How to Make Sure Your Project is a Success

So while this my seem like next to impossible, there are certain steps that a project manager can take to make sure his or her project is a success. Sure there are always challenges or obstacles to avoid and leap over, but if project managers follow these steps, the project’s outcome is bound to be positive.

  • Decision making – Decision making is always a crucial time for any project manager at any stage or milestone of a project. However, project managers know that most of the time they are responsible for everything but have none of the authority. While this may be true in many organizations, project managers do have the authority to make decisions…most of the time. Before making crucial project decisions, weigh all the pros and cons as well as the risks and potential consequences before making a decision. Project managers should ask themselves, “what are the risks involved?” “What are the consequences?” “How will this decision impact the project as a whole or the customer?”
  • Assessing risks – While this may seem self-explanatory and not necessarily a pertinent step in project success, think again. Although it takes time and planning up front and may not seem worth it, in the end it will be. Taking the time at the beginning of a project to assess risks will often times save time in the long run. While designing an entire risk management plan may be out of the question because scheduling is so tight, taking the time to acknowledge and assess the risks is incredibly beneficial and will save time and headaches throughout the project.
  • Communication – This is a biggie. They say that communication is one of the most important things in a relationship. The same goes for projects. Consider your project and the team members or vendors associated or working with you on your project a relationship. Open communication is the best policy because this will avoid problems down the line. There must be trust among team members and an open dialogue on all concerns, issues that arise, or anything else that should be addressed as a team on the project or to the customer.

While many may argue what the most important steps to a project may be, these three are definitely within the top ten. Of course successful project management steps greatly depend on the project, the product or service, and the organization, these items are beneficial to almost any project. These are also good methods and policies to implement regardless of how large or small the project or team is. Ensuring project success is an investment every project manager should make.

Project Management Documentation Techniques

As project managers we all know how crucial documentation can be. It is crucial in any project phase, regardless of the project specifications, deadlines, or life cycle. Documentation is important to monitor and track for record keeping, filing, and archiving purposes. So what documentation techniques are best for your team and project?

Some of the typical documentation techniques include the following:

Meeting minutes. One of the most common documentation techniques could be as simple as someone taking detailed and thorough meeting notes. Meetings could range from weekly development or project status update meetings, planning meetings, post mortem meetings, or even expert interview meetings, as a means to gather data.

Meeting minutes should be either written down or typed electronically using a laptop or tablet during a meeting. They then should be saved in a universal location where other team members can access them, such as a designated area in a project folder on a server, or uploaded to a project management software or platform.

Risk Registers. One documentation technique that focuses heavily on risks is the risk register. Risk registers are repositories that include all project data, probability, impact, and risk level as well as other crucial, detailed project information. A risk register can be detailed in project management software or platform, a spreadsheet, or even in word processing format.

The outputs for risk registers can also either be maintained in hard copy or electronic copy format. Similar to meeting minutes, risk registers should be kept in a centralized location, such as uploaded into software or on a common server, for all team members to access at any point during the life cycle of a project.

Work and Risk Breakdown Structures (WBS, RBS). Work Breakdown Structures (WBS) include specifications, analyses, and projections in a documented plan. The documented plan itself can be designed in various formats and techniques, such as diagramming techniques, which often involve the visual representation of the WBS in a variety of flow charts or visual aides.

The Risk Breakdown Structure (RBS) is similar to the WBS in which is a documented plan identifying and categorizing the risks in a documented plan. Diagramming and similar visual aides can be utilized in the creation of the RBS to what we saw in the WBS. The purpose of the RBS is to identify the risks associated with the project, whether they are certain or uncertain, and what the probability and impact levels are.

Finally, documentation is definitely a crucial area in the large realm of project management. Not only is it important for the overall communication and function of a project, it is also extremely essential for archiving purposes. Archiving is not only a smart, and standard procedure that should implemented in any organization, it is also a crucial reference point. Future projects can depend on prior, archived projects for information, data that was previously collected, and as reference or sources for current or future projects.

