3 Tips for Successful Project Managers

Planning and Reporting Go Together

Project planning is often perceived as painful and time-consuming. How often have you heard, “What’s the point in developing a plan when I’ve got in all in my head?” or “What’s the value of planning if I can’t draw out any conclusions from looking at it?”

Planning is vital to delivering projects (not to mention programs).

Why? Because planning:

  • Sets a course of actions to be followed to achieve a desired result (involving the required people or functions);
  • Enables the tracking of project progress objectively; and
  • Enables ownership of activities to be handed over at any point in time.

Plans are too often artefacts confined to document inventories requiring re-baselining when requested. Yet plans are powerful decision-making tools. Here are the five steps for making the most of your plans as part of your project reporting:

  • Draw a picture version of your original baseline plan, displaying only critical path activities.
  • Explain the assumptions, open questions, and late milestones, highlighting the decisions required.
  • Build a “forward pass” view by adding a timeline starting from a realistic start date. This will illustrate the delay to the “go live” date, producing a greater sense of urgency than that generated by static red milestones.
  • Build a “backward pass” view by adding a realistic timeline back from the expected Go Live date. This will demonstrate when activities should have been delivered and will help answer the question, “When should we have started this program to complete it on time?” This view is useful for setting expectations in the event of scope creep.
  • Don’t hesitate to compare and contrast similar programs’ plans. This exercise will not only help you identify activities you may not have accounted for, but also it will allow senior managers to put some of your late milestones into perspective.

You now know the secrets of the pros: Planning proves most effective when combined with reporting. The more you use your plans for reporting purposes, the more your program stakeholders will value the planning, stay aligned with the project, and recognize the importance of rapid decisions for keeping the program on track (including, perhaps, the hiring of more planners for your team!).

Unleash the Potential of Your Data

In a time when big data is the big thing, many people forget the power of their own internal systems, such as Microsoft Project Server, Primavera, or Clarity. The benefits of due diligence delivered by project management outweigh the cost of implementing and maintaining these systems. So how come executives don’t take greater advantage of them?

After all, project management systems harvest data ranging from milestones, resource assignments, risks, issues, and costs. And they maintain historical data, such as the assumptions used when a project was approved, its current plan, and its actuals. These can be helpful in a variety of executive reports.

Department heads and human resources can, for example, analyze resource availability against future demand to gain an understanding of who is working too much or which skills need to be recruited. Pcubed delivered this capability for the world leader in aircraft landing and braking systems, enabling the company to maintain a five-year resource plan for engineering skills across its portfolio of projects.

Finance can analyze costs against budget and actuals and do a historical trend to understand if processes and discipline are improving. Pcubed implemented this type of reporting in one of the world’s leading financial management and advisory companies, driving cost transparency across the project management practice, which in turn substantially reduced informal change requests and over-budgeting.

Delivery managers can see key milestones and inter-project dependencies that could their portfolios and programs, enabling them to pre-empt delay and reallocate resources. Pcubed helped Harman International reduce its project costs by 20 percent, using inter-project dependency and simple resource assignments analysis.

The directors of project management offices can analyze the quality of project data against their own processes, enabling them to implement a good discipline while guaranteeing great quality of data for all other executive reports. Pcubed implemented this capability in a large multi-currency cash settlement system. After going live with quality check reporting, both organizations measured increasing data quality and process adherence.

Executive reporting not only provides decision-makers with useful data but also promotes project managers to own, update, and care for their data. When this happens, good results follow.

Leveraging data from project management systems uses simple business intelligence, but it’s also easier than that, because unlike most BI projects, PM projects maintain the data in a structured way that makes reporting easy. So projects to deliver these reporting capabilities are fast turnaround and show great return on investment.

While project data may be used by project offices, project managers, and project team members, maybe it’s about time for executives to take advantage of the enormous potential that’s hidden in their own systems.

Deliver the Right Message the Right Way

We all know the adage, “Project management is 90 percent communication.” But what I’ve come to realize is that how, when, and what we communicate are actually far more important than the volume of communication as a whole.

So how do you ensure that your communication method is the best choice for helping you achieve your goals?

Communication is not just about sharing your message; it’s also about receiving the right information from the right stakeholders at the right time. A project with a well-informed business case as a foundation and consistent stakeholder consultation throughout the planning and execution phases will have better outcomes than a project managed in isolation from the stakeholders. One method for helping a quiet stakeholder to be heard is to encourage all relevant stakeholders to contribute actively to the status reporting process rather than just passively reviewing the reports. That structure is also useful for reining in stakeholders who have too much to add to the conversation by forcing them to organise their messages.

The more you know about the stakeholder, the easier it is to support them through change and engage them on the appropriate level.

Marketing firms invest heavily in market research to establish what consumers are interested in, how they best receive a message, and what their key influencers are in making the decision to adopt a new product. Project managers require similar information when looking to promote change. When establishing a communications plan, make sure you understand what messages your stakeholders need to hear and how they prefer to receive those messages. From posters and digital newsletters to floor walks, focus groups, and press releases, ensuring you have the right level of communication in the right format is critical to change adoption for the end user. Leveraging the lessons learned from communications strategies used for other projects, surveying your stakeholders, and taking their feedback are all critical in targeting your message.

The success of the change delivered within the organization is to some extent a measure of the success of the communications strategy. But just as you checkpoint the design and usability of the products delivered in the project, you must also checkpoint the status of the communications strategy. Do your stakeholders know what you need them to know at each step of the project? Garnering feedback from stakeholders includes testing their knowledge to ensure they’re receiving the messages you’re sending out.

Written by Catherine Pye
Catherine Pye is a senior consultant with Pcubed. After several years of experience consulting within federal government in Australia, Catherine is transitioning into the world of energy in the United States later this year. Contact Catherine at catherine.pye@pcubed.com.
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