In today's marketplace, you can find project management software everywhere in the cloud and on your desktop that can manage your projects, resources, tasks and even your project budgets and issues. And these come at all levels of cost – from free and open source to quite expensive per user. You essentially get what you pay for...that's nothing new, of course...
With literally hundreds of project management and project management-related tools available – both web-based and desktop – any company looking to change or finally purchase a PM tool has many, many (too many) choices. And, while functionality is key, there is certainly a limit to the amount of function any one organization can utilize or that all organizations really care about...
Our CEOs are skilled individuals, but they could likely benefit from a refresher course in these four key project management areas.
I think most CEOs have a great deal of skill in terms of budget oversight, customer management, task management and resolving conflicts. However, I think much of this is far removed from their current tasks and a refresher course in each would probably be in order. Think, “Undercover Boss.” I've never watched that show, but I think all CEOs could learn from project managers and teams based on what they are doing daily on their projects – making key decisions on the run, engaging their company's most important customers daily, and managing issues and tasks on an ongoing basis – sometimes in survival mode.
That said, here are four key things that I believe CEOs could learn from the project teams who are managing their precious projects and customers on a daily basis...
Risk planning…most tell you they hate to spend time on it and often just do a cursory amount of real risk planning. We often find that it’s easier to act now and ask for forgiveness later. Risk planning is like life insurance…great if you need it, but most of us don’t need it before it becomes too expensive to have or we really don’t need it anymore…and all we’ve done is spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on premiums that will never be used. Ouch! I think most project customers would probably agree as well – while grimacing at the thought of their hard-earned dollars floating away when the indestructible Titanic hits that iceberg that no one saw coming.
While it is true that it’s almost impossible to avoid all issues and risks on a project, it is possible to practice wise risk management to either avoid most risks or be prepared to mitigate those risks that cannot be avoided no matter what. Let’s consider some simple steps to follow – some risk management best practices to engage in – during the early phases of your project that can greatly increase your project’s chances for success and minimize risk impacts...
By using 60 solid minutes a day to focus on all the key activities that each project needs every week, you can keep your projects on the path to success.
What can I do in 60 minutes each day? Well, you can watch your favorite one hour crime drama – either CSI Cyber or Criminal Minds – and still have 18 minutes left over if you record it and skip through the commercials. You can order a pizza and pick it up or have it delivered. You can watch one quarter of a Kevin Costner epic flop movie like “The Postman.” Or, you can manage a project. Yes, I said manage a project.
I'm not one for multitasking. I don't think men are really good at it – it's how our brains work. So, if you happen to be overseeing say, 5-6 projects at a time, then intent to spend 60 minutes each day on each project, certainly you have a project that really requires the full hour and some that don't. Maybe one is running full steam ahead and two are not seeing much action at the moment. Spend two hours on the one that needs it and 30 minutes each on the two that are not requiring much attention right now. Basically, an hour per project per day should be the goal.
Pain and learning experiences are good for us...right? As long as they don't kill us first. Stress, chaos, misdirection, issues, changes and scope creep. All the things that drive us crazy as project managers on our engagements make us better project managers on our next engagements. No way does it seem worth it at the moment. We probably want to stick our head in the sand. But, the things we’ve learned during our trials and tribulations in managing those less than desirable projects - the ones that fall in that ‘more than 50% of all projects fail’ category…can be worth their weight in gold on our next project or five projects down the road.
The key is – we must learn from the mistakes we make, the failures we experience, and the very difficult clients who may have helped us realize those setbacks. How we pick ourselves up and move on will define us as project managers and help us to establish a more meaningful career than if we float on by thinking everything we touch turns to gold. Remember my saying? “You’re only as successful as your last customer thinks you are.” I try to live my professional life by that statement. (And it’s really not a bad statement to live your personal life by, too.)...
Some projects experience some disastrous situations and you wonder, “Can this project be saved?” Maybe not out loud in front of the project client, but you do wonder it. Some can be fixed, some can’t and some take some alternate routes to get back on the road to success. The act of actually throwing in the towel is hopefully one of the last things on your mind. Or at least it should be.
The average project manager and/or strategist is likely going to want to consider all possible angles to save the project. It’s painful, but often with careful planning and creative thinking you can get back on the road to project completion – but you may need some negotiation and cooperation with and from your project customer to get there...
There are some critical things that need to be done well on your project engagements. Communication – good, effective, efficient communication – is key to project success and probably one of the most important things the project manager does throughout the engagement. Good, complete requirements are the lifeblood of the project. Without accurate, complete requirements that are well-documented and easily reference-able, the project will not likely stay on budget or on time and may be doomed to failure.
And finally, a project that is not properly and formally kicked off jointly with the project customer may get off track before it ever gets a chance to start. It's all about setting proper and accurate expectations right out of the gate and that likely won't happen without such a kickoff.
Risk management made simple...that's probably the best way to go. Make it too difficult and it just doesn't happen. But it needs to happen. Without some attention, effort, and planning put into risk identification and management, the project will likely hit some issues that you are not at all prepared to handle or respond to – it may even cause failure on the project. The approach can be simple and short, or it can be long and complex...the key is to at least do it. Ignoring risks doesn’t mean they won’t happen.
If nothing else, keep it basic – even if you're performing it at a very high level - and follow these four basic steps...
Your project schedule is only as good as it is usable. If it is just something you created at the beginning of the project to show the client, team and management that the delivery organization is capable of pulling this thing off, then it's really of no value. You need a project schedule that works and lives and breathes throughout the project, revised regularly, up to date as much as possible every day, and something you can use to make decisions from and manage against. If it's never revised or seldom up to date, you'll have a very difficult time making assignments and informed decisions on the project.
So, you need a project plan or schedule that really means something – one that is really working FOR you on the project. To that end, here is what you need to do...