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Project Success During During Any Financial Cycle
By Steve Hill

Department budgets are not as tight as they were a year ago but ROI must still occur sooner, project approvals can still be hard to come by and, as always, failing to deliver as promised is well… let’s not go there. We seem to be exiting a business cycle that brings a very high level of scrutiny to all expenditures, but remaining efficient is still key.

The importance of your projects’ success is never in doubt; the project would never have existed if the results were not important. In difficult financial times, however, the importance can be greatly magnified as competition for budget dollars heightens. With the potential for a worsening economy, project portfolios will be carefully monitored to see if their project investments are meeting expectations and providing the promised results.

How do we know improve our odds of success? The best thing – focus on the basics. The traditional tools need to be brought to bear as a best practice: diligent risk management; aggressive issue management; useful metrics tracking; and as important as the rest, that nagging feeling that keeps you awake at night.

  • Risk

    Too often when a project runs into problems, project managers will ask “how was I supposed to know this?”

    The answer is in the depth of the risk exploration. Typically, you’ll find the common risks (late vendor deliveries, scope creep, etc). What does your team think of these? Are these the risks that they really are concerned about? Too often, a project manager takes risk exploration on as a solo effort with a cursory review by the team. If the asked (and actually listened to), the team has more concerns that directly affect their world and ability to deliver. The voicing of these concerns must be encouraged and each of them evaluated to ensure that a risk considered inane by some doesn’t come to fruition and cause failure.

    The project manager has a responsibility to encourage all team members and stakeholders to raise any risk they perceive. No one is a master of all aspects of a project and can divine everyone else’s concerns. Project managers that fail to continually seek out and consider all risks or dismiss others’ risks as trivial are candidates for failure.

  • Issues

    Issues are less a predictive concern than a management concern. Again, there are standard approaches that every project manager uses: track the issues, assign responsibility with a due date and follow up. The problem comes when issues seem to defy resolution and remain on the log for long periods with little or no real progress.

    Lasting issues often involve decisions or actions at the executive level or by outside groups that cannot be controlled. If the resolution of issues was available at the local level, they likely would have been addressed immediately by the project team. Without the influence to force action, expecting others to take action can be an exercise in futility. It is the responsibility of the project manager to work with the sponsor to get action on those issues outside of the project manager’s sphere of influence.

  • Metrics

    Metrics can be a little tricky. Very often the project manager has little control over the metrics tracked and reported as representative of the project status. Likely the metrics tracked will detect problems and communicate them in a format preferred by management; however they may not present the whole picture. As an example, threshold reporting, earned value, effort variance all present a picture of the project in terms that will highlight issues but may not present an accurate picture of the project health.

    There is no argument that it is important to track those items that would indicate impending problems, the more information available about a project, the better. With this in mind, nothing would prevent the project manager from tracking more than the required metrics. Seek out and find those metrics that offer true insight into the project as a unique effort.

  • Things That Go Bump in the Night

    When you finally turn it all off for the night and try to rest, what goes through your mind? Is it the staff’s promise to make up for a late delivery and get the next one on time? Is it the testing that was cut from the schedule in order to delivery on time? Is the resolution for issue “x” really going to solve the problem? Write it down and address it tomorrow, but don’t ignore it.

    The things that creep into our minds as we start to relax are as real as anything we have on our issue list. While we spend our days interacting with others and addressing project concerns, these nagging items are likely unaddressed issues that are not going to go away. Keep a pad of paper near your bed and make a few notes that will remind you of your thoughts tomorrow. This will help you sleep better and give you a starting point for the next day.

The Bottom Line

  • Use the familiar tools at hand to their fullest extent.
  • Revisit risk with your team often. Trust your team to worry about the right things.

  • Don’t let issues fester.

  • Metrics are of benefit, make them work for you.

  • Trust and address your fears. They can be a great asset.

Steve Hill is a Performance-driven Senior Manager / Executive with notable success in managing the creation and execution of strategic initiatives at small, medium and large clients with a clear focus on business value. He has strengths in formulating long-term strategic policies, technological initiatives and execution governance in support of evolving business needs. You can read more from Steve on his blog.

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