Friday, 29 April 2016

Project Management for non-project managers

Project Management is not that different to good parenting: When done well, its is almost invisible. When done badly, its impossible to ignore.

Its a skill every Busy Mom needs, whether you're a "real" project manager or not. I have been working on technology projects for about 15 years. Along the way I've learned that that it's not a Project Manager's PMBOK training or PRINCE2 certifications that make for a successful project, but rather the ability to cut through BS and pull a team together when the gap between MS Project and reality seems like a yawning chasm of doom.

In practise, the only significant difference between mothering and project managing is that "Project Mom" has no end date. And while the examples I give below may be from the business world, the principles are universal.

Start with Solutions: Liberate your inner four-year-old

A solution-oriented mindset requires that you figure out what the real (as opposed to perceived) problem or need is, and proactively seek ways solve or meet it.

To do this, ask "Why?" way more than what you'd normally be comfortable doing. Pretend you're a really, really irritating four-year-old, and just keep asking "Why?". For added fun, you can even add the particularly irritating, whiney four-year-old tone: "Whyyyeee?"

The problem at work appears to be that the product development team never delivers on time. Whyyyeee? Because they don't seem to know what they are doing? Whyyyee? Because they keep delivering buggy software? Whyyyeee? Because their initial unit testing is slap-daash. Whyyyeee? Because the delivery deadlines don't allow for proper testing. Whyyyeee? Because the project plan is reverse-engineered from an arbitrary deadline set by a client who has no experience with software development.

Lightbulb! The product team is not incompetent, but rather, they are being squashed into an time-box that is unfeasible, and are not empowered to do their job properly with the tools at their disposal.

Lists, Lists! Lists!

1. Draw up a Task List

Write up a list of things to be done. Include everything - from arranging a babysitter to take care of your kids during late night hackathons, to compiling a business case. This helps you clarify in your mind what needs to be done so that you can assess the impact. It also gives you a good grasp of the resources (time, people, money, tools) that the project will need - another critical input to your plan.

2. Draw up a list of Risks, Issues and Concerns

This is where you harness that little voice in your head that keeps listing all the reasons that you will fail. List everything from "...because I suck at presentations" all the way through to "...the regulatory environment makes this hard to implement".

Now identify how you might mitigate each item. This can be a tough job. Do it anyway. Remember, your aim is to help stakeholders to solve problems, not hand them a list of new problems to be solved. 

3. Draw up a Resources Required List

Comb through your Task and Issue List, and identify anything you will need to make your project a reality. If there are costs involved, research your options and get the estimates.

Remember to regularly review and update these lists throughout the project.

Meet with Stakeholders

Once your ideas are clear in your own mind, you need to meet with your stakeholders. It's important to ask for buy-in (support and patience) face to face - people respond more positively to a proposal presented verbally and then backed up with documentation, than they do to a 20 page e-mail attachment.

Deal effectively with opposition

When challenged, back your argument up with specific evidence, experience or precedents. For instance, you could cite an example of how you dealt with a similar problem for another client. If you still encounter resistance, negotiate a 'safety net' period to resolve any unknowns, and confirm the feasibility of the project. You can use this time to develop a rough prototype, conduct more research, or otherwise address concerns.

Presentation is everything

Its critical that you present your ideas in a way that will encourage support. The best ideas in the world, presented poorly, go nowhere. In particular, you need to offer solutions that will address areas that are important to important people.

Practically speaking, you need to do your research and then rehearse and tailor your "pitch" to highlight how an idea or project will cut costs, build profits, lock in customers, or address a burning issue. On a more political note, subtly emphasize how the solution will build you VIP's (or your organization's) reputation, and finally, remember to note how it will save them from dealing with problems.

On the road

Once you get the go-ahead and you are in the thick of things, act like all involved are “on board” - even if you suspect they're not. People in politically loaded situations are often so surprised and relieved when a key project player or leader assumes the best, that they end up giving it. Delegate the "plum" jobs rather and keeping them for yourself, and remember to keep everyone in the loop. Be lavish with honest credit and praise.

Pay attention to details – make sure that the work is being done, but don't blame or make a big deal out of mistakes, instead keep the goal in mind. Stumbling blocks make you stronger in the long run.

Deal with politics head on, be honest and maintain your integrity and don't be afraid to call someone’s bluff, if you need to. That said, be prepared for and willing to accept the consequences.

Finally, solve your own problems. Don’t expect your boss to solve your problems or bail you out, this will only cause the people who put their faith in ypu to question that choice.

What are your secrets to project success? Please share your thoughts in the comments...

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