A Project Manager (or PM) often gets dragged into the ‘urgent and important’ issues and tends to lose sight of the key aspects of Project Management. I have seen managers taking up complex Project management tasks, but often floundering on the fundamentals – probably as they get into the grind, they stop doing the obvious. I feel the following points are the fundamentals of managing projects, which the practicing PM should never lose track of.
- Communication Management: Communicating project status to stakeholders. This perhaps is the single largest activity that any project manager should be doing. He /She should establish and manage communication channels, both externally as well as internally within the project team. The PM is a like a reflection the project. He/she should constantly measure the various project health parameters, assess risks and communicate the status to stake holders (mainly the customer, internal management and the project team). Communication ensures that key stake holder’s are up to speed. Customers love project managers that communicate well because they know that they are not in dark. Early communication on status/risk helps customer managers to in turn plan better and deliver confidence to the customer’s management.
Project managers need to plan for Project Governance upfront (internal and external governance) and follow the communication plan given in the image 1.0 through the project.
- Risk Management: Continuously assessing risks and mitigating them. Projects are executed in a dynamic world that changes quickly and can have adverse impact on the project – be it positive or negative. Maneuvering the project through the dynamic environment is the prime reason for organizations to employ project managers. The role of a Project Manager is to continuously study the project environment and be watchful of which factor, external or internal could cause the project to derail – and as a consequence impair the ability of the project to achieve is stated objective. He /She should be constantly on the look of risks, constantly challenging the assumptions and constantly sifting through status updates to anticipate risks. Or in other words, the project managers needs to be confidently paranoid of the project status! Maintaining a risk register enables objective tracking of risk/mitigation pairs. While many PMs perceive the risk register as an operational overhead, the truth is that the activity of documenting the risk actually helps the manager to think systematically. Such systematic intervention followed by a project-group-review of the risk register provides the PM with practical and scalable ideas for risk mitigation.
- Project Integration Management: Tracking the plan – making a project plan is hard. But tracking it is harder, because that is when the rubber hits the road. In the project management community it is often said that the plan changes the minute it is put into implementation! So tracking the plan and making constant tweaks to it is the secret for the PM to be in control. The inexperienced PM is usually too content with having a good Project schedule – and often wrongly assumes that the project is actually moving as per plan. Or assumes that tracking at a large time-pitch is good enough, only to find that things have moved considerably in the wrong direction. Hence constant tracking is vital. As a thumb rule, the tracking frequency should be once a week or one tenth of the time period between two external milestones. For example, if the duration between 2 milestones in 4 weeks, then the tracking should be done every two days. And if the project duration is 12 months, then the tracking should be done very week and not every 1.2 months.
If the project manager keeps track of these three fundamentals and take actions for course correction arising from these, then the projects are almost guaranteed to succeed.
Global Head – Project Management Center of Excellence, Geometric Ltd.