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Essential Gear for Project Managers

NK Shrivastava and Phillip George RefineM Project Management Consulting PMIs Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide) describes 47 project management processes over ten knowledge areas and five process groups, with the goal of providing knowledge, process, skills, tools, and techniques that can have a significant impact on project success.1 For a new project manager, and even for some experienced project managers, coming to understand these processes can be an overwhelming task. Once a project manager understands these processes, the challenge then shifts to identifying and emphasizing those processes that are most relevant to the projects he or she manages.

Project Management Institute (2013). A Guide to the Project Management Institute Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide). Newtown Square, Pa.: Project Management Institute, Inc.

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The task of identifying which processes are most relevant has two pitfalls. The first is assuming that some processes are not important. This is incorrect. Any process identified by PMI is one that has been vetted by project managers in real-world settings, and would not be included in the PMBOK Guide if it did not have some bearing on delivering projects successfully. Dismissing any of these as unimportant is a mistake by the project manager because doing so opens up unnecessary risks, such as project delays, cost overruns, unanticipated roadblocks and dead ends. The other pitfall is assuming that every process is necessary in every project. This is often not the case. For example, procurement management will look very different in a project where an organization is supplying all materials internally than in a project where the organization must buy some materials from a vendor. Even in the PMBOK Guide, it is written that, the organization and/or project team is responsible for determining what is appropriate for any given project.1 Therefore, it is important to examine the processes to know that some will not be necessary for a project, but just because the processes are there does not mean they have to be used. Deployment of unnecessary processes leads to wastes of time, annoyed project team members, and clogging the works on the project. Preliminary results of a survey we have conducted suggest that many project management practitioners believe their role is becoming more difficult. Many respondents have also felt that they are being asked to accomplish more with fewer resources, which is a strong motivator for simplifying the project management process by deploying only the most necessary processes and building from there. This approach can also be used by PMOs to establish project management maturity because it allows project managers to practice the processes deliberately and consistently, leading to improved practice. The second half of this article will describe the eight most crucial project management processes and how to get the most out of them. 1. Project Charter It should be no surprise that the first of the eight processes is that which establishes the authority of the project itself. Many beginning project managers and organizations make the mistake of not creating a charter for their projects; without the charter, there is less official backing for the project and it is more susceptible to early closure. In addition to officially authorizing the project, the charter serves as a way to get all members of the project team on board in terms of project scope, objectives, roles and responsibilities, and key stakeholders. The project charter is also a good place to establish baselines for the project, such as preliminary scope, time, cost, stakeholder, and risk measures. It is a good idea to document any major assumptions and record comments from stakeholders. In addition, remember that the scope baseline should also establish what is out of scope as well as what is in scope. 2. Stakeholder Analysis The recent addition of Stakeholder Management to the PMBOK Guide shows how important the process is on its own. The stakeholder register, stakeholder influence matrix, and stakeholder engagement matrix are powerful tools to use to track the stakeholders on a project, gauge their feelings

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toward the project, and use this knowledge both to maximize positive results and prevent negative results. Just as with risks, any given projects stakeholders are likely to occupy a spectrum from positive (champion) to negative (barrier). It is important to identify each stakeholder and account for their influence, interest, and expected level of impact. The stakeholder engagement matrix is especially important because it is a way to plot each stakeholders current level of engagement against the desired level of engagement. If a stakeholder is not at the desired level of engagement, that should trigger actions to move them to the desired level. 3. Work Breakdown Structure Like the project charter, the work breakdown structure is a critical part of any project. Developing a WBS and related dictionary ensures that the projects work is both comprehensive and specific, allowing both for a big-picture look at the project and a glimpse of details that project managers can use to confirm they have not missed important details. What does not fit in the WBS does not fit in the project, so having the WBS is a good way both to establish and control the project scope. One important point to aid in the quality of work breakdown structure development is to involve as many stakeholders as possible, since their input will increase the chances of both accuracy and quality of the final product. Once the work breakdown structure is in place, project managers should ensure that it is put to good use. They should estimate each item in terms of both time and cost, using three-point estimation if no other system is available, and make sure each item is assigned. Project managers should also keep the 100-percent rule in mind, making sure that the items do not go above or below 100 percent. 4. Resource Allocation Work Breakdown Structure and Resource Allocation are closely intertwined because each deals with some of the most critical portions of the project: what the work is, who will be assigned to do it and for how long, and when they will start this work. In Resource Allocation, the project manager chooses the resources (man, machine, and material) to perform the tasks. The most important pitfall to avoid in this process is over assigning resources. In contrast to the 100-percent rule in regards to the WBS, a good rule in Resource Allocation is the 80-percent rule. In other words, do not assign more than 80 percent of resource availability. This flexibility allows project managers to account for time that people spend in meetings and other commitments or have off due to vacations, holidays, emergencies, and so on. Staying up to 80 percent threshold also signals respect for project team members time, which can lead to increased goodwill between project managers and the team as well as any functional managers involved. 5. Project Schedule Once a project manager has defined what is to be done (WBS) and who is to do it (resource allocation) then the next step is the project schedule, which establishes when it is to be done. The project schedule sets project milestones and links them to key dates and deliverables. The schedule also aligns the resources, durations, and cost, making it a pivotal tool for any project because it helps align

