7 January 2010

What is Project Execution?

Here at EasyPM, we enjoy being asked "What is project execution?". As you know, we like to keep things simple at EasyPM by keeping all stages of our projects manageable.

Our preferred methodology is PRINCE2 and while understanding that not everyone is a qualified PRINCE2 Practitioner, the approach used by that methodology to define project execution is indeed simple.

So here goes! Execution is the delivery phase of the project. It is the time when it all starts to happen and people start to notice that real money is being spent on developing products. We will talk about control later on to help manage that issue but when execution starts the "boat has been floated".

Execution is the delivery phase, which is in itself exciting, but it can be divided into three stages:
  1. A controlled start.
  2. Controlled progress.
  3. A Controlled close.
A controlled start to the project ensures the project proposal and business case are developed from being an idea into full definition of what is to be delivered, how, by whom, at what cost and when. This is the baseline against which the execution phase is measured. This is important and cannot be re-stated more simply - a controlled start? Don't leave home without it!

Controlled progress is the stage where step-wise execution of the project plan continues until delivery of all products is complete and the project can be closed down. This is a straightforward statement that masks the death of a thousand projects and even promising project management careers! Still, do not worry as the key word is control and, trust me, you WILL know if your project is under control or not. More on this later. In addition, we should note that during execution the level of project risk reduces until none remains. However, for the business, the risk of not achieving the expected benefits from the project has still to be dealt with.

A controlled close of a project confirms the delivery of the agreed products at the right quality to the business. It also marks the break-up of the project organisation structure and the team. At this point staff usually leave the project and return to their normal day jobs. Sometimes, the completion of the project execution phase creates a new business as usual scenario which is often served by allowing some, or all, of the project team to pick up the new roles developed out of the project.

Hopefully, you found this article to be a useful summary on project execution. Any questions? See me after class or drop me a line!

16 December 2009

EasyPM on Why Project Planning Is Important

At EasyPM we are often asked why project planning is so important. The answer is something we like to keep short and simple. This is it.

Would you spend any money at all, on any endeavour you can think of without having at least some idea of what you were hoping to achieve?

Considering the huge budget that some projects are granted then the importance of good, well thought-out and structured planning becomes so much clearer.

We at EasyPM, of course, recommend referring to and using the EasyPM advice, tools and content on this blog to help you out with your project planning. Anytime you need some advice just drop us an email using the link on our profile page and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

When you think it about it there is nothing much else to add really. Is there?

18 October 2009

How to Use Project Planning for Best Effect

So how do you use project planning activity for best effect?

Here at EasyPM we have some simple thoughts to keep you on the right track and get more from your project planning activity.

First of all you need to create the plan. This is a skill in itself and often as a project manager, you will find yourself writing plans for activities you don't fully understand.

But before I talk about that, the key thing to remember is that you can use the plan as your key to execution. It is is your ticket to make it all happen. Just remember to get the ticket validated by the executives and project stakeholders. If you have the power to proceed on your own say-so then that is ok but most times on projects your "customers" are senior people in the organisation for whom you are running the project and you need them to agree that the plan is good and will deliver the required benefits.

So here are a few useful thoughts on how to use the project planning phase to your best advantage.

1. While building the plan, use it to educate yourself and understand what the project will deliver and how the promised business benefits will be delivered. The point here is that you will get to talk to experts and ask their advice on how activities should be structured, what they will deliver, who will do the work and the importance of the stages and dependent activities. Write it up and go back to them later to confirm your schedule of activities and resources.

2. Share the final plan with the team. Walk them through the whole thing and also their part. Make sure that the initial schedules are realistic and have some contingency for problems which will arise.

3. Use the plan to identify the cost of the project. Capture appropriate costs such as:
  • Capital costs. For example computer hardware, buildings ... think of physical stuff.
  • Revenue expenses. For example planned travel expenses.
  • Run-rate costs. For example planned resource salary costs per day/week/month.
  • On-going costs after completion. For example system maintenance
And so on. Depending on the project costing can be complex or simple. Either way, as project manager you must understand the cost variables and how costs will be accumulated through the project lifecycle.

