~ By Delwyn Ooi
The closest to being in control we will ever be is in that moment that we realise we're not.Brian Kessler
Your first million dollar project is due to launch in two hours, when the customer calls in to request a major change in scope that will delay the project launch by many weeks. Meanwhile, the project team is still rushing bug fixes. Will you start panicking? Or are you in control of all your projects?
Many a time as project managers, we manage multiple projects daily, handling different customers, teams and sometimes external vendors. Every detail inside our project tools and techniques - from scope of work to bar charts to communication plans and procurement documentations - is what keeps us feeling in control of every project. We get so involved in being good project managers that we make absolute certain to be in the know of everything project related. Should anything slip between the cracks, we go all out to track the cause and source of that miscommunication gap and fix it. We do all these not just because we want the project to run smoothly, but also to give our stakeholders the confidence that we’re doing our job the best that we can. Because we are the project manager - anything affecting our project is our responsibility…hence we feel the need to be in control. But is control always a good thing?
Control your own destiny or someone else will.Jack Welch
Consider Jack Welch's statement in relation to project management: If you do not control your project resources, another project will utilise them. If you do not control your project schedule, a delayed task will impact your overall timeline. If you do not control your project budget, your stakeholders will attempt a cost overrun. Project control is therefore, in such context, a crucial element of your project's destiny which keeps it on-track, on-time and within budget.
But how much control is enough? Too much control is time-consuming; too little control runs project risks. To curb this dilemma, consider applying the three key controls for your next project - Stakeholders, Expectations and Team (SET).
Make it a point to include all stakeholders involved throughout each project. Not just during the initiation phase where project requirements are gathered and scope of work signed off, but throughout the entire project execution. Imagine that your team gold-plated a technical portion of a software project to improve processing speed. You casually approved it without stakeholder input since it sounded like a positive change, below the surface (invisible to the stakeholder) and has no impact to the approved user interface. A few months after the software is launched, a major glitch occurs because of the undocumented change. Your stakeholders jump at you, you panic and look for your project team, only to realise they are no longer with the company. While it is easier said than done, the backlash of missing out stakeholders at any step during a project could have disastrous effects. Ensure stakeholder communication and control at all times.
Perhaps the most daunting task of every project manager is to control the expectations of all stakeholders. Not just with your customers, but also the internal team, vendors and sponsors. Clearly define the scope of the project: deliverables list, statement of work, requirements documentation and many other tools can help achieve clarity. Not sure how often to provide a status report? Consider communications as an objective requirement - ask your customers how often they would like to see the report. Some customers are satisfied with monthly reports, while others prefer to know the progress each week. Faced with a situation of a schedule slip? Do not keep silent and hope things will get better later on, because it usually won't. Instead, you should warn the customer as soon as possible, explain the issue and suggest alternatives such as a revised delivery date or establish delivery in phases. Since you were not able to meet their requirements, at least you modified their expectations. Keeping all stakeholders involved throughout the project maintains their expectations and allows them to regard the project as partly theirs. Such control significantly improves the success rate of your project.
Managing the team involves both internal staff and external subcontractors assigned to the project team. Meet with individual team members to assign work packages and responsibilities. Share with team leaders weekly on experiences, concerns and problems. Conduct routine interactions among team members to communicate project information and monitor team morale. Find opportunities to motivate the team. At the end of each major project phase, perform team performance reviews. Team control is crucial to any project's success. Recognise success by rewarding members with formal recognition or awards for their contributions. If no such review or reward policies exist, even informal praise will go a long way.
In conclusion, I hope you find the above SET of controls useful for your next project. It not only guarantees adequate stakeholder satisfaction and happiness, but also ensures you’re not over-controlling your project. Being in control is definitely a good thing, but make no mistake - the last designation you'll need as a project manager is to be labelled a control freak.
Delwyn Ooi is a PMP certified project manager with over ten years of experience in the Information Technology industry. He has worked with several small and large companies in Australia and Singapore and specialises in leading technology projects.