Do more in less: Deliver projects successfully with only eight powerful project management processes
Narendra K Shrivastava, MBA, PMP, RMP, ACP
CEO and Consultant, RefineM LLC
Chapter Vice President, PMI Southwest Missouri
Many project managers and project management offices (PMOs) struggle with determining which project management processes they should implement to guide their projects toward success. Project managers increasingly need to deliver projects successfully with less time and fewer resources available, and finding the right balance of processes is critical under these conditions. Finding a solution to this problem is at the heart of the “do more in less” approach. While some project managers view the idea of doing more with less as a challenge, following this approach can improve the efficiency of project delivery.
This paper describes eight simple project management processes that were developed based on observations and implementation of practices leading to project success. Lean principles also contributed to the development of these processes. They include the project charter, stakeholder analysis, work breakdown structure, resource allocation, project schedule, communication plan, risk register, and performance reporting. Each process is briefly introduced with an explanation as to why the process is essential. Information on how to implement each process, including best practices and pitfalls, is also provided. Using these processes empowers project managers to do more with less.
The challenge to do more with less is daunting to many project managers. In a survey we conducted, nearly 75 percent of respondents felt that project management is becoming more difficult (PM Survey, 2014). Over 88 percent of the project managers surveyed felt they had been asked to do more in less, with 52 percent strongly agreeing (PM Survey, 2014). To successfully manage projects with less time and fewer resources, project managers need a good sense of which processes are needed on a given project. Meeting this challenge can feel like navigating a complex maze, full of wrong turns and dead ends.
PMI's A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) — Fifth Edition describes 47 project management processes over ten knowledge areas and five process groups, with the goal of providing “knowledge, process, skills, tools, and techniques that can have a significant impact on project success” (PMI, 2013, p. 2). For a new project manager, and even for some experienced project managers, understanding these processes can be an overwhelming task. Once a project manager understands these processes, the challenge then shifts to identifying and emphasizing the most relevant processes for his or her project.
When identifying which processes to use, project managers can encounter one of two pitfalls. They might execute too few processes under the assumption that some are not important, which opens up unnecessary risks, such as unanticipated roadblocks and dead ends. Or, project managers could try to use every process on every project, which will waste time. While every process is important, not all are relevant to every project. For example, procurement management will look very different in a project where an organization is supplying all materials internally than in a project where the organization must obtain some materials from a vendor. Project managers should be familiar with all processes in order to determine which ones are necessary for a project, but they should also bear in mind that just because a process exists does not mean it has to be used.
From experience, following a set of eight critical processes on a project drastically reduces the chance that the project will fail, while omitting any of them introduces risks. Doing more with less does not have to be a daunting task; rather, it can be an opportunity to simplify and strengthen the project management function. Deploying these processes correctly and consistently throughout a project should lead to successful delivery of projects—on time, under budget, and exceeding expectations. The next section introduces the processes and justifies their inclusion as part of the eight simple, yet critical, project management processes. Each process is introduced with a brief overview. Methods of implementing the process are then described, as well as best practices to follow and pitfalls to avoid in order to get the most out of the process.
The Eight Powerful Processes
The project charter authorizes the project and contains initial requirements to satisfy stakeholder expectations. With the charter, the project begins with a clear vision that is mutually agreed upon.
Why is the Project Charter Crucial?
In addition to officially authorizing the project, the charter serves as a way to align project team members and stakeholders to project scope, objectives, roles and responsibilities, and key stakeholders. The project charter is also a good place to establish baselines for the project, such as preliminary scope, time, cost, stakeholder, and risk measures. Without the charter, there is less official backing for the project and it is more susceptible to early closure. Therefore, project managers should assume that there is no project without the project charter.
How to Implement the Project Charter
The project charter needs to be a collaborative effort among the project manager, the team, and stakeholders. It should include at least some of the following:
- List of stakeholders, including project sponsor and key team members
- Project description and business case or business outcome
- Expected duration and measurable project goals
- Project scope (including in-scope and out-of-scope) and key deliverables
- Milestones and associated dates
- Key issues and risks
- Critical success factors, assumptions and constraints
- High-level budget, schedule, and contingency reserve
- Signoffs from sponsors and stakeholders
Project Charter Best Practices and Pitfalls
The project charter is critical to the effective deployment of the other processes described here because it is a starting point for achieving stakeholder buy-in using the “do more with less” approach. Project managers should make sure that all major stakeholders have been included in the charter creation process and that the charter development is a collaborative effort. With the group involved, it is important to make sure that possible project risks, in-scope and out-of-scope items, and assumptions are all clearly documented and recognized. Finally, even if the charter is developed, it still has to be approved, and starting without this approval can be a pitfall.
