Posts Tagged ‘Resourcing’

PostHeaderIcon A Checklist for Team Readiness

Just because the plan seems complete and you think you’re ready to go doesn’t necessarily mean that you are. Apparently small details left unattended as the project is poised for execution can become the source of re-work, frustration, delays, conflict and dysfunctional team behaviors later on in the project.

16 Team Readiness Checks

Here are some of those often forgotten pre-launch checks:

  1. Have the overall project objective and scope boundaries been shared with all team members?
  2. Have all known gaps in resource expertise been resolved?
  3. Have clear roles and responsibilities been defined for each individual?
  4. Has real availability been validated with each team member and relevant line managers?
  5. Have time and effort estimates involved input from the team?
  6. Have the team agreed on who owns which deliverables?
  7. Have those owners specified completion criteria for each of their deliverables?
  8. Is the team aligned on deadlines, dependencies, constraints and risks?
  9. Is the project team ready, willing and able to execute the project according to the baseline plan?
  10. Have initial work priorities been communicated to the project team?
  11. Has a procedure for issuing weekly WBS task lists, actions and priorities to the team been set?
  12. Is the team aware of which tasks are critical and will actual slack values be communicated to task owners each week?
  13. Has the team been informed of how and when they should provide status updates?
  14. Has the team been involved in identifying risks and formulating response strategies?
  15. Have procedures for raising, escalating and resolving issues been defined and communicated?
  16. Does the team know how often project review meetings will be held and who should attend?

    PostHeaderIcon Connecting Strategy and Tactics

    The great Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu had it pretty much spot on:

    Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.

    Having a great strategy isn’t worth a whole lot to anyone unless it’s backed up by solid tactical execution capability – which means project management.  And no matter how good the project managers are, individual excellence in project planning and control won’t overcome cross-project resource overallocations and poor outcomes if projects are not strategically aligned and properly prioritized. The trick therefore is to unite the two in a strategic implementation framework.

    The Missing Link

    Properly connecting strategy and tactics involves the disciplines of portfolio and program management. This crucial linkage – often missing or incomplete – bridges the gap between the promise of strategy and the actuality of operational results. Portfolio management, most importantly, establishes executive oversight for project selection, project prioritization (see Project Prioritization Criteria), funding and resource allocation (see The Goals of Portfolio Management). Program management provides the governance and architecture for defining, planning and controlling broad strategic initiatives comprised of interdependent projects (see Project or Program).

    Important Questions

    The hard part of course is putting this all into practice. A few fundamental questions can help maintain the right focus; for example:

    • Do we know how strongly each declared strategy is supported by our current projects?
    • Do we believe we have the optimal mix of projects to fulfill our strategy – taking account of various business needs, execution constraints and operational imperatives?
    • Do our strategic programs clearly lay out the relationship between objectives, projects, deliverables and benefits?
    • Is each program properly coordinating the component projects using a single integrated master plan?
    • Are cross-project resource contentions identified in advance and resolved proactively before progress is impacted?
    • Have success metrics been identified for projects, for programs and for portfolios, and are they being tracked and reported systematically?

    PostHeaderIcon Project Management Checklists

    Much more than a Memory Jogger

    Much more than a Memory Jogger

    Among all the tools at our disposal for managing projects, programs and portfolios, checklists are perhaps the simplest and most productive means of building consistency in work practices. Checklists are useful in almost every field of human endeavor, and in particular where repeatability and systematic action drive performance. Yet they are still much under-used in the planning and managing of projects.

    As a good friend of mine, Nick Gogerty, recently posted in Checklists, hedge funds and human behaviour, checklists provide for better outcomes – both individual and team. And the more collective experience that goes into the creation of a checklist, the more value it will have. Well thought-out checklists are indispensable wherever there is a need for control, risk reduction, rapid response or safety – as doctors, flight crew, investors and others the world over can testify, the checklist provides efficient guidance, increased confidence and focus under stress (see The Checklist Manifesto – How to Get things Right – a great-sounding read that Nick highly recommends).

