Tom Laing, CFMS Project Manager discusses the benefits of project management and how you can implement successful projects.
Project Management as a discipline provides a way to ensure that what you intend to produce each time actually happens, using a series of well-understood techniques. In comparison, it's a little like taking out an insurance policy that ‘insures’ you’ll pretty much get the outcome you want but likewise it doesn’t come for free! In today’s business climate where the pressure is on to continuously reduce product development cycles and budgets and improve quality, it's no surprise that the use of project management is growing.
Projects can be big, small, complex, multi-organisational & multi-disciplinary. I often get asked, whether a particular project would benefit from being project managed. In turning this around, the real question is ‘what are you prepared to risk’? The cost of failure can be far reaching with considerable impact, like nugatory spend, lost revenue, delayed launch dates, brand degradation, burnt out and demoralised staff. Hence, investment in project management is often small in comparison to the risk to the business of not delivering. There are natural indicators that highlight when project management is a must, for example if the team, suppliers, customer, or product are new, or if the project is complex, or multi organisational, or if the organisation itself does not possess suitable project management skill sets.
It maybe hard to believe but a lot of the success or failure of a project gets built in and set up right at the beginning. Getting it right at the outset is critical. Understanding the success criteria at the very start is key. When managing a project, the focus from a dedicated project manager is on the whole process as opposed to being undertaken by individuals who are focused on their own tasks or deliverables, and may not see the “big picture” or the risks.
Providing a framework or methodology, project management considers all the project elements such as business case, scope, requirements, budget, resources, quality, stakeholder & expectation management, through to planning and reporting on these, export control considerations and assessing the potential risks that could derail the project. The project plan is usually set out as a short document and a series of inter-related tasks, creating a cohesive robust plan which is constantly monitored. This is invaluable in challenging environments, complex projects or where requirements are anticipated to change, by building in contingencies and through risk mitigation. Having a well defined methodology can help ensure success.
Unfortunately, projects can and do run into problems - experienced project managers will be aware of standard pitfalls. Common reasons are; no clear definition of what a project should achieve, poor estimates of the amount of work needed, unexpected additional work required, staff working in an area which is not their core skill base due to the company doing something new, like working with a new subcontractor or partner. All of these increase the risk of the project running into problems.
The usual signs that a project manager is needed is when issues start to arise such as deliverables being late, what has been delivered is not what was expected, or perhaps a problem surprised the project halfway which resulted in re-work and further errors. All these reasons are very typical but can be addressed at the outset of the project by putting in place a robust set of processes. If you recognise these sort of things happening in your organisation, its worth engaging with a specialist in project management.
Project management and the adoption of light processes offers tangible benefits in the form of consistency, repeatability and an increase of the chance of the project succeeding. It provides more visibility about what is actually happening in the project and identifies potential risks but provides the opportunity to proactively do something about it before deliverables are jeopardised. The bigger picture is that the project manager involves all stakeholders and makes decisions that benefit the whole project as opposed to where functional managers are looking to deliver only what is needed.
When managing projects, there are some key points and recommendations for consideration in the first instance.
Scope - Ensure the objectives and scope of work, including what deliverables are to be produced are clear and documented so that the team setting the work agrees the scope with the team planning or doing the work. Managing on-going changes, instead of drifting into large increases in scope and expectations without the commensurate adjustments to budgets and staffing levels, is critical to project success.
Plan - “Failing to plan is planning to fail”. A plan and a schedule are musts (and the two are different things). Common indicators of inadequate planning are the “last minute rush”, which can consume the last weeks or months of a project, and unwelcome surprises during the project, such as miscommunications with suppliers or customers.
Budget - Monitoring the project budget at regular intervals (perhaps using Earned Value Analysis) ensures that the right amount of budget is consumed at the right stage of the project.
Quality - There is no point in delivering something that the your customer will regard as poor quality. Expectation management plays a part here, but also your ability to consistently produce to the right level of quality. This can be de-risked by utilising an unburdensome level of process and monitoring.
Risks - without analysing and monitoring the risks on a regular basis, the project is unprotected and will likely be derailed as soon as it encounters a problem.
The Capability Maturity Model (CMM) illustrates the stages of development when bringing an increasing level of rigour to projects in order to bring success and efficiency.
CFMS offers a range of project and programme management support services from consultancy to embedded project management for small to complex high risk, and from long time scales to short time scale projects, allowing you to focus on your product or service. If you are interested in finding out more about the project management services available, click here.