Define Your Baselines

One of your responsibilities as a project manager is to plan and seek agreement for a project management baseline; some refer to it as your project baseline or performance measurement baseline (PMB).

The project baseline is largely defined by a triangle of project constraints, namely the defined scope of work, an agreed schedule and the approved budget for resources. The successful project manager is assessed based on how successful he/she manages and delivers his/her project baseline.

The project manager must spent sufficient time with the core team to define all the work that needs to be done. Any missing tasks will result in not having time and resources allocated. In many instances, the problem is discovered only during the execution phase. Some of the often-forgotten tasks include seeking management or regulatory approvals, providing users’ training, creating operational manuals, preparing site, and planning for risks and contingency.

Good project managers focus on the “doing things”. That is, work activities that have to be performed and deliverables that have to be created. By focusing on the “doing things”, project managers can give due consideration to required time and resources to deliver. In other words, you always consider the triangle of constraints. For example, doing up a contingency plan requires time and resources to be allocated for preventive and mitigating actions. These must be identified in work breakdown structures, included as activities in the project schedule, and has budget allocated for necessary resources.

An agreed scope baseline is best described by a project scope statement, detailed work-breakdown structure, functional specifications, and tangible deliverables with clear acceptance criteria. Any deviations from an agreed scope baseline are then referred to as scope changes.

The schedule and budget baselines are worked out based on the agreed scope baseline. Incidentally, the project scope drives many other project planning processes, including quality, staffing, communications, risk, and procurement.

When seeking agreement and approval, the project baseline of scope, schedule, and resources must be recognized as a set interrelated project constraints. For example, when a customer requires a change in scope, there must be an adjustment in either schedule or allocated resources. Often, this is not well perceived by management and key stakeholders.

In practice, a flexibility or priority matrix helps define how you will balance and adjust your triangle of constraints.

When agreeing on project baseline, project managers with concurrence of the management and key stakeholders will have to decide what is most flexible (or least important) and which other is least flexible (or most important) in a flexibility or priority matrix. This agreement will then help decide on adjustment of each constraint when a change comes about during both the planning or execution phase.

Without a project baseline, there is no clear statement about what is promised, what is included and what is not. Without a baseline, there is also no basis to manage or control changes.

While there are still unreasonable demands from some project stakeholders, it cannot be realistically assume that the project team will be able to perform any change without impact to schedule, cost, quality and morale. Change is unavoidable. However with a good project baseline, it can be managed effectively.

Author: Alan Puan, PMP®, PMI-RMP® 

Involve Your Team

During earlier days, project managers would diligently and independently plan behind their workstations. They strategize, estimate, control work activities and make decisions and work their best to achieve desired end results on time, within budget and customer specification. The rest of project management focuses on tasking the assignments and controlling.

Organizations attempting projects across business functions and multi- disciplines and geographies increasingly encounter great challenges that threaten their success. Often, business development people will specify requirements for products and services. The project team or performing organization will build the product and services. Finally, the ultimate customer or end-user may decide to accept or reject the product or services.

The new paradigm for delivering successful projects or any organizational initiative is building a committed and tactical coalition that is a bonding of sponsors, influential people, and team members. The support or the lack of it represents a transparent but powerful force that will either steer the team toward or away from the goals. Involving a core team means the difference between success and failure.

Smart project managers would set up task groups and ad-hoc working committees to plan, define, document, report, measure and eventually deliver the products and services. For example, one would include key customer representatives and subject matter experts in a requirements working committee to define and document customer requirements. Another similarly represented working group would continue with formulating acceptance test plans. Key stakeholders are involved and given a stake in the planning task, they will contribute with greater commitment. One valuable outcome of a customer-involved user acceptance test plan would be that everyone, including the customer is committed to work in getting a successful project acceptance.

Having a core team to define scope, develop work breakdown structure, estimate duration, develop schedule, and create budget, etc. allows for high level strategies and lower level technical perspectives to be considered as compared to a single project manager working on the plans.

The size and composition of the core team is crucial. You should only involve key and relevant team leaders or other key stakeholders for planning and decision-making tasks. Having too large a core team will have too many cooks and probably spoiling the broth.

The thing that matters is meaning. It drives everything. Team members align their attention to the things that matter to them and the stuff they know best. They would contribute responsibly in the domains of their expertise with the project manager facilitating the entire planning and decision making process.

Success may never come without a compelling personal commitment to something you care about and would be willing to deliver without considering monetary rewards or promotion as an outcome.

