Project Management – Not Just for Builders and Engineers

A beginners introduction to project management, whatever your industry or sector.

There was a time when project management was a technique, used almost uniquely for the engineering world.  However in recent years more and more organisations have recognised the value of project management in their operation regardless of their industry/sector/specialism, and increasingly they are adopting a Project Management Way of Working, or as we call it PMWoW.
PM Sectors PMAdvisor
There are realistically 3 main types of project, described below.  To many organisations all three have their place, and to others maybe just one or two.

Type One – New Product Development Projects

Traditionally project management techniques were applied to the first type of project – new products.  Those “products” might have been as diverse as bridges, buildings, new computer systems or cars.

Type Two – Customer / Service Delivery Projects

This was followed by the general realisation that the techniques and discipline could be expanded to the second type of project which we describe as “customer projects”.  Again, initially rooted in the engineering world, this sees the scope expanded beyond development to manufacturing, test, site deployment, acceptance, and broader service provision.

Type Three – Organisational Change

As the project management techniques and systems matured, they became increasingly used in the controlled delivery of organisational and strategic change.

Industry Shifts

The general project types are largely unchanged in the 21st century, but we have seen 3 major industry shifts in the last few decades:

1) Methodologies & Frameworks

As project management usage grew, so did the available methods.  From the original “waterfall” methods we have seen the steady addition of options including:
as well as a whole host of niche and bespoke methods.  Some of these methods are generally applicable, whereas others are only suitable in certain applications.
Some care should be taken when considering the latest “new” way of managing projects.  As with the world of diets, various fads come and go as people look for that easy fix.  However it is worth remembering that the core project management techniques are flexible, and if applied consistently can produce excellent success rates.

2) Technology

There has been a huge proliferation of project management tools with varying degrees of complexity and suitability for certain project environments.  I am aware of well over 250 software tools which can be broadly categorised as:
  • Productivity Tools which typically focus on individual or group task management,
  • Project Collaboration Tools which typically add messaging, file sharing, project calendars and maybe some bells and whistles,
  • All-in-one Tools (often referred to as P3), which add layers of complexity typically including planning, resourcing, RAID management and even portfolio/program dimensions, and finally
  • Specialist Tools which deal with specific needs such as risk management, mind-mapping, and so on.

3) Broader Industry Adoption

In the last few years, project management has become increasingly adopted across most industries and sectors.  Typically, this has initially filtered from new product development and strategic / change projects into service delivery with noticeable recent adoption in the worlds of service, marketing, human resources, digital marketing and legal to name but a few.

Where Do Budding Project Managers Go For Advice?

There are lots of resources around, but as in many walks of life you need to know where to look.  Some great starting points include:
At ProjExc we recognised that finding good, honest, independent advice, especially those entering project management, can be quite challenging.  We noticed though that everyone seems to be selling their training courses, their qualifications, their books, their tools.  We have structured our advice and services into 2 distinct but closely linked independent offerings, both of which are applicable regardless of your industry or sector:
PM Advisor – advice and resources for individual project managers, and
ProjExc – guidance, advice and support for organisations wanting to set-up or improve their project management capability.
About the Author:
John Williams is a project management professional with 25 years experience across most industries and most types of project, portfolio and programs.  He is founder of ProjExc and PM Advisor, an active author, presenter, and consultant on the subject of project management, as well as an occasional interim project manager.  John is a proud member of the APM and also serves in their volunteer community.  If you would like John to present his talk “Why Projects Fail and What YOU Can Do About It” to your team or group either in person or as an online seminar get in touch.

Reflect with a Fresh Pair of Eyes

A Fresh Pair of EyesProject Deep Dives

Periodic project assessments (or Deep Dives) are a clever way of avoiding those frustrating and nasty surprises at the end of a project, allowing necessary corrections before it’s too late.  This deep dive analysis is a fundamental part of project governance.  ProjExc have crafted a clear methodology which captures a clear view of both project health and project managment performance.
The ProjExc deep dive process and the resulting report are designed with 2 clear goals:
  1. to coach the project manager into improved project management discipline thus greatly reducing the risk of failure, and
  2. to give project stakeholders a confidential independent report of project status and clear improvement recommendations from the experts.

Independent Governance

Of course you can do deep dives internally, but how many organisations today have the luxury of available credibility and expertise, let alone the willingness to compromise this critical part of corporate governance with potential conflicts of interest?

Supplier Projects

Often organisations have great governance in place for their own internal projects, but have insufficient oversight of supplier/partner projects – this can be a big risk to your success.  ProjExc often perform (or support) 3rd party deep dives which are conducted in such a way as to be supportive and informative.  The reports and agreed actions support win-win trusted relationships and aid shared understanding of priorities at a practical level.

