Project Management Activities
By Meade Rubenstein
When you start a new job, you focus on where you’re sitting, who you’re working with, what your boss expects from you and how you can accomplish your job. The basics are: know where you are, know where you need to get to and develop a plan to accomplish that in the most effective and efficient way. These are the same steps every one follows in some manner.
Know where you are
As odd as it may sound, this is an often overlooked step for project managers. You might start moving towards your destination, but without knowing where you are how can you determine the overall effort to get there OR even the feasibility of accomplishing the journey? Want to take a trip to Wyoming and don’t know what planet you’re on…good luck.
What is there to know about where you are? And why is it important? If you want to make pancakes, you’ll need to know if you have pancake mix, what cooking skill level you have, if you have all the other ingredients, a pan, a stove, etc…many things we take for granted that end up causing us to deliver some pretty lousy pancakes. I recommend performing some level of evaluation on the following to determine where you are in general and then specific for a new project:
Where you are – in General:
- Historic information (aka corporate culture) in regards to scope changes during projects, willingness to extend timelines, sensitivity to cost overruns, employee turnover rates, and relationships with consultant agencies.
- Technology strengths and weaknesses, including favored development environments, supported hardware, ability to grow/expand network and servers, network/server support levels and training availability.
- Maturity/Level of all, including developers, QA, network/server administrators, database administrators, managers, etc.
- Key business drivers, external influencers, related market trends, this information is used to determine potential external impacts/risks.
- Current project management, software development life cycle (SDLC), QA processes including adherence to them and any planned changes.
- Outcome of recently completed projects – the Good, Bad and Ugly of them.
Where you are – specific to a new project:
- Priority compared to other current projects.
- Maturity/Level of all directly related people.
Know where you want to go
If you don’t know where you’re going you will either always be there or never be there. It’s not uncommon for projects to begin and work begin without anyone on the team OR the people providing the work to be completed to know where they’re going. There might be some general direction given or some foggy idea of what the goal is…but often time it’s not really known. Directions like:
- We need a website.
- Management needs a dashboard.
- Users are requesting a way to track orders.
May sound authoritative and firm, but are they really? Need a website to accomplish what? A dashboard for who? Why do users need to track their orders? When is any of this needed to be completed by and how much are you willing to spend to get it done? I’ve found that the traditional questions of: Who, What, Why, Where, When and How form a good foundation for determining the destination.
Develop the plan to get you there
This is often the focus point of project managers, the development of the plan. When projects are failing, no matter the reason, management calls in the project managers looking for the plan and as everyone knows, no plan is complete without a Gantt chart. Plans are easy to create and even easier to present, the difficult part is creating a plan that has a high probability of succeeding and even more difficult is understanding the assumptions, constraints and risks associated with the plan. The ability to put a real plan in place, with clearly communicating all assumptions, constraints, quality levels, costs, risks, timelines, etc. separates a project manager from a project manager. Don’t let anyone or any beautifully put together presentation fool you and lull you into believing that the path to success will be easy and painless. No one knows everything or has experienced everything, any project worth doing is usually so complex that once complete will provide another chapter in chaos theory.
A solid plan needs to be molded to the people that you are working with, not only the developers, but also the sponsors, managers, users, 3rd party vendors, legal and anyone remotely involved in the project. Each team/person needs to understand their role, what’s expected of them and when.
Meade Rubenstein has over 20 years of IT experience. He is currently the COO of Gráfica Group. Meade’s website can be found at http://www.itprojectguide.com/ and his personal blog can be found at http://www.itprojectguide.blogspot.com/.