Ten Secrets to Managing Your Project Successfully

Being a successful data warehouse project manager means that you have to do more — much more — than simply create project plans and ask team members to turn in weekly status reports. Here are a few secrets to success.

Tell it like it is

It doesn’t matter whether you’re working with users, executive sponsors, consultants, vendors, team members, or anyone else. The most important thing you can do to set the groundwork for successfully managing a data warehousing project is to speak your mind in a completely honest manner.

You don’t have to be abrupt or rude, or have the attitude “It’s my way or no way.” Follow these guidelines to keep communication open and to solve problems sooner rather than later:

  • When problems occur, don’t bury them or pretend that they don’t exist. Other people know about the problems, so deal with them aggressively.

  • Don’t be afraid to tell an executive sponsor that those out-of-the-blue budget cuts or the absence of those three team members who have been reassigned “for just a little while” will adversely affect your project.

  • Don’t hesitate to tell a vendor when a product isn’t performing as promised and demand that they do something about it.

Put the right people in the right roles

The right person in the right role is an important key to project success.

You have to recognize that the best database designer might be somewhat challenged when it comes to working with front-end OLAP or data mining tools. The person who can do whiz-bang tasks with a particular OLAP tool might be a lousy facilitator and should, during the scope phase of a project, either sit silently in the back of the room or just not even be there.

Be a tough but fair negotiator

Budget cuts, pressures to compress the development schedule, vendor support, working with the corporate infrastructure group to line up installation and rollout support — the project manager usually has responsibility for all these issues, and many more.

The manager must ensure that these tasks, which all involve negotiation, take place. After you speak your mind, you establish the groundwork for tough, fair negotiations that are grounded in reality, not in emotion or speculation. Don’t be afraid to negotiate from this basis: “If X happens, Y will be the result.”

Deal carefully with product vendors

Be careful when you gather information from vendors and other sources and when you question a vendor about a product. Recognize that vendors want to sell you products, not solve your business problems. Although it’s great when they can do both, you don’t share the same priorities as the vendors.

Watch the project plan

Although being a good project manager means more than just tracking how the project schedule is going, you can’t ignore the project plan.

If you’re not interested in gathering team members’ regular submissions to help keep your project plan up-to-date, add to your team a project-control staff member who has the specific task of managing the project plan. Work with a local college or university to get a work-study or cooperative education (co-op) student; it’s a cost-effective way to handle this important task.

Don’t micromanage

Everyone has a particular management style. Some people focus on delegating tasks, and others are more hands-on. If you’re the type who likes to handle most things yourself, here is some advice.

Don’t micromanage, or insist on knowing every little detail about every task that everyone is doing. (That panicky, out-of-control feeling will go away.) Even on smaller projects, trust your developers and analysts to know their jobs.

Check in on them to see how they’re doing, and make sure that they’re progressing on schedule. Let them do their jobs, though — especially on larger projects. You have enough to worry about as a project manager; don’t take on additional worries that team members usually can resolve for you.

Use a project wiki

Start off every project with a comprehensive project wiki to which you provide access to every member of your extended team (not only the developers and key users, but also the executive sponsors).

For those of you not familiar with wikis, a wiki is a page or collection of Web pages designed to enable anyone who accesses it to contribute or modify content, using a simplified markup language.

Wikis are often used to create collaborative Web sites and to power community Web sites. Wikis are used in business to provide intranets and knowledge-management systems.

Even if your organization has a fantastic intranet (an Internet environment inside the company) or a widely used Lotus Notes (or other type of groupware) environment, build out a wiki. Because you can’t assume that everything you need is available in electronic form (it usually isn’t), be sure to have access to a scanner to pull in those items that aren’t currently electronic.

Don’t overlook the effect of organizational culture

Suppose that you work for a consulting firm whose employees typically work 50 or 60 hours each week on projects. You’re assigned to be the project manager for a client’s data warehousing effort and will manage a team composed of four members from your company and four from the client’s.

You develop an aggressive (but realistic) project plan, based on the client’s budget and time constraints, that will likely involve some late-night and weekend work. (That concept is nothing new to your company’s employees.)

Don’t forget about deployment and operations

Design and development are difficult enough for a data warehouse (or any environment, for that matter). Don’t overlook how the results of your work will function in the real world, with real users. Make sure that your project plan allows time for lining up support after the data warehouse goes live.

Take a breather occasionally

Insist that everyone leave early on Friday after a particularly hard week. Don’t sneer and scowl when team members tell you that they want to go to the company picnic when you’re a day or two behind schedule with three weeks to go.

It’s only work. By taking an occasional breather, you (and your team members) become reinvigorated, and productivity increases. It’s well worth your while to take off a weekend here and there, or to spend slightly fewer hours working overtime.

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