by Tony Mcgoldrick

Getting the basics right

PM Pointers

Getting the basics right
Getting the basics right

Some consider the basics of project management boringly repetitive. In a project environment we often give a lot of the glory to the people that overcame adversities – the firefighters, the heroes that turned things around after facing certain doom. But did we stop to think about what caused the fire in the first place? What about the people that have already learnt to avoid these adversities and so delivered successfully, often at a much smaller cost and most certainly, with far less fuss?

So, who are the real heroes? There are genuinely fantastic project people that that push the envelope and continue to improve the way things are done. They make a project exciting because of the delivery, not because of the avoidable mistakes solved along the way. But even if your delivery is not that exciting, you can still be a hero.

There are various project management books and lots of things tagged as different methodologies, which are all surprisingly similar. All of them show basic stages and tasks that should be completed and it is these parts that have often been missed and cause the fires that need to be fought. So, rather make life easier and get the basics right.

Stakeholder management

1. Know what you’re being asked to do, never think that you know what people want. This is your starting position so manage that expectation.

2. Don’t be scared to start with blue-sky thinking. Use this to produce a list of the best quality items imaginable. This is forward thinking, as not only will it give you the potential gem of an idea, but if these are not taken forward within the original scope, it gives you two things: Firstly, the potential improvement ideas for the next phase; and secondly, a list of items ruled out to show that you did consider alternatives.

Get the quality right

1. Keep it simple. You have asked and clarified what is actually wanted, so ensure that this is the critical target. Do not over-engineer a solution at the risk of failing to meet the actual requirement; the lower the complexity, the less that can go wrong.

2. Bring your stakeholders on the development journey with you. It is best to get agreement at a high level then break this down to a medium level before going for the detail.

3. Ensure it’s acceptable. For a delivery to be effective it needs a good solution as well as acceptance. At each stage of the requirements we need to find out what is critical to quality, and what adds value. While not critical to the success of your project these added-value items are vital to getting acceptance for your end delivery.

Get your times right

1. Plan for a plan, plan and then regularly update and re-plan.

2. What lessons have been learned from other projects, or already on this one, that could help?

3. What are the priorities? If taking a bit longer is not going to cost more than the cost of avoiding it, then why not accept it, re-plan and get on with it!

Get your budget sorted

Make sure that you have enough money for all of the mandatory critical to quality items. Not delivering these could mean wasting the rest of the budget. During the project you may have the opportunity to look at what budget is available for value add items. Ask yourself: What is the best that I could be expected to deliver, in an agreed time and cost? How much longer would it take to make this better? How much more would it cost to make it quicker?

Stakeholder management. Again...

No it’s not a typo, it is in this article twice. You could deliver the best project in the world, with the highest quality, and deliver it well within plan for both time and cost, but if it’s not accepted by the people that are your stakeholders, and more importantly your sponsor, then you haven’t done a good job. It’s the project manager’s job to deliver the best quality within an agreed time and budget, and then ensure that this quality is more than acceptable to the business.

All projects are very similar in that it is often others that determine the balance between time, cost and quality. The project manager is left to do the best with the hand that they have been dealt. Ignoring the basics puts a risk on time, cost and quality. This is a risk that’s not worth taking. Regardless of the industry you’re in, and how complicated your project is, the real heroes, especially the ones doing the high risk projects, still need to get the basics right.


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