Monday, May 16, 2011

Achieving success by avoiding flaws, and using phases!!!

I'm going to divert from my construction example tonight. I'd like to talk a little about project phases, and why they are critical to project success.
There are several basic flaws that will quickly undermine a project... they are...
  1. Poorly defined project plans - it's critical that the project plan is concise. Have you ever seen a builder start cutting wood and nailing it together without a plan? Of course not, it would most likely be an unsafe structure.
  2. Unclear deliverables - this is a common contributor to scope creep. Get your customers to agree on deliverables, develop specifications that clearly outline what you are going to accomplish, and get a sign-off and agreement.
  3. Lack of commitment - get committed resources who have a vested interest in the success of the project. If there is no vested interest, try to get a commitment from the person and an agreement to the schedule. If you have no buy-in, your chance of success is limited.
  4. Inadequate estimations - involve your peers and technical resources on developing resource estimates. I often develop my estimates separate from their work flow. This allows the estimates to be "reconciled", and can often help eliminate confusion on projects. If there's a huge gap in estimates, it very well could be a result of unclear specifications --- which need to be refined.
  5. No slack time - you need slack time. Resources cannot sustain 100% effort, nor is it realistic to assume that every one of your estimate are accurate, and that resources won't have "off" days. You cannot have all "A" players, and you should schedule to an average resource productivity level assigned to the project. Include time for vacation, general meetings, training, sick time and other non-project time
  6. Planning 100% capacity for effective hours - again, don't make an overly optimistic assumption that it won't rain, snow, be flu season, or that your equipment won't need any maintenance and that there will be no down time nor delays.
  7. Inability to define a true critical path - this is pretty self explanatory. If you have too much on the critical path, you are running a single threaded project. If you have not correctly defined critical items and the relationships between different tasks, you will probably recognize this too late, and you will likely experience project delays.
  8. Not holding resources accountable for schedules - or offering enough incentives, praise, or motivation for tasks outside of your span of control to engage independent resources in the project plan.
  9. Failure to accommodate other tasks not related to the project - everyone wants to think their project is the only project. Recognize any maintenance or competing activities are going to consume a portion of project resources, and plan accordingly. You do need to work with your resource managers to gather the necessary commitments for the project and accommodate other commitments.
  10. Scope creep - You need to REALLY ask the following for every instance of scope creep... is this item more critical than task x? If not, then either this new task moves to the next phase (by far the most preferred option), we postpone another task, or we slide the project to accommodate the additional resource requirements.
I have found, and continue to find that my most successful projects are always managed in phases. These phases have the best chance for success because they are shorter in duration, and have very clear prioritized deliverables for each phase. Scope creep goes to a future phase, with re-prioritized timelines prior to starting each phase to accommodate lessons learned from the project and any changes in scope. The shorter the project, the better chance you have to keep everyone motivated and on task. This is a great technique to create short term milestones to help motivate staff, and remain on schedule for longer projects.

The more I blog on this topic, the more I realize that I have to blog to better communicate the philosophy and techniques in successful project management. Notice it's management of projects.. not management of project management. It's critical to manage your projects efficiently, not to have your projects manage you. Hopefully as I continue to develop this blog it becomes painfully clear based on my historical experiences, philosophies, and the strategies I employ.