Project problems – prevention and anticipation

Project managers don’t have a crystal ball, but they do have experience…….

As with any body of work, project managers need to learn from every experience, good or bad. When issues occur on projects people are often puzzled at how they happened in the first place. There are a few occupational hazards that come with the territory of being a project manager. If you don’t get the basics right, you will have issues might have issues.

In many ways it’s like an electrician not taking the correct safety precaution and getting electric shock and wondering why. In many organizations today there is an over reliance on procedures and templates, and this is someway is contributing to experienced project managers reducing reliance on their own knowledge and experiences. In this article we discuss some common problems and how to anticipate and even prevent them from disrupting your project.

Roles and responsibilities

At the risk of sounding like a statement from the Project Management 101, this is a recurring issue that we are seeing constantly. At project initiation as responsibilities matrix is (or should be) drawn up. This should be as high level or as detailed as it needs to be. Every line item on the project plan needs to have an owner and may need a supporting cast in order to complete the task. The RASCI (Responsible, Accountable, Supportive, Consulted and Informed) matrix is a key document here. It is however generally underutilized. It is normally completed at the beginning of a project and not touched again. On a long-term project anything can change, and therefore the roles may need to change to adapt and ensure the same level of ownership.

At the first sign that people are unsure a bout their role on the project, e.g. someone may state “I wasn’t aware that this was my responsibility.” – Stand everyone down, get into a room and review the RASCI against the subject matter. Something new may have been introduced to the project so you need to update the RASCI based on the newly acquired knowledge and ensure everyone is aligned and clear on the content. If anyone else makes that same statement at any stage during the project, repeat the process.

If you let these types of issues fester. They will lead to one or more items being left undone or neglected to the point it causes a delay or a bigger issue down the line.

Change of personnel

We plan and execute projects with the knowledge we have at a point in time. If we have new information, we may need to re-plan, do things differently and re-think the project. Projects are not immune to personnel changes, people move jobs all the time, people become ill, people take holidays, people have unexpected log term absences from work. So, we need to build this in at the start.

Some roles may be more important on a project than others, i.e. if they leave during the project the impact will be bigger and more sustained. In large organizations priorities change all the time and it is not unknown that people can be re-assigned to other projects or other work.

So, again we use the basic foundations of all projects – the RAID log. (Risks, Assumptions, Issues, Decisions), and the RASCI as mentioned above. As a brief example, we place a risk in the log under “Resources” that if the Business analyst is removed from the project, there will be a negative impact, time or budget. We accept and agree this as a medium risk. We also need to asses the risk regularly. We could also log this as an assumption at the beginning that all personnel will remain on the team. If the Business Analyst is moved or seconded to other work, then you need to re-assess the risk, and move it to the issues log.

Before this happens, you need to make the impact clear to the decision makers. The RAID log is the perfect vehicle for this, and if it has been captured accurately, then the decision makers will accept they understand the impact of moving the person to another role outside the project. We may then need to record the decision in the Decision section of the RAID log. This will avoid any blame or unnecessary attention on the project team later. The decision log will be clear on who made the decision and why, therefore no surprises. This practice is particularly helpful in organizations that are prone to outbreaks of project amnesia from time to time.

There will always be unexpected personnel changes that you can’t see coming. To minimize the negative impact of these issues, you must ensure that all project documentation and material is accessible, clearly indexed and shared with the entire project team. There may also be a need to review the RASCI temporarily until a suitable replacement can be found.

Making sure there are no key documents stored on local hard drives, personal spreadsheets is key here. Insist upon and check regularly that shared network drives and folders are used, task management apps and plans are updated regularly and not stored locally.

Missing deadlines

Probably the biggest pet hate of most project managers, deadlines can be missed when they are missed, you need to get the bottom of it fast. You also need to have a strong culture of communication to give an early warning. During initial planning, you must look at all possibilities in how you can best achieve your targets. As the project manager you have an obligation to maintain focus on the end goals and be relentless in the removal of actual or potential obstacles that could get in the way.

During planning you paved the steps to necessary to reach each milestone. If any of those steps are delayed, the chances are that the milestone to which this step is contributing will be delayed.

The advice here is simple, if you miss a small deadline, you have a couple of options – re-plan and push the main milestone out or re-group and try to recover.

You can read more about this in the following blog:

Scope Creep

The simple advice here is you need to make it difficult for people to change the scope of work and create scope creep. If you make it too easy for people to at work to your project while not reviewing the impact of this extra scope, they will keep on piling it on until it becomes unsustainable.

If someone requests something extra that is outside of the original scope you need to make them work for it. Extra scope will impact cost, schedule and complexity. So, utilize the project change process. Ask the requester to book some time with your best business analyst to gather their requirements. Make a detailed assessment and then get back to the requester with the impact in simple metrics of cost and time etc. If a decision is made to proceed, then the project change control process must be followed to approve the change before adopting it in to your scope of work. You can then re-plan. For more reading on controlling scope creep, see this previous article:

Communication

Communication is key to the success of any project. This is how you find out about any potential issues in advance of them becoming a big problem. Communicate often and in small bursts. Maintain team meetings weekly, talk 1:1 with team members at every opportunity. Look out for any signs of friction between the team and deal with them promptly. Ensure that all team members know that they can call you at any stage for a chat to discuss anything that may have an impact on the project.

