Finding the right tools for the type and scope of the project

Finding the right tools for the type and scope of the project 19.10.2016 - Project managers have a wide array of tools to choose from. Some people would say they have too many, because newcomers to project management find it very difficult to decide which tools, forms, software etc. they should use in their projects.
Here’s what often happens: “Tom, we’d like to put you in charge of the XY project. With your energy and experience, you’ll have no problem running the project alongside your regular work activities!“
How many of you would be able to refuse that request?
Unfortunately, most people who are asked to take on a project have no idea about what a project is or how to go about managing it. In some cases, the more senior employee who is assigning the project doesn’t have any idea either.
Involving the project owner is the first challenge
This takes us to one of the most important tools in any project, the project charter. A project charter should be agreed in writing with the line manager requesting the project because it offers many advantages. It gives the project manager clarity about the project by defining key parameters such as project content and timeframe. The project manager should discuss his ideas on these parameters with the line manager so that both sides are in agreement. Afterwards, each of them can refer to the project charter because it sets out their agreement. The project manager knows he has the organisation’s support and the line manager knows by when specific milestones and targets have to be met. This involves creating a time schedule showing sub-objectives and interim milestones to simplify progress checks for both sides.
Ultimately, the project manager will profit from the project charter, because it also includes a written agreement on when the project will close out. And a closed-out project has to stay closed out, otherwise the project manager ends up shouldering responsibility for it indefinitely.
Follow-up activities that often take place after a project has closed-out might have to be put into a follow-up project or defined as a permanent responsibility (updating an IT project, for example). Anyone who doesn’t close-out projects will drown in the details after his third project at the latest. That is why a written agreement on when the project closes out is so important, even when the project is only small, because it discharges the project manager from his responsibilities.
The project owner and project manager aren’t alone
Whether the project is small or large, it’s always helpful to consider the people affected by it from two different perspectives: what interests are at play in the organisation and who do I need on my side to implement the project successfully?
To find out what interests are at play a stakeholder analysis has to be performed. It doesn't have to be as comprehensive as a stakeholder analysis in a massive flagship project (though we often see large-scale projects that don’t accord enough importance to the stakeholder analysis), but it has to be performed nevertheless because every organisation has conflicting interests that will affect the project in some way. If you aren’t aware of them and you don’t take them into account, the project might fail without you even knowing why.
It’s unusual for everyone in an organisation to be in full agreement on future strategies and objectives. Here's an example. An electronic worktime recording system is to be introduced. The HR department hopes that it will significantly reduce its workload. The IT department is worried it will increase its workload. The production manager wants to prevent the system being installed because it will put an end to ‘voluntary’ overtime. And the employees who slip outside occasionally for a cigarette don’t want to have to clock out every time they do it.
If these different interests aren’t taken into consideration in the project planning phase, the various interest groups will clash and the project will fail.
Whatever the project’s size, if the stakeholders’ acceptance isn’t secured with an appropriate communications plan and timely stakeholder communications, the project is doomed to fail. No project manager can implement a project alone. And that isn’t his job.
The project manager always has to schedule resources. But to analyse processes that need optimising he needs the expertise of the people who know the processes. These people also have to be involved in the implementation of the project plan. The greater the extent of their involvement, the higher the level of employee acceptance for the project will be. Many processes today require IT support, which is why the project manager has to collaborate with the IT department.
If there isn’t an IT department, he will have to engage an external service provider, though this is never as flexible as using the organisation’s own employees. The project may be so large that more than one project manager is needed. Perhaps a special software will be necessary. What kind of a timeframe will the project have? All these issues have to be clarified to prevent the project from running into problems.
Meeting minimum requirements provides clarity
Anyone who uses the tools outlined here will have a solid basis for any project. It’s not about using complex software or tools or forms. All these things are simply a means to an end. A diagram on a piece of paper is often all you need to achieve clarity about the project. Also, you can only use complex tools effectively if you know what the project priorities are. With this knowledge, the project manager can judge whether any tools are necessary and, if so, which ones.
Have you had any similar experiences? Or do you have different priorities? Let’s talk about it. Send us your opinions to! The IAPM supports you in the certification process with practical project management guides, events and courses held by our certified training partners!

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