Project Management Fundamentals

One of the tools required for a consultant is the ability to project manage. The entire engagement may have sub projects, involve a lot of staff and stakeholders all of which increases complexity. Complexity increases the risk profile for engagements, hence any reduction in complexity is always welcome.

Having said that, the core items relating to basic project management are often overlooked. There are legitimate reasons behind this but the truth remains that there is no excuse for not getting things right in the first place. Yes, I’ve been here but hopefully have learnt something from the experience and will not do it again.

This is a short list of common mistakes that some PMs make and tips which I have learnt or have gained from working with some brilliant PMs.

You might ask: What does this have to do with Security?

Security is a rapidly changing area. All security professionals work to very short delivery dates. Mistakes, job reworking, delays are extremely costly, especially in a recovery situation. The importance of ‘getting it right’ the first time is critical!

Define and enforce Scope

Scope creep is a project killer. It happens and could be one of the following (not an exhaustive list): poor planning, inadequate requirement analysis, lack of funding.

Define the boundaries and stick to the scope at all costs, enforce the scope. Don’t allow scope creep to set in. It is a matter of pride, both yours and the project sponsor.

Going the extra mile: if it changes, get the person requesting the scope to justify the change. Discuss alternatives and embed a ‘penalty option’ for the requester. The penalty provides contrast to the alternatives as you will need more resources to get the job done and provides a balanced view of the scope change.

Metrics for everything

How do you know if you hit a milestone if you have no way of measuring it?

Anything that impacts on the project: time, resources, funding, etc. must have a metric.

It provides tangible evidence for a lot of things: due diligence, coverage, costs, elapsed time, you name it.

Going the extra mile: If there is no metric, think of what the goal of the metric is, think of a suitable metric, keep it simple and create one. Sometimes, you can’t retrospectively create a metric. There is no such thing as a small task that should not be measured. Finally, repeatable automation of metrics gathering is a lifesaver!

Do not underestimate the power of the Subject Matter Expert (SME)

Assumptions are risks!

Unless if you are the SME, the SME is your friend. More often than not, they will have a better idea on what is possible (or impossible).

Iterate through each assumption and ask for their input. Where possible and if appropriate, go through the entire plan and show them the bigger picture.

They may also have a better way of doing the task which may improve on delivery. Win-win situation.

Going the extra mile: Engaging SMEs as early as possible will make them feel important and their input would be valuable. Keep in mind, they are SMEs and may not have a PM mindset, so get them to think like a PM, take them to an area free of distractions and ask them, ‘what is required to get the task done? What do you need to get the job done? etc…’.

Dreaded Deadlines

Like scope, stick to it. Enforce a dead line for your subordinates. Deadlines make people accountable. Deadlines are more important when tasks are on the critical path. As mentioned, slippage is expensive.

Don’t consider the deadline as the end of the task, try to get the task done before the deadline, even if you have included contingency time.

Going the extra mile: be people friendly when defining deadlines, don’t call it a deadline. Importantly, to get them to be part of ‘the team’, you have to understand their deadlines, constraints! when you relate to their world, it builds rapport, they are more likely to proactive.
They could also go the extra mile by getting extra resources, re-prioritising your task as a high priority, etc.

Importance of communications

Communication is core to getting everyone working in unison.

Is a phone call necessary, is an e-mail necessary? Consider the criticality of the message you’re trying to send across. Scheduling a meeting, can be done via e-mail and chased by phone if an urgent response is required.

Think closely about the aim of the communication, articulate that clearly.

Everyone is time poor, unless if they really need to know, avoid paragraphs full of information.

Mass communication should be structured in a way that a primary school kid should be able to understand and importantly, acknowledge/follow.

Going the extra mile: important points first (including actions), what the goal is, what is involved, keep it positive, be short and succinct.

While there are may other areas of improvement and each point can be explained in much detail, consider this to be the start of a well oiled consulting/project management experience.

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