A primer for Project Management

Plan, plan and plan again

If I say that once each day, I must say it several times.. .. ..

Well, no I don’t, actually. My favourite sayings tend to vary between,

“WHAT? How Much?!?”
WHY cant you do it on time?”
..and..
“Calm Down. Lets look at the plan again..”

Aha! We did get back to planning. Trust me on this. It is no use relying on the planning software. Like all software, it is only as good as the ideas you put into it. I used to use MS Project a lot. BUT, I would only fire it up when I had just about completed the main work of my planning!

So what is the main work of my planning? A piece of paper covered with lists. More and more I am using a mind map. These are simple ways of interlinking information, developed  long ago when HTML and the web were merely  sparkles in Tim Berners-Lee ‘s eye.

But I digress. What you really need to do at the start of a project (any project) is collate certain information. The success of the project will depend entirely upon how well you do this. What you need to assess/list is:

  • Aims -What are we to achieve?
  • Resources -What do we have to do it with? i.e. people, tools etc.
  • Deliverables -What do we need to end up delivering? This would include software documentation for example
  • Dependencies -What does this project, or the major tasks depend on? Is any other group or persons coming along to help?
  • Risks -Start listing what can go wrong. Put in even the trivial. They are all risks

If you think about this a while, you will see that these are interlinked (hence the mind maps!). Dependencies can create risks. The potential unavailability of a resource (e.g. When is Sues Holiday to Florida?)will be a risk. A deliverable is bound to be one of the aims, surely. And so on.

This series of lists or mind-map will now be the basis of you formal project plan. This is usually NOT the chart beloved of MS Project devotees (formally a Gantt Chart), but a written document with a task list, and perhaps (more often that not) a Gantt chart attached.

You can dispense with the formal plan if you want. You don’t need the Gantt Chart. But ALWAYS do the original listings /mind-maps.Its always served me well.

Chase that Rabbit!

Once a project is underway, you need to make sure it stays that way. So chase! Phone the suppliers for an update. Loom over your programmers. Do whatever is necessary to put the fear of God into all your human ‘risks’ and ‘dependencies’ (but with oodles of charm, of course).

A colleague who shall remain nameless believes that all that is necessary for a successful project is a plan (he only ever does a Gantt chart by the way and so fails to capture any dependencies) and then delegation of the tasks. He moves onto the next project and wonders sometime later why no-one has done anything on his first project!!

Review

This is the elder sister of Chasing. Please review your project(s) and their plans on a regular basis. During a large batch of software testing, my team and I had a weekly Review Meeting (OK, yes, Friday afternoon in the Pub, I admit it). As Project Manager, I placed the plan of that weeks work under their little noses and then forced them to admit to whether they’d actually done any of it, did it work, what remained to be done etc. The beer helped loosen their tongues, yes, but I have an informal style. At my previous employer, it would have all happened via written reports to the IT Director. Yuk. Honesty tends to go out of the window when we talk to higher management.

By the way, the minute you issue a plan, it is out of date.

Is Software Necessary?

This all depends on

  • The size of the project
  • The procedures required by your employer

……in other words, I believe you can manage a small project (say, 10 tasks or less) without software.

……yes yes, I did use MS Project to plan the decoration of our hallway at home. There were over 30 separate tasks, OK?

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