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Project Management: Back To Basics

Today more than ever, business-critical work is being done in the context of projects. This is because well-led and properly staffed project teams provide the best known method for getting complex work done quickly and effectively. In today's dynamic business environment, where shifting business needs requiring new capabilities are commonplace, the ability to execute and manage projects is a key factor in determining your position in the marketplace. The result is that in order to be competitive, your organization must possess a well-developed competency for planning, organizing and executing projects.

Developing this competency is no easy task. And while basic project management principles have been known for years, senior managers can readily cite dozens of projects that ended off-schedule, over-budget, or incomplete. Why is this the case? At Hoskins Davis, we believe that effective project management is obtained by diligently heeding fundamental project management principles. Conversely, we believe that projects fail because many project managers lack the experience or project management skills, or lose sight of important basic principles in the heat of day-to-day operations.

The good news is that there is a limited set of fundamental principles which, if followed, will lead to successful projects. The challenge is that none of them are easy to achieve, and all of them require thoughtful planning and relentless follow-through. Here are 10 of what we have found to be the most critical project management principles for successful projects:

 Back To Basics

1. Effective Sponsorship

The most successful projects are sponsored by executives who are passionate about project results. The best sponsors take pride in "owning" the project and personally identify with its achievements. They are involved, supportive, and visible. They challenge team members to greatness, then hold them to it.

2. Effective Project Governance

An appropriate project Steering Committee (chaired by the Sponsor) should be formed around key project stakeholders and meet regularly to review project progress and work products, and to provide input, guidance and direction to the Project Manager and his or her Team Leaders. The Steering Committee is particularly critical as a vehicle for project communications and for managing change.

3. Knowledgeable Leadership

The Project Manager and Team Leaders must have the skills that make project teams successful. This is a challenge because good Project Managers and Team Leaders require a broad mix of soft skills, technical skills and experience. The Project Manager must also be a good leader, capable of motivating the team and keeping spirits high throughout the project by providing appropriate rewards, training and tools to support team members. Finally, the Project Manager must be able to effectively organize the project and maintain budgets and status on all activities and work tasks, ensuring that the project stays on schedule and within budget.

4. Clear Project Objectives

Objectives cannot be vague or left to interpretation. The best method of ensuring clarity of purpose is for the project team to publish a "project charter", clearly describing what the project will accomplish and outlining its scope and boundaries. This charter, which includes project scope, timelines and budget information, becomes a de facto contract between the project team and the project sponsor, and is also invaluable in defending against project "scope creep."

5. Appropriate Project Staffing

Successful projects are staffed with capable people who can fulfill specific project roles and support the team in an involved and meaningful manner. Methodology experts, workgroup facilitators and people trained in maintaining project infrastructure (networks, file libraries, etc.) are critical to large projects. Also key are the active involvement of known consumers of the project team's work and relevant subject matter experts who can provide the team with the operational expertise to ensure project solutions will work in the "real world."

6. Familiar Methods and Guidelines

The best project teams are made up of members that know the rules of the road. This means having a project management framework in place that team members and senior managers are familiar with and can anticipate. For organizations that have not implemented a project management framework, the first order of business is to develop one and roll it out across the organization. Until this is done, project teams will be spending valuable time "making up" operating guidelines and standards during the project.

7. Appropriate Tools

Productive teams need tools that enhance productivity and eliminate the mundane so team members can leverage their time on work content. Software for project management, work flow diagramming, presentations and knowledge management repositories are all examples of tools that can make the project team more productive and facilitate creating a knowledge base for other projects.

8. Stakeholder Involvement

The structure of both the project Steering Committee and the Project Team will define the involvement of stakeholders. Normally, Steering Committee members, being major stakeholders in the outcome of the project, will have significant input on who is placed on the project team. Care must be taken, however, to insure constituent representation in key areas, or the project risks developing work products in isolation. Stakeholder representation can be obtained through reviews of project work products, workshops, advisory meetings, or even through the establishment of "expert" teams.

9. Focused Participation

Not only must the project be staffed with people having the right skills and representing key constituencies, but projects must also be staffed with people who have time for project work. Providing a resource available for only 20% of his or her time is a sure-fire recipe for sub-optimal results. Team members should be assigned to a project with at least half of their time available or else focus will be lost and project activities will be relegated to "back burner" status.

10. Effective Vehicles for Managing Change

There are many issues regarding implementing change that must be addressed by the project team to make change as smooth as possible. Primary among these issues is project communications: ensuring groups of end users and stakeholders are communicated with on a regular basis so that change, when it comes, will not appear as a disruptive surprise. For large projects, project newsletters and travelling "road shows" should be a part of the project plan. Also, educational "events" and strong leadership by Steering Committee members are keys to successful implementations.

Adherence to these principles is not easy, and rare is the project where one or more of the above principles are not compromised. Still, experience has shown the above set of principles to be both relevant and enduring. Properly implemented in conjunction with a good project management framework, these principles all but guarantee project success.

Hoskins Davis has worked successfully with a variety of clients in designing high performing business processes, including designing and optimizing project management frameworks. We are committed to excellence in creative designs which support the strategic positioning of your company. If you would like additional information, or are planning to design or review the adequacy of your business processes, please contact Hoskins Davis for additional information.