How effectively and efficiently your team functions can make the difference between project success and project failure. Once a decision-making process is established, it is up to the project manager to hold the team accountable to the process. Over time, processes can stagnate and lose their relevance. The project manager should continually monitor the process for applicability and make adjustments where necessary. Learn how to leverage your team's performance through process, structure, and team leadership.
You've undoubtedly seen the dismal statistics on project success. Not surprisingly, analysis shows that many project failures are caused by a lack of effective project management. This may have less to do with the lack of project management mechanics (critical path, TQM, or work breakdown structure), and more to do with the fact that the mechanics assume that people have set levels of productivity that can be applied as a constant to create a schedule.
Consider an analogy. Suppose you are managing a project to get a truck from Point A to Point B. You get out a map and calculate the distance between the two points. You study the truck's owner's manual to determine what the truck is rated for in terms of miles per gallon. The manufacturer claims that the truck gets twenty miles to the gallon in the city; your destination is twenty miles away. Perfect. One gallon of gas is all you need. No waste here.
You set out, and seventeen miles later, you run out of gas. What happened? You knew the road. You studied the features. But, these features were accurate only under ideal conditions; real-world conditions are often far less than ideal. So budgeting for only one gallon of gas was probably unrealistic to begin with. In addition, you didn't account for factors that might affect the truck's promised productivity: the last oil change was 10,000 miles ago, the tires are out of balance and under-inflated, the air filter is clogged, and the driver hasn't been trained not to ride the brake. Add external factors such as hilly terrain and heavy traffic, and you have a failed project caused by poor project management.
Similarly, in project planning we make two faulty assumptions about productivity: One is that people will actually operate at the high levels of productivity we want them to and schedule them for; and two, that productivity can be mandated through unrealistic schedules and budgets. Then during the project, we are all so busy driving the truck and trying to get there as quickly as possible that no one is giving thought to the degrading performance level of the truck itself. Productivity suffers and the project fails.
Productivity is the hidden variable within the equation that accounts for the poor statistics and terrible track record of our industry. To increase a project's chances of success, the first step is to make team productivity the primary focus of the project manager. The question that must drive every decision the project manager makes is "Will this improve the productivity of the team?" Under this approach, the project manager moves from being the project linchpin (the part that holds it all together) to becoming the project fulcrum (the part that supports the work of others). The job becomes one of recognizing three major leverage points—process, structure, and team leadership—and using them to enable productivity. I'll show you how you can increase productivity by making small—but powerful—changes in each of these areas.
Process with a Purpose
For most people, especially technologists, process conjures up images of excessive paperwork and inane bureaucracy. Process is seen as an inhibitor to creativity; it reduces individuals to filling out forms. In reality, if you talk to artists, musicians, and writers, most will tell you that there is a creative process to their craft. This process provides a framework within which they can allow their creativity to be realized and expressed. What people resist is not the process itself, but rather a process that is not supported by a well-understood purpose.
Effective project management practices develop processes with a purpose.