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the team to the milestones. Because of how effective a good project schedule can be in aligning the team to project goals, and because many stakeholders and team members will expect to see one, every project should have a schedule that the project manager establishes and adheres to. Best practices when creating project schedules include avoiding overly optimistic estimates, abandoning the schedule during execution when things do not go well, and seeking cooperative input on the schedule. Estimates should be rooted in what can realistically be done by the project team, and should also include buffers to account for possible unforeseen problems. If the schedule begins to slip during execution, there may be a need for adjustment, but do not throw the schedule out. Instead, the project manager should seek to understand why the slippage has occurred and adjust the dates accordingly. Finally, securing buy-in from the team and stakeholders on the schedule helps productivity. Microsoft Project is a good tool to use for scheduling, but creating a schedule with it may take additional time for project managers who are not used to the tool. If the confidence level is not there yet, seek training and then begin using the tool rather than spend additional time trying to learn on the go. 6. Communication Plan The communication plan is another critical piece of any project plan because it establishes the norms for disseminating project information and updates during planning, executing, monitoring, and closing. Arguably, communication is the most important skill in the project managers toolkit, more so even than planning. The importance of solid communication on a project cannot be understated. Establishing effective communication channels and organizational structures fosters open and honest communication, promotes creativity and team spirit, and is crucial in winning the support of key stakeholders. Best practices from our experience include using n(n-1)/2 to assess the number of communication channels, identifying sources of possible noise and working to soothe those, and completing stakeholder analysis before developing the communication plan. Another important practice is to assess what communications infrastructure is available and how the organizations culture supports this infrastructure. By this, we mean what technology is available and what rooms are available, but also how team members typically use this technology. What times are best or worst for meetings, and when meetings should be face-to-face or over phone or videoconferenceboth questions are essential to ask in crafting the communication plan. Finally, just as communication on the project is ongoing, the feedback and improvement of the communication plan should be ongoing. This way, the project manager can ensure that his or her plan is in the best interests of the project, its team, and stakeholders. 7. Risk Register Just as with the communication plan, the projects risk register is something that is not a onetime endeavor. Project managers should evaluate the inputs to their risk register, considering both qualitative and quantitative risk analysis, and then should solicit constant feedback and reporting on

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both new risks and the status of current risks. By doing quantitative risk analysis, project managers can create a contingency reserve to manage risks if they happen. The contingency reserve can be integrated with project baselines and tracked throughout the duration of the project. Other best practices with risk management include seeking collaborative input, just as with the communication plan, and remembering to communicate risks to the appropriate team members and stakeholders. A risk register that is not updated is not useful to the project, and likewise, a risk register that is updated, but sits in a central location without being distributed, is also not useful. 8. Performance Reporting The final critical process to perform on every project is performance reporting, or how the project is doing. This includes, but is not limited to, deliverables, milestones, activities, cost/budget, quality, risks, and issues. Performance reporting can also be broken down among general, financial, portfolio-based, and quality-based. It is important to have real data to back up decisions, and being proactive about reporting project trends and variances in detail can help secure stakeholder support, align the team and stakeholders, and procure necessary resources. Best practices include creating different reports based on the needs of various audiences, using the trial balloon method of reporting based on stakeholder approval of what they do and do not want to see, and adhering to any reporting requirements based on organizational culture and structure. If no reporting requirements are specified, then include, at a minimum, what was accomplished in the last reporting period, what is planned for the next two to three reporting periods, what needs immediate attention, and also variance, trends, and projections. Conclusion One of the cornerstones of this approach is the idea that a strong approach to beginning project management is to concentrate on the most essential project management processes and develop these until they can be executed at a high level. One way to accelerate this development is by treating each of the above processes as living documents, constantly updating each based on feedback and trial and error. As a beginning organization or project manager masters these processes, more can be added based on project needs. In this way, PMOs, organizations, and project managers can start the journey toward project management maturity.

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