Feb 222012

I read a blog that claimed use of templates is mandatory to ensure success of a project. It even went to say that a project is not  complete unless the project management documentation is done. I believe it is a gross misstatement. Here are my thoughts on this.

Templates are tools that can be very helpful in bringing a project to success but like any other tool there are so many ifs-and-buts involved. A saw for cutting wood is a great tool but if you have tried your hands on one you probably had the same experience as me. The first time i tried, it was a complete disaster; I could not make it move in the groove. Having the tool was one thing, knowing when to use another and yet having experience using it efficiently was what would make it a great tool. Templates as a tool for project management have the same factors involved to make these a great tool.

Mature project management methodologies usually provide a very comprehensive list of templates for various processes and project types. Yet I have seen again and again that the project manager feel they are overburdened by these templates and hold this strong opinion that filling out templates is a hindrance to their project’s success. I had this discussion with many project managers as to why certain templates need to be filled out. I had asked the project managers to convince me that filling out a template does not add value to the project or the organization and i will agree with them that there is no need to do documentation.

The question that, I think, addresses these arguments is: What are the things that make project management templates a valuable tool?

I believe there are three factors, if present, will make templates a very valuable tool. These are:

  1. Knowing the Template: Comprehensive understanding and knowledge of various sections and topics of the template will ensure that project manager can provide the relevant information succinctly and effectively
  2. Knowing the Culture of the Organization: Culture of the organization derives what is easily acceptable as norm and what will be considered an anomaly. Having a hand on the organization’s pulse, a project manager would know when to stress on which section of the template, how much detail should be provided, how to go through review and approval through the organizational hierarchy
  3. Knowing how to use the template to best achieve the objectives: If an objective can be achieved with a one page memo or even email why fill out template (when there is no legal obligation to do so). Tailoring a template to use only the sections relevant to meet objectives reduces burden and improves effectiveness.

In short, templates are only enablers to achieve project objectives, definitely are not required in most cases but experience has shown that they greatly improve the chances of meeting the objectives.


Jan 222012

In part 1, we looked at the purpose of project proposal and then reviewed few roles who are sometimes tasked with writing project proposal. The discussion conitues below…

The IT Manager: In case of projects with significant IT work, the IT Manager are the most common ones writing project profiles. This is especially true in organization with low project portfolio management maturity. They will do a really good job with rough cost estimate and risk identification. They cannot identify source of funding unless the monies are coming from IT approved funding bucket in which case they know the source already. They can do a reasonable job with estimating cost savings and breakeven. They may do a reasonable job with aligning project to corporate strategic plan and an average response to identifying the benefits to the organization.

The Project Portfolio Manager: Project Portfolio managers are more generalist and so they will tend to put in more generic information. They possibly cannot fully identify the benefits and their impact on the organization. They can do a reasonable job in aligning project to strategic objectives as they have full understanding of strategic direction. Perhaps high level cost estimate will be reasonable. Risk identification will be their main strength. Because of their exposure they can very quickly identify several risks that will give a real good picture to the approving body. They are a good source to identify source of funding especially because they have access to much wider information. 

and the last one is…

The Project Manager: is the best source to have a really good cost estimate and identified risks as this is their bread and butter. If experienced in the organization, they can quickly identify project alignment with strategic direction as well as enumerate benefits to the business as they have been doing it project after project. However they cannot identify source of funding by themselves.

 So the question is who should write the project proposal? I think Project Manager should own and create the project proposal. If the person get the input from business leader and users on benefits to the organization and strategic alignment and also review risks and estimates with IT manager and portfolio manager, they can produce an outstanding document.

You may say that any one of the above can do that. That is get input from others and produce an excellent project proposal. Yes that is true someone might do as good a job as project manager but there are couple of reasons I believe makes them best choice.

Who is responsible for project delivery? Who envisions, plans, executes and controls the project? Who, most of the times, is held responsible for failure to deliver the benefits expected out of a project? Who has to justify the cost and time spent on the project? In 99.9 times out of 100, its the Project Manager.