Identifying the Bottleneck in Your Project

Recently I happened to read a funny but insightful anecdote about routine work of a project manager in the IT sphere.

The project was to develop a 3D model of an elephant.

PM says “We will use a programming approach to implement a modular solution.”

So, the programmer takes a hippopotamus and adds a trunk and ears to it in order to make the hippo look like an elephant.

The client is not happy, “ Why is the trunk in the a….. (you know it) on the back ? Why do the ears fall on the eyes making it blindfolded ?”

PM agrees and orders the programmer to correct it. The programmer removes the trunk from the back and changes ears right to left.

Client complains again, “You have removed the trunk from the back together with the tail. Please fix the tail on the back. And one more problem. After your redesign of the ears, the elephant hears only from 8 am to 1o in the morning. The programmer insists the details were not given in the specifications.

Anyway, the PM makes the programmer to do it once more. .

Programmer makes the changes.

Now, the client is satisfied about the elephant but he has a second thought, “Now everything is ok. But I think it would have been better if you had taken a giraffe instead of a hippopotamus. Anyway, we can think about it in our next version. And .. can’t you add a pouch on the stomach and remove the trunk. So it will look like a kangaroo. I think it would be great.

Programmer is a bit cross and says, “ It was not in the specifications. I will not do it.”

PM does not want to lose the client, so he asks Programmer, “How long will it take you to do it ?” He answers, “two days”.

PM speaks to the client, “We can make a kangaroo from an elephant in 4 days and for additional 1000$.

The client says, “OK. Is it possible to add horns too?”

The story continues.

If you are an experienced project manager, I think, you have already got the bottom line. It is possible to continue it without an end. Though it is not very real, reality in project management is not so far from it… !

According reliable statistics, IT projects are the most difficult to control though risks are usually known from the beginning. Most of the bottlenecks  are described in books and articles about project management.  But knowledge helps to prevent and solve bottlenecks only partly because every project manager learns most lessons from their own mistakes.

My experience in project management comes mainly from IT projects. I have involved in managing software development and system integration projects. Most bottlenecks, that I had to deal with were in communication… !

You may start your marriage without listening to your partner and talking a little. In marriage, to talk a lot may ruin all the prospects. You might as well start the journey half blind. You will find the way anyhow as it comes. The truth is that we never start a family with so much of destination in mind.

Can we apply the same as project managers ?

I need to confess here. I am not very satisfied as a project manager. I am still trying to make myself better. You may not believe the extent to which projects were delayed and underdelivered due to mere lack of proper communication with my clients. Specially during the initial stages of projects, if there is not properly planned object oriented detailed communication with the clients, projects will suffer enormously. My dissatisfaction and constant desire to improve has helped me develop a precisely detailed, comprehensively formulated protocol for communication strategy.

There is one particular project that I would relate here to highlight how poor communication affected a project I managed. The project was to automate the workflow for a pension administration company that managed activity of several private pension funds. Our team included several programmers, their supervisor , a system analyst, a business analyst and a project manager (me). The team I worked with had already delivered projects of similar nature before. So, we were a bit too overconfident about our experience.

The problems started from the very beginning because heads of funds had their own vision about the expected software. They could not confirm their requirements and the negotiation took too much time and were not very successful.

Finally specifications were completed after much effort. But it contained a lot of “water” and poor details. Everyone continued to believe that the specifications were just a document and what mattered really was the results.

Now, with experience, I can identify this situation as a sign of a bottleneck. But that time I was not able to do it. So we all continued to think that everything was OK and during the project we would confirm requirements.

During the project customer changed the requirements thousand times and it was one more sign that indicated the presence of a bottleneck. The situation was getting serious. Programmers complained that they could not work in these circumstances. One programmer who played a very important role in developing left the project and  nobody could replace him. So we realized that this module we could not complete without help and after long discussions decided to  hire a subcontractor.  Finally, the project was delayed and brought no returns as expected.

