5 steps for effective project delivery
It doesn't matter what tools you use to manage your projects. It doesn't matter if you use Agile, follow the PMBOK, or are training for Six Sigma.
What matters in projects is "Who, does What, by When."
Don't feel bad. Most tech companies are counterintuitively terrible at project management. Gartner data suggests that over 80% of technology projects fail to deliver on time and on the budget. Granted, this includes software projects which are much more subject to scope creep than traditional systems infrastructure. The simple fact is most technology organizations are just getting by with their PM practices. In most cases, people look for a tool to solve all of their communications, accountability, and collaboration needs. Often they are thinking, "If we just had the tool to solve x, we would be okay." In most cases, people need to fall back to basics.
Who, does what, by when, keep people accountable, and you end up with productivity magic.
Here are simple measures of how well you are managing your projects.
1. Is there a project charter or statement of work (SOW)?
The sales guy has a hot new deal with a client that is rushing to get this server migration finished before they end a support contract.... Is your skin crawling yet? Yes, this is all too common. In our genuine efforts to satisfy the client, we rush the project through without proper scoping. These projects are rarely successful and risk the trust of the client. Don't stand in the way of revenue, but also balance the need for sufficient planning. Have the sales and technical groups establish that a 24-48hr return time on requested SOWs is the standard. If the sales team can trust that deliverable will get back to them within a reasonable time, they will extend more trust to the team. Ensure both parties agree that having a SOW will produce better results for the business and the client. Have a SOW for every project of a reasonable size.
2. Does the project have a reasonable end date?
Parkinson's Law states that "Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion." If your project has a statement of work you should know how much effort is involved. Therefore you should be able to schedule that work and determine what is a reasonable end date. For example, you have a project that will take two people at a total of 40 hours. Often people will schedule the work for a week. Which is unlikely to be successful. Instead, schedule the completion for two weeks out. Unless there is an urgency to the work, you're better to set a more reasonable deadline. Keep it tight, by having a deadline, but not so tight that you have no slack for issues. You also want to ensure you have enough time for activities like a kick-off, close, and status meetings.
3. What is the communication rhythm?
Communication is the most critical tool in keeping projects on target. Unfortunately, communication is also one of the first things to slip when issues crop up. In order to defend against communication degrading your communication rhythm needs to be established and scheduled ahead of time. The type of communication is variable, but as much as possible try to over communicate. If nothing else, keep a high cadence of communication. If the project is active with lots of complexity a daily stand-up might be best. If the project is longer with clear milestones than weekly probably works. A higher cadence of shorter touch points defends the team from sitting in unnecessarily long status meetings without allowing large gaps that could derail the project.
4. What did we achieve last week?
Every status update people need to report on what has been achieved. NOT what hasn't been done. Are deliverables being achieved on the dates set? If not what is required to correct this? This is probably one of the hardest things a project manager has to do in managing the team. People so often want to tell you stories about why something hasn't been done. This fundamentally isn't important, especially in a status meeting. If necessary you can have a breakout meeting to review these types of issues, but it often isn't valuable input, especially for the entire team. If you find your team members rambling on about why something wasn't achieved simply stop them politely and ask them to think about what their plan is to get things back on track. Offer support in working up a plan if need be and that can be the focus of a breakout meeting. This approach will help you keep focused on moving forward rather than litigating the past failures.
5. Did we have a kick-off and close?
Finally, did the project start with a kick-off and end with a project close? In an eagerness to get started teams often skip the kick-off which is critically important for a number of reasons. The kick-off is a key component to establishing the parameters of the project including, reviewing the scope, setting the communication rhythm, setting expectations with the client/stakeholder, and reviewing scheduling. The project close also often gets skipped as the team gets busy and wants to move on to other things. A briefing after the project is complete is a valuable way to capture what went well, what did not, and how can we use that information to make future projects better.
Developing a higher level of maturity in how you deliver your projects is not something that will happen overnight. Projects by their nature are messy and complicated. Working on a single task by yourself in a day is straightforward, it has a low level of complexity. Working with even three people on a deliverable that have 15 steps and involves numerous people and/or systems is an order of magnitude more complex. Complex work requires planning and communication in order to be accomplished.
If you're just getting started focus simply on who, does what, by when. Then layer in the above 5 components and your process will already be more mature than the typical organization. If you'd like some support in getting the basics implemented or if you're ready to move your maturity to the next level be sure to reach out to Evolved for a more detailed review of your processes (or lack thereof).