Project managing readiness
The project plan has been baselined, and the clock is now ticking to meet the first milestones. Are all the members of the project team ready to execute their tasks? Does the project manager have the confidence that all documentation, training, tools, and processes are in place to ensure a smooth execution phase? Sometimes it is worth investing in planning activities to ensure preparedness, up to a point in which “Team Readiness” becomes a major project component. In such a case, the challenges faced by the project manager require in-depth knowledge of the teams’ delivery processes, and wide cross functional expertise. This paper illustrates some of the issues related to Readiness Management, and proposes a methodology to address them.
What is Readiness?
In today's fast paced market, organizations must realize that recruiting, retaining, equipping, and training project teams to be ready for execution and delivery of project tasks is their number one priority (Cohen, 2000, Chapter 4). The ability to execute project tasks can be heavily compromised if the appropriate training or processes are not in place to support the project team. Lack of tools, documentation, and other supporting elements become suddenly a major obstacle to the project execution, and can potentially introduce delays and budget shifts. “A goal of Project Management is to make the invisible visible, so that it can be managed” (Cooke & Tate, 2005, p46), therefore it becomes important for the project manager to trigger and leverage an adequate Readiness Practice for the project.
These are the reasons behind the need to introduce a set of preparedness activities in the project plan, during initiation and planning, well before the project execution phase.
Readiness ensures that project teams have the right skills and assets to successfully complete work on a project.
As a component of the overall project plan, a Readiness Management Plan provides the disciplined, systematic, process-driven project management practice required to ensure project teams are ready to perform tasks, deliver products, provide services, or implement new processes for Customers.
Readiness can be as simple as organizing a training class for a topic essential to the project execution, or as complex as managing financial, procedural, documentation, and knowledge transfer activities, to ensure staff readiness prior to critical project tasks. The challenges faced by the project manager addressing Readiness require in-depth analysis and knowledge of the teams’ expertise and delivery processes. In most cases the project manager will be able to include Readiness issues and concerns as a part of the overall project Initiating and Planning phases. For complex projects, there might be a need to identify a project manager dedicated to managing Readiness, who will be referred to in this paper as the Readiness Manager. In this situation, Readiness becomes a supporting project to the primary project (Cooke & Tate, 2005, p. 47). Whether the project Manager assumes additional readiness management responsibilities or a dedicated resource is identified, the approach to the Initiating and Planning phases of the project is impacted by the Readiness model.
In some cases, Readiness might also be a project on its own, where the scope is to prepare an Operations team to execute their processes. For the purposes of this paper, however, Readiness is considered a supporting component of the project lifecycle.
The key is a shift in mindset, acknowledging the need for a specialized activity to ensure Team Readiness – a proactive approach that boosts team effectiveness, and reduces the probability of delays as well as cost increase, during project Execution.
This paper illustrates some of the issues related to Readiness Management, and proposes a methodology to address them. A Readiness Practice model and the role of the Readiness Manager are explored, as well as the different elements that impact the success of Readiness activities.
Readiness Management introduces a set of unique challenges that must be addressed early in the project lifecycle. To ensure success in project Execution, the project team must carefully review and assess their readiness need, and trigger Readiness Management in a timely manner during project Initiating. As reported by the United States Secretary of Defense “it takes resources and time to develop and sustain ready forces. <…> A decline in resources and adequately educated and trained people will lengthen the amount of time it takes to rebuild readiness (Cohen, 1998, Chapter 11. ¶ 12).
In this section, we focus on three major Readiness challenges: acknowledging the need for Readiness, establishing authority, and preparing the project team.
Acknowledging the need for Readiness
A crucial first step for a new project is recognizing the need for Readiness Management. While organization leaders now understand the value of Project Management processes, often they do not fully understand the necessity to enable team success through proactive Readiness planning and activities. “At times, the Pentagon has tried to preserve funding for new weapons by short-changing the amounts spent on readiness. This can result in a “hollow force”, which looks good on paper, but cannot operate effectively and which often experiences low morale by the people who must try” (Defense and the National Interest, 2007, ¶1).
