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Microsoft Project 2010 : Getting Started After the Business Initiative Is Approved - Organizing for Success

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4/25/2014 4:38:02 AM

Much of your work will ultimately be reflected in a Microsoft Project schedule, but if you start that process before you are ready, you can end up with a project that is out of control. This is because Project was designed to help you manage the details of your project schedule—the activities, the calendars, the resources, and many other details that can be captured and managed. Before you dive into the details, however, you need to frame the big picture with the following:

  • Where you are going (your goal and objectives).

  • What you must provide as results of your project (end products or outcomes, deliverables).

  • What boundaries and constraints you must work within (regulatory requirements, budgets, time frames, quality levels, and more).

  • How you will manage change when it happens (and it will happen).

The details that will reside within your Project schedule will become important, but it is equally important to start with a well-designed approach that is easy to explain to your team and to your stakeholders. After that is in place, working out the details and controlling the scope of the project will be much more manageable.

Define a Measure of Success

Projects are most successful when they are focused on the achievement of one clear goal. The goal should be measurable and achievable. Project goals can range from very lofty (putting a man on the moon) to very simple (reduce errors in a report); if the team can rally behind the goal and understand the purpose, your chances of success are much improved. There can be many additional objectives involved in reaching the project goal that will also need to be defined, so it is extremely important to reach clarity among the team members and the stakeholders of the primary driver of the project. After this goal is documented, all lower-level objectives can be reviewed against this goal to determine whether they should be included in the scope or should be defined as out of scope.

The illustration in Figure 1 explains the point. Jigsaw puzzles come in all sizes and shapes but the point of each is to complete a puzzle. If two puzzles are mixed together or pieces of one puzzle are missing, you cannot complete the goal of finishing the puzzle. All of the puzzle pieces (objectives) must be focused on the same picture and none of them should be missing.

Figure 1. If the parts of the puzzle (or deliverables you define for the project) are mixed with another puzzle, are in the wrong place, or are completely left out, the outcome will not be as you expected.

It is very important that the project has one—and only one—driving goal. When stakeholders do not agree on the purpose of the project or have competing needs and objectives, problems occur. A project with multiple goals can result in a lot of churn when things do not go according to plan, because the team cannot easily make a decision on which components are the most critical for project success. Rather than try to accommodate divergent needs, the project must have one driver. All additional objectives should support that goal in some way or should be defined as “out of scope.”

In addition, you must define clear boundaries and rules of fair play to ensure that reaching the goal is done in a manner that does not have a negative impact. The next section develops this idea further.

Clarify the Constraints and Boundaries

This section addresses two topics that are essential to building a good project schedule. It will help the team understand what is in scope and what is out of scope. It will also help you and your team define the work that must be accomplished and the manner in which it will be done.

Define the Boundaries—Rules of Fair Play

Projects exist in an overall mission context that they must support and not negatively impact. A set of rules helps define and guard project boundaries while building a proper framework that enables flexibility within the project. Rules also ensure the overall corporate mission context is protected. For example, a company that produces playground equipment for schools may need to reduce the costs of its manufacturing process. If the company launches a project to reduce costs of the manufacturing process, there are hundreds of ways this could be accomplished. Some of the methods could cause consumer safety issues. To prevent this, the project team could set a boundary that states that the injury statistics for the equipment must not be increased. When the framework is initially set in this way, both the method in which the project is planned and the way that the project is measured will be impacted.

Similarly, putting on man on the moon without getting him back to Earth safely would not be a successful project outcome. Not all projects have boundaries that are this critical or visible, but it is easy to see how they impact the project’s budget, schedule, and quality planning. The same is true for even the simplest of projects; the team must determine the rules within which the project will operate. Those decisions will help you decide what is truly in scope, what is out of scope, as well as how and when the project will be completed.

Identify Time, Budget, and Quality Constraints

Clarification of the goal and the scope is critical to obtaining some flexibility in time and budget. In many cases, only one of the factors (time, budget, or quality) is extremely important, and it may become a part of the driving goal. For example, it may be important to be the “first to market” with a particular product concept. In this case, being first is more critical than being the best, so the project manager must focus on timely delivery and limit the number of features or the quality of the product.

Often a project is chartered with preset expectations of not only what the project will provide but also when it will be delivered and how much it will cost. If this is the case, the project manager’s job has little to do with managing a project and much more to do with managing expectations. Often, when one of the factors changes, it directly affects the other two. Similarly, if you were to lengthen or shorten one side of the triangle, one of the other two sides, or both, have to be adjusted in order to maintain the shape, as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Time, budget, and quality are the key variables in a project. You can change the shape of the triangle by increasing or decreasing the variables, but you can only change two of the three.

Regardless of the situation, the project team should still work with the stakeholders to clarify the goals and the boundaries before creating a schedule. Even though the tendency is to get resources engaged in activities as soon as you can, it is more critical to have all resources working on meeting one clear goal.

Define the Final Deliverables

If you have ever worked on a project that never seemed to end, it was probably because there was no clear definition of project completion. The goal that is set for a project must be measurable, and there must be a list of deliverables that, once completed, bring the project to a close.

For a home construction project, the deliverables would include a completed house, landscaping, and a certificate of occupancy (CO). Each deliverable must also include a quality component that can be measured. Because many details must be considered, homebuilders typically list them in a walkthrough document for the buyer’s approval. The CO may take some time to achieve, but the final result is very clear and measurable.

For a software project, some of the final deliverables would include software, documentation, operational processes, and training. The quality measures can include things such as response times, number/severity of errors in the system test, user acceptance surveys, or other similar measures. The deliverables and the measures should all relate to the driving goal of the project or at least support one of the subordinate goals or objectives.

Without clear, measurable deliverables, there is no way to be sure that all of the stakeholders are in agreement regarding the project’s goals. The project team may not even have identified some of the work that the stakeholders are expecting or the quality expectations may not be achievable within the time and cost constraints of the project. It is much better to clarify these points during the planning cycle than to reach the end of the project’s budget and time and not be able to deliver work that was never defined.

The process of defining end deliverables will very likely require you to go back and reexamine both the goal and the constraints and boundaries of the project. This is an iterative process and it is time well spent. Without this process working through to completion, you will be creating a list of tasks that may or may not be useful in reaching your goal. The project will certainly expend a large amount of effort but may not earn any true value for the stakeholders.

Establish a Change Control Process

The final component of organizing for success is planning for change. Change is inevitable, no matter how perfectly you plan. The only thing that you can do is prepare and have a process ready so that when it happens, your team knows how to respond.

Change control provides the discipline to identify and communicate the impact of scope changes, quality demands, risks, issues, and the day-to-day complexities of resource management. Project will help you identify, manage, and report on project changes, so it is a good practice to determine the features that you will use during the planning cycle. For example, establish an expectation for when you baseline your project, how often you capture a snapshot of the current schedule, and what criteria you use to determine if you need to reset the baseline because of scope changes. You should also set up guidelines for how you will track progress and status and what features you will use for reporting.

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