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Five Key Considerations for Successful Project Management – Operational Excellence

Five Key Considerations for Successful Project Management – Operational Excellence

Who is a Project Manager?  A simple answer would be: Any person who has a team and is expected to deliver an output, given a set of requirements.  A typical Project Manager is often under pressure from the management, customers, third party vendors and the team members.

Project management is the discipline of planning, organizing, motivating, and controlling resources to achieve specific goals. A project is a temporary endeavor with a defined beginning and end (usually time-constrained, and often constrained by funding or deliverables), undertaken to meet unique goals and objectives, typically to bring about beneficial change or added value. The temporary nature of projects stands in contrast with business as usual (or operations), which are repetitive, permanent, or semi-permanent functional activities to produce products or services. In practice, the management of these two systems is often quite different, and as such requires the development of distinct technical skills and management strategies. (Wiki)

Successful Project Management entails achieving all the project goals while remaining within the constraints of scope, time, quality and budget. It is not an easy job – but definitely a very fulfilling and rewarding one. A Project Manager needs to balance many aspects carefully to achieve the project objectives. From my many years of managing projects and project teams globally, I put together this list of key considerations that a project manager always needs to keep his focus on. The following aspects are from practical experience and hence I believe these would resonate well with practicing managers.

Consideration #1 – Forming the Right Team:  80% of the Projects fail due to lack of right team. Assuming the estimations are done well, the project manager should strive to get the right team based on the project type, including system architects, development and test leads and a solid configuration management expert.  The critical roles should never be compromised – for example, if you need a carpenter, “you need a carpenter” and a plumber cannot be “adjusted” into that role.  Of course there are businesses realities, but the delivery Manager needs to aggressively push for the “right” team. Also, the core team should be intact throughout the duration of the project (or as far as possible).

Consideration #2 – Commitment to Customer:  It is essential that the manager sensitizes the team that release plans once locked-in are sacrosanct. On-time delivery is key. Hence it is extremely important that the entire team is fully aligned to the customer’s requirements.  The manager must develop an in-depth understanding of not only the current activity/project, but also get a good understanding of the customer’s product road map.  The goal is to become a true partner for the customer through excellence in delivery and technical depth/product understanding.

Consideration #3 – Dashboard driven: Metrics can be overwhelming and hence should be viewed as dash-board (aka cockpit panel or a car dashboard). This will provide the right amount of information to know if the project is under control. Standard metrics like schedule/effort variance are of course essential.  In addition, customer satisfaction and various productivity measures needs to be tracked. It is also extremely important that the project management is aligned to the business goals. The project manager has to understand all the parameters that impact the project profitability and gets a regular view of the profitability of the project against target.

Consideration #4 – Never Surprise your stake-holders: It is extremely important to keep open and regular communication both within the team and with the customer (say steering group meeting).  Just sending Weekly status report is not sufficient. E-mail should not be the ONLY means of communication. If it is important and deserves an immediate attention, please pick-up the phone and CALL.  I have not seen any case where phone calls are over-used.  Never delay bad news. Also bad news should be accompanied by recovery plan, impact etc.  The bottom line is surprises should be avoided.  Examples of common surprises – Communicating to the customer about a delay in the release on the date of release, informing the finance team that there will be a 20% revenue drop for the current month, etc.

Consideration #5 – “Thinking” Plan-B:  The changing dynamics in the project makes the manager’s role extremely challenging and it is important that the manager does not get into the Panic mode. It is imperative that the Manager “thinks” ahead of the team and is able to predict potential issues and be prepared with alternate approaches (often called plan-B). Proper Risk planning and management is absolutely necessary. This will give greatly improve manager’s confidence in dealing with risks/issues and be prepared for all outcomes.

The above points are some the key learning from my own mistakes and also from the multiple projects managers I have worked-with across many counties. I am sure there are many more considerations that would help in mastering project management, but I believe the above five practical and simple considerations would be among the most critical ones required in project management. No matter what certifications we posses, nothing can beat hands-on experience!  Also, no matter how experienced anyone is, there is always plenty to learn in Project Management!!!

G Krishna Kumar is a Vice President in a leading global software company with many years of experience in managing large global programs for software products and services delivery. He is also an avid writer and blogger and blogs on Telecom, IT and Education related topics at http://bloggerkrishnak.blogspot.in/ . Views are personal.

What is your learning from your project management experience? What other consideration/s do you believe are critical to ensure the success of a project? Krishna and I would love to hear back from you.

 Pic Courtesy : http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/2006-02-08/

Five Keys to set up a Successful Project Management Office – Business Operations Performance Management

Five Keys to set up a Successful Project Management Office – Business Operations Performance Management

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Basically, there are two types of animals: animals and animals that have no brains; they are called plants. They don’t need a nervous system because they don’t move actively; they don’t pull up their roots and run in a forest fire! Anything that moves actively requires a nervous system; otherwise it would come to a quick death ~ Rodolfo Llinas, a neuroscientist from New York University School of Medicine.

An established Project Management Office (PMO) within an organization is the Central Nervous System of the organization. The PMO helps to optimize resource utilization across projects and initiatives, improve program execution which rises above organization barriers, enhance visibility and accountability and be better prepared from an information and knowledge perspective to anticipate and react to change. The Project Management Institute (PMI) Program Management Office Community of Practice (CoP) views the PMO as a strategic driver for organizational excellence and seeks to enhance the practices of execution management, organizational governance, and strategic change leadership.