Communicate clearly and ask for feedback. Utilize the multiple forums and tools at your disposal and make it easy for people to give feedback and make suggestions. When running project meetings and status updates, read between the lines to understand what is really going on outside of the official conversations.

This article provides more information on this topic:

In summary

What we’re saying here is that most project problems when examined could have been prevented or have had their impact reduced by following many of the basic foundations of project management. You cannot prevent every problem, but you can learn from previous experiences and certainly reduce repetitions of previous problems.

Projects and Dark Matter

Dark Matter

One of the biggest risks that software project managers face is “Dark Matter”. On a software project it is defined as “The entity that we know exists but cannot see”.

It is most prevalent on projects where you require an intimate knowledge of business processes. At the beginning of a project, the Subject Matter Experts are assembled, the scope of work is defined and plan is brain stormed. As a project manager we try to extract every last detail about how we will deliver the scope of work. This typically takes a number of attempts but eventually when everyone has that warm cozy feeling, we agree on the plan and kick off.

Warnings Signs

Some weeks into the project at an update meeting someone brings something to your attention, something new, or an oversight perhaps that could have been captured and planned at the original planning sessions. You take it on board accepting it’s a “once off”, you re-plan, you move on.

Two weeks later a developer or engineer sends you an email stating that they have found something else that they need to do that we didn’t capture at the early stages. You take it on board accepting it’s the second “once off”, you re-plan, you move on.

Two weeks later again a developer or engineer sends you another email or speaks up at a meeting stating that they have found something else that they need to do that we didn’t capture at the early stages. You take it on board accepting it’s the third “once off”, you re-plan, you move on.

Does this sound familiar? Are you making the developers/analysts/engineers accountable and letting them feel some of the pain you feel as a Project Manager?

Managing Dark Matter

When running large complex software project is, it is inevitable that there will be unexpected events. It is important here to distinguish the “known” unknowns from the “unknown” unknowns or Dark Matter. For example during testing you may expect to see some issues or defects that need to be managed. So, you “know” that there will be issues but you don’t know how many or the impact of them – i.e. “known” unknows. Then there are the Dark Matter unknowns – it something that someone completely missed at the planning and estimate phase that needs to be dealt with and will have an impact on the project.

When this happens, you should always ask the question, “How did we miss this?”, and “ Are there any more elements Dark Matter lurking in the background that will surface at some stage. It is human nature that in general people do not like to give bad news but it is very important to encourage the project team to be transparent about all issues or potential issues.

So back to the original question – “How did we miss this?”, could we have approached the scoping and planning phase differently? Did we go into enough detail at that time? You will never prevent all of these items, but you can certainly put measures in place to limit their occurrence.

During the planning phase when you have assembled all the relevant SMEs, and when a milestone or deliverable is identified, list all of the steps and resources required to complete the milestone. Go through the steps at least twice, leave it and come back to it the next day when people have time to think, I can guarantee that someone will add to the steps or introduce some other dependency after they have had time to think.

In GxP (regulated pharma projects) a common source of under-estimation is documentation effort.
For example it is very common to see a single line item in a document named “Design Document” with a timeframe allocated to it. e.g. 5 days.

When you look at the actual time and effort it takes it can look something more like:

Draft the Document – 3 Days
Issue Document for Review – 0 Days
Review wait Time – 3 Days
Update Post Review – 1 Day
Issue for Approval – 0 Days
Approval Wait Time – 3 Days
Approved – 0 Days
Released – 0 Days

So, in this very simple example it would seem that the actual time was double the original estimate. If a deep dive was done into the company’s procedures (and track record) for managing document review and approvals, this would have been captured.

Ownership and Accountability

If you experience a few minor occurrences of dark matter during a project, you can probably live with it. If on the other hand every time you expect to complete a task, you experience another instance of dark matter in the form of new tasks and dependencies, you need to stop, down tools and do a deep dive into the plan. Nobody will want to do this but it I necessary sometimes. Don’t however fall into the trap of follow exactly the same planning method. You will need to do something different. So allocate ownership of specific parts of the plan to individuals. Make it clear that you need their expertise to get int every detail before you can communicate out on another baseline of the plan.

Too often on a project the plan is seen as being the Project manager’s plan – it needs to be the team’s plan and they need to take ownership of their own elements where appropriate. This may be difficult at first but if someone knows that they are being judged on the quality, accuracy and performance of a plan, you will see a different response from the team. Be careful here to distinguish between blame and accountability.

When re-planning, the plan needs to be stress tested by peers and the SMEs to try to break it before you go public with it.

