Best Practice Makes Perfect
Project Management – opinion article for Easynet
Attributed to Martin Molloy
Businesses understand the importance of good project management. According to a survey by the Center for Business Practices, more than 94% of respondents stated that implementing project management added value to their organisation. Valued initiatives included project management methodology, the integration of project management into key company processes and training staff in project management techniques.
But by contrast, the Silicon.com 2007 skill survey said that project management is still the number one non-IT skill that is in shortest supply in the workplace. So it’s not surprise that a
2004 PricewaterhouseCoopers survey of senior management and project managers from 200 companies and 30 countries found that only 2.5 percent delivered 100 percent of their projects on time, within budget, to scope and delivering the right business benefits.
What can businesses do to fill the gap between valuing good project management and delivering it? The answer is simple: adopt best practice. The art of good project management is not just to plan for the things you know are going to happen, but to plan for those you don’t. A solid set of best practice principles will not only ensure you do this, it will help you achieve consistently good results with all your clients no matter what the circumstances or the size of the project. The ultimate goal is not just to deliver on time and budget, but to forge a relationship of trust with your customer that will last the duration of the contract, and beyond.
Getting to the point
Naturally you must decide on and document the deliverables. What exactly is the customer going to get from the project, not just in terms of the physical product or service but in terms of the business benefits? What are their key drivers? What benefits will they, in turn, pass to their own customers? For example, if a customer is looking for a quicker order processing system then that is your deliverable, as well as delivering the technology that will help achieve that. The customer needs to be assured that what you deliver will be the best fit for the business and help achieve the ultimate objective of creating customer satisfaction.
Any project, from the building of a cathedral to the design of a garden shed, must have a mutually decided and accurate brief. The right people must get involved, immediately. At Easynet we make sure the entire project team – that is, the people who will actually be
carrying out the work – is involved at the very start before contracts have been signed.
We understand that it is the changing business pressures placed on our customers, as well as their goals, which will determine the kind of solution that is needed, and we negotiate from this point of view. We work hard to understand our customers to find out where their business is right now, how their industry is changing, the opportunities this presents and where they want to go. We can then use our creativity and experience to suggest the correct design and architecture for them, rather than encouraging them to just reel off a list of technical requirements.
Once the solution has been decided it is up to the project manager to define the scope and objectives. Which parts of the project are the provider’s responsibility and which sit with the
client? All the key stakeholders should be named and introduced, rather than concentrating solely on the initial contact. Who are they reporting to and what are their expectations?
A risky business
All projects carry risk. The difference between a well run project and a badly run project is
the recognition that the worst could happen and will need to be dealt with. Not all risks can
be dealt with effectively, so, in risk management planning you have to decide your strategy
depending on how likely the risk is and how damaging it will be if it happens. This will help
decide your contingency plan. Clearly, the more closely you communicate with your
customer, the more likely it is you’ll get an accurate picture of the risks to the project.
Communication lies at the centre of good customer relations - the customer needs to know
that the project is going to plan. Non-communication isn’t reassuring to a customer; in their
mind it doesn’t mean things are going well, it means nothing’s happening at all. You need
your customer’s input to ensure nothing is coming up to threaten the project and to give the customer a channel through which to feedback. The relationship you establish now will last
beyond the project. If you get it right from the start the customer is much more likely to trust
Communication should be discussed in the initial project planning phase. Decide how often
you’re going to communicate, through which channel and who will be involved. Easynet has
a policy of sticking to small project management teams and keeping its personnel consistent.
Customers must know who they’re dealing with and what that person’s responsibilities are, and vice versa.
The right people
The relationship you build has to be based on trust. This is easier said than done when there
are pressures on all sides. At Easynet we do this through a number of methods. We involve
the project management team at the very start of the relationship so the correct solution is
provided in the first place. We then make sure all expectations are agreed on and
documented, so everything is out in the open. We use small project teams so a personal
relationship can develop, and we try to assign people with direct experience within our
customer’s particular industry.
Openness and honesty are crucial values in an effective working relationship. In a complex
environment there may well be times during a project when something goes wrong.
Whatever it is, openness and honesty are the only way to ensure that problem is dealt with
efficiently. As long as you can show you are doing everything within your power to deal with
that problem, the customer will be satisfied. Nobody minds problems, but businesses don’t
appreciate surprises. We offer our customers an online reporting tool, to give them access to
another channel of information.
Instituting best practice
Service providers realise that best practice standards are not a casual thing to be followed or
not followed at will, they are an important part of company policy. A provider builds a certain
reputation based on the quality of the delivery of its projects, and that reputation should be
maintained across all projects and customers.
At Easynet we adhere to the PRINCE 2 standard, and all our project managers are PRINCE
2 accredited. The standard covers the initiation of projects, planning, progress checking,
communications, issue management and project closure and is completely scalable so large
and small customers receive exactly the same levels of service. Project management is a
service in its own right, and it’s something that we’re good at. It may be that we have
capabilities that a business does not have readily available, and in that instance we can offer them our project management expertise.
Good project management isn’t difficult but it is a challenge. It requires a disciplined and steadfast approach and an ability to stick to a plan. It requires outstanding communication skills and an investment in personnel, systems and processes. Sticking to the principles of best practice at all times will ensure that you deliver the project on time and to budget, and that you build a relationship with your customer that will last.