    Twelve Checks for Planning

    Likewise for project managers – checklists can be used for all manner of things. Where training builds knowledge, checklists facilitate application.  Here is a high level twelve-point checklist for use during project planning:

    1. Have the needs and concerns of all key stakeholders been considered and resolved?
    2. Does the project have an overall approved mission statement defining the scope, schedule and resources/budget?
    3. Has the relative flexibility among scope, schedule, resources and budget been determined?
    4. Have all project deliverables been identified and described in detail with unambiguous completion criteria?
    5. Are roles and responsibilities defined and agreed upon for all project team members?
    6. Has an appropriately detailed work breakdown structure been created with input from key team members?
    7. Has a credible schedule with identifiable critical path and late schedule been developed from the WBS and optimized within the project constraints?
    8. Have milestones been included in the schedule to track major events, completed phases and/or deliverables and external dependencies?
    9. Have workload commitments been identified for each week of the project and agreed to by team members and their managers?
    10. Have response plans been developed for the most significant threats to project success?
    11. Has a change management process been defined and agreed to by all key stakeholders?
    12. Has the governance structure for the project been established with an agreed sponsorship role and expectations set for review frequency and format?

    One of the features of checklists is that they can be designed to extend hierarchically, such that a sub-checklist could be developed to facilitate any or all of the checks above (e.g. a stakeholder analysis checklist or a risk management checklist). The PMI, training firms and PMOs would do well to promote checklists more strongly – project managers like to use checklists; not many want to read through an overweight methodology. And managers like checklists because they improve quality and instill consistency. For the converted, I’ll have more checklists in future posts.

    PostHeaderIcon The Flexibility Matrix

    An important aspect of the project manager’s role is the appropriate balancing of trade-offs among the primary project constraints. In most cases this means determining priorities among schedule, scope and resources. The relative importance of these should be defined unambiguously by the project sponsor and then reflected by the PM in a matrix:

    Forcing clarity on project constraints and priorities

    Forcing clarity on project constraints and priorities

    In the example above, schedule is deemed to have the least flexibility, meaning that everything possible shall be done to meet the target completion date, even if scope has to be compromised in some way, or more preferably, by adding resources to expedite the schedule. It is important to state WHY a particular constraint is either least, moderately, or most flexible, according to the sponsor’s priorities, with guidance on the relative limits of flexibility (so no blank cheques).

    This little tool is invaluable to the project manager during both planning (in ensuring the right focus in optimizing the project plan before baselining) and execution (in guiding both the tracking effort and corrective action in the event the project deviates from the plan).

    While the relative priorities can be changed by management as desired, a simple rule must be followed to prevent insistence that everything be least flexible – only ONE check allowed per column and ONE check allowed per row.

    PostHeaderIcon Credibility requires Detail (the 2nd Law)

    Most projects are underplanned. They’re already late before they start. For a host of reasons – the usual suspects include a lack of project management discipline, inadequate tools and training, unclear objectives, top-down influence, overworked and under pressure team members – projects get planned with insufficient detail.

    The reality is that detail is the basis for accuracy in all projects. Plans that lack appropriate detail can’t be believed. This is what I call the Second Law of project management.

    The consequence of a lack of detail is a project suicide spiral:

    Understate what’s needed… Misunderstand what ‘done’ looks like… Miss stuff out… Underestimate time and effort requirements to do the work… Overcommit resources to unrealistic schedules…
    Present bad news to customer.

    Breakdown Checks

    Without a credible plan, a project manager lacks credibility with the team and stakeholders. Only when we get to the detail is the full extent of work revealed, which means developing a great Work Breakdown Structure. Here are a few WBS must-do’s:

    • Ensure tasks are small enough so that-
      • Estimates of effort and duration are as accurate and credible as possible
      • Task durations are typically no greater than the time between progress updates
    • Define explicitly what ‘done’ means-
      • Especially for any task that is unfamiliar, complex or difficult to break down
    • Assign a single owner to each task-
      • Have them verify that the expected workflow minimizes likelihood of any missing tasks
    • Use a checklist of often forgotten tasks-
      • e.g. meetings, defect resolutions, reviews and approval cycles.

    They say the devil is in the details – and just looking for a chance to cause trouble. Good process and a little extra planning time will build protection.

    (See all 5 Laws summarized in The 5 Laws of Effective Project Management)