In the article below, I have tried to define, in my own words, the common problems that the PMs face and how it can be solved to a major extent by strictly following at least some of the project management processes. Please correct me, if I have overstated or understated any information in any aspect whatsoever. Also, this is in no way an attempt to teach Project Management Processes but only to stress the need to follow it and explain the bad effects of not having and following a Project Management Plan for any project. This is also based on the experiences of number of other PMs that I had interacted with. The content certainly is not new, but I believe a statement made differently could make an impact and invoke the thoughts of many.
Take a step or two back, think about Initiate, Planning, Executing, Monitoring and Controlling and Closing….for a Change…in its true sense.
Over-enthusiasm and overworking not only affects one’s productivity and health but also does not help the business of the Organization one works with. This is mostly the result of improper or zero Project Planning. Every work or activity that one undertakes is not only a project by itself but also a milestone within a larger project that is probably the work one needs to get done for the day, week, month etc… The common attempt or mistake many people make is to dig their hands into everything that comes their way thereby ignoring the priorities and land themselves into trouble. It sure makes them talked about for all the wrong reasons, which they do not quite realize. Planning, Prioritizing, Work estimating, Scheduling, Monitoring the progress, Closing would really make a person more productive apart from being more time and cost effective. This also disciplines a person to be more organized and mature over a period of time.
Some of the common issues seem to be
1. Not following a work-estimate based delivery plan
2. Improper methods or not well documented process of work allocation by ignoring priorities or over-allocating work. This generally results in loss of commitment from the resource. Again, lack of planning, work estimating and scheduling would really help out here.
3. Time not spent to use any appropriate tools like MS Excel, Microsoft Project etc.. to account for work scheduled, allocated and updated so that you can use the CV (cost variance) and SV (schedule variance) to track your progress and estimate your ability to take up additional work or take corrective actions to keep the cost and schedule under control during a negative variance.
4. Absence of recording the Actuals. Most of the time actual work done is completely different from what was planned for. All the activities should be recorded as is. This helps a lot not only to track current work-progress but also to create history data for future analogous estimating.
5. Reading Variance reports to understand monitor and question Cost and Schedule Variances is an equally productive activity as the work you are doing. It is difficult to face the reality about the cost increases that the EV (Earned Value) Analysis shows. The negative variances are mostly due to lack of proper planning for Scope, Risks, Quality, Budget and the resulting rework loops. The attitude to fix the hole in the pipe as and when it occurs does not work always.
Spending some time on preparing and following the Project Management Plan is considered more of a burden than viewing it as an effective tool to complete a project successfully on time. The common methodology is to get down and start work right from the word “go”. The irony is that this is a common attitude across the globe. Yes there are certain exceptions…But the general feeling among PMs is that it is choosing between having your job and following the process.
In the end it turns one into a dumpster that overflows and stinks without a goal whatsoever. Just take in whatever is thrown into you, whether it is a blame for non-performance of your project or additional work. The result is frustration, stress and finally hospitalization and these are never accounted for in the prime of your (non) professional life.
While the processes are all in place and there is a mad rush for people to get certified in these processes, the actual need for following the processes is ignored along the line. The need of the hour is to actually convince people to “follow” the processes. There are so many certifications out there like CMMI, PMP, Six Sigma, Sarbanes Oxley, ISO…. but whose responsibility is it to tie the bell in the cat’s neck. Ironically NOBODY… Well, if you have to survive among the crocs, you got to live like one is what many people have to say.
But then the Certification would just be an item that decorates the wall of the cubicles or used primarily to be competitive in the market to secure more business and more money…
The points below, though I tried to add some humor into it, are some of the minimum requirements that need to be well considered for any given project to have a smooth sail. I am sure there are veterans who have much better ideas… But what I have stressed here is the importance of bringing the ideas into practice.
Project Charter: A sponsor needs to prepare one without which the project cannot start. Oh… does this mean the sponsor is “documenting” what is needed and appointing and authorizing the PM to use the required resource and promise its availability…. Would they like doing this? Probably NO. But working without this is putting the poor PM in trouble unless he is an expert and willing to play the blame game that takes him nowhere except to the gallows of the professional world…or skydiving without a parachute where you know the end result and can do nothing about it…its too late. The sponsor explains what exactly is required from the product of the project which can be used later at the Project Closure to verify if the project is a success. Without this, we cannot measure the success of the project. It serves as the common stage where the Sponsor and the PM can reach a mutual agreement without much or any argument since both are very clear as to what was required against what has been delivered.
