Project Management Information Overload
You probably are aware by now how critical project management is for your bottom line. Organizations all over are tuning in to the effect of project management to meet it’s defects in the face of astronomical demands posed by the digital age.
Right now professionals are required to perpetually learn the bleeding edge project management techniques including perhaps pursuing the project management professional status or PMP for short.
This identification involves a rigorous examination process as well as grueling course of study. Experience levels within the actual field of project management itself is also critical to attain this coveted status. Once a professional has arrived at it, he or she must retake certification updates it every now and then in order to be able to continue to use that designation.
This certification was created by the Project Management Institute which is considered the world’s leading authoritative organization when it comes to the occupation of project management.
So as a current or future PMP, how does one keep up-to-date with such a vast array of references that’s available and growing (beyond the internet, intranet, and proprietary knowledge)? One thing you can do is use RSS readers to organize and keep up to date with your favorite blogs and news feeds which allows you to keep up to date with the entire industry within a glance.
The nice thing about reading blogs from various project management and PMP certified pros is that you will get an insiders view into various cultures, industries, and corporate policies as it relates to the application of the Project Management body of knowledge.
Be sure to join local networking clubs within your area to pick the brains of some of the thought leaders and executives who are focused on this stringent subject. This is one of the best ways to stay ahead and learn tricks of the trade that will literally save you hundreds upon hundreds of hours of time through learning by way of trial and error.
Project Management – Design and Development Projects
There’s no getting away from it, design and development projects are a nightmare to manage successfully, particularly the development of software. Nonetheless, in these days of customers requiring ever increasing functionality and ever more sophisticated technology, they are sometimes necessary.
Your company almost certainly has procedures in place such as Make or Buy (do you design/build the item yourselves or do you sub-contract) and Design to Cost (you’ve estimated how much it will cost, now make sure that it doesn’t run over budget. The Make/Buy procedure should have been used when compiling the bid and the advantages and disadvantages in terms of capability, price, programme and risk between procuring from internal or external sources analysed. The availability of required technology should have been ascertained.
The Design to Cost process should also have been part of the programme from its inception through the bidding stage but it too should be reviewed at this stage. If a significant cost/risk reduction can be achieved by changing your approach, it may well pay dividends in the end.
There are a number of things to consider in respect to design. Firstly, you don’t have to design from scratch. It may be that there are two pieces of electronics out there already which will do the job that your project wants and all they need is a piece of software or hardware to make them talk to each other. That is far preferable to designing the whole piece of kit from square one and far less risky. Make sure that your engineering fraternity know this. Bear in mind that, since you compiled your bid and did the initial technical assessment, technology may have moved on and something which didn’t exist then may well be on the market now. It’s worth a little time and effort to review your design decision and confirm that it’s still a valid one.
Rule number one for the Project Manager is that he must never forget that engineers are just that. They love to tinker and play, they love to solve technical problems and they will almost certainly be unaware of how long it’s taking or how much it’s costing. As the Project Manager, you will have to keep a firm eye on what they’re doing as even your Technical Lead may get carried away with the excitement of an emerging new technology.
If you really must design hardware, or heaven forbid, software, make sure that plenty of checks and tests are built into your plan along the way. It’s very easy to fall behind time on a design and development job.
Another important point is to liaise with your customer all along the way. There’s no point finishing a stunningly clever design only to have your customer tell you that he forgot to say way back that your electronic gizmo needs to be operational in temperatures of 100 degrees Centigrade.
In a nutshell, don’t reinvent the wheel, keep things as simple as possible and get customer approval as you go along. Above all, as the Project Manager, the ultimate responsibility is yours, so don’t sit back and just let the techies get on with it – manage them. This should ensure the smooth running of your design project.
