Project Management Series – Part #1: Getting off to a Great Start
A while back I wrote a series of articles explaining the process of improving IT service delivery within organisations. In a similar vein, this series will discuss many aspects of Project Management. We’ll focus on the importance of adopting sound Project Management principals in IT project delivery and what you can do if you’re experiencing problems with your projects.
We literally deliver projects for a living – if we get them wrong (time/ cost overruns, quality issues, etc.) it can cost us our Customers and ultimately our business. Clearly it’s therefore vital that we do everything possible to deliver excellence every time…and to do that we must take Project Management seriously.
In the first article of this series we’ll talk about the importance of starting out on the right path – where the process starts from and the need for strong governance, and throughout that we’ll identify some tell-tale signs that indicate all may not be well with your own Project Management disciplines.
In future articles we’ll take a look at key parts of the process of Project Management, how they’re applied and scaled for different projects, and we’ll also discuss the need for skilled Project Managers within both your organisation and that of your suppliers and discuss how to make improvements that will lead to project delivery excellence!
As a supplier of IT solutions, more often than not we pick up the project process part-way through. Our customer will have already decided that they need to do something (which is why they’re reaching out to us) and they may have already considered a number of options. Our part of the project may just be putting in the infrastructure the customer requires, equally it may be the case that we’re responsible for the whole thing, from cradle to grave…or any combination in between.
Because of this wide variety of scenarios, the many years we’ve been doing this (over 30 now) and the vast array of customers and industry sectors we’ve worked in; we’ve pretty much seen it all. One of the major things we’ve learned, irrespective of our role in the project and where in its lifecycle it’s at by the time we get involved, is to always ask the questions whose answers will hopefully provide the assurance that the project has been set up for success.
After asking these questions if we’re unclear as to why the project exists, what its goals are, who is sponsoring the project or what the critical success factors are then we know the project has not been considered fully and will likely run into trouble at some point when the going gets tough unless these points are addressed.
We wrote in an earlier article about the need for strong project sponsorship, so we won’t revisit that here…but in short it’s key and without strong sponsorship any project runs an increased risk of failure.
Similarly, any project that’s not gone through some formality and challenge in its earliest stages is stacking the odds against its chances of a successful outcome. What I mean by this is that all too often projects have life breathed into them because someone has stated a need or desire for a particular outcome, the wheels are put into motion and it’s only later that it becomes clear that there is very little need for the outcome or (worse) if delivered the solution will be in conflict with the organisations strategy and/ or other in-flight initiatives. We’ve seen this many, many times – expensive resources have been committed and equipment purchased only for the work to get put on hold and then be aborted when the organisation realises that there are other initiatives under way which are either taking care of the problem already, or are working towards an alternative outcome.
So what I’m really saying is there’s a need for cross-functional governance of the projects the organisation commits to undertaking – a Project Management Office – where all requested projects are assessed and challenged to ensure they don’t set in motion conflicting initiatives and that any project that is agreed to is in alignment with the organisation’s strategy.
In smaller organisations a full-on PMO is probably overkill…but it at least needs to be somebody’s responsibility to take the top-down view of all projects and make sure that valuable resources, time and money are not wasted.
To make this approach work anyone who wants a project to be delivered must produce a Mandate which details the reason for conducting a project and why it’s important, along with identifying who the Sponsor for the project will be. This is the starting point and while some may see it as slowing things down (those that do are usually the ones responsible for most wastage in the organisation, by the way) it is actually about making sure that the organisation is more efficient and effective as only projects that are considered important end up having resources committed to them…the rest that ultimately will waste time and money are weeded out early and discarded.
Once approved, these early-stage projects then should fall into standard Project Management processes for start-up and initiation…business case development, outline planning, options assessment, etc. We’ll discuss some of these critical activities in later articles – and how the scale and degree to which the process gets applied will vary from project-to-project depending on its own scale and complexity.
Going back to my earlier point about asking the challenging questions when we engage with our customers…if we get unclear responses it is immediately apparent to us that the customer’s own process hasn’t been very rigorous. With our experience that doesn’t pose a massive problem for us – we’ve designed our own early-stage processes (which fall under our pre-sale activities) to help flush out the important details and to make sure that proper consideration has been given.
We won’t be able to identify whether or not the proposed project aligns with the customer’s strategic goals, however in asking the challenging questions to clarify the terms of reference and requirements it sometimes becomes apparent to the customer that this project isn’t the one they should be tackling just now. In those circumstances it’s not unusual for us to end up working with the customer at a more strategic level to help identify what project(s) they should be focussing on as we’ve demonstrated that we know a thing or two…
If, in reading this, you feel some of these problems are familiar and that your organisation lacks some of the disciplines mentioned then please feel free to get in touch – as well as providing technical solutions we also have a consulting practice that shares the knowledge acquired over many years of delivering projects and services on behalf of a multitude of customers that would only be too happy to help.
In the next article we’ll talk about some of the key Project Management disciplines and processes, and how they can be scaled and applied to different scenarios. Meanwhile, please feel free to get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org and thank you for taking the time to read our blog.