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Cheat Sheet

Project Management For Dummies

Because of the ever-growing array of huge, complex, and technically challenging projects in today's world, project management has become a critical skill. People need special tools, techniques, and knowledge to handle their project management assignments, such as confirming a project's justification, developing project objectives and schedules, maintaining commitment for a project, holding people accountable, and avoiding common project pitfalls.

Project Management Basics: Confirming Your Project's Justification

A key requirement for project management success is knowing why the project was created in the first place. In addition to helping ensure that the appropriate objectives and desired results are framed at the outset, this knowledge energizes project team members and fuels their commitment to achieve those objectives and results. Take the following steps to determine your project's justification:

  • Identify your project's drivers and determine their needs and expectations. Project drivers are people for whom you perform the project; they have some authority to define the results of the project.

  • Look for existing statements that confirm your project's support of your organization's priorities. Consult your organization's long-range plan, annual budget, capital appropriations plan, and key performance indicators, or KPIs, as well as notes from meetings where your project was proposed and discussed. Also contact the people who attended those meetings.

  • When checking with people or written documents for confirmation of your project's justification, do the following:

    • Try to find several sources for the same piece of information. (The more independent sources you find that contain the same information, the more likely that information is correct.)

    • Whenever possible, get information from primary sources. (A primary source contains the original information; a secondary source is someone else's report of the information from the primary source.)

    • Whenever you can, use written sources because they provide a constant and enduring record of the information and they reduce the chances that the information will be altered, filtered, or misinterpreted (inadvertently or purposely) before you see it.

    • When speaking with people about important information, arrange to have at least one other person present. Doing so allows two different people to interpret what they heard from the same individual.

    • Write down all information you obtain from personal meetings.

    • Plan to meet with key audiences at least two times. Your first meeting gets them to start thinking about issues; your second meeting gives you a chance to clarify any ambiguities or inconsistencies from the first session.

    • Whenever possible, confirm what you heard in personal meetings with written sources. Compare people's perceptions and opinions to written, factual data (from primary sources, if possible) and reconcile any discrepancies.

Project Management Tips for Developing Meaningful Project Objectives

As a project manager, developing concise and unambiguous project objectives (or statements of your project's desired results) increases the chances that you'll successfully accomplish them. Follow these pointers to ensure your project objectives are crystal clear:

  • Focus on outcomes rather than activities. (For example, "produce a final, approved report" is preferable to "read and review draft report.")

  • Make sure your objectives are SMART (specific, measurable, aggressive, realistic, and time-sensitive).

  • Use clear language — no technical jargon or acronyms.

  • Make sure every objective has at least one measure and every measure has at least one performance target. (For example, if the narrative statement of your objective is "to develop a new product," one measure would be "target completion date" and the performance target for that measure would be "August 15, 20__.")

Project Manager Skill: Developing Achievable Project Schedules

Producing your project's results on schedule is an essential requirement for its success. To have the greatest chance of completing your project on time, you need to develop a project schedule that's achievable, responsive to your client's needs, and understood and supported by all project team members. Take the following steps to create a realistic and attainable project schedule:

  • Identify all required activities.

  • Break down activities into sufficient detail. For example, instead of including a single activity named "determine requirements for new product" in your schedule, break it down further into "review correspondence," "interview salespeople," "conduct focus groups," and "prepare a report of the requirements for the new product."

  • Always consider both duration (the number of work periods required to perform an activity) and interdependencies (the order in which activities are performed) as you develop your project schedule.

  • Identify your strategy for performing each activity before you estimate its duration.

  • Factor in the availability of resources (such as the number of hours each day in May that the manufacturing engineer will be able to work on your project).

  • Recognize and write down all assumptions related to your project and its schedule. For example, if you don't yet know what your project budget is, write down that you'll assume your budget will be $100,000 until you find out otherwise.

  • Identify and plan for all significant project schedule risks (such as whether the redesign of the company financial system will cause your project to be delayed).

  • Reexamine and revise, if necessary, your original schedule after your project is approved and before you start work on it.

