The Variables for Success

Introduction

Project management cannot succeed unless the project manager is willing to employ the systems approach to project management by analyzing those variables that lead to success and failure. This chapter briefly discusses the dos and don'ts of project management as well as providing a "skeleton" checklist of the key success variables. The following four topics are included:

• Predicting project success

• Project management effectiveness

• Expectations

• Force field analysis

Predicting Project Success

One of the most difficult tasks is predicting whether the project will be successful. Most goal-oriented managers look only at the time, cost, and performance parameters. If an out-of-tolerance condition exists, then additional analysis is required to identify the cause of the problem. Looking only at time, cost, and performance might identify immediate contributions to profits, but will not identify whether the project itself was managed correctly. This takes on paramount importance if the survival of the organization is based on a steady stream of successfully managed projects. Once or twice a program manager might be able to force a project to success by continually swinging a large baseball bat. After a while, however, either the effect of the big bat will become tolerable, or people will avoid working on his projects.

Project success is often measured by the "actions" of three groups: the project manager and team, the parent organization, and the customer's organization. There are certain actions that the project manager and team can take in order to stimulate project success. These actions include:

• Insist on the right to select key project team members.

• Select key team members with proven track records in their fields.

• Develop commitment and a sense of mission from the outset.

• Seek sufficient authority and a projectized organizational form.

• Coordinate and maintain a good relationship with the client, parent, and team.

• Seek to enhance the public's image of the project.

• Have key team members assist in decision making and problem solving.

• Develop realistic cost, schedule, and performance estimates and goals.

• Have backup strategies in anticipation of potential problems.

• Provide a team structure that is appropriate, yet flexible and flat.

• Go beyond formal authority to maximize influence over people and key decisions.

• Employ a workable set of project planning and control tools.

• Avoid overreliance on one type of control tool.

• Stress the importance of meeting cost, schedule, and performance goals.

• Give priority to achieving the mission or function of the end-item.

• Keep changes under control.

• Seek to find ways of assuring job security for effective project team members.

In Chapter 4 we stated that a project cannot be successful unless it is recognized as a project and has the support of top-level management. Top-level management must be willing to commit company resources and provide the necessary administrative support so that the project easily adapts to the company's day-to-day routine of doing business. Furthermore, the parent organization must develop an atmosphere conducive to good working relationships between the project manager, parent organization, and client organization.

With regard to the parent organization, there exist a number of variables that can be used to evaluate parent organization support. These variables include:

• A willingness to coordinate efforts

• A willingness to maintain structural flexibility

• A willingness to adapt to change

• Effective strategic planning

• Rapport maintenance

• Proper emphasis on past experience

• External buffering

• Prompt and accurate communications

• Enthusiastic support

• Identification to all concerned parties that the project does, in fact, contribute to parent capabilities

The mere identification and existence of these variables do not guarantee project success in dealing with the parent organization. Instead, they imply that there exists a good foundation with which to work so that if the project manager and team, and the parent organization, take the appropriate actions, project success is likely. The following actions must be taken:

• Select at an early point, a project manager with a proven track record of technical skills, human skills, and administrative skills (in that order) to lead the project team.

• Develop clear and workable guidelines for the project manager.

• Delegate sufficient authority to the project manager, and let him make important decisions in conjunction with key team members.

• Demonstrate enthusiasm for and commitment to the project and team.

• Develop and maintain short and informal lines of communication.

• Avoid excessive pressure on the project manager to win contracts.

• Avoid arbitrarily slashing or ballooning the project team's cost estimate.

• Develop close, not meddling, working relationships with the principal client contact and project manager.

