Every profession has its “tools of the trade” and project management is no different. The project management toolbox consists of tools required to initiate, plan, execute, control and close projects. Generally speaking, the “tools” are templates for documents that will be produced throughout the life of the project. At the end of a project, the project manager will have a binder (figuratively speaking) that describes the project.

A quick search of the internet for ‘project management tools’ will literally produce thousands of hits for templates, documents, methods, techniques and software, so it should be easy enough to fill the toolbox. However, having the tools is only one piece of the puzzle. Another important piece is the process – the project management methodology – that directs which tool is used and when (and by whom). The project management methodology standardizes the process and the tools need to be aligned to the process to ensure consistency across projects.

Defining a project management methodology and tools provides the foundation for a framework. Again, there are lots of references for project management methodologies and frameworks on the internet and two of the most well-known ones are PMBOK and PRINCE2. Each provides guidance with how to structure and deliver project management.

With all of this information so readily available, the challenge isn’t finding resources and references; it’s being able to establish a framework – tools and methodology – that works for you and your organization.

Step 1: Conduct an assessment

This will help you establish where the issues and gaps are with respect to project management within your organization. Engage your peers, key stakeholders, and staff in the process to ensure all sides are considered. Understanding what works well and what doesn’t will help you determine where to focus your efforts to fix the issues and close the gaps. For instance, senior management may be expecting updates that provide a status and overview of the projects. In this case you may need to create an ‘executive dashboard’ that provides a snapshot of the projects with key indicators. Project Sponsors should have progress updates so a standardized project status report would be implemented.

Step 2:  Define the Methodology

The key here is to develop a methodology that fits the organization. PMBOK defines five process groups and nine knowledge areas and is an excellent start, however the conversation inevitably turns to what the sequence of activity is, who is responsible for each step (activity), who needs to be involved, when it occurs, what tools are required, etc. For instance, do you require a detailed project charter or can it be a high level document because a more detailed scope document augments the detail in the project charter at a later step? Is the Business Requirements Document a document owned by the Project Management Office or the IT group? Who owns the business case template? All of these are examples of tools that are part of the business process and these may reside within the Project Management Office and be part of the Project Management toolbox or they may be inputs into the project. There is no right or wrong answer; however, it is best if you define a methodology that fits the needs of the organization. It’s important not to “over engineer” this otherwise you run the risk of creating a bureaucratic process and will inundate project resources with additional workload. Applying the KISS principle here is a good idea as is considering the use of automation and electronic tools. More organizations are moving from merely using MS Project to manage project timelines to tools such as MS Project Server to manage and track all projects in a centralized repository.

Step 3: Communicate

With the project methodology and tools in place, communicating this to your peers, stakeholders and staff is critical for buy-in and compliance. Providing training is essential for staff to ensure they understand the process and how to use the tools. Failing to do this can result in poor quality and missed targets. Follow through is also critical. If you are finding people are no longer using the tools or are straying from the methodology, it becomes necessary to reinforce the importance of sticking to the originally chosen path.

The Take Away

These three simple steps go a long way to ensuring that you will have buy-in and support from across the organization. It’s easier to deliver projects if the organization is on board and complying with the project management methodology rather than resisting it… And your project management staff will thank you.

  1. Conduct an Assessment to get a firm understanding of what the issues and gaps are.
  2. Define the Methodology so that expectations are clear and it’s aligned to other processes within the organization.
  3. Communicate the changes and processes to your stakeholders. Tools and methodologies are rendered useless if nobody understands how to use them.

We visit our health care professionals on an annual basis because they have the tools and expertise to confirm that we are in good health, or if there is an issue, to be able to detect it before it becomes out of hand.

Projects are no different.  Health checks are comprehensive questionnaires that review how a project is tracking against a series of factors from across an organization. Health checks use a series of tools, metrics and comparisons to industry best practices to provide a complete analysis of the current state of a project. It goes beyond status reports and risk management mechanisms to include factors or areas that you may not think about, like IT processes, regulatory requirements or corporate policies.  Depending on the size and profile of a project, these reviews can be as simple as a 15 minute self-assessment, or as detailed as a 4 hour moderated 150 question survey.

Here are a few reasons why health checks can be of value to any project, regardless of how well your progress is tracking.

