Friday, April 19, 2013

Beginners Guide To Project Management
Part 17 - Are We On Our Way?

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to be really busy doing nothing worthwhile? This can happen either because you lose focus of the purpose of the task at hand or because of several other reasons such as the student syndrom, that is, tasks tend to take as long as the time alocated for them. And this is what you don't want to happen in your project.
This article is about making sure that the project team is in fact working on your project's delieverables which is another way to say keeping the scope under control.

Previously on the Beginners Guide to Project Management:



Keeping scope under control...

... is not preventing scope to change! And this is really basic and important. Just because your project plan says what the delieverables are this doen's mean that's what you should deliever no matter what. Things change so let them change and adapt - you, your team and your project. The tricky part is knowing what is changing and the impact of the change in your project: did the deliverables change? How much longer will the project take? Will you still be able to deliver the expected quality? Does the team know what has changed? Does the sponsor know?
To check if you're on your way to deliever a successful project (further discussion on this topic on "Capturing Project Success") the first thing to check is if you're building what you're supposed to be building while keeping your sponsor and main stakeholders happy. This means both (1) working on the tasks that will result on the planned project delieverales and (2) ensure that those are the delieverables that the organization still needs.
By the way, if your project team just knows the details of what they have to do (for example, build a form to get a client name and then display the client's unpayed bills) and not the big picture that gives a meaning to their work (for example, replacing an old call center software) you are probably getting into trouble soon (check the Cathedral story on "Putting Your Team To Work").

The Work Breackdown Structure (WBS)

The WBS (more on this previous article of the Beginners Guide To Project Management) is the place where scope is broke down into smaller chewable pieces, ending in the delieverables. To double check if a certain task will help you get a certain delieverable in the end, you just need to check where that tasks fits in the WBS and if it contributes to that particular deliverable.


Just as the tasks should be linked to the delieverables, so do the requirements. You probably paid enough attention to this when you built the project plan, but as time progresses and changes to the plan are made you have to ensure that there's still a link between these 4 items: WBS, tasks, requirements and delieverables. Anytime you make changes to one of them, odds are you have to change the rest as well.

Change requests

This is part of the project governance and it can range from a very informal process (such as a team member saying: I'll have to change this delieverable, otherwise I won't be able to start working on the next task assigned to me) or a very formal process that requires forms to be filled and sent to you to check for the impact on the project and write a recommendation to the steering committee that meets every 2 weeks.
What really matters is that:
  • you know exactly what is changing and
  • what impact these changes cause on the project
You can expect different amounts of change in different types of projects. Some are expected to be very dynamic with lots of changes, such as marketing or software development projects. Others are expected to change just a bit, like construction projects. In particular in terms of scope, it's easy to imagine a marketing project where you start with a flyer and end up with a website. On the other hand it's more difficult to imagine a construction project for an apartment building that along the way is turned into a warehouse. So the tools and processes to deal with different amounts of change should in fact be different as well.


Performance is usually evaluated in terms of time and cost but in the end it's all about scope: this project is supposed to deliver this and my now it has delievered this much, so how is my project doing? You can use very light weighted ways to access performance or heavy weighted, according to your project management needs. On the light side you can just map what has been accomplished against your planned calendar and check which tasks where late, who was responsible for those tasks, and if there's a significant impact on the project. With this initial assessment you can decide what to do ranging from doing nothing to hiring extra hands to recover the project or fast-track your project (that is, change tasks that where initially planned to run one after the other to run in parallel). On the heavy side you can use Earned Value as a performance assessment tool. In fact, this tool can provide information about other aspects and you can use it as a communication tool and even to predict when will your project finish or how much it will cost.


The sooner you know about what's changing in your project the greater the opportunity window to adapt things. Even the smallest and simplest project, you should find a way to tell to answer the question "Are we on our way?" without a blink. In fact, if you ask this to someone and you don't get a convincing answer, how good a Project Manager do you think that person is?

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