growth and the growth of an offering, such as project management. It also can and should focus on the successes and ensure they are documented and inserted into our process for increased success in the future. It’s important to remember that to stay relevant and effective you have to allow for your documents and process to be changeable and to grow with the organization.
It may seem like a lot at first, especially if this is the first time you are dipping your toe into project management. Or even if you have been managing projects, but your company does not have a mature PMO that already has process or templates in place. But the effort made to walk through these steps will pay dividends on the ease of projects going forward as well as the success rate of your projects. Certainly, all of the templates being suggested are not cookie cutters for every project, they will need to be tweaked for individual companies, industries and projects, but the methodology and stages are tried and true regardless of the company, industry or project … and even the project manager.