Is establishing such a central nervous system within an organization a challenge? Yes, it is. In absence of crisply defined PMO goals, the risk is that the PMO can just end up increasing the workload for project managers without delivering on any of its stated objectives. As a result, PMO acceptability can get reduced and it can become just a reactive function within the organization, an incomplete nervous system with degraded reflexes and inability to anticipate external events.

So if you are lucky enough to have a senior / executive sponsorship mandating the requirement of a PMO, here are the five key factors to be considered to establish a PMO that truly rocks and becomes a strategic tool in keeping implementers and decision makers moving toward consistent and predictable business focused goals and objectives:

Key Factor #1 Clear Scope and Purpose of PMO – Lack of clear boundaries and objectives associated with the PMO, may result in overloaded PMO team and the disappointed customers. There are almost as many varieties of PMO as there are companies. There are strong PMOs and weak PMOs. Some companies rely on the PMO to be responsible for all areas of project management and project execution. Other companies only want the PMO to provide a consolidated reporting view of all the projects in the organization. Before you can jump in and start up a PMO, you must first gain clarity and agreement on what you are doing and why. Communicate this information to clients, stakeholders and your own staff so that everyone starts off with a common set of expectations. Second, provide a framework for the PMO to guide decision-making in the future. Along with the clear definition of which projects you will support, make sure that there are clear definitions of which services are and are NOT provided for all your customers.

Key Factor #2: Do not use the “One size fits all” approach – Implementing a PMO by exactly what books say without considering the organization in which it operates is not a very wise thing to do. Having a centralized source of information, templates and project management methodologies certainly brings value to the organization. However, forcing these to all types of projects (large, medium, complex, small) in organization may result in poor Project Manager willingness for their usage. A proper framework in place, with respect to project management models which allow tailoring of these templates and methodologies according to specific project/customer’s need, is the key for success here.

Key Factor #3: Define Data Requirements based on “need” and not “want” – Be careful of the data load that you put on the project managers, focus on being an enabler function and not an overhead. In most of the companies with a PMO, the perceptions of employees are more biased to it being an overhead rather than a useful service. One of the reasons for that is too complex requirement for the project managers to produce data which is very rarely used or even useful. The main focus of any project delivery is around Scope, Schedule, Budget & Resources, Quality and Customer satisfaction. A well defined metrics/dashboards for these important parameters can encourage PM to report the project status in correct and timely manner. This also aligns with PM’s usual activities for project tracking in day to day life and does not create additional bandwidth stretch for PMs. Project reporting can be around:  Status (red, yellow, green)—overall, as well as for risks, budget, scope, status trend, planned v s. actual budget, planned vs. actual time, business case forecasts vs. actual results, customer satisfaction survey results. How you further present reports depends on your audience, their needs, and the resulting actions your audience should take. Knowing your audience is very important here because the breadth and level of detail differs by audience. At higher levels, such as an executive board, reports should be broader in nature with less depth and frequency than at the business unit levels, for example. Business unit audiences desire more detailed information specifically focused to that business unit. However, the supporting detail should be available at all levels, especially for projects that may be in trouble, such as those with high budget or time overruns.

Key Factor #4 Metrics reporting – Data accuracy and completeness – If Reporting is a key dimension of the PMO, data accuracy and completeness is in turn a key dimension of reporting. According to Bryan Maizlish and Robert Handler (2005), “Research indicates that 90% of all business decisions are sub-optimal because of data quality. Ironically the biggest data quality complaint does not pertain to the accuracy of the data but the completeness of the data”. Accuracy and completeness is required for both simple and complex reports. For example, one of the most standard, simpler reports in PMO relates to the “health” of the programs in terms of project status (red, yellow, green). If the status of a project has not been updated in a timely manner, then the resulting program health report will be inaccurate leading to dated decisions. A suggestion here is to offer a service only if you have the proper tools to support it. Microsoft Excel is an excellent tool, still, there is only so much that you can offer in terms of analysis and forecasts if your project’s data are collected in an Excel file. Manual reports with embedded macros are good workarounds, but they are very time consuming and subject to mistakes. In addition, budgets and resources are really tough to manage manually in a consolidated and consistent manner, especially when your PMO is working on a global level. Have appropriate Project Management tools established based on your organization needs.

Key Factor # 5 Build a Strong marketing and communication strategy to drive PMO acceptance – Communicate, communicate, and communicate! There is no such thing as over-selling. Selling and re-selling the strategic project management office is necessary to gaining and sustaining the buy-in across all organizational levels. When you are setting up the PMO and do not have accomplishments to talk about yet, focus on building awareness about the PMO – its purpose, impact and benefits. The communication plan should include as audience, not only the executive and steering committee members and the stakeholders, but also the internal and external communities. Create a central repository for PMO documents, inform stakeholders the information is there and make sure that the information is easily accessible. Poor or non-existing marketing and communications revolving around the goal of the office and the services it provides, is one of the reasons for unsuccessful PMO setups.

So, to summarize, setup your PMO with well thought out strategies so that like a central nervous system, it can improve your organizational reflexes and performance. Such PMOs can enable your organization to get better/faster/cheaper and achieve more predictable results for their chosen projects.

What are your experiences with PMO setup in your organizations? What challenges have you faced in PMO establishment? Please share so that we can learn from your experiences.

Today’s guest post is from Kavita Verma, PMP who is the Director – Global Program Office at a leading IT services company. She is a dynamic and outcome-oriented Program Manager with a fulfilling career spanning over 10 years of extensive industry experience in full software life cycle of requirements definition, architecture, design, prototyping, product implementation, integration and testing of Embedded Mobile Application and Platform Middleware.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]