1. Change Management or Change in Direction?
Change is a natural part of projects, and change control is vital to ensure that change doesn’t lead to chaos. Often times we are quick to issue the change, but neglect to review all the changes against the original objective of the project. When you review a project for over all health, you have an opportunity to look at the full scope, versus just tracking to plan. The end may bring a project on time and on budget, but potentially far from where the organization expected it to be.

2. Unidentified Trends
Status reports are great tools to provide insight on certain trends of a project, but fail to examine the effects on the project on the rest of the organization. Project teams spend a significant amount of time preparing a number of reports, analyzing them and identifying the most critical issues for discussion. These reports are designed to help the team to pinpoint what is going on across the various departments or project components, but often are lengthy, out of date and are narrowly focused. As a result, important project issues may remain unidentified, such as trends in the frequency that vendors have influenced key decisions of a project, or how a specific department is determining the course that the project is taking. A project health check gives you a more fulsome view of how the organization will be impacted beyond the scope of the project or uncovering unknown issues and risks before a significant impact has been made.

3. Taking it to the Next Level
Project Post Mortems provide insight to management of how well a project met its objectives. Highlighted in the insight are potential opportunities that could have improved efficiencies, or explanations as to why certain areas derailed. While a valuable process, the benefits of a Post Mortem can only be realized for future projects. By running a health check on the project, you are able to realize these efficiencies while a project is in flight and take advantage of them right away.

The Pay Off

Having a comprehensive review of your project adds value by painting a clear picture of how the project sits in relation to the rest of the organization. Traditional performance mechanisms are narrowly focused, which leaves the project open to risks that may not have been initially considered. A health check will either confirm that everything is aligned with the other external factors, or alert you in advance of area requiring attention.

The Take Away

Despite our best efforts, it’s possible that threats or issues can sneak up on us. Health checks assess many factors that sit outside the scope of a project. This complete assessment provides the confidence to continue in the direction head, or to re-evaluate the strategy. In addition to this, it can assess what the organizational environment will be like once the project is completed. Unsure if your project needs a health check? Consider this:

  1. Is there an activity planned for a complete project review after a significant milestone has been achieved?
  2. Does your change control method include metrics and tools to assess the impact on value of the project to the organization against what was originally identified in the business case?
  3. Do you evaluate your current project for efficiency during execution or only at the end?

If the answer to these three points is no, it may be time to see your doctor.

Do people in your organization groan when they have  to deal with the Project Management Office (PMO)?  Are they worried about getting their wrist slapped, again? Was another checklist left with an unchecked box causing angst amongst your project managers. Do calls from your PMO often go ignored, emails left unread and meeting invites postponed?  You may have a Project Management policing complex.

Project managers become enforcement officers when the appropriate policies are not developed or implemented with a strong governance framework. When project managers don’t have a strong framework from which to work, delivery suffers. Project objectives and strategy are often overlooked because the focus has changed from scope and budget to checklists and forms. By developing and implementing a Project Management Governance and Policy framework into a PMO, the need for constant policing is eliminated and the focus can return to the effective execution of projects.

A Project Management Governance and Policy framework will establish a uniform approach to project management that defines how your organization will manage projects/programs from initiation to implementation and close out. The following explains guidelines to follow in order to be successful with this endeavour.

Step 1: Identify clear project management governance principles to set a strong framework for project management. By identifying these best in class principles at the onset, it will help shape the course of action from the rest of the implementation. Here are some examples:

Step 2: Involve Key delivery stakeholders in the policy development phase. By including these individuals up front, they will be better able to understand the need and importance of various policies. This will help with buy-in from the team because the stakeholders will own it just as much as the Project Management Office.

Step 3: Implement a strong governance structure that can oversee and manage policy development, implementation and execution. The governance structure should be transparent and empowered with appropriate authority levels, governed by a series of committees. There should be three levels of committees that have oversight of the program: an Executive committee at the Strategic Level, a Working committee at the Project or Program level and finally Working groups at the Tactical level. Involvement at all levels strengthens the structure and sets the stage for Step 4.

Step 4: Ensure policies and governance are aligned with the strategic objectives of the organization. Steps should also be taken to ensure that the policies and governance don’t override project benefits. The policies and governance structure needs to be flexible enough to maintain order, but to meet the objectives of the project.

The Payoff

Investing in sound and strategic policy development and governance up front, will free your project managers from their enforcement work so that they can get back to running successful projects to drive your business forward. Projects are completed on time and on budget, morale improves and the overall efficiency of the PMO increases.