At the start of a project, during the Initiating Phase, the project team should prepare a Readiness Value Statement, to trigger Readiness, and clearly define Readiness Objectives for the project. The Readiness Objectives should be measurable (i.e. # of Engineers Readied by 4Q07) and reported on at regular intervals to the stakeholders.
The Readiness Manager's biggest challenge is establishing authority on the project. Authority is derived from the project Sponsor. During the Initiating Phase, the project team should include the following information in the project Scope Statement: a Readiness Value Statement and key Readiness Objectives, the name of the Readiness Manager assigned to the project, the role and responsibilities of the Readiness Team, and Measurements for success. The project Sponsor approving the project Scope Statement will then formally give the Readiness Manager authority to document and execute the Readiness Plan.
Preparing the project team
Preparing the project team for Execution is the next challenge to be addressed by the Readiness Manager. As highlighted by Harold Kerzner, project plans fail for many reasons, one of which is “no one has bothered to see if there will be personnel available with the necessary skills” (Kerzner, 2003, p 413). That's why the Readiness Manager needs to use his/her experience to identify the required skills for the project, and to ensure there is a Readiness Plan focused on developing a team with such skills. While tools and procedures might help accomplish this step, the Readiness Manager's knowledge of project tasks will be critical in establishing the readiness activities that must be performed.
The Readiness Team
The Readiness Team executes the Readiness Plan to ensure the project team is prepared to execute project tasks. The Readiness Manager is a decision maker in the project team, and has the authority to delay project Execution if Readiness activities have not been completed satisfactorily.
The project sponsor has a key role in ensuring all relevant information is available to the Readiness Manager. Critical data include:
- Readiness Value Statement (i.e. documentation, training, tools, process needs)
- Readiness Objectives for the project
- funding resources for the Readiness Team and for Readiness Reusable Assets (like documentation, tools, laboratories, etc)
- formal acceptance of the Readiness deliverables during project closing
The Sponsor should approve the Readiness Scope Statement, Readiness Management Plan and the final Readiness Report.
Managing Readiness may be just another task assigned to the project manager, or it may be considered a specialized function, assigned to a different project manager, who reports status and attends project meetings like any other stakeholder. Some of the responsibilities facing the Readiness Manager are:
- anticipate what will be required in terms of assets, infrastructure and processes, for the project team to be ready
- reduce overall project costs by defining Readiness assets once, and reusing them across teams
- implement repeatable processes and infrastructure to produce a skilled team
- report on Readiness status and escalate possible roadblocks during project planning meetings
Cross organizational focus
The Readiness Team includes individuals that are not necessarily involved with overall project execution, but who can determine or produce elements essential to the project team Readiness. The Readiness Team can include representatives from Training, Product Management, Documentation, Supply Chain and other organizations supporting the project execution. For example, if there are 3rd party components in a product development project, the Readiness Team will need to have representation from Supply Chain, so that any procurement related Readiness issues can be planned for and addressed. Readiness, in this case, might require knowledge transfer on 3rd party support agreements for the teams that will be using the Supplier components, or establishing an escalation path for 3rd party support issues.
Similar scenarios can be anticipated for training, legal or financial aspects of the project: the Readiness stakeholders’ profile can be quite different than the primary project's, because the Readiness Team has to include all of the organizations that need to work together, to ensure the project resources are ready to execute their tasks.
Project team Readiness Assessment
Readiness Management is triggered when the project manager requests an initial Readiness Assessment by preparing a Readiness Value Statement. The project Scope, project Schedule draft, financial data and other pertinent information should be available in the Readiness Value Statement, as an input to the Readiness Manager.
The Readiness Manager prepares a project team Initial Readiness Assessment report, which contains the team's current versus the required skills and training status, documentation availability, project financials, resources and infrastructure status. The basis for such an assessment is the Readiness Work Breakdown Structure (Readiness WBS), illustrated in the next chapter.
The basic aspects of Readiness typically remain mostly similar within an organization, regardless of the nature of the project, but the scope of the initial assessment should be tailored to the specific project under evaluation, to make sure all aspects related to the team Readiness are accounted for and properly prioritized.
