Archive for June, 2009

What’s included in a project charter

A project charter is a common Project Management tool used to convey key information around the Project and its deliverables. It is produced early on in the project process and is often used to gain approval from key stakeholders for the project to proceed.

When new projects are being proposed its important to collate and share key information amongst decision makers – the project charter provides a vehicle for that activity and in doing so provides a snapshot of the project at approval stage and what led to decisions being made.

Using a project charter infers a certain discipline in project management as a robust charter will include determining objectives, risks and issues and helps mitigate ambiguity about the project approach and targets. This final point is important – for a project to be approved stakeholders need to know beyond reasonable doubt what’s it about and how it will achieve. As such the power of a project charter as a communication tool should not be ignored.

The project charter will usually be authored by a mix of the Project Manager and the Project Sponsor – the actual mix will vary from project to project (and also organization to organization).

What to include in your charter?

While there’s no set template for your charter you’ll want to consider the following:

1/ Objectives
2/ Scope
3/ Stakeholder assessments
4/ Risks
5/ Assumptions and Constraints
6/ Approvals
7/ Cost Appraisal
8/ Initial Timeline

Once signed off by relevant stakeholders the Project Charter acts as the Project Managers authority to proceed and certain elements of the charter can be transferred into a Project Initiation Document if required.

SWOT Analysis Example

Following on from our article on the SWOT business tool we thought we should put theory into practice with an example swot analysis

For this example we we’ll take a look at a SWOT analysis from the perspective of a small manufacturing company.  Their looking to develop themselves and develop thier strategy to understand their issues and exploit their marketplace – well make some assumptions that it’s a niche provider and that it’s customers key drivers are cost and quality.

So jets get too it!

Brainstorming your SWOT Analysis


Firstly when brainstorming your SWOT it’s helpful to have some data around you – SWOT’s can sometimes be subjective which can lead to personal opinion getting in the way of fact.  But what should you consider?  We often like to think of four variables when building our SWOT.

People, processes, systems and Market

However you might want to also include key issues that affect your business (the above should give you a start!).


So let’s take a look at the SWOT

 

Strengths

 

  • Loyal staff with low turnover
  • Existing long term order book
  • Established high quality product line
  • Strong design ties with customer product

Weaknesses

 

  • Old inefficient capital equipment
  • High rate of yield
  • Bottlenecks in some production cells
  • Knowledge not shared evenly across workforce
  • Inefficiencies due to legacy IT system

Opportunities

  • Introduce effective IT system
  • Introduce new, more efficient, capital equipment
  • Expand customer base
  • Introduce training plan for all staff

 

Threats

·         Long term customer strategies to move to lower cost providers

·         Capabilities not aligned with market needs

·         Poor cash flow



 

What next

The SWOT should be seen as a planning tool and help in the strategic process and therefore the end result of your SWOT analysis should not be the SWOT by itself but coupled with an action plan that capitalizes on your strengths and mitigates your weaknesses and threats.

 

This last point is crucial without a plan to correct key issues your business could suffer as a consequence.

 

Finally consider the frequency you’ll review your SWOT this shouldn’t be a onetime only process regular SWOT assessments will help capture new issues and ensure appropriate action plans are delivering the changes required to keep our organization efficient and competitive.

Benefits of SWOT Analysis as a management reporting tool

As we stated in our article on management reporting methods – ensuring information is promulgated throughout the organization in a clear and concise fashion is extremely important – the use of best practice templates and methods can help facilitate this.

Of all the various models SWOT Analysis, while better known as a strategic tool, is a popular method associated with management reporting, encouraging review of internal and external influences and can be used to evaluate a variety of business activity from projects through to departmental performance.

SWOT is a four box communication method used to evaluate 4 key factors

Strengths

Internal Activity or attributes that are helpful to achieve objectives

Weaknesses

Internal Activity or deliverables that can have a detrimental impact on the objective.

Opportunities

External Activity that could be helpful in meeting targets

Threats

External Influences or activity that could have a detrimental impact on the objective

SWOTS are especially useful as a reporting tool because it helps identify actions that can be taken to achieve a desired state and as such are often used in strategic planning sessions

Weaknesses of SWOT analysis

While SWOTS can be very useful (especially in strategic analysis) they can have their downsides.

SWOTS can be subjective and overly critical (people typically find it easier to come up with weaknesses and threats than strengths and opportunities). And perhaps key – SWOTS do not automatically drive activity and without proper care and attention can be seen as a list building activity. As such SWOT’s should not be used in isolation.

In summary the use of SWOT analysis is widespread it is a common tool that can help in communicating information within an organization – its simple to construct and to understand used in isolation it can be used to share information – combined with an action plan it can be used as a strategic management tool

Management Reporting – using common methods to get your message across.

One of the common tasks within management is regular reporting of performance and issues. Finding the appropriate tool to communicate this is important as sharing data in a clear and concise method ensures performance and progress is understood and can be promulgated easily throughout the organization.

The most common form of business information that is generated is financial – this can take a variety of forms from P&L, Balance Sheet, Cash flow etc – However its important to remember that businesses have other things to communicate other than financial data such as personnel, marketing, customer satisfaction etc

There are a number of common management planning and analysis tools used within business that can be used to share this type of information. These provide a framework for communicating information and are useful in doing this in a standard routine way.

