Tag Archives: How to Manage a Great Project

Project Lifecycle – just for fun

It is New Year’s Eve so, just for fun, I thought I would post a light-hearted alternative to the usual project lifecyle model like that found in many books and training courses.

Feel free to repost.

Project Lifecycle - for fun

If you project life feels a bit like this,
maybe you need How to Manage a Great Project – out now.

How to Manage a Great Project by Mike Clayton

Here is the real project lifecycle from the book…

Project Lifecycle - from How to Manage a Great Project

Project Planning Poster

Tomorrow is Christmas Day: Merry Crimbo!

As my gift to you, here is another poster for you to download and print, summarising the basic planning process for a moderately complex project.

If you work on the top end of big, complex projects, this will look woefully inadequate (Where’s the earned value analysis, Mike?’). And if you work on small, simple projects, you won’t need all of this. But if you find yourself coming to grips with the basics of making your first projects work, I hope this will be a welcome early gift!

Please feel free to send this link to your friends.

As always, click on the image to download the full pdf file.

Project Planning Poster (c) Mike Clayton, 2013

Project Definition: The Layers of an Onion

One of my favourite images from How to Manage a Great Project is designed to illustrate the successive layers of detail in defining a project. Here it is in the glorious technicolor that the printing process forbids!

Project Definition Onion from How to Manage a Great Project by Mike Clayton

Comparing My Eight Steps

In my last blog, I listed the eight steps I use as the framework for How to Manage a Great Project. Now, I want to compare these steps to other frameworks for which I have a high regard:

The interpretations that lead to the mappings below are all mine and do not necessarily represent the way their authors would compare the two processes. Nor, indeed, do they imply either that the author would describe their model as a process or that they would even offer any endorsement for my eight steps.

With the caveats over…

Introduction
  • APM: Undertake gate review
Step 0: Where are you now and what do you know?
  • Afterburner: Evaluate Lessons Learnt (see also step 8)
Step 1: What do You Want?
  • APM: Define scope of work
  • Glen Alleman: ‘Where are we going?’
  • James Leal: Define objectives and scope
  • James Leal: Define deliverables
  • Nick Jenkins: Know your goal
  • Nick Jenkins: Promise low: deliver high
  • Afterburner: Determine mission objective
Step 2: Does it Stack Up?
  • APM: Perform investment appraisal
Step 3: Who Cares?
  • James Leal: Communication
  • Nick Jenkins: Know your stakeholders
Step 4: How will You Get What You Want?
  • APM: Schedule work
  • APM: Bottom-up cost estimates
  • Glen Alleman: ‘How do we get there?’
  • Glen Alleman: ‘Do we have enough time, resources and money to get there?’
    (see also step 5)
  • James Leal: Project planning
  • Nick Jenkins: Spend time on planning and design
  • Afterburner: Identify available resources (see also step 5)
  • Afterburner: Develop the plan
Step 5: Who Will Help?
  • APM: Define project organisation and assign responsibilities
  • APM: Assign and level resources
  • Glen Alleman: ‘Do we have enough time, resources and money to get there?’
    (see also step 4)
  • Nick Jenkins: Know your team
  • Afterburner: Identify available resources (see also step 4)
Step 6: What if it goes Wrong?
  • Glen Alleman: ‘What impediments will we encounter along the way?’
  • James Leal: Risk Management
  • Nick Jenkins: Iterate, increment, evolve*
  • Afterburner: Identify the threats
  • Afterburner: Plan for contingencies
Step 7: How is it Going?
  • Glen Alleman: ‘How do we know we are making progress?’
  • James Leal: Tracking and reporting progress
  • James Leal: Change management
  • Nick Jenkins: Stay on track
  • Nick Jenkins: Manage change
  • Nick Jenkins: Test early: test often
Step 8: How did it Go?
  • Afterburner: Evaluate Lessons Learnt (see also step 0)

Nick Jenkins’ tenth axiom applies everywhere: ‘Keep an open mind’
Hear, hear.

Here is a poster that I created with my eight steps. You can download this poster as a full colour A4 pdf file by clicking on the image.


* This axiom of Nick’s reminds me of something an old friend and excellent project management expert, Tony Quigley, used to say:

‘The alternative to incremental development is excremental development’

Do let me know what frameworks you find helpful and I will add the mapping.

Eight Steps to deliver on budget, on target and on time

When I started thinking about how to write How to Manage a Great Project, I wanted to make it as simple as I possibly could – but no simpler.

I also wanted to include as much as possible of the content and style of my successful training programmes and seminars – because I know that they really work. People find them compelling and come away with real insights and practical tools.

