Project management is essential to ensuring successful project outcomes measured against the constraints of time, budget, and quality. I have just finished my latest project, a complex Tenant to Tenant migration and I thought it would be valuable to share my experience and insight. Like any good transformation projects, it was not without issue and not everything went exactly to plan. Despite all the challenges the Project team encountered along the way, we achieved a successful outcome for our customer.
For a Project Manager, success on projects is usually measured by whether the project is delivered on time, within budget and within the agreed scope. A good Project Manager concentrates on getting the project completed on time and within budget, whereas a great Project Manager completes the project successfully within the agreed scope. (I like to think I ticked all three boxes here!). What makes this project different from the other projects which have been delivered through my career? I believe I have developed my softer skills in people management over time and I am now a much more experienced Project Manager. Not only does this wealth of experience help me to focus on building project success, but I am able to draw upon the experience of the Project Team, Project Stakeholders, and the end users to help measure the success of a Project.
Project Managers often wonder if they are measuring the right things on a project. It is difficult to know how much time to spend evaluating past performance and how much time to spend on keeping the work moving forward. It is a fine balancing act. Of course, there are many indicators which can be demonstrable for project success, but what do we need to be measuring while the project is in flight? Why is measuring and evaluating success on a project important and why should this matter to the Project Manager?
At various points during the project, Project Managers should be measuring and evaluating five points: schedule, quality, cost, stakeholder satisfaction and performance against the business case. We should be doing this informally anyway. A formal project evaluation is of use during the end of a phase, as it can give you a clear indication of how the project is performing against the original forecast and estimates, which helps to give the Project Manager direction on how to progress forward. This information can also be used to grant (or withhold) approval from moving on with the next phase.
Project success is often determined by whether we kept to the original timeline. Experienced Project Managers know how hard this can be, but it is a little bit easier if we continually monitor and evaluate the progress as we go along and regularly update the project schedule (at least weekly). The evaluation of the Project Schedule is something we can do more formally at the end of each stage or phase, or as part of a more formal report to the Senior Stakeholder group or Project Board. It is easy to update your project schedule if you build it on a Gantt chart (MS Project), where tasks and deadlines are made into visual timelines.
My advice is to track and report against key deliverables and major milestones. Check if they still fall on the same dates as you originally agreed. By tracking and reporting regularly, Project Managers can easily identify if and where there are any slippages to the timescale, and how this could impact on the overall project schedule. Project Managers armed with this information will enable the Project Manager to have informed discussions with the team and stakeholders on any required action to bring the project back on track.
Quality is ambiguous, it can mean many things. For example, The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) defines quality as, “conformance to requirements and fitness of use,” whereas ISO 9000 defines quality as, “the degree to which a set of inherent characteristics fulfil requirement”. Quality is a vital aspect of any project deliverable, yet it is often misunderstood or improperly applied. How do we define and measure Quality? Whatever type or size of Project we are implementing, Project Managers need to define the quality criteria for the task and activities, so team members understand what it is, how to achieve it and improve upon it.
The end of a project phase is always an appropriate time for a quality review. As Project Managers, we could check both the quality of our project management practices, for example are we following the change management process every time, is Project governance being adhered to and so on. When reviewing the deliverables or outcomes – are we ensuring the business requirements are being met? A quality review can evaluate whether what you are doing meets the standards set out in your quality plans.
Tip: it is better to find out now before the project goes too far, as it might be too late to do anything about it then.
Many project sponsors and senior executives would rate cost management as one of their highest priorities on a project, so evaluating how the project is performing financially is crucial. Compare your current actual spend to what you had budgeted at this point. If there are variances, look to explain them. I use a project dashboard to check actual spend in real time. As Project Managers, we also look forward and re-forecast the budget to the end of the project. Compare this to your original estimate and make sure it is close enough for your management team to feel like the work is on track. If your forecasts go up too much it is a sign your spending will be out of control by the end of the project – again, something it is better to know about now.
At Insentra, we have various models of Project Management methodology depending on the size, scale and complexity of the project being implemented. From Project Oversight, Fixed Priced Project Management to the more dynamic Enhanced Project Management methodology, all of which the Professional Services team have successfully delivered and executed customer outcomes and objectives.
