People who spend most of their time working on projects but have never had formal training in project management are unofficial project managers. According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), organizations that have few formal project management processes in place (otherwise known as low-maturity organizations) are more likely to experience project failure. The result is often high costs, lost opportunities, unsatisfied customers, and low employee morale. Conversely, companies that handle projects well meet or exceed expectations, optimize their resources, and build morale.
It is not enough to simply finish a project on time and on budget. In order to be a success, a project must optimize resources and deliver quality. Project managers manage both processes and people. In order to lead people, a project manager must value and inspire them.
PEOPLE + PROCESS = SUCCESS
Too often, unofficial project managers focus on process rather than people, but project success is the result of combining people and process. Since unofficial project managers do not have the formal authority to tell people what to do, they must use informal authority to motivate and empower people to do their best. Project leaders can gain informal authority by:
*Demonstrating respect. Good leaders anticipate and meet the needs of their teams. They are honest with coworkers at all levels.
*Listening first. It is important to understand a situation before taking action. Project managers should get to know the members of their teams.
*Clarifying expectations. Informal leaders inspire their teams by communicating how each person’s role fits into the bigger picture. They make sure everyone is on the same page.
*Practicing accountability. Project leaders model good behavior and transparency. They “walk their talk” and hold others accountable.
These foundational behaviors come from a leader’s inner character. Leaders who practice these behaviors will find that they can count on others to get the job done.
Successful project managers must also progress through five essential steps in each project:
1.Initiate. Project managers must begin by clarifying expectations.
2.Plan. Next, leaders outline deliverables, budgets, timelines, and schedules.
3.Execute. This should be easy if the initiation and planning stages were done well.
4.Monitor and control. Leaders must make an ongoing effort to keep their projects on track.
5.Close. Project managers should compare results with projected outcomes, recognize their teams, and document lessons learned.
INITIATING THE PROJECT
Projects with unclear expectations tend to go around in circles, which is why it is crucial for projects to have clear and shared desired outcomes. A project leader’s most important job is to get everyone on the same page. The project manager must understand the project’s limitation, who will be impacted by the project, and who will determine its success. To do so, the project manager must follow three steps:
1.Identify all stakeholders. Leaders should create a list of every person “touched” by the project. It is best to have others participate in this activity.
2.Identify the key stakeholders. These are the people who determine the success or failure of the project. They can be identified using the DANCE thinking tool:
*Decisions. They control or influence the budget.
*Authority. Their permission is needed to proceed.
*Need. They are directly impacted by the project.
*Connections. They are connected to the people, money, or resources necessary to ensure success.
*Energy. Their positive or negative energy could influence the project.
3.Effectively interview key stakeholders. By getting as much information as early as possible, leaders can avoid uncertainty later on. Interviews should include:
*Project purpose. Why do the project?
*Description. The how, what, and when of the project.
*Desired results. The definition of success.
*Exclusions. Elements that will not be included.
*Communication needs. What stakeholders want to know and how.
*Acceptance criteria. Who needs to sign off on the project?
*Constraints. Scope, quality, resources, budget, risk, and time. Which have the highest priority?
It is easier to get key stakeholders on the same page if the desired outcome is clear and measurable. One-on-one interviews are the best way to get stakeholders to open up, but group interviews save time and can yield different information due to synergies with other interviewees.
Once the interviews are completed, a project manager can create a scope statement, which describes what success looks like and provides guidance for the project. The manager should draft the statement, put it through a review, and then get approvals. After stakeholders have given their blessings, it will be easier to hold them accountable.
PLANNING THE PROJECT
If a project’s scope statement is the compass, then the project plan is the road map telling everyone how to get there. The first step in creating a project plan is to develop a risk managementstrategy by:
1.Identifying the risks. The project manager should make a list of everything that could go wrong.
2.Assessing the risks. It is important to assess the potential impact of each risk factor to the project. This can be done on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being a worst-case scenario and 1 being minimal impact. Next, managers should rate the probability using the same scale. Finally, they should multiply the 2 numbers to find the risk score. Risks that have a score of 12 or higher must be addressed.
3.Taming the risks. There are four possible ways to minimize or TAME risk:
1.Transfer the risk to a third party.
2.Accept the risk and deal with it as it happens.
3.Mitigate the risk by reducing its probability or impact.
4.Eliminate the risk.
Project managers should create a risk management plan that can be shared with key stakeholders and the project team. This gives everyone involved a chance to understand the risks and the plan to mitigate them.
Next, project leaders should create the project schedule by completing the following six steps:
1.Develop the Work Breakdown Schedule (WBS). This is a list of project deliverables and the components of each deliverable. The list might require some brainstorming.
2.Sequence activities. Project managers must put tasks in chronological order and determine dependencies. Most often, one task will begin when another is completed.
3.Identify the project team. It is important to assign the right people to each task, not just those who happen to be available. By having a clear project schedule, a project manager can better determine the resources required.
