Archive for May, 2009

Project Management Guide An Introduction to Project Management

Whether you know it or not your business will be engaged in projects – from implementing new technology such as deploying a new systems to launching a new product to moving into new premises to launching a new marketing campaign – these are all forms of projects.

In this Project Management Guide we’ll take a look at what projects are, how they’re constructed and what purpose they serve – together the key steps involved in being successful.

Definition of a project?

Projects are varied but have some common characteristics – projects are not permanent fixtures within a business and last for a defined period (they have a start and end dates). Projects also have a deliverable or task to complete which once completed signifies the end of the project.

Project teams and organization

The first rule of Project Management is that Projects are a team sport – Projects are semi permanent and a project team is characteristically bought together to deliver it and then disbanded, moved to another project or in some cases absorbed into a run team (for example in the case of an IT Project). Project teams are usually built up of personnel with key skills/disciplines who undertake specific roles within the project (this maybe on a permanent or part time basis).

Project timescales

Most projects are carried out within a set timescale – this may include various “gate reviews” where progress is formally monitored and deliverables reviewed before progressing to the next stage. Timescales are a intrinsic element of successful Project Management. Projects without deadlines and defined tasks can amble rather than be focused – they can also be susceptible to scope creep as you think you have time to undertake other tasks and as a result be more costly!

Project Management Methodologies: Formal vs informal

There are a variety of “formal” project methodologies that can be applied to projects these range from the likes of Prince 2, PMI/PMP. These methodologies provide a formal route to managing a project and describe a series of set activities and sequences that take place together with a range of controls that should be applied ensuring a project is being managed correctly and has a higher likelihood of being successful.

One of the questions often asked regarding applying formal project management methods such as Prince 2 is the level of bureaucracy that these methodologies are associated with. Mileage may vary on the methodologies dependant on the size and complexity of the project and size of the team involved however it goes without saying that these formal methods have a lot to offer and can provide a proven route to success.

When things go wrong

When it comes to managing projects – don’t expect things to always run smoothly as they rarely do! – issues and constraints may occur which can impact costs and timescales – while these threats are very real there are certain things that Project Managers can do.

Risk Management in Projects

The first step in running projects smoothly is thorough risk planning – Project Risk Management is identifying and mitigating risks that could occur during your project resulting in a detrimental impact.

The method used for managing risk varies but ensure you include a detailed description of the risk coupled with it’s like hood and probable impact coupled with mitigating activity and owner.

The need for Project Assumptions

The second thing that you can do is to start your project with a set of assumptions – for example one assumption you may have is that you have access to certain staff – the reason for having assumptions is they form part of your project costings and timescales but they also allow you to reassess things if any change.

Project Management steps

Projects can really vary in their deliverables so the steps involved will vary from project to project but there are some common elements that can be attributed to any project

1/ The project sponsor (sometimes the projects customer) defines the objective and deliverable of the project and sets out a case for going ahead (sometimes formalized as a project charter).
2/ The sponsor then obtains agreement from decision makers (and more importantly budget holders!) that the project is viable and required before costs are incurred – this will often take the place of a formal review and examine – costs, timescales assumptions and risks.
3/ If required a project steering team is appointed to monitor the project and provide support and assistance when needed – the make up of a steering team varies but often includes representation from major suppliers to and major customers of the project together with key stakeholders and appropriate decision makers..
4/ Assemble a project team (this will again vary from project to project) and arm them with the required tools.
5/ Undertake a stakeholder analysis and consider what methods of communication will be used to keep stakeholders and the project team updated during the project.
6/ Construct a project plan including owners, deliverables and timescales and review the project with the newly assembled team.
7/ Carryout the initial actions within the project plan – hold regular reviews to ensure that your proceeding as planned – regularly review your risks and consider presenting regularly to your steering committee to appraise them of how your doing – this is especially necessary where problems occur which need impact cost or duration of the project – if things go as planned proceed with implementing your project plan.
8/ At completion of the project – ensure that all requirements have been delivered, document and share any lessons learnt
9/ Disband the project team and steering committee.

Best Practice Benchmarking – using analytics and process to drive best practice

Benchmarking is a process of comparing your organizations processes and procedures against others – this is carried out to facilitate the flow of best practice into your organization in order for it to improve efficiency and maintain its place in the marketplace.

There are a number of different types of benchmarking this includes

Internal Benchmarking – often deployed in large organizations this form of benchmarking targets areas of the company that are more efficient than others. This helps organizations maintain standards and uniformity across the organization.

Competitive Benchmarking – this form of benchmarking is used for analyzing your performance within the context of your marketplace – by analyzing yourself against your competitors actions can be taken to improve performance and mitigate the risk of non-competitiveness

While Competitive Benchmarking offers, for many, the greater incentive – i.e. keeping up with the market and mitigating competitors – it also offers the most challenges – for example – you can’t just stroll into your competitors and ask to see how they outperform you!

Given this issue – trade organizations have flourished as they offer a way for a market to share best practice in a non-threatening environment ensuring that where best practice is shared – those who are outperforming in the marketplace get a deeper understanding of their competitive advantage. However it goes without saying that competitive benchmarking remains the hardest to get right.

Another form of benchmarking is Strategic Benchmarking – this is slightly different to facilitating best practice into an organization rather it becomes an assessment of an organizations goals, technologies, and business model to identify further opportunities for change.

Whichever method is used where organizations are looking to facilitate change – benchmarking offers a proven approach. Many organizations continue to look at this aspect and use benchmarking as a cost driver – a tool to reduce overhead while many take an opposing view and utilize it to secure their position in the marketplace. Whatever the objective implementing benchmarking makes change inevitable – this shouldn’t be feared – organizations that embrace change are more likely to be those that innovate and create value for both their customer and their organization.

Benchmarking – searching for enablers in other organizations that boost performance

Benchmarking is the process of measuring activity within your organization to that of a peer (either within the organization, within the market or outside the marketplace). Benchmarking is utilized to facilitate the transfer of best practice into the organization initiating the benchmarking.

The key to successful benchmarking is identifying appropriate processes that can be measured (and compared). A process is a series of steps and activities that turn an input into an output.

Benchmarking requires a level of analysis and is reliant on collecting measurements of the process being benchmarked. Processes will therefore need to generate data that can be collated and deployed as a metric. For example if we look at a manufacturing process it will consist of a series of steps from the printing of a work pack or job list, through to issuing raw material through to the manufacturing process itself. Each activity within the process could be analyzed to form a detailed view of the process and facilitate highly effective benchmarking at a detailed level.

Once data has been collected on the process – benchmarking requires that assess and investigate results that indicate better performance in your selected peer group. Where areas of better performance can be seen the rationale behind these needs to be determined. What are the enablers that result in these efficiencies?

An enabler is something that can influence the outcome or effectiveness of a process. For example in a manufacturing process where a piece of metal is bent into a particular shape enablers could be considered to be:

Condition of the raw material
Condition of the pressing machine
Training and experience of the machine operator
Process and work-instructions on activity

Enablers, or the quality of the enabler, can have a dramatic impact on a process. Benchmarking often highlights the use of these enablers to achieve increased levels of performance – the benchmarking organization can then determine the opportunities to integrate these into existing processes.