Many project managers tend to leave doomed projects at the first signs of a failure before others in the team realize it. No one wants failed project to tarnish their portfolio.

My bitter experience in the said project made me understand  how important it is to identify a bottleneck well in advance and start to overcome it before the situation will be critical. Effective communication at the beginning of the project will ensure that the project will not be a failure.

If you have tools to estimate risks and mechanisms to overcome bottlenecks, the project can be saved and successfully completed.

Most project managers dealing with software development projects have major challenges in gathering relevant information and formulating requirements.  Often the situation is such that the client can’t precisely formulate the requirements in enough practical details without dedication and commitment of the project manager. As a result, either most critical information is lacking or irrelevant, non-specific and incorrect information is available.

Project manager’s hands on experience counts. If project manager is experienced enough, he (she) is poised to  understand the importance of proper communication with the client and the necessity to discuss all relevant details without leaving room for misunderstanding and potential frustrations. It is imperative that the project manager has a protocol for communication with the client. A properly developed protocol will help the PM delineate  functional requirements of the client. Further, systematic communication will help the client see beyond his limited span at times and realize full potential.

I firmly hold that the project manager has an additional duty of educating his client. This education will help the client see the practical limits of the project as it is most often the case. In certain situations, the client is also made to realize better and wider perspectives than he originally thought. It is not rare to see clients who change their whole outlook towards project outputs after  proper deliberation.

Project manager has to reason with the client and reason against him too. He needs to see beyond the limits of the project. He should try to get a full picture of client’s business and see how his project fits into that bigger picture. Unfortunately, you will see project managers making unnecessarily complicated long drawn projects full of too many functions for which their clients are burdened with heavy costs.

Waiting is not alway bad. Wait till your client becomes enlightened. Communicate well. Over communication will do no harm. Never have an opinion until the last moment. Educate the client. Let the educated and enlightened client paint it in his color. You need to follow.


Why Are Project Management Trends Important For Businesses?

Project management is a constantly changing role. This role is dependent on society and organizational changes. It depends on technology, societal and organizational trends, and even industry trends. Project managers need to be knowledgeable of these changes and trends in order to meet team goals and to properly deliver products and services to customers.

So what are some of the latest project management trends?

  • Maximize efficiency. What ways can project managers, teams, and processes work more efficiently? What processes can be introduced into current work flows and work breakdown structures to help save time and money? What are some ways to open up and efficiently enhance communication? Today it’s all about maximizing efficiency. Finding and incorporating the most efficient processes and work flows will certainly help streamline projects and communication among teams, departments, and even customers.
  • Customer Oriented. Speaking of customers, it’s all about them, isn’t it? Customer requirements is a huge portion of project management and is directly related to project success and even the success of a project manager. Project managers spend a great deal of time at the beginning of projects analyzing and researching customer requirements. This could involve documenting project or account specifications and communicating them among team members, identifying and responding to potential risks, or even drafting a prototype for those customers who are unsure of what they are looking for in a project outcome.
  • Productivity. Productivity is another key project management trend today. In addition to maximizing efficiency, project managers have also found themselves in the unique position of discovering ways to increase productivity, while saving time and money on other areas of the job. One common way to increase productivity, as well as efficiency at the same time, is by incorporating robust project management software, which we will talk about more in the next point. Project management software improves work flows and efficiency by bringing remote or off site teams together for projects.
  • Project Management Software. Most, if not all project management roles today rely on some type of project management software for the daily management of tasks, projects, deadlines, and budgets. Project management software has greatly increased in popularity and use, particularly in today’s technologically savvy business world and society when teams and organizations work remotely and off site. Some teams are even located in entirely different states or countries and in different time zones. This is why robust and reliable project management software is crucial to promoting efficiency and ensuring project success.

Finally, it’s important for organizations and project managers to pay attention to project management trends. Not only will this maximize efficiency and productivity and help lead projects to success and even meet or exceed customer expectations, but it will also make organizations look efficient and professional as well. Customers like to know they can count on and work with professional, efficient, and reliable organizations that will help them develop and design great products.

