Posts Tagged MSP

Should Project Managers Roll Their Sleeves Up?

Might It Be Necessary?

There’s the project management aspect of any project… and then there’s the required output from the project…

The project manager takes care of the first; and the project team and nominated experts and assistants are responsible for the second.

But what happens when your project simply doesn’t have enough resource to support the required project output? Should a project manager roll his or her sleeves up and help? Is this a good idea? Might it be both necessary and what is expected of you? Or can it lead to disaster?

A Case In Point

The Project

On one of my recent projects, in an organisation I admired and whose staff were already working extremely hard, I made the conscious decision to roll my sleeves up. The project involved the implementation of new a Payroll and HR system and at the outset I realised that the resourcing was rather too low – but that it would be extremely difficult for my client to bring their resource to the levels I recommended.

Keen to support the organisation’s objectives, I therefore chose to provide not only project management services to my client but a wide range of other activities, including training delivery, procedural documentation, business analysis, system administration, requirements analysis, solution design and data migration support. I also undertook any other administration and support activities that needed completing to keep the project on the road.

The project took approximately six months and included the standard features of implementations of this kind: initiation, planning, bespoke design and development, system setup and configuration, data migration, User Acceptance Testing, parallel running and go-live.

Throughout the project I worked at an intense rate, averaging a 47 hour week (excluding holidays), despatching over 3,000 project-specific emails, producing over 100 formal documents and helping my client successfully achieve their desired implementation timescales. But was making such a commitment sensible?

Here is a breakdown of the work I undertook, beginning with the non-project-management-type activities.

Procedural Documentation and Business Analysis

On behalf of the project:

  • I produced procedural guidance for the Finance Team’s maintenance of costing data on the new system
  • I analysed the Payroll/HR procedural interface and produced written guidance on activities permissible for HR during the payroll processing period (reconciling a fairly typical instinct within Payroll for exclusion vs. a robust HR need for access)
  • I analysed Payroll procedures and identified efficient replacement processes on the new system
  • I contributed to the analysis and documentation of an establishment control processes
  • I provided advice and guidance on HR and Payroll procedures in general, with the aim of combining simplicity and cost effectiveness with best practice

Training

On behalf of the project I:

  • Delivered system data structure familiarisation sessions to the project and user teams
  • Produced guidance documentation covering the new system’s data structures, hierarchy and posts
  • Booked training courses, booked rooms, administered attendees, distributed manuals, organised access to laptops etc, for eleven training events

Requirements Analysis and System Design

On behalf of the project I undertook the following activities:

  • Analysis of the costing outputs required from the new system for interfacing to the existing Finance system
  • Production of Business Requirements and Functional Specs for a bespoke interface from the new system to the existing Finance
  • Definition of the interface-relevant Business Objects reports for the Finance team
  • Analysis and documentation of system user types and the menus required for HR and Payroll Operatives Supervisors

System Build and Administration

On behalf of the project I have performed the following activities:

  • Menu setup on the new system
  • Security setup on the new system
  • Setup and administration of all users of the new system
  • Audit setup
  • Online payslip setup
  • Supervision of comms access
  • RTI data checks
  • Setup of User Defined Screens
  • Fault logging and escalation with the supplier
  • Arranging and checking Test environment refreshes
  • Arranging and checking software upgrades
  • Arranging and checking delivery of bespoke software

Testing

On behalf of the project I undertook:

  • Detailed functional testing of the bespoke costing interface
  • Coordination of Finance Team data checking
  • Testing of costing interface specific reports
  • Testing of menu, security and user setup
  • Provision of advice and guidance on HR and Payroll testing
  • Testing of online payslips

Data Migration Support

On behalf of the project:

  • I reviewed with the organisation and gained agreement on data ownership and sources for the data migration
  • I administered the collection, formatting and migration onto the new system of cost codes generated by the existing Finance system
  • I closely administered all data migration activities, including version control, format checking and secure transfer (overcoming certain supplier-side weaknesses in this area)
  • I coordinated project team correction of the migration data where required

