People may wonder what it takes to run a project which has well-defined goals, accountability, transparency, and good management. These features are neither a matter of luck nor of management style rather of understanding and adhering to a set of academically proven best practices known collectively as project management. New initiatives as well as the management of organizational change can be run using the principles of project management. Information technology adds new levels of best practices related to compliance advice, documentation, software testing, quality assessment/quality improvement plans, technical and functional specifications, and more.
There are a great number of skills to be learned and master, from scheduling to anticipating the needs of different events and making sure that they are met as well as the art of managing change within an organization.
Project management as a discipline recognizes seven distinct phases of a project. Each phase has its’ unique goals and requirements.
- Project strategy and business case.
- Development and testing.
- Training and change management.
- Support and benefits realization.
- Project close.
Project strategy and business case.
It is up to every organization and each stakeholder in a project to help think through the project strategy and business case and to thereby define the reason that the project is taking place, some rational and achievable goals, a risk analysis, and any other method specific to the industry of the organization to analyze performance. A methodology for the project should be defined at this time. Often when preparing a prospectus for a client, an information technology or other consultant might spend a lot of unpaid time putting together these parts of the project in question. This phase often ends up including the signing of any initial contracts and retainers, NDA agreements, and other formalities needed for project initiation. After the terms and methodology and the goals are well-defined and understood, it is time to prepare for project initiation.
- Work Breakdown
- Project personnel needs must be defined by goals and resources. The budgets for personnel and materiel are part of those resources.
- Project Milestones Defined
- These expected events are agreed upon by key stakeholders as to being hallmark events in the proposed project as it runs its’ course successfully.
- Personnel needs defined earlier during the work breakdown are then identified and named during this sub-phase. Employment search criteria and budgets for personnel are agreed upon.
- Produce Project Initiation Document and Kickoff
- The project initiation document defines the goals, the budgets, the resources, and the general timeline. Key stakeholders and key personnel are involved in a project kickoff event. During this event, project leadership should take the time to share project initiation documents and explain the project timeline and goals.
- Selection of third-party contractors or other staff.
- Existing staff and other contractors need to be hired and named after being chosen according to the standards defined for the project.
- Secure Key Resources
- Funding for budgets, personnel hours for internal staff, rooms, and equipment all are resources which have to be secured before the project can take place.
The project design sometimes is completed from the beginning, which is actually not appropriate for anything but the most groundbreaking projects. Most projects have a project type and an identifiable set of best practices which define the design of the type of project in question. During this phase of the project it is very important to take all of the previously created documentation into account while preparing a master project plan. The milestones you have created earlier will be further defined with deliverables along the way between milestones which ultimately roll-up into goals. Different aspects of the project may run concurrently and require multiple Gantt charts to coordinate scheduling. Every deliverable, every task, has a timeline and responsible staff. The project manager will track these events in a pre-defined sequence and will report on project risks and progress with the progress reports designed during this phase. A business process analysis and business process re-engineering analysis will be run. In a good plan, the original business process most likely looks quite scrambled when presented visually, showing many cases of duplicated efforts and unnecessary loops. The result looks like boxes connected with spaghetti. A good information technology project results in a re-engineered business process that when presented as a diagram has removed the duplications of effort and made the approval and processing parts much less convoluted. The business is all working with the same fresh set of data, and there is organizational transparency in the final result.
Development and testing.
During this phase, the solution is developed and tested. The method for this is determined by the best practices of the industry of the organization in question. In the field of information technology, software is unit tested, then data is extracted, transformed, and loaded into the new solution. Functional testing of the existing data and of procedures to add new data and report on that data are then designed and executed. Finally, user acceptance testing is conducted with key stakeholders to make sure that the solution meets needs and expectations. Functional personnel are also developing the methods that the solution will use to execute the needs of the business processes, and these methods are refined as a result of a proper functional testing process. The best testing involves looking for the zero error, learning each possible error and obtaining a solution before the final solution is even seen by the end users.
Training and business readiness (Change management).
With a new system, there is a great deal of excitement from some staff, resistance from others, but there is very little indifference. Everyone has an opinion on the feasibility of using the new solution, and it is important to take special advantage of the resistance. The resistance, while often containing the vestiges of recalcitrant bureaucracy, often has staff that is concerned with important parts of the business process which might have been overlooked. These points of resistance should be tracked during user acceptance testing, and important changes that are identified can be made and discussed with the staff who raised the issues. This helps to gain support for the project by taking people’s objections seriously while also improving the quality of the project by taking into account all available information. Other recalcitrant resistance can be overcome through standard morale boosting efforts combined with strict policy enforcement for use of the new solution. A cut-off date should be made for the old solution so that two sets of data are not created. Training of staff during user acceptance testing may or may not have to be accompanied by classroom or lecture setting, depending on the amount of change from existing procedures.
Support and benefits realization.
During this phase, the project is wrapping up, final changes are made as well as maintenance plans to ensure that the new solution stays healthy and usable. Ongoing tasks are tracked and budgets and methods are agreed upon. Great post-implementation support is what sets great information technology professionals and firms apart from the rest. There will always be new issues, and support should be unobtrusive but immediately available at any time. The attitude for proper support must be maintained so that no implemented project is truly closed, all support needs get the greatest consideration.
When all parts of the project have been completed, all personnel trained, maintenance and service plans agreed to, the project wrap-up may begin. A post-implementation review of the project should summarize the success of the project. Plans should be made to reassign existing personnel back to their old stations or on to new ones with the new business process as needed.
Throughout the above phases the following processes are always running to support the project. It is important that control of these processes are assigned to specific team members for each project phase.
- Phase management.
- Team management.
Here are more details concerning the processes.
Deliverables and sign-of methods having been previously defined, phase management involves following the project plan to ensure that tasks add up to deliverables and milestones, and that each sub phase and phase are signed-off on by key stakeholders. The person responsible for the phase management is known as the project manager, and a successful project manager will be able to manage teams and expectations of all parties so that cooperation is engendered, supporting the success of the project.
Planning and oversight by key stakeholders is needed at all times to ensure quality and to oversee the philosophy of the project to ensure that it maintains the goals of the project and the organization as a whole.
Scope, costs, issues, risks, and benefits need to be reported on and observed continually to provide supporting information to key decision-makers so that the project is managed on an ong0ing basis.
The team personnel needs to be managed by the same people whether employees or contractors. The management for the project generally consists of one functional manager from the organization’s staff and a technical manager from the primary information technology firm. In larger organizations, both technical and functional managers may be selected from the staff of the original organization. We have experience with all sizes of projects and are capable of managing projects based on the scale of the organization and project. This avoids using project management features that are more appropriate for larger projects but cumbersome on small projects interfere. There are different dynamics to each sized project, independent of the commonalities to all projects which originate in organizational dynamics of communications and politics.
Generally the project manager is responsible for all communication to project staff, project stakeholders, and project beneficiaries. Information will not be the same at all levels. Decision making information is important for key stakeholders and project management. Project staff need to be apprised of project changes and project initiatives and changes. Project beneficiaries, the staff who will be using the solution who are not part of the project team, need to receive encouraging progress notices along with benefits and adjustments they will have to make. Taking the uncertainty out of change is key to building consensus. Make sure that all project beneficiaries get some feeling that their issues have been heard, and that the information gained from their input has been considered in the project design as a whole.
Procurement of equipment, staff, and supplies is an exciting but exacting part of project management. People who are good at purchasing have had a lot of experience allowing them to be seasoned veterans of the procurement process. Knowing how to select the best group of consultants to work together, not only for their skills but also avoiding potentially difficult personalities is vital. Also vital is the ability to purchase with power and skill. Purchasing is not just about getting the best bargain on the initial purchase of equipment or supplies. When choosing a supplier, it is important to make sure that there is a secure supply chain in place and that backup plans exist for all possible contingencies. With equipment purchases, the price is one concern while the other is ongoing maintenance costs and feasibility, compatibility, and disaster management and recovery plans exist.
Very often, a new technology solution has to coexist with many existing processes in the organization. For instance if financial data is handled, a specific method needs to be put into place to control where and how the data is shared with accounting. There may be data in accounting that should be shared back with the solution again. Very often interfaces can be made from one software system to another. If not, processes which are manual can be used. For the success of the project, the integration of the project phases with existing business processes needed by the organization must be integrated with all change.