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Change management is hard enough on its own but without a plan it can be chaotic. Let’s take for example a company celebrating the signing of three large work contracts. These new contracts had dramatically improved the company’s revenue forecast and thus meant additional work and a number of radical changes to the company’s operating approach.

One of those changes was adding significant space to the warehouse. And so, a contracting team was brought on board. Among the changes to the warehouse that needed to be made, there was customized equipment that needed to be obtained. Between scrambling to understand what equipment was needed and how to best acquire said equipment, there was operational technology that needed re-working, and hiring, on-boarding and training that needed to be done.

All of these tasks were being worked on by their respective departments and needed to be completed in-order to prepare for the new work. Here’s how that panned out.

Gradually, the customized equipment arrived, but it didn’t work as specified. This major issue resulted in arguments and finger pointing between the different manufacturing companies used and the technology team. All the while, the hiring was completed but training was inadequate and the on-boarding process still wasn’t done. Needless to say, tensions were high, complaints were increasingly vocal, and the new employees felt inefficient and unable to help.

Part of the problem was that colleagues were using different languages for their projects. The technology team was complaining about poorly defined user stories. The manufacturing companies were clueless when the technology team started talking about user stories. The contractors claimed to be on schedule, but a number of deadlines had been missed. The people in human resources were being incredibly agile, and had no timeline for when new hires would be trained.

Projects, by definition, are “undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result.” (PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge, 5th edition). They often involve a number of people in your organization or others, at significant expense. Accomplishing your objectives sooner at less cost translates into efficiency. In the above example, which is not that unusual, there was no coordinated project management effort, little effective communications between teams, and no real defined processes. It was nearly impossible to really know what was going on, prioritize next steps, or make tough business decisions.

In this first part of a six-part series, I will take you through the high-level recommendations on how to create better project management processes in your organization. In the remaining five parts, I will drill down into the important aspects of starting, planning, executing, managing, and closing a project.

Learn how to do projects effectively so that you aren’t wasting time on the unimportant.

There is no substitute for having trained project managers on your teams. These project managers need to have some responsibility for training others.

There is no substitute for having trained project managers on your teams. #PMOT #projectmanagement Click To Tweet

Accept that some projects require more agility while other projects require more specificity so that you can embrace change when it arrives.

Projects are different. If you’re renovating a building in a large city, with inadequate space to store materials, you need to be able to schedule deliveries when the materials are actually needed. If you’re creating software, you need to remain agile because people’s priorities will change quickly. The solution is to understand these dynamics and plan to the level that is needed. Embrace just-in-time planning.

Find a common language for what matters so that you can have meaningful conversations.

In traditional project management language, we refer to decomposing a project – creating a work breakdown structure. This means you break the project down into the essential activities that need to be done and knowing how far down to break your project.

There are no right answers here. I typically encourage teams to break a project down far enough that you can estimate a budget. The important thing here is that you standardize what you’re calling these activities, tasks, user stories, or work packages. It will greatly ease conversations among your teams and make your executive reporting more comparable and meaningful.

Issues and risks are two other terms that need to be defined for the organization, particularly if your technology folks are using Jira, which uses issue in a rather proprietary way. What is the difference between an issue and an impediment? Is an issue the same as a risk? Can risks be eliminated? Does the term risk refer to project risks or product risks?

We’ll discuss these terms more in a future blog. For now, recognize that issues and risks are important – and we need a common language for how we talk about them, and a common process for how we tackle them.

Define the critical deadlines so that you know which deadlines cannot be missed.

In traditional waterfall project management there is a very strong focus on deadlines. The thinking appears to be that when deadlines are missed repeatedly that this indicates a problem. And it might. Or, it might not.

Frequently, deadlines are being missed because work is simply happening in another area. Good progress is being made in the organization. Yet, on the one activity that is late, work may not be happening. That may be just fine.

In traditional project management, an entire methodology has developed around the critical path, with some groups spending hours a week on a critical path analysis.

A lot of time and headaches can be saved if teams know the critical deadlines, and understand that these deadlines are not to be missed. Excuses will not be tolerated. And for those deadlines that are not critical, relax. Use the deadlines as targets. But stop beating up your team over missed deadlines when they aren’t critical deadlines and real progress is ongoing.

Build a culture that requires presence so that you are nurturing relationships.

I’m not saying that you need to eliminate remote work. I am saying that relationships matter. We need to avoid meetings where people are clearly distracted.  We need to build a culture that favors presence.

In these days of automation and remote work, it is easy to overstate the importance of project status metrics. But it’s important to remember that there are people behind project work. Developing relationships between the people on your teams will reap rewards later.

Stay tuned for next week’s blog on how to start a project well. In the meantime, I’d love to chat if you are struggling.

Links to the other blogs in this series:

Part 1 – Why You Need Project Management Processes and How to Create Them

Part 2 – Starting Projects Wisely Will Boost Your Results

Part 3 – Six Project Planning Steps to Boost Your Results

Part 4 – Five Project Execution Tips Guaranteed To Improve Your Results

Part 5 – How Regular Project Management Reporting Can Improve Your Project Results

Part 6 – Why Do Great Project Managers Close Projects Effectively?