Project Management – The Plans
When you put the bid together, one of your most important pieces of documentation was the Project Management Plan. This document will be your bible from now on, in particular the programme plan, which will take the form of a bar chart or similar and which you will probably want to pin onto the wall of your office. This will show you the state of the project at a glance, including all the important dates and milestones, especially payment milestones. If your plan was formulated using detailed activities for each milestone, you will need to check with the milestone owners that these are still valid. If you didn’t use detailed activities, you might want to start now. I firmly believe that the secret of successful Project Management is attention to detail. In a complex project, it is all too easy to lose track of some seemingly insignificant little job or item which turns out to be vital to the conclusion of a milestone. Get your team to think of every tiny little thing that they will need, especially for the early milestones and make sure that the plan is always up to date.
One of your early milestones will almost certainly be to formally issue all your other documents as well as the Project Management Plan, as these will have been at draft issue only for the bid. This means organising the review and signing off by senior personnel of your Quality Plan, Development Plan (if any), Sub-Contract Management Plan and Configuration Management Plan, to name but a few. These will then require delivery to and acceptance by, your customer.
Your Risk Management Plan is another priority and will also need constant update and review. Make sure that your Risk Manager checks with all risk owners that they haven’t any new information which may affect the handling of an early risk. For example, say one of your risks was that one of your software engineers would only be available to you part time because Project X was approaching a crucial milestone and might need extra resources. Your Technical Lead now tells you that Project X has achieved that milestone with no problems and won’t need your software engineer. You can now knock that risk off your list, you don’t need to worry about it any more and you won’t need to put the fall back or mitigation plans in place. Risk Management is a complex subject so we won’t delve into it further here, suffice to say, it is crucial to good project management.
Lastly, on the subject of plans, make sure that your Procurement Manager is monitoring the plans needed from your sub-contractors, if any. These may be stand-alone plans for complex sub-contracts or may just be a contributory paragraph to some of your project plans. Either way, they still need to be delivered in time for project management review and inclusion in the delivery of your document package to your customer.
Project Management – Winning the Project
The big day has arrived, the day on which your customer decides which of the competing bidders has won his new project. As the Project Manager, you may or may not be the first to hear the news. Customers work differently. Sometimes a member of the customer’s staff, or more than one, will “whisper” the news to his opposite number in the bidding company and sometimes full protocol will be observed, with a formal communication being sent from the customer’s Contracts Manager to your Commercial Manager. Either way, the Project Manager will be one of the first to hear the good news that your bid was considered to be the best and that the job now starts in earnest.
Bearing in mind that a large part of the Project Manager’s job is man management, one of your first duties should be to arrange a celebration for all the people who worked on the bid. This sign of appreciation will do wonders for staff morale and will ensure that you have a willing team. Depending on the value of the project, this celebration might be a beer in the pub or a full blown lunch. Don’t forget to include everyone or this will have the opposite to the desired effect. When having your celebration, use the opportunity to praise past efforts and lay out future expectations.
At this early stage, your other major task will be to ensure that someone is arranging your office accommodation. If you work for a large company which likes to co-locate its project personnel, you will need to make sure that someone is taking care of space, storage and communications so that your staff can quickly settle down and devote themselves to making the project a success.
After the celebration (the same day might not be such a good idea), call your first project meeting for your senior team members. At this stage, it is unlikely that your company will actually have signed the contract for this project so before that happens, more work is necessary. Your team will need to again review the customer’s documentation to ensure that they still say the same as they did when you responded to the bid. It’s not unheard of for a customer to try and sneak in a few extra requirements when they think you’re not looking. You will also need to make sure that your responses to both the Invitation to Tender and any subsequent questions have been included in the new documentation and that the price, payment plan, technical solution and everything else, have been acknowledged.
As long as all the documentation is in order, it is normal practice to go ahead with the project, even without the benefit of a signed contract. Often, the customer will have sent a formal Instruction to Proceed agreeing basics such as the price. You will probably need this to get project funding signed off by the senior financial people in your organisation, enabling you to get on with the job…. and that’s where the next article will take us.
Project Management – You Give Me The Feature Creeps
The caliber of the project management you have merged into your job or department can mean the difference between holding out and flighing high in a very no holds barred industry that you serve. It’s very crucial to understand the evolution of a project management lifecycle and avoid skirting or skipping important upfront issues from the outset.
