How does a project get started?
How do you know what it is supposed to achieve?
How do you know what approach is required?
How do you know that it is a good idea in the first place?
How will you know if you succeeded?
|Business needs||Project definition||Project execution|
Before you can effectively manage a project, there needs to be a shared understanding of that project - its purpose, objectives, scope, sponsorship, funding and mandate. Some people would define the project as not existing until it has an adequate definition. In the real world, projects often need to get moving while at least some of these questions remain imperfectly answered.
That is particularly true for eProjects. The pace of eBusiness development means that no one will be thanked for slowing the process down by demanding answers to difficult questions such as "what benefit will you get?" That does not invalidate the issue - just the response. In an eProject we need to allow for rapid project definition and approval, often with little more than a gut feeling about the benefit or the way the project will evolve. The Project Manager still needs to consider the issues and ensure there is the necessary degree of sponsorship and authorisation. Much more responsibility will fall upon the Project Manager to keep track of the evolving initiative and to report back on its potential benefits, successes, failures and risks.
Many organisations have specific processes and standards for requesting and evaluating a project. There will often be norms for assessing the financial benefits, eg payback period, internal rate of return, discounted cash flow etc. There may also be standard procedures for presenting a business case and obtaining approval for the capital investment. Make sure you are aware of any defined standards that apply to you.
All projects have sponsors - people who see a need for change and have the authority to make something happen. Without them, the project would not have been proposed. Make sure that you understand who the real sponsors are and check that they do have the authority to propose the project and the commitment to make it succeed. If they are not the right people, you probably need to identify further sponsors who have that authority and commitment.
You need to ensure that the sponsors have enough authority or influence to undertake the work and bring about the proposed change in affected parts of the organisation. For example, a new business solution may not succeed if it is only sponsored by the IT Department and does not have the support of the operational business units. Most often, the best sponsors are from the business - leaders who want to change the way the business operates. As well as the original sponsors, you may need to build supporting sponsorship across the organisation and at multiple management levels. A significant project will normally require sponsorship from the organisation's executive level. Such sponsorship is an important tool in Organisational Change Management.
The sponsors may have already constructed a good definition of the project and have a clear view of what is required. More often, they have an incomplete concept and no real feeling for how it should be addressed or to what extent it would be beneficial.
The Project Manager needs to guide the sponsors throughout the project - they cannot be expected necessarily to have a deep understanding of the issues. In particular, the project needs to be clearly defined before the Project Manager accepts personal responsibility for its success.
Here are the fundamental things that should be clearly agreed at the commencement of a project. They form the basis upon which the project will be defined and measured. That means they also form the basis upon which the Project Manager will be judged!
|Mandate||Is there a
clear, reliable mandate for this project, ie:
|Purpose and objectives||Is it clear
what is the purpose of the project?
|Scope||What is the
scope of the project, for example:
earliest stages of a project it will be very difficult to
establish a solid benefit case for the project. It is
still possible to identify the types of benefit that are
expected. During the project startup, the Project Manager
will work with the sponsors to define and agree a full
model of anticipated benefits. These benefits would not
normally be limited to the financial bottom line. They
would include all types of benefit that are sought -
measurable / unquantifiable, financial / non-financial,
internally focused / externally focused.
The benefit model would normally be used to justify commencement of the work. Beyond that, it forms an important yardstick against which the project can be assessed. It may form:
|Timescales||In what timescale should the benefit
|Control||How will the
project be managed and controlled?
|Prioritisation, sanity check and permission to proceed||Do we
definitely agree to start this project?
It is important that the Project Definition is fully understood and agreed by all persons concerned. The details should be incorporated into a document which should be formally agreed by the project sponsors and communicated to all interested parties. This document should also provide a good source for communicating the project's definition, purpose and intended approach to future participants and other stakeholders.
Many organisations have a standard name for such a document. You may hear it referred to as a "Project Initiation Document" or "Project Charter". In the ePMbook we will refer to it as the "Project Definition".
The Project Definition forms the project's definitive definition and mandate. It is used as a major input to the detailed planning and resourcing that takes place as each phase of work is planned, initiated and mobilised.
It is also important that the project's purpose and goals are communicated to the team members and other participants. They need to understand the value and importance of their work. In most cases it also improves their ability to deliver if they understand the "big picture".
Remember that things change. The business changes; customers' needs move on; departments are restructured; there may be mergers and acquisitions; there may be demands to cut costs or drive change faster. At any time when the project's purpose might be challenged or the anticipated outcome is significantly changed, the Project Definition should be re-examined to see in what ways it has changed or should be changed to reflect the new circumstances. Where this has an impact on the benefit case, approach, planning, timing, resourcing, or expected outcome, the Project Manager will need to review and re-calculate the detailed changes and present a revised definition for agreement by the project's sponsors and executive leaders.
Phase end is a good time to measure the success of the project to date. See how well the project's original ambitions are being adhered to and how the anticipated benefit matches up to the original definition. Report back successes, failures and revised expectations to the project sponsors and executive. Give that feedback to the team as well so that they understand how well they are performing and how valuable their work has been.
Where there has been some significant departure from the original intentions, the Project Manager should investigate, review, analyse and report these conclusions to the project sponsors and executive team, along with any specific recommendations or planning revisions. As ever, the guiding principle should be to obtain the optimum benefit for the organisation.
In all good projects, the leadership and participants take time to reflect upon successes and failures. In particular, it is important to determine whether the defined project was successfully completed - both in terms of the most recent definition and against the original intentions. There are several reasons for this: