“I believe that Project Management success is about bringing the top people, processes, and technology together to empower schools to achieve their collective goals.”
Guiding principles provide a “dial-tone” for a successful Project Manager (PM). Like that recognizable sound you hear when lifting the telephone to your ear that lets you know it’s working, principles become a familiar “voice of reason” that keeps the manager grounded and focused while working through the difficult project issues.
I will share my “people” principles in Part 2. Be sure to look for Part 3 “technology” principles in my final blog post. “People” are the most important aspect to project success, yet can also be the most challenging. The ability to bring school community (staff, students, and faculty) together during projects requires superb soft skills (listening, influence, counseling, coaching, etc.). Everyone at the school is an individual and has an opinion, and these change regularly based upon their professional and personal circumstances. Therefore, the Project Manager (PM) leverages a “process” to bring people together from the beginning of the project to the end to keep everyone focused upon their common goals.
The top PM also leverages his/her leadership skills to foster collaboration at all organizational levels of the school from student groups to the president’s office using process tools and techniques as “conversation catalysts” throughout the entire project. Active communication establishes, implements, and supports a clear process roadmap and directions with the people for desired outcomes.
The PM continues to help the school return to the common goals whenever there is dissension or deviation from the process. The PM relies upon his/her soft skills and experiences to determine when it is appropriate to be assertive and when to be yielding and in some circumstances the process approach to use becomes a delicate balancing act. The PM must remain flexible and listen to debate and raise the discussion to a higher level when the goals might need to change.
14 Process Principles for Project Management success include:
1. Use a project management program that is built upon best practices for success as a process framework to begin, but adapt to your school’s program and culture.
If your school has an established process to follow that is producing mixed project results, use a top project management program as a benchmark to identify any key gaps with your program and implement the necessary changes to ensure your project success.
2. Separate production/operational support activities from project activities.
Most projects are multi-phased. The project team (school staff and IT personnel that participate) are responsible for project related enhancements. Once a component of the project is released to production for the first time and is being used by the administration, students, and/or faculty, a different group of staff personnel becomes responsible for any production support changes. Production support costs are estimated within the 5 year financial outlook for the project, but should be carried within the on-going operational budget. Support costs begin with the first release to production. If school staff are not available, support is a better model for the use of remote and/or offshore resources or a nice way for new personnel to become trained before joining the project team. Skilled personnel should be assigned to the project, keeping them motivated with challenges. By splitting project vs. support work, the project team remains focused to complete the project. If the project team is also responsible for support, the project work becomes a lower priority and is at risk of not finishing within schedule. Front-fill and/or back-fill staffing strategies are needed for this principle.
3. Change is inevitable.
A PM can accurately plan for beginning and end dates. The PM can also fairly accurately state the costs of the project resources (when fixed) until reaching the end date. The honest PM; however cannot begin to calculate all the changes (especially with people) that will happen by that end date. So, the best process allows project scope (the required deliverables) to remain flexible to accomplish the highest value requirements within a given cost and end date. Otherwise, when change inevitably happens (and scope is impacted) costs and milestones will also be impacted. It is extremely important for the school administration at all levels to “buy-into” this key process principle when establishing and approving the project budget. The PM should use a calculator template to measure the level of the administration’s confidence with key areas of the plan to assess any budget estimation risks. Whenever there is diminished confidence, it is likely that change will impact the budget and a higher contingency percentage is needed.
4. Strike the right balance between following the process and getting work done.
A project management program is a framework of process best practices for a PM to assess. The circumstances of each school culture and project are fact dependent. The PM decides which practices are appropriate for each situation and use experiences, the school culture, and “lessons learned” from past projects to adapt the strategy for each project. Make sure to strike the right balance between following procedures and getting actual work done, so the project team does not become slaves to an administrative process nightmare.
5. Use tools wisely.
Project Management software tools should streamline your work not complicate the process. If you spend more time configuring and maintaining your PM tools rather than working directly with your team, look for a better way to organize and facilitate your projects. Find the right tools to enhance productivity – “Work smarter not harder.”
6. Rank all work (requirements, test scripts) by school value to focus team efforts towards the mission critical activities.
Finding major issues or gaps later in the process cycle will cost more to fix. Organizing the work into smaller groups or “chunks” ranked in order by highest value to the school allows for implementation work to begin faster and to detect issues earlier. The larger and more complex the plans that try to finish all the scope of work within one implementation cycle or “big bang,” the more risk that change will delay the end date and be more expensive to deliver.
7. Past project history is best for providing new estimates.
Actual time from a completed project is the most accurate way to forecast the effort of a new, similar project. Estimation accuracy is greatly increased when the same project personnel from the completed project are also assigned to the new project. Estimation accuracy diminishes when the project is completely new – new definitions, technology, project personnel, etc. and should have a larger contingency budget. Also, anticipate the potential for human factors to impact the new estimates. Circumstances change and past successes are influenced by ever changing emotions such as euphoria, confidence, and fear.
8. Follow the process to minimize surprises.
School stakeholders appreciate being informed of changes before there is an impact to their expectations (especially when the change will impact time, cost, scope, or all 3).
9. Understand the school’s process.
Working with your project team to define the “as is” process on a whiteboard helps to visualize the project requirements. The team can transform the “as is” process into a “to-be” process model that illustrates the new changes being implemented by the project.
10. Create a plan for change management.
This is both a process and people principle as individuals and departments can become resistant to change. Survey your community repeatedly to understand their willingness to adopt changes at various stages within the project, for it is important to know how the changes may impact their productivity and when plans need to adjust accordingly.
11. Simplify your contracts wherever possible.
Again, trust is an important factor. Treat external consultants or technology providers hired by the school as partners not vendors and friendlier contract terms are the outcome. Some vendors may demand complicated contracts that dictate rigid and slow to adapt project processes, so be wary of a vendor such as this that brings an army of lawyers to the negotiation table.
12. Adjust assertiveness based upon project circumstances.
Projects and people can and will deviate from the process. Sometimes, process deliverables must be adjusted during the project. Know when to be assertive enough when the process needs to be followed, and adjust it when improvements are necessary. A PM walks a fine line in a matrix management role as there is no direct authority to obtain compliance. The best method for removing process barriers is for the project team to provide regular feedback about the pluses to continue and the deltas which are areas of opportunity for process improvement. The PM can then quickly develop actions for the deltas for approval by the governance committees as improvement ideas are more effective coming from the project team rather than an individual.
13. Reassess project process and technology choices during any administration reorganizations.
Disruptions with your project’s leadership and office politics can impact the morale or direction of your team. If an administration reorganization is significant and impacts your main project stakeholders, take a step back and return to the project “define” activities. Your new sponsors and/or project director must feel ownership about key “define” choices such as the technology platform.
14. The earlier that testing begins and defects get fixed, the better for avoiding an unruly defect queue.
Defect triage is critical. Unruly defect queues later in the project often become a reason for team angst and project delays. Avoid introducing new requirements in the queue and the Project Owner should remove any as defects. New requirements need justification to determine impacts to the project roadmap and do not go before other planned project work. Be sure to rank the defects by value to the school as not all items in the queue need to be fixed and some need review by the governance committees for justification as a formal change request.
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