  • Involve your project drivers (people for whom you perform the project) and supporters (people who help perform your project) in developing the schedule.

For Project Managers: How to Elicit and Sustain Commitment for Projects

You can't do your project alone; as project manager, you need your team members to work together to successfully reach the project's final objectives and goals. Follow these tips to bring enthusiasm and commitment to your project team (and to maintain both throughout your project's life cycle):

  • Clarify project benefits for the organization and for individual team members.

  • Involve team members in the planning process.

  • Help people see that the project plan is feasible.

  • Address issues, concerns, and questions promptly and openly.

  • Provide frequent, meaningful feedback to your team members.

  • Acknowledge people's contributions.

Effective Project Management: How to Hold People Accountable

When people accept a responsibility, they give you the right to hold them accountable for their performance. Even if you technically have no direct authority over a person on your project team, act as if you have the authority, unless you're specifically told otherwise.

Here are some effective ways to hold the people on your project team accountable:

  • Involve the people who have authority over your team members.

  • Be specific regarding desired results, time frames, and resource budgets.

  • Get your team members' commitment.

  • Put all commitments in writing.

  • Agree on a plan for monitoring your team members' progress and follow it.

  • Tell others on your project about the commitments made.

  • Create a sense of urgency and importance about the project.

  • Express appreciation for the effort put in and the results achieved.

How to Avoid Common Project Management Pitfalls

The pressure of having to complete a project with little time and few resources often causes people to cut corners and ignore certain issues that can significantly affect a project's chances for success. Avoid the following common pitfalls and instead address the issues early in the project to help reduce their possible negative impacts:

  • Framing vague project objectives: Project objectives are the results that must be achieved if the project is to be successful. The more specific the objectives, the easier it'll be for you to estimate the time and resources required to achieve them and the easier it'll be for you and your audiences to confirm they have been met.

    Be sure to include measures (the characteristics of an objective you'll use to decide if it has been achieved) and specifications (the values of the measures that you believe confirm that you have successfully achieved your objectives).

  • Overlooking key audiences: Be sure to determine your project's drivers (those people who define what your project must achieve to be successful) and its supporters (the people who make it possible for you to accomplish your desired project's objectives). Important drivers who often get overlooked are the ultimate end users of your project's products.

  • Failing to document assumptions: People almost always make assumptions regarding their projects; however, they often fail to write them down because they figure everyone else is making the same ones.

    Documenting your assumptions allows you to confirm that all people are operating under the same set of assumptions and reminds you periodically to check whether project assumptions have been confirmed and/or new ones have been made.

  • "Backing in" to project schedules: Backing in to a project schedule entails trying to determine the time and resources you feel would enable you to achieve project success while ignoring the question of how likely it is that you will be able to get the required amounts of time and resources.

    Instead of backing in, consider the time and resources that you realistically feel you would be able to secure and to explore different ways of using them to increase your chances of being able to successfully complete your project.

  • Not getting key commitments in writing: Not putting commitments in writing increases the chances that what people intended to commit was different from what you thought they did commit. In addition to increasing the accuracy of communication, writing down commitments helps those who made them to remember them and encourages people to modify the written statements when necessary.

  • Failing to keep the plan up-to-date: If a project is being run correctly, you and your team members should frequently consult the most current version of the project plan to confirm what each team member hast to do to produce the intended results.

    Not keeping the plan up-to-date means you have no reference explaining what people should be doing to successfully perform the required project work. It also suggests that adhering to the most recent version of the project plan isn't really that important, a belief that significantly reduces the chances of project success.

  • Not having formal change control: Failing to follow a formal process for evaluating the impact of project changes increases the likelihood that important consequences of those requested changes will be overlooked when assessing the potential effects of those changes. In addition, it makes it more likely that some of the people who will be affected by the changes may not receive timely and accurate information about what those effects may be.

  • Not communicating effectively: Problematic communications increase the chances that people will work with different information when performing project tasks, as well as decrease team morale and commitment to overall project success.

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