At Asq Projects, we are often asked what makes for a truly successful project. Whilst ‘on time and within budget’ are the key goals for most projects, we also appreciate there’s a lot more to it than that.
We’ve compiled our absolute must-haves to help you and your team prioritise your project work. If you’re not already following these, then it’s time to start!
The Top 7…
1. Have a business case – a proper business case
Like any business decision, the project should have a formal agreed business case outlining the reasons for the project (the change), the costs, benefits, constraints and risks. These need to be reviewed regularly throughout the project because circumstances change, and all stakeholders need to decide whether the project is worthwhile continuing with or should be put on hold.
During the review, the business case should answer questions like:
- Why did we start this project?
- Is the project still aligned with the strategic goals of our business?
- Will the project deliver the expected business benefits?
- Is the project still operating within the framework of the business case?
2. Drive key stakeholder buy-in
There are so many times when I come across projects that have a life of their own! Senior management has little or no visibility on what is happening with the project and they only get involved when things are going wrong, e.g. more money / resources / people / hardware / time is needed.
If a project starts well, the project manager is senior and/or seems to be in total control of the project, senior management could easily get side-tracked by other pressing business issues – this leaves the project manager in total control – and alone.
The problem is that if senior management only become involved when the project is on the brink of failure or already out of control, it puts a lot of unnecessary stress on the project manager and the project. Things have to be explained as to why the project is going / went wrong.
A better solution:
- Involve key stakeholders throughout the project so they can make informed decisions before it’s too late
- Regularly review the project’s business case (see tip 1) with key stakeholders to ensure it is still aligned with the business strategy and goals, and it remains adequately prioritised and funded against other projects
Remember: Develop a Stakeholder Analysis, Stakeholder Engagement Strategy and a Communications Plan
3. Get a good project team!
When I say ‘good’ I mean experienced. Often I see senior management promoting in-house staff to various roles, like project managers, business analysts and/or change managers. They may be very good at their day-to-day job but if they have never run a project before they will most likely hit trouble at some point.
To be confident in your project manager, think about:
- Their competence in delivering projects on time and within budget (have they done this before?)
- Their professional project management qualifications, i.e. Prince2, PMBOK, Agile – there are good reasons why these courses are there
Do yourself a favour and implement an experienced project team. If you do this by promoting internally, ensure they have sufficient time and skills to do the job well and make sure their day-to-day job is backfilled – don’t assume they will be able to do both. Any project is a journey full of risks, issues and uncertainty – don’t leave yourself open to failure by not having the right people in place.
4. Communicate, communicate, communicate!
Then communicate some more!
- Hold regular project and steering committee meetings
- Distribute informative, meaningful newsletters and email updates
- Engage your team and ensure they are involved (or at least informed) about what’s going on, what has been achieved so far, what the next steps are etc.
An obvious one, but one that can be easily overlooked or forgotten, especially as the project progresses. Always expect the unexpected and have a contingency plan in place. If your project has a strict timeline, you will probably need to compromise on the ‘must have’, ‘should have’ and ‘could have’ items. Consider adding the less important items to a future project phase, if possible.
No project will succeed if there is no realistic plan in place. The plan can look different depending on if you are managing by the traditional ‘waterfall’ methodology or following an ‘Agile’ approach.
Important areas to plan for:
- Ensure the project team members understand what is expected from them and when
- Employee annual leave forms should be submitted during the planning stage of the project and catered for if they are approved
- Build in some buffers at all stages; the development might hit some snags, the testing could take a bit longer, maybe some extra training is needed, a key person might fall sick etc. (It is much easier to explain why you are ahead of schedule than behind!)
- Revise the plan regularly and communicate any changes to all those affected, however minor the changes might seem
6. Lessons Learnt
Before you start planning your project, find out if the organisation has done similar projects before. If they have, try to find meeting minutes, project status reports, and steering committee presentations to find out if and where they had challenges. Ask the team members involved about their experiences – any information can be helpful when you plan the next project, and something might be brought up that you had not considered.
During your new project take notes, a daily log, that you can bring with you to your next project. Remember to do a project ‘close-out’ meeting, where you table what went well and what could have gone better. This is not a finger pointing exercise, but can yield valuable information for your next project.
At the end of the project it is important to recognise the achievements of the project team members as well as the outcome of the project. Book a table at a nice restaurant, have a sausage sizzle, organise board room presentations of memorable moments in the project, present awards to celebrate the most creative idea that avoided a major challenge, the most dedicated person, the person that had the best attitude etc. Create an atmosphere of celebration and success surrounding projects so that next time, people are even more engaged.
If some of these caused you to question whether your current project is on the right path, it might be worth taking a few moments to complete our Project Management Analysis Test so we can help you get back on track.
About the Author
Professional Services Manager
Originally from Sweden, Peter is a seasoned international IT consultant with 20 years experience in the SMB and enterprise markets. Now based in Sydney, Peter moved here in 1998 and during his time has also spent several years based in Singapore managing an enterprise Project Management Office (PMO) stretching across South East Asia including Singapore, India, China, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Australia. His credentials for managing and delivering IT Project Management professional services throughout Asia Pacific are beyond reproach.
Peter is a highly experienced senior Professional Services Manager with deep knowledge and experience of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) as well as Portfolio, Programme and Project Management. At Asq Peter is responsible for managing our own team of IT service professionals as well as oversight of projects under the management of Asq. He also brings formidable knowledge and value to customers in areas such as:
- Organisation & Strategic Business Planning
- Recruiting and re-organizations
- Business Transformation
- Operational Management
- Program and Project Management
- Team Leadership, Development and Motivation
- Development and execution of policy and procedure
- Efficient time management and optimisation
- Implementation methodology development
- Customer & Vendor negotiations