Project management has two essential elements to it, the theory and methods on one hand and the tools and techniques on the other. The further you move up the scale from random tasks to organized projects, the more important it is that you are versed in theory and methods. I come across many people struggling with tools – being less than satisfied with the payback after much investment of time because they failed to appreciate the importance of understanding the methods before considering the tools. Of course, by the time you have decided you need a better approach you are probably thinking that you don’t have a lot of time to spend studying theory. Let’s run through the 4 challenges a project manager faces that cause a real appreciation for both methods AND tools:
Challenge #1: How do you get your arms around the big stuff?
Lay out a step-by-step process for what it will take to complete the project. Identify who will need to perform each step and how much time they will need to perform that step. The key here is the need to recognize that some tasks cannot start until other tasks are completed. This implies that delays in predecessor tasks will move successor tasks into the future. If you have this basic logistical plan in a project management software (it isn’t a project management software if it can’t do this) then, as one task is delayed, all the affected tasks will automatically be adjusted to reflect the delays. This automation saves a lot of useless effort having to explain why something on the list has not been addressed. It also gives you a clear prediction on when the project will be completed. Note that this prediction will change as you make good progress or experience delays. One mistake new project managers and executives make is to hide from, downplay or deny the effects of delays on their expected completion date until the deadline is right around the corner.
The situation often transpires like this: I don’t have time to develop a comprehensive plan because the time wasted doing so could have been used to make actual progress on the project. However, without a plan I don’t know where to focus my time and attention, so there is a good chance that I am not working on the right things at the right time even though I am working hard. If I am not working on the right things all the time, then I am at risk of experiencing avoidable delays. If I don’t have a sound plan and a method for keeping it current, then I have no idea if and how these delays are affecting the project. Eventually, the truth will be revealed. Since I was working really hard the whole time, the fact that the project is late must be due to some reason outside of my control. Without a formal plan against which to compare the actual execution, no one can prove that the delays resulted from something I didn’t do well – and I live to repeat the pattern on my next project. The theory, methods and tools provide the basics for breaking out of this trap.
A tool like BeingManagement project portfolio management software (BM3) are part of the solution, and it’s especially helpful that a lot of the theory of critical chain project management is built right in. For example, look at the way that BeingManagement has implemented the project network tool. The drag and drop functionality is amazing in BM3, but the way that sound project planning theory is coded into the network diagram tool is even better.