This web-published article by Michael Greer is an excerpt from “Chapter 6: Planning and Managing Human Performance Technology Projects,” Handbook of Human Performance Technology, San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, 1999
The 14 key principles for PM Success are:
- Project managers must focus on three dimensions of project success. Simply put, project success means completing all project deliverables on time, within budget, and to a level of quality that is acceptable to sponsors and stakeholders. The project manager must keep the team’s attention focused on achieving these broad goals.
- Planning is everything — and ongoing. On one thing all PM texts and authorities agree: The single most important activity that project managers engage in is planning — detailed, systematic, team-involved plans are the only foundation for project success. And when real-world events conspire to change the plan, project managers must make a new one to reflect the changes. So planning and replanning must be a way of life for project managers.
- Project managers must feel, and transmit to their team members, a sense of urgency. Because projects are finite endeavors with limited time, money, and other resources available, they must be kept moving toward completion. Since most team members have lots of other priorities, it’s up to the project manager to keep their attention on project deliverables and deadlines. Regular status checks, meetings, and reminders are essential.
- Successful projects use a time-tested, proven project life cycle. We know what works. Models such as the standard ISD model and others described in this text can help ensure that professional standards and best practices are built into our project plans. Not only do these models typically support quality, they help to minimize rework. So when time or budget pressures seem to encourage taking short cuts, it’s up to the project manager to identify and defend the best project life cycle for the job.
- All project deliverables and all project activities must be visualized and communicated in vivid detail. In short, the project manager and project team must early on create a tangible picture of the finished deliverables in the minds of everyone involved so that all effort is focused in the same direction. Avoid vague descriptions at all costs; spell it out, picture it, prototype it, and make sure everyone agrees to it.
- Deliverables must evolve gradually, in successive approximations. It simply costs too much and risks too much time spent in rework to jump in with both feet and begin building all project deliverables. Build a little at a time, obtain incremental reviews and approvals, and maintain a controlled evolution.
- Projects require clear approvals and sign-off by sponsors. Clear approval points, accompanied by formal sign-off by sponsors, SMEs, and other key stakeholders, should be demarcation points in the evolution of project deliverables. It’s this simple: anyone who has the power to reject or to demand revision of deliverables after they are complete must be required to examine and approve them as they are being built.
- Project success is correlated with thorough analyses of the need for project deliverables. Our research has shown that when a project results in deliverables that are designed to meet a thoroughly documented need, then there is a greater likelihood of project success. So managers should insist that there is a documented business need for the project before they agree to consume organizational resources in completing it.
- Project managers must fight for time to do things right. In our work with project managers we often hear this complaint: “We always seem to have time to do the project over; I just wish we had taken the time to do it right in the first place!” Projects must have available enough time to “do it right the first time.” And project managers must fight for this time by demonstrating to sponsors and top managers why it’s necessary and how time spent will result in quality deliverables.
- Project manager responsibility must be matched by equivalent authority. It’s not enough to be held responsible for project outcomes; project managers must ask for and obtain enough authority to execute their responsibilities. Specifically, managers must have the authority to acquire and coordinate resources, request and receive SME cooperation, and make appropriate, binding decisions which have an impact on the success of the project.
- Project sponsors and stakeholders must be active participants, not passive customers. Most project sponsors and stakeholders rightfully demand the authority to approve project deliverables, either wholly or in part. Along with this authority comes the responsibility to be an active participant in the early stages of the project (helping to define deliverables), to complete reviews of interim deliverables in a timely fashion (keeping the project moving), and to help expedite the project manager’s access to SMEs, members of the target audience, and essential documentation.
- Projects typically must be sold, and resold. There are times when the project manager must function as salesperson to maintain the commitment of stakeholders and sponsors. With project plans in hand, project managers may need to periodically remind people about the business need that is being met and that their contributions are essential to help meet this need.
- Project managers should acquire the best people they can and then do whatever it takes to keep the garbage out of their way. By acquiring the best people — the most skilled, the most experienced, the best qualified — the project manager can often compensate for too little time or money or other project constraints. Project managers should serve as an advocate for these valuable team members, helping to protect them from outside interruptions and helping them acquire the tools and working conditions necessary to apply their talents.
- Top management must actively set priorities. In today’s leaner, self-managing organizations, it is not uncommon for project team members to be expected to play active roles on many project teams at the same time. Ultimately, there comes a time when resources are stretched to their limits and there are simply too many projects to be completed successfully. In response, some organizations have established a Project Office comprised of top managers from all departments to act as a clearinghouse for projects and project requests. The Project Office reviews the organization’s overall mission and strategies, establishes criteria for project selection and funding, monitors resource workloads, and determines which projects are of high enough priority to be approved. In this way top management provides the leadership necessary to prevent multi-project log jams. (For related information, see What’s Project Portfolio Management (PPM) and Why Should Project Managers Care About It?)