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Thursday, May 09, 2002

 

Project Management: Getting a Handle on Learning How. This entry is going to be long because it's a culmination of answers to frequently asked questions about what should be a straightforward subject.

The Basics. Although we've addressed this topic in many previous entries there are a few basics. First, project management has three elements (PMBOK processes notwithstanding):

  1. Planning - defining scope, developing work breakdown structures, analyzing activities, identifying risks, estimating costs and resources, and identifying stages.
  2. Scheduling - who does what when, ensuring that there are no resource conflicts, and assigning resources in the most efficient manner.
  3. Control - managing cost and schedule against the baselines (planned vs. actuals), resolving issues, managing identified and emergent risks, reporting status and managing quality, deliverable turnover and stage completions.
There are two internationally recognized approaches to project management:
  1. The Project Management Institute's (PMI) Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) that is described in the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, which is the American National Standard classified as ANSI/PMI 99-001-2000. Linda and I both reviewed the PMBOK 2000 on Amazon. To an extent the 1996 version remains valid (it remains the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) standard 1490-1998).
  2. PRINCE2, which is the UK standard and, in my opinion, a more effective approach than what is set forth in the PMBOK. Two sources of PRINCE2 information are Official PRINCE2 page that is maintained by the British Government, and the PRINCE2 User Group. If you want a quick summary and to also see how PRINCE2 stacks up against the PMBOK read my and Linda's reviews of Prince 2: A Practical Handbook that we posted on Amazon on 29 and 30 June respectively. In the next few days I will write an entry that is focused solely on PRINCE2.
What Project Management Entails. I won't rehash it here because I wrote a fairly lengthly piece about project management in my Friday, February 22, 2002 entry here.

Resources. The best software and books on project management depend on the types of projects that you manage and your present level of expertise. If you're managing simple projects, such as relocations, upgrades and other common infrastructure projects, you'll find the approach set forth in 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. Your most effective tools are an Excel spreadsheet and checklists for those kinds of projects. One of the best project management programs for small, uncomplicated projects is CAN-PLAN, which was developed by William McMillan. The software is free, but is commercial quality.

If you're managing complex projects you'll definitely want to read Visualizing Project Management by Kevin Forsberg, Howard Cotterman and Hal Mooz. This is the book that Linda and I recommend to beginners and experienced project managers alike, and is, in our opinions, 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. Our preferred tool is Project Control Panel, used in conjunction with SureTrak Project Manager. If you're managing complex projects that span the enterprise, or multiple projects, the best tool is Niku Workbench, formerly ABT Project Workbench, and part of a more comprehensive suite of enterprise-strength project and program management applications called Niku Portfolio Manager. This suite is used in IT departments of all of the top international companies and many of the top consulting firms, and is to IT project Management what Primavera's P3 is to the construction industry - the de facto standard.

If you are a seasoned project manager seeking advanced skills I recommend Total Project Control by Stephen A. Devaux. This book extends beyond control to encompass three important areas that begins with project selection, and adds to how projects are planned and scheduled. These areas are:

  1. Set of tools and approach for governance and program management.
  2. Adds profitability as a dimension to project management.
  3. Proves that critical path method (CPM) is not an anachronistic technique - merely one that's misunderstood.
Governance and program management tools that the author introduces are powerful and ensure that project selection is based on profitability and business goals. While there is an entire body of knowledge on project selection techniques, what sets Mr. Devaux's approach apart is his tools are incorporated into the project management process as opposed to merely initiating it. The tools are:
  • [Devaux's] Index of Project Performance (DIPP), which is one of the most powerful project selection and prioritization techniques I've encountered. DIPP is especially applicable to product-based projects because it computes the cost of lost opportunity and the impact of being late to market. For internal projects it provides a clear link to business imperatives, which can bridge the gap between IT and the business.
  • [Devaux's] Removed Activity Gage (DRAG). Overlook the fact that the author loves to name techniques after himself because this is an advanced technique that accurately computes the amount of time an activity adds to a project (or can save if the activity is removed). This technique is a powerful addition to the project manager's array of tools for schedule compression and resource management.
  • Doubled Resource Estimated Duration (DRED) is a measure of resource elasticity; in other words, some activity cannot be shortened by adding resources and others can. DRED allows you to determine the best use of your resources.
  • Cost of Leveling with Unresolved Bottlenecks (CLUB), which is another advanced technique for schedule management, and, used in conjunction with Resource Availability Drag (RAD) and DRAG, give credence to Devaux's argument that the critical path method is a powerful element of project management.
This book also has much to offer to anyone who has just been placed in charge of a program management office (PMO). One note: Devaux is given to hyperbole at times. He makes claims that traditional project management techniques, such as earned value project management are flawed, yet he bases his approach on them. Look beyond this because his approach is powerful and works in practice.

