To be successful, a project must bring about change, delivered on schedule and within budget. Having worked on numerous assignments during my time at BDS Solutions I would like to share a few guiding principles which have helped us to retain loyal customers by delivering successful projects.
- Don’t try to reinvent the wheel – Adopting an established methodology will save the new project manager time by providing templates, processes and procedures which have been proven in the field. PRINCE2 is the preferred approach at BDS Solutions having already been adopted by the public sector nationally. This allows us to define an approach and talk a language our customers already understand.
- Communicate effectively – most seasoned project managers will agree that the biggest success factor in project management is clear and regular communication to all stakeholders. Research finds that effective communications leads to more successful projects. Despite this, projects often fail as a direct result of a communications breakdown. To help avoid this situation the project manager should define at the start how, when and to whom they are going to communicate with. Reports and e-mails are a fantastic way to ensure information is quickly cascaded and easily referenced at a later date but should not be used as a substitute for face-to-face meetings and telephone/video conferences.
- Identify business needs ahead of technology – technicians are often keen to start building new solutions and sometimes need to be reined back at the start to ensure the outcome is fully understood before the real work starts. When the business case is missing I typically ask the project sponsor to compose a few paragraphs upfront explaining why they want to do it. This provides a reference point which the team can look back to during and at the end of the project. The landscape can change after a project has started (see Goalposts Move below). Documenting expected benefits at the beginning provides something tangible to review at progress meetings ensuring the original objectives remain relevant.
- Think outcomes before activities – It can be tempting to jump head first into activities. The danger of course is that despite good intentions you may be heading in the wrong direction! PRINCE2 teaches the concept of product based planning, breaking the high-level deliverables into their requisite parts and then defining the sequence in which they are to be created. Once the outputs and their composition have been agreed it becomes much easier to define how, who and when.
- Goalposts move – the longer a project runs the higher the risk of circumstances changing. The engagement may be impacted by external factors that did not exist when the project was initiated. An experienced project manager will understand this is par for the course and establish a process for managing changes at the outset. Senior members of the project team should be encouraged to review the business case throughout the projects lifecycle and advise the project manager if changes elsewhere in the organisation affect the projects outcome.
- Learn from past mistakes – smart project managers repeat successful approaches and never make the same mistake twice. However, despite best intentions lessons may be missed when trying to remember what worked well and what didn’t. The longer the project the harder it becomes. To avoid missing these valuable learning experiences the project manager should create a lessons learned log at the start and update this as issues occur. Once the project is complete this information can be reviewed, shared with colleagues and incorporated into the planning of future projects.
Lee Ballinger- Technical Director