Tag: planning

Agile Techniques That Mesh With Traditional Project Management

Agile project management is an iterative approach that focuses on achieving project objectives in distinct stages. It is typically used in the software development industry but has some applications in other fields as well. When the overall scope and specific deliverables are likely to change throughout the lifecycle of a project, an agile approach can make it easier to keep moving forward. This methodology is often best suited for use with small to mid-sized projects. For large scale projects with well-defined deliverables and a high degree of complexity, the agile approach tends to be less useful. However, this doesn’t mean certain features from the agile “toolbox” can’t still be used.

Learn as You Go

You might consider a blended approach that involves traditional waterfall and agile methods. For example, regular meetings that include a review of all lessons learned in the previous week are a core feature of agile project management that can be incorporated into many projects. Since stakeholder feedback is a key factor in compiling lessons learned, the project’s communication management plan must include a way to collect this feedback on an ongoing basis. So, this is an ideal option for projects that involve a client who likes a very “hands on” role.

Quality Takes Center Stage

The agile method also relies heavily on quality control at each stage (since software must be tested and debugged). This is another area where PMs in traditional industries would do well to pay attention. Project quality management should be designed to monitor project deliverables at crucial junctures. Let’s say component B’s performance is predicated on the quality of component A. To avoid delays and increased costs, a quality check should be performed during or immediately after the schedule activity that results in the completion of component A. This type of quality assurance plan can be developed based on an activity sequencing diagram.

Adaptation Requires Flexibility

No matter how thoroughly you plan, there will always be issues that require change requests. With an agile attitude, your team doesn’t have to view these as setbacks. Instead, each modification to the project plan can be seen as an opportunity for brainstorming and problem solving. A project management team that learns to collaborate is more likely to increase the value of a project through creative solutions rather than simply suggesting stop-gap measure to keep the whole thing from falling apart. To make this work, a leadership style that focuses on developing team members rather than simply issuing instructions is essential. In the long run, companies that feature a collaborative environment are almost certain to outperform their competition. So, this is one aspect of the agile method that should be adopted by all businesses that want to remain viable in today’s marketplace.

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Project Management Using A Logframe

The Logical Framework Approach (LFA) to project management has been around for about 4 decades. It is a method used for designing a project and aiding in planning – typically for non-profit organizations. A “logframe” document is the output of the LFA process. It clearly displays the overall design of a project using a visual matrix and text. This can be a valuable tool for PMs to use during initial stakeholder communication because it boils down even complex projects to a basic summary. The types of items covered in a logframe are:

  1. Project objectives (ultimate purpose/goals and tangible outputs)
  2. Activities that must be completed to achieve these objectives
  3. Resources required to carry out schedule activities
  4. Assumptions regarding external and internal factors (risks, challenges, and opportunities) that may impact the project
  5. Metrics that will be used to verify that the project’s objectives have been achieved

This document is not intended to show a full work breakdown structure or all aspects of project scope and schedule. Instead, its purpose is to cut through the noise and clarify the essentials. Jumping straight into detailed planning without putting this framework in place can cause a project to drift off course without anyone fully realizing it. For example, the scope might increase to include goals that cannot be objectively measured. “Fuzzy” goals that are inserted by well meaning project management team members and stakeholders rarely add value to a project and usually drain resources that could be better applied elsewhere. If high value objectives are identified later in the project, these can be added to the logframe as needed – as long as the other aspects of the matrix are also updated to take this new factor into account.

Matrix Format

The framework is set up as a table with rows and columns covering each basic aspect of the project and showing the logical relationship between these components. Some project management experts who use a logframe recommend starting with a list of problems. For example: “Mobile clinics in the XYZ region of Africa cannot adequately sterilize multiple use instruments leading to high rates of patient infection after surgical procedures”. This would then be restated as a series of positive actions or solutions such as the ultimate goal of reducing post-operative infections in patients served by these mobile clinics.  The immediate purpose of the project would be to provide a means for the clinics to efficiently and thoroughly sterilize all instruments. The output might be the delivery and installation of a portable autoclave unit for each clinic. The activities might be sourcing a reliable medical equipment vendor, arranging the logistics of delivery, and determining how the autoclaves would be tested and serviced regularly once in place to ensure optimal operation. The resources or inputs required can be listed on the matrix at the intersection of activities and measurable indicators.

Objectives Measurable Indicators Means of Verification Assumptions
Goal
Purpose
Outputs
Activities

The diagram shown here is a very simple version of a logframe. These matrices can be more complex and include different column and row headers if desired. Here’s a good example from the DFID that includes milestones and other project management planning features.