Business Requirements: This is one important “requirement” that many miss out on. Shying away from asking questions or assuming does not always result in producing the right output that the stakeholders need. Hence it is very important to identify all the possible stakeholders and involve them in the Requirements Discussions. This gains even more importance when you work on global projects. Different stakeholders from different regions would be using your project to meet their business needs. They work different, think different….It is important to understand their views…There is no point in serving pure Non-vegetarian food when many of your guests could be vegetarians…and probably some are diabetic and cannot taste your extremely sweet dessert…Some might like the stake medium, some might like it well done…You have to identify all your guests ahead of time and analyze their food habits, specific requirements and then come out with a comprehensive menu that suits all…or at least most of them. The point is not just to listen and accept what the stakeholders want. You cannot promise the world…It is to understand “the problem” the stakeholders face without the solution that they are asking for. Only when we understand that, can we even suggest or design the appropriate solution that would satisfy the needs of the stakeholders and the business. This will also help in focusing on the problem and also defining the scope…drawing the borderline. Otherwise, it will lead up to a lot of discussions going out of control by leaps and bounds… We might end up listening and documenting the stakeholders’ dreams about learning how to fly a fighter aircraft. Only when we understand “the problem” that we can make our project result measurable that would in turn help in deciding if the project end result is a success as acceptable to all concerned.
Scope Definition: This is something that a Sponsor might still hate… Again this is a commitment that the PM gets. Without this the PM can assume himself getting into a CAR WASH Assembly Line. Ask your car how it feels to be in there compared to a gentle hand wash. A well defined scope statement with a commitment is an effective tool for the PM not only to handle scope changes effectively from the Stake holders but also on deciding or help the Stake holders decide the level of scope changes that can be accommodated. This well defined scope makes it easier for the PM to calculate the negative effects of any changes on the 4 corners namely Scope, Budget, Risk, MOS (Measure of Success of the Project). Which ever corner is stretched has the effect on the other 3 corners… Let the Sponsor decide…
Risk Identification: Who cares…? Let’s handle it when it comes up…. Life itself is a big risk… I would just get down and drive to and from work…At least, I can reach work on time… Otherwise I would be sitting down and worrying about the possible accidents that could happen if I drive. Actually people get the wrong ideas of Risk Identification. It is actually listing down the possible events that could possibly lead to an accident or affect the safe ride to and back from work. Then prioritizing the events based on its probability. This would enable us to drive the car more safely and be prepared to tackle the situation when any untoward even happens. Plus there are these UNKNOWN UNKNOWNS that we have to ACCEPT since you can do nothing about it… Are you religious… then pray to your god. But Risk Identification, Prioritization, Adding a dollar value to its probable occurrence is certainly helpful.
WBS (Work Breakdown Structure): You cannot just swallow the whole cake just because it is your birthday…. Remember, it makes it easier plus you will be helped by your guests to consume the whole cake if you cut it into eatable pieces. But the general attitude, as I had started this article with, is to swallow the whole cake in one gulp…. What a misconception… The result is your spoilt healths, expenses at the hospital, getting out of shape, spend more money for corrective actions that could have been avoided in the first place…. OR it is like offering the whole cake letting anybody just plough their hand in and eat whatever they can…NO COMMITTMENT FROM ANYONE as to how much they can or will eat…This results in a lot of wastage and chaos… Breaking your scope into smaller manageable pieces allows
1. Management of tasks more efficiently and have better control over it
2. Plan your resource needs more accurately and efficiently
3. Assign appropriate resources to the appropriate Tasks
4. Make fair work estimates and get the most needed commitment from the resources,
5. Each team member understands what is expected of him/her.
6. Bottom Up accurate Cost Estimating.
7. Preparation of a tight linked schedule (USING WORK ESTIMATES)
8. Capturing Actuals and a much better and efficient EV Analysis.
COST and TIME estimates: I don’t even want to look at the numbers you are showing me. I need to get this done at any COST within the TIME specified…Deal with the over budget issues when it starts to bite back…This is a common reaction. But using the WBS it is possible to make more accurate cost and time estimates and this will play a very important factor in your Earned Value Analysis. At least it gives you a stage for making your comparisons and something to work with to know where you are against where you are supposed to be. This will also help a lot in managing the stake holders, who hit you with changes, by providing them more accurate cost and time effect on the project. This also provides a good base for more meaningful project performance reports to sponsors and your boss in terms of dollar value. It basically provides a unit of measurement to analyze the cost/time effects on changes to the Project, without which it could cause disastrous effects since everything would be based on pure assumptions and then lead to the infamous blame game, stress and burn outs.