Summary

In summary

Dark Matter exists on software projects.
Don’t ignore multiple instances of dark matter, make the SMEs accountable.
Re-plan differently, learn from previous mistakes.
Stress test the plan.
Look for other potential areas of dark matter.

Further Reading

Other reading – Controlling Scope Creep see this previous blog here

We’d love to hear from you on this topic. E-mail us here

PMSummit Dublin July 2018

PMSummit Dublin

PM Summit is an annual event that takes place in Dublin, Ireland hosting a global community of project, program and portfolio managers regardless of whether they use traditional, lean and/or agile approach to their projects. Unlike other project management events, the PM Summit catering to all sectors of industry, from engineering to pharmaceutical, from government bodies to IT and beyond.

 

 

About PMSummit

Project Management is critical to business performance and organizational success. The importance and visibility of Project Management has never been higher. The PM Summit was established in 2015 in response to the growing trend in all business sectors towards incorporating project management into their organisations. The aim is to deliver an event different than any others, where PM professionals from all industries can network and grow their knowledge together, adding real value to their professional development.

This year our founder and Principal Consultant Barry Curry will be speaking at the event.

Find out more here

Barry will be presenting on a topic that has huge significance in many organizations. “Rescuing and Reviving Troubled Software Projects”

“Delighted to be speaking at the PMSummit in Dublin, my home town, in July in a fantastic venue, the Conference Centre. I’ll be speaking about Rescuing and Reviving Troubled Software Projects. I will describe the tools and techniques used to take a failed or failing project from the initial stages of an investigation right through to root cause. I’ll then look at how by making some key changes we can we re-plan for Success, Kickstart the project with Confidence and ensure that the same as issues do not happen again.” – Barry Curry

 

The Importance of Software Projects

Software projects are the lifeblood of business change, often driving competitiveness and adaptability. When a software project is delayed or cancelled, the impact on the business can be devastating. This is why more so than ever before, the capability to deliver software projects is becoming a key skill set in industry today. Based on many years of rescuing and reviving software projects of all types, this presentation offers a simple but effective approach to resolving project issues and getting the project back on the road to recovery.

 

Software projects are the lifeblood of business change, often driving competitiveness and adaptability. When a software project is delayed or cancelled, the impact on the business can be devastating.

 

Profile

Speaker Profile for Barry – Managing projects for some of the world’s largest companies for over 20 years, Barry has gained an outstanding reputation for rescuing troubled software projects internationally. His approach to project management is both innovative and effective and has seen him become one of industry’s leading consultants.

Here is the presentation delivered to the PMSummit 2018 – Here



TRAINING

Essential Advice for a Project Manager

Project Managers
Many people aspire to become a project manager early in their career. There may also be a scenario where their company needs a project to be managed and therefore an opportunity presents itself. What normally happens is some training in the organization’s project management procedures followed by some formal training by a third party to receive a project management qualification. Although all training and certification in project management is important – is it enough to become a successful project manager?

What about the practical hands on mentoring and coaching required to master any skill or discipline? This is particularly important when it comes to project management. What about the person? Is the person suited to the rigours of a project management role.

Before you embark on the journey to be a project manager or before you recommend one of your colleagues here are some useful points and some soft skills that aren’t covered in any conventional project management training. These are focused on the practical side of delivering projects effectively and being a better project manager.

Choose the right team

Like any manager the ability to select the right team around you is very important. Working with people that you respect and trust can be the single most important element in effective management of any type. This only happens by understanding people, reading people and getting to know what makes people tick. Everyone is different and it is often beneficial to have a good mix of youth, experience and personalities in a project team. Above all they must respect and support each other. This may take some time to achieve but it can be a very effective culture if you get it right. The objective here is to encourage openness and transparency. A team that continually supports each other will become very effective and work well as a single unit.

Delegate everything that you can

Delegation is key to being an effective leader and project manager. You are not washing your hands of everything but you are ensuring that it gets done. Remain focused on the big picture in driving the project forward. Delegating tasks to individuals in the project team is a great way of testing people and proving that they can do the job. This is a development opportunity.
On occasion the project manager is required to roll up their sleeves. However, if this becomes a habit or the norm, it can be detrimental to the project and to your own development as a project manager.
Delegate where possible. It will keep your workload clear and provide you with the space to handle unplanned events which are commonplace on software projects.

Avoid meetings

There is a common trend in industry today where meetings take up a huge part of your working week, leaving a project manager with little time to actually get the work done. Think about the process. You attend a meeting and take an action.The more meetings you attend, the more the actions you acquire. At the end of the week, time is limited in which you can actually complete those actions. One week runs into the next and so on. The “To Do” list gets bigger and your time remains limited.

In an operational environment this can be manageable but in a project environment where you have a fixed time to complete the job, this can be a serious distraction particularly for the project manager. Meetings can drain your time and your energy and become a huge distraction from the objectives of a project.

