Friday, May 25, 2007

Projects and Project Managers

It is really interesting to see that no two projects are alike even if the project objectives are the same. For example, implementing Oracle E-Business, depending on the organization and the project manager in question, things are done differently and even if things are done the same, the results might be totally different!

The challenge has always been to ensure that the project team understands and is committed to ensuring that the project deliverables are defined, planned, accepted and delivered on schedule and within budget.

A good part of project management is to identify and manage risks as the project progresses and a key component is good communication to and within team members. When a project manager strives to manage communication by acting as the "middle person" or the hub, then you can be sure that things are going horribly wrong. Now the project manager decides who should or shouldn't have the information and meetings are usually conducted with the incorrect audience or key personnel are missing. Another sign that your project might be in trouble is the project manager is overwhelmed but refuses to ask or accept assistance with a third sign being the project manager's focus was managing to the next milestones with no clear project plan other than what is being focused on.

For me personally, a successful project is one which meets its stated objectives, on time, within budget and the project team wants to work together again. Too many times, I've seen projects delivered on time, within budget but no one wants to work for the project manager or with each other again.

What options do you have when you are stuck on a project that seems to go nowhere? I would suggest talking to the project manager (it could be that you were put in the wrong role) first. If nothing else works then you are stuck and the probably recourse is to remove yourself from the project.

Why am I blogging about this? Well, our E-Business implementation project is in trouble (we already delayed the implementation twice already) and this time around, a detailed project plan was done with the help of all the team leads (testing, development, training, implementation, etc) BUT the project manager was not replaced and is still doing the three things that I mentioned above. He is managing communications by having the team leads reporting on progress on a daily basis and a weekly get-together to drill them on why tasks are delayed or not completed according to schedule. The problem with this is that proper focus was not given to tasks on the critical path. I would think that if a task is not on the critical path and has slack, I wouldn't worry about whether it is late according to the schedule but rather that if tasks on the critical path, then effort has to be spent to determine the impact and what can be done to resolve/reduce the impact to the project and schedule.

I've questioned and provided comments on some of the issues that I'd seen: planning wasn't completed as dependencies between each sub-teams have not been fully defined (e.g. system testing for a particular component starts before development for that component has finished); resources are overallocated (e.g. person A is shown to be busy on multiple tasks (100% for each task) on a given day). The response that I got was "What do I suggest should be done to resolve these issues?". Arghh!

Despite all these challenges, the folks who are doing the work are totally committed to the project, working really, really hard and lots of hours to ensure that things are done and completed and working correctly. That is one of the positive from this project. We are now about 12 to 13 weeks away from implementation and heavily into testing and resolving defects or identifying workarounds if we are unable to fix.

The plan is for my group to support the system after go-live and I am recommending that there be no "enhancements"/"changes" be made to the system for at least two months in order to ensure that it is stable. I am also recommending that the post-project review be handled by someone other than the project manager to ensure unbiased input and frank feedback from the project team members.

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