Effective Project Management
Ever wonder what are the most important keys to project success? From my experience it boils down to two things: Management Buy-In and Effective Project Management. The former, Management Buy-In, is environment dependent and outside the scope of this article. However, it has been covered in previous blogs such as this one by my colleague Mike Boyte.
What does it mean to have Effective Project Management? Let’s start by defining some terms. These definitions are per our Lean Six Sigma Program at TMAC:
- Project: A temporary activity or set of activities undertaken to create or improve a process or service
- Project Management: Applying knowledge, skills, and tools to balance the scope, cost, time, requirements, and customer expectations of the process or service
- Project Manager: The person who initiates, monitors, and adjusts the actions required to deliver the improved process or service.
Lean Six Sigma practitioners, be they Green Belts, Black Belts, or Master Black Belts, spend a large portion of their time working as Project Managers. In this role they must take the appropriate actions to ensure a LSS project is completed on time, complies with the goals stated in the Project Charter, and stays within the allocated resources (e.g., Team, Budget, etc.).
What are the biggest challenges to Effective Project Management? At the top of the list: Clear and Timely Communication. At TMAC we’ve heard this from customers as an issue on projects large and small. It is also mentioned by many companies during SWOT Analysis performed in strategic planning. Poor communications is, by far, the most commonly stated internal weakness. See Table 1 below for an example from one TMAC customer.
When further examined, little or no communication is also a leading reason for dissatisfied team members. If your project team is unhappy, it will negatively impact your chances for success. The good news: Effective communication with not only the project team but also other key stakeholders is not that hard. Also keep in mind that communication is a target-rich environment to gain immediate team buy-in and start down the path of success for any project.
One type of project which I have a lot of experience with is the implementation of Quality Management Systems such as ISO 9001. I’ve done this with dozens of companies in the DFW area. During the Design and Development of a new QMS we work to make sure facets of every department are contacted. To be clear, this communication is not one-way. Instead, we set aside time for two-way communications.
Why do this? We’ve learned from experience that the most effective method of gaining buy-in is the simplest method – Listening. Prepare a set of questions: What’s your task here? Do you believe this is the easiest/simplest method of performing this task? Is there anything that can be done to make this task more meaningful or memorable?
After covering these basics, we’ve learned to just listen and document the responses. In most cases, front-line staff feel empowered by being ‘a valued part of the process’ and will contribute tremendously moving forward. As taught in class, two ears and one mouth are the same proportion that listening and talking should be applied: 2 to 1.
Another aspect of Effective Project Management is Team Meetings. Periodic meetings are needed to determine status of action items, share new information, make decisions, and to discuss next steps. A well-run meeting will result in team members feeling informed. In other words, effective communications happen in team meetings.
Beyond those basics, the most important aspects of such meetings are Time Stewardship, Milestone Accomplishments, and Action Items. Always remember that everyone participating in a meeting is allocating his or her time, so it’s a must to be as efficient as possible. Milestone Accomplishments are important for team momentum highlighting the success and hard work contributed by each member and by the team. For Action Items, a basic Action Item Log (see table 2 below) is easily understood. It provides a simple and effective method to communicate status.
There is no simpler or more efficient method for communicating status than an Action Item Log. For more on Effective Team Facilitation please check out my blog on this topic.
Another valuable project management tool is Risk Analysis. In most cases a full-blown FMEA is not required. But a basic Risk Analysis can prove vital. The best practice is for the leadership and management staff to participate at least periodically. As project risks are identified Leadership can help to quickly address these obstacles. See Table 3 below for one format for Risk Analysis.
Other tools that may be utilized include a Communication Plan, Stakeholder Analysis, RACI Chart, and a Multi-Generation Project Plan. Each of these tools are taught to LSS students in our classes at TMAC. And each can help the Project Manager in planning activities which will lead to success. The bigger the scope and more complicated the project the more important these tools are to project success.
Always keep in mind it is not the Project Manager’s role to come up with all of the answers. Instead, it is to facilitate the project team so they develop the best solution for the problem at hand. At the same time, the PM must make sure the solution chosen is feasible and will have the desired effect.
Two other thoughts on Effective Project Management. First, if you are a new Project Manager, we highly recommend getting an experienced Coach. Once you’ve found the right person set up regular, ongoing sessions to discuss your project. Your Coach can not only help as you go up the learning curve of Project Management, he/she can also reduce your risk of making mistakes. Secondly, set aside some alone time each week (or each day) to focus on your project. This time is critical to do planning and preparation. And to think more deeply about the project, major obstacles or opportunities, and what you need to do to be successful. Even experienced Project Managers set aside preparation time.
Finally, if there is anything we at TMAC can do to help in supporting your project please let us know.