Successful projects are built on a solid foundation

There are many definitions for what a project is.  A common definition is that a project is unique, has not been done before, aims to achieve specific and clear goals, has a budget to it and a timing.  The fact that it is unique makes that it involves unknowns that can be estimated at best but can still give quite some unexpected surprises.  Projects mostly involve the collaboration of different departments in the organisation that normally, hierarchically, do not report to the project leader or the person in charge of the project. There are 2 main project methodologies, Prince 2 and PMI, often confused with the system development life cycle, SDLC, of which Agile and Waterfall are most known.

In Waterfall, specific phases in the project are clearly defined and one phase needs to be finished before going to the next. Waterfall originally was typically preferred for very complex transformation projects with lots of dependancies.  Agile, the other approach, was originally born in the world of IT developers, where short iterations, called sprints, deliver a feature within 4 to 6 weeks. This approach produces ongoing release cycles, each featuring small, incremental changes from the previous release.  Where Waterfall in the past was mainly used for huge multi million dollar projects and Agile for smaller projects, eventually the Agile approach made it also into the larger scale projects with the Scaled Agile approach or SAFe. LeSS, Large-Scale Scrum, is another agile approach, essentially regular scrum applied to large-scale development. Both approaches still exist and there are strong believers for each.

A highly underestimated component in Project Management is people management within the project.  Although certification on PMI and Prince 2 methodologies have their merit, they by no means give a guarantee that you are dealing with a good project leader.

What is often overlooked is that project management is very different than operational management. In operational management the command and control structure is clear.  In project management the project leader is responsible for leading team members that technically don’t report to him/her. 

The amount of alignment, pre-negotiation, conflict handling is so much more important in this setting.  A lot of the results in the project will depend on the goodwill that the project leader is able to create from the team members.  As such, a project leader that can connect and create rapport to the team members will be essential.  It is fair to say that great project leaders are a different breed of people than operational leaders.

The maturity of an organisation in terms of project management can easily been seen in their formal recognition of the difference between project en operational leaders.

Project Delivery depends on clear Roles and Responsibilities

Often when arriving in Projects, the RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consult, Inform) chart hasn’t been composed yet. Team members struggling with setting bounderies are overloaded with activities which should be delivered by another team member/team.
Small delays are initiated in several streams or teams which once added up, possibly become a risk for reaching a stage of a project.
Setting the roles and responsibilities from the start, on activity level, is a key action to identify the actions to which extent some of the team members need to spend time by either doing, supporting or advising.
This as a consequence contributes to a more detailed and complete resource plan.

The absence of this clarity will have an impact on team members leaving the project early and increased absence with sick leave. This will of course impact the project delivery timeline.

The clarity in roles and responsibilities is an essential foundation without which later-on in the project it is very difficult for the project leader and project members to pressure departments to deliver.  The grey zones will be the ideal hiding ground for shifting blame and non-performance to other departments.


Small Impediments can turn into huge Risks

Being prepared for the known/unknowns in project management is an important key success factor!
Identifying a risk as such, is one of the easiest activities within the risk handling process, however the follow up often doesn’t take place.

The risk analyses/assessment and the risk response plan is where the most projects lack follow through.
Having a dedicated role to ensure the risk management is properly done will support management team in achieving the project goal.