But the structure of a training course needed a little more of a framework to it, so i devised eight steps to follow… knowing full well that projects are iterative. In the real world, project managers will have to cycle back and refine steps at different stages of the project. But it seemed to me that for novices, a step-by-step approach would make more sense than a stage-by-stage approach, with all of its repetition, or a thematic approach (favoured by formal methodologies like PRINCE 2 and bodies of knowledge like the PMI’s) which does not set out how to proceed, if you are really new to project management.

So, here then are my eight steps:

Step 1: What do You Want?
  • Define what your project is and is not, with goal, objectives and scope
  • Base these on clear requirements
  • Add detail with specifications
Step 2: Does it Stack Up?
  • Build a robust business case
  • Support it with a solid investment appraisal
  • Support rigorous decision making
Step 3: Who Cares?
  • Pay attention to the needs and perceptions of your stakeholders
  • Put in place good governance
  • Communicate relentlessly
Step 4: How will You Get What You Want?
  • Build a plan, sequence and schedule
  • Figure out the resources you need
  • Decide how you will get the quality right
Step 5: Who Will Help?
  • Build a team
  • Allocate work
  • Manage and lead your team
Step 6: What if it goes Wrong?
  • Plan out as much risk as you can
  • Identify risks throughout
  • Apply the six strategies for managing risk
Step 7: How is it Going?
  • The monitoring and control loop
  • Control inevitable (and surprising) change
  • Report on progress
Step 8: How did it Go?
  • Handover your finished project
  • Close down in an orderly fashion
  • Say ‘Thank You ‘

Here is a poster that I created. You can download this poster as a full colour A4 pdf file by clicking on the image.

Six Project Management Modes

In the last blog, I was musing about what a project manager is and also the personality factors that make up a typical project manager. If you have not already done so, please complete the short poll at the end of this blog, to add to my data.

Another topic I toyed with for How to Manage a Great Project, but had to cut for lack of space because it was not essential, was the idea that there are multiple styles of project management.

I don’t here mean the personal styles that we all bring to the role – although there is another great blog topic! Different stages in the project and different challenges each bring out a need for a different style of project management – or for a unique combination of those styles. I like the idea of a radar plot (sometimes called a spiderweb plot) to characterise a specific style.

Here, six different modes can be combined in different admixtures. These modes are:

L for Leading Mode: leadership, communication, authority

S for Supporter Mode: caring, concern, compassion

F for Fix-it Mode: pragmatism, practical, just do it urgency

E for Exploration Mode: investigating, gathering information, research

C for Crisis Mode: emergency response, calm and commanding

P for Process Mode: Routines, systems, procedures and organisation

Put them together and see what pattern emerges at different times. Here are two examples:

Project Management Styles

What other stages or challenges demand a particular style profile. Let me have your High/Medium/Low/Nil estimates and I will draw some of them up.

And, here is the poll, please complete it if you have not already done so.

Tick all of the statements that your friends and colleagues would say apply to you most of the time. I know that they all apply at some time, so please try to avoid ticking all of them.

What is a Project Manager?

There are lots of definitions of a project available – of which my favourite conventional one is the Project Management Institute’s:

‘It’s a temporary group activity designed to produce a unique product, service or result.’

At the start of How to Manage a Great Project, I decline to define projects, preferring instead to list typical features of a project, but then relent at the end of the book in the short ‘Learn the Lingo’ chapter, describing a project as:

‘a co-ordinated set of tasks, which together create a defined new product, process or service, within a constrained time or resource budget.’

So many organisations are now using project management to manage repeating tasks, that I think the ‘unique’ component has far less importance in the definition than it once did. Of course, we must also acknowledge the undesirable reality of many projects, so I also offer this tongue-in-cheek definition:

‘Project management is a race to complete a poorly defined thing by an artificial deadline, by co-ordinating a disparate bunch of people each of whom has their own agenda, prejudices and ideas about how to manage the chaos of a complex, novel and urgent endeavour, for which they will never be properly thanked.’

Sound familiar? It’s the same as the others above, only a bit different. Actually I offer seven desirable traits of good project management, before going on to define what is rarely defined elsewhere: a project manager.

My first definition, is by way of a cartoon, in which the plates represent the streams of work we need to keep on target and the balls represent the relationships we need to manage.

A Project Manager

My next definition is a little more complimentary describing a project manager as a doer, an organiser, and a succeeder.

The three corners of a project manager's personality and skill set

Now, between you and me, I did spend a while trying to be even more sophisticated, before I realised two things:

  1. I am not that good at being sophisticated
  2. How to Manage a Great Project is not the right book for that level of sophistication (phew)

I spent a while looking for evidence of patterns among the Big Five personality factors that characterised successful project managers.  I reached some weak conclusions only. So, if you are a project manager, I would welcome you completing the following poll, in the hope I can gather some data for a future blog.

Tick all of the statements that your friends and colleagues would say apply to you most of the time. I know that they all apply at some time, so please try to avoid ticking all of them.