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The Role Of Expert Consultants In Project Management

Successful project management is always a team effort. However, sometimes this team isn’t all in house. For larger and more complex projects, it is not unusual for even an experienced project manager to require outside assistance to help with the planning  process or to perform some of the work. When is a specialist worth the extra expense?

The Need is Temporary

In some cases, the expert knowledge required is only needed for the project at hand. For example, a project for a large telemarketing organization might be to implement a new suite of software applications for call routing, billing, customer service, etc. The necessary IT leadership resources for such an ambitious project are unlikely to be available on staff. The current IT personnel may be generalists or might have been hired mainly for their familiarity with troubleshooting the existing system.

Creating a full time position to fill this gap can cost much more in terms of total compensation than hiring a consulting firm. An added advantage of sourcing an expert to collaborate with existing team members is that the firm can share responsibility for ensuring a successful project outcome.

The Issue is Complicated

Project management planning is only as good as the information it is based on. In some situations, contracting with an expert to collect data that will be used in scope planning and scheduling makes sense. This might be the case when industry-wide information on a specific topic is needed. An outside consultant with lots of industry networking connections may have a better chance of compiling accurate statistics and other information for use in planning than someone on your staff.

Risk identification is an example of such an area of expertise. A ‘blind spot’ in risk planning can lead to disaster. This type of mistake is particularly likely when historical information is low (e.g. when the current project has little in common with previous projects). A third party risk assessor who does not have a financial stake in any risk protection coverage purchased may be able to offer more accurate insights and strategies.

Potential Problems with Hiring Consultants

There are a number of potential pitfalls to consider before investing in an outside knowledge expert. First, this can represent a significant expense. With a tight budget, it can be difficult to justify hiring a consultant for the planning phase when (in the minds of some stakeholders) no visible work is produced. They may question why you need to pay for advice since you are the project management expert and “should already know all this stuff”. Let the consulting firm share the burden of making the case that their services are necessary and valuable.

Second, bringing in an expert may create friction with your team members. This is especially true if someone on staff feels that they are being passed over in favor of an outsider. A consultant should not be hired unless and until you have fully explored the resources available in house. Acknowledge each team member’s expertise in their field and reward their contributions. Also, make it clear that the role of an adviser is to help out – but that your team will be taking the credit for a job well done.

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Quality Planning Concepts & Terminology

In project management, meeting every deadline and staying within budget is of no use at all if the output is of poor quality. That’s why putting together a quality management plan at the outset of a project is critical. Waiting until the end of the project to review quality means it is already too late to take the most effective steps to create output that meets or exceeds expectations. Instead, criteria should be defined in advance that will be used to:

  1. Determine what traits of the final product are really important from a quality standpoint
  2. Ensure that processes from the beginning through the end of the project promote excellence in these traits
  3. Outline and implement a monitoring program to ensure quality at each stage
  4. Develop protocols to correct any shortfalls in quality that are discovered

When a sound quality management plan is in place, everyone involved in the project benefits. The earlier a problem is identified and corrected, the more resources are conserved. This includes tangibles such as materials and payroll costs and intangibles such as team morale and stakeholder confidence.

Quality Can Never Be Assumed

Anticipating that everything will go as planned and that everyone understands the importance of double-checking their work isn’t a wise decision. Quality tends to take a hit when there is no accountability to an outside source. This is one reason to have a team or department whose only responsibility is to ensure that quality is maintained. The role of this sector of the project team should be clearly outlined and explained so employees do not feel they are being “spied on”.

While no one likes to have their mistakes pointed out, it’s much better to experience a temporary hiccup in the process than to have an entire project fail because of a preventable error. This fact should be communicated to team members to ensure they are all invested in maintaining quality. Individuals at each level should also be encouraged to report potential problems that may have been overlooked in the quality planning stage.

What’s the difference between QA and QC in Project Management?

Quality control and quality assurance are terms that are often used interchangeably in some industries. However, each term has a distinct meaning in the PMBOK guide.  Quality Assurance (QA) refers to the implementation of activities that are designed to ensure appropriate process protocols are followed to maintain quality. It involves tools such as audits and process analysis that are used to create a process improvement plan.

Quality Control (QC) is a QA input that focuses on monitoring and measuring project results. Knowledge of valid sampling techniques, statistical analysis, and flowchart creation is helpful in this discipline. QC should typically be performed throughout a project and the data fed back into the QA program. QC data is used to develop recommendations for improving the quality management plan. Information gathered during QC activities is often added to the lessons learned knowledge base for future reference.