Critical Chain Method, a New Perspective for Project Management

We all have been working on projects in different industries, with widely different scopes and resource constraints. We are proud of our achievements as project managers and we often have an idea about what was behind the success or otherwise of a project. But, the truth about all projects across all industries, is that 30% of all projects are cancelled before delivering their goals. Functioning projects, on the other hand, fail at an alarming rate to deliver project goals or fall far behind their scopes. The sheer waste of money due to cancelled and failed projects amount to millions of dollars across the world. The bottom line is that, the advances made in project management are not on a par with those in other industries such as technology and communication. Underdelivered goals, overrun budgets, overrun schedules and unhappy clients are frequent manifestations of projects as we have best known.

Improvement in any human endeavor is possible only if we are courageous enough to critically analyze our rate of success. Though unpleasant, we need to accept the reality that we have a problem in project management. How well we define the problem will determine the eventual solutions we find.

When asked why so many projects fail, the responses received do not show consistency. Commonly stated reasons are the uncertainties lying outside the system and considered beyond control such as bad weather, suppliers problems and bureaucracy at government level. Some attribute failure to conflict between senior managers and project managers. Reference to the well documented reasons for project failure testify to but one thing: there is no commonly agreed cohesive set of factors contributing to project failure that we can learn from. Interestingly though, they all imply two common characteristics of all projects. First, all projects assume that projects deliverables can be precisely estimated and operations, exactly implemented. Consequently, any deviation is considered as a weakness at the planning stage. The next crucial assumption is the undue reverence to the system. The project system itself has never been doubted but accepted as trouble free.

Dr Goldratt, proponent of the Critical Chain Method, put the problem, for the first time, in the proper context. He asked what problems, in the system, cause so many project failures. He pointed out a direct relationship between project failure and the system used.

In order to understand the relevance and importance of Critical Chain Method as an alternative to the Critical Path Method, let’s first have a look at the various attempts taken over the past 40 years to improve project performance. As Dr Goldratt himself points out, previous solutions predominantly focused on increasing the detail at each level of a project. Earned value and derivative cost schedule control systems, for example, produced hundreds of pages of procedure and thousands of activities, with some activities of few hours in duration. Unsuccessful results made the project planners to create more detail and activities as solution. It activated a vicious circle, in which the fundamental belief that the project failure is caused by insufficient detail, drive managers to load project with ever increasing details. Results were the mounting costs, ever expanding schedules and project, at most, failing to meet essential technical requirements.

Furthering the subject of previous solutions, we find none of the solutions so far advanced to be effectively dealing with the uncertainty inherent in any project. Traditionally, what we are accustomed to as a measure of reducing uncertainty, is to put more effort into estimates, on the one hand, increase project detail and depth on the other hand. Again the same scenario of ‘more documentation and more detail’.

Finally, all attempts at solving project performance problems could be described as trials to improve implementation while the system itself at fault.

In this backdrop comes the new theory, sometimes known as a method or concept, Critical Chain Method of project management, CCMP. Though it can not be thought of as a panacea for all ills of modern project management, evidence from its implementation in projects point to the following benefits in contrast to traditional Critical Path Method.

Following the Critical Chain Method of Project Management, the biggest achievement is improved project success demonstrated by projects completed on time, within budget and full scope, while helping improve business growth. Most projects following CCMP were reported to have been completed in half the time that similar projects took in the Critical Path Method.

The debate about the usefulness and practicality of Critical Chain method against Critical Path method is not yet over. However, there are several key problems inherent in CP method and CCMP has shown promise. Though the existing evidence of success does not prove the theory of Critical Chain Method of Project Management comprehensively, as a competing new theory and solution to ever present problems of Critical Path Method, it is advisable that today’s project manager go beyond his comfort zone and restructure his ‘thinking’ in line with CCPM. We must never lose chance of a critical evaluation of a promising new theory, however ingrained in convention we are.