The Manager's Toolkit -- Project Management

Strategies For Effective Project Management

Introduction... Mgrs. Meditations... Vision... Skills... ToolKit Ideas...
Process Language... Project Management... Thoughts on Deming...
Job Descriptions

Copyright 1995. 1996.

As the middle management ranks of organizations diminish and the nature of work in organizations becomes more diverse, the ability to manage projects is becoming one of the key skills sought after by employers. Why? Because many projects sponsored by organizations end with less than successful results.

San Kinnessin, a standup comedian who died a few years ago, used to play a shtick in which he would describe the torment he experienced in his life. It was painfully funny. He would scream to the audience describing the tragic scenarios of his relationships, and let us infer why they had failed.

His trademark line drove his uncomfortably laughable message into his listeners’ very own personal experiences. "There’s a REASON!!" he would shout There’s a REASON!!!".

If you are a member of an organization on any scale; whether that be a scout group, or multinational corporate giant, you have, and will encounter what we call a ‘project:’ a set of people and activities brought together to achieve an objective, after which, the project can be considered complete, and after which, those involved can devote attention to other issues.

Studies show that over one half of the technology, quality, and restructuring projects started in organizations end up dissolving before that are complete. Even the fundraising events of our local community organizations rarely meet their fully intended initial visionary goals.

Participants in these projects, both in their larger and smaller forms, rationalize the less than desirable results, focusing on the positive ground gained, and minimizing the negative issues. Much of our rationale is excuse or political in nature. These are avoidance behaviours; strategies to not look at reasons. But, after all, as the comedian screamed, ‘there is a reason!’ and like his audience, we sometimes feel that the reasons are too uncomfortable to consider.

Whether we are talking about relationships or management issues (the focus of this column,) there are fundamental reasons for failure. For projects, the pitfalls are:
- Unclear Objectives
- Uncommitted Sponsorship
- Unrealistic Expectations
- Faulty Planning
- Inadequate Resources
- Team Conflict
- Poor Leadership

There are also fundamental strategies for success.

While some of the issues identified above may be viewed as external to the project, most pitfalls can be controlled by the project team leader and his team.

It is the responsibility of the properly organized team as a whole, and ultimately the project team leader, to ensure that the pitfalls do not jeopardize the success of the project. Effective project management is a matter of development, anticipation, negotiation, communication and coordination.

Development is the joint sponsor and leader activity through which the project mandate is formed or refined: where a set of clear and specific objectives, constraints, success factors, completion indicators (answers the question; ‘How do we know when we are done?) and resource budget are formulated. In a later continuation of this process, the project mandate, and related criteria and factors are introduced to, and adopted by the selected team. With these in place, and agreed upon, reasonable expectations can be set based on the resources available.

Anticipation is a continuous activity throughout the project life. By looking ahead, and considering probable barriers to success, we can develop pre-arranged processes and structures to solve unforeseen problems.

Anticipation allows us to plan how we handle problems, who is involved, and who is responsible for the various decisions and choices. Decision makers might be the team itself (using consensus, compromise, or voting), the team leader (using experience, advice, authority, or risk taking), the sponsor (see leader, or with advisement from others), or the higher level management members. Anticipation goes hand in hand with negotiation.

Negotiation is an essential exercise both inside and outside the project team. The team leader must initially negotiate for clear objectives, key results, and completion indicators with the sponsor and stakeholders for resources and required skill/team member matches.

From within, he or she continually negotiates with team members to ensure that the communication, performance, and participation are maximized. The team leader may also have to negotiate with the team’s sponsor (the person who signs the cheques) for additional resources, tools, time or money.

Communication is the infrastructure that successful projects are built upon. Good communication facilitates conflict resolution, motivation coordination and empowerment.

Effective, positive and open communication allows issues to surface, new concepts to be introduced, critiqued, and refined. It also allows project changes to be relayed within the team and to other members in the larger organization..

Team progress should be communicated at pre-scheduled sessions, critical, or milestone events, so that objectives, timelines, and resource allocation changes can be negotiated, agreed upon and implemented as required.

Coordination is the art of making all the pieces of the project orchestra play together in harmony.

Coordination requires constant, active and personal attention, and can be assisted using classical scheduling tools, PERT/critical path techniques, modern project management or project monitoring software tools.

While the classical approaches contain the necessary theory to assist in project coordination, the automated and graphic features and relative speed in updating make newer software tools a solution of choice. As in project reporting, continuously update progress using the tool you choose. Better yet, choose a software tool that allows you to both develop a mandate, create and modify the plan, perform team selection based on skills and report project issues and progress from its database.

Successful project management is largely a people process. Software can assist, but leadership is a personal issue. The fundamentals are straightforward and worthy of serious consideration.

When we see or feel that a project is going astray, as Sam would say, "There’s a reason!!!’

Do your avoidance behaviour up front. Focus on success by developing a solid mandate, anticipating problems, negotiating the key resources, communicating with key players and management, and actively coordinating all facets of the project. Make the vision the reality.

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© 1996 Lark Ritchie. Contact me at this address..