Does It Have To Be So Hard?

Recently, an acquaintance who owns his own business installing industrial valves, remarked how difficult he thought the field of Project Management had become. “Why is there so much paper?” and “Why do the concepts have to be so hard?” (He does have a point, what with Earned Value Analysis…) He indicated that if it weren’t for these hard terms and all the trappings, he would take the time to learn a few concepts and run his projects better. So here goes a simplified version of Project Management, without ‘all the trappings’:

Although our first impulse may be to start planning right away when to do what, don’t. Step back for a moment. Get an understanding from the person sponsoring and paying for the project about what they hope to accomplish. What’s the purpose? What’s the motivation for it? Why now? Hopefully there will be strong answers to this kind of analysis. A very few times in my career, after analyzing the business case, I have seen that the assumptions require an astounding amount of good luck. I have told the client so, at which time he has chosen to save his money.

But hopefully the justification or business case does indeed pass muster. What then? You may have heard of the ‘triple constraint’ as applied to projects: it means reconciling a reasonable amount of scope, with a reasonable timeframe, for a reasonable cost. It is iterative, and we usually have to do a couple of laps discussing all three topics, until we have an agreed triple constraint. Who should be in this Scope-Time-Cost agreement? Ideally the project sponsor, the project performers, and those who will use the result of the project (a.k.a. users). Don’t forget to write it down and circulate it to these audiences. And any time the project starts diverging from the original agreement, discuss and agree a new triple constraint. Of course, there is other planning we could do in important areas, such as risk and communication. But today we are doing the pared down version, remember?

If a balanced triple constraint has been reached, we can start implementing the project. But we can’t just hope that, with a fair wind, the work will materialize in the timeframe we had hoped for. We have to actively track it. Yes, I know we are expending hours every week, but are we actually achieving what we agreed, when we agreed? If we are not, renegotiate once again a new triple constraint. And hopefully this one will not require as much fair wind.


For more resources, see the Library topic Project Management.


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