Project management is not an easy undertaking. It involves managing and juggling many variables and constraints. Many people and factors interact and affect the output, time and cost of the project. It is important that there is a certain discipline in running the projects. Also, project management is as much of an art as it is a science. Based on our experience and understanding, we are sharing ten critical elements of project management that help make lead to success.
The 10 Critical Elements of Project Management
What are the 10 critical ingredients which lend themselves to successful projects? Here are the list and its details.
1 Get the Big Picture
No matter how small or how big the project is, it is important to know why are we doing it? Unless we recognize the overall reason and impact of what we are doing, the chances are we will less commit to it. Construal level theory (CLT) in psychology suggests that if there is a distance from an object – even temporal or in terms of understanding – the more abstract it will seem and looked at. Abstraction with respect to the goal is the last thing one needs when managing a project’s final delivery. One needs to have clarity and solid project plan to get to the final step. The work on Cathedral Notre Dame de Paris was started in 1163 when its cornerstone was laid. The entire work was finally completed in 1345. That’s a 182-year project! And this project involved so many things – architecture, material, labor, changing kingdoms etc. Working lifetime for most people wouldn’t have been more than 30 years, 50 at max! Yet the vision and the plan was handed down so well to finally accomplish the task. This could happen only because everyone working on it understood the significance of the work they did to their culture, coming generations, and religious needs. In absence of this understanding of why the project I am delivering is important and significant to my company and the world at large, the commitment would be lacking. Lack of commitment translates into lack of rigor and detail. And, that is disastrous for the successful delivery of any project. So, first of all, understand the WHY of the project.
2 Understand the Project Charter
In the entire list of the project documentation and process steps, the Project Charter is the main one. It sets the tone for everything. The Charter contains the statement of the scope, objectives, and participants in a project. It is a document that provides the clear roles and responsibilities and lists the main stakeholders as well as defines the power and authority of the project manager. The main Terms of Reference (ToR) for the project are enshrined in the Project Charter. Here are the different sections of a project charter.
- Project Authorization – Name of the project along with a brief description of the project.
- Scope and Vision for the project – The high-level goals, vision and the scope are defined. The preliminary scope describes what the project involves, the high-level resource requirements, and project completion criteria. If the team knows any risks (high level as of now) can also be included.
- Deliverables – this is where deliverables at a high level as required by the client/business, project sponsor or stakeholders are defined.
- Benefits from the project – the benefits of the project to the organization and how the project contributes to the organizational objectives are discussed in the charter.
- Project Manager’s Authority – Project Manager’s name is stated and also s/he gets authority from this document. The powers of the PM are defined here. The cadence and ways in which the PM can interact with management and allocate resources to the project. Based on whether it is a matrix or functional or projectized organization, the project manager will have varying levels of authority and responsibility for resources, scheduling, and expenditure.
- Timeframe – The broad schedule and major milestones of interest to the sponsors are set out in this section. This will change and get more detailed during the initiation and the analysis phase.
- Budget Summary – sets out the preliminary summary budget for the project. This may also change as the project progresses, but any changes must be communicated by the project manager and approvals gained. The Project Manager is authorized to approve expenditures up to, and including the allocated budget amounts.
- Project Sponsor – sets out the name(s) of the project sponsor(s) and the sponsor’s signature. The project sponsor is the appropriate person to sign the charter because he or she is the person who will be actively supporting the project. You can also think about getting your customer to sign the charter as this displays confidence from both the sponsor and the customer.
Project Charter is written by the Project Sponsors. It is imperative that the project manager knows the details of this document well and has the discussion about the contents before starting the project. Any questions/doubts should be clarified. This is an important element of project management.
