Saturday, August 2, 2014

10 Project Management Priorities

A project is only possible to the degree that it is managed and rolled out. Managing a successful project isn't just a technical and organizational issue. It is generally and usually about handling people. Most projects fail to take off or achieve results due to reasons ranging from lack of teamwork, poor or no communication, little or no support on the part of management, internal politics and infighting and shear lacking of planning. Sometimes people are thrust at the hem of huge projects with little or no experience. 

They then have to grapple with having to learn the best practice of project management and expectations of the projects speedily. When you manage your life like a project you will soon realize that you are effective, you do not leave anything to chance and you become very organized and alert. A lot of money and potential is lost when projects are taken casually. Sometimes life is lost in cases where danger is not managed properly. I have managed a number of projects ranging from IT ERP systems implementation, IT User Training for hundreds of employees and construction projects.

1. Define the scope and context of the project - Without properly establishing the scope and extent of the project, it is hard to implement and successfully roll it out. It will be hard to reach a level of satisfactory completion as each success will seem like a step not the end of the project. Important questions to ask are: What are we supposed to achieve as we manage the project? What are the deliverables or expected output? What is considered a successful implementation of the project? What are the aims and objectives of this project? Write all the expectations down as they will help to break down the project into steps which produce results. As you define the scope, it may be necessary to also make indications of issues that are not part of the scope or context of the project.

2. Check and gather the human resource skills needed - A project has a leadership structure in terms of who is championing the implementation and coordination but most importantly a project relies on the skills, gifts and talents in the team that is assembled. It is usually important to have the best brains the organization can put together. The project's success relies on people with varying or diverse skill sets coming together to achieve a common purpose. Get the team to know each other and be clear in terms of the importance of their role in the success of the overall project. A project manager has an overall picture of the entire project. His/her ability to get results through others is important as the project cannot be carried by a few people but each one does their part to the best of their ability and experience.

3. Consider the cost element - Every decision you make has a financial effect or consequence. As you plan the project, you cannot ignore the issue of how much capital injection is needed at each level of the project implementation process. Where costs are underestimated, extreme delays in implementation are experienced. Money is necessary to solve the many demands that do come up. Whether is the labor, consultancy, raw material, equipment needed, buildings etc, you need to know that money has to come from somewhere to bring to pass the vision and goals that you may have. A project budget should be created showing how much money is required at each level of the project. Once established and approved, this becomes one of the deliverables of the Project leadership; whether they stayed within the budget and forecast of costs. When the budget is done, there is need to factor in the prevailing economic conditions befalling a country or region where project is being implemented.

4. Plan for the project - A project plan clearly spells out the step by step procedures or progression of the project from start to finish and beyond. A project plan cannot be left in the minds of the strategists. Once deliberations have been done, a project plan must be printed out and everyone involved in the project should be briefed on what they are expected to do. Any questions the project team members have should be answered so that everyone is reading from the same page and everyone is clear on what their commitment requirements are. Break the work down into smaller manageable chunks or tasks spelling out how long that task should take and who is in charge of the deliverable coming to fruition. On the timeline produced, spell out the major steps and milestones as well as the smaller steps that lead to the big ones. Enough time must be spent on this stage to ensure that the plan works on paper. All the test and "dry-runs" are done on paper before going live. Questions such as "What If" come at this stage so that all the relevant risks, contingencies and fears are taken care of.

5. Implement the project plan - This is the stage where everything that has been spelt out on the plan is rolled out and expected tangible results are observed and recorded. As you implement you need to monitor the tasks, analyze the processes and correct where oversights or under estimation was done. As the project is implemented, reports are generated which show the progress of the implementation. Such reports reflect not only the expected deliverables but what is on the ground as it is. How are people performing so far? How much has been spent on what so far? How does that compare to the plan and budget. Which equipment has been procured and what are the statistics from each machine in terms of production.

