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Ten Steps to Project Management Success

January 12, 2011
by Pete Rivera
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Organizing the team can make or break an IT project

I was asked the other day to name ten key steps to Project Management. Well as you know, not everything fits into a nice size box. In fact I have been banned from wrapping Christmas presents because things did not fit right in the boxes. Well, that's another blog topic. For now, here are my Top Ten PM steps for success:

1. Define the Scope and Requirements. Then write it down and get a SIGN OFF.

a. Really? Sign off? Ever hand somebody a document and ask them to agree to it and sign off on it. They will start to read it closer. It may be the same thing as the Statement of Work, but all of a sudden they want to make sure everything is covered.

b. Most importantly, it states what is not there! Want to manage scope creep. Get a sign off.

2. Breakdown each task into steps.

a. Most PM’s do not take the time to document each piece of the puzzle. It is so obvious what needs to be done, so why write it down? The reason is that it helps document your resources and gives you a better picture of the overall timeline flow.

3. Write the plan.

a. It can be in Excel, Word or MS Project. But use the steps and tasks to create the foundation. Then match your resources and time constraints to it. Normally you have to back into a live date, so it helps if you can determine if the goal is realistic upfront.

4. Create a visual timeline.

a. Everyone loves to be able to look at a map and point to it and say, “we are here.” Create a timeline in Visio to mark your milestones and use it to communicate the strategy. It will be a tool that you will use through the entire project.

5. Communication plan.

a. Not one of those PM things that nobody really looks at. You want a realistic matrix of who is involved in the project. Your internal and external customers and how will you keep them informed about the project. If available, use something like SharePoint to keep everyone up to date.

b. Communication can be anything from a organizational wide e-mail, newsletter post, meetings or training opportunities. The cool thing is that once you plug everything in, you can go back into your plan and make sure that you allocate some time to conduct those events.

6. Gather the troops.

a. Organizing the team or teams can make or break a project. Some organizations will want everyone at the meetings. By everyone, I mean you have VP’s, Directors and Managers all in the same room for the same meeting. Everyone knows about scope creep, but meeting creep is just as bad. If the VP or Director is not comfortable talking about detailed processes, then they invite the Manager or Supervisors. But they feel compelled to still attend the meeting, because they want to feel useful or in the loop.

b. If you are making nuts and bolts decisions, keep the attendance at the supervisor or worker bee level. Have a separate oversight group with VP's and Directors that you can use for strategic decision.

7. Set the Ground Rules.

a. Many projects hit a wall when personalities clash. It’s fun to watch for the first 5 minutes, but then it starts to feel like an uncomfortable holiday visit to the in-laws.

b. You need to develop a hand out with basic meeting rules and have the guts to follow through and call somebody out that violates the rules. Cell phone rings during a meeting…tell them to take it outside and shut it off next time. Somebody talks over another person, raise your hand and tell them they just violated one of the meeting rules. It does not have to get ugly, in fact after a few times everyone will start playing nice with each other. If your short on team facilitators, hire a former Kindergarten teacher.

8. Meeting frequency.

a. Meet too often and it feels like Ground Hog Day (the movie). Don’t meet often enough and people will start screaming that the sky is falling and the world is coming to an end. My rule is to meet at first every other week. This gives you a week in between for real work. But this also means that you have to create Agendas and Minutes with tasks. Include a three week look ahead on your Agenda.

9. The other plans.

a. Testing and Training Plans are stand alone products that are married to the overall project plan, but needs to be flushed out by themselves.

b. Testing plans needs to include resources, timelines and screen shots of the results. This keeps the analysts honest. It also provides a way to show that “at that point in time” things worked as expected. After each testing phase, get a sign off. Why? Because it forces you to provide documentation of the results and provides your customer a way to sleep better at night.

c. Training plans gives you an opportunity to produce documentation of the post live features and once you train the trainer, you are free to focus on the go-live event.

10. The Go-Live Playbook.

a. Having a step by step 48 hour pre and post go-live playbook allows you to document who is doing what and when. Having a document dedicated just for your go-live event allows everyone to feel empowered in their individual roles. It reduces the stress of go-live and communicates the plan to senior leadership.

b. You can have a successful go-live, but if the perception was that nobody knew what was going on, then it will appear disorganized and haphazard.

That's my top ten. Not all projects are the same and even within Healthcare, size and time drives many of your steps. Hopefully this meets the 80-20 rule without pushing more stuff into the box.

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