Project management is still a major challenge for many organizations. Bringing structure and accurate reporting to the process remains difficult. Where do you start, and how do you get the maximum out without over-stretching your people?
It’s not only people that have difficulty with change – adjusting project management methods often doesn’t deliver the improvements that were hoped for. How do you promote a good start when bringing in a new approach?
At the start of a new project approach, it’s very important to take the time to stand still and take a good look at the project structure. When it comes to applying structure, people tend to look for an optimal application of resources right down to a highly detailed level. From 0 to 100% detail in one step is not really a realistic approach. And don’t forget that not everyone is currently used to or ready for a suddenly influx of structure and reporting. You have to avoid creating a project approach that’s so complicated your people can’t get any information out of it.
Break down projects into manageable chunks with Work Breakdown Structure
A Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is more appropriate approach. It’s a hierarchical splitting up of the entire project scope. The project is split up into activities and at different levels. The goal is to make the project simpler and more digestible for both the project manager and the client. The use of too many components and levels doesn’t help this though. As such, it’s important to reign yourself in and not be tempted to try and immediately go into too much detail.
Plan for work packages that can be easily measured
At the lowest level of the structure the actual activities and work packages are plotted out. As a result, it’s not possible for there to be tasks sitting at the headline level and on the underlying levels as well. If that is the case, something has gone wrong when the structure was set up. The strict separation of structure and work packages gives insight into the difference between the (partial) results and the underlying work activities.
Finding the ideal structure is a question of experience and balancing interests. The same applies to the size of a work package. The balance between too specific and too broad planned activities needs to be built up based on the experience within the organization. The rule of thumb is that the work package needs to be easily measurable. Only then can the project manager determine accurately whether it’s actually been completed within budget or not.
Keep in mind that there may be more than one vision
The starting point for a project is different for every stakeholder, despite the fact that you’re all working toward the same end. The client is thinking in results: a beautiful new building for business. The project leader is thinking in phases: site preparation, foundations etc. In an ideal project structure both visions for the work come to the fore and be supported. It’s essential that clear, understandable descriptions for the overall structure exist. Especially if reporting needs to be done based on that structure.
Keep your eyes on the prize
As a final tip, remember to keep the ultimate goal of the project structure clearly in focus. How much insight into a project is necessary? If only the costs and returns for a smaller project are necessary, the application of an extensive project structure isn’t really appropriate. Is the project so complex that you need to be able to differentiate between segments of the planning and the realization? If so, then a clear structure is an excellent tool to help you achieve that.
Ultimately it’s only the project manager who can determine whether the project structure has supported the project’s effective delivery. When looking at new project management approaches, remember to apply common sense on a case by case basis. Only use tools where they can make an impact.
In summary, when you take on a new project approach, take care to make a clear differentiation in project structure and create concrete work activities. Ensure the work packages’ progress is easy to measure, and that the set up isn’t too specific or too broad. Keep the different visions of the various stakeholders for the project in mind and create understandable, clear descriptions. And ultimately, ensure you keep the original goal firmly in mind when looking to apply the theory. Think through these points, and you’ll have a better chance of structurally delivering your projects in line with budget and expectations.