4. Take time in the planning phase to think about risks, assumptions, issues and dependencies that will deflect the successful progress of the project as it proceeds under your strong project management skills. Make sure that you have these risks and issues captured somewhere, keep them under review and also add new ones to your list as they arise.

5. Use the plan to demonstrate to the project executives that the final product has been understood, broken down, resourced and scheduled and get them to sign off on your plan.

6. Review the plan regularly and update it with progress. The plan will change in some way through the project and there will be major issues to be resolved - guaranteed for most. Just don't assume that you have written it once, shared it and it all will happen as if by magic. It won't. Tasks will slip, people will let you down on delivery, some costs will soar for various reasons. Keep these changes in your sight. If you do, the plan will become your roadmap to successful completion.

The planning phase, as you can see, is more than just writing down the schedule of activities. There are great opportunities to achieve buy-in from the team and the project sponsors. Fundamentally, you (the project manager) can get to grips with the challenge you are facing, what it entails, who is doing it, how much it costs and issues that will prevent your success. With all of this in place, your armour is intact. Let battle commence!

26 September 2009

What is Project Planning?

A simple question for you - What is project planning?

Before I answer that, remember this. Here at EasyPM we like to keep things simple. Our dearly held view is that there is enough complexity in the world without us adding to it with jargon and buzzwords. I will do my best to keep this one simple and informative.

However, at this point I must confide in you that it is a skill that needs to be learned. Some people are naturally good at it, others not so good, but it can still be learned. Ok so far? Here we go.

Project planning is a process. It does the following things:
  1. project planning identifies clearly what will be produced (the products), the resources needed and when they will be delivered.
  2. project planning confirms that the project has been thought through before it commences and offers assurance that there is some control of the resources.
  3. project planning forms the basis of communication with customers and management to confirm the end products are understood.
The project planning process starts and runs in parallel with the project initiation process. It is necessary as part of project initiation to define a high-level project plan. However, and ideally, the detailed planning process should be taken as an activity separate and following on from the project initiation process.

The output from the planning process is called the project plan and this is usually written down and distributed in an easy to read format for discussion. Discussing the project plan is a key part of the communication process with customers and management.

There are many ways to write a project plan but a Gannt chart (like the little graphic in this post) is a well known and easily understood format. Very simply, a Gannt Chart is a list of activities with start dates, end dates and the name of the person responsible for completing the activity. Here at EasyPM, we like Gannt charts and use them without hesitation. Why not take a look at the article where we walk through the Gannt chart and talk about tools for creating one?

So now we summarise. Project planning is a process whose output provides enough detail to management and customers to describe the following about the project:
  • What it is that the customer needs done.
  • How it will be delivered, using what resources (including money) and by whom.
  • When it will be done.
Any questions, stay back after class!

3 September 2009

How To Build A Business Aligned Project Portfolio

So how do you build an optimal project portfolio that is aligned with your business strategy?

In three easy steps, the EasyPM way ... I hear the chorus shout!

Here's how you do it.

1. List and categorise all projects that are currently open and funded.
1a. If they are not funded add them to the "On Hold" list and pull all resources because they are not a projects.
1b. Categories on the list could be as follows:
- - - Revenue Generating
- - - Cost Reducing
- - - Process Improving
- - - Compliance / Regulatory
- - - Security
- - - Other
2. Identify the projects that deliver real business objectives.
3. List the value in Pounds/Dollars/Euros/Yen ... that each project will deliver to the business.

Once you have completed this relatively simple process, which may include a review of each project's business case, you will find that business alignment of the project portfolio will be easy to achieve.

Why Is Project Initiation So Important?

Why Is Project Initiation So Important? Well it's simple really when you think about it.

Let me explain. In earlier posts, I mentioned that project initiation information can be captured in a single document. This project initiation document, or PID as it is known, allows you to complete some important steps in building a good foundation for your project.

