Welcome to this month’s edition of the ProjectTalk newsletter. In this edition we’ll talk about three items of project/program management where we very often overlook the importance of their simultaneous consideration during the initiation and planning stages of our projects/programs.
During development of our Project/Program Charter and our Feasibility Study our methodology and/or approach should also be considered at that point. We tend to pre-determine our approach BEFORE we’ve even determined the demands of a given project or program.
We then find ourselves trying to make project/program demands (requirements, resources, schedule) serve the methodology instead of the reverse. With some additional consideration earlier in the project life-cycle we may determine a Hybrid approach to our primary methodology would be better suited in some situations.
Let’s talk about what’s involved with the three aforementioned items and why they should be considered together.
The Project Charter
The Project Charter describes the project vision, objectives, scope, organization and implementation plan. It helps you to set the direction for the project and gain buy in from your stakeholders as to how the project will be organized and implemented. It will also help you to control the scope of your project, by defining exactly what it is that you have to achieve. To define a Project Charter, take these steps:
Step 1: Identify the Project Vision
Vision: The first step taken when defining a Project Charter is to identify the project vision. The vision encapsulates the purpose of the project and is the defined end goal for the project team.
Objectives: Then based on the vision, list three to five objectives to be achieved by the project. Each objective should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound (SMART).
Scope: With a clear view of the Vision and Objectives of the project, it's time to define the project scope. The scope defines the formal boundaries of the project by describing how the business will be changed or altered by the project delivery.
Deliverables: Then you need to describe each of the deliverables that the project will produce.
Step 2: Describe the Project Organization
The next step is to identify how the project will be structured by listing the customers, stakeholders, roles, responsibilities and reporting lines.
Customers: First, identify the project customers. A customer is a person or entity that is responsible for accepting the deliverables when the project is complete.
Stakeholders: Then identify the project stakeholders. A stakeholder is a person or entity within or outside of the project with a specific key interest or stake in the project. For example, a Financial Controller will be interested in the cost of the project, and a CEO will be interested in whether the project helps to achieve the company vision.
Roles: Now list the key roles involved in delivering the project. Examples of roles include the Project Sponsor, Project Board and Project Manager. Then summarize each of the primary responsibilities of each role identified.
Structure: Once you have a clear view of the roles needed to undertake the project, you can depict the reporting lines between those roles within a Project Organization Chart.
Step 3: Plan the Approach to Implementation
You now have a solid definition of what the project needs to achieve and how it will be organized to achieve it. The next step is to describe the implementation approach as follows:
Implementation Plan: To provide the Customer and Stakeholders with confidence that the project implementation has been well thought through, create an Implementation Plan listing the phases, activities and timeframes involved in undertaking the project.
Milestones: In addition, list any important milestones and describe why they are critical to the project. A milestone is typically an important project event, such as the achievement of a key deliverable.
Dependencies: List any key dependencies and their criticality to the project. A dependency is defined as an activity that is likely to impact on the project during its life cycle.
Resource Plan: Create a plan which summarizes the resources involved in undertaking the project by listing the labor, equipment and materials needed. Then budget the financial resources needed.
Step 4: List the Risks and Issues
The final step taken to complete your Project Charter is to identify any project risks, issues, assumptions and constraints related to the project.
And that's it. If you complete each of the steps above, then you will create a solid Project Charter for your project, helping you to manage scope and deliver consistently on time and within budget.
The Feasibility Study
A Feasibility Study needs to be completed as early in the Project Life Cycle as possible. The best time to complete it is when you have identified a range of different alternative solutions and you need to know which solution is the most feasible to implement. Here's how to do it...
Step 1: Research the Business Drivers
In most cases, your project is being driven by a problem in the business. These problems are called "business drivers" and you need to have a clear understanding of what they are, as part of your Feasibility Study.