If you want decisions that are supported and success that lasts, then you are better off by involving the core team and build up that good relationships to last through the project life cycle and beyond. Regardless of their roles, your “virtual team” will follow you throughout your career. Golden Rule #6 will discuss how you develop that relationship and a highly performing team.

Last but not least, the involvement of management is critical to project success. The soldiers do not fight a successful battle without the generals and commanders. When in enemy lines and securing enemy targets, you better have your commanders behind your back. The project sponsor and key management representatives have to be there to steer the project team and shield them beyond the defined baselines.

by Alan Puan, PMP®, PMI-RMP® 

How to Plan and Manage Any Project Successfully

Your boss has asked you to organise the company annual gathering. The budget is $50,000. The event must be held in the next three months.

You will be responsible for arranging flights and hotels for overseas staff, arranging an off-site venue, booking food and drink including choice of special menus, arranging entertainment, motivational speakers, video and sound system and a hundred other details.

Where do you start? How do you make the plan? How will you ensure it all gets done successfully, on time and within the budget?

The good news is: You don’t need to panic

The event is a ‘Project’ and there is a discipline called Project Management that will help you to set clear objectives for the event, create a realistic plan, and work together with your team to see the plan through to successful completion.

More good news is that completing a project like this is a very satisfying and rewarding challenge that will help you in many areas of your life and career.

Projects have three phases: Initiation, Planning, and Execution. Let’s take a look at each stage to see how we can use some simple techniques to help with planning and managing the proposed event.

1. Initiate the Project – Get off to the best possible start

Success

Your boss obviously wants the event to be a success. You therefore need to find out exactly what he means by ‘success’; otherwise you will never be able to say whether or not the event was actually ‘successful’ once it’s all over. Success in a project usually means:

  • Completing the project on time
  • Keeping to the allowed budget
  • Delivering the project exactly as it was defined Satisfying the needs of key project stakeholders

Go and ask your boss to define ‘success’ for this project. Why is it being held? What is the expected outcome? You really need to know why the event is being held, and what is the justification for spending the $50,000?

Ask what you can do if things start to go wrong during planning and execution. Can you delay the event? Can you spend more than the estimated budget if necessary?

Authorisation to Proceed

Get your authorisation written down, and sent to as many people as possible in the company. You want everyone to know that you have been entrusted to take charge of the project, you have authority to spend the budget, make decisions, and you will be held accountable for the results.

Stakeholders

Ask yourself “who is involved in this event” and “who will be affected, or could use their influence over the event” and write their names down. This is a list of project stakeholders and it is your job to manage their expectations.

The Kick-Off Meeting

You need a team to help with running the event, and it’s your job to keep them motivated and performing. A proven tip to get things off to a great start is to hold a kick- off meeting. This is where you can explain to your team members and their managers why we are holding the event, how we will measure ‘success’ and, of course, to motivate everyone at the start.

2. Plan the Project – Create a realistic plan to run your project

Create a Work Breakdown Structure

Get a list of requirements for the event and call your team together to arrange the requirements into groups and then break these down into smaller pieces of work that can be realistically planned and managed. This is a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), and is the foundation for all the planning to come.

Estimate Time and Cost

Use the Work Breakdown Structure to estimate the time and cost to get each piece of work done. Add them all up. Is this within the time and cost limits? If not, then you need to revisit your plan to see if you can save cost or time.

Plan for Risks

What could go wrong? What could go very well? Brainstorm with the team to come up with a list of risks that might affect the project. Think about the impact of a risk if it occurs, and the probability that it might occur, and decide what to do about the risks. You might, for example, arrange to hire a tent if there’s a high risk that it might rain on the day.

Get your plan approved, and we can move on to project execution.

3. Execute the Project – Get the work done
Your job now is to keep your team motivated and committed to your project, and to continue to manage those stakeholder expectations.

Make sure you manage at the right level. You need to know what the team are doing, without micro-managing them. Give regular status reports so that everyone knows how well your team is progressing. Track any issues that need to be fixed before they become problems. Reward people when they perform better than expected, even if the reward is a simple “thank-you”.

After the event has finished, hold a review meeting where you document all the lessons- learned for the benefit of future planning, and you’re done.

Success

Many projects fail because the person in charge doesn’t follow a step-by-step process like the one outlined here. They simply jump in and get going without any plan, and end up fire-fighting all the time and trying to recover from situations that should have been foreseen from the beginning.

Follow these simple steps, and you will be well on the way to running a successful project.

Author: Peter James Gilliland, PMP®,
Project Management Professional, Speaker and Trainer