Disclaimer: This blog entry assumes that the greater part of being a PM is people skills. It is a combination of art and science that makes good PMs.

There are many books on Project Management. I’ve tried to read a few, but notwithstanding the PMBOK and Rita’s study guide for the PMP, I have yet to actually finish any. I do have more luck with podcasts, short articles, blog entries and whitepapers. For me, the reason that the PM books become tedious is they are broad and boring. They expound frameworks and methodologies. They philosophize on risk management and quality control. What’s it all boil down to? When you are hit with a project, what are some of the essential tools you should put in your toolbox? Here’s my top ten list (in no particular order):

  1. Create a Project Book – get yourself a nice 3-ring binder, some tab dividers and a 3-hole punch. Keeping an up-to-date hardcopy version of project deliverables is helpful for quick reference by the PM during project meetings, ad-hoc phone calls, etc.. This doesn’t preclude the electronic versions that should be kept in an equally well organized, accessible folder structure on company storage. Tabs should be labeled to include things like “Project Plan”, “Issues Log”, “Vendor Information”, “Technical”, “Diagrams”, and “Meeting Minutes”.
  2. Keep a Risk Log – get as fancy as you want with this, but what it comes down to is a listing of things that could have a negative effect on the triple constraints of the project (time, resources, scope.) There are many ways to document risk. For me, it rarely gets more complex that identifying what the risk is, giving it a probability rating (High\Medium\Low) and an impact rating (High\Medium\Low). A mitigation plan is then agreed to for a risk that has a medium or high-probability and a medium or high impact. The actions from the plan should be included as tasks in the WBS.
  3. Keep an Issue Log – Issues are events\items that have come up in the life of the project. Issues are generally any matter requiring resolution and usually represent an impending risk or a risk that has occurred. Again, you decide on format, the key here is that the issue is documented, an owner is assigned to address it, and a target date for resolution is identified.
  4. Create Project Status Reports – You should develop (or borrow) a status report standard template to be used for all projects. Depending on the pace of the project, the status can be issued weekly or bi-weekly. The content of the status report should include, at a minimum: overall status on project, tasks completed since last status, outstanding issues, resolved issues since last status, and identification of outstanding team member performance.
  5. Generate Meeting Agenda\Minutes – Anything (and everything) you read on effective meeting planning will demand that you provide an agenda. This can be as informal as inclusion in the meeting invitation or a pre-meeting email reminder with a bulleted list of topics. Or, a formal document outlining the agenda by topic, assigning topic ownership and estimated time to spend on topic. The goal is to provide meeting participants with adequate notice as to what the topic(s) of discussion will be so that they have an opportunity to come prepared. On the backend of this, it is important to provide a documented record of what transpired at the meeting. The goal here is to capture key discussions, agreements, issues, etc. that are important to the project record.
  6. Create a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) – to me, this is more important than the project schedule. The reason is that, if done properly, the WBS captures the project teams understanding as to what work needs to be done. It is important to emphasize here that it is the job of the project TEAM to generate the WBS, not the PM alone. Many times, the PM may also be the SME on the project and feel comfortable outlining the WBS. This may be appropriate as a baseline, but when you are looking to have your project team commit to the activities necessary to deliver the project, it is essential that they be involved and give buy-in to the definition of the work.
  7. Agree to a Project Scope Definition – Don’t worry, I’m not going to get all “methodology” on you. The point to including Scope in this top ten list is I do believe that a proper team-based definition (with Project Sponsor approval) of what is within the scope of the project AND what is NOT in the scope is critical to the success of the project. These are your boundaries. Many projects fall into trouble, just like children can , because of undefined boundaries. What will we be doing\not doing, what systems are we touching\not touching, what teams are involved\not involved, and so on.
  8. Define Project Objectives – Objectives are specific statements that describe the things the project is trying to achieve. Sounds really important, doesn’t it? When defining objectives, try using the SMART model (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timebound.) Measure your objective statements against SMART to be sure you are hitting all the key parts. Why? Because a very important factor in measuring project success is to determine if it has met its objectives.
  9. Keep a To-Do List – Keeping track of the little things requiring action\followup can be very difficult. They are commonly too small to be included in a WBS and not significant enough to be defined as issues or risks. They are the day-to-day things that a PM has to keep track of. Who was I suppose to call? Did they call me back? Did so-and-so get back to me with comments on the deliverable? Etc. Use your Outlook mail client, a PDA, a spreadsheet, use a sheet of paper included in your daily planner or project book. It doesn’t matter how sophisticated your method. The key is to keep track of the following: 1) date the to do was created; 2) priority of the to do (H\M\L); 3) a date to follow up (tickler); 4) notes documenting activity (left VM, sent email, etc.)
  10. Maintain a Project Checklist – A pilot has to perform a pre-flight check everytime they prepare to fly no matter how many flight hours he has logged. Create one or checkout a PM resource site for one. Project Checklists are valuable for ensuring that your are accounting for the essentials of the project. For starters, your project checklist can include the above-nine items. Keep the checklist in the front of your Project Book to make sure things are complete. It doesn’t hurt to double-check ourselves.
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