Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Project Management : Making It Happen

I see more and more recruitment adverts for people with experience in “project management” which tells me one thing – this is an essential part of management as change becomes ever more prevalent and companies adapt to a faster pace.

I’ve managed projects myself, and know others who are much more knowledgeable in this art (or is it a science?), but what I’ve seen in my time is that you need to:

Ask “Why Are We Doing This”?
Usually, projects have a reason – to improve efficiency, raise quality, increase revenues or profitability, introduce a new system, or any another purpose.  Make sure you know why you’re embarking on this adventure.

Define the “Owner”:
Who owns the project (i.e. wants it done)?  This will usually be a head of department, function or of a company.  Can they make things happen if obstacles arise?

Define The Objective:
How will you get there if you don’t know what the end result looks like?  This is known as an overall specification and needs to be set firmly, but allow for unforeseen events.  Often, people start work without asking, “what do we want this to look like in the end?” and ended up starting over, going over budget, or both.  This becomes the “Scope” of the project (see below).

Refine The Objective – Deliverables:
What is actually needed to make sure that the objective is achieved?  This could be premises, people, processes, systems, changes in the way the business does things - any number of items which all need to fit together by a certain time.  Again, these form part of the “Scope”.

Deliver the Deliverables:
What needs to happen and when to deliver each part of the project?  Break it down into steps (Post-It notes are great for this!).  Starting at the end and working backwards is the best way to do this.

Establish Dependencies:
What needs to happen before something else can?  If something needs to end before something else can start, how do you make sure that things proceed according to plan?  The “Critical Path” consists of the deliverables, targets or steps that must be delivered or met before others can begin.  Any one of these can derail the whole project.

Allocate Time And Resources:
How much time will it all take?  What resources are needed (people, systems, cash, equipment)?  Are they available?  How will you get them?  Do you need to hire in extra staff, plant/machinery?  How much will it cost?

Allocate Funding:
Everything costs time, money and effort.  How much will this be?  Will it all be worth the end result?  Sometimes, the cost outweighs the benefits - a good reason not to proceed.  Allow for “unforeseen expenses”.  When will funds actually be needed?  Many projects come in over budget/behind schedule because of poor financial planning in the first place.

Allocate Responsibilities:
Who will do what and by when? Are they clear on what they have to do?   Do they have the resources and authority?  What do they do if something goes wrong? How do they report progress? Does everyone involved know who's doing what?

Remember “Murphy’s Law” (Contingency Planning):
What could go wrong?  How will you put it right?  What “early warning systems” can you put in place to alert you to problems before they become crises?

Get Support:
Get support – from management above (approval), those at the same level as you (agreement) and from those who report to you or are junior to you (acceptance).  This is where many projects founder due to lack of support or commitment from whichever level. 

Respect The Scope/Time/Cost Relationship:
Depending on the “scope”, you will need more or less time and resources to complete it, so it’s important to define it properly at the outset.  If you want to get things done faster, (reduce the “time” element of the project), you will need more resources, which will increase costs.  If you want to reduce costs, you have to reduce either the scope (accept a reduced outcome) or  resources (increasing time to complete).

Review, Review, Review:
Projects don’t manage themselves.  Review progress regularly: what has happened, what is happening and what is due to happen.  How will you track progress?  What meetings will you hold, with whom and when?  What information will you need to track progress?  Who will deliver it, how and when?  Who will help if delays occur?  How will you measure success?  Again, have an “early warning system” to alert you of potential problems before they become disasters.

Celebrate Success;
Both when you achieve “milestones” and at the end.  It’s great for morale.

I have spent more than half my life delivering change in different world markets from the most developed to “emerging” economies. With more than 20 years in the world financial services industry running different service, operations and lending businesses, I started my own Performance Management Consultancy to offer solutions for improving performance, productivity and risk management.  I work with individuals, small businesses, charities, quoted companies and academic institutions across the world. An international speaker, trainer, author and fund-raiser, I can be contacted by email . My website provides a full picture of my portfolio of services.  For strategic questions that you should be asking yourself, follow me at @wkm610.

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