The First 10% of a Project: 90% of Success, part 2

PM Commentary by Stacy Goff, ProjectExperts CEO.
If you have not reviewed part 1, with the project scenario, go do that before continuing here. Hopefully, you analyzed the scenario and answered the question, at least for yourself, about the additional take-aways from the scenario. They include:

  • The importance of taking the latency out of the period from project inspiration to initiation.
  • The value of clearly defined preliminary scope and business benefits from prioritization forward.
  • Confidence that, when you identify the talent and their needed availability, that you actually get it.
  • The impact of Customer/Manager engagement early in the project.
  • Assuring that the project team hears the project owner’s statement of its importance.
  • Verbal reassurance by the Resource Managers of all team members, about the project’s priority.
  • A focus on achieving Benefit Realization.
  • The partnering with internal customers from project initiation to benefit realization—and the celebration for achieving those benefits.

And those are just the obvious ones, from our year-old scenario. There are many other things to assure that  you achieve in the first 10% of any project; or, as we discussed in our corollary to Goff’s Law #1, that you should verify on the first day you are on any project. Let us take a look at those precious early ingredients of success.

Early Ingredients for Success
This list of early items is for a medium or larger project. It is in addition to the take-aways from the scenario discussed above. Project teams that assure that they complete these project ingredients consistently achieve project success:

  • A one-page Project Charter that identifies the Sponsor’s view of the project’s purpose, primary outputs, key team members, and the levels of authority of the project manager.
  • A definitive problem or opportunity analysis, that includes at a minimum, a clear understanding of the project’s purpose, measurable outcomes, and a stakeholder list.
  • A list of clear project objectives, and the Business Driver (the single, most-important “why” of the project), that all participants, customers and managers agree with.
  • Measurable preliminary scope, or at least a foundation for scope traceability. It is better for scope to be traceable than to be presumed to be accurate, early in the project, before business requirements are verified.
  • Early range estimates of effort and cost, with documentation of the assumptions that drive them. We recommend 3-4 different estimating methods in medium or large projects, if managing Time and Cost is important.
  • An overall project timeline and needed staffing level that is consistent with the effort needed to deliver the project. See our Project Management Success Profile (the Project Success Diagonal) at the ProjectExperts website.
  • The right internal Customers involved with and responsible for the selection of early project activities that assure successful Organizational Change Management. These clearly include requirements definition and prioritization, plus key decisions about design alternatives.
  • Commitments of needed time and attention of the right project Sponsor(s). So it is not just assumed to be a token role, we assign benefit realization to the Project Sponsor.
  • Flexibility with schedule and cost at major Milestones or Stage Gates, as Scope discovery requires it; or, flexibility with deferring scope to later releases.
  • An initial strategy or approach for the project, to be reviewed either after requirements prioritization, or at design. This includes such approaches as staging, to offer early release of some tangible business benefits, plus some analysis of buy vs. build vs. contract for all or part of the project results.
  • Participation by Customers and Resource Managers in Risk Assessment and Response Identification. Then, follow-through when risk responses are needed. After all, everything the project manager and team can manage is not a risk.
  • A high-level schedule for the entire project, that shows the approximate timing of each phase or stage, accepted by Customers and Managers. And, based on another Goff’s Law, an accelerated schedule that shows how you could (with Management support) beat the project due date by 25%.
  • A work plan for the next immediate phase or stage, at the work package or individual assignment level of detail, based on clear structuring into bite-sized efforts, listed responsibilities and assignments (listing their hours per day or % commitment), estimates of activity effort and duration, with assumptions, lists of incremental reviews and reviewer roles, planned communications,
  • Based on the preceding, a detailed schedule for the next immediate phase or stage, showing which activities have slack and which are on the critical path. Of course, schedule and resource use is optimized. It is scary how many teams just move bars on a Gantt Chart or PowerPoint slide until it is “good enough for management approval”.

An Overwhelming List?
I recall a period in the mid-1980s, when Information Technology project leaders freaked out at a list like this. They thought it was overwhelming—especially when their primary interest was in writing code, and these actions had no apparent relationship to the code they desperately wanted to begin working on. Even Managers worried that it felt like analysis paralysis. And what is your reaction? Is there anything there on the list you would skip?

And even if you could get some of the right people together (we say that is part of the Resource Managers’ job, based on the information from the Project Manager), how long might it take to do all this, say on a medium project of 2000 hours of effort, with the team assigned half time? Go ahead and guess, before you continue reading. Don’t cheat…

In our classes, even with the assertion that Resource Managers get all the right people in the room, guesses range from two weeks to several months. For the project size we cited, our PM Methodologies all slate this effort at one week. Now this does assume that the participants have experience in doing this type of work. And for larger projects, say 12K hours of effort, we say, two weeks (with the team working full-time) at most. The reaction we often get: “No way!” Of course, the secret, including getting the right people together, is to focus on the project, rather than all the other non-project interruptions that damage project productivity in most organizations.

For larger projects, we (in ProjectExperts) have offered a facilitated service, Rapid Initial Planning , that gets the right people together for a larger project, producing most of the above PM results, in a 3-4 day period. These are intensive, full-time, offsite if needed, sessions. I say “most of the above results” because some of the pre-work and concurrent effort includes a problem or opportunity analysis with wide-ranging stakeholders.

Worth the Effort?
What do you think the benefits might be, of spending even less than the first 10% of your project’s effort on the selection of those items listed above that would help you the most? Even if you spend 2 weeks preparing for a nine month project, would it serve you well? And, what would it take to get all your customers, managers and team members up-to-speed enough to participate in such an activity? And, what do you think this approach would have on project time and cost changes? On benefit realization?

Those organizations that are in the business of managing projects as part of their business (or government) differentiation, have embraced this concept of investing the first 10% in project success. Those that are perennial laggards skip much of the needed preparation, and as a result, too often exceed planned time, cost, scope, quality and benefit realization targets. For over 25 years now, the smartest project teams manage their project from the very beginning, rather than merely doing them.

Your Comments?