Enhanced project management is essential to ensuring successful project outcomes in complex scenarios measured against the constraints of time, budget, and quality. To achieve this, Insentra applies our enhanced project management methodologies to successfully deliver large and/or complex projects utilising their core values of Honesty, Integrity, Trust, Accountability, Celebration, Efficiency and Service Excellence (#HITACES).
My article on Building and Maintaining Stakeholder Engagement provides some insight into this very topic. Stakeholder engagement and stakeholder management are the most important ingredients for successful project delivery. Stakeholders are essential in getting much of the work done and resolving any blockers you may have so it is worth checking in with them. Find out how they are feeling about the project right now and what you could be doing differently. Engaging with stakeholders will bring about a more valuable engagement, better understanding of business needs, better understanding of concerns and, if invested wisely, you will have happier and engaged stakeholders through improving communication and helping the Project Manger to manage their expectations.
Measuring stakeholder satisfaction is a difficult to quantify and document statistically, although there is nothing to stop you from asking them for a rating out of 10. Even if you are evaluating their satisfaction subjectively, it is still a useful exercise. If you notice stakeholders are not fully supportive, you can put plans in place to engage them thoroughly to try to influence their behaviour.
Throughout the project, ask the stakeholders to evaluate the project and check their temperature. Are we keeping pace of the project delivery? What can we do to help them realise the benefits earlier? Are the requirements still valid and achievable?
Performance to Business Case
Project teams work on initiatives which sound great but by the time they are finished the business environment or technology may have moved on and the project is no longer relevant or redundant, especially with the fast pace of change in IT. No one has bothered to check whether the business case during the project’s life cycle and so no one realised the work is no longer needed, or the scope has changed. Do not work on something nobody wants! Check the business case and business requirements regularly and evaluate it considering the current business objectives. This has been especially relevant with the current pandemic affecting business requirements and the rapid speed at which the business has required to amend and change current ways of working to meet the demands of remote working.
In my experience when reviewing performance against Business Case or Business Requirements, Project Managers can add other items to this list. In fact, it should reflect what is important to you and your team and they should be evaluating things which matter, so feel free to add extra elements or ditch some of the ones you are less worried about. If you need help working out what is important, engage with the stakeholders and reconfirm the business requirements are still true. One topic which has helped me focus here is reminding the project team and stakeholders of their Critical Success Factors.
Project Status Reporting
Of course, it is hard to beat a documented Status Report when it comes to tracking and measuring your success. Status Reports are a staple in project management for getting a detailed look at how your project implementation is unfolding. These reports are key to performing a proper project evaluation as well, which is critical to see if your project really a success after all was.
It is important to create the Status Reports at a cadence agreed with the team, ideally on a weekly basis. Status Reports are used to provide project stakeholders with a summary of the project status at defined intervals and the content should be clear and concise, written with honesty and integrity, commercially aware, and ensure expectations are set correctly.
Providing this honest and open style approach of reporting on a weekly basis through formal documents ensures that when issues do arise during the project, the details are already identified and known, which makes having the difficult conversations with stakeholders easier to control and steer.
When your project is over, carry out a full and final evaluation with your Project Team. This could be as part of a lesson captured review session, but typically it is different. A lesson captured or lessons learned review is where all the project stakeholders’ comment on what worked and what did not. You take away key messages and tasks to improve how projects are delivered in the future. It is an essential part of project closure, but it is not a formal evaluation. You get a lot of feedback, anecdotes, and stories but even the most structured lessons learned workshop gives you narrative rather than statistics.
I find it best to ensure lessons are captured and documented throughout the project, rather than a reflective exercise at the end. By capturing the lessons as they happened, not only can they be reviewed at the end of the Project during the formal close-out processes, but they may help warn your colleagues who are embarking on a similar project to avoid those pitfalls.
I hope that by introducing these hints and tips it will help to deliver successful outcomes to your own projects. I cannot stress the importance of maintaining a good status report through the project lifecycle. One which meets the criteria for managing and tracking the schedule provides concise insight for the stakeholders and allows you to remain in control of the project financials. Determine the quality criteria at the start, so the project team knows the standard. Keep regular temperature checks with the Project Board and provide them with information to allow them to make informed decisions. Ultimately, remain focused on the Critical Success Factors as meeting and exceeding them will make the Project successful, and do not forget to Celebrate!