At the beginning of a project set out the required governance and touch points. Be as practical as possible here. Why arrange a 1 hour meeting when you can give an update in 15 minutes?

There will always be a need for meetings but they should be brief, to the point and useful. If asked to attend a meeting that is not part of the regular project schedule, always challenge. When the invite arrives in, ask the questions – What is the objective of the meeting? What do you need from me? As the project manager am I needed for the full duration? Can I send a delegate in my place?

Avoid falling into the trap of multiple meetings that often go over the same ground. You must continually assess each meeting by asking – how will the project benefit from this meeting? Is it a priority over my time now?

Be good to your team

As the project manager one of your main functions is to protect your team. Protect them from politics, noise and distractions. Communication is key here. Insist on knowing all risks and challenges and assess these risks at the earliest convenience. (There is a fine line here between doing the right thing and encouraging whiners that can cry wolf on a project)

Ensure that your team are confident that if all issues are made transparent and there is no attempt to hide anything then you will support and protect the team through thick and thin. (Moving back to the delegation point here – you will not have the capacity to protect your team if you are continually bogged down in tasks that you could delegate.)

As project manager avoid being petty as a leader. If you spot a potential trap coming down the line, inform them discretely. Never take anyone on or vehemently challenge anyone in front of their peers. If you have an issue to discuss, always do this on a one to one basis. You will both appreciate it in the long run. They will learn to trust you more because of this.

A project manager should also ensure that each member of the team understands the contribution that they make to the project is valuable. Project teams are bound together by understanding that they have a contribution to make to a bigger goal than their own work. See our recent article on project team motivation Here

Talk like there is someone watching and listening

When discussing anything project or work related always talk like there is another person watching and listening. If your meeting was played back you, how do you want to perceived?
You must always come across as a professional. You should become disciplined in speaking like this in all professional discussions. It helps to build a very positive habit, one you will only acquire with practice.

Keep the ship on course

Avoid getting bogged down with every detail of the project. Leave the detail to the experts, the technical gurus and the business analysts. A project manager needs to stay focused on the key performance indicators of the project and the end game. The captain of a ship does not keep the ship on course by working in the engine room. The captain does most of his work on the bridge where he or she can maintain a clear view of the entire operation.

Over the course of my career I have observed that the most effective leaders and project managers generally only have 1 item on their desk at a time. Their workspace is uncluttered so they focus on the issue at hand. Each issue will have his or her undivided attention.

Summary

In summary an effective project manager will do the following:

1. Choose the right team around them
2. Avoid unnecessary meetings
3. Protect your team
4. Talk like there is someone else listening
5. Maintain a long term view to keep the ship on course

If you are struggling to come to terms with repetitive project issues and you need some advice or support, contact us by email: info@systeme.ie with some background on your specific issue and we’ll be in touch.

Download our Project Team Motivation Guide Here

project management

Controlling Project Scope and Preventing Creep

Project Scope Creep
Although our organization specializes in the rescuing and salvaging of troubled or failing projects, we spend a lot of time reviewing performance and results to understand where the project when wrong in the first instance. Saving a project before it needs to be saved is a much more positive experience than arriving in to try to rescue a project that has already clearly failed. Project scope creep is a major contributor to the failure of projects. Worst case scenario is that the project cannot be rescued.

One of the main causes of failure is scope creep. This is the slow but steady of expansion of the original scope of work without proper management of that scope. Management of the scope and management of the requests to increase scope are crucial if you are to be successful as a project manger.

As a Project manager have you ever been in a position where you find scope creep has slowly started to have an impact on your project and the ability of your team to deliver on time and on budget?

How Scope Creep Starts
Verbal requests and meetings or water cooler conversations can often find you subconsciously accepting extra scope into your project.

This is particularly prevalent in software projects.
“Can I have another screen that……….?”
“Is it possible to have another field or value in that report that……?”
“Could you visualize that trend here……?”
“My team needs to have access to ……”
These will all add to your burden as a project manager.

This may be an important client that you do not wish to upset AND if it is an early engagement in the client /supplier relationship you do not want to come across as completely rigid.
If your default response is “No”, you may come across as negative and non co-operative.
This type of dilemma faces software and system project managers on a regular basis across all industries.

Project Scope Creep First Response
You need to fire the burden of work back onto the requester. (Often when you give the “easy rider” people work to do, nothing will happen!!! These are the people that make generic statements during meetings that have no intention other than to derail your work)
It is too easy for someone to state that they need something else included in the scope of work that they had not anticipated at the beginning when developing requirements. The easier you make their life, the more likely they are to keep making your life difficult.
Through trial, error and experience we have developed the following approach for responding to and managing such requests.

Project Scope Creep Questions
This is a simple response followed by a set of 4 direct questions.

Response:
Let us consider this request against the original scope of work and we will run it through the process of Project Change Management to see how we respond and manage this new information. However, before I do that we need to understand the following information:

1. What are you trying to achieve?
Please provide a written detailed description with graphics of exactly what is required. One of our Business Analysts can assist you in putting this together once you are clear what is needed.

