Lessons Learned from the Project Trenches: Part 2 – PROJECT MANAGEMENT

What are the two biggest predictors of a security technology project success?  Performance expectations and requirements that are clear, and a project that is well-managed from start to finish.   If you don’t have the performance expectations correct, there is no way to measure if the project meets the needs of the stakeholders.  Expectation-setting, as well as managing the project itself is more art than science.  However, careful attention to details in advance along with stakeholder engagement throughout the process will produce reliable outcomes.  This article will focus on project management.  We discussed expectations in a previous blog.

Project Management

Once you know where you are going and what success looks like, management of the implementation becomes key.  History and sports have demonstrated that a great team of people, without a leader or coach will repeatedly underperform a capable team with a talented leader.  The Project Manager is that leader, providing the framework and performance reminders to keep everyone tracking and focused on the same goal. Part cheerleader, part disciplinarian, an effective project manager is key to the overall success of the project.

What does it take to be an effective Project Manager?

Project Managers need to know more than how to make and track a Gantt Chart.  They also need to understand the technical aspects of the jobs being performed, so the tools (plans, charts, metrics, and meeting templates) can be applied appropriately and in the proper context. A Project Manager who tracks and updates a schedule is not a complete Project Manager.  A Project Manager who inspects jobs and gathers information regarding project status and risks is not a complete Project Manager.  Both skill sets are necessary for a project manager to be truly effective.

So what are the most common project challenges faced by a project manager and what can he or she do to maximize the success of a project?

  • Authority
    • Does the project manager have all the necessary tools to complete the job? Has he or she been empowered to make adjustments when problems arise? An effective project manager anticipates and resolves challenges before they become monumental, but this isn’t possible if he or she lacks the authority to fix things.
    • From the time the project manager gets assigned, he or she needs to both “manage up” to senior management to ensure clarity of expectations and “manage across” the team, and related stakeholders to ensure their expectations are in sync.
  • Risk Identification
    • Your people are your greatest asset but can also be your worst enemy on a project. They either don’t recognize risk, or they think they can fix it and thus never tell anyone. Either way you are left with a project in turmoil.
    • Maintain perspective by stepping back from the details on occasion to see what is going well and what is falling behind.
  • Communication
    • Simply identifying risks is not enough. When you see trouble brewing on the horizon, you must communicate this swiftly and honestly to those who have the authority to change the trajectory.
  • Timelines & Milestones
    • Having a schedule is great. By adding a way to measure achievement of schedule milestones, you will keep everyone on the same page about what schedule task completion really means.
  • Biting off more than you can chew
    • Managing lots of projects poorly rather than managing a few to success rarely is a good choice. An effective project manager will take full ownership of the project and pay attention to the details throughout the project.

Tools to Bridge the Gaps

  • There are an abundance of training and tracking resources for project management. They take time and discipline up front to deploy. The common thread in many projects is that there is “time, people and money to fix problems”, but getting authorization to apply those same resources before the problems arise is often an issue.
  • Build Expectation Validation, Plan Approval, Intermediate Testing, Final Testing, and Lessons Learned into your project plan and schedule.

Applying these tools to your projects can mean the difference between a dismal failure and a tremendous success!