Seven Attributes of Effective Project Management
By Andrew Grimes
Delivering web publishing projects requires the careful coordination of a range of skill sets. There are the developers, who focus on technical challenges; the designers, information architects and QA testers, who primarily focus on addressing end-users’ needs; and of course there is the client team, whose prime focus is on business benefits. Meanwhile, the Project Manager’s focus is on the project team itself and how its members can best work together to deliver against all of these interests.
But what does a Project Manager really do?
Here are my top seven attributes of effective project management: the things we PMs ought to be doing to keep everything on track …
1. Building Confidence Within The Whole Project Team.
Without confidence, a project can very quickly lose its way. The Project Manager should therefore regularly check the health of ‘project confidence’ by reviewing the following questions:
- Is there confidence that the project is on track?
- Are roles and responsibilities clearly defined and understood?
- Is everyone happy?
In my experience, regular demonstrations of progress are the best way to build trust. With regular review meetings, there is the opportunity to review the project against its business case and to provide assurance that the development is on track. It is the Project Manager’s job to ensure that these reviews take place at the right intervals, that the right people are there, and that the points raised during the review are followed through.
2. Managing Change
As the saying goes: the only constant is change. Requirements that were specified, costed and signed off at the outset of a project will often need to adjust to fit the changing business context. Project teams usually uncover unexpected additional complexities, or indeed opportunities, along the way. Either way, it is sensible to plan for change.
Part of the Project Manager’s role is to coordinate change with as little pain as possible. This can involve de-scoping lower priority deliverables in exchange for incorporating new ideas within the existing budget. More often it means arranging for an additional budget with a corresponding adjustment to the project plan. Clear communication and a documented agreement are essential for ensuring that change is managed effectively.
One could say that a Project Manager is like the conductor of an orchestra. Without necessarily being proficient on any particular instrument, the conductor coordinates the intricate timings and dependencies within a piece of music. He is responsible for each detail and also for the overall quality of the final piece.
In reality, a Project Manager is perhaps more like a bus conductor – handing out tickets and coordinating at what points people get off and on. However, it is crucially important to plan the route the bus is going to take. As such, a Project Manager needs to agree ’smart targets’ with the production team and to track progress carefully. Without this the passengers would have no idea as to where they were going or indeed when they were going to arrive.
As everyone knows, enterprises of any sort in our knowledge economy rely heavily on the flow of knowledge. Project Managers must ask themselves:
- Does each team member know all that is necessary to do their job?
- Are project requirements well documented?
- Is the business case for the project well defined and understood?
- Are the key stakeholders being given the appropriate opportunities to review progress?
- Is there an audit trail of project decisions, issues, risks, changes?
It is easy to see that without an effective communication strategy in place a project is likely to suffer.
Of the various types of project meetings I coordinate, my favorite is the morning Scrum with each project team. These meetings are ultra-efficient – no more than 15 mins – and the agenda is always the same:
- What progress was made yesterday?
- What is the plan for today?
- Are there any impediments stopping you from proceeding?
These meetings are a great way to monitor progress and identify any ‘blockers’ which need addressing.
5. Risk Analysis
The Project Manager is ultimately responsible for ensuring the health of the project. Regular risk analysis is an essential part of this. The process starts with identifying possible risks so that they can be logged, evaluated (scored according to impact and probability) and assigned to ‘risk owners’. Naturally, logging them is not enough, it is also important to make a decision about how best to manage each risk. This will sometimes take the form of deciding on a contingency plan. However, it is preferable, where possible, to mitigate the risks in the short term by taking actions to reduce the probability or impact.
6. Problem Solving
Even with the best planning, communication and risk analysis, you can still encounter tricky times in a project. Here the Project Manager must do their best to identify win-win outcomes. I believe that the best way to do this is to remember to focus on ‘interests’ as opposed to particular ‘positions’.
There is a famous story about two sisters arguing over an orange. They eventually settle on dividing it in two. They later discover that one sister had wanted the peel and the other, the fruit. Had they communicated more effectively what their interests were, both could have had 100% of what they wanted. However, because they focused on winning rather than win-win, they each only got 50%. The moral is to remember to delve into the real interests of each party, and only then to consider solutions that deliver to all. Likewise, a Project Manager must consult with all key stakeholders before recommending a solution that works well for everybody.
7. Quality Control
Quality is defined in ISO 9000:2000 as ‘The totality of features and characteristics of a product or service that bear on its ability to satisfy stated or implied needs’.
It is difficult to deliver ‘implied needs’ with precision – but it is important to try! The unspoken, undocumented requirements can be very important. It is likewise essential to manage even the smallest details that crop up. Project Managers know from bitter experience exactly where the devil is – and by paying close attention to the detail they help to ensure that small problems don’t become diabolical ones!