3 Know your Stakeholders
Stakeholders are those who have an interest in the project. These people and/or entities can be internal or external to the organization where the project is being done. Their impact can be either negative or positive for the overall success of the project. It is therefore important to keep them engaged and know what their needs are. Stakeholders are people who are your sponsors – those who fund the project and thus are impacted financially if you don’t do the job well. They are also those who either impact you – Upstream to your process or are impacted by you – downstream to your process. Both the Upstream and Downstream processes need to be aligned with your changing world. As an organization, your project cannot break the whole process chain. Projects bring in change and change brings in risk. Change Management has a direct bearing on the risk associated with the project. The Managing Change in Organizations: A Practice Guide by Project Management Institute (PMI) says:
“Trust is identified as particularly important in obtaining support for and participation in change efforts. Executives and employees see change differently: (a) senior managers typically see change as an opportunity for both the business and themselves; and (B) employees typically see change as disruptive, intrusive, and likely to involve loss. When managing change, it’s essential to identify the key issues, such as loss of turf, attachment, meaning, future, competency-based, and/or control.”
The change in turf, attachment, meaning, control and competency are all with respect to all those who are impacted by the project – i.e.; its stakeholders. Change that takes away the central reason for their existence in an organization can be a good reason for them to either not go along with the project or, be against its underlying objectives. Both aren’t good options. So know what makes your stakeholders tick. Understand why they are into this project. That will help you tailor and custom your communication and engagement with them, taking care of their specific needs. So keep in mind that, understand your stakeholders is another key element of project management.
4 Create a structured Project Documentation Repository
During the project a lot of documents are created. Many versions are there. Keeping them and managing the documents which can serve as audit trail is imperative. What is written in the original charter and then the business and technical requirement documents needs to be aligned with what is delivered in the end. From Analysis to design to build to the final testing, it is critical that one has a tie-out of what was required by the client and what was finally delivered. There are three aspects to it – (i)Where are the documents stored (application), (ii) How are they stored (structure), (iii) How proper documentation and its storage is managed (cadence)
Most of the companies use Microsoft’s Sharepoint as the main documentation and interaction repository. There are, however, other alternatives like Alfresco, Huddle, and Samepage. All these applications provide not just document management but also collaboration and interaction. They have tons of integration with other applications. Alfresco also has an Open Source version.
The project repository should always be owned by the project manager who is responsible for the quality and content and has to ensure that the rules of use are followed by all team members. At the beginning of the project, the PM should share the structure for the folders and the main rules/policies with respect to the document repository with the team members. Setting standards to be maintained is the job of the PM. One useful tip from a friend that we think is of great use is to always include an instructional text file for each directory and sub-directory, which lays down the rules and conventions for the documents in that folder. It is like the readme.txt file that is there are most programs that developers write.
5 Know and Engage the Client / Business Users
On so many projects, I have found that ultimately listening to the business users and/or client was critical for the success of the project. On one project, we had representation from each business group on the main project team. Despite the fact that we knew the representative from one of the critical groups did not get along well with the Director there, we took his version as the truth. Later, in the User Acceptance Testing, we found that what we had delivered was of no use to the business. Ultimately, I had to sit down with the business users for hours just listening and trying to deliver the solution to them. When people do not listen to the users of the project deliverables, they usually get into situations where the final outcome is set for rejection. So learn to listen and engage with them and get their inputs at every point of the project. In fact, make it a collaborative process. The environment should not be one of distrust or silo functioning. It is fine to mingle the IT and business teams so they know each other better.
6 Factor in the individual schedules
A project has many moving parts with many teams involved. These days mostly the project teams are global in nature with team members working across geographies. Each country and community with many countries have holidays and important days at different times. Have you factored those in? I have managed projects with teams from China and India. While India follows the normal “slow time” of Christmas to New Year and has many other holidays including national days off, China doesn’t slow down during the Christmas to New Year timeframe. Instead, most of China is off during the Chinese new year or the Spring Festival for them. Chinese origin communities everywhere – including Malaysia, Australia etc take that time off. So we have had to build our schedule factoring those days off. Apart from that, every individual will be taking their vacation days. Know them and add them to your schedule. This may seem like a small thing, but believe me when you are heavily into the System Integration Testing (SIT), things can go completely off the rails if you have not taken into account the holidays and vacations. So document everything.
7 Be Culturally Aware and Sensitive
Not all cultures are the same and more often than not, your team members will come from very different cultures. All the cultures bring their own characteristics of decision-making and interaction. It is important, therefore, for the project manager to be observant and understanding of these differences. There are many models for cultural behavioral ways. The one by Richard D. Lewis is the most popular. It differentiates the global cultures into three categories: