Project Management 101 teaches the need to actively, and simultaneously, monitor and manage a project’s cost, schedule, and scope. Project Management 102 might add risk management to the list as well. These ideas have become fundamental tenets of project management and have been around for decades, yet projects still fail. Are project managers simply not learning these lessons and not actively managing this crucial project management trinity? Or, perhaps, is there something more that’s needed?
I certainly agree that a project must manage its cost, schedule and scope. I’ve even written about the importance of doing so, but this alone, as countless delayed, over-budget, and failed project have told us, is not enough to ensure project success. A project must first be addressing the right issue. Is the result of the project what is needed? A project also needs a project sponsor who can provide support when needed and work internal and external stakeholders to develop a consensus for and enthusiasm about the project. Additionally, a project needs overall stakeholder involvement and buy-in. And finally, a project needs good change management. Change will happen; it’s how it is handled that can make or break a project. Without properly addressing these items – project purpose, sponsor and stakeholder involvement, and change management – even proper managing of cost, schedule, scope and risk will likely still result in a failed project.
Norm Smith, in a recent talk I attended, (you can read more about Norm Smith and his ideas at his website: http://www.smithops.com/Training.php; I definitely recommend watching Norm’s brief video via that link), broke this list down (and improved it) as:
- Situational Awareness
- Boundary Maintenance
Situational Awareness is understanding where you are in the project, where you started, and where you are going. Schedules and project plans are often the tool used to create this awareness, but they don’t always work for that purpose and they are often used more as a means to themselves, and not as a tool designed solely for situational awareness. Norm stressed the importance of using a schedule to the detail needed to provide the right amount of situational awareness. You don’t always need each work package broken into half-day tasks to successfully manage a project and maintain situational awareness.
Enfranchisement is fairly simple – getting your team and stakeholders (including the project sponsor, which I had separated out, above) united in the project mission. This task is crucial if you are to efficiently deliver the right products and overcome unexpected surprises thrown at you along the way.
Boundary maintenance is akin to scope management and change control. It is making sure the project does what it is supposed to do, not more, not less. It is also responding appropriately to the change which is inevitable for most projects.
In this new light, managing cost (ex., Earned Value Accounting), schedule (ex. Work Breakdown Structures, Microsoft Project), and scope are simply tools used to create the situational awareness and boundary maintenance that are the real core components necessary for a successful project. Don’t let these tools control the project. They are not the essential tools for a successful project; they are simply tools, and not the only ones available at that, that may help you create the real elements needed for project success.
If you’re interested in project management, especially as it pertains to large projects, Scot highly recommends the annual NASA Project Management Challenge meetings. Some of the best talks he’s ever heard have been at these meetings.