by Phillip Smith
Last week we talked about the dirty job of project management, and how the complexities involved in leading teams and implementing IT projects often make the PM’s job even messier than Mike Rowe on a sweeps week episode of Dirty Jobs.
Luckily for us, there are three tried and true guidelines for cleaning up even the messiest project—or even better, keeping it in check before things get out of hand. Here they are:
- Stabilize requirements and schedules
- Set up repeatable processes and tasks
- Allow team members to develop specialized skills that can be called on as needed.
1. Stabilize requirements and schedules
Stabilizing the requirements and the schedule is about managing the stakeholders. It’s an art form that requires patience and understanding, and the good sense for compromise and protection of the project team. If you lose too many battles here, the project may be successful, but you won’t have a team left to execute the next project.
2. Set up repeatable processes and tasks
Setting up repeatable processes and tasks is all about maturing the project team. While every project is unique, the execution is not. For example, there is always a design document. Use the same template every time. Use a reliable review process with team members who have the right knowledge. Hold the design to a high quality standard, schedule enough time into the plan to do it right, and execute this way on every project so that all team members understand the expectation.
3. Take advantage of specialized skill sets
Making the most of skill specialization will mature your individual team members. You’ll gain efficiencies if you can have your BA collect the requirements, your architect perform design, your DBA manage your database, your front-end developer work on your screens, your middleware expert work on the plumbing, and your back-end developer work on file management and database updates. If you assign a single developer to multiple areas, that developer will excel in some areas and struggle in others.
Although I didn’t touch on some of the stickier topics that make managing an IT project difficult—such as offshore teams, the sales team’s promises to the client, understanding cost, making appropriate training decisions, and chasing technology—when you do a dirty job you have to pick your battles. The PM’s first and perhaps most important battle is mastering the three areas I’ve spelled out. Managing stakeholders’ expectations and maturing your team and the people on your team are the best defenses that you’ll ever have for dealing with the sticky topics.
Yes, offshore is difficult. Nonetheless, it will not go away, so your best option is to focus on maturing the team and the process, so that you can optimize you capabilities.
Sales will always be motivated to close the deal, but your contribution to the stakeholders’ understanding of realistic timelines and deliverables is the key to your client’s perception of success. Start communications early and don’t stop.
The conversations about cost will never go away. However, a mature team with skilled people and reliable processes will beat an ad hoc approach every time. These teams also become very adept at predicting the effort related to repeatable tasks, even where there is variation associated with the unique aspects of a given project. Make the estimation of the work one of your repeatable tasks and the team will become expert at it.
Training decisions will always be difficult. If you can achieve specialization of skills then you can limit training to specific people and leverage the others. If you can stabilize your schedule, you’ll find ways to fit the training in at the right time. If you can build your team then you will have less turnover and therefore fewer new people to train.
Technology will never stand still. Nonetheless, technology should be managed like a requirement. Connect your architect to your client in the same way that you connect your BA to your client for all other types of requirements, and ensure that all stakeholders agree to the technical solution.
Focus on the three keys to “clean” project management, and you’ll meet every other challenge that makes your job “dirty” with a little less soap and a lot less frustration.