Tag: project management

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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Types of Performance Reporting

Performance reporting can take place as part of any project management process group. But it is most commonly associated with Execution and Control/Monitoring processes. The information in these reports is distributed to stakeholders according to the communications management plan. There are many aspects of performance that may be covered in such reports. Here are some of the most common:

Cost & Budget

Cost updates are usually of primary interest to stakeholders in upper management who are under pressure to keep spending to a minimum. These reports make it possible to determine how closely a project is adhering to the planned budget. If it becomes obvious that the estimated budget is inadequate, the cost baseline may be raised. Or, other aspects of the project scope may be adjusted to reduce costs. These corrective actions typically require input from multiple stakeholder groups to reach an effective solution.

General Performance

For stakeholders who need a look at the bigger picture, performance reporting may cover variances in both cost and schedule – as these are usually interrelated. Timekeeping software that logs hours worked on a project can be useful for generating this type of report. For example, it can highlight whether the planned amount of human resources (as measured in labor hours) are being devoted to achieving project milestones. If the hours worked are fewer than planned, it would be easy to figure out that unexpected cost savings are tied to the fact that the project work is being delayed. Forecasting that updates the anticipated completion of various schedule activities is another critical part of overall performance reporting.

Quality Control

When there are shortfalls in the quality of project work, reporting must happen in stages. First, there is the notification about the initial quality variance. Next is the suggested course of action (along with the reasoning behind the decision). Finally, the outcome of the course correction is reported. Skipping one of these steps can lead to lack of confidence on the part of stakeholders. For example, hiding the fact that there is a problem in the first place makes others think there may be even worse problems lurking under the surface. Notifying stakeholders about a quality issue but failing to communicate about how it will be fixed may leave them wondering if the issue is being taken seriously. Not reporting on the outcome makes them assume the project management team isn’t following through effectively.

Other Reporting Aspects

Contract performance is an important reporting area in projects that require substantial acquisition of resources. These reports can measure how well a vendor is adhering to contract terms. This information can be used to determine whether a vendor should be incentivized or penalized and if they will be permitted to bid on future projects.

Risk reporting is not a common practice in project management, but perhaps it should be. Over the course of any large project, the risks tend to change rather than remaining static. Accurate assessments and reporting can have a significant impact on decision making.

Lessons learned are considered organizational process asset updates. These lessons are actually collected throughout the project but might only be reported formally during the closing process.

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Project Management Process Groups

According to the PMBOK, one way project management can be defined is as a series of five process groups. These aren’t phases. Instead, each group consists of specific activities. Some of these activities may be reiterated multiple times throughout the project (e.g., for each phase). In addition, the output from one process may become the input for the next process. This means there is often a definable flow in how the processes are connected, but several processes may also overlap and/or be repeated in the project timeline.

Initiating

This is the first process group. Its purpose is to achieve authorization for a project and define its objectives. The general scope, duration, resources, and desired final output are described. The project management team may actually have only limited input at this point depending on the organizational structure. For example, the project may be initiated by another department when a need arises that requires a complex solution outside their ability to achieve through their normal mode of operation. This initiated project may then be assigned to a project manager for fulfillment. Outputs for this process include the project charter and a preliminary SOW.

Planning

This process involves determining how the newly initiated project will actually be carried out. This includes refining the information developed during initiation and reviewing the resources needed (including human resources). Planning also entails identifying risks that may affect the project and deciding how these will be handled. Quality and communication planning take place as part of this process group. Cost management and procurement strategies are addressed as well. A WBS including various deliverables and work packages is constructed and schedule activities are defined and sequenced.

Executing

The execution process group involves taking steps to act upon and complete the project work according to the procedures outlined during the planning stage. Any approved changes are implemented as part of this group. Coordination, communication, direction, and management skills are all essential to these processes. The project management team is acquired and developed and contact with vendors is initiated. Reports about project progress, quality, and challenges are a core component of the information distribution aspect of execution.

Monitoring & Controlling

These processes occur concurrently with all the other process groups. Observation, problem identification, and correction are the three basic purposes of monitoring and controlling. Any variances from the project’s initial objectives and the project plan may be cause for concern. This process ensures that only approved changes are made so the project doesn’t morph into something unrecognizable over time. A well developed system for collecting and analyzing data is required for appropriate monitoring and controlling. Quality control plays a significant role in this group of processes.

Closing

This process finalizes a project and closes it out. This activity often includes satisfying the terms of any outstanding contracts. The project manager must ensure that other processes (planning, execution, monitoring) are complete and the final deliverables are ready to be handed off to the end user or stakeholder group. Ideally, there should be no loose ends upon closure.

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Managing People When You’re Not A “People” Person

As a PM, you know that project management almost always involves a lot of “people management”. However, not every effective project manager has a particularly charismatic personality. For example, you might be a great strategist, highly focused, patient, organized, self-disciplined, and determined to succeed. These are all qualities that go into making a good PM. One important attribute missing from that list is “likability”. That’s because you don’t really need to be a people person to do your job well. What you do have to be is a good communicator. People skills are called “skills” for a reason. They are something you can learn – you don’t have to be born with this talent.

