Tag Archives: good project management

Don’t Screw These Up: Sustainability, Communication, Measurability, Continuous Improvement

It seems my initial 2 posts on this topic stirred up some discussion but it’s really dropped off.? I’m guessing the series is dragging out too long by treating each attribute individually, so here’s the final 4 I had come up with.

So far we’ve had:

  • Delivering Value
  • Consistency
  • Alignment
  • Confidence

Today I’ll add 4 more.

don't screw these up - by julsatmidnight via Flickr

don't screw these up - by julsatmidnight via Flickr

Sustainability

Every implementation of project management is going to score some grade on sustainability.? There are a few angles on this one.

First, does the way you do projects burn people out?? Do you require overtime because of the way you plan (or fail to plan well)?

Second, is your manner of doing projects sustainable from a community and environmental perspective?? Are you able to incorporate long-term thinking about consequences and include stakeholders because of it?

Communication

In some implementations of project management, communication is very poor.? These don’t last long unless they are being artificially propped up or covered up in some way.? A common perception seems to be that in large complex projects the communication is very one-way and top-down, but I can tell you from my experience that it doesn’t have to be that way.? The best projects are able to draw upon the intellect of people who are in the know; namely the people on the project team and key stakeholders.

Even on small projects this can be a big problem area.? Many years ago I was doing small projects and it changed my life when I started using a communication management plan.? When I got purposeful about communication with my team and stakeholders a new world opened up, and I was able to start seeing the deficiencies in my own ways to improve them.

Measurability

Many of the attributes I’ve already brought up are impossible to assess objectively unless you have some way to measure performance.? Whether you use EVM, a burn-down chart, etc. the best project management I’ve seen always makes sure that results are measurable.

Continuous Improvement

If you are not improving, you are standing still.? I’m not saying that methodologies should seek to overturn the fundamentals that make them great.? I am saying that by incorporating lessons learned into formal practice (doing critical sprint reviews, milestone reviews, etc.) you can not only make the product better, but your project management processes too.

Sure, there is a level of bureaucracy on large, complex projects.? And I can also tell you that I’ve seen continuous improvement initiatives work well on large aerospace contracts for the federal government (US).? Everyone from the small business to the largest projects should be doing this.

Don’t Screw This Up: Confidence

confidence - by badzmanaois via Flickr

confidence - by badzmanaois via Flickr

So far in this series we have 3 attributes of project management that can be used as means to judge any given implementation of it.

  • Delivering Value
  • Consistency
  • Alignment

For this installment, let’s talk about confidence.? This is somewhat related to consistency so let me get the definitions clear.? Consistency speaks to repeatability, or the capacity to be successful again and again….a systemic enabling of success.

When I speak of confidence in this context, I’m referring to the dependability of various things like estimates being reasonably accurate, deliveries being made at the promised time, and keeping your promises in general.

In general I think this is an attribute which many project environments struggle with.? Estimates get inflated and then cut back arbitrarily; project managers don’t push back when they know a commitment is unreasonable; risk management is done poorly or not at all and thus many preventable train wrecks are driven straight into by blind drivers at the wheel.

What examples can you share that demonstrate good and bad confidence on the projects you’ve worked?

[Note:? Due to some excellent comments from Glen Alleman, I’ve changed this attribute from reliability to confidence, which I think captures what I was going after much better.? Thanks Glen!]

Don’t Screw this Up: Alignment

What happens when the way you manage projects doesn’t align with the goals of your individual projects, department, organization, and industry?

Aligned - by HugoDeschamps

Aligned - by HugoDeschamps

Failure, that’s what.

Here’s a great post I ran across discussing the alignment of individuals to organizations.? The same is true of the way you manage projects.

Projects Should Further Organizational Objectives

If your portfolio of projects is heading all over the playing field in different directions, it’s going to be difficult to move the organization forward and count projects as successful.? Many projects will fail just because they are going against the organizational objectives, which means support may be lacking and conflicts will occur.? Many key stakeholders may not be on board and even wish the project to fail if it doesn’t support the objectives they have.