2. What is the business requirement (and is this a priority)?
Business projects are typically executed to serve the needs of the business and therefore for every requirement there should be an underlying business issue being resolved or a need of the business being addressed.

3. What proof is required that will indicate that this requirement has been satisfied?
Software systems projects typically incorporate a User Acceptance Test whereby the vendor and the user can verify that the system serves the needs of the business and operates as expected. Both happy path and challenge tests should be considered here.

4. What are the steps, effort (and therefore cost) required to achieve this deliverable once the need is understood?
From the user perspective, they will need support from the project team to understand this impact. Involving the requester in assessing this impact is a very effective means of providing insight to the design and development process without being secretive. You will come across as being transparent.

These 4 questions if answered honestly will provide you with enough information to allow you make a clear assessment of the impact of what is being asked. You will also come across as structured, disciplined and professional.

Be careful not to fall into the trap of getting into arguments that you cannot win. i.e. this is too expensive, this was in the original scope etc. Keep to the facts and it is difficult for anyone to argue.

Project Scope Creep – Protect You and Your Team
On many occasions, I have had a finance director telling me that my estimate for the project was far too expensive only to find that they had no basis for the statement when challenged. I normally answer that statement with “We are expensive compared to what?” or “What is your expectation and what is the point of reference for this amount?” Always make a concerted effort to come across as non-confrontational. In many organizations confrontation is non-productive and only delays the inevitable. The inevitable in all instances of disagreement is that people come to a compromise and work together in order to move on.

Be careful not to fall into the trap of getting into arguments that you cannot win. i.e. this is too expensive, this was in the original scope etc. Keep to the facts and it is difficult for anyone to argue.

Project Scope Creep Conclusion
Project management is a contact sport and it is not for the faint hearted. This doesn’t mean however that you need to get badly injured every time you “lock horns” with an adversary (someone trying to make your project more difficult). Rugby can be a brutal contact sport but some of the most skilful athletes emerge from most games unscathed.

If you apply the approach described above, I can guarantee that it will yield results.

If you are interested in further information you can download our Guide to project rescue here.

Need help?

If you are struggling to come to terms with repetitive project issues and you need some advice or support, contact us by email: info@systeme.ie with some background on your particular issue and we’ll be in touch.

Download our Project Team Motivation Guide Here

The PM v BA on a Project

The PM Role and BA Role on a Project

One of the main challenges in setting up a project is defining the roles. No two roles’ boundaries are as close and in some areas overlapping as the roles of the Project Manager and the Business Analyst.

Both the PM and BA play leadership roles—the PM for leading the team and delivering the solution and the BA for ensuring that the solution meets the business need and aligns with business and project objectives. And both roles, equally, are required for project success.

Business Analyst and Project Manager Comparison

I have a hard time deciding whether “versus” is a good word to compare the two roles. On one hand, the project manager and business analyst should be working collaboratively. On the other hand, the two roles do offer a healthy contest in project related decisions. The issue at hand is that there is a lot of uncertainty about the difference in these roles. The result of this uncertainty is cases where one person plays both roles without enough skills for each, and other cases where the team members do not know who is responsible for what. Hopefully, we can clear this up.

The core of the difference is in the title.
The Project Manager manages the project – “The application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to provide activities to meet the project requirements.”
The Business Analyst conducts business analysis – “The set of tasks and techniques used to work as a liaison among stakeholders to understand the structure, policies, and operations of an organization, and to recommend solutions that enable the organization to meet its goals.

Analysis of PM Role and BA Role

Stakeholder analysis is one good example of collaboration between project manager and business analyst. The business analyst focuses on stakeholders specific to the requirements and scope of the project. The project manager is looking beyond this to stakeholders whose interest is outside of the project scope. Perhaps the project manager is recording a competitor as a stakeholder to aid in the identification and tracking of potential project risk. The stakeholder analysis is a joint effort. Assign items resulting from the stakeholder analysis to either the project manager or business analyst based on stakeholder interest and influence.

Another point of confusion is in the PMBOK® task of Collecting Requirements. It looks as though the project manager is responsible for collecting requirements. When you look further at the PMBOK® tasks you also find Quality Control, yet we know the project team has members responsible for product quality. The intent of the PMBOK© is that project managers take responsibility to ensure activities for collecting requirements are covered in the project management plan and monitored along with the project. Not the project manager collects the requirements.

In either case the boundaries of the role definitions are often blurred. In any professional environment, I would expect that the Business Analyst can manage a small project if the need arose. Equally I would expect a Project manager to be able to stand in as a Business Analyst on a temporary basis or on a short assignment.
I would encourage this practice as this will give either discipline a strong sense of what it is like to walk in each other’s shoes. You will also build a team that is structured but flexible.

Project Management and Delivery

The PMBOK© and the BABOK® will not in themselves get a project delivered but they provide an excellent point of reference for organizing activates, managing people and creating schedules. The administration system behind these two BOKs is extremely effective in laying out a project at the onset and in running the project and reporting on progress.

