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Understanding Project Structure
By Michael Stanleigh

Dear Project Coach:

I’m struggling with the project I’m leading. It seems too large, the scope too big and the team has too many people on it. Our project meetings are occurring two to three times each week. Each meeting is for at least one hour and we regularly go over time. With 25 to 30 people in attendance they’re hard to manage and keep focused. I have 35 key resources on my team. Not all of them attend each meeting. There seems to be a lack of direction in the project and the team seems unengaged. I have to do something but don’t even know where to start.

Signed: Help!!

Dear Help!!:

It appears as though some of your project foundation pieces are missing. There are a couple of things you can do to immediately turn this project around and give it more direction and control.

Bring your team together for 2 days. Review the project team’s structure with them. You have structured this as a single large project. That is unmanageable as you have found. Rather, structure it by placing you as the Program Manager with perhaps 6 Project Leaders reporting to you. Each project leader should have a project team assigned to one of the major work packages of the project. Each project team’s project plan will have interdependencies with the other project teams. This structure will give you more control. By discussing and agreeing on this new structure with the team you’ll gain their understanding, buy-in and support.

Include in your discussion the need to hold weekly meetings with your core team (your project leaders). In turn they should have weekly meetings with their own team. Your program level meetings will focus on the planned vs. actual project schedule and budget. Each project leader will report on how their team is progressing in the management of their schedule and budget. A discussion will then follow focus on the issues to be resolved to stop the schedule and/or budget slippages. Any other project concerns can also be addressed. Again, this will give you more control and they will have an increased level of commitment to the project.

The second part of your two-day meeting should be a review of the project’s scope. Review the Scope Statement document to ensure a common understanding of project scope among all project resources. If one hasn’t been completed, this is a great opportunity to develop it with the team. This will give everyone an opportunity to discuss and agree on clear project parameters and boundaries including the management of time, budget and resources.

With these foundations in place you should then plan time when you can bring each team together to build their detailed project plans. This will be the final control piece and increase everyone’s commitment to the project’s execution because of their increased awareness of exactly what needs to be done and why.

No longer will the project seem insurmountable. You will have control. You will have broken the project down to manageable stages and you’ll have a reasonably sized team to manage.

Let me know how you feel about the project, once you’ve implemented these steps.

Signed: The Project Coach

Michael Stanleigh is the President and CEO of Business Improvement Architects. He works with executives and senior managers around the world to help them improve operational effectiveness through strategic planning, leadership development, project management and quality management. Michael has been instrumental in helping his clients reduce waste and increase efficiencies and profits with his clear processes and quality approach.
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