Perception is Reality

If you tend to run into problems with people responding negatively to you, there are steps you can take to change this. You won’t need to transform your personality either. You just need to alter how people perceive you. That’s about communicating the best aspects of yourself – your strengths rather than your weaknesses.

For example, if you tend to be a very literal person, you may have difficulty understanding what people are really saying when they beat around the bush. This may give you a reputation for being a poor listener (if you make mistaken assumptions about what people mean). Or, you could be thought of as brusque if you tell people to “just get to the point already!” Using communication skills such as reflective listening allows you to clarify what’s being said while making the other person feel valued and respected. Then, you get the information you need and they come away thinking you’re a great manager to work with.

Different Strokes for Different Folks

Every individual has a different communication style. However, these tend to fall into one of a few categories. An assessment program such as DISC can help you learn to recognize these behavioral patterns in yourself and in others (Dominant, Influential, Steady, and Conscientious). This is very helpful when you are managing a large, diverse project management team.

For example, a Dominant person may want to address factual issues relating to a project rather than focusing on how a particular decision makes others feel. An Influential individual responds when you start out with friendly conversation before giving instructions for a particular task. A Steady person appreciates being given clear objectives to accomplish on a project. Conscientious people should receive early warning of any upcoming changes to scheduling or procedures so they have time to adjust.

What Can You Expect?

The benefits of learning people skills extend into every aspect of project management. You will know that you are building your ability in this area when:

  • You experience fewer misunderstandings with all groups of project stakeholders
  • Team members ask plenty of questions and participate fully in meetings
  • You find out quickly whenever a problem crops up
  • Peers and superiors follow your recommendations more frequently
  • Subordinates carry out schedule activities more effectively with fewer errors and delays
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Why Project Management Ethics Matter

In project management, having a reputation for doing the right thing is essential for getting your job done effectively. Without trust, communication grinds to a halt. That’s one reason the PMI and other professional business organizations seek to define the values that support ethical work and outline standards of conduct they expect their members to live up to. The term “ethics” covers a lot of territory, but there are some core elements that tend to be included in any discussion of this topic. These include:

Reliability – being trustworthy and honest – acting with integrity

Responsibility – holding oneself and others accountable – striving for excellence

Respectfulness – treating others professionally as one would want to be treated

Fairness – being evenhanded, objective, and consistent in interactions with others

Credentialed project management professionals generally adhere to an ethical code of conduct to maintain their credibility within their field. However, it is also important to acknowledge that there is a great deal of pressure placed on PMs to disregard ethics. When faced with unrealistic deadlines, an inadequate budget, excessive restrictions, or other hindrances to project completion, it can become tempting to stretch the boundaries of ethical behavior.

Here’s an Example:

Sometimes disclosing a particular piece of information would bring down a hailstorm of trouble from stakeholders. It might be possible to avoid all that unpleasantness by leaving a critical bit of data out of a report – at least until you have time to try to fix the problem. Some people would say that’s not really lying, just controlling the flow of information. But if you’ve made a commitment to communicate fully and honestly with your stakeholders (a key component of the PMI code of conduct), it is a serious breach of ethics to withhold pertinent information.

There are Plenty of Opportunities to Get Things Wrong

There are dozens of other ways to cut corners during project management that can make your job seem easier. This includes letting things slide in QA assuming you can go back and fix things later. Or, it might be the temptation to play fast and loose with documentation or regulations due to time constraints. Perhaps you have access to confidential information that could be used to “grease the wheels” with a contractor but that you know you shouldn’t disclose. Conflicts of interest are always a temptation when you are in the position to give and receive favors in the context of a project.

How Important is Your Career?

Then, there may be the threat hanging over your head that if you don’t get the job done your employer or client will find someone else who is willing to do whatever it takes. In fact, from one standpoint, being known as someone who bends the rules to get things done can be a distinct advantage in project management – in the short term. Stakeholders may be happy to look the other way as long as they enjoy a profit as a result of a “successfully” completed project.

However, unethical behavior has a habit of coming to light. It may not rise to the level of criminal misconduct, but it can tank a career regardless. Even in a culture that places a great deal of trust in contracts and in the power of the legal system to enforce them, no one really wants to have to worry about whether they will end up in court when they engage with your organization. When vendors, partners, lenders, customers, employees, and other stakeholders can’t trust the word of a project manager, business relationships break down.

PMs Can’t Afford to Ignore Ethics

Ultimately, a project manager who can’t be trusted will eventually be viewed as a liability by the same people who pushed for the PM to break the rules in the first place. An unethical PM is one who faces a bleak future with not even the comfort of having their self respect intact. In the final analysis, the personal and professional price that is paid for ditching ethics just isn’t worth it.

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