A Readiness Management model
The Readiness Team should establish and follow common processes to implement Readiness Management for an organization. The model used in this paper has been developed over a number of years, to address the need for consistency, repeatability, and resource optimization in team Readiness activities. Exhibit 1 shows a pictorial high-level representation of a Readiness Model.
This model is based on a close interaction between the project team and the Readiness team, which leverage reusable assets to ensure knowledge transfer and preparedness. A shared reporting platform is consistently used to track progress and report status to and from the project team, as delays or roadblocks to Readiness will have to be accounted for in the primary project, and vice versa, any modification to the project plan might impact Readiness activities.
Readiness needs to be implemented early in the project lifecycle. Most of the time, the question “are we ready to execute?” is asked at the beginning of the Executing Phase of the project. If there has been poor or no Readiness Management, implementing any supporting activity, such as creation of specialized training, or establishing Support Contracts with 3rd Party Suppliers, will impact the overall project schedule. As the cost of changes increases with the project timeline (PMI, 2004, p. 36), it becomes essential that preparedness be addressed at the earliest stages of the project lifecycle. Exhibit 2 illustrates this relationship for complex projects, in which Readiness requires a more detailed level of planning and execution prior to the primary project Executing phase.
The Readiness Manager is responsible for completion of each phase in the Readiness lifecycle. As a part of her/his responsibilities, the Readiness Manager must verify that entrance criteria are met before each phase is started, that all the deliverables are completed for that phase, and that exit criteria are met, prior to considering the phase completed.
Readiness Management is executed using the Readiness Plan, which includes all the specific entrance criteria, deliverables and exit criteria for the project. The Readiness Plan must be reviewed and accepted by the primary project manager and project stakeholders.
The Readiness Scope outlines the project Readiness requirements and deliverables, to ensure the project team has the right skills and assets to successfully complete work on a project. All assets required to “ready” the project team are defined in the Readiness Scope, including documentation, training, infrastructure, processes, etc.
Readiness Management Plan
Readiness is managed using a Readiness Management Plan, or Readiness Plan, referenced by the overall project plan, as an additional project component or support element. Delays or roadblocks to the Readiness Plan are closely monitored during the project lifecycle, as they can potentially impact the entire project. As such, additional risks can be identified for the project, in the “Readiness” category, to be able to anticipate any events that could impact the team's ability to be adequately prepared. For example, lack of availability of laboratories for hands-on training could prevent effective knowledge transfer during a new product launch project.
If any industry standard certification is needed by team members to be better prepared for their tasks (PMP, CCNA, CPA, etc), relevant costs need to be included in the project Cost Management Plan. Funding elements need also to be taken into account when planning resource availability for additional documentation or any other infrastructure required for team Readiness.
Exhibit 3 shows the relationship between the Readiness Plan and the other support plans in the primary project Management Plan.
The primary project scope definition and work breakdown structure from the scope management plan, as well as the primary project schedule, funding requirements and risk register, determine the extent of the Readiness activities. The staffing management plan outputs, such as project staff assignments, and resource availability, determine the Readiness target – because they identify the resources that will be trained, and will use the processes and tools delivered by Readiness. The Readiness Plan includes Readiness Performance Metrics, as a way to measure the team's effectiveness in executing the Readiness Management Plan. A sample structure for the Readiness Plan should include items such as
|Project Introduction||What is the Readiness Team going to support (product, service, or solution)?|
|Readiness Scope||What is the Readiness Team going to deliver?|
|Readiness WBS||Detailed readiness tasks list and deliverables|
|Readiness Team||Who will be working on Readiness aspects for the project?|
|Readiness Resource Plan||Laboratories, documentation, training, tools, logistics, costs|
|Communication Plan||How & when to report progress to the primary project team?|
|Assumptions, Risks, Action Items lists||Any issue that potentially impacts Readiness|
|Metrics||How can we tell if we're on track for each of the Readiness deliverables?|
The Readiness Work Breakdown Structure (Readiness WBS) is based on common elements that are typically present in most projects. Reusable assets are defined as deliverables for the Readiness Plan: training, tools, processes, documentation and all other elements that will ensure the project team is able to execute the project plan. For each specific industry, the readiness WBS should be adjusted to reflect meaningful components for typical projects. An example of Readiness WBS is shown in Exhibit 4.
