Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tips For Success In Project Management

Too often Project Management is muddled with Project Management methodologies. When first starting out, Project Managers believe that managing a project is synonymous with GANTT charts and MS Project. The reality is managing a project in an organisation is both a lot more complicated and the same time a lot simpler.
Firstly, PM Methodologies provide a framework mainly for control and reporting. PRINCE2 for instance was developed by a UK government body in order to avoid project costs careening out of control and not delivering on their original commitments. They are tools to ensure there is tracking, reporting and that accountability is maintained. Just like any other tool, methodologies are used depending on the projects, project manager or organisation.  It is no different to a company deciding to use Google docs instead of Microsoft Office. Both have their merits, but the success of the output depends on the operator not the application.
The success of a project is more around how the project manager delivers the outcomes of project regardless of how the organisation expects it to be run. Wether you are running an IT project using Agile or rolling out a customer network with PMBOK as the framework the following points will help you appear and feel confident as well as deliver a great result every time.

Know Everything About Your Project
There is nothing worse than being asked a question about your project and have to respond with the all too famous cop out: "I'll have to get back to you on that." You should have all project information at your fingertips. This is specially true if you have to farm off portions of work to completely other groups. Most managers will want to ensure their staff are engaged appropriately. To have a manager ask you what work you have given to their staff and not being able to answer gives them no confidence that you making the best use of their time. You may then have to spend hours putting together documentation to prove that their staff are not working in vain. If in doubt walk over to their desk and have a chat about what they are up to. They will appreciate being able to tell you what they do and you may gain enough information to answer a question intelligently.

Deliver Results Early
A project has to deliver on its objectives. That much we can all agree on. What is important however, is to start delivering results as soon as possible. Deliver a single service, lay a foundation, whatever it is that can demonstrate the project is actually moving along. From a management point of view they need to be able to see that the team is moving along and not just stalling. As for the project team members it is vital that they are inspired by seeing the fruits of their labours. This is specially true of lengthy projects, say those that go over three months.
It is quite easy to fall into the trap of wanting to deliver that perfect result but the truth is that a perfect result doesn't exist, not at first anyway. Everything falls into the Project Management Triangle of Cost, Quality and Time. Each three of the constraints are in competition with each other and at the start of the project the big winner is time.  If a project doesn't show deliverables early then there is a possibility that management may either chose to shut the project down, reduce the scope or worst of all have it assigned to another project manager. By demonstrating that the project can deliver on its scope then it is possible to see progress as well as to evaluate the deliverables against the original scope sooner rather than later.

Nothing Like a Deadline
Make commitments and deliver on them. Although you have to work collaboratively often you need to make decisions. If you ask anyone when they can have something done their response will always be noncommittal. Ask a series of questions to ascertain if you can lock in a deadline and work towards meeting it. People generally work better if there is a goal to work towards. Simply offer them a goal and you will be rewarded.

Be Prepared to Change
To quote Albert Einstein: "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." If you are doing something for the first time, and chances are - within the confines of the project - that you are, then be prepared to change tactics if things don't work the first time. Reevaluate everything, processes, timing and even staff if you need to. Ask questions that haven't ben asked. Organisational process are often too ingrained in the staff for people to ask questions. A fresh perspective may be all that is needed to find a better result.

Inspire not Direct
Although this is a topic all on its own it is specially important in managing projects across various groups. Since in these cases the team members do not report to the PM it is vital to ensure inspire the group to move on targets rather than just banging your fist on the table and threatening to escalate. Although this sounds difficult it is simple in execution.
Firstly, own the project team. The PM will in the end take the credit for the work but also needs to own all the issues throughout the project. Dont throw your team to the wolves at the first sign of trouble. If something goes wrong, own up to it, take the beating and come back to the team to work through it.
Secondly, give credit where credit is due. Wether it is in the project report or the company newsletter, give individual team members recognition for their achievements  It may be in their job descriptions to perform cutovers after hours but it always helps encourage them when they can see you aren't there to take all the credit. Your name is on the cover of the report anyway, make sure everyone else's is inside it.
Offer to help. If someone is stuck and needs help with something offer to help them along. This isn't to say you need to learn what they do and sit alongside them and do it. This is more around helping chair a meeting to remove an obstacle or offering to talk to someone on their behalf.

Be Somebody
This isn't about fame or importance. It is a response to the statement: "Somebody needs to ..." Although it is a summary of everything else it is a topic that can be expanded on its own. Somebody needs to take some action to resolve something. You are somebody. Ergo you need to take some action.
Often there are skeletons in the cupboard or a pile of rocks that no one is touching for fear of spiders. Sometimes they issues are simple like a decision needing to be made or more complex like a database that is out of date. Either way you may need to roll your sleeves up and get on with something so you can get it one. Sometimes by even starting something you will inspire others to work with the momentum you have created. Either way if you want the project to succeed to need to be prepared to get involved when you are needed not just when it is convenient.

Have a Laugh
Wether it is a drink at the pub or a lunch, not necessarily paid for the company, a get together is a good way to let off steam. Having a forum where team members can complain about their workload or talk about the amount of effort it was to complete a task gives everyone a feeling of togetherness. Sometimes knowing everybody is in the same boat gives everybody focus and helps rebuild morale.
Dont just leave it for Friday afternoon. Do something quirky like adding an inspiration music clip like Queen's "We will rock you" or a puzzle in the meeting minutes. It takes everyone's mind off the effort and lets them relax a little. You will be working together for a long time so make it a little more fun.

Regardless of the size of the project or the organisational structure, these simple tips will help you keep on top and deliver a successful project.