Saturday, January 31, 2009

Sacred PM Practices -- Steering Committee

You have been given a large IT project to manage? One of your first tasks is to form a steering committee. Right?

Wrong. The findings from my research show that large IT projects do succeed without forming such groups.

  • 40% of the successful projects did not have a steering committee

  • Of the 60% of the projects that did have a steering committee, only 2 were described as effective

I am not advocating the elimination of all steering committees. I am just pointing out that they are not always a prerequisite for success. Project Smart offers some of the best advice I have seen lately – form a steering committee only if the problems you expect to encounter might be solved by a steering committee. Don’t jump to creating such a committee without first answering the question, could a steering committee help the project to succeed? It sounds like common sense, but how many times have you seen a steering committee formed simply because the project is large?

Only two of the twenty-five projects in my research had effective steering committees. This suggests that effective steering committees are rare. Have you ever seen an effective steering committee? If so, what made it effective?

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Immaterial Deadlines

Most deadlines mean nothing. Many are ambiguously set by higher levels management. Let’s face it, what is going to happen if your project is completed two weeks later? How about two months later? Are markets going to crash? Will your employer be forced into bankruptcy? Will your reputation be permanently damaged? Of course, for some projects, the answer is yes. Others have made the same observation regarding most of the projects we tackle.

How, as managers, do we deal with forgiving deadlines? I found some words by Annie Dillard to be helpful. The PulitzerPrize winner said, “A schedule defends from chaos and whims.” This places some importance on deadlines, even when dates are trivial. Deadlines can help us to reject the unimportant requests.

Whims can be a real problem. I once worked with a PM who, I swear, managed his work by the e-mail he received. He used his e-mail to define his activities. Tom Peters may advocate Management by Wandering Around (MBWA), but my PM friend seemed to be an advocate of MBE (Management by E-mail).

Have you found creative ways to manage to deadlines that seem to be inconsequential? If so, what works for you?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sacred PM Practices -- Project Objectives

The findings of my research into what it takes to successfully manage a large IT project will be shared here on Management House during the next few weeks. First, let’s take a look at what the sample of project managers said about the use of project objectives.

  • Project objectives were not even defined for 20% of the successful projects.
  • After defining objectives, 15% of the projects did not document the objectives.
  • Once 17 projects had documented their project objectives, 35% did not share the objectives with the entire project team.

I thought project objectives are what keeps people pulling in the right direction. What has been your experience with project objectives? Have they been vital? Are they overrated?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sacred PM Practices -- Assumptions to be Tested

The research of large successful IT projects asked questions to test the following assumptions:

  • Well-defined project objectives are important to success

  • An effective Steering Committee is necessary

  • Careful consideration is given when selecting a project manager

  • Most, if not all, project team members are dedicated to project

  • Interaction with stakeholders is frequent

  • Project estimating (e.g., resources, schedule) is formal

  • Senior management is provided frequent and detailed visibility into a project as it progresses

  • Change management activities are formal

  • Projects learn from themselves by conducting occasional Lessons Learned Meetings and applying what is discussed.

Did I miss anything? Have you seen projects end successfully where other features came into play to help the project?

Sacred PM Practices -- Project Sample

A successful kite is one that stays aloft.

A successful landing is any one that you can walk away from.

A successful project is …?

As the size of IT projects increase, project success rates drastically decrease. In fact, for project budgets greater than $750K, project success rates are 33% or less.
(Source: The Standish Group)

I limited my research project to large IT projects that had been successfully executed. The projects in my sample met the following conditions:

  • Must have project budget greater than $750K
  • Must be an information technology enabling business solution

The first thing I learned, after the interviews began, was that not all project success is defined the same. I thought a project was successful if it is completed within budget and on time. Isn’t that how the books define it? I found some successful project managers defined their success as the following:

  • Build a good relationship with the new client organization
  • Learn about what customers really want
  • Bring in some cash this fiscal quarter

How do you define project success? Can a project be successful if it is late, or over budget, or both?

Up From the Ashes

I experienced failure on a large IT project about a decade ago. The project didn't fail on my watch, but it certainly crashed. I happened to be the 3rd of four project manager’s during the project’s year of existence.

I did everything the project management textbooks told me to do. I created a detailed project plan with the help of my technical leads. I assessed project risks and set out the manage them. I created a communications plan to describe how my team would now communicate with our client team. The list goes on. My senior management confirmed that I was doing the right things. And yet, the project failed.This failure haunted me for years. I wondered whether I had misunderstood much of what I had read. Were the project management books wrong? Was senior management of my employer wrong?

I needed answers to my questions. I needed to know what I was missing in my management of this project. Specifically, I planned and executed a research project to identify the key factors that are present in successful large IT projects.

During the next few days and weeks, I will use Management House to show what I learned during this research. The research project is entitled, Sacred PM Practices. My findings have completely changed the way I manage projects. I welcome your comments.

First Impressions of Management in the Real World

We all leave college and enter the real world with certain expectations. I was to become a highly prized software developer. My manager was to help me. Of course, the real world is very different. Soon after I entered the real world, I decided to return to school to formally study management.
I found the working world to be lacking in management skills. Nice people, but some of the management fundamentals were missing – risks were never accessed, deadlines seemed to be optional, and problems among project members festered. Even at 23, I knew these problems were solvable.

Not all companies are like this. Thanks to my consulting experience, I have seen dozens of companies and witnessed how they are managed. Some fair well, but many are just like my first impressions – short-sighted and reactionary.

What was your first response to the state of management? Listen and learn from those more experienced? Run away and join another employer? Another industry? Or did you decide to head back to school to formally study management?