10 Keys to Project Management

We have distilled the basics of Project Management into 10 key items, but would remind every reader of the main principle - if you want people to do it and keep to it - KEEP IT SIMPLE. If you make it more complicated than it needs to be, people will misunderstand, not do it or waste time (or all three!).

1. Establish a Project Structure

The success of any project depends on its management. Those responsible for the project must be committed to the achievement of its objectives. They must believe in the value of the successful completion of the project to the organisation. Unless they believe in the need for the project, then the project team will have a difficult task convincing anyone else affected by the project of its value. Further, those responsible for the management have key roles in managing the overall scope and in communicating with users to manage expectations and ensure ownership of the results.

Even if your project team has less than 10 people, assign one person to be the “project management office” with responsibility for keeping the project management on track. The Project Management Office (PMO) should have responsibility for keeping the other 9 Keys in place. The PMO is the unit which controls all activities of the programme. It co-ordinates all parts of the project:

  1. Reviews plans
  2. Monitors progress against plans
  3. Monitors risks, issues and Change Control
  4. Reviews quality of the projects
  5. Manages project governance
  6. Maintains financial control.

2. Plan the project carefully

A good project plan depends on having the scope agreed and a project plan which is complete, understood and achievable.

  1. Project scope (including details of anything out of scope). This should describe the project in detail. It should include the objective of the project and describe the outcomes of the project (how the Bank will change) and list what the project will and will not do.
  2. Planning assumptions. These should be any assumptions which affect the plan including what will be provided to the project team (documents, tools, methodologies) and how the project team will work
  3. Detailed task list (by week) with a critical path and dependencies. This should list every task to be completed with details of which team member(s) will work on the task.
  4. Resources required (man-days and other resources – software, hardware etc.). All team members should be described with details of the skills or experience which each person should have, when the person is required and for how long the person is required. It should also list the training requirements for each member of the team. Other resources required should also be listed. It should be supported by a spreadsheet which shows the man-days by type of resource and the other costs by week
  5. Deliverables and Milestones (with dates). Each deliverable and milestone to be completed by the project should be described and delivery dates should be included. The plan should also detail what the level of approval should be for each deliverable. Remember to include the time required for approval of each deliverable and high point in the list.
  6. Risks. Any risks identified in the project plan should be included in the plan and added to the risk log.
  7. Project Structure. Show a structure chart for the Project Team.
  8. Project Stakeholders. List the stakeholders of the project. Classify them as:
    1. Project members
    2. Associated (design experts etc.)
    3. Governance (approval levels)
    4. Rest of the company
    5. Rest of World.

A plan should be practical. It should define the work plan for the entire project but the first three months should be planned in much more detail. It is unrealistic to plan detailed tasks for much longer than this because the project will change and the plan will need to be redone (or at least reviewed and updated).

3. Have strong sponsorship

The project sponsor should be sufficiently senior to gain the support, trust and respect of all people involved and should be committed to the success of the project. The sponsor should chair the Steering Committee and therefore take responsibility for driving the project through the organisation.

4. Assign the best resources

A project outcome is only as good as the people who work on it. So if the project is important, it is equally important to assign the best people to work on it. It is also important to ensure that, as much as possible, people are assigned to the project full-time. If they are trying to do a “day job” in parallel then the project will be treated as lower priority.

A core team should be involved from beginning to end of the project but other individuals may join the team for a particular period of time depending on their availability or the need for specific skills or additional resources. The project should be staffed with people who have sufficient skills to complete required tasks on budget and on schedule but should provide those people with challenges and opportunities for growth. The proper mix of skill levels, technical abilities and personalities must be attained and maintained for the duration of the project.

Team organisation should be based on the appropriate skill levels and also the career growth path of the individual staff members. On large projects spanning long periods of time, cross­training of staff members and transition of key people from one phase to the next should help to prevent delays and overruns. This also provides team members with the opportunity to assume increased responsibility throughout the course of the project.

