How to Organize a Project

Over the years, I have tinkered, struggled, and experimented with project organization. I fell into managing projects, like many people, by accident. I was serving as a business analyst and developer, and sometime technical lead, on projects with a consulting firm specializing in content management systems. In tracing how I came to manage projects, I almost wrote the following:

“And, one day, the proverbial phone rang and the person on the other end asked if I would be willing to manage a project. “

But that is not accurate. Actually, I was given a promotion and placed in charge of a group of analysts and project managers. I had never actually personally managed a project myself. So, I had to learn. In that endeavor, I had some personal character traits that were both positive, and negative, at least when it comes to being an effective manager of projects.

 

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The Positive

I had a broad background of experience. In my past, I had served as a technical trainer, developer, and analyst/consultant. This is indeed a positive, as I have seen many project managers who become lost in their projects because they simply do not know what is going on from a technical perspective. They are completely dependent upon what a developer tells them, which, though rarely intentional, may not always be accurate.

The Negative

I am NOT, by nature, highly organized. This is, INDEED, a negative. A project manager must be on top of things, ahead of the game so to speak, able to know the schedule from memory and to talk about what is being delivered, what has yet to be delivered, anticipate roadblocks and have all that information neatly organized.

 

The Takeaway

 

To quote the bard: To Thine Own Self Be True

 

Rare is the person who comes into any job with all of the skills required to master that job. If organization is your strong suit, great! Now, brush up on your technical skills. Learn how to develop something…anything.

 

Likewise, if you are somewhat technically adept, but organization is a challenge, adapt, and adapt fast. I copied what I saw other project managers doing. And, I began to look for technical crutches to aid in my organizational challenges. I looked at MS Project…hated it with a passion (still do). I finally, for many years, settled on a simplified spreadsheet. But, I found this lacking and always kept an eye out for a new technical solution. I finally found one in Trello. It is my personal favorite for managing projects, tasks, people and time. Keep in mind, this isn’t a commercial, so find the tool that works best for you, and use it.

 

Great…But What are some key Things to Do When Setting Up a Project

 

Here are few things that we do at Pentecom to help us AND our customers:

 

  1. Requirements Traceability Matrix

This is a critical piece of any task for us. Each project begins with a Statement of Work (SOW). Within that SOW are tasks that the customer expects us to complete. You would be surprised (or maybe you wouldn’t) at the number of projects I have seen where nobody has reviewed the SOW prior to beginning work. Inevitably, the customer at some point asks how “Item X” is coming along, and the response is silence while the persons being asked the question try to figure out what the customer is talking about.

 

We have found that the best way to avoid this is by extracting each and every requirement from the SOW, placing it in a spreadsheet (we use a spreadsheet because many of our customers are unable to access cloud-based applications) and reviewing it line-by-line and coming to a mutual agreement about what the individual tasks are, what they are comprised of, and what would constitute being “out of scope”. This effort saves a lot of hand wringing and potential loss of schedule and income.

 

  1. Start of Work Meeting

This is another imperative that occurs with each and every project that we have. We use a slide deck (i.e, powerpoint or something similar) to discuss the upcoming project. Prior to the presentation of this slide deck, each department head contributes his/her slides to the deck. These departments might include:

  • Development
  • Accounting
  • Consulting
  • Project Management
  • QA and Delivery

 

  1. Kickoff Meeting

The Kickoff Meeting occurs after our internal Start of Work Meeting. If you are taking the time to read this entry, then chances are you have set through more than one kickoff meeting in your lifetime. The usual introductions are offered, followed by a summation of the project. During this time, we also go line-by-line through the aforementioned Requirements Traceability Matrix and, note agreement. This insures that everyone on the project understands what the scope of the project is, what deliveries will be made, and, just as importantly, what is not in scope. Having a solid, focused kickoff meeting can go a long way to insuring project success, and that everyone is happy with the result.

 

  1. Issues Register

Inevitably, issues will arise during the course of a project. When they do, we log them in the Issues Register. Once in the register the issues are prioritized and worked until resolved. This register is reviewed at least weekly by the internal team (daily by the project manager and other supporting managers) and *at least* bi-weekly between Pentecom and our customer.

 

  1. Internal Project Management

The particulars of how a project is managed is left to the individual project manager. In addition to the Issue Register and Requirements Traceability Matrix, a schedule must be devised and reviewed, as well as a list of tasks, and corresponding team-members. Typically, daily scrums are held in order to insure that everyone is on task and that any roadblocks to completion are quickly identified and mitigated.

 

Hopefully, you have found an item or two in this article that can be of use to you in your next project. The chief takeaway that we want to provide, of course, is for our customers to know that we have worked through the ends and outs of projects over the years and have devised methods for not only insuring success, but for working with and communicating with our customers.

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