When project managers accept the responsibility for all aspects of project performance, including the technical quality, costs and schedule performance, they in effect put their careers on the line. If things go well, management knows precisely whom to credit. If things go poorly, management also knows precisely whom to blame.
Adapted from Earned Value Project Management (Quentin – Koppelman) pg. 152
When I read this book some time ago this sentence left an impression and I refer to it any time I start a new project. Years of experience and a few unforgettable failures have taught me the meaning of the sentence if things go well. Experience brought me to the truth: things go well if we do some steps in the correct way from the very beginning; steps that I define fundamental and decisive to project success. I believe there are no doubts that project success earns the project manager a good reputation, reliability towards management, internal and/or external client.
In this article I would like you to focus on what are the critical steps that need to be taken care of at the very beginning of every new challenging experience: the new project. In Italy we use this proverb: “Starting something in the correct way means having half of the job already done!”
I have based this article on the PMBOK® Fourth Edition processes, tools and techniques and I assume the project manager hold the PMP certification. For those who have not achieved the PMP certification yet, I strongly recommend putting in the effort to gain it as soon as possible. However, my recommendations are in general applicable to any kind of project. For each topic I will provide some direction and I indicate the most appropriate tools and techniques to help put them into practice.
Understanding the Project
The very first step a newly appointed project manager should accomplish is to understand the project. Understanding the project means to acquire as much information as possible not only the knowledge about the project itself, but about the environment where the project will be carried out. That means the project context. According to the context, project life could be more or less complex; accordig to the context, the project manager should use a different approach to put in place the actions that are needed to start the project.
My first suggestion is to shape the project big picture. Many “brand new” project managers are excited and at the same time concerned about the new assignment, start studying in detail all project documents. At this level, the situation would require a more high level view of the whole project complexity and the factors that could become crucial after the project has been started. In this phase being proactive is good but proactivity need to be focused in acquiring and analyzing the appropriate level of project information. At this stage it is not worth exploring the financial details in the contract if we do not understand the project requirements or client’s expectations!
A good understanding of the Statement of Work attached to the contract and/or the Business Case if present, is a good point to start. The analysis of the project scope, the description of the major elements of the completed work (deliverables), the business objectives, the expectded benefits, the stated constraints (delivery dates, user expectation, other projects relationshipes, eviroment requirements, etc.), and the at the moment known risk conditions and the obligations are all elements that identify the project complexity and consequently the level of attention the Organization has to pay by means of the project manager. It is project manager’s duty to chart the project picture and points it out within the organization.
According to PMBOK® Fourth Edition the Project Charter is the document that formally authorizes the project, documents initial requirements, establishes a partnership between the performing organization and the requesting organization or customer, formally initiates the project, and provides the project manager with authority to apply organizational resources to project activities, creates or documents delegation by project initiator or sponsor. The Project Charter is also a powerful communication tool and should be distributed, at least, to the main stakeholders in order for them to know who is accountable for the project other than the features that shape it. It is also highly recommend that the project manager takes care of it in order to have included all the information needed to make stakeholders understood about the project fundamentals and critical factors.
Team resources allocated in this phase, if any, represent a considerable support in gathering and analyzing project information available at this point in time. Brainstorming sessions with team members and SMEs will help to compare different project elements and to draw the project picture which will be included in the Project Charter. Inexperienced project managers should benefit from the wisdom of the experienced PM or an alternative is to hire a senior consultant to give directions for this crucial phase.
Projects are normally carried out within an environment. It is project managers’ responsibility to develop a detailed understanding of the environment. The main objective of this proposition is to gain a clear portrait of the context where the project will be undertaken. Spend time to make a 360° assessment and try to look at things from outside, do not rush to a judgment, and just spend time to gather inputs from what you see in the real life scenario.
Sponsorship and management commitment for the project is an essential component required to achieve project success. If necessary the project manager should make every kind of effort to gain the appropriate level of attention for the project.
The Stakeholder Analysis will give you the taste of potential project issues, other elements must be considered. Some factors that could increase the project complexity are the involvement of overseas partners, differences in culture, timeframe, language, as well as distributed project logistics, political restrictions, and regulatory policies. All these factors must be clear and addressed from the very beginning of the project in order to avoid trouble further down in the project life cycle.