Methodology Should Fit Project Environments

Using techniques meant for teams of less than 10 people just isn’t going to work on a team of 100 people unless you modify the processes to accommodate the larger group.? At the same time, a complex methodology for large aerospace projects might not be the best approach for a 4-week project with 3 people on it.? You’re going to need some extra process to handle the complexity of the larger project that you can get by without on the teeny one.? The actual functionality being formed from a project management perspective may not change, but the level of detail and rigor should.

A good example here is using EVM to manage performance.? I’ve used it as a required practice on large federal contracts with a great deal of rigor and process.? I’ve also used it on small software development projects where reporting was limited to only the most important aspects and artifacts like CPRs were not produced….variances were simply reported in a short-form status report.? EV on the small project came from sprint backlogs in a very simple way and not from the more complex scheduling/status reporting tools needed on the large project.

Don’t Screw This Up: Consistency

A solid implementation of project management must have the attribute of consistency.? Without it, how can

Old Faithful 1856 - by speedphotos via Flickr

Old Faithful 1856 - by speedphotos via Flickr

sponsors make good judgments about what projects to take on?? How could you possibly seek to improve?

Random Project Management

This is what I did when I first starting managing projects.? I didn’t know I was managing a “project” per se, just that something needed to get done.? I wasn’t systematic about my approach, and so I did this for years without really making significant progress in my ability to deliver projects well.

It would have been impossible for me to do “good” project planning, because I was all over the place and shooting from the hip on every prior project.

Systems Enable Consistency

When I found out about formal project management as a discipline, I learned to apply systems to my project work.? This enabled me to learn from past successes and failures, analyze performance, and project performance into the future with some degree of accuracy.? As time went on, that accuracy became greater.? My ability to repeat success became greater.

Theory Enables Consistency

If you have no over-arching theory behind the way you manage projects, then it’s difficult to determine exactly how to make things better.? You can’t be proactive, only reactive.

“Rational behavior requires theory. Reactive behavior requires only reflex action. W. Edwards Deming

Being in a reactive mode is not conducive to consistency.? It means whenever something changes, you have no basis from which to respond in a rational manner.? Good systems enable you to predict potential outcomes (risk management) before they happen most of the time.

Don’t screw this up: Delivering Value

First and foremost, all projects must deliver value to their stakeholders, especially their key stakeholders.

value by Material Boy via Flickr

value by Material Boy via Flickr

Why else would we be doing the project in the first place?? Sometimes value is easy to measure, and other times it can be more qualitative in nature.

I’ve seen different definitions of value, and to me it’s a ratio of the benefits produced by an action and the total cost involved.? Benefits and cost certainly include monetary measures, and they also include everything else that has an impact on stakeholders.? Morale, risk, sustainability, general well-being, etc. are also a part of the equation.

Value from what perspective?

It’s also an equation that is different for every stakeholder.? This is one reason why it’s so important to identify the key stakeholder(s) up front and understand explicitly what their goals are.? Something that creates value for one stakeholder may take some value away from another.? You can’t please everyone all the time.? It’s a balancing act, and in that mix the key stakeholders get priority when there are competing interests.? In the end, it’s that key stakeholder or group of key stakeholders who you need to deliver value to.

Delivering to what requirements?

In some circles, fullfilling the requirements and delivering the project on time and on budget are the only factors of success. If you delivered what you committed to (in a contract or otherwise) you’re golden.

I disagree.

Poor requirements elicitation and/or not involving the key stakeholders during the project can easily result in a product delivered to specifications and within time/budget constraints, and yet the product is not valuable to the key stakeholders.? When this happens, it’s the project manager’s fault.

Systems in delivering value

I’ve seen individual managers who didn’t think of themselves as project managers, had no formal methodology, and delivered value.? Perhaps they could have done even better with some guiding theory to approach the work with.? I can tell you the number of people who can deliver projects well without a system is small.? The more complexity you introduce, the harder it becomes to deliver value.

I’m sure (I hope) this will generate a lot of discussion, so please leave your thoughts on this attribute of project management in a comment!