For instance, the business driver might be that an IT system is outdated and is causing customer complaints, or that two businesses need to merge because of an acquisition. Regardless of the business driver, you need to get to the bottom of it so you fully understand the reasons why the project has been kicked off.
Find out why the business driver is important to the business, and why it's critical that the project delivers a solution to it within a specified timeframe. Then find out what the impact will be to the business, if the project slips.
Step 2: Confirm the Alternative Solutions
Now you have a clear understanding of the business problem that the project addresses, you need to understand the alternative solutions available.
My background is in IT so if it's an IT system that is outdated, then your alternative solutions might include redeveloping the existing system, replacing it or merging it with another system.
Only with a clear understanding of the alternative solutions to the business problem, can you progress with the Feasibility Study.
Step 3: Determine the Feasibility
You then need to identify the feasibility of each solution. The question to ask of each alternative solution is "can we deliver it on time and under budget?"
To answer this question, you need to use a variety of methods to assess the feasibility of each solution. Here are some examples of ways you can assess feasibility:
- Research: Perform online research to see if other companies have implemented the same solutions and how they got on.
- Prototyping: Identify the part of the solution that has the highest risk, and then build a sample of it to see if it's possible to create.
- Time-boxing: Complete some of the tasks in your project plan and measure how long it took vs. planned. If you delivered it on time, then you know that your planning is quite accurate.
Step 4: Choose a Preferred Solution
With the feasibility of each alternative solution known, the next step is to select a preferred solution to be delivered by your project. Choose the solution that; is most feasible to implement, has the lowest risk, and you have the highest confidence of delivering.
You've now chosen a solution to a known business problem, and you have a high degree of confidence that you can deliver that solution on time and under budget, as part of the project.
Step 5: Reassess your solution’s feasibility
It’s now time to take your chosen solution and reassess its feasibility at a lower level. List all of the tasks that are needed to complete the solution. Then run those tasks by your team to see how long they think it will take to complete them. Add all of the tasks and timeframes to a project plan to see if you can do it all within the project deadline. Then ask your team to identify the highest risk tasks and get them to investigate them further to check that they are achievable. Use the techniques in Step 3 to give you a very high degree of confidence that it's practically achievable. Then document all of the results in a Feasibility Study report.
After completing these 5 steps, get your Feasibility Study approved by your manager so that everyone in the project team has a high degree of confidence that the project can deliver successfully.
The Project Methodology
What is a Methodology?
A methodology is basically "a set of methods or steps that you use to deliver projects". The key point is that you repeat the same steps for every project you undertake, and by doing that you gain efficiencies in your work.
What will it do?
When you use a project methodology, it gives you:
- A defined set of steps to follow for delivering projects.
- A set of templates to help you do things quickly.
- A suite of case studies to help you learn.
- The ability to customize the methodology provided.
- The option to import your existing methodology into it.
What will it not do?
A Methodology is not a silver bullet. It will not fix your projects by itself. And it's fair to say that no methodology "out-of-the-box" will be 100% applicable to every type of project. So you need to customize your methodology to ensure it fits your project environment.
Why use a Methodology?
A methodology will help you by giving you a clear roadmap for achieving project success.
It will tell you and your team what has to be done, how it should be done and by when, to deliver your project on time.
Using a methodology you can:
- Startup and plan projects
- Monitor time, cost and quality
- Control change and scope
- Minimize risks and issues
- Manage staff and suppliers
You can choose to use the elements of the methodology that are most suitable to each project you undertake. For instance, when managing smaller projects, you can use simple lightweight steps to deliver your project. And when managing large projects, you can use more heavyweight steps to monitor and control every element of your project.
By following the same generic steps for every project you undertake, you'll become more efficient, work smarter and reduce stress. You will also have a clear roadmap ahead, giving you the confidence you need to succeed.
The project/program demands should determine our methodology/approach. The methodology used to manage any given project/program should be considered during the initiation and planning stages in conjunction with the development of our charter and feasibility study.