Friday, June 24, 2011

Achieving Success One Project at a Time

There's no question that every project manager would like to experience success on every project. The reality, though, is that more than 50% of all projects end in failure to some degree. Maybe not total and utter failure, but they fail to some degree to reach full customer satisfaction, or end user usability, or hit the mark the project budget, or get delivered on time. In some way or another, more than 50% are not fully successful.

Even in project failure we can learn something to take forward to the next project, and the one after that, and so on. When we learn to ride a bike we crash, we fall off, we run into the side of the garage. But eventually we get it. And we get better each time we ride the bicycle. That's how project management works as well. We may be terrified as we run our first project and any success we experience may be purely due to luck or that it was a simple project or that we receive lots of help getting there. But we learned something. And we learned more on the next project, and so on. We eventually get to that point 20 years down the road where we can look back and see a path of many project successes that have build us a solid reputation as a skilled project manager.

As we establish our reputation as a good project manager one project at a time, there are a few basics that we must remember and try to incorporate as part of our normal flow of managing the project. Doing this will help us to ensure that our continued success is due to planning and experience and not relying on luck for most of our successes:

Produce planning documents

Those documents that seem like placeholders at the front of the project: the communication plan, the risk management plan, the resource plan, the project charter, etc. are actually important documents. We produce them and get them signed by the customer and then we have a benchmark to work from. We skip them and have no agreement on those processes with the customer and we leave open the possibility for questions and interpretations throughout the engagement. Choose the former, not the latter.

Do the fundamental things

Produce weekly status reports. Hold weekly status calls. Meet regularly with your project team to touch base even when there isn't a lot of work going on. Maintain the project budget and resource plan meticulously. If you continually do these things regularly throughout the project and don't skip meetings you set solid expectations with your team and your customer. As a result you keep project participation high, accountability high, and customer satisfaction high.

Practice the best communication possible

Don't assume your team and your customer understand something or always know what's going on. Don't assume that everyone knows what's expected of them. Always strive to practice efficient and effective communication throughout the engagement and you'll see the results in positive ways from your team and from the satisfaction level and participation level of your customer. Communication like this is critical to the success of your project.

Conduct lessons learned sessions

Finally, don't skip the lessons learned sessions. Even though it becomes increasingly hard to focus on the project after implementation and as you and your team begin to drift to other projects, schedule this session with your team and your customer and go through the project and what happened good and bad. It's important and you'll learn from it.


We take each project individual and methodically, following best practices to achieve both success (hopefully) and, more importantly, valuable experience. Even project failures help us to become much better project managers if we learn from them.

Practice best practices, stick to the basics, document requirements well and allow for proper planning, and then communicate effectively for your best chances of success.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Strategies for Onboarding New Project Resources

There are several reasons why new resources would be onboarded mid-stream on a project:
  • A project resources moves to another project
  • A project resource has left the company
  • A project resource is performing poorly
  • A new skill set is needed on the project
  • Additional resources are needed to get the job done
The list can probably go on and on. The reasons can vary, but what can't change is the fact that onboarding a new resource must be done as quickly, efficiently, and effectively as possible. It needs to be performed as seamlessly as possible so that the project doesn't skip a beat. It needs to seem to the customer as though it never really happened - it should go that smoothly. Ideally, it's as smooth as changing the name in the your project management software tool to the new resource. Because anything less and your project is in danger as well as the confidence that you have built up in your customer in the ability of you and your project team to deliver on the engagement. If a changing of the guard on the project causes bumps, then your customer is going to feel them and that is never good.

First, you must assess the situation in terms of the outgoing resource and their status on the project. Consider these questions when assessing this...
  • How key is this person's role on the project?
  • How critical is their expertise specifically for this customer's requirements?
  • How involved have they been so far with the customer?
  • How can we get a new person engaged quickly on the same knowledge level?
Understanding these issues can help you get the right person in the role and transition to the best of your ability in order to minimize the affects on the project and the customer.

So, let's look at key strategies or processes for bringing on new resources to your project in mid-stream.

Provide all project materials

The first step of the process is to get a new resource anything and everything that you possibly can on the project. Of course, this works best if they have some time to get up to speed and aren't immediately thrown into the fire on the project. If the outgoing resource isn't already gone, but has an exit date set, then this entire process - including the next steps below - will be much smoother and it will likely affect the customer to a far lesser degree.

Provide the incoming new team member with everything that was put together for project kickoff including the statement of work for the project. Also, get them the current and recent versions of the project schedule produced from the project management software tool, weekly status reports for the past two months at a minimum, the current versions of the issue lists and risks lists, copies of all deliverables produced and delivered to date, and resource forecasting and budget information - if applicable - for the project.

Direct contact knowledge transfer

If possible, the incoming resource needs knowledge transfer time from the outgoing resource. If the outgoing resource has left the company or was an utter failure on the project, then this step is either not possible or not necessary. But in the case where they are leaving for another assignment, then secure time away from the team and the customer for the two resources to discuss the role, the project, and the customer and to transfer key project knowledge and status. Ideally, the new resource would shadow the outgoing resource on the weekly status customer call for one to two weeks before actually participating.

Team knowledge transfer

Following, or during, the one on one knowledge transfer activities, conduct a series of unofficial team meetings for the purpose of getting the new resource up to speed and offloading knowledge to the knew resource from all team members. How long this takes will probably depend on the urgency of the situation and the number of team members on the project, but one or two meetings should be enough in most cases.

Customer introduction and transition

Finally, conduct an introductory meeting with the customer where your new resource is introduced and can discuss his or her background and what their role will be on the project. Ideally this will be a separate call from the regular weekly status meeting and would also include the outgoing resource. However, that's not possible in all scenarios and it may have to happen as part of the formal weekly status meeting.