Saturday, January 03, 2004

Project Survival Tips


It's Day 0 of a crucial project, and you're already breaking out in a sweat. Even savvy project managers sometimes experience problems en route to project sign-off.

Whether you're a rookie or a veteran, learn how to avoid coming undone if you encounter these 10 possible pitfalls.

1. Your input is requested in scoping the project.
Beware! You may find yourself keen to make commitments that your project team will later have to make good.

2. You're unsure whether a feasibility study has been done.
You'll look stupid if you fail to uncover an internal report that brands
your project undeliverable because of some fundamental unknown. Find someone
who has built a similar system, and then buy him or her lunch while you take notes. Always look for opportunities to reuse resources; such "low-hanging fruit" can help you complete a project faster.

3. You're only 95 percent clear on the deliverables.
This allows anyone to demand extra work from your team since you can't defend
the project from a large-scale mission drift. If someone asks, "When is X
going to be ready?" you need to be able to respond definitively--but only if it's really within the scope of your project.

4. You notice that there appears to be a skills gap.
If you discover that an area of specialist expertise is necessary for project completion in which you have no training or experience, don't panic. You either need to source expertise internally or externally or devise a workaround. Write down the decision-making process and discuss it with your programming manager.

5. You don't understand the business relevance of deliverables.
You need to come to grips with this, or you'll be unable to understand the relative priorities in a complex project. You may need to make or request decisions in the course of development that rely on your understanding of what is really needed rather than going by just a list of buzzwords. If those queries aren't business-savvy, your reputation may suffer.

6. You're feeling unsure of yourself.
A project can look good on paper in terms of delivery metrics and still be
a nightmare for the project team members. You were chosen to take on this
task, so have some faith in yourself.

7. You become impatient and begin coding yourself.
Your job is getting others to perform coordinated tasks, so be patient and keep listening to your team. Developing software with others is one of the most difficult tasks imaginable. Some members of your team may find themselves
struggling. When that happens, they'll need someone to talk to who knows what to do--without necessarily understanding the minutiae of how to do it.

8. A crisis arises.
In creating polished software systems, there will be difficulties. People may become ill, forget things, or make mistakes. Your job is to screen out those
effects by acting like a professional. Stay cool and keep your team on track.

9. The project details are more complex than you originally realized.
The project is on target and 15 percent complete when someone mentions documentation and user training for the first time. The project isn't just the process metrics and the lines of code. Ask yourself if the work will deliver some value in the grand scheme of your company's business. It's not about making a beautiful graph of a lackluster project; the map isn't the territory, so try to stick with reality.

10. It's not over, 'til it's over.
When you finally achieve sign-off, don't forget to reward your team (possibly
with a meal). Then, consult your log and personally assess how it went. Remember that some mistakes and loss of sleep are inevitable in project management.

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