Life is filled with new adventures and experiences. Remember the first time you rode a bike, climbed a tree, or took a job. New adventures are exciting, but they can be filled with great uncertainty. Projects are unique, some more than others. Let's look at how to manage a different kind of project.
Project managers may be asked to manage a project, unlike anything they've ever faced.
Consider Sue, an event planner, who was asked to manage a project to implement a new accounting system for her organization. Sue had no accounting background or experience in implementing software.
To varying degrees, every project is different from our prior projects – that's what makes them unique. This is what makes project management fun. It's different every day.
But, some projects are completely alien to us; the endeavors are foreign to our experience. How should we approach these projects? What steps can we take to improve our chance for success?
Clearly define the project
The starting point of every project should be a project charter. Work with your sponsor to define the project goals, deliverables, constraints, assumptions, high-level risks, stakeholders, and your team. This single activity can help you deliver projects with fewer issues and greater value.
Develop a Project Charter
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One of the challenges in projects is estimating the duration. Clearly defined goals are time-bound – the goals include dates. Because of the uncertainty, you may wish to use date ranges, rather than specific dates. Start with an analogous estimate. How? Get actual durations from other project managers for similar projects.
Identify the areas where you lack knowledge, experience, and skills
Review your project charter and identify the knowledge and skills required for a successful project. You may find it helpful to create a RACI Matrix or a Roles and Responsibilities document. Talk with the resource manager or other people responsible for staffing the project and make sure they understand these human resource requirements.
Understand that you will discover unknown risks as you progress through the project
Projects have unknown risks. Wise project managers prepare their teams by acknowledging, up front, that they expect things to pop up, from time to time in these projects. Teams make assumptions that are not based on facts; many times, these teams experience unexpected events.
These projects are like caving. In some parts of the journey, the cave is open and easy to navigate. In other places, the tunnel has collapsed and requires persistence and hard digging to get to the other side.
Choose the right project life cycle
When there is great uncertainty, project managers can improve their chance for success by taking an agile lifecycle rather than waterfall.
Tom, an IT project manager, decided to have his project team create a billing system iteratively. The project team captured the project requirements in a backlog and delivered the functionality in four-week sprints. The team discovered unknown constraints early in the first three sprints that greatly improved the speed and quality of the code in the subsequent sprints.
Add schedule and budget reserves
In any project, certain activities have more risk. Project managers should add contingency reserves for these known risk and a management reserve for the unknown risk.
One of the best techniques for analyzing risks is to define a work breakdown structure (WBS) and then analyze the risk for the lowest level activities. The reserves may be added to the individual activities. Additionally, they may also be added to the overall project.
Track your hours for future reference
If you want to improve your estimating of future projects, track your hours. Estimates based on prior projects will be more accurate than theoretical estimates.
Use appropriate tools
Some project managers use complex project management tools for simple projects. Think about your needs. Do you need to develop a network diagram? Do you plan to track your expenses? What kinds of reports do you need to generate? Select your project management tools accordingly.