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Don’t Forget the Project Management Basics

The successful delivery of any project is dependent on a fundamental understanding of what is to be delivered, when it has to be delivered and how much is to be spent on the project. Such information can often get lost in the minds of those working on projects either because they get sucked into the intricacies of their own or a client’s organizational bureaucracy or become engrossed in the detail of a particular project management methodology.

It’s worthwhile for any Project Manager, no matter how experienced, or anyone else working in a project environment, to keep these critical points in mind. A brief reminder at the start and end of all project meetings of three points can be really powerful.

What Is To Be Delivered?

It doesn’t matter how these are put together or by whom – what we are talking about here are the requirements that have to be successfully delivered to meet the needs of a set of end users. Each sector has its own way of capturing what can be subjective user needs, but these must be turned into requirement statements that are unambiguous and objective. In this way they can be proven (verified) to have been delivered.

Depending on the size of the project concerned and the length of time involved the development of robust requirements that are signed-off by sponsors/clients can be a project in its own right and should be managed accordingly. Once that robust set of requirements is agreed upon by all who have to agree them only then should the project progress to implementation.

Some might argue that progressive development of requirements such as in the development of software goes against this but in fact what is happening here is a progressive refinement of requirements from a known starting point.

When Must It Be Delivered?

Timescales for projects are often poorly understood and Project Managers with a detailed technical understanding of what is being delivered can often become frustrated when their managers or clients just ‘don’t understand the difficulties being experienced.’  Yes, milestones can and do slip for a whole host of reasons but it is often due to wildly over-optimistic initial estimates that have been included in Business Cases to get the project approved in the first place.

Real end dates such as the opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympics in London are fully understood by everyone and really help provide a focus.

What comes from that is a good appreciation of how everything needs to come together in the right order. What can be more difficult though is putting in place realistic and reasonable milestones upon which to judge progress, especially when the headline end-date is not as prestige as the Olympics. Detailed Gantt charts are all very well providing they are

  • accurate,
  • needed, and,
  • most important of all, regularly updated by someone with an intimate knowledge of the project.

Ensure the milestones are sensible and not arbitrarily created (every three months makes no sense at all) and are communicated to all who need to be aware of them.

How Much?

Project costs and on all but the shortest and simplest of projects are notoriously difficult to estimate. If development is involved in any way or there are environmental considerations to take into account, then this increases the uncertainty involved greatly. No matter. At some point a cost schedule will be agreed and resources allocated to a project. Whether this is an internal project, the development of new software or a large construction project for a public sector client careful control of costs are vital to success. The role of the Project Manager is to ensure what is allocated is spent in the correct area and to work closely with their senior management and accounting functions at all times as this is the area that is easiest to understand for non project management professionals and it’s what they feel comfortable with.

Flex the Triangle

The delivery of any project requires successfully meeting requirements in the timescales planned for and to the cost estimated. This is common sense, of course. This eternal triangle is very rarely fixed as requirements, timescales and costs can and do change for a variety of reasons. The need here though is to ensure any changes are thoroughly understood even if it means altering the shape of the triangle – increased cost in one area might mean a reduced or sacrificed requirement elsewhere. The process of making such adjustments must be swift otherwise the project management decision making process itself will start to drive the timescale of the project which will impact cost and potentially the meeting of requirements.

Copyright © 2010 Paul Slater

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