Project Management – How to Make This Process Effective in an Organization

Many businesses and organizations struggle in their efforts to successfully manage projects to be complete, on time and on budget. In fact, for many organizations, it is commonplace to never meet an implementation date or project budget and it is unfortunately just accepted as a normal practice in the business. In our ongoing review of businesses, we routinely see software and engineering projects that were completed years late or are languishing half finished with no end in sight. Regrettably, the organization is losing revenue opportunities or experiencing much higher operating costs because of the absence of these improvements.

Is this a reality that every organization must accept or can it be fixed? Well we know that it can be fixed in any organization by applying new approaches. While project software can be of help in providing documentation for projects, this alone will not be the fix. In fact, if good project management disciplines are instituted, one could document the project on the back of a napkin and still see much greater success than just implementing project management software alone. In fact, the secret is simple: it is all about how to improve the management of the people participating and associated with the project.

In Lean Six Sigma projects, we use the DMAIC approach in project management. This acronym stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control which are the process steps required to complete Lean Six Sigma process improvement programs. Although the DMAIC process is very helpful in structuring a project, there are more basic project management disciplines that are keys to success in any project, and these will be the subject of this article. Listed below are some of these key approaches we have used for decades to lead projects to successful and timely completion. It is not an exhaustive list but it provides several main areas that a project leader must focus on to be successful.

Setting, Managing and Communicating Expectations

Regardless of the type of project, this process is undeniably the most critical area of project management. This process helps the project participants self-regulate their efforts as well as controls the negative effects of sponsors that have the habit of changing the project deliverables and introducing scope creep. In essence, it is all about managing people and their expectations. Listed below are some specifics in this area:

  1. Insure the project is fully defined before launching.
    • Project deliverables must be measurable and obtainable.
    • Insure all organizational areas or disciplines affected are identified and informed, even if they are not involved in the project. There should be no surprises.
  2. Insure that project resources are committed to meet the deliverables and dates.
    • Personnel, whether full or part time, are committed for the project, and have the technical capabilities and time available in their schedules to meet the deliverables.
    • “Don’t start building the foundation if you don’t have the money to build the house.”  Insure that the budget resources are fully authorized and available.
    • Inter-departmental cooperation must be obtained prior to project startup.
  3. Define the Critical Path for the project.
    • Insures critical actions and dates are closely managed to insure the project moves forward on schedule.
    • When critical path action items can be accelerated, the project may be completed earlier, or at least time can be made up for past or anticipated future delays.
  4. Manage the details.
    • Insure each person understands their role and what they will be accomplishing by what date.
    • Every action should contain the following: Who, What, Where, When and How.
    • Break down every action into weekly, or as capable, into daily deliverables if it makes sense.
    • This project management of the details insures that critical path and other project issues are always moving forward and keeping the project on schedule.
  5. Closely manage changes to the project.
    • Push back on unnecessary changes in scope that will negatively affect the outcome of the project in either delivered performance or completion date.
    • If the scope changes are necessary, inform all parties of the resulting changes in budgets, project deliverables and completion dates so they understand the impact of the requested changes.
    • If budgets, personnel, or completion dates are affected, get authorization for these adjustments.
  6. Document and communicate.
    • Meet weekly with all project members for formal updates.
    • Meet periodically to update the project sponsors and key departmental managers that are affected.
    • Provide frequently-updated, written project action details to all participants, sponsors and affected department managers.

Improving the Creative Thinking Process:

Often the critical elements of a project entail the creation of new processes or products, where the technology is cutting edge for the organization. In particular, the development of new processes and products requires innovative thinking and design approaches that typically do not just drop out of thin air. It is difficult to manage the creative process, and when dealing with artistic or engineering resources, it can be as difficult as trying to herd a dozen cats. Because of this difficulty, these portions of the project are often the major causes of delays. Although it is difficult to force creativity and breakthroughs, there are ways of managing this process to insure that the project moves ahead and actually accomplishes something. The challenge is to move the project members from the creative process into the tactical process where they have obtained the conceptual ideas and are now beginning to implement them, which is a much more controllable process. Some successful approaches we have used are listed below:

  1. On any project of this sort, create an immediate critical path effort that includes the following:
    • Begin brainstorming on the options available for the creative solutions.
    • Meet frequently, often daily at the start, to gain momentum and force progress.
    • Create competition for the best ideas including parallel paths if applicable.
    • Establish and closely manage timetables for these ideas to be created.
    • Create a means of measuring the costs and benefits of each when presented.
    • Make decisions and recommend to appropriate management for approval.
  2. Given a senior management decision is made on the best option, the process now becomes more structured and tactical and can be broken down into measurable expectations and schedules and can be managed with the overall project.

People – The Common Theme in Successful Project Management

In both sections of recommendations listed above, we are dealing with how to manage people to achieve a successful end. Our business, and its principals, has managed hundreds of major projects to a successful conclusion. The key to success was always in our ability to manage the people and their expectations associated with the project. If a business is struggling with managing their projects, they should consider using an outside resource such as ours to help move these projects ahead to a successful completion. In large scale projects, it is often advantageous to use an outside project management resource that is totally objective and insulated from the internal politics and personalities of the players involved. Once an organization is led through this process to success, it is much easier for their own staff to personally grasp the successful project management fundamentals and to be able to mimic these practices themselves in the future.

Posted in Blog Post, Growing Businesses, Restructuring Businesses and Struggling Businesses


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