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Straight Talk on Project Management

Cheat sheet to IT project success

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Always loop back to people, purpose, and project fundamentals – your cheat sheet to IT project success

When Microsoft launched Loop, a new Project Management and Collaboration App, clients asked for my professional verdict. My gut response was – it doesn’t matter how fancy or new your project management software is, without the right people, mission clarity and focus, and the key project basics – you could be setting yourself up for a fail.

At Stoneseed, we take an egalitarian view on project management software and apps. We provide Project Management resources, talent and teams ‘as a Service’ and we can (and will) work with whatever software you prefer to use.

Loop isn’t the first innovation I’ve been asked to share a view on, and it won’t be the last, just like everyone else, I’ve only had access to what’s in the public domain so far but at first glance it looks like it does what they all did – the same as what went before done slightly differently! As always there a marginal evolution, they’re all progressively better integrated into their ‘parent software suite’ (in this case Microsoft 365), and increasingly leaning towards AI. To be honest, I can’t see my review making it onto the Microsoft posters.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Use what works best for you!

IT’S YOU ADDING THE VALUE, NOT YOUR APP!

You are what adds the value to positively affect project’s outcomes, not the software you use. One day, an AI bot will retrieve this blog and troll me with it, laugh in my face, but not for a good while!

For now, it’s people, purpose and project fundamentals that will make all the difference.          

1 – People

Having the right people in place is a must and not just the obvious, like to enjoy the full benefit of business analysis, you need a Business Analyst. Across your team you need people whose strengths fit your projects’ needs and whose character and personalities fit your business culture, and, as we’ll discuss that includes leadership.

Occasionally you come across a project all-rounder, but they are rare. More often than not, project talent operates outside their natural strengths through necessity rather than strategy, achieving results but not the full potential outcomes your project deserves – and it doesn’t have to be this way.

Stoneseed’s IT Project Management as a Service (PMaaS) allows you to access project professionals at a flexible and predictable cost. Stoneseed’s team members are experienced across multiple technology solutions, sectors, and industries. We work on all types of projects and programmes such as Business Change, Transformation, Infrastructure, Digital and IT Project Delivery.

Team sports are great for drawing comparisons with IT project teams. As I write, in football, Chelsea’s men are playing without an obvious striker, and it shows in their goal difference! In IT Project Management you don’t have to make-do, whatever talent you need, you can access them via PMaaS. Also, for the benefit of readers in the future, as I write, Chelsea have parted company with manager Graham Potter, proving that you can have millions of pounds of talent but without the right leadership a team can flounder.

For IT Project teams, Stoneseed can help with leadership and governance gaps to, and again our PMO services are available through the PMaaS model. Whether you need assistance improving your existing PMO, end-to-end PMO, or a range of solutions in between, Stoneseed’s Portfolio, Programme and Project Management Office, with P3O qualified staff, will provide access to specialised PMO expertise, so you can align resources or expertise as and when you need it. 

All Stoneseed’s PMaaS services are available onsite or remote, in fact we are experts in Remote Project Delivery so the solution to your people issues might be available faster than you think. 

2 – Purpose

You might think that a sense of purpose, what I referred to earlier as “mission clarity and focus”, would be a given. Sadly, it isn’t always as nailed down as it should be.

Everybody working on or with your project should be comfortable giving an elevator pitch on its exact deliverables and intended outcome. It should be like cracking a stick of rock in half, the writing should run all the way through.

So, the purpose of your IT Project should trip off the tongue of everyone involved, but that’s not enough, this definite-sense-of-purpose mentality should trickle down into individual tasks, phases, and dependencies. The thing you’re working on right now, can you verbalise how it fits in with the next cog in the IT Project and the project as a whole? The best teams can, they can look at their Gantt chart and see it, not as a diary of stuff-to-do, but as if it were a map of the London Underground, with every connection clearly defined.

My PM friend Malc says, “You should be able to not only say ‘it does exactly what it says on the tin’ but know off by heart what it actually says on the tin!”

Know the scope and goals for your project!   