4.Estimate the duration of each task. Project managers should take into account the amount of time it takes to do a task, then factor in the duration. For example, it may take only two hours to write a report, but weeks to complete research and other dependent tasks. It is also a good idea to build in some breathing space in the schedule, but not so much that procrastination is encouraged. Milestones help keep projects on track. Project managers can improve their estimates by drawing on their experiences or asking outside experts. They can also use the Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT). This involves estimating the shortest time for completion, the most likely time, and the longest time it might take. Expected time = (Optimistic + 4 x Most Likely + Pessimistic) / 6
5.Identify the critical path. This is the longest sequence of tasks that must start and end in order to complete the project. These are activities that have no flexibility as to when they begin or end. Missing one of these tasks can cause a bottleneck in the project. To avoid this, project managers should put their best people on critical tasks, cross-train people, and check in often.
6.Create a project budget. Budgets should be divided into external expenses (any supplies or resources that come from an outside source) and internal expenses (the time allotted for each team member). Project managers should also add 10 percent for miscellaneous expenses.
The final part of the project plan is the communication plan. Communication is crucial to the success of any project. Project managers must take the time to consider what key stakeholders need to know, how often, and in what manner. This plan should be shared with the team.
EXECUTING THE PROJECT
Accountability is the key to successful execution. Because unofficial project managers have no formal authority over their teams, they must earn their teams’ trust by honoring their commitments. They must hold themselves and others accountable for their actions. Project managers should set clear expectations and regularly check in to ensure those expectations are being met. Conducting weekly accountability sessions can be a quick, focused way to:
*Review the project plan and schedule.
*Gather reports on the previous week.
*Make commitments for the week ahead.
It can be difficult to hold others accountable, but when a team member is not holding up his or her end of the deal, a project manager should rely on the four foundational behaviors:
1.Listen first. Let the team member explain the issue.
2.Demonstrate respect. Empathize with the person.
3.Clarify expectations. Restate the commitment.
4.Practice accountability. Remind the team member that everyone must be accountable for the project to succeed.
It is a good idea for project managers to hold people accountable during meetings. This helps team members own their problems and keeps the whole team in line. However, there may be times when project managers must hold performance conversations in private. The following questions should be answered ahead of time:
*What is the intent? The conversation should be about the project, not character or personality.
*What are the facts? They should be prepared with evidence to back up statements.
*What is the impact? They should be able to explain the effect the team member’s actions have had on the project.
During a performance conversation, a project manager should present his or her case and listen to the team member’s response. He or she should clarify expectations and practice accountability by asking the team member to suggest and agree upon specific action items moving forward.
MONITORING AND CONTROLLING THE PROJECT
Project managers should be aware of any potential problems that could set their projects back. It is important to stay on top of a project without micromanaging team members. Key stakeholders should be informed regularly about progress, roadblocks, and areas where help is needed. One good way to do this is with a project status report. Project managers should begin by going back to their communication plans and determining which stakeholders require a report, how often, and by what means. Next, they should outline which deliverables are on target and which are at risk. When a deliverable is at risk, a project manager should involve key stakeholders and ask for their help. It is also a good idea for a project manager to proactively suggest solutions.
Status reports keep stakeholders connected to the project and promote accountability. They also help unofficial project managers show their leadership. Another factor to control in a project is scopecreep. Project managers cannot avoid all changes, so they need a method to deal with them. When a change is suggested, project managers should ask themselves three questions:
- What is the intent of the change?
- What is the impact?
- What is required to make it happen?
Project managers should take change requests to their teams and consider the time, money, people, and resources necessary to implement the changes. This information should be shared with those who proposed the changes. Next, project managers should share the proposed changes with stakeholders and ask them to sign off on them. If they do not agree, the reasons should be documented. All big changes should go through this process.
Sometimes the whole project must change due to new information. This is called scope discovery. This can happen when a project manager discovers that the original scope statement will not meet the real need.
CLOSING THE PROJECT
Closing a project goes beyond the administrative tasks of getting sign-offs, disbanding the team, and filing records. Project managers must also capture lessons learned, which are key to future project success. When closing a project, a project manager should:
*Evaluate the task list. Review each task to make sure each was finished.
*Confirm the fulfillment of project scope. Ask key stakeholders whether the goals of the project were met, whether they are satisfied with the end results, and if it was timely and worth the cost.
*Complete procurement closure. Ensure each item outlined in the original contract was completed, including paying bills and releasing vendors.
*Document lessons learned. Interview the core team and constituents to clarify lessons learned. Ask what was done well and what could be done differently or better.
*Submit a final status report to stakeholders. Confirm deliverables and discuss successes and failures.
*Archive project documents. Save project documentation in order to help future project managers with similar projects.
*Publish success. Acknowledge team members via email, text, card, or memo.
*Celebrate with rewards and recognition. Hold a celebration meeting or thank team members personally to inspire members to help on future projects.
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