More Information

To find out more about how independent project deep dives might help your business, you can contact ProjExc directly on 0121 222 5744.

Project Manager Recruitment – It Need Not Be A Lottery

PM Recruitment

Recruiting the right project manager (PM) into your organisation is a big decision and often a huge investment, yet all too often the success is largely left to chance.  Prepare and choose wisely, rather than take a gamble, and you will have a much better chance of ensuring that your projects succeed.

In this guest post, John Williams founder of ProjExc PM Consulting takes a look at what you should consider to take the risk out of PM recruitment. Having recruited or helped others recruit, induct and coach hundreds of project managers in many industries he provides a rare insight.

Top 8 Considerations When Recruiting a PM

1. Investment
Do you have a mature project management organisation with structured project management processes and tools? If yes, then you can probably afford to recruit a less experienced (less expensive) PM as you will have have confidence that sufficient structure is in place to ensure success. If you don’t have structured and proven systems in place, then you will need to employ a more capable PM, who also has the experience to choose when and when not to use the relevant tools from their toolkit.

2. Don’t Compromise
Never be tempted to put in place a permanent hire who doesn’t meet your essential needs in the hope that they’ll adapt or get there. Not only would this be a high risk decision for your organisation, but also for the individual as well. Until you find the right person, buy yourself some time and bring in an interim. There are plenty out there!

3. Specification
Involve stakeholders in specifying the role and the ideal person to maximise the chances of putting the right person in post. Those stakeholders will not just be the line manager, but also other senior leaders and resource managers. It is often a wise move to consider what your customers need or expect as well. Consider (or ask) do they use particular PM frameworks/methodologies/toolsets which your PM will be expected to interface with? If your PM is expected to behave internally as a customer champion, this should also have a bearing on what you are looking for.

4. The Role
In recruitment it goes without saying that you need a solid role (or job) description. Honest clarity is essential if you are going to bring on board the right person. The right person will be, and will continue to be, motivated. Remember though the more detailed/rigid the responsibilities the less flexibility you’ll have in the future.

5. The Person
As well as the role, it is really important to specify the type of project manager you are looking for. The hard skills which you need and want is the starting point. Then think about the experiences your ideal candidate will have had. Crucially important as well are the attitudes and softer skills.

6. Pure Project Management
Is your project manager also going to be one of the project resources, or solely focused on project management? In the former case you will probably be looking for industry knowledge. Remember though that the more the project manager will be sucked into the detail of the project, the greater the risk that they will lose focus on their project management responsibilities.

7. Induction
You’ve appointed a great PM with the skills, experiences and personality that you need. Don’t fall into the trap of a half-hearted induction. Make sure that you equip your new PM with the information and tools they need to do a great job from day one, helping them to climb up that learning curve as quickly and effectively as possible. If you can, give them a mentor and/or coach to give them the best possible start. This can be someone internal if they have the skills and time to fulfil the role, otherwise use someone from outside. This relatively small investment will provide a truly significant return.

8. Assessment
Most organisations apply a 3 or 6 month probationary period to new recruits but often don’t apply a structured approach to making the most of it, either for the organisation or for the individual. Independently led regular assessments and reviews during the probationary period will ensure that both parties are held accountable for giving new recruits the best possible opportunity to settle in and prove that they meet expectations.

Next time you are recruiting for this pivotal role don’t forget to consider the above and you won’t go far wrong. If you need any support during the recruitment or settling in of project management professionals, why not get in touch with the team at ProjExc. Good luck!

Defining Project Requirements

It is unsurprisingly difficult to meet with customer or user expectations without a clear definition of requirements agreed at the beginning of a project. Unfortunately, too many customers are unable or unwilling to commit to requirements. Similarly, too many project managers fail to put sufficient focus on finalising their agreement swiftly enough. The requirements form the basis of a detailed project management plan. Sadly too many projects fail as a result of the resulting ambiguity.

Very often, the main cause for failing to define requirements adequately is insufficient understanding of, or confidence in, the techniques and tools needed to appropriately capture the essential project requirements.

