Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The most common & deadly mistakes in Project Management - Top 5

The following are the Top-5 most common & deadly mistakes in project management from my limited experience in the field of Project Management. Before I detail each of those , lets have a quick look on them here:

1)Start a project with out appropriate project plan

2) Start executing with out a progress monitoring system
3) Failure to identify scope creep
4) Fail to track resources and log their usage
5) Failure of documenting lessons learned

There is no 'Prefect Act' in the world ! How ever project managers very often fail to comply with schedule & budget.
The four legs of Project Management are:
  1. Schedule
  2. Cost
  3. Quality
  4. Safety
Assuming the team members are technical competitive and do safe job , we can easily comply with factors 3 & 4.

The first 2 factors are those which shows the real skill and knowledge of a Project Manager.
"On schedule ? On Budget?"
If you have heard these quite often from the top management or stake holders , then we are singing the same song !

The most general, common and deadly mistakes in project management are done in these areas only. Let me list a few:
1)Start a project with out appropriate project plan
If you really dont want you project to be a success, you can start it with out a schedule / plan !
Schedule is the road map to your destination. It tell you a practical way to reach your destination and reminds you when to reach each location and finally the destination. We may have some plans in our mind.But unless the same is put in black & white , it cant be implemented. This is more vital since projects are always team exercise and we may have to share the ideas and information with others. The plan you have made may not be the best one or the only way to get there, but those who have a plan always do better than those without a plan , no matter whether they adhere to the plan or not !
Another commonly seen mistake is making a bar chart with out much thinking, analysis or scope study. This results in unrealistic schedule. It has the same effect when you have map to California and you are going to Houston with that!
Some people see schedule as mere contractual obligation. But the fact is that , a well thought schedule can really be a road map and the most valuable tool which enables project success.
Solution: Spend ample time with the planner at the beginning of the job. Make project plan, debate over it with the team members , refine it and finalise the one , which you and your team finds realistic and achievable. Revise and update the schedule periodically and distribute to every one in the team and the stake holders.

2) Start executing with out a progress monitoring system

Yes, we have a plan and we think its achievable. With all the enthusiasm we are starting to execute the project. Start was very good , we are seeing progress or rather we "feel" we are making progress. But suddenly some one jumped in and asked "But actually where we are now? What percent the project is complete? And what about the productivity ?"
It it then all team members realised that they all were drawing figures in the air !
They dont have a progress measurement system , hence they dont know where they are !
Progress monitoring tool is something which people ignores and suffers heavily because of that in the middle of the project. Back tracking is extremely difficult and most of the people will be reluctant to do that. A good progress monitoring tool tell you exactly where you are. What is the overall % completion and what is the individual % completion of major work packs. An 'S-Curve' is one of the most perfect tool for progress monitoring and forecasting. It should ideally have :
  1. Planned progress curve
  2. Actual progress curve
  3. Forecast curve
Some people add more curves like latest finish curve , earliest finish curve , recovery curve ..etc etc.
But keep in mind that the first 3 are most important and they tell you
  1. Where you are suppose to be
  2. Where you are now
  3. Where you can be next week or when you will finish
Rest of the curves are optional. Also remember that when you add more features, you are also responsible to maintain that week after week. So keep things simple !

A progress monitoring system should be easy to maintain and should atleast give:
  1. S-Curves (You may have an overall s-curve and individual ones)
  2. Manpower histogram with progress s-curve
  3. Progress report in Tabular format (Where progress for each week is entered and maintained. This will feed data to the s-curve)
  4. Progress summary(This will be a tabular report which shows the overall progress, activities progressed in the week, activities planned for next week, major issues, risks, document status, material status ..etc
I use a tool which is developed by me in MS Excel with extensive use of formulas & macros. This gives all these reports and tracks productivity as well (If we have estimated manpower data with us) . Its designed in such a way to reduce the data entry and making the update as simple as it can even happen in as minimum as 30 minutes !

Solution : Finalise the progress measurement methodology before start of execution. Make a progress tracker with appropriate weightings for activities. Record the progress on a weekly basis to arrive the % progress each week.Generate S-curves and discuss the same in project review meetings.

3) Failure to identify scope creep
One of the most commonly committed mistakes! Client or stake holders always try to stuff the project with new things by saying that those are part of the job. An additional scope will result in prolongation of schedule and added cost (Nothing comes free in this world , except trouble !)
Solution: Maintain a scope document with version numbering and details of additions and deletions(It's cost and schedule implications as well!)

4) Fail to track resources and log their usage
The ultimate aim of any business establishment is to make profit. Hence when they do project , the profit is at least equal to the success of the project!
Those who are on the battle field of project management often fail to see or even ignore the hole in their pocket. They fail to notice the over consumption of resources which eventually result in loss of productivity and ultimately a negative financial implication. At times under loaded resource may result in unnecessary delays and the recovery later may be more costlier that the original ! This is where earned value management comes into picture. Labour Productivity management is a subset of the same since the expenditure/ resources are not only in the form of labour ,but also in the form of money, equipments and services. A project manager who dont keep record of the resource usage may often fail to answer the stake holders questions like:
  1. What is the financial position of the project ?
  2. What is the planned expenditure for the performed work ?
  3. What is the actual cost of the performed work ?
  4. How much is needed to complete the project ?
  1. Keep the budget data ready during planning / initiation stage
  2. Update the budget as scope changes (Make sure to record variations)
  3. Measure progress
  4. Record consumption of resources (Preferably on activity basis, Eg: Time sheets)
  5. Perform earned value analysis frequently and assess health of the project
5) Failure of documenting lessons learned
May people may not agree with me including this among "Top 5" deadly mistakes. But I think this mistake is quite critical ,especially for organisations for which project management is a major function.
The world is built by constantly improving what we had. No innovation started from scratch. I call innovations as "Drastic improvements". Most of our thought process start with the things which we are familiar with and then we build our imagination up on that. We apply our logic, creativity and knowledge on the subject and arrive at a solution which we feel better than the previous.
Similarly in project management improvement are made by learning from past. We can learn from mistakes as well as success. The only important thing is that we should document it when we know it for the first time. Never wait till the project closure since our memory has its limitations ! How ever analysis of the failures and success can be done at the end of the project. These analysis often come up with great suggestions for improvements, which may transform even organisations. Never be hesitant to document a failure. Otherwise you may commit the same again and you wont get a chance to how could have I avoided that !

Solution :
  1. Keep a log of lessons learned. Make it part of your PMS (Project management system)
  2. Record lessons learned (Failures and success) when you know about it for the first time
  3. Never beat anyone with his supplied data !
There are several other generalised mistakes like
  1. Failure in communication plan
  2. Ignoring safety
  3. Under estimation
  4. Wrong team selection
But from my experience I found the above listed 5 mistakes as "Most common & Deadly" !
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