6. Handle Communication Effectively - It is vital that throughout the entire project phases there is enough communication happening between all the members of the team and the relevant stakeholders which include internal and external parties. All communication must be recorded or documented for future reference. No verbal agreements will be left at that level. Every commitment and progress should be communicated in a way that can be traced back. Every meeting should be recorded and minutes circulated. Communication of project process must be done to the team to motivate them and show them how far they have gone. Failure to communicate leads to teams working in isolation and assuming they are doing what is required within the expected timeframes. Any changes that have been done to the master plan must be relayed to every member to remove the risk of wrong things being done by uninformed team members.

7. Project Presentation - This is a stage where all the things that were planned have been done. The client or whoever commissioned you and your team to run with the project comes for a presentation where you outline how the project went. If there any minor adjustments and revisions necessary, this is the meeting where that is spelt out. The presentation process calls for the Project Leader or Director to enlighten the selected stakeholders as he/she knows more about the project than anyone else in the team. It is important for the one presenting the project to be articulate and have exceptional presentation skills. Stakeholders will ask questions hence some senior members of the project team have to be available to assist in answering the questions to the satisfaction of the client or stakeholders. Presentation is as important as implementation. How you present the project may leave the stakeholders with more questions than answers hence this is an important meeting to prepare for.

8. Evaluate the Project - This is when we look at the objectives and expectations and weigh them against the deliverables that have come through so far. Evaluation is actually a part and parcel of the entire project plan. You cannot leave out evaluation of project lest people leave thinking they have accomplished all. Evaluation and feedback meetings help the participants to know how not to do certain things in the future. Failure to give feedback may cause a recurrence of the same oversight in the next project. Draw out lessons from the successes and failures. Draw a list of all successes and why that success was achieved. Be honest about the failures and loopholes as well as why they happened. No victimization can ever change the result. People must

9. Conclusion of the Project - Regardless of the success or failure of the project, there should come a time when the project is considered to have come to an end. At this point the project team hands over the project back to the people who commissioned them. All the documentation and training is made available to ensure that those who run with the concluded project know exactly where to take off from. All documentation is necessary to ensure new users of the system know what to do and it also becomes a template for the next similar project. You don't need to keep re-inventing the wheel but rather you modify what you have developed before.

10. Project Dynamics and Helpful Tools - There are many tools available that can help you execute you project with a high degree of proficiency and effectiveness. Such tools include Project Management Software which has templates and all project related indicators already built in. The software can help produce a project plan, project budget, and Human resource gap analysis to name a few of the things you can get. Software helps you to electronically monitor and track progress. In some instances the software can be made available over the internet such that updates on progress are available to all authentic users of the system. They can make their contributions, assessments and feedback online. Dynamics that you have to work with in every project include human management skills; dealing with different attitudes from different backgrounds as you set up the team. You may have selected your team based merely on skill and not so much on attitude hence these dynamics are important to take note of. The other dynamics could be that a client wants you to accomplish wonders with minimal financial resource. You are caught between having to complete the project without compromising quality.

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The Unexpected Project

All too often you can be sat with your new team, excited to start a new project, completely focused on the task in hand. But how many times are you going through this process without any understanding of why you are doing it?

If you have experienced this you're not alone as most project managers experience this problem often. Unfortunately projects can be assigned last minute and no background or additional information is given. So you're able to create a practical project management framework, but unable to provide much inspiration for your team.

This can leave all team members feeling pretty flat, particularly when the answer to questions is met with; "because that's what the client wants' or "because the MD requested it". You have such a limited ability to help your team see the bigger picture when this happens and may feel a little more than hindered by this lack of information. After all, you're management as well so shouldn't you have access to this vital information?

The key information can be found, you just have to know how to look for it.
If you can find out how and why the business you work for selects projects for the organisation, you will get an answer to why each and every unexpected project is important.

Every sector, industry and business is different in how they select their projects
Although this is true, there are general factors that make up every companies project selection process. It is more than likely there will be a general selection process every project idea goes through. This process will more than likely incorporate your company's type of business, with defined areas of selection dedicated to the core values of your company.
In the beginning...