Monitor and Control: What does this mean? Stand behind my team’s chair to watch their activities… They are going to hate me for doing this….OR is it to walk away saying they are all professionals and they know what is expected of them and they will deliver it and we can take it from there…I have to watch my football game tonight… It is not Micro-Management that we are talking about here. Our WBS has been appropriately broken down so as to allocate work based on the Resource Capabilities. So yes, the team knows what is expected of them. But if you do not Monitor the performance of the project, as a PM, you will never know the actual status of the project, let alone the details, not even a high level idea. This will also hinder your status meetings. By way of a monitoring and controlling plan, not only will you be in a position to ascertain, plan or be prepared to take corrective actions at the appropriate time, this could also prevent a non-expected or unwanted disaster. “A stitch in time saves you a time, effort, cost and a lot more…” To do that stitch in time, you need to monitor the progress of the project at pre-determined intervals… probably every week… again this depends on the size of the project. This also helps the PM to make sure that the Project still delivers what is in the scope. Nothing more or Nothing less.
Quality Management: No additional budget to have a quality control team…Developers and Project Leads might as well do the job or better leave it to the end users… Now, that’s a disaster plan not a disaster management plan that is being made here… Developer testing could have a lot of bias… Project Leads, probably have a lot of other things to do. Ignoring that could cause a lot more bad things than ignoring Quality control…Relying on End User testing probably could result in your losing the contract or business if things go wacky…Some end users just love non-constructive criticism… Preparing a Quality Management Plan helps a lot for
1. Defining the Quality Scope i.e. for the amount of quality control that we need to have in place, based on the size of the project plus scope information derived from scope management plan.
2. Defining Quality Criteria that needs to be evaluated to pass the Project Deliverables.
3. Making sure the Project Deliverables meet the needed Quality Standards for the Project
Investing a little time and money for Quality does not really hurt a project. It really helps in saving the project from a possible crash. It not only helps to align the Project Deliverable along with the scope of the Project (Scope Verification) and also helps to make sure it aligns with the Business Objectives of the organization or the client because quality control need not necessarily concentrate or confine with finding bugs in the project deliverable.
Communication: Usually it goes like this:….I told you during our telecon on the 22nd afternoon around 2 pm last month that this was how it is going to be and you said OK…and the reply would obviously be…I don’t think we even had a call that day or I specifically said this is how it has to be and you agreed to it….This story just goes on and finally the Stakeholder wins the game…poor PM. It is just so important to develop a communication plan that defines who needs to be communicated with what and how and when. This plan is just not some sheets of document prepared by the PM during his/her leisure. It is a well thought out and agreed upon communication plan between the PM and the Stakeholders and the PM thereafter needs to strictly adhere to this plan, no matter what, to avoid any kind of conflict on the when, what and how information was communicated. In today’s world considering the quality of life, it is not very easy to remember a lot of things or I would rather say it is being considered to project oneself as “Executive Material” when they say “Er…I do not quite remember”. It is better to have it on a document. Plus, every meeting needs to have an MOM (minutes of meeting) as a general rule.
Project Closure: “My project never closes” was a comment from a sponsor of one of the projects… It is always open until I say so…This is again the statement due to the absence of a well defined Project Charter and Acceptance of Scope statement. The sponsor feels insecure to accept the fact that the project is done. They get this feeling that there is this something that they had forgotten down the line and that needs to be done. But this is not a good sign for not only the PM but also for Business. A project needs to be closed by following the Project Closure process by getting the Project Deliverable signed off appropriately from the Sponsor who has the Project Charter (that defines the Measure of Success for the Product of the Project plus the scope statement) to verify the deliverable. This sign off document enables the proper release of the Project Resources along with a reason to CELEBRATE and plugs off the loop hole that keeps a project a never ending saga…. and don’t forget to update the Lessons Learned Document at each of the above steps… have some consideration for those budding PMs that might want to follow your foot steps…or rather your PM track that you leave…
Ramesh Sreedhar , PMP
I am currently working as a Senior Business Analyst and Project Manager for the global IT of a Manufacturing Company head quartered in New Jersey. Hence work involves providing global solutions. I have around 16 years of experience in IT. Still manage to hold on to my technical skills as much as possible by involving in some development work here and there as time and schedule permits. Apart from my business requirement analysis and PM activities, I also involve in Architecture and Design for all our non-SAP applications.
I completed my PMP Certification in October 06.