Ten tips to keep your project on track

Successful delivery of projects needs dedication to ten simple rules

Tags: Project management
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Ten tips to keep your project on track
By  Hemanshu Joshi Published  October 29, 2011

Recent research has shown that one in six large scale IT projects go over-budget by an average of 200%. I would say that this is a universal phenomenon impacting most of the projects across all the industries.

Irrespective of industry, most of the time when a project is nearing its rollout, if not everyone, at least the project manager can be seen running around like a headless chicken. Nervous and distraught, a project manager has so many things to look after. If one thing in 500-1,000 tasks is missed out, everyone has one and only one person to nail down – the project manager.

Usually when we, the project managers, begin any project we are very optimistic of completing the project within the tenets of project management namely – cost, schedule and quality. But, as we move on, we start digressing. In the beginning, we miss a few reports, a few requirements or a few weekly meetings and one fine day we realize we have already lost a big chunk of cost and schedule. Usually it is too late to realize and salvage the project. In our last effort, we finally jeopardize the last tenet of project management as well– the quality.

A successful project is an outcome of multiple factors and not even one factor can be looked at in isolation. Therefore, it is important for a project manager to strike a balance between these various factors. With my experience of managing large size IT projects, I would recommend a project manager to consider following 10 basic points while managing a project.

1. Scope definition

You must know what you have to do and what not. My experience is, if the scope is not well defined and agreed upon by all the parties the project never finishes on time. Customer expectations keep on changing and you keep on updating your requirement documents and project plans. Your development team keeps on modifying their code for existing functionalities and new development becomes slow. At the end, the product is not what was expected by any of the parties. Everyone is aggrieved.

Beyond scope definition it is important to prevent scope creeping. There will always be so many tiny requirements your stakeholders will realize during the course of the project and ask you to accommodate them. Once you start accepting them you will start losing control. Finish the scope of work before you accommodate any demands from any stakeholder.

2. Weekly meetings

Periodic Meetings– No matter how smoothly the project is going, periodic meetings must happen to ensure that all issues are discussed, all action items are assigned to task owners. If the gap between two meetings is long and the meetings are not periodic, the momentum is lost. The project begins to move away as other things start taking priority, which eventually affects the project.

Agenda based meeting – A meeting with a predefined agenda gives all attendees a clear vision of what they can expect from the meeting without digressing during the course of it. An agenda also helps in drawing the minutes of meetings, making action plans and identifying task ownership.

3. Project plan

A project plan must have detailed Work Breakdown Structure and tasks defined to the most basic levels. The clear project plan helps in foreseeing what is going to come for various task owners. The project plan should be up to date at all times and accessible to all the stakeholders and task owners.

There is never a perfect project plan. A project plan evolves over a period of time and to achieve it you might have to go through a series of meetings with end users and the stakeholders.

4. Documentation

Usually in a project, the technical part is given more importance, and documentation of any kind is neglected. For any project, documentation has to be excellent and very clear for all the stakeholders and task owners to know what they should do, when and how. At the time of project execution, quality assurance, delivery (or implementation as it is called in IT), customer acceptance or support, for any kind of ambiguities, issues and questions these documents are referred to. An appropriate set of documents helps in resolving issues amicably, there are no blame games, finger-pointing and missing requirements from the system.

As such, there are no perfect list of documents. However, a project manager should ensure all the critical information is documented.

5. Reporting

A strict reporting regimen must be followed during the span of project. All the stakeholders must receive a distributed detailed report on achievements, contributions of team members and the plan for the next period.

If everything is clearly and proactively reported, there are no assumptions and confusions. This is very important for the steering committee and stakeholders, who do not monitor everyday action. A simplified consolidated report gives them confidence about the project progress.

I also recommend for project managers to maintain a project diary. This online diary should be updated twice a day and current status of project should be updated. This diary comes very handy incase answers are sought by the stakeholders.

6. Resources

A good project manager entrusts specific tasks in the project to specific specialist resources to accomplish tasks effectively. At the same time, he cautiously avoids overlapping tasks for resources. For example - a project manager doesn’t do the job of a business analyst or a developer doesn’t substitute for business analyst.

The project manager manages the project and a separate business analyst collects, analyzes and documents the requirements. So is the case with other resources. This helps in a big way as every specialist focused on his/her area of expertise is assigned appropriate tasks and contributes in the best manner.

7. Risk assessment & mitigation

It is important that project related risks are proactively identified, documented and mitigated. A project manager must complete the risk assessment in the beginning of the project itself and if required assign risk ownership appropriately so that at the time of contingency risk owner takes steps to mitigate the risks.

However, risk evaluation and mitigation is a continuous process. Not all the risks can be identified in the beginning of the project. Therefore, the project manager must revisit the risk sheet periodically and update it.

8. Team work

You and your team should dream the same dreams, to turn them into reality. You cannot work on your own in isolation, no matter how strong or intelligent you are. A cohesive team with right blend of resources can ensure the success of the project.

9. Attitude

You might have experts in your team but if they lack the right attitude, you have a serious problem. I would choose to work with a team with moderate skill sets but excellent attitude rather than a stubborn and arrogant expert with laidback attitude. In my projects, I have observed if all the project members are persistent and proactive in their approach, the project can never fail. The laid-back attitude of even one member can kill the team spirit and the overall project.

As a project manager you might not have the perfect blend of resources or I will say you will not always bas as lucky as I have been. You have to have the right soft skills to pursue and extract the best out of every team member.

10.Authority and Accountability

The project manager without appropriate authority is like a toothless tiger. The project manager must be given a free hand to run the project under the right balance of supervision. The steering committee, must also directly or indirectly make it clear to the team members that the instructions of persons of authority must be abided by. If there is no single power centre, there will be several power centres and conflict of interests, which will hamper the project goals.

Accountability goes hand in hand with authority. When the project manager has full authority to run the project, he has full accountability for all the outcomes. Like a captain of the ship, a project manager is accountable for the outcome of the project and anything associated with it.

At times, when we are managing a big project, we might become too focused or obsessed with only one aspect of the project. It can be deadlines, quality, resource management or meetings. A project manager has to have a balanced approach. Even in a pressure cooker situation, the project manager should be clear in his head - what the project objectives are and how he plans to achieve them.

Projects start with good intentions and if the right approach is maintained consistently, the success rate of projects is bound to improve.

Hemanshu Joshi is an IT professional with 11 years of experience in Organizational Strategy, Presales, Project Management , development and implementation of Information Technology software solutions and consultancy projects. He blogs at http://hemanshujoshi.blogspot.com

2332 days ago
steve brown

Nice Article. You have written very important points.

2528 days ago

Very well said, there are very imp. points,

2618 days ago
Aura Moore

This is a great synopsis for PMs. I plan to share this with my PMs in my next PMO staff meeting.

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