Referring to my personal experience I want to give you an example of project complexity showing how a single cultural trait could be significant: time perception. Time visions are the product of a social construction and that perception varies tremendously between and within societies. In fact, the time visions of all individuals are shaped by the society in which they live in and influenced by the organizations in which they work.
Organizations, even more the ones that involve overseas partners, need synchronization among employee activities, departments and external entities. For that, they plan and make schedules in order to maximize goals and respect priorities. Not surprisingly, organizations adopt a so called clock time vision, which views time as a scarce commodity. People who hold a clock time vision, like North Americans or North Europeans view time deadlines in terms of the completion of a series of activities along a timeline. The timelines they use are divided into intervals with homogeneous units of measure. This enables planning, using such tools as Gantt or PERT charts. In contrast, a timeless time vision, like people from South America or South Europeans, allows a more holistic view of deadlines. With this time vision, neither the time requirements for various activities nor their sequencing is considered.
Different cultural perceptions of time can lead to conflict, especially in the business world. The idea of being late versus on time for a due date or a meeting, for example, might differ widely between a North American business person and a Brazilian. The American businessperson might be far less tolerant of a Brazilian’s late arrival. The Brazilian business person might be offended by an American’s insistence on punctuality or on getting right down to business; The Brazilian would generally prefer to finish talking with colleagues first, and would not want to cut a conversation short in order to make an appointment.
In scenarios like this, a careful assessment of cultural traits will help the project manager to select the right way to approach people rather than building an effective communication system within the project.
Stakeholders are people who are actively involved, or interested in the project or product. They are anyone who is affected by project activities or results, anyone that can influence, support or resist the project outcomes, and they are anyone with personal, financial, or professional interests in the project outcomes. Failure to address stakeholders’ issues often leads to project “failure”.
Stakeholders are identified during the project initiation process. The stakeholders are people who have requirements regarding the way the project will be performed and managed; for example, managers require a progress report regarding the content and behavior of the product; for example, clients and users require specific features and functions.
Requirements definition begins with the identification of the stakeholders. Missing the identification of a stakeholder at the beginning of the project often means ignoring some requirements. Later during the project planning phase or worse during project execution phase filling up the gap could require an outsized effort in terms of the amount of time required and resources spent, jeopardizing other stakeholders’ expectations. “Brand new” project managers must pay particular attention to this point. A guideline to stakeholder analysis could be:
Identify potential stakeholders and associated information (e.g., role, department, interests, knowledge level, expectations, influence, etc.). The information collected should be organized in a project document called Stakeholders Registry. The stakeholders list will be helpful for the stakeholders assessment and to define a management strategy for each one of them. An example of this tool could be as follows:
|Stakeholder Interest(s) |
in the Project
|Assessment of Impact ||Potential Strategies for Gaining Support or Reducing Obstacles |
| || || || |
| || || || |
The stakeholders identification should be conducted by the project manager in the first brainstorming sessions with the project team. The use of checklists will help to avoid missing somebody who has interest in the project.
Assessing stakeholders means identify their potential impact on the project or the support they could generate. For that purpose stakeholders’ concerns should be analyzed. Technical concerns encompass stakeholders’ attention to processes, procedures and technology impacted by the project. Social or political concerns may be about personal objectives (e.g. “What’s in it for me?”), company benefits (e.g. “What’s in it for the company?”), professional interests (e.g. “What’s in it for my career?”), peers’ and friends’ interests (e.g. “What’s in it for others?”).
I also suggest assessing stakeholders’ knowledge and skills about the project. It is not unusual for a project sponsor or a client representative to have little or no knowledge about the project, its impacts or the product features. Even if this condition could seem desirable for somebody, very often an experienced counterpart will help avoid trouble and support the project mission, and create an environment that motivates and improves overall project performances.
To define an order of priority and consequently the rank of attention, it is important to evaluate stakeholders’ weights in terms of power and level of concern. With power I mean stakeholders’ ability to contribute or withhold resources and/or to accept or reject project outcomes. With concern I signify stakeholders’ apprehension on technical and social impacts and perceptions. The example matrix in the picture above shows how to use the tool.
The Stakeholders Register will be update with the information gathered up to this point.
