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This article is an excerpt from the
Fall 2012 issue of
Taking on a big project can hold the promise of big rewards, but also means taking on big risks. Before starting your next major project, learn how the right project management method can help.
It happens all the time. Organizations decide to embark on a large project, such as a new building or a new information technology (IT) system, and they get only part of the way through it when they discover that it just doesn’t work. The ramifications of a failed, or even a less-than-successful, project go beyond the significant costs; they can also impact the credibility of executive sponsorship, potentially hamper operations and affect how your customers perceive you.
Using a project management methodology helps mitigate risk and improves your chances of success. The following are four ways a project management methodology can benefit you.
Too often, organizations jump into projects because they think it’s a good idea to have a new system or new piece of infrastructure without considering how it fits within the business strategy as a whole. Not only can this new project clash with elements of the business strategy but if it is being taken on in response to a specific problem, it may turn out to be a stopgap solution at best. “In an ideal world, changes come out of the strategic planning process,” says
Mackenzie Kyle, MNP’s Regional Managing Partner for Advisory Services in B.C. “You see what you want to achieve in the coming years and identify what needs to change for you to reach your objectives. Clearly articulate the problem, the benefits and parameters of solving it, and then decide what the project should look like.”
One thing you might discover when you look at the business case is that there is no reason for doing the project at all. Mackenzie is often called in when projects are already underway and issues begin cropping up. The best solution in some of these cases is to stop the project then and there, before completion, because it no longer makes sense. He says that companies shouldn’t consider this a failure.
“Learning that it’s not feasible and that you shouldn’t spend more of your resources on it is, in itself, a kind of success,” he says.
Effective project management involves stepping back and asking two questions:
Are you doing the right things and are you doing things right? The ‘right things’ refers to the sequence of activities that must be carried out for success, and it will vary by project. Doing ‘things right’ looks at the quality of the work. It involves knowing the strategic objectives of the project and its intended business benefits, while keeping track of what’s happening, from a quality perspective, throughout the lifespan of the project.
Every project should have two lead roles to assess the ‘right things’ and ‘doing things right’: a functional lead skilled in whatever type of expertise the particular project calls for, such as an IT specialist for an IT project, and a risk management lead. This should be someone from
risk management or
internal audit who has a quality mindset. While functional expertise assesses the project plan and project tasks, risk management expertise delivers a risk management plan that looks at what could go wrong over the lifespan of the project, and proactively helps to correct those potential problems. Both functional and risk management leads work together to keep an overall eye on the project while diving deep for an in-depth review at specified milestones or as key issues arise throughout the project’s progress.
“One of the things that people often don’t fully appreciate is how much change is going to be required when a project is complete,” says Mackenzie. “The humans who have to adapt to your new IT system or new process are going to have to do things differently, and they aren’t going to if they are not on board with the change.”
A project management methodology can help you overcome this challenge by creating a situation in which people are involved early, ideally right from the conceptual stage, and stay involved throughout the project. This allows your team to share thoughts and ideas on what’s happening and what the final outcome should look like.
“As human beings, we value the feeling that we have input into something and that our input is taken seriously. We usually don’t require that people always take our advice, but we want the opportunity to give it and feel that it is considered,” Mackenzie explains. “Stopping to ask and consider people’s opinions is time consuming, but investing that time throughout the project can save help expedite things later when it comes to getting people to adopt the change.”
Depending on the size of the group impacted, it may be impossible to get feedback from everyone. In MNP’s project management methodology, stakeholders are identified immediately and divided into those that will be positively impacted and those that will be negatively impacted. Then, representatives from both sides are placed on the project team.
If you’re undertaking an IT project, your IT department or consultant will be your functional expertise. But nobody knows your business better than the people who are conducting it, and, on any type of project, those people need to provide input into the changes if they are to be effective.
Many organizations know it’s important to involve the business in the initial stages while defining scope, but scope, design and even objectives can change.
Every project meanders over time. Life changes, business changes, people come and go. Technology changes, cost changes, capital funding requirements change. You can’t avoid that. Responding to those changes without feedback from the business is a bit like playing darts in the dark; your functional expertise may not hit the target.
Business involvement is just as critical near the end of a project as it is at the beginning. As projects get closer to finishing and time and money are running out, things start falling off the table. For example, suddenly training isn’t important; it’s cut back from several hours of one-on-one training to a quick group session. This impacts quality and you risk issues with adoption.
There are many ways that a project management methodology can help you reduce the significant risks large projects pose for organizations of all sizes—what’s been illustrated here are just a few of them. These methodologies can be applicable to any type of project. The same method can be used over and over again in your business, with lessons learned used to adapt the method as time goes on. While it’s unlikely that any large-scale project will ever go 100% according to plan, having an organized method of moving through the project will make even the bumpiest project go smoother.
Related Topics:Business Performance; Technology
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