People deliver projects, we mustn’t forget that.

I would love to know your thoughts on this topic.
Need help?

If you are struggling to come to terms with repetitive project issues and you need some advice or support, contact us by email: info@systeme.ie with some background on your particular issue and we’ll be in touch.

Download our Project Team Motivation Guide Here

The Project Mindset

The Project Mindset
I have been thinking about this topic for many years. Is the Project Mindset real? Is there a culture or a set of habits or behaviours that can define the Project Mindset?
What makes some people more suited to projects than others?
What are the traits to look for when selecting a team for a project that may not necessarily have direct project experience?

What basic knowledge sharing can happen so that the team members understand the project culture? Is this more intuition than knowledge?
Can operations and support staff run projects successfully? This scenario is becoming more prevalent in industry as operational staff in many organizations are increasingly expected to work on projects as they have intimate knowledge of the business processes impacted. Although operational targets are similar – they tend to be repeated so the team know how to achieve them and improve how they are done.

The Project
When we look at a project in general and key elements of a project, here are some of the ways in which a Project can differ from an operational environment.

• A Project has a beginning, it is not a pre-existing entity.
• A Project has an End – once the scope is delivered the project will finish.
• A Project is a temporary state – it will not continue for ever. Project teams, Rooms and Ways of Working are temporary.
• A Project is unique – even if the project is being delivered as part of a wider program – this project is unique to this team, this site and this installation. The same project will not be repeated.
• A Project is generally not part of business as usual. Processes, documents, tests systems are needed outside of normal business. Sometimes these need to be created.

Project Resources
Looking at the above features. The First two items, i.e. the Project has a beginning and an end are obvious to most people and need no explanation or introduction.

The other three elements Temporary State, Unique and Not Part of Business as Usual create some of the biggest challenges for Operations or Support teams that are suddenly thrust into projects or find themselves on a project team.

A Project is unique – even if the project is being delivered as part of a wider program – this project is unique to this team, this site and this installation. The same project will not be repeated.

Operations and Support teams are used to routine. Each week looks and feels that same, standard work practices, standard activity and a fixed meeting schedule for each week.
Project activity will vary as the pace changes from Kick off to Specification to Design to Build to Test to Qualification and into the Use phase.
Witch each of these project phases comes a different challenge, a different pace and the ability of the project resources to adjust the pace and change the level and type of activity is critical to the success of the project. This change of routine, pace and activity is what most operations based people can tend to struggle with for the first time they are working on a project.

Project Culture
A Project Manager or engineer with years of experience will instinctively know when to adopt a different pace within a project whereas the operations resources will just become comfortable with a way of working.
When the pace needs to change and changes some of these resources will adapt and deliver even if they are moving out of their comfort zone. Personally, I have always encouraged people to keep learning and to move out of that comfort zone from time to time – this experience will promote the growth of the individual.
As project leaders are we best to avoid this or to address this? Is prevention better than cure? i.e. If we know that someone has no project experience should we consider them for business-critical projects at all?
Or should we offer them advice, coaching and support to facilitate the transition from the “non- Project “ to a “Project” way of working. Are people capable of adopting the “Project Mindset”? This is an opportunity for you to develop as a leader by coaching someone into a position of confidence in their new role.

 

Team Selection
When selecting Operations based resources for projects the above items need to be considered.
Is the person suited to a change of pace, change of activity change of routine? Just asking the person directly may or may not yield the correct answer. You need to do a little research on the individuals as you would when recruiting for any role.
Find out if they have a track record of adopting change into their daily work. How have they responded in the past to new company policies, procedures, processes and systems? How have they responded to pressure situations in the past or to last-minute changes of direction?
You need to do your research when hiring project resources for several reasons but above everything else the biggest constraint is time. As projects generally have a fixed planned duration you may not have the time to take a risk on a resource.

In Summary
Moving from operations to project based work should be seen as an opportunity to grow as an individual and expand the capability of the person and the organization.
There are no hard and fast rules to selecting project resources but I look for the “Project Mindset”. I define this as a set of characteristics that will provide an indication of how a person will respond on a project.

How I summarize this is:

1. The ability to cope positively with change
2. A willingness to dig deep to complete a milestone
3. Does not tend to knee jerk react to every surprise that is encountered on a project
4. The Capability to move roles and/or work multiple roles to get the job done
5. The ability to switch off and chill after a period of high intensity working
6. Must not take any work-related discussions personally
7. Can keep focused on the end goal
8. Believe the end goal is possible
9. Can support the team to deliver the scope at all costs

Sounds easy, doesn’t it?
I would love to know your thoughts on this topic.
Need help?

If you are struggling to come to terms with repetitive project issues and you need some advice or support, contact us by email: info@systeme.ie with some background on your particular issue and we’ll be in touch.