Staff with experience in project management and of working on the same type of project are also important and if you don’t have them in-house, then contract them for the life of the project. It is important to try to keep continuity as much as possible. Any changes in staff will slow the project down as new people learn the project culture and the status of the project.

5. Build regular reporting

Regular reporting should be based around status reports. A Status Report should contain:

  • Progress against the detailed task list (by week)
  • Progress on Deliverables and Milestones
  • Risks, Issues and Dependencies
  • Actions required
  • Change Requests
  • Resources used (man-days and other resources – software, hardware etc.).

Status reports should be provided regularly. It is important to balance the need for information against the time spent producing reports. The reports should provide a good overview of the project without providing so much detail that the readers cannot see the wood for the trees. What gets measured gets attention. The real challenge is to identify the smallest amount of information necessary to provide the most amount of coverage to monitor the status of the project.

Reports should form part of the regular communication about the project to the stakeholders and must be complete, accurate, reliable and timely to instil confidence in the way that the project is being managed.

6. Monitor risks regularly and resolve issues promptly

Risk Management is a way to focus attention on minimizing threats to the achievement of the project by providing a systematic approach for making sure that risks are formally identified, quantified and managed. A risk is defined as ‘any event which is likely to adversely affect the ability of the project to achieve the defined objectives’."

A Risk Management Process is used to ensure that every risk is formally:

  • Identified
  • Quantified
  • Monitored
  • Avoided, transferred or mitigated.

Issues arise when a risk can’t be avoided and becomes real. The issue must then be managed to minimise it’s impact on the project.

7. Manage costs carefully

Financial Control is the way that the PMO will manage the costs and resources of the Project by:

  • confirming budget amounts,
  • monitoring actual amounts incurred,
  • reporting budgets, actuals, forecasts and variances to management.

This will include:

  • Time (man days)
  • Expenses
  • Other costs, licence fees, hardware and software, maintenance and any other costs

Financial Control will also be responsible for the business case and monitoring achievement of benefits. The status report should show the control of time and costs against the plan or budget and should show how the benefits included in the business case are being achieved. 

8. Communicate as much as possible

Communication includes the training and education of the project team, the stakeholders and those associated with the project. Communication is vital as the project develops and involves managing the expectations of the stakeholders and ensuring that both formal and informal messages emanating from the project portray a positive and beneficial image of the initiative and its potential impact on the organisation.

The key to being a great communicator is to learn to listen. Understanding what the stakeholders are thinking or are concerned about will help to tailor the message to their needs. The problem is that most people are more worried about being understood, rather than trying to understand first. Real listening with the intent to fully understand takes a great deal of personal security. If the reply demonstrates the impact of what was heard, then the speaker knows that the audience is listening fully and empathically. This increases their persuasive abilities in turn.

Most people want to be heard but rarely make the effort to listen to others. Effective, thoughtful listening can help avoid any number of problems with project communication.

9. Check quality thoroughly

Quality Control and Quality Assurance are the ways to make sure that the Project is delivered to the expectations of the Sponsor.

Project Quality will normally be controlled using the following criteria:

  • Is the project plan complete, realistic and in line with the Programme Plan?
  • Were the project processes followed?
  • Was the project completed on time?
  • Was the project completed within budget?
  • Were the deliverables completed to the approval of the PMC and the Review Committee?
  • Were the milestones met?
  • Have the outcomes been achieved?

Quality reports must be produced at least twice for each project and recommendations for improvement to the project actioned.

10. Learn from mistakes

When things go wrong, don’t panic. Take the necessary action to get the project back on track. Ensure that change requests are completed and any changes to existing plans are approved so that the project remains under control and managed effectively. A Change Request must be prepared if any change to the project is required. This could include changes to:

  • the scope of the project (adding, changing or taking away deliverables, milestones or outcomes)
  • the budget for the project (increases in cost, time or resource requirements)
  • the design already agreed
  • the Governance Structure
  • the processes used by the PMO and the team
  • the contracts agreed with 3rd parties.

Above all, stay calm and manage the project carefully, following the 10 keys described above.

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