The ten commandments of project management

Ten commandments to help your company enter the promised land of project-based culture

In our increasingly project-centric world, the productivity to be gained by good project management is far too promising to ignore. But for most companies, shifting to a project-oriented management structure represents great change, and people resist change, regardless of the benefits that it may bring. Rules and guidelines are needed, so I've devised these commandments. By following them, your company can position itself to enter the promised land of project-based culture.

I Thou shalt narrow project scope

Nothing is worse than the never- ending project. It can suck up resources and exhaust even the most resilient teams. To keep projects tight and focused, carve larger efforts into smaller projects that have achievable deliverables and can meet deadlines. In the long run, a series of small wins has more impact on the organization than a big bang that never sounds.

II Thou shalt not suffer a fat team

The best way to get off to a good start is to ensure that the project team is the right size. Larger teams are more difficult to motivate and manage, and personalities can get in the way of the work. There is no optimum team size, though a good rule of thumb is a role for every person and a person for every role. But if team members need to play more than one role, that's OK. If you err, err on the side of a smaller team.

III Thou shalt require full-time business participation

To ensure that the desired results are delivered, the business perspective must be represented on a full-time basis. Moreover, if business leaders want the best and brightest from IT working on their initiatives, they need to provide the same from the business side. By committing full-time resources to every project, business leaders confirm that project work is important.

IV Thou shalt establish project review panels

A project review panel is a project team's governing body, addressing issues of business policy and strategic direction while assisting in the removal and avoidance of project roadblocks and pitfalls. Typically, midlevel business and IT managers from the involved areas participate in biweekly project status meetings. To ensure flow and continuity, any problems identified during these meetings are assigned to project-review panelists, who address them while the project team carries on with its work.

V Thou shalt not provoke burnout

It's not unusual for project staff to become both mentally and physically exhausted by the stress and struggle of the work. Be sensitive to this and take precautions to avoid it. One common contributor to burnout is serial project assignments. Organizations tend to assign the "usual suspects" to every high-visibility initiative. If you find that certain people come off one project only to be assigned immediately to another, you may want to consider creating some policies that limit or monitor such staff use.

VI Thou shalt seek outside assistance as needed

Using outside project experts is another way to prevent burnout. Besides augmenting project teams, outsiders can often provide valuable new ideas, perspective and energy. It's essential to bring the right consulting support into a project at the right time. Specialized technical or business expertise is one type of support; project management expertise is another. Be sure to consider where a given project team is in both its project plan and overall experience curve before deciding on a specific type of external resource.

VII Thou shalt empower project teams

Project teams struggling to meet deadlines should not be expected to perform pro forma activities such as filing time sheets or attending departmental status meetings. Rather, they should be empowered to do whatever it takes to get a superior job completed on time and within budget. People will work harder in a trusting environment where expectations are well understood and individual initiative is valued.

VIII Thou shalt use project management tools

Mundane project management work can be automated. Look for tools that offer project tracking, task management, workflow administration and resource-analysis support on an intranet-based platform that promotes information-sharing and communication. But remember, using technologies that add another layer of complexity to an already challenging project is not a good idea.

IX Thou shalt reward success

All project participants should be recognized in some positive way for their toil and personal sacrifice. The rewards need not be extravagant. Sometimes a sincere letter of commendation from a corporate officer is enough. More significant forms of gratitude such as tickets to ballgames, theater evenings, extra vacation time and financial bonuses should also be considered if results warrant them.

X Thou shalt not tolerate quick-and-dirty work efforts

Solid project management policies should obviate the temptation to indulge in quick-and-dirty project work, which only leads to error, waste, re-work and frustration.

Beyond the project

Portfolio-based project management calls for IT work to be organized into projects and programs and managed collectively, like a portfolio of stocks. In this way, the initiatives that offer the greatest potential benefit to the organization are staffed and funded, while those that don't are discarded in favor of new ideas that can be added to the portfolio.

If there is one overarching operating principle that every organization interested in project portfolio management should put into place, it is this: All work to be done within the company must be included as a project or program within the corporate strategic plan.

By adopting this principle, a company ensures that all initiatives are fully understood by the management team and that potential organizational conflicts have been considered as part of corporate priority-setting. In this way, the company is better positioned to aggressively manage its resources and is less likely to squander assets on ill-conceived ideas.

This comprehensive and objective way of handling projects and program opportunities will yield benefits far beyond the obvious as increased discipline and rigor extend throughout the organization.

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