To get anywhere with this process you need to start from the beginning, or the core of the company you work for if you like. Your organisation should have a mission statement that you clearly understand. This mission statement explains who you are as a company and why you do what you do. Considering this mission statement, think about the 6 month, 3 year, 5 year and 15 year goals that the business hopes to achieve.

The projects that are selected will more than likely contribute towards reaching these goals. You should expect to understand the goals clearly to enable you to use them in your project management strategy. So rather than a general term of 'becoming more ECO friendly' it should be 'reducing our carbon footprint by 20% within the next five years'. This means tasks and goals within your project can be measured against this objective.

Remember that every project will focus on a different objective
The business you work for will have a large portfolio of past projects. Each project within that portfolio will meet various objectives. The company's project portfolio will be created to deliver the highest possible levels of performance. It is also important to remember that some projects will only have the objective of meeting regulatory requirements and/ or be taken on to increase brand strength.

Remember project ideas come from everywhere
If you work within a well balanced company you should feel that everyone is able to make project suggestions. The best companies enable everyone to contribute, ensuring the most experienced members of staff review those suggestions so that different perspectives and ideas are taken into account.
By understanding this process of selection you can understand why projects are selected and more importantly, understand that they have been selected because they are a priority for the company. 

You may not know exactly why you need to do it, but you'll have a much better idea than you did before, enabling you to use core company values as a huge source of inspiration and reasoning for your team, which will help achieve a successful project. Good project management can still be achieved even if the project did not get off to a great start.

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Friday, July 25, 2014

The Key Elements of a Good Project Plan

Whenever any project is planned it is absolutely vital to have a project plan and although initially it will take a little time to create, a good project plan will ultimately save you a good deal of time and probably money as well.

It is often tempting to just roll up your sleeves and start bringing the project into being. But time taken to plan and create a project plan will actually ensure that you don't rush into something and make foolish mistakes because you didn't plan for something. The old saying 'Act in haste, repent at leisure' is certainly very true, but with a good project plan, you simply will not have to repent, because everything will be fine.

What Does The Project Plan Contain?
There is a lot of information required in a project plan. To some extent what the plan contains will be strongly influenced by the nature and scope of the project; so it is a good idea to start off by defining the nature of the project and its scope.

You also need to identify all the 'stakeholders' in the project, since a project will only be successful if all the stakeholders are satisfied with the project once it has been completed. This task sounds far easier than it is because a stakeholder is anyone who will be affected by the project, so identifying them can take some time.

Once you have identified all the stakeholders, then you need to engage with them to ascertain what they want and need from this project and you will need to start to draw up a list of project goals, so that you are fully aware of just how these needs and wishes can be met.

A budget is integral to the successful completion of any project and the budget needs to be firmly entrenched in the project plan because you need to ensure that you stay within budget, but still manage to deliver all the goals that you are setting.

Resources are about not just money but skills required and 'things' that are required, to enable the project to be successfully delivered.

Risks to the project or things that could go wrong or pose a threat to the successful completion of the course should also be identified, so that they can be managed and responsibility allocated for effective management of risk.

Tasks, duties and responsibilities are all very important, because there has to be a clear strategy for what needs to be done and who is responsible for doing what and when these things will be done. It is really important that these are identified very early on in the process. It may well be that the individuals who will be team members have not even been finally agreed, but the job titles or areas can be used, so IT can be identified as being responsible for delivering a certain level of service.

Often these duties and tasks are contained in a Gantt chart, which is effectively a bar chart that lists duties and shows responsibility for delivering these duties against the agreed timeframe. The beauty of the Gantt chart is that it shows the evolution of the project and how each duty and task flows into the completion process.

Although there are a whole host of other elements to be contained in a project plan, the final key element has to be quality. Quality is vital because there is no point in delivering a project where quality has been left behind. So your project plan needs to be able to define quality, describe how you will implement the quality standards that are expected and ensure that your project is as good as it possibly can be. Otherwise you are in severe danger of producing a project that fails to deliver what was expected.

However one thing that you should always bear in mind is that no matter what your project plan contains it needs to be regularly updated and the deliverables delivered!

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