Stakeholder analysis is a strategic effort to win critical support needed to pave the way to a successful outcome. A project's stakeholders can occupy a range of positive to negative interest and high to low influence. Project managers need a plan to keep and leverage the support of allies while preventing stakeholders with negative interest from derailing the project.
Why is Stakeholder Analysis Crucial?
No project manager should expect his or her project to be a smooth, well-paved road, but stakeholder analysis gives the project manager options to keep it from being a rocky road. Stakeholders with high or positive interest and powerful influence, known as champions, can remove obstacles to project success. On the other hand, stakeholders with powerful influence and low or negative interest, known as barriers, can hinder the project. Advocates, who have a low level of influence but high or positive level of interest, should also be considered because they can still influence the project. Bystanders, who have a low level of influence and low level of interest, should at least be kept informed about the project so they are aware of it if their level of influence or interest changes.
It is important to identify each stakeholder and account for their influence, interest, and expected level of impact. Identifying the stakeholder's current and desired level of engagement with a stakeholder engagement matrix is a good way of determining where each stakeholder is and what actions are necessary to maintain or improve those levels.
How to Implement Stakeholder Analysis
The first step is to collect information about stakeholders. One dimension is primary and secondary. Primary stakeholders have a stake in the project and are involved in all aspects, while secondary stakeholders have an indirect impact in the business operations or growth. Another dimension is internal and external. Internal stakeholders are within the organization and can include team members, functional managers, and executives. External stakeholders can include government agencies, industry groups, and members of the general public.
The stakeholder register, stakeholder influence matrix, and stakeholder engagement matrix are powerful tools to track the stakeholders on a project, gauge their feelings toward the project, and use this knowledge both to maximize positive results and minimize negative results. Exhibit 1 shows a sample stakeholder register.
Exhibit 1: Stakeholder register.
Stakeholder Analysis Best Practices and Pitfalls
The most important best practice in stakeholder management is to identify all stakeholders. Missing a key stakeholder means missing out on a potential champion who can help solve problems, or worse, a potential barrier who might create problems. A key pitfall to keep in mind is that stakeholder registers often contain sensitive information and should not be widely shared. They are mainly for the project manager to develop engagement strategies, and if they were released, stakeholders could get offended.
Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)
The work breakdown structure, or WBS, identifies the project's tasks and provides a framework for organizing and managing the work. It is a hierarchical grouping of elements used to help define the project's scope.
Why is the WBS Crucial?
The WBS is a critical process because it helps determine which work is, and is not, part of the project. Developing a WBS and related dictionary ensures that the project's work is both comprehensive and specific. The WBS serves as a “big-picture” look at the project, allowing the project manager to confirm that the entire scope is represented. At the lower levels, it also serves as a glimpse into details so that the project manager can confirm he or she has not left out anything important. Without the WBS, a project is susceptible to enlarging scope as well as defects due to misunderstanding of the project work.
How to Implement the WBS
Exhibit 2 shows a sample hierarchy of what a WBS might look like. At the lowest levels of each part would be the work packages, which are later broken down into activities. Note that for 1.2, the work package level is one level down, while for 1.1, the work package level is two levels down. Some levels may decompose farther down than others.
Exhibit 2: WBS hierarchy.
WBS Best Practices and Pitfalls
Project managers should collaborate with team members and stakeholders on the WBS, since their input will increase the accuracy and quality of the final product. Each item should be estimated in terms of both time and cost and assigned to someone. Project managers should also ensure that the items do not go above or below 100 percent. A key pitfall to avoid is adding requirements to the WBS instead of tasks. Requirements are collected elsewhere in scope management, while the WBS is for breaking down project requirements into work packages.
Project managers commonly have access to many resources—human, equipment, and material—when managing a project. The resource allocation plan is a critical part of managing these resources. It helps project managers ensure that they have assigned their available resources efficiently and with an eye toward evolving needs.
Why is Resource Allocation Essential?
Project managers should expect resources to be scarce on a project. After all, they are not the only people being asked to do more with less. Many resources are going to be tied up in other projects or functional duties, and managing these resources effectively shows respect for the resources’ overall role in an organization. In a matrix organization, project managers will have to work with functional managers to access key people for a project team. Effective resource allocation helps win and maintain the respect of functional managers, which is a key management strategy for those stakeholders.