PROCESS
A practical, nine-step process for defining requirements for your project or product is suggested in the book “Customer-Centered Products” by Ivy Hooks and Kristin Farry:

  1. Scope the project or product by defining needs, goals and objectives, outcomes, mission or business case, high-level operational concepts, customer requirements, constraints, assumptions, schedules, budgets, roles and responsibilities.
  2. Develop operational concepts – scenarios for how your project or product might be used by the end user. Expand the concepts to cover all phases of the product or project life cycle.
  3. Identify interfaces between your project or product and the rest of the world, clarifying boundaries, inputs, and outputs.
  4. Write requirements to guide product design toward what your customers need and want.
  5. Capture rationale (the reasons for the requirement’s existence) behind each requirement and expose potentially dangerous assumptions and incorrect facts.
  6. Level requirements according to system and system sub-divisions, ensuring that all requirements are written at the right level and can be traced back to their origins.
  7. Assess verification of each requirement, identifying the verification technique and facilities and equipment required.
  8. Format requirements and supporting documentation to ensure that you have included each of the appropriate types of requirements and that your development team members can find all of the requirements they must meet.
  9. Baseline requirements after validating that they are correct, complete, consistent, meet the project scope, and do not add unnecessary functionality or features not covered by the original scope.

Gathering RequirementsGATHERING
There are several techniques for initially gathering (elicitation) of the requirements. The following Top10 from TechRepublic provides for a thorough capture.

#1: One-on-one interviews
The most common technique for gathering requirements is to sit down with the clients and ask them what they need. The discussion should be planned out ahead of time based on the type of requirements you’re looking for. There are many good ways to plan the interview, but generally you want to ask open-ended questions to get the interviewee to start talking and then ask probing questions to uncover requirements.

#2: Group interviews
Group interviews are similar to the one-on-one interview, except that more than one person is being interviewed — usually two to four. These interviews work well when everyone is at the same level or has the same role. Group interviews require more preparation and more formality to get the information you want from all the participants. You can uncover a richer set of requirements in a shorter period of time if you can keep the group focused.

#3: Facilitated sessions
In a facilitated session, you bring a larger group (five or more) together for a common purpose. In this case, you are trying to gather a set of common requirements from the group in a faster manner than if you were to interview each of them separately.

#4: Joint application development (JAD)
JAD sessions are similar to general facilitated sessions. However, the group typically stays in the session until the session objectives are completed. For a requirements JAD session, the participants stay in session until a complete set of requirements is documented and agreed to.

#5: Questionnaires
Questionnaires are much more informal, and they are good tools to gather requirements from stakeholders in remote locations or those who will have only minor input into the overall requirements. Questionnaires can also be used when you have to gather input from dozens, hundreds, or thousands of people.

#6: Prototyping
Prototyping is a relatively modern technique for gathering requirements. In this approach, you gather preliminary requirements that you use to build an initial version of the solution — a prototype. You show this to the client, who then gives you additional requirements. You change the application and cycle around with the client again. This repetitive process continues until the product meets the critical mass of business needs or for an agreed number of iterations.

#7: Use cases
Use cases are basically stories that describe how discrete processes work. The stories include people (actors) and describe how the solution works from a user perspective. Use cases may be easier for the users to articulate, although the use cases may need to be distilled later into the more specific detailed requirements.

#8: Following people around
This technique is especially helpful when gathering information on current processes. You may find, for instance, that some people have their work routine down to such a habit that they have a hard time explaining what they do or why. You may need to watch them perform their job before you can understand the entire picture. In some cases, you might also want to participate in the actual work process to get a hands-on feel for how the business function works today.

#9: Request for proposals (RFPs)
If you are a vendor, you may receive requirements through an RFP. This list of requirements is there for you to compare against your own capabilities to determine how close a match you are to the client’s needs.

#10: Brainstorming
On some projects, the requirements are not “uncovered” as much as they are “discovered.” In other words, the solution is brand new and needs to be created as a set of ideas that people can agree to. In this type of project, simple brainstorming may be the starting point. The appropriate subject matter experts get into a room and start creatively brainstorming what the solution might look like. After all the ideas are generated, the participants prioritize the ones they think are the best for this solution. The resulting consensus of best ideas is used for the initial requirements.

TOOLS
There are numerous templates freely available.  We touch on project tools more here.

Often there is a temptation to use specific software for capturing requirements, and there are numerous commercial offerings to meet that ’need’, however it is worth bearing in mind that basic office tools are often just as effective.

High Performing Project Organisation?

Survey

PM Advisor Survey of High Performing project organisations

We know that only 30% of business project objectives are successfully delivered, but a small number of high performing organisations are achieving success rates in excess of 90%.

If you are with one of those high performing organisations, please take a few minutes to answer a few non-attributable questions by following this link:

Click here to take survey

We’ll share the outcome here on PM Advisor.

If you would be happy to contribute to our more controlled research on this subject please contact us and we’ll send you are more detailed form.

Thank you!