Smart Project Endings Add Serious Value

December 8, 2013

Failing to effectively end projects can have high but hidden costs.  Some companies are so buried in the latest and hottest project or in “fighting fires” that they fail to close projects constructively.  In doing so they not only miss opportunities to generate extra value for the company and everyone involved, but also to maintain the quality of management information (financial and other types) and prevent or limit cost overruns. When projects aren’t formally ended some workers may go on working on them unaware that it is time to move on to other work.  Other workers may find reason to continue to charge the project for their time, especially if they run into a slack period without enough work to keep them busy (which happens naturally in many product development organizations or in highly seasonal work).  This is especially likely where “charging overhead” has a negative stigma attached to it and project charge codes are not shut off.  There are many ways that project endings provide value, however, if they are timely, well planned, and properly executed .  Here are a bunch of them: Read the rest of this entry »

Which is Better? A Budget with “Challenge” or a Budget with “Reserve”?

November 26, 2013

In the defense contracting world budgeting is typically done under a rigorous “earned value management system” (EVMS) that usually includes keeping aside 10% of the budget for use as a “management reserve”.  This can then be doled out in bits and pieces as needed to fund changes in what needs to be done (“scope” in the project-organized world) and solutions for problems that arise during the course of business.  It also allows people within the organization to cope with unexpected changes without feeling like they are endangering the project or organization when they have to ask for more funding.  They all still have to do what they can to stay within budget, but it gives the appearance that upper management accepts that unexpected changes happen and are going to be reasonable in helping people dealing with them.  That’s not how budgets are typically presented in the rest of the business world, however. Read the rest of this entry »

Finding the Roots of Organizational Incompetence

June 15, 2011

First let me define my term “Organizational Incompetence”.  Sometimes in business you sit in a meeting and hear people grousing and struggling, and perhaps arguing and talking over each other in their frustration.  The problems they describe are almost always not of their own making, nor do they have the wherewithal to remedy them by themselves.  You begin to perceive that on some particular aspect of business the organization just doesn’t do well, and it keeps posing problems to groups and individuals and holding up productive work.  The appearance is that the organization is incompetent, at least in some particular way or area, and is suffering from needless cost, waste, and widespread frustration and stress.  In essence, the organization or a system within it is dysfunctional.  So how does this occur and what can you do about it? Read the rest of this entry »

Effective Planning for Big Projects

April 23, 2008

First a disclaimer: I don’t claim to be the world’s expert on project management, and I urge anyone who is involved in or interested in project management to seek good sources of information and study, as this is a profession requiring a lot of skill and knowledge to do well. That said, I believe my decades of experience (planning projects up to 4 years in length and over $1 billion in cost) gives me some basis to write this. You may notice that I tend to focus more on the timing aspects of large scale plans. I am not ignoring the financial side of the discipline, but not stressing it either, because I have usually had a parallel financial planning effort, run by accountants and financial experts, to lean on. You may also notice that I am trying to address the realities, the impact of human nature, on the work. That said, be aware that good planning requires a focus on all three major components of business processes and projects: time, cost, and quality. I have summarized with a list of suggestions at the end, and hope you find this entry helpful.

A good plan both models the project and communicates it to the stakeholders. In business there is always a need to plan, and it takes project management skills and savvy to develop effective plans with manageable amounts of detail. The basic purpose of the plan, besides modeling the process in time and guiding execution, is to communicate the plan to the stakeholders, a group that goes beyond those who must execute it. The plan also gives a traceability to the project, documenting its history as it helps the project team react to problems and delays that will crop up. If your plan becomes too detailed you may not be able to keep up with the status of the many events. As you read on, I will include descriptions (in italics) of a plan I recently received that violates a lot of the guidelines I describe here, and I will describe some of the problems it imposes on the planner, the readers, and the organization as a result. Read the rest of this entry »