Project Management Tips

2. Project Management Best Practices II: Work the Plan

Courtesy of TenStep, Inc.

 

Manage and Control
Once the project has been planned sufficiently, execution of the work can begin. In theory, since you already have agreement on your Project Definition and your work plan and project management procedures are in place, the only challenge is to execute your plans and processes correctly. Of course, no project ever proceeds entirely as it was estimated and planned. The challenge is having the rigor and discipline needed to apply your project management skills correctly and proactively.

Manage the Workplan

Review the workplan on a regular basis to determine how you are progressing in terms of schedule and budget. If your effort is small, this may need to be weekly. For larger projects, the frequency might be every two weeks.

 

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Monitor the schedule. Identify activities that have been completed during the previous time period and update the workplan to show that they are finished. Determine whether there are any other activities that should have been completed, but have not been. After the workplan has been updated, determine if the project will be completed within the original effort, cost, and duration. If not, determine the critical path and look for ways to accelerate these activities to get you back on track.

Monitor the budget. Look at the amount of money your project has actually consumed and determine whether your actual spending is more than estimated based on the work that has been completed. If so, be proactive. Either work with the team to determine how the remaining work will be completed to hit your original budget or else raise a risk that you may exceed your allocated budget.

Best Practice – Look for Other Warning Signs
Look for other signs that the project may be in trouble. These could include

  • A small variance in schedule or budget starts to get bigger, especially early in the project. There is a tendency to think you can make it up, but this is a warning: If the tendencies are not corrected quickly, the impact will be unrecoverable.
  • You discover that activities you think have already been completed are still being worked on.
  • You need to rely on unscheduled overtime to hit the deadlines, especially early in the project.
  • Team morale starts to decline
  • Deliverable quality or service quality starts to deteriorate.
  • Quality control steps, testing activities, and project management time starts to be cut back from the original schedule.

If these situations occur, raise visibility through risk management, and put together a plan to proactively ensure that the project stays on track. If you cannot successfully manage through the problems, raise an issue.



Manage Scope
After the basics of managing the schedule, managing scope is the most important activity required to control a project. Many project failures are not caused by problems with estimating or team skill sets, but by the project team working on major and minor deliverables that were not part of the original Project Definition or business requirements. Even if you have good scope management procedures in place, there are still two major areas of scope change management that must be understood to be successful – understanding who the customer is and scope creep.

Best Practice - Make Sure the Sponsor Approves Scope Change Requests

In general, the Project Sponsor is the person who is funding the project. While there is usually just one sponsor, the project could have many stakeholders, or people that are impacted by the project. Requests for scope changes will most often come from stakeholders – many of whom may be managers in their own right. It does not matter how important a change is to a stakeholder, they cannot make scope change decisions and they cannot give your team the approval to make the change. In proper scope change management, the sponsor (or their designate) must give the approval since they are the only ones that can add additional funding to cover the changes and know if the project impact is acceptable.

Best Practice - Guard Against Scope Creep
Most Project Managers know to invoke scope change management procedures if they are asked to add a major new function or a major new deliverable to their project. However, sometimes the project manager does not recognize the small scope changes that get added over time. Scope creep is a term used to define a series of small scope changes that are made to the project without scope change management procedures being used. With scope creep, a series of small changes, none of which appear to affect the project individually, can accumulate to have a significant overall impact on the project. Many projects fail because of scope creep and the Project Manager needs to be diligent in guarding against it.


Manage Risk

Risks refer to potential events or circumstances outside the project team’s control that will have an adverse impact on the project.

Best Practice - Identify Risks Up Front

When the planning work is occurring, the project team should identify all known risks. For each risk, they should also determine the probability that the risk event will occur as well as the potential impact to the project. Those events identified as high-risk should have specific plans put into place to mitigate them to ensure that they do not, in fact, occur. Medium risks should be evaluated as well to see if they should be proactively managed. (Low-level risks may be identified as assumptions. That is, there is potential risk involved, but you are ‘assuming’ that the positive outcome is much more probable.)

Best Practice - Continue to Assess Potential Risks Throughout the Project

Once the project begins, periodically perform an updated risk assessment to determine if other risks have surfaced that need to be managed.


Manage Issues

In spite of your best efforts at risk management, all projects of any size and complexity will have issues arise that need to be dealt with and resolved. If you have not done as good a job managing risks, chances are you will have more issues to deal with than you might have otherwise.

Best Practice - Resolve Issues as Quickly as Possible

Issues are big problems. The Project Manager should manage open issues diligently to ensure they are being resolved. If there is no urgency to resolve the issue, or if the issue has been active for some time, then it may not really be an issue. It may be a potential problem (risk), or it may be an action item that needs to be resolved at some later point. Issues by their nature must be resolved with a sense of urgency.

 

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TenStep, Inc
, specializes in methodology development, training and consulting in project management, Project Management Office, Portfolio Management, and the project lifecycle.

 

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