Defining your projects

The most important thing to is know WHY you want a project.

The most important thing to is know WHY you want a project.

Let’s follow on from last week’s blog on success and see what you can do to see if you are taking on board the messages. Successful projects need to lead to successful business outcomes and unless a project is adequately defined, it is unlikely to achieve anything, except perhaps a hole in your budget. Take any project that you are associated with and check that it is satisfactorily defined:

  • If you don’t know why you are doing the project, consider terminating it.
  • If you don’t know what you are delivering, regard your costs and timescales as unstable and your risk high.
  • If you don’t know when it will be done, carry out more investigations until you do know.
  • If you don’t know how you will approach the project, regard risk as high and investigate further.

“Project Definition” is a term used in The Project Workout, alternatives include:

  • Project Initiation Document or Dossier (PRINCE2)
  • Project management plan (PMI, APM)

Use this checklist to review any projects currently in progress.

  • Has a project definition been written, reviewed by the stakeholders and approved by the project sponsor?
  • Do the scope and objectives of the project meet the needs of the business?
  • Have the benefits been fully assessed and quantified wherever possible?
  • Do the benefits match the needs?
  • Have all significant risks been identified, categorised and taken into account in the plan and business case?
  • Has a comprehensive and satisfactory work breakdown been developed?
  • Does the work breakdown reflect the deliverables to be produced?
  • Are all key logical relationships between projects and activities clear?
  • Has the plan been developed to minimise or offset the risks?

The only way a project can be delivered is through its deliverables. For each deliverable check:

  • is the deliverables relevant and feasible both to produce and use?
  • Have quality criteria been established?
  • Is it clear who is accountable for preparing each deliverable?
  • Is it clear who will review the deliverable prior to acceptance?
  • Is it clear who will approve each deliverable?
  • Has sufficient time been allowed for reviewing/amending each deliverable?

For more on this see The Project Workout, Part Four which takes you through project set up and gives you some templates you can use.

Whose success is it?

In my “enemies within” blog, we looked at how management get the project performance they deserve. In that blog we explored the important role of the programme and project sponsor in making sure that an organisation’s programmes and projects succeed. But what does “success” mean? Success is too often interpreted through the differing eyes of stakeholders.

Successful project management ensures the delivery of a specified scope, on time and to budget (PMI’s triple constraint). It is related to how efficiently a project is managed. This should be assessed during the project closure review, documented in a project closure report and measured by timeliness of delivery milestones, adherence to budgets and quality. This is commonly associated with the role of the project manager.

A successful project realises the business benefits it was set up to achieve as stated in a business case. It is related to the effectiveness of the project in meeting the objectives set. The post implementation review (post-project review) assesses this. Measures of success here must be indicative of the business objectives being achieved. This review therefore has to happen some time after the output of the project has been put into use. It is associated with the role of the project sponsor.

A successful organisation drives towards its strategic objectives while fulfilling expectations of shareholders, managers, employees and other stakeholders. Measures for this are at a corporate level and should be financial and non-financial, such as a balanced score card. This is associated with the role of the chief executive.

A project which has been successfully ‘project managed’, however, may actually deliver little of value to the organisation. Further, a ‘successful project’ may not further the strategic objectives of the organisation, as its objectives may be out of alignment organisations seeking to optimise their total portfolio of projects through the effective combination of project management, sponsorship and portfolio management. A failing company can be full of ‘successful project management’ and ‘successful projects’ all driving in different directions.

The PMI’s recent report, Pulse of the Profession 2013, has actually picked up the above themes, so may this will help senior business leaders realise the potential that effective and efficient project management has to drive their organisations.

Gartner goes one step further and state that organisations which grasp this first will have a enhanced competitive advantage over the others.

Whatever you do must help you move towards your strategic objective. Otherwise there's no point.

Whatever you do must help you move towards your strategic objective. Otherwise there’s no point.

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