Software Project Management: A Unified Framework by Walker Royce is another source of advanced project management techniques, especially for software project management. If you aren't versed in advanced project management techniques this book will be overwhelming. More important you may pick up misleading information. However, if you are a battle-scared veteran of software development projects and have a full understanding of earned value project management, estimating techniques and development life cycles you'll learn much from this book.

The highlights are:

  • A project life cycle and process framework that is [obviously] closely aligned to the Rational Unified Process (RUP), and can be fitted to any rapid development or iterative approach.
  • An excellent tutorial on effective project controls, with an emphasis on earned value project management.
  • In-depth coverage of estimating techniques, with a lot of material on the constructive cost model (CoCoMo), and current gaps in estimating techniques and to where the craft and science of estimating and software economics needs to evolve in the discussion of next-generation cost models. I especially like his distinction between the use of source lines of code metrics for size and function points for scale. There is middle ground.
  • The treasure trove of metrics, including core project metrics, and the change metrics that are given in Appendix C.
There is one glaring flaw in this book and an experienced project manager will quickly spot it: the proposed approach to basing work breakdown structures on project phases instead of the decomposition of the system to be delivered will not work. Using Royce's approach there is no clear way of integrating the work breakdown structure with the organizational breakdown structure. Using earned value techniques (which is well covered elsewhere in the book) Royce's approach will not align control accounts (sometimes called cost accounts), making his recommendations contrived and unworkable.

This book is better suited for an architecture-centric approach to project management, which means that it's more applicable to product development instead of internal IT projects. See A Practical Guide to Feature-Driven Development for an approach that is better suited for internal projects. That said, I think that this is one of the best books on software project management and one that every seasoned PM should read.

There are two final books that are essential to organizations that are either project-driven or have program management offices:

  1. Strategic Planning for Project Management Using a Project Management Maturity Model by Harold Kerzner. Linda's 15 August 2001 review on Amazon says it all.
  2. Project Management Scorecard by Jack J. Phillips, Timothy W. Bothell and G. Lynne Snead. This book is ROI-focused and integrates the people and process elements of project management with a balanced scorecard approach. One of the authors, Jack J. Phillips, has extensive experience and a large published body of knowledge in the domains of HR, ROI and scorecard development. This book has his touch, and covers the essentials of a mature project organization, what to measure and how to measure it.

    The approach is as follows:

    1. Measure:
      • reaction and satisfaction
      • skill and knowledge churn during the project
      • implementation and progress metrics throughout the project
    2. From the metrics capture:
      • business impact data
      • ROI
    3. Identify both tangible and intangible benefits and apply them to an aggregate 'true cost'
    The book also shows how to translate business metrics to dollar values, build a business case, and communicate status, based on the scorecard, to clients and stakeholders.

    Where Next? We have a number of resources about project management that you're welcome to use. Among the best are a special project management page, the old Project Management Newsletter that Linda and I used to publish, and a project management discussion forum that we established (but doesn't seem to attract much discussion). You should also surf through the other pages that we maintain via our main site. Nearly every one of the single-topic pages has some project management material.