The Secrets of Project Management

Many customers we talk to are highly engaged in strategic decisions to pick the best or most appropriate development tools. Whether you choose Domino, RPG IV, WebSphere, Visual Age Java or C++, the secret to your development success may lie well outside the technical world of tools and technologies. Instead, the secret to success could be with the more human side of software development – Project Management.

It is no secret that software projects largely fail because of project management weaknesses. Standish Research Group reported in 1995 that only 16% of projects were completed on time and budget. Whereas 31% are cancelled before they are completed, and 94% of projects are restarted. The average cost overrun is 189% and average time overrun is 222%. Conversely, Standish Group indicates that when a project is successful, 19% of the success criteria is attributed to user involvement, 16% to executive management support, 15% to clear requirements statements, 11% to proper planning and 10% to realistic expectations (out of 100). Notice there is no mention of tools.

To combat this, we must take project management more seriously. One of the most valuable project management tools is the Project Definition Workshop (PDW). It is a planning session to achieve project understanding, consensus and commitment. It is a structured brainstorming session based on a formal (PMI) methodology and is considered part of a project launch. The result of a successful Project Definition Workshop (PDW) is a Project Definition Document (PDD). Visit http://www.pmi.org/ (new window) and download the PMBOK for the details.

What is the magic contained in a PDW and PDD? The major required components are:

1. Goal

The goal statement is a brief description of why we are doing this project; the key question to answer is why. It also answers the questions: What is the purpose of the project? What are the business drivers? What are the IT drivers? Why is the business spending money and effort on this project? Overall, it helps to keep the focus on the business needs.

2. Objectives

The objectives define what have to happen to support the goal. The key questions to be answered all begin with what. What are the key achievements? What is the specific end point? What are the main deliverables? Objectives must be measurable, and thus form the basis to determine the relative measure of success.

3. Scope

The scope defines the boundaries of the work effort - both what is included and what is not included. The aim of the project is to bring about change from the current state to the desired state. The scope can be described in terms of organization, function, facilities, image, new processes, revised processes, and business position

Experienced project managers recognize scope creep as a critical component to be managed if costs, times and schedules are to me kept. Scope creep is the common, continuous tendency to change and add requirements as the project becomes more and more defined. The Project Definition Document lays the groundwork for the project scope.

4. Approach

This structures the work loosely into subprojects and phases. It will allocate responsibility for each subject, discusses and describe end-point status and identifies key milestones. Approaches may vary depending on the tools chosen. For instance, many of the claims of reusability of objects and components in the new Java/WebSphere development environments encourage much higher levels of RAD (Rapid Application Development) and parallel development activities.

5. Assumptions

Assumptions are things believed to be true at the start of the work effort. Should any of the assumptions change, the baseline needs to be reviewed to determine the impact. Having assumptions stated and agreed in the PDD stage will significantly aid later understanding and communications if things should change. Every reader should know many examples of key assumptions made in projects including availability of resources, intellectual property protections, available design documentation or code, or perhaps the effectiveness of conversion tools.

6. Constraints

These are known conditions that must be worked around and might include skills, vacations, and schedules.

7. Dependencies

Dependencies are deliverables outside the control of a particular individual, or work team, and have been identified as required input. These are often reflected as critical paths in subsequent work breakdown structures, such as Microsoft Project charts.

8. Issues

Problems that currently exist and threaten the success of the work are referred to as issues. We have to ask ourselves what actions are being taken to manage the issues.

9. Risks

Risks are potential future events that will jeopardize the work effort.

In all, the Project Definition process and the resultant Project Definition Document, form a basis for the successful application development project. Using this with a project management process may be a far more important factor in your success than whether you chose VARPG, VA Java or Visual Basis. If you don’t have a PMI professional in your organization, and are not brave enough to try yourself (armed with the PMBOK), contact IBM Global Services or your business partner!