Voices on Project Management

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Voices on Project Management offers insights, tips, advice and personal stories from project managers in different regions and industries. The goal is to get you thinking, and spark a discussion. So, if you read something that you agree with--or even disagree with--leave a comment.

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Cameron McGaughy
Marian Haus
Lynda Bourne
Lung-Hung Chou
Bernadine Douglas
Kevin Korterud
Conrado Morlan
Peter Tarhanidis
Mario Trentim
Jen Skrabak
David Wakeman
Roberto Toledo
Vivek Prakash
Cyndee Miller
Shobhna Raghupathy
Wanda Curlee
Rex Holmlin
Christian Bisson
Taralyn Frasqueri-Molina
Jess Tayel
Ramiro Rodrigues
Linda Agyapong
Joanna Newman

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A Guide to Perfect Planning

A Guide to Perfect Planning

Categories: Project Planning, Strategy

A Guide to Perfect Planning

We are well aware that good planning leads to smooth execution and early delivery. Most of us, however, still fast track the planning phase and jump into execution. The result is often a downward spiral of issues, defects and rework.

So why do we do this?

I have observed that most project managers are not clear on what exactly needs to be planned. At the same time, we often lose patience because planning takes time with no quick tangible results.

Here is my road map for a successful planning process.

Step 1: Write down the business case.

If we don’t know what the problem is, we can’t solve it. As project managers, we must understand the problem that’s going to be solved through the project and what the expected benefit to the organization will be. Until we understand it, we may not achieve the solution despite meeting all stated requirements. Writing a business case is the foundation of the planning.

Step 2: Establish objectives.

A lot has been written already on setting objectives, so I will limit myself. Objectives should be driven by the business case. We should set objectives that, if achieved, ensure the complete problem is resolved.

Objectives should be:

  • Very specific so that they are easy to understand.
  • Quantifiable so that we can demonstrate the success at the end.
  • Time bound as our project has an end date. 

Step 3: Set expectations with stakeholders.

Identifying all stakeholders and understanding their requirements is important for project managers. However, this may not be enough. Stakeholders often have expectations that they may not explicitly lay out but use as part of their assessment process. My customer, for example, may set expectations based on his past experience with a previous vendor. He or she may not share it with me as these expectations are not firm and not backed by anything substantial.  The best way to reset these expectations is to set new expectations with the stakeholder. By setting these new expectations, I nullify expectations coming from my customer’s previous experience and set a fresh ground for performance assessment.

Step 4: Kick off your project.

The main purpose of the kickoff is to let everyone know about the project, what support the project needs from them, and when we will need that support. It’s also important to present our strategy, high-level plan and project needs to all stakeholders and ask them what inputs they need from us to provide required support.

Step 5: Prepare a project management plan.

What planning documents like schedule, risk register, communications plan etc. do for project executing team, project management plan does for project management team. It creates a roadmap for the project management team and provides clear guidance to prepare planning documents. For example, a risk management plan—a component of project management plan—describes a methodology for identifying risk, a system for monitoring those risk, a format for the risk register, and tools and techniques to prepare the risk register and risk response plan.

Step 6: Prepare a meticulous work breakdown structure (WBS).  

The WBS is the foundation of further project planning. And the better the WBS, the better the plan. All project team members must participate in developing a WBS with necessary and sufficient details.

Step 7: Prepare planning documents.

Now we have all the building blocks to prepare planning documents such as schedule, budget, resource plan, communication plan, procurement plan, quality plan, risk register etc. Planning documents will guide the project team throughout execution and, if meticulously prepared, guarantee project success.

Planning takes time, so consider a progressive approach. By planning the first phases and kicking it off, you may help your team produce early results and buy time for the meticulous planning required for subsequent phases.

What tips do you have for successful project planning? Please share your experience in the comments below. I look forward to reading about your experiences.

Posted by Vivek Prakash on: December 13, 2017 08:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (22)

The Importance of Iteration

by Christian Bisson, PMP

We’ve all encountered them on a project or two: stakeholders that want everything right away.

The result of this rush is often lots of money invested, a tight schedule, negative impact on the quality and frustrated people. But, carefully planned iterations of a project can help avoid the negativities of rushed efforts.

Here’s why:

Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

A well thought out MVP is the first iteration of your project. It means planning for the smallest scope possible, keeping in mind that it still needs to bring business value.

Let’s say you’re building a website. In this scenario, you’d identify the main features your website should have — based on goals — and focus on those instead of spreading the effort on all the features that might seem great to have.

There are many advantages to the MVP approach:

  • It can be deployed much faster compared to the complete scope.
  • You can monitor your project in action (ex. Google Analytics).
  • You can gather valuable feedback from people who use it.

Room to Adjust

Since you haven’t spent all the budget on the entire scope — and you now have precious data gathered from various sources — you can plan based on facts rather than hypotheses.

For example, after the MVP is deployed, you might have planned to work on a new feature. However, if new data suggests that the main feature of your project is not quite user friendly and needs adjustments, you can prioritize the adjustment and quickly add more value to your project compared to adding a new feature that might be less important.

Deploy When Ready

The MVP is only the first of many iterations. Do not fall back into the trap of building everything before you deploy your first update. Using the example above, if the first feature is actively affecting the quality of your project, adjust it and deploy right away. That way you will gain the added value of your improvement right away.