It’s also very important to understand the concept of not over analyzing a problem or being paralyzed to a point where further action is not being carried out. A dreadful opponent to you in this case would be “Feature Creep” where individuals from the department keep changing their minds on requirements or have new ideas on better ones.
Beware of feature creep as it will rear it’s ugly head at every step of every stage you encounter of your project. Things such as that, as well as losing focus on the core objectives will typically result in project failure because a core component or stage of the project is not able to move forward.
Leadership in this examples is utterly critical in order to prevent mishaps, and total project disasters from happening. These usually are not only a waste of time, resources, but a major drain on employee morale and faith in the leadership of the entire organization.
It’s critcally important to phrase a communication strategy before the project begins. Make sure to sit down with the clients and constituencies during a set agenda and with set goals as well as a decided upon methodology to capture and organize requirements from everyone who has a stake in the project you are working on. Otherwise they will call you up every five minutes and give you new requirements or ask you to alter existing ones.
Needless to say, this is not a very productive use of your time nor is it of theirs. A solid big picture view of all the project needs has to be looked at before moving forward with the actual implementation. This due diligence will take up a bit more time in the beginning but will save lots of time, money, headaches, and potentially broken relationships down the line.
Project Management: Performance Metrics Matter
A study has shown that many project managers do not sufficiently keep track of the performance metrics of their teams. This results in consistent cost overruns, going over schedule, failing to meet expectations in quality, and seeking new employment elsewhere. Think about it, what are you managing really if you don’t even know the metrics? Is management merely a process of simply checking off to do lists for you? It shouldn’t be. Here’s why.
In order for management to make decisions, data is critical. Data shows helps you define your benchmarks, and also define forecasts for improving upon baselines for continued company expansion and growth. Things such as Total Quality Management, Improvement Teams, Standards and Measurement departments, Process Management, Quality Circles, Six Sigma, etc are not just buzz words people. Pick a system for measuring and quantifying your data and quickly measure the lifeline of your project vis a vis your overall goals. Find out where your bottlenecks are, find out where the cost overruns are taking place, and quickly identify why your Widget sales are declining before it becomes an irreversible money draining problem. This allows you then to take action whether hiring an operations consultant to integrate processes, or in the decision to release staff in certain non-critical areas.
Metrics need to be constantly monitored and measured. Charts, graphs, and summary data need to be reviewed on a regular time table whether it’s weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis. From then you can then navigate your business or department towards a profitable plateau. Failure to comply with these very basic performance metrics analysis could result in flushing valuable time, money, employee morale, and reputation down the proverbial toilet if these things are ignored in your project or managerial role.
A rule of thumb is that ANY system in place for measuring performance metrics is better than having none at all. If you are in a dynamic environment and already have 2 or 3 projects in the air, then feel free to gradually introduce these factors based on your industry line.
Project Management Software: What It Can Provide
Project management software is a software program that is designed to allow you to manage all aspects of your project needs effectively. There are various types of this software available but most will allow for complete management from the beginning through completion. Here are some of the things that you can expect to get out of the project management software that you choose.
— It is able to be purchased to include scheduling and communication needs.
— It will provide for you such things as resource allocation, collaboration software, and documentations software as well.
— It has the ability of working on some of the most complex of projects and the simplest.
There are several types of project management software. It can be a desktop application. It is also possible for it to be a web-based software solution to allow access from remote locations as needed. It can be a personal setup allowing only a few to access it or it can be a collaborative set up which would allow for several more people to access it. It can also be integrated to allow for the most availability and use.
These project management software solutions can work for various types of organizations. They can be purchased in set situations or they can be customized for your specific needs. You’ll find that they can provide excellent ability when customized for the business’s particular uses.
There are various reasons why this software application can work for you. You’ll find so much selection in them that there is sure to be something that can better organize your project no matter how large or small. Even better, you’ll find all of your options available to you right here on the web. Comparing features and specifics about each type of software solution will lead to the best overall choice. This is simple to do online.
