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Essence of Success - Well Planned is Half Done!


Want to go on a vacation with friends? Need to organize an event? Starting a business? Or simply wish to fix your car?
All of these can be considered as a project in themselves. Subconsciously, each of these activities needs certain level of management and we inherently cover a large aspect of formal project management concepts while undertaking them. Just because we do not put them on paper, we fail to realize that it is those management activities which drive the success of any of the above or similar hundreds of activities we take up in our everyday life. In language of literature, project is “Planned set of interrelated tasks to be executed over a fixed period and within certain cost and other limitations”. Thus there are two basic characteristics for something to be called a project:
  • Planned set of tasks
  • Bounded by time, resources, & required results
Thus most of the activities of our day to day life can be classified as a project and this should make us realize the importance of Project Management. While organizations tend to follow a much formal version of this, we can use some of its concepts – may be in our mind – to obtain better results in our initiatives and endeavors. For me in simple terms Project Management is an art and science of getting something done. Having worked for a number of projects and observed projects on both the winning and losing sides, I thought of bringing our a few articles on what are some of not-to-be ignored things which determine success and failure of a project. This is first in that series of articles and I hope it sets the ball rolling to some thinking in this direction. Based on the response to this one, I would bring out regular articles in this area as an when I learn intricacies of managing projects.
Planning without action is futile, action without planning is fatal. - Cornelius Fitchner
This is such an apt capture of the essence of importance of planning before doing anything. Project planning is one of the crucial factors that determine success of a project. It is important that end goals, journey, resources and other factors are considered at the onset so that there is a basic framework in place to complete the tasks. Also a definite plan would make it easier to assess progress and calibrate the approach if required. But what does project planning entail? Based on my experience, I think there are few things which should definitely be considered while planning as given below –
  • Project Definition - Defining the project boundaries to set expectations and goals
  • Execution Plan – Putting down on all the tasks required to achieve the goals
  • Resource Allocation – Evaluating and arranging for the budgetary and other resource support required to undertake the tasks listed in execution plan
  • Risk Evaluation – Assessing what can go wrong and preparing for it
  • Learning from Past – Evaluating similar initiatives taken in past and developing 

Project Definition
It is absolutely critical to the success of any project that the organization develop a clear understanding of what will be delivered and what will not be delivered within the project’s scope. In fact, it is not unusual for the people who requested the project to raise issues part way through it about functions that are not to be delivered.

Not only must the project-related requirements and specifications be complete, they must be reviewed by people familiar with the business issues the project is to support. This review must be careful and thorough, to avoid subsequent difficulties. While strong project management requirements and specifications do not ensure project success, they add considerably to the probability that the project will succeed. Following are some of critical aspects of defining project goals and boundaries.
  • Develop scope of the project by defining needs, goals and objectives, mission or business case, high-level operational concepts, customer requirements, constraints, schedules, budgets, authority, and responsibility.
  • Negotiate commitments rather than committing more than what can be delivered. It is important to estimate the time and effort required for each task and plan accordingly. 
  • Identify interfaces between project and the rest of the world, clarifying boundaries, inputs, and outputs. Prepare details of handoffs required at all these interfaces and develop protocols for these
  • Format requirements and supporting documentation to ensure that you have included each of the appropriate types of requirements and that your development team members can find all of the requirements they must meet.
Execution Plan
Having an execution plan in hand allows the team to have a clear, well-documented, properly focused understanding of the project. The planning process raises questions that would not otherwise be considered. Also having a plan in hand builds confidence in the project and its processes. As a result, when planning is finished, it is easier to confidently begin the project. Some of the steps that must be followed while developing an execution plan for the project are given below –
  • Identify activities and tasks needed to produce each of the deliverables identified in the scope baseline. 
  • Identify resources that would be required for each task, if known.
  • Determine which tasks are dependent on other tasks, and develop critical path.
  • Develop schedule, which puts all tasks and estimates in a calendar. It shows by chosen time period (week, month, quarter or year) which resource is doing which tasks, how much time each task is expected to take, and when each task is scheduled to begin and end.

Resource Allocation
Each project requires certain resources to undertake the tasks and this form critical input to the success of activities. Inadequate resource availability will lead to delivery of less than promised, if not outright failure. Some-things to be kept in mind regarding this aspect are –
  • Assess the resources required including the human resource requirements
  • Recognize that the time, hardware, software, and people components that make up a project can be expensive
  • Devote ample time and attention at the project’s beginning to analyze and apply realistic costs to the components
  • Build a reasonable amount of contingency funding into the estimated project cost.
  • Project funding should be seen as a continuing and flexible process.
  • Costs must be recalculated at several checkpoints in the project life cycle, and the new figures communicated to senior management. 
Risk Assessment and Contingency Planning
It is not enough to recognize that the project has some risk, or to have a vague idea of some of the possible project-related risks. Risk, as it applies to a particular project, must be well-understood. More importantly, those who will suffer from the project-related risks must be made as aware of them as promptly as possible.

Following are some guidelines regarding this aspect of project planning –
  • Identify
    • Tasks for which your team has no expertise.
    • Duration and cost estimates that are aggressive. 
    • Situations where you have a limited number of resources that can do particular tasks and where those resources are fully allocated, over allocated, or may become unavailable. 
    • Tasks with several predecessors. 
    • Tasks with long durations or a lot of resources. 
  • Brainstorm and talk with the experts to identify risks which may be overlooked by the team
  • Quantify Risks
    • Determine tolerance levels to understand the extent of risk that the project can accept
    • Assign a probability to each risk based on past experiences and environmental factors
    • Assign a priority to each risk - understand which risk is more liable to affect the success of the project
  • Identify Triggers for each risks
  • Manage Risks
    • Allay the risk by taking actions ahead of time For example, if you're dependent on a single resource with specific expertise; consider training another resource in that expertise.
    • Mitigate the risk by lowering the consequences if the problem does occur, thereby reducing the risk's impact. For example, if you're dependent on an outside vendor making its delivery dates, your contract with the vendor might include penalties for late delivery, in order to offset your potential losses.
    • Respond to the risk with a contingency plan, if the problem does occur. For example, if a task is at risk of being delayed, your plan may be to add additional resources to the task. 
Learning from Past
There are lessons to be drawn from every project, but especially from those that fail. This is all part of identifying the causes of failure. Recognizing why a project fails helps you to avoid failure the next time around. Sharing the lessons with others on the team shows people that a failure is not an end but a process. There are some steps as given below that could ensure that learning from past projects is put to good use.
  • The project team should ensure that they contact the members of team that handled similar projects in past. They should try to get behind the reasons which could have led to failure of those projects. An understanding of these reasons would help the team to plan their project better and avoid same mistakes again.
  • Logs need to be maintained for all the project related activities. This way manager could review the logs to understand the reason behind how a project finally turns up. 
  • There should be an incentive for project managers to act upon the lessons learnt. By instituting management level policies that reward efficiency and better results, organizations can cut down on process mishandling, time mismanagement and resource wastage.

I hope these could help you to certain extent align your thinking process in a systematic way while undertaking any activity in daily life. In case you have views on these points or have experiences either supporting or opposing these observations, feel free to comment below!! Every feedback is welcome.

2 comments:

  1. Nice article... Good for personal goals too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Aniket !!

      Yeah I agree; if one wants to pursue a serious goal for personal life too, adequate planning can do wonders to the rate of success :)

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