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Can Decomposition Be Taken Too Far?

Creating a detailed work breakdown structure (WBS) is a critical process in project management. When you have defined each deliverable, you need to determine how, when, and by whom the necessary work will be executed. Up to a point, hierarchical decomposition can be a very useful approach. It allows you to “eat the elephant one bite at a time” so to speak. It also provides the basis for prioritizing, sequencing, and tracking deliverables. In the PMBOK chapter of “Project Scope Management”, you can find sample diagrams showing such a structure at different branch levels:

  • The project
  • Various phases
  • Subprojects
  • Work packages

Technically, there is nothing to prevent you from further decomposing your project into sub work packages and sub-sub work packages and so forth ad infinitum. However, even with very complex projects there comes a point where this practice has diminishing returns.

WBS Considerations

The primary question to ask when you are subdividing a project into work packages is “Am I creating more work?” If the administrative time involved in defining, creating, assigning, and tracking a work package is greater than the actual time required to complete the tasks in the work package, the answer is obviously “Yes”. Project management should be about making your job simpler – not more complicated.

As an example of excessive decomposition, let’s say you need 100 widgets assembled for your project. You wouldn’t want your WBS diagram to show each widget as a separate work package that had to be reported on individually. That would require an enormous amount of administrative labor for you and for your team members. At the other end of the scale, you might not want to have a single work project for the whole widget construction deliverable because you have different departments involved. In this situation, it would make more sense to have the sourcing of the widget components listed as Phase 1, the widget assembly as Phase 2, and the widget Quality Assurance inspection as Phase 3.

Too Much Decomposition is Bad for Employees

Basically, you don’t want to turn project management into micro-management. This decreases efficiency and negatively impacts team morale. The individuals actually responsible for completing the deliverables or schedule activities shouldn’t feel that they are being treated as if they don’t know how to do their jobs. This is one reason you may want to have them involved in creating the WBS – especially since they may have additional insight into the most logical way to group various tasks.

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Avoid Communication Pitfalls In Project Management

One of the most complex and challenging aspects of project management is undoubtedly communication. Unlike other factors that can be broken down into dollars, hours, percentages, or other statistics, communication is primarily concerned with the human element of the project. This introduces a huge number of variables. For example, a project that involves more than one country may require the translation of information and concepts into another language. Even projects carried out within a single culture can face communication problems based on differences between stakeholders (and other environmental factors). These may include:

  • Expectations, attitudes, and personality
  • Education level
  • Industry or field of specialty
  • Medium preference (written, verbal, visual, etc)
  • Organizational hierarchy

All of these issues should be taken into consideration during the planning phase of project management. The “how, who, when, and what” of communication are all impacted by the factors listed above. Here are a couple of methods you may choose to improve the effectiveness of your project communication:

Recognize Distinct Stakeholder Groups

These categories will include individuals who have authority over the project, those who have some input, and those who will be impacted but have little or no control over the process itself. Obviously, communication that requires a response or recommendation from the recipient should be directed to those with decision making capabilities. In contrast, you might want to avoid soliciting feedback from individuals who have no authority to make decisions and whose recommendations are likely to be dismissed. Asking for input and then ignoring it can be worse for morale than simply informing people that a topic is under review and letting them know when a decision is reached.

Inform, Then Confirm

Distributing the appropriate type and quantity of information on a regular schedule is only half the picture in project communication. You also need to verify that information has been received and comprehended. With electronic communiqués, you can have your email system notify you when a message has been opened. However, this doesn’t mean that the person reading it understood the information.

This is particularly problematic when you are communicating a list of incidental actions the reader needs to take that fall outside the scope of his/her usual assigned duties. It is very common for a recipient to miss one or more items if several issues are addressed in a single email. One way to avoid this with simple projects at a small company is by sending instructions for each task in a separate email. For more complex projects, collaborative software that permits multiple users to review, manage, and confirm tasks makes more sense. A good program will allow you to set permissions for who can view, revise, and submit information about tasks, problems, and resolutions at any level of the project.

When a project management system has a built-in communications platform, extensive use of this feature can significantly streamline the implementation of a comprehensive project communications management plan. It will also promote the use of automated reporting to make regular distribution of relevant project data more efficient. Of course, to make the best use of such software, you may need to communicate with stakeholders in advance to encourage adoption of the system.

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