How many projects have you been involved with, which have overrun or gone over budget? Quite a few I’m sure and I’d bet one of the main reasons being new project requirements requested mid way through, which weren’t originally planned for.
Having been involved in various projects covering Business transformation, Digital development and Team restructures, its been clear that effective project management skills come with experience and a little bit of common sense.
Whilst your project team may be filled with highly experienced and talented people, the approach to how you manage the project planning process collaboratively will determine the success and cost.
Its all in the detail
I’ve found from experience that the delivery of any project is only as good as the original vision and requirements brief. This is particularly true of projects involving system development or when working with a 3rd party agency. But it can be hard to get everyone to invest the time up front when they are no doubt already busy.
With clear communication of the project rationale, business investment and expected benefits for individuals and their team, can encourage early buy in from managers and focus their efforts on investing time (and head space) at the start of a project when they need to consider what is required, what’s in scope and as importantly what is not – it is time well spent.
Having one person from the outset take ownership and be accountable for the project planning process, will mean they’ll be able to foresee challenges, maintain regular clear communication and plan should deadlines not be achieved. Equally setting a clear budget to measure spend against and communicating this to the project team, will reduce the risk of costs and time quickly overrunning, compared to if a clear and agreed requirements document isn’t in place.
Its a good idea to consider early on any risks which may impact the delivery of the project and record these in a risk register. This could be the need to reduce investment levels, divert resources to another project, reliance on a single member of the team or partner to deliver the work. By identifying these details a mitigation plan can also be thought through and monitored as the project progresses, so there are no nasty surprises.
Involve the right people in the project team
Business development projects by their nature often cut across multiple parts of any business, so getting the right people with a mix of knowledge and skills involved from day one is key to success.
The project sponsor is a pivotal role with strong leadership and agile decision making, essential for inspiring and motivating a project team to deliver against what are regularly stretching deadlines. Whether this is a senior leader from the business or external project manager, their team building skills and approach to empowering the team will influence the success. There is nothing more divisive than having someone who flip flops their way through a project they are running.
But it’s not all down to one person to hit deadlines, having a range of skills, business knowledge and levels represented in the project team will ensure all touch points of the project are considered. In a service business, including customer facing team members may take them away from the day job, but its time well invested as with hands on experience they will add further insights into shaping the project requirements and support buy-in of the positive impacts of any new processes or service.
Communicate clear roles, responsibilities and actions
Whilst individually project team members may be great at their jobs, collectively as essentially a new team they will look for guidance and clarity of what’s expected of them.
Poor communication is frequently cited in staff surveys as one of the greatest frustrations for employees, so once you’ve the team in place to avoid confusion of who is doing what and risk tasks falling between people, it’s useful to identify, agree and communicate roles and responsibilities to give confidence and clarity.
A simple tool called RACI can be used to document this as a matrix based on the headings:
- Responsible: Those who are doing the day to day work for the project
- Accountable: The overall person responsible for its completion and for making the key decision.
- Consulted: Anyone who needs to be aware of what’s going on and give feedback.
- Informed: Anyone who needs to be aware of decision made or action taken.
Have a project plan and update it regularly
Whether you choose a high level plan, agile road map, critical path or Gantt chart, documenting a plan of actions and timescales which all stakeholders agree to, will help identify and alleviate pressure points along the way. But for this to work, there will need to be commitment for the plan to be regularly kept up to date and progress co-ordinated by a project manager.
As a clear point of reference to track progress, manage time and resources, the plan will only be as good as the last update, so regular updates through weekly or fortnightly project team meetings where priorities and deadlines are adjusted should be scheduled for its use to be effective. Sounds simple, but where projects extend across a few months, engagement and input can easily tail off as project fatigue kicks in.
An effective way to keep focus and set priorities once the project is under way is to use the RAG status system to identify the teams confidence of delivering an action using Red (Current issue), Amber (Potential future issues) Green (on track) traffic light flag against actions in the plan, which may be missed or create a blocker and need additional resources to complete.
Invest early to save money in the long run
It’s unlikely anyone involved in a project has spare time or capacity to be 100% involved, for most businesses and teams trying to juggle multiple deadlines and calls on their time, project actions are just another addition to a long to do list.
For this reason, projects frequently fail or run overdue as a result of individuals not being able to spare enough time, to either the management of the process or tasks required. In many cases this is not a result of lack of engagement, but conflicting priorities of the day to day business as usual needs, which must be balanced.
Whilst an additional investment of budget is required to engage a dedicated project manager to support the team, its money well spent. They come with no existing or internal political bias, so can work openly with those involved, freeing up time for them to focus on their actions when it fits, helps juggle priorities around wider business needs with a clear view whilst co-ordinating multiple people and keep progress on track and in budget avoiding costly overruns. An effective Project Manager should ultimately save a business money in the long run.
Utilise free online tools
Anyone who used to work with me, will tell you I love a good spreadsheet, but more recently I’m a convert to utilising a variety of free and simple project management tools available online.
The main benefits I’ve found with online tools are the ability to manage the details of each project live, enabling others in the group to add real time updates, share files or simple keep everything in a single place. Some of the most popular collaborative tools I have found are:
- Microsoft teams – great when working across multiple locations and time zones, with the ability to chat, meet up and share files.
- Hive – is a flexible tool which offers various templates to display project workflows and actions.
- Wrike – with customised automated workflows and pre-built templates also integrates with a range of other business apps.
- Trello – offers a visual and flexible way to track project work streams and actions, through a series of boards, lists and cards.
- Monday.com – has clear dashboards and shareable boards to help organise projects
I hope you found this article and the template useful. If you are about to start a project for your business, I’d be happy to discuss how I can help support the planning, managing the scope, time, quality and budget of your project however large or small it maybe.