3 – Project Fundamentals

People and purpose are, of course, key project basics but there are other fundamentals.

A – Communication

The best teams always have the best lines of communication. Honesty, integrity, and openness are at the heart of good communication. Your team should have the confidence to report back the actual progress of their phase of the project. Here is where modern software does come into its own, collaborative tools, like Loop, etc encourage greater transparency.

Writing this I’ve had a flashback to a Project Manager I knew years back who would always ask “Is that ‘yes’ a guess?”. You’d confirm that your task was on-time and this guy would ask “ahhhh is that “yes” a guess?” giving you the chance to pause, reflect and either back up your confidence with data or fess up that .. actually …!! As I recall, it was off the back of colleagues embellishing their progress and status reporting to not look bad in a culture that harshly criticised any deviation from the delivery schedule. If you hit a snag on day one, the culture made you hide it in the hope that you’d caught up by day ten, the day your phase was due, for instance. Seems alien now, your culture should encourage openness – you should be able to flag up an issue the moment it happens, even if it’s you that’s messed up, so the rest of the team can adapt if need be.       

B – Roles And Responsibilities

Who’s doing what? Roles and responsibilities need to be clearly defined. Everyone needs to be clear on what they are doing, what’s expected of them and how their current task fits the bigger picture but it’s also very important that everyone knows what other team members are up to as well, so that questions and information can be directed at the relevant person quickly.

Our role as a Project Management as a Service resource provider gives us the unique opportunity to lift the bonnet on a number of IT Projects, a surprisingly large amount have, as a colleague coined it, ‘duty dislocation’ – everyone is busy but not necessarily doing what they’re meant to be.   

A US IT Project Manager friend, Giles, calls it “when your quarterback is in the stand selling hot dogs”, I love this!! In the same way that, were this to happen in American Football you’d have no one directing your team’s offensive line, in IT Project teams having a team member out of position can lead to confusion, frustration and serious damage to your project’s timeline. It can also create friction between team members, imagine the hot dog seller’s reaction to finding the quarterback treading on his toes! When a project team colleague veers out of their lane and into yours it can cause unnecessary confrontation, ill will and affect team harmony.

C – Process

“Trust the Process – A Must for No Stress” is another catchy slogan I picked from somewhere.   

A thorough understanding of the basic project management processes, aka the project lifecycle is, of course key, but is something that should be lived as much as learnt. In other words, like driving a car, the theory and lessons is one thing but once you pass you must keep practicing what you’ve been taught EVERY day! Take the text-book best practice that got you your certificate into the real world!

So, in waterfall, there are 5 basic phases for the progression of work (other methodologies have 7 phases), in Agile the project work is tracked via a sequence of increments, sprints or cycles, hybrid methodologies work as the name suggests mixing the best fits methodologies. Project management processes, and the activities and deliverables within, can be shaped by industry, business culture, sector, company/organisation, and even the individual project – but once you’ve picked a process – stick to it! All of it!  

For instance, a project we consulted on recently was following a pretty standard process … in a nutshell:

  • Initiation
    • Planning
    • Execution
    • Monitoring, Governance and Controlling
    • Close

The Project Manager was motivating his team, methodology was agreed, scope defined, and he was steering his team efficiently through the project phases. Documentation, tools, and reporting needed for every phase was agreed … except … governance had been paid lip service in a busy project environment and wasn’t effective. The more this one strand unravelled the weaker the rest of the process was becoming.

Processes can be shored up with PMO services and can be accessed “as a Service”, so you can be as tight as the textbooks taught you – in the real world of project delivery.

CONCLUSION – ALWAYS LOOP BACK TO THE BASICS

So, Microsoft’s Loop is the latest collaborative tool available to Project Managers, before you know it there’ll be a new app claiming to be the perfect solution and then another and another. Choosing which you use will never be as important as making a commitment to the basics.

Get your people, purpose and project fundamentals in place (Stoneseed can help with any gaps) and successful outcomes can be achieved, whatever tried-and-tested or start-of-the-art software you use!   

Find out more about Project Management as a Service from Stoneseed