When you complete a PID you will have gathered a lot of information about the project to explain what it is, how it will be delivered, when and by whom. So it sounds like a great document to have right?

Of course once you have this information captured in a single document it becomes so much easier to communicate. At the simplest level, all you have to do is send it out and ask the person who is demanding answers to their questions to read it. We all know we would NEVER do that, but hey, what a great reference point it will prove to be. And guess what, it actually becomes that proverbial hymn-sheet that everyone wants to sing from.

So let me summarise the importance of project initiation:
  1. A project properly initiated is built on a solid foundation.
  2. Every stakeholder will know what the project is about and who is involved in making it happen.
  3. Finally it represents an agreement. Project initiation allows a project manager to set the contract for delivery and agree with the task-masters (sorry stakeholders) what the project will end up delivering.
Ok you get the drift now? Don't skip it and don't believe the experts who tell you to just get on with the delivery. Invariably those are the guys who are not around when the ess-aitch-one-tee hits the fan due to lack of proper controls. Have you heard enough drum beating on project initiaion? Any comments, let me know.

Useful links
Project Initiation document
Easy Introduction To Project Management
How To Use Project Initiation the EasyPM Way

31 August 2009

Is Your Project Missing A Management Stage?

What happens when you find a stage of the project management process has been missed? Here is some useful advice from EasyPM.

The scenario is the "project from hell". The one that everyone in the organisation knows and talks about. It has not been going well and you have been asked (let's say told) to take over the running of it.

Dark days indeed, as you see your annual appraisal and bonus slipping down the drain! No-one can turn that one around, right? So what do you do?

Here are three little things to consider that might help.
  1. Ask yourself - Have the right questions been asked and answered?
  2. Do you know if there are there techniques that can be applied?
  3. What communications and follow up will be required?
Let's put some more detail around this using an example where the "project from hell" had a poorly managed start-up.

Questions you can ask:
  • What is this project meant to deliver and can I see the documentation please?
  • Have the project objectives document been agreed by senior management in the organisation?
  • Is there a stakeholder group?
  • Do the stakeholders all have the same expectations of the project?
  • Are there inter-dependencies on another project that is causing constraints?
  • What investment has been committed to the project?
  • Are all the project issues documented, understood and prioritised - can I see that please?
  • Who is responsible for starting the project without completing a proper start-up? (Useful to know!).

Techniques you can apply:
  • Get the answers to the above questions and any others that help to fill out the project start up information. Do this quickly.
  • Analyse the information gathered and be clear about the facts your answers present.
  • Create a presentation that summarises the project status. The presentation should take the form of a simple highlight report that emphasises the difference in where the project thinks it is compared to where it actually is. I have a sample project status summary structure for this on my EasyPM google group - you are welcome to use it.
  • Invite the senior managers and stakeholder to a meeting to present your findings.
  • Leave the meeting with an agreed plan of action for go forward that provides you with the scope and time to remedy the situation that has caused the stage to be missed. In short ... ask permission to go back to that stage and do it properly ... including creating any missing control documents and getting them signed off! This may of course, lead to discussions on the viability of the project or required contingency planning but that is another story.
Communications you can ... communicate:
  • Create a document that summarises the meeting and the next actions.
  • Circulate the summary document to an agreed reader list that includes senior mangement, stakeholders, key users, suppliers (if there are any) and the project team.
What about follow up? It is a great idea to create a meeting no more than two weeks in advance to review progress on the agreed project actions. Then repeat the cycle on a weekly basis to get the missing stage back under control.

So what is the lesson here? Well, you wouldn't have a rock band without base or drums would you? You wouldn't build a house without foundations would you? No, of course not. So don't let anyone tell you ... ever ... that a particular project stage is not important or required.

Make sure as a project manager that you have the foundations in place to allow you to build to successful project delivery. Remember - projects are all so much easier to keep control of when everything is in the right place. Gimme a high five!