VOICES ON PROJECT MANAGEMENT
Unless you're on one of those increasingly rare megaprojects, you can trim processes to match the scope of a project—and still be effective.
BY VINAY NILAKANTAN, PMP
Not all projects are created equal—and project managers need to be flexible enough to recognize that. The big-budget megaproject is the template for all the rigors of project management methodology, but how does that translate to projects with shorter life cycles or modest funding?
Yes, all project managers do yearn for that one project that allows them to deploy the science of project management detailed in A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide). Yet the reality is that those types of projects must be supported by extended delivery timelines and large budgets that may not be needed on smaller-scale projects.
What works on an enterprise-wide software implementation spanning several years probably won't be as effective on a far-less-ambitious IT project scheduled to close in three months.
After evaluating scope, time and cost, project managers may need to adjust their project management practices accordingly. More often than not, you'll find a small team appreciates your efforts to trim unnecessary processes—just don't do so at the risk of quality project management.
WHAT’S THE STATUS?
Gabriel Blanc-Lainé comments on Neal Shen's tips for presenting project status reports:
I’ve found reporting to be one of the most important parts of running projects, mainly because clients have to know where they stand at any given time. The challenging part is to define the right key performance indicators, to keep on measuring them on a regular basis and finding the appropriate way to display them.
This should be done from a weekly to a monthly basis in most cases, but I had to do it on a daily basis for a critical project in crisis period. On top of that, I am used to keeping real-time logs of progress to guarantee accountability, and to be able to show what and why something has been delayed (or finished ahead of schedule!).
» For more Voices on Project Management, check out the blog at PMI.org/voices.
Consider the project at hand—not the one in the textbook.
Although some project managers are kept in the loop through sales negotiations, most are not. Be sure you know the answers to these questions before you decide on a process:
1. What budget, timelines and schedules are you working with?
2. Is this project of strategic importance to the organization?
3. From a contractual perspective, what deliverables are owed and when are they due?
4. Would embracing the full rigor of project management processes help or hinder your ability to meet budget and scope goals?
Remember, you're the project manager. And while you have the academic and practical knowledge of why certain project management processes are used, other team members may not possess the same background. They might be experts—just not in project management. A software developer, for example, may not understand a work breakdown structure or a risk matrix—or even care to understand. Projects managers must be respectful of what team members do not know and avoid throwing around project management terms that may not resonate.
Keep improving, even in small steps.
Smaller projects have smaller budgets. Period. Project managers don't have the luxury of creating and maintaining elaborate process-improvement charts and continuous improvement meetings that would typically occur within larger efforts.
That said, the project manager must informally communicate the importance of these values to team members. Each person must take responsibility for performing his or her own small process-improvement efforts within each of the designated responsibilities.
Be a role model.
Although senior executives play a large role in establishing the environment that projects operate in, project managers are much closer to the action. That hands-on knowledge becomes the foundation for developing project management practices that can be shared or developed into standards for the whole organization. Not only can practices be piloted live through one of these smaller projects, but they gain proof of concept as well. The project manager must then promote these standards to senior management and illustrate the benefits to making the practice standard operating process.
Leave the heavy lifting to someone else.
We all like processes—as long as we created them. But we tend to be slightly rebellious toward those imposed on us, even more so when they're developed by external sources who may not have significant insight into the internal restrictions we're facing.
Although project managers don't have the time or budget to architect a full-blown process change within smaller projects, minor tweaks and improvements are entirely possible.
Growing “bottom-up” provides a controlled vehicle for instituting process change without the overhead typically associated with it. The other plus is that it ensures buy-in from the team, further inspiring process improvement across the board.
Vinay Nilakantan, PMP, is a director of professional services at Visionary Integration Professionals LLC. Based in Chantilly, Virginia, USA, he works within the Meridian Human Capital Management division to provide enterprise learning management solutions for U.S. governments and corporations.
I’ll take some metrics to go, please.
No matter how small the project, it's imperative for the team to hold a lessons-learned session at project close. And ultimately, the project manager must be able to compile statistics for senior management. For a smaller effort, it may not be as important for senior executives to understand every single detail of the project, but it's good to provide some key statistics, points about profitability and ideas for improvement.
As a project manager, it's your responsibility to ensure the right processes are adopted as appropriate for the size of the project. It never bodes well to create additional process overhead your project doesn't need—especially in this economy. PM
> RAISE YOUR VOICE No one knows project management better than you, the practitioners “in the trenches.” So PM Network launched its Voices on Project Management column. Every month, project managers will share ideas, experiences and opinions on everything from sustainability to talent management, and all points in between. If you're interested in contributing, please send your idea to firstname.lastname@example.org.
PM NETWORK DECEMBER 2009 WWW.PMI.ORG