Tips for Managing Large Projects

13 April

Leading and managing large projects can be quite difficult under the best of circumstances and it is easy to get overwhelmed by the thought of trying to coordinate the people and tasks to implement the required change. Those challenges are compounded when you are dealing with a group of fifty plus stakeholders, 2-3 vendors, new process designs, integration with various systems, some of which are legacy systems and an organization in a state of constant change across many areas of the enterprise. Additionally some team members may have limited or no experience working on large projects and often rely on co-workers and other individuals to guide them through the project’s journey.

The following tips have been collected over many years of project management and should be helpful to improve each stakeholder’s project experience when participating on a large project.

Project Definition

Every one of the stakeholders has a vested interest in the project and comes with his or her own agenda, risks and expectations that must be managed requiring more emphasis on stakeholder management.

There will be many business and technical considerations on a large project; some of which will not be evident at the outset. So flexibility and adaptability are keys to dealing with the unknown.

At the beginning of a large project it is expected that you will have more questions than answers.

Politics

Political wrangling, turf issues, and confronting one another on issues of accountability are everyday issues that you will have to deal with.

Large projects rarely stick to the original plans. Quite often the budget increases and scope changes. Sometimes schedules get pushed ahead or back. Project stakeholders involved in large projects should realize these deviations don’t equal failure.

Competing demands on team member’s time must be reported immediately to the project manager so he or she can negotiate with the project sponsor to remove the obstacles

Minimize scope

Project leadership must be very clear on what goals need to be achieved, when they need to be achieved and not allow scope creep to alter strategic focus.

Build less at any one time. A series of phased deliverables (less) can deliver more when the next phase builds upon the previous one instead of waiting for the big bang. The second step here is to look at each deliverable within the phase and see if it is really what is needed at this stage of the project.

Decision-making

With every decision made the team must assess the impact on all stakeholders and the project. If you only listen to one person or group of people you may go down a completely different path than if you explore the needs of all key stakeholders. Be aware the path you take may not always be clearly marked however a best ‘guess’ decision is better than no decision.

The team may need to compromise at times to implement some project components at the expense of not achieving the optimal desired outcome.

Working Together

To minimize confusion all project information must be shared with all project stakeholders who can decide for themselves what’s relevant.

Teams have to develop the skills to express themselves honestly, diplomatically and tactfully. This creates a healthy capacity to ‘see it, say it and let it go,’ so issues neither simmer nor boil and the work of the project can get done in a timely fashion.

Remember Peter Falk as Columbo; asking just one more question. No one should be brushed aside as ‘annoying’ for wanting to get to the heart of the matter.

Communications

Project stakeholders must constantly communicate about project progress and make sure people outside the project are educated about how the project will benefit them. In essence stakeholders are all ambassadors for the project.

Although regular meetings are important the ultimate goal is to have a project team that shares challenges as soon as they arise. You don’t want anyone waiting for a status meeting to surface issues.

Execution

Team members have to have the confidence and guts to stand up for what they believe is the best solution. Project managers must champion better ideas and relentlessly educate project stakeholders about why the team believes it’s the best choice then move forward with whatever decision is made knowing the impacts are understood by all.

On large projects it is common to short cut quality assurance testing. Project managers and teams must be diligent in this project management process area and require sufficient time for testing before moving to production. The project manager is on the hook for both deadlines and for the quality of deliverables. It is the failure of the project management process to allow any situation to get to a point where incomplete or poorly completed work is delivered simply to meet a deadline. Poor quality deliverables will result in product releases with a lot of bugs and performance issues for customers that will have far reaching impact.

On the flip side if the hours spent in a particular iteration are high it may hint that your team is being overly cautious. You need to strike a balance between acceptable risk and schedule impact.

Benefits Realization

All stakeholders must be on the look out for benefits to the organization throughout the project life cycle. If the project makes the organization money, it’s easier to measure success, but it’s harder to measure value of the integration of systems, customer experience and end-to-end process improvement. We need to communicate these benefits as we achieve them.

Achieving your goal is important. How you get there is just as important.

 

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