Some might argue that deployments cost money so you shouldn’t deploy all the time, and it’s a fair point. But keep in mind that the cost of those well-planned deployments are negligible compared to all the budget you can waste on a misfocused effort or a wrong hypothesis.

Taking a step-by-step approach to project management is crucial to the long-term success of projects. How do you manage the iterative or MVP approach? 

Posted by Christian Bisson on: November 04, 2017 01:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

3 Tips to Enhance Your Leadership IQ

By Peter Tarhanidis

The boards I serve have common opportunities and challenges revolving around promoting a brand, balancing the operating budget and growing capital. Yet, while flawless leadership is expected, in actuality it is difficult to sustain.

As I reflected on why many organizations were challenged around execution, I realized that executives must improve their leadership intelligence around three key factors to enable success:

  1. Improve speed and quality. When leaders struggle to make quick or quality decisions, it’s often viewed as not having the right team in place, or not having enough intelligence on the matter or the specific responsibilities related to the decision. One can increase cognitive abilities through investing in formal education, training and access to subject matter experts to gain the necessary knowledge.
  2. Repair team alienation and restore loss of confidence. Building trust in teams can improve leadership intelligence. Commit to a path of restoring relationships by understanding yourself and others. Assess emotional intelligence techniques to gain self-awareness and rationale for team motivation.
  3. Become aware of stakeholders on social media. Thanks to social media, a large audience judges every executive decision. Expand stakeholder relationship management to include communication and change management via social media channels. Seek out team members who are knowledgeable in social media so that they can proactively engage stakeholders and integrate feedback to reduce blind spots.

In my experience as a mentor and leadership coach, these tips can help align decision-making, leader accountability and stakeholder engagement to the needs of the customers, and improve the overall culture of the organization. As a result, the brand will come to life.

How have you improved your leadership intelligence?

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: September 06, 2017 10:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (11)

A Checklist for Shared Outcomes

By Peter Tarhanidis

I was recently assigned to transform a procurement team into one that managed outsourcing partnerships. I realized the team was very disengaged, leaving the strategy up to me to define. There was no buy-in. The team and the partnerships were sure to fail.

But I was determined to make the team successful. For me, this meant it would be accountable for managing thriving partnerships and delivering superior outcomes.

To get things back on track, I had to first get alignment on goals. Setting shared goals can help to shape collaborative and accountable teams that produce desired outcomes.

Establishing goal alignment can be a difficult leadership challenge; however, leaders must gather the needs of all stakeholders and analyze their importance to achieve the desired organization outcome.

I often use this checklist to tackle this challenge:

  1. Set shared goals in consensus with teams to motivate them to achieve the desired outcome.
  2. Link shared goals to key performance indicators (KPIs) that lead to the desired outcome.
  3. Integrate goals into individual and project performance reviews to drive accountability.
  4. Measure KPIs to keep teams on track.

I used this checklist during the procurement team project and it helped to reset and reinvigorate the team. Once we aligned around shared goals, team collaboration increased and the organization started to achieve the targeted business benefits.

If you’ve used a checklist like this before, where have you stumbled and how did you turn it around?

Posted by Peter Tarhanidis on: July 18, 2017 03:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

Kick-Off Meetings: The Beginning of Success or Failure

Imagine this scenario: You are the project manager of a new, strategic project of your company. Excited, you prepare the necessary documents and schedule the project's kick-off meeting.

The kick-off meeting seem to be going well, until you start presenting the necessities and you notice resistance coming from functional managers in ceding their resources.

And it’s only then you realize your mistake: You should have invited the project sponsor to the kick-off.

Kick-off meetings, which should take place between the end of the planning stage and the beginning of implementation, are of paramount importance to the success (or failure) of a project. And you must prepare.

For the project manager, the kick off is a great opportunity to ensure that your stakeholders are identified, to demonstrate that there is a common gain in the success of the project, to map out the stakeholder predispositions and to ensure that their respective roles are understood.

Here are four things to keep in mind:

1. The Invite List: You must have the other relevant stakeholders in the room—functional managers, the customer of the project product and all those who can have an influence, either positively or negatively.

2. The Meeting Infrastructure: The size of the room, amenities, coffee break and everything else that make the environment appropriate.

3. The Presentation: The kick-off meeting will be your moment to demonstrate that the project is well planned with mapped risks. But, keep your audience in mind. For example, the sponsor, usually an executive with no time to see the details, will be present at this meeting. Make your presentation concise and objective by showing that you have a clear vision of where you want to go.

4. The Sponsor: The great benefit of the kick-off meeting is to get commitment to the development and success of the project. Without it, the project manager always runs the risk of having their needs not met. This is where the essential participation of the sponsor comes in. He or she typically has a politician's nature.

Even though it is up to the project manager to conduct the meeting, it is essential that, soon after the welcome is given, the project manager gives the floor to the sponsor. They can use their position within the organization to "suggest" to those involved to give their support, resources and conditions to the project manager on behalf of the expected results of the project. With the sponsor message given—even if he or she leaves right after they speak—there is a greater chance that everyone else will understand and support the project and that will make the rest of the meeting easier for you.

What other things should you keep in mind when planning a kick off meeting? I look forward to your thoughts.

Posted by Ramiro Rodrigues on: June 21, 2017 10:47 AM | Permalink | Comments (14)
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