The Readiness Team approves the baselined Readiness Plan before this is submitted to the project team for review. Change Management for the Readiness Plan is closely monitored and regulated.
A Readiness Monitoring and Controlling Platform, which includes Readiness reporting tools and established Readiness processes, is used to facilitate monitoring and controlling for the project's Readiness aspects. For example, reports, checklists and high level milestones templates can be effectively tailored and used to track Readiness activities. This Platform allows the project team to understand the Readiness scope and gain access to the deliverables produced by the Readiness Team. Conversely, a Readiness platform linked to the primary project reporting tools allows the Readiness Team to be alerted of any modifications to the project plan, or any constraints identified in the primary project. Depending on the maturity level of the organizations involved, these tools can be simple shared repositories, commercially available platforms or in house tools.
Identifying key Performance Metrics is extremely important so that organizations can focus on the few items that drive the successful performance of the project team and the effectiveness of Readiness Planning. To determine the value, success, and Readiness of the project team, Customer satisfaction may be the ultimate performance measurement for an organization to use. The Readiness Manager should establish a process that specifically allows the project team to communicate their expectations of the Readiness Team. The project manager should partner with the Readiness Manager and document, in the Readiness Scope, the criteria used to evaluate effectiveness of the Readiness Team; the same criteria can then be adopted as Readiness Performance metrics.
Collecting, analyzing, and reporting performance metrics is a critical component of Readiness Management. Performance reports should provide status information to sponsors and stakeholders on the scope, schedule, cost, and quality of the project regarding Readiness. Reports may include Status Reports, Performance Feedback Reports, Recommended corrective actions, Lessons Learned, etc. Quantification of these metrics depends on the nature of the project.
The primary output from the Readiness Plan execution is the Readiness Completion Report, which includes for example:
- the final version of the Readiness Plan
- the Final Readiness Performance feedback from the project Sponsor
- the Readiness Metrics final report, which might include a set of User Surveys (project team, project manager, stakeholders, etc.)
- Lessons Learned
- Updated Contact Lists
We have introduced in this paper the concept of Readiness Management, and discussed how Readiness ensures that proper performance level is available within the project team, at the time in which tasks must be executed. Impact on budget, schedule, risks and logistics for the Readiness activities required by the project should be thoroughly analysed in the early stages of project planning, so that informed decisions can be made by the project manager, customer, sponsor and stakeholders with regard to the project.
By using the detailed planning needed to address Readiness from Initiating phase of our project, we can better manage the outcome of project tasks. By increasing awareness of the Readiness tasks that are truly required to accomplish project work packages, we are bringing clarity to our project plan. By reducing the level of uncertainty during execution, we are increasing the project team's effectiveness.
As project managers we have chosen to adhere to a consistent approach to managing projects, and we use a methodology to identify, prepare for and manage issues that can compromise project execution. When we implement Readiness Management in our projects, we choose to move towards improving project Management practices and ensuring we manage projects successfully.
Cooke, H. S. and Tate, K. (2005) The McGraw-Hill 36-Hour Course - Project Management New York, NY, McGraw-Hill
Defense and the National Interest, retrieved on June 11, 2007, from http://www.d-n-i.net/second_level/readiness.htm
Kerzner, A. (2003) Project Management, a systems approach to planning, scheduling and controlling, Hoboken, NJ, John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Project Management Institute. (2000) A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK®) (2000 ed.). Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.
Project Management Institute. (2004) A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK®) (2004 ed.). Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.
Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen (1998) Annual Report to the President and the Congress 1998 Chapter 11 – Readiness Retrieved from http://www.dod.mil/execsec/adr98/chap11.html#top
Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen (2000) Annual Report to the President and the Congress 2000 Chapter 4 – Readiness Retrieved from http://www.dod.mil/execsec/adr2000/chap4.html
The authors would like to thank Cheryl Dennard, Clark Dennis, Richard Maltzmann, and Robin Wedeman for their kind support while preparing this paper.
© 2007, Loredana Abramo & Retha Onitiri
Originally published as a part of 2007 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Atlanta, GA, USA