Download our Project Team Motivation Guide Here

project management

Project Updates and Status Reports

The Report

No matter what size or type of project you are involved in in or managing, there is inevitably a status report required and update or steering meeting planned regularly.

There are numerous sources and recommendations of format, content and process of project status reports but these.
All organizations have their own preferences when it comes to style and format but the essentials don’t really differ from company to company.

The project status report must have a purpose. The first question to as is “Why?”
Some PMO (Project management Offices) in organizations sleep walk with their various templates and formats for these reports but ideally, they should be reviewed regularly.
The project status report is an essential element of Project Governance and control. Typical contents can include but is not limited to:

Current Status against Plan
Recent Activity
Planned Activity
Budget Performance
Resource allocation
Risks & Challenges

Within these headings all areas of the project can be discussed.

In addition to a communication of status this is also an opportunity to high-light any areas of concern and seek guidance, advice or support in the resolution of issues.

This may seem obvious but these meetings work best when a policy of openness and honesty is adopted.
Regular status reporting is necessary to be an effective means of communicating on all aspects of the project. It helps to maintain traction and visibility for the project. The frequency of reporting is often a function of the duration of a project and its importance to an organization. For projects with a short duration (i.e. less than six months), it is better to have weekly reporting so that issues are raised and dealt with sooner. For projects with a longer duration, bi-weekly or monthly reporting may be more suitable or desirable. As the project nears and end or a period of high activity the frequency may increase somewhat as required to manage that activity.

Project Report Content

When preparing the content, think for a minute before just blindly filling in the detail. Look for the reasons why the stakeholders may want certain information included in a report.
What is the next significant milestone?
Are there any blockers in the way to achieving the milestone?
Is the process to achieve the milestone fully understood?
Where there any contentious issues at the previous meeting – have they been resolved?

Remember that a project has been set initiated by a business to assist the business in achieving objectives or to reduce risk or resolve an issue. Always try to gear the project update into how close you are to making those business objectives a reality. This would by “Why” the project was initiated in the first instance.

Is there any important factor that needs to be discussed that is not included in the regular format of the project update meeting?
Be sure to raise it. If you are going to raise an issue it is always a good idea to have a solution or proposed way forward to present for the stakeholders to approve.

Delivery of the Project Status Report

The delivery of the Project status report is generally in the form of a meeting. These can be face to face meetings or web based meetings. Both have their advantages and drawbacks.
Face to face meetings are a great way to engage and build strong relationships. You can read the facial responses and body language and adjust your presentation to suit.
Web meetings force people to stick to an agenda and provide each participant with a specifc time slot – but talking over each other can have a negative impact on the meeting.
It is important to be clear and concise on all points to which you are presenting. Don’t say anymore that you must on any point. You may have someone in the audience who is out to impress and you or a project you are working on could be their target.
Limit your answers to yes or no and keep the detail to a minimum.
If you have some items you are uncomfortable discussing – then start with these and prepare a position on each of them. i.e. – What would you not like to be asked?

Format of the Project Status Report

Typically most organizations will utilise a format or a template whereby it is required to complete certain fields weekly for presentation to a steering team. In a new organization, it will always take a bit of time to get used to company jargon and pinch points. Don’t consume yourself too much with the template being used. This is unlikely to change in the short term so make your content suit the fields in the template. Too often I see Project managers complaining and wasting time on the report template when it is fixed and not changeable. Focus more on the facts of your project. You can always add in a comment verbally at the end of your presentation if needed. If you are asked to create a format then let the facts shape the format, do not let the aesthetics of a neat format guide your update.

In Summary – Project Updates

1. Preparation is Key.
2. Ensure your Finances, Risk Log and Activity Records are Up to Date.
3. If needed – speak to one or two of the stakeholders in advance of the update to float any potential sticky items past them.
4. Rehearse your Update in Advance (if you are expecting to deliver bad news – rehearse with a colleague)
5. Be Frank, Open and Honest.
6. Address any questions with short closed precise answers.
7. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice and Support.
8. Remember as soon as a project issue is identified – you can commence to work towards a solution!

Need help?

If you are struggling to come to terms with repetitive project issues and you need some advice or support, contact us by email: info@systeme.ie with some background on your particular issue and we’ll be in touch.

Download our Project Rescue Guide here Project Rescue Guide

project management

5 Key Components of Project Delivery

Project Execution and Delivery

Weekly priorities and goals need to be set from the beginning. Set out a culture of delivery and accountability from the very start. On large projects – some team members can coast their way through the first few weeks of a project and before you know it – you are behind schedule. The success of a project is the result of the success of the day, week month and year of the project. Get the team members into the habit if self-accountability – i.e. where they tell the Project Manager what they will deliver today or this week and how this will contribute to the success of the project. This is where team selection is key – ensure that there are no passengers on the project team. People who are not contributing will suck the life and enthusiasm out of the project team and make the project harder to manage.