Stakeholders segmentation helps to categorize them in order to create and apply the appropriate management strategy. For example, not all stakeholders deserve the same level of attention. It is mandatory for the project manager to recognize the subset of the so called key stakeholders that need special attention because more significant than others.
In a change management process there will be some players in favor of the change, also said proponents, some players that show resistance also said resistors and some players that feel neutral to the change. Project managers need to promptly single the neutrals out and put in place a strategy to influence them and make them supporting the project (above in the picture).
Another classification is to determine those who own the knowledge helpful for project success. They can be used as subject matter experts in order to support us in detailing as quickly as possible project requirements, constraints and possible risks. Starting a good professional relationship with them will make it easier for you as the project manager.
The project manager should be the focal point for the flow of communications in a project environment.
Informational needs of the project stakeholders can be determined by assessing and analyzing the project communication requirements. Stakeholders’ roles and responsibilities, location, and department may help determine, along with stakeholder input, the timeliness and frequency required for project information.
A possible communication plan may encompass the following elements: stakeholder communication requirements, information to be communicated, person responsible for communication, person or groups who will receive the information, methods or technologies used to convey the information, frequency of communication, escalation process, method for updating and refining, glossary.
Before the communications plan is published, it should be reviewed and accepted by all involved stakeholders. It should be referenced early in the project so the team fully understands what information should be shared, how often, who will be using it, and what methods are most effective for various audiences. For maximum results, the communications plan should be readily accessible by all who have a need to access the information.
Information to be communicated can include format, content, and level of detail. Examples of methods or technologies used to convey the information include memoranda, e-mail, and/or press releases.
Project communications plans should be scaled to fit the complexity, duration, and size of the project and should provide the proper level of detail in minutes, status reports, etc. It is vital to keep the information current, especially when significant changes occur.
The project manager should regularly check with stakeholders to see if they are getting the right information at the right time.
Managerial Attitude Vs Technical Attitude
During my professional life I saw many so called “brand new” project managers made the same mistake. After a good career as “technicians” they decided to aspire to become project managers. The organization where they worked gave them the opportunity to grow up improving their career path and entrusted a project to them. What normally happen at this point, no matter if they own a PMP certification or not, they keep focusing on technical issues. They seem naturally attracted to them and instead of concentrating all their efforts in strategize the project they believe to be more helpful trying to solve technical problems. This bad attitude has some side effects. First of all, people in charge of the issues do not feel completely involved in it anymore. They also feel a lack of trust and after a while unmotivated in finding the solution or enhancing the system. The project manager, on the other hand, misses the project view and the opportunity to be pro-active in looking for actions to better satisfy stakeholders’ needs and expectations in a timely manner.
Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct
I strictly recommend to new project managers to review the PMI Code of Ethics available at http://www.pmi.org/AboutUs/Pages/CodeofEthics.aspx. A careful refresh of the principles contained in this document will give some hints to think on in order to undertake commitments according to the ethical behaviors that this profession requires.
The Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct describes the expectations that we have of ourselves and our fellow practitioners in the global project management community. It articulates the ideals to which we aspire as well as the behaviors that are mandatory in our professional and volunteer roles.
The purpose of this Code is to instill confidence in the project management profession and to help an individual become a better practitioner. We do this by establishing a profession-wide understanding of appropriate behavior. We believe that the credibility and reputation of the project management profession is shaped by the collective conduct of individual practitioners.
PMI - Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct
The nature of this subject would deserve a longer and deeper examination. I just wanted to draw the new project manager’s attention to some crucial steps for starting a new project under their responsibility. The help of more experienced peers, the support of a coach and the collaboration of team members will give project managers the right prop up to move forward in the project life cycle, but do not forget: starting something in the correct way means having half of the job already done!
© 2010 allPM.com
Giancarlo Duranti is a Project Manager Practitioner, PMP certified. He has been working in the Communication Wire-line & Wireless industry for over 20 years and he is well experienced in managing projects in different international and national business contexts. Giancarlo has consulted for overseas companies in Brazil, Cuba and US. His international experience, perception and sensitivity to other cultures gave him the opportunity to understand insights about managing multicultural team issues. He is also a trainer for project management certification programs and soft skills. He contributes in budding project management culture supporting the develop of new PMI standards, giving speeches on project management topics at congresses and other professional events, writing articles and being an active member of the local PMI Rome Italy Chapter.