 Here is a typical scenario. A project manager gets assigned to the project and receives project proposal/profile to start project initiation phase. His/her first comment usually is “Who wrote this proposal? It is unrealistic”. This project profile is the starting document for the project as funding and project approval may have been obtained using this document. Now the project manager is stuck with a document that has set unrealistic expectations. It is an uphill battle right from the start. The energy that should be directed to intitiation and planning activities and team building is spent on resetting stakeholder expectations. Not a pretty scenario. Right?

There are two advantages of having a project manager write the proposal. One, as the delivery person, the one in trenches, project manager will be more realistic than anyone else in estimating time and cost as well as much more critical in clarifying scope. And two, as a person that may be asked to deliver the project, the project manager will be as much as or more concerned with setting right expectations through profile than only focused on receiving approval of the profile.

So, I believe that project manager should be the one who writes the project proposal or profile but should solicit input from line manager and project portfolio manager as well as from users and business lead. The result should be a proposal that presents a true picture of the project to the executives and make it eaiser for them to review the proposal.

Jan 162012

Project proposal is sometimes called as ‘Project Profile’ or ‘Project Brief’. It is the first document that is produced by the project. One way it probably is the most important document because it sets the stage for the rest of the project. Unfortunately, in most cases it is one of the often neglected documents. Reason being the challenges faced by the author to identify the project as accurately as possible but at a very high level so that the executives can understand the problem, solution, and benefits as well as the time and cost required to get there. It may be created by someone in the group that is the direct beneficiary (the Users) or their manager or someone in IT, maybe a line manager or project manager. In worst case scenario, it may be written by an admin secretary (not that admin secretaries are bad writers).

Let us look at it in reverse order to see what is required and who the best person to do it is?

What is the objective of project profile?

The main purpose is to get funding approval for the project. Another is to provide a starting point to the project team who will later work on the project. The executives responsible for funding approval will need several pieces of information. Some of the major ones are:

  1. How does the project benefit the organization and how significant is this benefit?
  2. How well this project aligns with overall corporate strategy and vision and with IT strategy
  3. How much it is going to cost and how much will it save once implemented? Also what is the breakeven point?
  4. What are the major risks and what are the chances that this project may not deliver what it promises? and
  5. Where are the funds coming from? etc.

Next we review each typical role and its level of knowledge on these questions.

The Admin Secretary: The secretary has almost no knowledge of how the project will benefit organization and its impact. Neither does the person know how project aligns with corporate strategic goals and how much it will cost to get the work done and what will be the savings. Even if they have been provided numbers, those just remain numbers, and without any context to it, they cannot judge whether the numbers make sense or not. The person might identify couple or few risks based on their experience in the organization but definitely cannot perform a comprehensive review. They will know funding source because they will be told or they have to find that out. This again will be limited to just knowing the account or name of the source.

The Users: have reasonable knowledge of benefits to the organization as they are the direct recipient of the benefit but that knowledge will probably be limited to their work or at the most their department. Alignment with strategic corporate goal may just be too abstract for them.  They will have some idea of the size of the project but probably cannot put a number on it. Because of their closeness to the domain impacted by the project, they can identify several real risks which would need to be managed later on.  They will have hardly any clue about funding source.

The Users’ Manager/Business Leader: The business lead can estimate the benefits to the organization really well. This person is expected to have good grasp of corporate strategic direction and really strong understanding of department goals and thus can tie in the project really well with both corporate and departmental plans. The leader will understand, with experience, some of the project costs that will be incurred including overheads but may do a weak estimate for a project that significantly spans multiple departments and/or has a high IT work component. This individual can identify risks much better than the users’ because of their level in the organization and will be the best one to say where the money is going to come from. In fact, among all the roles discussed here, they are the one that most likely will identify source of funding.

The discussion is continued in part 2…