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Mike Tarrani
Linda Zarate
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Friday, February 22, 2002


Crossover. In my 20 February entry in Notes from the Field I briefly touched upon some of the success factors that need to be satisfied in any project. Because the topic is more applicable to this weblog (Notes from the Field is where we address software and systems engineering topics; this weblog is for IT professional improvement), I am going to continue the topic here.

Project Management - the short version. I've been managing projects for nearly 25 years. Not just IT projects either. I've managed ship repair projects, where a cost overrun or two among friends is not nearly as career-killing as missing a schedule milestone. When a ship is scheduled to get underway it better do just that.

Setting the Stage. There are three stages in a project manager's career:

  1. Mastery of techniques. These include the basics: work breakdown structure (WBS) development, estimating techniques, critical path method (CPM), program review and evaluation technique (PERT), precedent and activity diagramming, scheduling algorithms, compression techniques and , earned value, and a plethora of other tools of the trade.
  2. Recognition that it's all about people. The techniques that need to be mastered will get you only so far, as you quickly discover after you've mastered them. You begin to understand that it's all about managing people, and your leadership skills begin to emerge. You also discover that you need to be able to communicate, delegate responsibilities and authority, and to hold people accountable. You also develop polished political skills and become adroit in manipulation and coordination.
  3. Enlightenment. After you've managed successful projects and a few disasters you will eventually reach a state of enlightenment where you clearly see that project management is about making sure that your backside is covered. This is done with the techniques you've mastered, and the people and political skills you've developed and honed.
The problem with IT project management in most cases is [so-called] PMs skip step 1, gloss over step 2 and focus on step 3. There are no shortcuts to Nirvana. You need to get there in stages.

Four Noble Truths. Projects are initiated, performed and closed out. It's the perform part that can be distilled into four basic elements:

  1. Plan
  2. Estimate
  3. Schedule
  4. Control
This does not diminish the importance of project initiation and close-out procedures, nor does it conflict with the key processes set forth in the Project Management Body of Knowledge or PRINCE2 (both of which have been discussed in previous entries).

The Eightfold Path. There are eight tools that I've found to be essential to successful project management:

  1. Start with a WBS. (I've included a sanitized WBS from a service level management project to show how it's done.)
  2. Have the people who are going to do the work estimate the time it will take. Resist the temptation to pull numbers out of thin air - it's the surest way to cost and schedule overruns. An example estimating worksheet is included in a ZIP archive of project management tools that also include deliverables management and fixed-price contracting presentations that you may find useful.
  3. Clearly define what is in- and out of project scope.
  4. Clearly define each project deliverable in sufficient detail so that there will be no question that what you deliver is what you promised.
  5. Define client acceptance criteria to which the client or project sponsor agrees.
  6. Do not deviate from the scope or defined deliverables without an approved change order. Never! See the example change request for what one should contain.
  7. Ensure that each deliverable is signed for by the client or project sponsor (or designated representative). See example deliverable receipt for a sanitized copy of one that was used on a real project.
  8. Keep all stakeholders informed. This includes the client/project sponsor and team members. All stakeholders should have a statement of work! Especially the rank and file workers who are performing the actual work. All stakeholders should also receive a copy of status reports, which need to be published at least every two weeks, and in many cases on a weekly basis.
There it is in a nutshell - eight keys to project success. For specific techniques see my special project management page.

Under the Bodhi Tree. The Bodhi Tree is known as the tree of wisdom, and is located in Bodh Gaya, India. There's an easier way to get project management wisdom, and that's by reading a few selected books. So, instead, travel to Amazon and get one (or both) of these two highly recommended books:

  1. Getting Started in Project Management by Paula K. Martin and Karen Tate. See Linda's 15 December 2001 or my 17 December 2001 review to see why we so highly recommend this book, especially to occasional project managers. It does not bog you down in unnecessary details or overly complicate project management.
  2. Visualizing Project Management by Kevin Forsberg, Howard Cotterman and Hal Mooz. This is the book that I recommend to beginners and experienced project managers and is, in my opinion, the best book ever written on the subject. See Linda's 16 March 2001 review (well worth reading) and my 7 December 2000 review for details.

If you have questions about project management, want to share your experiences, techniques and thoughts, or want to discuss PM in general please join our Project Management Forum. Free registration is required to post.