Project Management Success with the Top 7 Best Practices
Managing a project can be daunting. Whether planning your wedding, developing a new website or building your dream house by the sea, you need to employ project management techniques to help you succeed. I’ll summarise the top 7 best practices at the heart of good project management which can help you to achieve project success.
Define the scope and objectives
Firstly, understand the project objectives. Suppose your boss asks you to organise a blood donor campaign, is the objective to get as much blood donated as possible? Or, is it to raise the local company profile? Deciding the real objectives will help you plan the project.
Scope defines the boundary of the project. Is the organisation of transport to take staff to the blood bank within scope? Or, should staff make their own way there? Deciding what’s in or out of scope will determine the amount of work which needs performing.
Understand who the stakeholders are, what they expect to be delivered and enlist their support. Once you’ve defined the scope and objectives, get the stakeholders to review and agree to them.
Define the deliverables
You must define what will be delivered by the project. If your project is an advertising campaign for a new chocolate bar, then one deliverable might be the artwork for an advertisement. So, decide what tangible things will be delivered and document them in enough detail to enable someone else to produce them correctly and effectively.
Key stakeholders must review the definition of deliverables and must agree they accurately reflect what must be delivered.
Planning requires that the project manager decides which people, resources and budget are required to complete the project.
You must define what activities are required to produce the deliverables using techniques such as Work Breakdown Structures. You must estimate the time and effort required for each activity, dependencies between activities and decide a realistic schedule to complete them. Involve the project team in estimating how long activities will take. Set milestones which indicate critical dates during the project. Write this into the project plan. Get the key stakeholders to review and agree to the plan.
Project plans are useless unless they’ve been communicated effectively to the project team. Every team member needs to know their responsibilities. I once worked on a project where the project manager sat in his office surrounded by huge paper schedules. The problem was, nobody on his team knew what the tasks and milestones were because he hadn’t shared the plan with them. The project hit all kinds of problems with people doing activities which they deemed important rather than doing the activities assigned by the project manager.
Tracking and reporting project progress
Once your project is underway you must monitor and compare the actual progress with the planned progress. You will need progress reports from project team members. You should record variations between the actual and planned cost, schedule and scope. You should report variations to your manager and key stakeholders and take corrective actions if variations get too large.
You can adjust the plan in many ways to get the project back on track but you will always end up juggling cost, scope and schedule. If the project manager changes one of these, then one or both of the other elements will inevitably need changing. It is juggling these three elements – known as the project triangle – that typically causes a project manager the most headaches!
Stakeholders often change their mind about what must be delivered. Sometimes the business environment changes after the project starts, so assumptions made at the beginning of the project may no longer be valid. This often means the scope or deliverables of the project need changing. If a project manager accepted all changes into the project, the project would inevitably go over budget, be late and might never be completed.
By managing changes, the project manager can make decisions about whether or not to incorporate the changes immediately or in the future, or to reject them. This increases the chances of project success because the project manager controls how the changes are incorporated, can allocate resources accordingly and can plan when and how the changes are made. Not managing changes effectively is often a reason why projects fail.
Risks are events which can adversely affect the successful outcome of the project. I’ve worked on projects where risks have included: staff lacking the technical skills to perform the work, hardware not being delivered on time, the control room at risk of flooding and many others. Risks will vary for each project but the main risks to a project must be identified as soon as possible. Plans must be made to avoid the risk, or, if the risk cannot be avoided, to mitigate the risk to lessen its impact if it occurs. This is known as risk management.
You don’t manage all risks because there could be too many and not all risks have the same impact. So, identify all risks, estimate the likelihood of each risk occurring (1 = not likely, 2 = maybe likely, 3 = very likely). Estimate its impact on the project (1 – low, 2 – medium, 3 – high), then multiply the two numbers together to give the risk factor. High risk factors indicate the severest risks. Manage the ten with the highest risk factors. Constantly review risks and lookout for new ones since they have a habit of occurring at any moment.
Not managing risks effectively is a common reason why projects fail.
Following these best practices cannot guarantee a successful project but they will provide a better chance of success. Disregarding these best practices will almost certainly lead to project failure.
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