The Takeaway

Don’t let your project managers become enforcement officers. After PMO policies are developed and in place you will see a transition that turns your project managers back into the superheroes they should be. Taking the time to set up the proper infrastructure outlined below will turn your organization into an efficient and effective powerhouse of success.

  1. Identify best in class project management principles to guide your framework.
  2. Involve key stakeholders and decision makers from the start. Your front line people know what does and doesn’t work.
  3. Implement a structure to govern the process in order to achieve success.
  4. Align policies and governance structures to the overall strategy of an organization, but not at the expense of project benefits.

OPTIMUS | SBR will be at the upcoming ProjectWorld & Business Analyst World Conference this May 14th and 15th at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. In the weeks leading up to this, we will be publishing a series of blog posts related to Project Management.

A Closer Look at the Portfolio Management Approach

You’ve seen it before, when multiple projects need to be completed, energy is high and people are eager but the environment is unorganized chaos. In this situation communication breaks down, milestones fall through the cracks, and budgets are blown.

Project Management Offices (PMOs) can eliminate many of these issues and deliver much needed structure, but problems may arise from the outset if goals are attempted all at one time.  Effectively managing a project requires full participation and executive buy-in, a disciplined project management framework, and a reporting structure to support the portfolio positions, all of which are difficult to orchestrate in a short period of time.

A stepping stone to implementing a full-fledged PMO is introducing a Portfolio Management approach. This approach allows for the control of all ongoing projects, through inception, approval and periodic health checks. By doing each of these steps accurately, organizations can maximize constrained resources on projects with the best benefit.

Step 1: Establish consistency of project status reporting. If you are considering undertaking a Portfolio Management approach, a number of key reporting requirements must be supported.  Initially, one must determine project status reporting frequency and review timeframes.  At the project concept stage, Key Performance Indicators should be documented and users should be educated on the benefits realization expectations for the project.  It is important to clarify that these will be monitored and validated throughout the project lifecycle.  Project reporting must be completed on a consistent basis and communicated to the senior level executives/stakeholders as part of the portfolio review.  Illustrating the current status, forecast, and risk mitigation strategies for all projects at regular intervals is critical, whether you have a portfolio management program or not.

Step 2: Establish a repository of project information.  Representing an entire stream of projects in a single repository is necessary to support project reporting. It also sets the stage to develop a Project Portfolio Management (PPM) information system, which will eventually support a PMO framework.  Many factors must be considered when determining a suitable PPM environment and/or application, such as unique organizational requirements, interfacing to other systems, timelines, on-going support and maintenance. It is critical to remember that the solution for today must be adaptable enough to work tomorrow.

Step 3: Align the criteria for project selection and evaluation with the business strategy. Ask yourself why the organization is executing the projects that are currently in the pipeline?  If that is a difficult question to answer, create a series of selection criteria based on business goals and strategies to ensure consensus from stakeholders around project selection decisions and periodic evaluations.  It’s easier to get buy-in if the criterion is determined by stakeholders up front and if there is a strong linkage to the strategy and corporate goals of the organization. Once projects are “in flight”, evaluations need to be conducted regularly and based off of standardized decision criteria.  The project contributions that are strategically aligned to organizational success will be emphasized. The project must continue to support the major business goals, even if there are major changes to the project requirements.

The Payoff

The payoff introducing a Portfolio Management approach can be as enriching as the implementation of a proper Project Management Office.  Accomplishing any of the steps in the portfolio management approach will contribute positively to an organization and make the final step to a fully functioning PMO less intimidating.  Beginning the individual project fundamentals of control, reporting, and risk avoidance will build towards the benefits of a total portfolio based project management system – where your organization is working on the right set of projects at the right time.

The Take Away

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your PMO won’t be either. Utilizing a Portfolio Management approach can set the foundation for a trusted and respected PMO operation in any organization.

  1. Establishing consistency of project status reporting will allow projects to be benchmarked across the organization and provide accurate information for PMs and leaders to make mission critical decisions.
  2. Having a centralized hub of project information will facilitate information being shared across the organization. It also is an important first step in implementing a proper Project Portfolio Management information system across the organization.
  3. Make sure that the criteria you use for project selection is aligned with the vision, goals and strategy of the organization. By maintaining alignment and engaging stakeholder input, buy-in at all levels will be easier to achieve and it legitimizes your process.

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