Project Admin and Support

On behalf of the project I undertook:

  • Organisation of project room and facilities
  • Meeting room booking, meeting administration, minute taking, the production of Agendas and Minutes for all meetings

Project Management

On behalf of the project I undertook the following activities:

  • Fact finding and contract review
  • Production of the Project Terms of Reference
  • Production of the Project Board Terms of Reference
  • Stakeholder analysis
  • Production of the Project Charter (very similar to PRINCE 2’s ‘Project Initiation Document’)
  • Production of high level planning for the project
  • Production and maintenance of a detailed project plan
  • Production of Training and Communications Plans
  • Coordination, prioritisation and facilitation of project team activities
  • Production of Project Team action lists
  • Monitoring project budget vs costs
  • Supervision of supplier Application, Business Objects and Data Migration consultancy
  • Chairing of scheduled and ad hoc project team meetings
  • Monitoring progress against plan and escalating where necessary
  • Coordination of bespoke development, delivery and implementation
  • Preparation and presentation of Project Status reports to Board
  • Micro-management of late UAT and early parallel run activities
  • Preparation of Parallel Run and Go Live Sign Off documents
  • Supplier administration including two formal escalations
  • Administration of change control

Etcetera

This long list of activities of course excludes the range of minor or informal tasks, meetings, correspondences and discussions which all project managers must undertake to facilitate any project of this size reaching its desired conclusion.

Through these very diverse activities, and with the help, dedication and commitment of an excellent but small project team, I ensured an on time and under budget go-live for the project. The project was considered a success throughout the organisation. But at what cost?

Benefits and Risks

The benefits of my approach are fairly clear:

  • Costs were kept low by not engaging a range of very differently skilled staff for short-term activities
  • Efficiency was gained by having a small, closely knit team who knew the entire project inside out – reducing handovers, meetings and duplication of communications
  • I maintained close control over the activities I detail above – through doing them myself…
  • A strong sense of team endeavour and achievement was engendered within a small, tightly focussed and dedicated team

But there were very definite risks entailed in this approach:

  • Willingly and voluntarily the team at times worked to the point of exhaustion to meet the project objectives, which is something that cannot be considered best practice project management. This alone introduces the risks of:
    • burnout, potentially reducing the team members’ effectiveness further down the line
    • focussing too narrowly on what needs to be achieved now, with the team and project manager so immersed in the output-based activities of the project that it becomes difficult to see the wood from the trees or to think strategically
    • errors; tired people, or people who are juggling many activities in parallel, are more likely to make mistakes… and there was a definite danger of this in the project I describe here
  • Had I, or any of the team, become unavailable at any point in the project, there was no contingency: the project would of necessity have slipped
  • I became the sole source of expertise in a number of areas rather than this expertise being built up within a project team made up of permanent employees. This was effectively a postponement of cost, entailing identifying individuals to learn what I knew and to assume the responsibilities I had taken on myself

The Outcome

Fortunately, in the project detailed here, we managed to gain the benefits but avoid the risks highlighted above, partly through hard work, stamina and dedication, but also, decidedly, through a degree of good luck. We worked together well. We had the skills we needed. Issues arose, as with any project, but we were able to promptly resolve them. The project was brought in on time and costs were kept down. What more could my client have asked for?

Answering The Question

But this leaves my initial question unanswered. Should project managers, when it may benefit their employing organisation or the objectives of their project, roll up their sleeves and undertake urgent non-project-management tasks?

From the detail I have provided so far, and given the successful outcome of the project, you might expect that my answer would be, ‘Yes. Of course. You do what you need to do to get the job done…’

However, the conclusion I draw from my experiences is rather different from this. I suggest that best practice project management in fact entails the project manager keeping their sleeves firmly rolled down. In the project I describe my decision to become a hybrid project manager / team member / jack of all trades was fortunately successful – but it did expose the project to significant risks, risks that, as a professional project manager, I would have preferred to more decisively avoid.

Project managers should always hold something back in terms of energy and engagement, allowing for lateral thinking, forward planning, the anticipation of risk and the preparation of risk mitigations.