Utilize Project Team meetings a means of:

Communicating Status
Reviewing Performance
Making Plans for the coming week
Discussing risks and issues

This type of meeting should be held on at least a weekly basis depending on the level of activity and customer expectation. Rotate the chair, keep accurate list if minutes and follow up on actions regularly

Another function of this meeting is to gather information required for project governance to a site leadership or above site team. These updates are typically summary of the weekly project meetings. These meetings are also a means of highlighting issues and or requesting guidance and support at difference stages of the project.

At each major point in the project, e.g. after every big deliverable or milestone is complete – conduct a brief, honest review of performance, a lessons learned session to take forward any learnings into the next stage of the project.

Project Reports and Communication

Different organizations and industries will have their own requirements on the level and type of reporting and communication. There may be different templates to be managed depending on the level of reporting required. It can be useful here to only maintain a single reporting template for each project. The reporting template for each project should not become the focus of the work but should be used as a means for communication. On a project with a long duration, this can take a while to get right as the audience may vary and their weekly focus can shift from cost to schedule to risk to resources at a minute’s notice. The only recommendation here is to be honest, clear and transparent – the earlier an issue is highlighted, the earlier a resolution or support can be sought. Communication should always come from the Project Manager – and the PM should assign a delegate in the vent of absence. Stick to a consistent form of communication.

Project Issues and Resolutions

Throughout the course of any project -issues will occur. They can be technical, logistical, resource, risk, budget or schedule related. Instead of worrying about unknown unknowns – focus on what the strategy is for issue resolution. An example of this is:

1. Problem Statement
2. Probable causes
3. Impact to the Project – cost, schedule, risk
4. Conclusion or Root Cause – Where appropriate
5. Proposed Solutions
6. Recommendations
7. Support or Direction Required from Site Leadership or Above Site Teams via governance

Having a structure will help frame every problem and get the team into the habit of managing problems effectively.

Regular, honest and transparent monitoring of key performance indicators such as schedule, budget and scope will enable you to capture a potential issue before it becomes a bigger challenge to manage.

Managing Project Scope and Delivery

This is probably the biggest challenge facing project – the control of scope. The scope is agreed at the outset of the project via the Project Charter and other associated contractual documents. The detailed plan assembled before project kick off helps to clarify the definition of the scope further. With the best will and intentions – this scope will be misinterpreted somewhere along the way. Expect a dispute on one of the finer points of detail – this typically occurs when interfacing with a different system or having to manage another vendor or third party. In order to reduce the occurrence of such challenges always build risk around system interfaces and third party deliverables.

Another area where scope can increase or begin to creep is during “Corridor” or “Watercooler” conversations. i.e. someone may mention that – “It would be very useful to have a report on this new system that showed Purified Water usage on a Daily, Weekly and Monthly basis.” The statement may be true – but if is not in the original scope – it is not in scope. To some end users – statements made during conversations are a contract, an agreement by the project delivery person to include this requirement in scope and deliver it with the original scope of work.

Many organizations have procedures for Project Change Controls and managing extras. This may indeed be a legitimate business need but the original project costing and plan – it is not in scope. In order to include this requirement in scope the following must happen:

1. The end User or Client – Completes a project change request
2. This is assessed by the technical SME
3. An Impact report is produced in terms of Time, Cost, Risk
4. The end user accepts this proposal
5. The change in scope is approved at the Project Governance forum
6. The new requirement is included in scope and the original contract is amended accordingly.

Different organizations will have variations of this process but essentially the process must be respected.
There may be more simplistic examples were for the sake of good customer relations or lack of clarity in interpretation of requirements – a decision is made to absorb a change request into the original scope of the project particularly where the cost and time involved is negligible and will not impact the original delivery budget or schedule.

As a default position – it is always best to utilise the process that is in place as a starting point.

Project Closure

A common oversight in industry today is the effective and complete handover of a system and closure of a project so that all legal, financial and logistical obligations are discharged and recorded correctly to enable a project to close completely.

Before closure it is wise to conduct a review of project delivery against actual performance and original intentions. This can include the learnings carried forward from earlier stages. It is also important to acknowledge any challenges experienced and that you have implemented measures to ensure that a recurrence of the same issues is greatly reduced or eliminated. Items covered should be –

What worked well?
What needs improvement?
What should we start doing?
What should we stop doing?

If you happen to do business with the same customer or end user again – theresulting report is always a useful starting point.

Other items to be considered at project closure:

1. Any warranty obligations are have been honoured
2. A support agreement for operational support has been set up
3. All items within the project scope have been delivered
a. Documents
b. Procedures
c. Test Results
d. Training Evidence
e. Software Versions
4. All contractual obligations on both sides have been agreed and closed off

Project closure generally takes some time but this can be formalized with a meeting between all stakeholders to gain official agreement and consensus that the Project is now closed.

Need help?

If you are struggling to come to terms with repetitive project issues and you need some advice or support, contact us by email: info@systeme.ie with some background on your particular issue and we’ll be in touch.

Download our project rescue guide here Project Rescue Guide