An Ounce of Prevention

BOSTON (05/08/2000) - No one wants to arrive at a situation like Ken Garcia's. Your best hope of ensuring that all of your projects stay on track is to prepare a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) before work commences, according to Stephen DeVaux, president and founder of Analytic Project Management, a consulting firm in Bedford, Massachusetts. DeVaux is author of Total Project Control: A Manager's Guide to Integrated Project Planning, Measuring and Tracking.

As its name implies, a WBS breaks down in detail, the tasks that make up each phase of the project. With the WBS complete, the project manager should assign each task to an appropriate subject matter expert.

Before work begins, the project manager must also define the monetary value of the project. This can be difficult to do with infrastructure-type projects such as the network operating system migration that Garcia encountered. DeVaux suggests rather than attempting to name the project's value, the project manager should ask, "What are the likely consequences and costs of not doing the project?" You'll need this estimate of project value to help you determine whether or not to pull the plug if and when the project breaks down.

Another key weapon in the project manager's arsenal is the cost estimate to complete, DeVaux says. This involves analyzing on a daily basis how much it will cost to finish the project, including any cost and time overruns. Few IT project managers take the time to do an earned value analysis, but it is critical, DeVaux says. When things start to go off the rails, project managers should compare the cost estimate of what it will take to finish the project under current conditions, and compare it with the value of the completed project. This is a quick way to see if you should continue. For example, if the value of a network upgrade project was $100,000, and it would cost $25,000 to complete it, including a cost overrun, it makes sense to proceed with the project. Go to Network World Fusion (DocFinder: XXXX) for more information about DeVaux's methodology.

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