The project team and I did well. In fact I am incredibly proud of our achievement. But I think we could have done even better, and we could have done it with greater security of outcome, with a little more resource, a little more focus on project management in addition to project outputs, and a little more time.

Luke Andreski    May 2013

https://andreskiprojectmanagement.wordpress.com/

www.andreskisolutions.com

Feedback on any of my posts and the issues they discuss is very welcome.

© 2013 Luke Andreski. All rights reserved.

 

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3 Comments

The Perfect Plan

 

Two fundamental principles which underlie project management methodologies such as PMBOK and PRINCE2 are:

Look before you leap

and

Learn from when you fell.

These principles are elaborated into complex project management ‘envelopes’ surrounding what might be thought of as the delivery activities of the project – the aim being to ensure that these activities are accomplished successfully.

On this basis, I would suggest that the following list details the ideal project management envelope, into which the considerably more detailed delivery elements of any project can be inserted.

Project Assessment

Preliminary meetings

Determine project authority and status

Confirm Project Brief

Authorise Project Initiation

Project Initiation

Initiation Kick-off

Review Project Brief, Bus. Case, Contract, SOW

Identify existing processes and standards

Review political / organisational environment

Stakeholder Interviews and Analysis

Stakeholder analysis

Stakeholder interviews

Produce stakeholder list

Identify and Coordinate Project Initiation and Planning Resource

Agree Resource Reqs for Initiation and Planning Phase

Acquire Resource

Administer Resource

Develop, Sign-off and Publish Project Charter

Develop project charter

Publish draft project charter

Project charter review

Sign-off project charter

Finalise project charter

Sign-off project charter

Project Launch

Plan project kick-off

Project kick-off meeting

Project Planning

Develop Outline Project Management Plan

Project Requirements – Detailed Definition

Develop, Sign Off and Publish Detailed Scope Document

Develop Detailed Project Scope Document

Review Detailed Project Scope

Sign Off Detailed Project Scope

Publish Detailed Project Scope

Develop Work Breakdown Structure

Develop work Breakdown Dictionary

Develop, Sign-off and Publish Detailed Project Plans

Develop Project Schedule

Define Activities

Sequence Activities

Estimate Resource

Estimate Duration

Develop Project Schedule

Estimate Costs and Confirm Budget

Develop Human Resource Plan

Develop Communications Plan

Develop Project Risk Management Plan

Identify Initial Project Risks

Assess and Prioritise Risks

Develop Risk Response Proposals

Develop Risk Management Plan

Review Project Plans

Sign Off Detailed Project Plan

Publish Detailed Project Plan

      

Execute Project Phase 1

Establish Team and Infrastructure

Acquire Full Project Team

Set Up Team Infrastructure

Develop Team

Manage Team

Phase 1 Activities and Deliverables

Perform Work Activity 1

Deliver Work Activity 1 Result

Perform Work Activity n

Deliver Work Activity n Result

Phase 1 Monitoring and Control

Monitor / Control Activities 1 – n

Verify Scope of Activities 1 – n

Control Phase 1 Quality

Control Schedule and Costs

Control Risks

Close Phase 1

Lessons Learnt Meeting

Document Lessons Learnt

Update Project Documents

Sign Off Phase 1 / Authorise Phase 2

Execute Project Phases 1 + n

  

Project Closedown

Lessons Learnt Meeting

Document Lessons Learnt

Contracts Closure

Administrative Closure

The central purpose of all of this detail is to support the key delivery activities. The supposition of project management methodologies such as PRINCE2 and PMBOK is that phases 1 through 1+n will be delivered successfully – on time, on budget and ‘to spec’ – if a framework along the lines detailed above is rigorously applied. This is something with which I largely agree. However, a further and, I believe, utterly crucial requirement for project success is this: no project will be successful without enthusiasm for change, a powerful commitment to the project objectives, and a concern for the people involved in the project and affected by it.

Luke Andreski

www.andreskisolutions.com

© Luke Andreski2012. All rights reserved.

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