Both the parent organization and the project team must employ proper managerial techniques to ensure that judicious and adequate, but not excessive, use of planning, controlling, and communications systems can be made. These proper management techniques must also include preconditioning, such as:

• Clearly established specifications and designs

• Realistic schedules

• Realistic cost estimates

• Avoidance of overoptimism

The client organization can have a great deal of influence on project success by minimizing team meetings, making rapid responses to requests for information, and simply letting the contractor "do his thing" without any interference. The variables that exist for the client organization include:

• A willingness to coordinate efforts

• Rapport maintenance

• Establishment of reasonable and specific goals and criteria

• Well-established procedures for changes

• Prompt and accurate communications

• Commitment of client resources

• Minimization of red tape

• Providing sufficient authority to the client contact (especially for decision making) With these variables as the basic foundation, it should be possible to:

• Encourage openness and honesty from the start from all participants

• Create an atmosphere that encourages healthy competition, but not cut-throat situations or "liars'" contests

• Plan for adequate funding to complete the entire project

• Develop clear understandings of the relative importance of cost, schedule, and technical performance goals

• Develop short and informal lines of communication and a flat organizational structure

• Delegate sufficient authority to the principal client contact, and allow prompt approval or rejection of important project decisions

• Make prompt decisions regarding contract award or go-ahead

• Develop close, not meddling, working relationships with project participants

• Avoid arms-length relationships

• Avoid excessive reporting schemes

• Make prompt decisions regarding changes

By combining the relevant actions of the project team, parent organization, and client organization, we can identify the fundamental lessons for management. These include:

• When starting off in project management, plan to go all the way.

• Recognize authority conflicts—resolve.

• Recognize change impact—be a change agent.

• Match the right people with the right jobs.

• No system is better than the people who implement it.

• Allow adequate time and effort for laying out the project groundwork and defining work:

• Work breakdown structure

• Network planning

• Ensure that work packages are the proper size:

• Manageable, with organizational accountability

• Realistic in terms of effort and time

• Establish and use planning and control systems as the focal point of project implementation.

• Know when you've gotten there.

• Be sure information flow is realistic.

• Information is the basis for problem solving and decision making.

• Communication "pitfalls" are the greatest contributor to project difficulties.

• The best-laid plans can often go astray.

• Change is inevitable.

• Tie together responsibility, performance, and rewards.

• Management by objectives

• Key to motivation and productivity

• Long before the project ends, plan for its end.

• Disposition of personnel

• Disposal of material and other resources

• Transfer of knowledge

• Closing out work orders

• Customer/contractor financial payments and reporting

The last lesson, project termination, has been the downfall for many good project managers. As projects near completion, there is a natural tendency to minimize costs by transferring people as soon as possible and by closing out work orders. This often leaves the project manager with the responsibility for writing the final report and transferring raw materials to other programs. Many projects require one or two months after work completion simply for administrative reporting and final cost summary.

Having defined project success, we can now identify some of the major causes for the failure of project management:

• Selection of a concept that is not applicable. Since each application is unique, selecting a project that does not have a sound basis, or forcing a change when the time is not appropriate, can lead to immediate failure.

• Selection of the wrong person as project manager. The individual selected must be more of a manager than a doer. He must place emphasis on all aspects of the work, not merely the technical.

• Upper management that is not supportive. Upper management must concur in the concept and must behave accordingly.

• Inadequately defined tasks. There must exist an adequate system for planning and control such that a proper balance between cost, schedule, and technical performance can be maintained.

• Misused management techniques. There exists the inevitable tendency in technical communities to attempt to do more than is initially required by contract. Technology must be watched, and individuals must buy only what is needed.

• Project termination that is not planned. By definition, each project must stop. Termination must be planned so that the impact can be identified.

It is often said that more can be learned from failure than from success. The lessons that can be learned from project failure include:1

• When starting off in project management, plan to go all the way.

• Don't skimp on the project manager's qualifications.

• Do not spare time and effort in laying out the project groundwork and defining work.

• Ensure that the work packages in the project are of proper size.

• Establish and use network planning techniques, having the network as the focal point of project implementation.

• Be sure that the information flow related to the project management system is realistic.

• Be prepared to replan jobs continually to accommodate frequent changes on dynamic programs.

• Whenever possible, tie together responsibility, performance, and rewards.

• Long before a project ends, provide some means for accommodating the employees' personal goals.

• If mistakes in project implementation have been made, make a fresh try.

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Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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