How to Implement Resource Allocation
Exhibit 3 shows a sample resource allocation plan. Microsoft Project can also be used to help manage resources.
Exhibit 3: Resource allocation spreadsheet.
Resource Allocation Best Practices and Pitfalls
The most important pitfall to avoid in this process is over-assigning resources. It is best not to assign more than 80% of resource availability. This flexibility allows project managers to account for meeting time, vacation or holiday time, emergencies, and other commitments. Staying below the 80% threshold also signals respect for project team members’ time, which can lead to increased goodwill between project managers, team members, and functional managers.
Along with this pitfall, an associated best practice is to allocate resources with the long-term project pipeline in mind. Knowing when key resources will be needed elsewhere will help project managers craft more realistic resource allocation tables. Another tip with resource allocation is to keep a good team environment in mind when allocating resources. Consider not only separating people who have not worked well together, but also maintaining partnerships or groups of people who have worked well together.
The project schedule links project milestones to key dates and deliverables. The schedule also aligns resources, duration, and cost, making it a pivotal tool for any project.
Why is the Project Schedule Crucial?
The key benefit of a project schedule is aligning the team to milestones. Going through the process of developing a schedule also means accounting for dependencies and constraints so that the final schedule is realistic. The project manager is responsible for providing a schedule to the project management team and key players.
How to Implement the Project Schedule
Exhibit 4 shows a basic project schedule created using Microsoft Project.
Exhibit 4: Schedule from Microsoft Project.
Project Schedule Best Practices and Pitfalls
The best practice for designing and updating a project schedule is to collaborate. The project manager will not be doing all of the work on the schedule, so he or she needs to get input from the people who are. Estimates should be rooted in what can realistically be done by the project team, and should also include buffers for possible unforeseen problems. Collaborating on the schedule also helps in achieving buy-in from the project team. Team members can help the project manager identify parts of the schedule that are not realistic. In addition, stakeholders can identify constraints and dependencies based on other projects and functional duties.
The primary pitfall to avoid is abandoning the schedule during execution when things do not go well. If the schedule begins to slip during execution, there may be a need for adjustment, but the schedule should not be thrown out. Instead, the project manager should seek to understand why the slippage has occurred and adjust the dates accordingly. Rescheduling based on changes is a realistic expectation.
The communication plan is another critical piece of any project plan because it establishes the norms for disseminating project information and updates during planning, executing, monitoring, and closing. It needs to include:
- What information needs to be communicated
- When it will be communicated, and how often
- Why it will be communicated
- Who will send the communication and who will receive
- How the communication will occur (mode and technology)
Why is the Communication Plan Crucial?
Arguably, communication is the most important skill in a project manager's toolkit. Establishing effective communication channels and organizational structures fosters open and honest communication, promotes creativity and team spirit, and is critical to winning the support of key stakeholders. Well-informed stakeholders can often mean the difference between a project that is canceled and a project that receives necessary support. For this reason, the communication plan and stakeholder analysis are closely aligned.
How to Implement the Communication Plan
Exhibit 5 shows a sample communication plan to help project managers get started. It uses the “who, what, where, when, why” questions from above as a base.
Exhibit 5: Communication plan.
Communication Plan Best Practices and Pitfalls
Best practices include using n*(n-1)/2 to assess the number of communication channels, identifying sources of possible “noise” and working to soothe those, and completing stakeholder analysis before developing the communication plan. Failing to account for noise means a project manager is ignoring key barriers to effective project communication, which is a pitfall.
Another important practice is to assess what communications infrastructure is available and how the organization's culture supports this infrastructure. This includes what technology is available, what rooms are available, and also how team members typically use this technology. For example, what times are best or worst for meetings, and when should meetings be face-to-face or over phone or videoconference? Both questions are essential to create a communication plan that supports both the project's objectives and the project team.
The risk register is the project's hub for collecting information about risks and documenting the planned responses should risks occur. Because of the highly dynamic nature of projects, effective risk management requires ongoing monitoring and control. Project managers should evaluate the inputs to their risk register, considering both qualitative and quantitative risk analysis, and then should solicit constant feedback and reporting on both new risks and the status of current risks.
Why is the Risk Register Crucial?
