John Brinkworth of Serco Consulting wrote a useful article in the rather patchy magazine Project Management Today. Most of the articles there are fairly superficial, or thinly disguised advertising for business tools or consultancy firms, but that doesn’t make them useless.
John’s article dresses up ten basic rules for managing your project well, at least technically, and I think they make a good checklist. Here’s my own slightly modified and heavily cut down version:
Objectives: Make sure you know what you’re doing, unambiguously, and measurably which means making sure they are specific enough to do so. Prioritise. Make sure everyone knows what they are.
Stakeholders: Engage with external experts, buyers, end users & their managers, maintainance staff & their managers, and suppliers.
Resources: What have you got for staff, budget, space, equipment, training? For how long?
Deliverables: Related but not quite the same as objectives, know what you actually have to deliver and why, and which are more important than others.
Schedule*: Plan the work in short enough pieces that establish a tempo, that keep people’s eyes on targets that are close enough to be felt, to give feedback as they are reached, to let everyone understand that progress is being made, and to correct for problems early rather than late.
Quality: The engineer’s usual prime focus, so I won’t expand here.
Change: Stakeholders will change their mind and need new things, different things. Your team will find some things harder than expected, some easier. Track change requests and their acceptance (or not) so you know what the new changed status is of all the other factors, such as deliverables and acceptance criteria.
Pragmatism: Work in the real world. Wishful thinking is fine but don’t let it affect the tasks. Hedge optimism. Mitigate pessimism.
Acceptance: Stay close to your stakeholders, particularly the ones with the cash. Know what’s acceptable and make sure it’s measurable. Understand what’s good enough: you may well – and should – aim for higher than this, but you need to know what will be ‘all right’ to fall back on.
Clean Finish: When it’s all over, tidy up. Give the team a finish marker (a party, gifts if they deserve them, a short speech thanking them). Feed the lessons learned sensibly into company doctrine. If it’s successful, make sure all concerned are aware of it, make sure it’s written up well and appropriately in staff CVs and their appraisals, in the company newsletter, in customer publications, in press releases.
* Steve Smart at Logica’s Space & Defence Division once told me “There are three factors that you always need to balance: cost, quality and schedule. Managers tend to concentrate on cost, engineers on quality. But the important thing to the customer is generally schedule: delivering something that is not quite right and costs a bit too much is much more preferable to delivering something that is late; because at least they get something they can use”