Examples of Management reports and communication methods.

SWOT Analysis Diagram– Identifies Strengths, Weaknesses Opportunities and Threats

SOFT – Simular to the SWOT, – Strengths Opportunities, Failures and Threats

PERT – Task Analysis model used to review Projects

Six Forces Model – Market Opportunities Model

Project steps – key stages to incorporate into your project – Part 2

Part one of the article can be found here Project steps – key stages to incorporate into your project – Part 1

4/ Build project plan

Your project Plan is a roadmap of how you will deliver your project – it contains the activities, milestones and deliverables and gate reviews that will be required.

There are various ways of producing a project plan from using software such as Microsoft Project through to simply writing it out as a list of tasks – the method you use is really upto you but the more complex the project (and the more resources you need to manage to help deliver it) the more likely you are to need suitable project management software.

You may benefit from building your plan in work packages i.e. certain activity that has a definitive deliverable – the reason for this is varied but it helps you monitor achievement and allocate owners for specific areas of the overall project – for example a package of work could be “deliver training” – this may be constructed from various stages including building training material, allocating resources such as rooms and “training staff”, obtaining test software etc.

Ultimately your plan should contain

1/ Activities
2/ Resources or activity owners
3/ Timescales
4/ Dependencies
5/ Deliverables

You should also consider including “gate reviews”. Gate reviews are stages of a project that allow you to formally review progress of a project before moving on– they allow you to review progress against costs and timescales – review your risks, issues and assumptions and appraise your steering board of any key deliverables or challenges that requires support.

5/ Implement your plan

Once you have your team and your project plan your ready to go (assuming you have the any tools you need!). As discussed above – implementation is often carried out in stages and you’ll need to have regular reviews with your project team and key stakeholders to ensure your meeting your cost and timescale objectives – breaking your project into work-packages will allow you to easily assess progress – using resource tracking software (again take a look at Microsoft Project)will allow you to produce reports of activity that needs to be done and provide your team important updates regarding their schedule.

It’s important to foster open communication during project delivery – ensure that if anything goes wrong or where timescales aren’t met the Project Manager is informed – this will allow you to remain in control and iterate plans or update risk and issue management where required. Place a close eye on any dependencies you have – this one area that can make a project turn sour fast!

6/ Complete plan and measure the benefits

Once you’ve completed the project you’ll want to ensure that your project has delivered what it set out to achieve – if you stated that by implementing your project you’d save 40% of your company’s costs – you’ll probably want to follow that up – ensuring your assumptions were right and that your project deliverable is functioning as planned!

Typically your customer will want to get involved in this and you may find that your project’s not over until your customer says it is! Best practice would be to ensure at the start of the project your deliverable is clearly delineated and benefits are accurately articulated to ensure there’s no ambiguity.

7/ Lessons learnt

The project’s over – you’ve delivered what you set out to – and your customers very please. Your final task should be to produce a lessons learnt report – this is your opportunity to critically assess what did and didn’t go well with the project – and how you could have done things differently – the reason for doing this is that this information can be invaluable as a teaching aide for other project managers in your organization – don’t overlook this step as this can really make a big difference!

Project steps – key stages to incorporate into your project – Part 1

One of the challenges that new project managers face is that they are often daunted by knowing what activities and stages should take place within their project timeline. While formal methodologies such as Prince 2 & PMP can provide a basic framework novice Project Managers often find such tools complex and bureaucratic and be put off from the benefits that they can provide an so initiate their project without an understanding of those steps that will facilitate success.

For most projects there are some common steps and activities – these can be adapted into most plans in some guise and while the detail may depend on your deliverable you may wish to include those steps shown below.

Project steps: the essential project elements

1. Project initiation

Project initiation refers to the steps involved in getting your project off the ground and typically this will include:

• Defining the deliverable and it’s benefits (i.e. the reason for undertaking the project)
• Defining the project scope
• Producing some form of cost benefit
• An initial risk assessment and assumptions
• A Stakeholder assessment – who will your project impact – include customers and suppliers to the project consider who will support your project and who may sabotage it!
• Appointment of a steering board
• Project Approval

Depending on the complexity and cost of your project, Project Initiation can take various forms. Often a project charter is produced which summarizes the benefits, costs, risks and high level timeline that the project will take. This can then be presented to appropriate decision makers who allow the project to go ahead.

Formal Project approval is usually required and is especially needed where costs and resources are used. Budget can then be granted, usually with a certain tolerance that once (or if likely to be) exhausted will be referred back to the steering board for review.

2 Risk management

Risk Management is a key Project step – effectively this is the process that captures and manages potential pit falls (for example a failure of hardware to be ready on time in a IT deployment). Risk Management has a number of key attributes namely.

Risk Capture
Risk assessment
Risk avoidance & mitigation
Risk monitoring

For more information check out the following article on Project Risk Management

3 Project Team formation / Project Organization

Once your project is approved you’ll need to form a team to help implement it. Again its size and shape will be dependant on the skills required but most project teams have a number of project related functions that they undertake:

• Help produce and co-ordinate Project Plans
• Undertake Work Packages
• Report on risks and issues
• Communicate to stakeholders

Part 2 of the article can be found here Project steps – key stages to incorporate into your project – Part 2