If an organization is unprepared to handle a risk that occurs on a project, the impact of that risk could be catastrophic—delays, cost overruns, and even project failure. If risks are documented and analyzed, appropriate risk response strategies can be put in place. For example, project cost baselines often have a management reserve set aside to cover “unknown unknowns,” or risks that were not anticipated (PMI, 2013). For “known unknowns,” a tool known as the risk contingency reserve can be developed and used, but this is only effective with risks that have been discovered.
How to Implement the Risk Register
Exhibit 6 shows a sample risk register. Risks are catalogued, described, and subjected to Expected Monetary Value (EMV) analysis, which multiplies probability of the risk occurrence by expected impact in time or money to produce an idea of how much that risk would cost.
Exhibit 6: Risk register.
Risk Register Best Practices and Pitfalls
The key best practice in developing a risk register is to collaborate. Project team members, stakeholders, industry professionals, peers, and a host of other sources can all help identify risks on a project. The primary pitfall is failing to include key stakeholders, but another major pitfall is failing to update the risk register. A risk register that is not updated is not useful to the project, and likewise, a risk register that is updated, but sits in a central location without being distributed, is also not useful.
The final critical process is to report progress. This includes, but is not limited to, deliverables, milestones, activities, cost/budget, quality, risks, and issues. Performance reports can take many forms, including general reports, financial reports, reports on an entire portfolio, or reports on quality parameters such as defects and changes.
Why is Performance Reporting Essential?
Decisions need to be backed up by data. Being proactive about reporting project trends and variances in detail can help secure stakeholder support, align the team and stakeholders, and procure necessary resources. Obtaining regular performance reports can provide information needed to help project managers perform the majority of these eight processes, in addition to many other processes.
How to Implement Performance Reporting
Exhibit 7 is a sample performance report. Note that this sample is both backward looking (what has been accomplished) and forward looking (what will be accomplished in the next two weeks). This type of report also gives team members a space to record their concerns.
Exhibit 7: Sample performance report.
Performance Reporting Best Practices and Pitfalls
Best practices include creating different reports based on the needs of various audiences, using the trial balloon method of reporting based on stakeholder approval of what they do and do not want to see, and adhering to any reporting requirements based on organizational culture and structure. If no reporting requirements are specified, then include, at a minimum, what was accomplished in the last reporting period, what is planned for the next two reporting periods, what needs immediate attention, and also variance, trends, and projections.
The largest pitfall to keep in mind with performance reporting is failing to provide a complete report. Excluding variances and trends results in a report that is not useful. Leaving off risks and issues makes a project manager look reactive, not proactive. Neither is a good approach.
The Project Management Survey
Table 1 displays the level of current usage of each of these eight processes among survey respondents. This data came from a survey in which we polled over sixty project management practitioners worldwide about the level of project management support in their organizations. The purpose of the survey was to gauge respondents’ views of project management and whether they felt adequately trained to perform it.
In addition to these questions, we also polled respondents on their level of engagement with each of the processes we have described in this paper. Many of the processes had a high degree of usage already, especially project schedule, but there are many surprising results as well. Two examples that have been highlighted are the use of stakeholder analysis and the use of the risk register. Stakeholder analysis may not be as widely adopted because it has only recently achieved more recognition as its own process group in the PMBOK® Guide. However, we were surprised to see a comparatively smaller use of the risk register on respondents’ projects. More engagement with these simple processes is a key to growth as a project manager as well as sustained project success.
Table 1: Survey respondents’ level of engagement with processes.
|How often do you use each of the following processes on your projects?|
|Process||Almost always (over 75% of projects)||Often (50-75% of projects)||Sometimes (25-50% of projects)||Rarely/Never (less than 25% of projects)|
Successful project completion is a matter of focusing the project management function on the bare essentials and then executing those essential processes extremely well. A key to making sure these processes are executed well is to revisit them as the project demands. These tools should be treated as “living documents,” constantly updated based on feedback as well as trial and error. As a project manager or project management office (PMO) masters these processes, more can be added based on project needs. In this way, project managers, PMOs, and organizations can start the journey toward project management maturity.
PM Survey. (2014). Project management support survey (PM Survey). Survey Monkey, 2014. Retrieved from https://www.surveymonkey.com/results/SM-RCNSFWM8/
Project Management Institute. (2013). A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) – Fifth edition. Newtown Square, PA: Author.
© 2014, Narendra K Shrivastava
Originally published as a part of the 2014 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Phoenix, Arizona, USA