Whether you’re managing a business web integration project or any other project, there are generally three control points: cost, quality, and time. It has been shown, a project manager has direct control over only two of these points. It can be any two of the points, but it is only two. The third point is defined by the control values selected for the other two points.
If a project manager chooses to directly control cost and quality, then time will be defined by that control. This concept is a hard fact for most project stakeholders to accept, however, you and your consulting firm must have an understanding of this triangular relationship as you progress through any project.
1) Define the Problem:
Before any project can be successful, you must outline the problem that needs to be solved. What is the business need, the initiative, or opportunity? You should be able to articulate your project vision. As an exercise to help you articulate your vision, ask yourself, “What is important to me as I consider __________ ?” (Fill in the blank with the project object or problem to be solved.) What features or content would you like to have? If nothing else, be ready to show a few web sites that you like and some that you don’t. Explain your reasoning however imprecise it may be. The clearer your vision of the project, the better you’ll be able to communicate what you’d like as your solution. In defining all problems, it is imperative to define constraints as well. Build the constraints into your list of success criteria.
2) Set Success Criteria:
Once you have defined what you want to accomplish, outline broad criteria of success. You will fill in the details later with the aid of your key stakeholders and consulting firm. This first pass at success criteria is used to excite and rally the support of key stakeholders, which support is usually tied to purse strings. Sample criteria for success include: – launching in time for a big trade show or seasonal – upswing in sales – increasing sales by a large percentage – drawing more visitors to the web site – winning an award for outstanding customer satisfaction
To help keep all project participants focused on these objective, have them displayed openly as well as written into the contract of work.
3) Elevate Project Managers to Evangelist:
Every project needs an evangelist, a person who is so full of energy that they could “will” the project into existence. Guy Kowasawki was an Apple Computer evangelist in the 80’s. He once outlined his project management steps as: 1) Have an Idea, 2) Print the T-shirts, and 3) Define the Problem.
While Guy’s process was outlined somewhat tongue-in-cheek it emphasizes the importance of project evangelism. Elevate your project managers to evangelist status. Make this person be the single point of contact. Taking into consideration input from committee members and stakeholders, final decisions and justification should be put on the shoulders of the project manager. Give them the power to succeed. Give them the needed guidance to avoid failure.
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4) Rally Key Stakeholders:
Companies frequently have to juggle different, and often competing internal interests and responsibilities when working on projects, especially one like a website that should integrate business processes throughout the whole company. One way to handle these diverse concerns is to build a small, trusted, steering committee of project stakeholders. (According to committee and group dynamics research, the team shouldn’t be any larger than 7.)
The first meeting is to gain buy-in to the project’s success or kill the project now to contain losses. If the project survives the first meeting, team members should be able to provide project success guidelines and helpful pointers for navigating the company’s internal dynamics. Your internal project leader (possibly the evangelist mentioned above) should be the single point of contact between this committee and the consulting firm.
5) Choose a Consultant Firm Carefully:
When you know the problem you want to solve, you’ll be better equipped to select a consulting firm that best meets your needs. Since a web project has to meet business needs as well as technical and artistic creativity, be sure the firm you selects understands all three aspects. Look for a company that is strong in your greatest area of need. If you need help developing your brand or extending it to the web, consider a brand strategy firm. If you need to navigate through the maze of technology, find a company that understands the requisite technologies that will be important.
Be wary of the company that offers a too-good-to-be-true price. It is likely that their price reflects the extent to which they can serve your needs. Remember the Project Management Triangle mentioned in the overview? With today’s technology and outsourcing capabilities, look for a consulting firm that will partner with experts in various fields to make your project a success. Above all choose a firm that understands business objectives as well as technical and design issues; and are willing to work in concert with you to meet the business needs. The consulting company should walk you through an orchestrated discovery process that assists you in fleshing out the details you need to chart a clear course to completion.
6) Define the Red Flag Process:
Clear one time communication is a hard thing to achieve between even well intentioned individuals. Define communication processes up front and in writing. As a Project Manager, express and explain your preferred communication channel to your consulting firm and committee members. Do you want daily, in-person check-ins? How often are emails to be read? Or would you prefer a phone call to your Cell or Office? Not only should you seek commitment for communication from others, but you should be ready to commit to communication with others. With the communication channels set, always raise concerns as soon as they appear on your radar. Early adjustments in the project life cycle is favorable to everyone involved.
Also plan for even the worst case scenario: define a grievance process to keep the project going or contain loss and damage. All successful projects take a fair amount of management and relationship building. If you start with a known red flag process, you will have a healthier relationship with your consulting firm and a much happier outsourcing experience.
7) Elaborate, Evolve and Evaluate:
This segment is partitioned into three steps. The first step is to use the experience and skills of your selected partner to help you elaborate the current project vision and detail a successful path of completion. Such solutions are dependent on knowing the criteria for success. Since all solutions have to fit within some constraints, be sure you cover your constraints in your criteria for success.
The second step is to allow your project vision to evolve. Again use the experience and skills of your selected partner to introduce innovative solutions you may not have even known were possible. Innovation is often the quickest road to achieve a return on investment. However, do not allow possibilities to alter business priorities haphazardly. The final step is to evaluate all proposed solutions with your committee and against the business objectives outlined in earlier steps. Now is the time to cement which two points of the Project Management Triangle you are going to control.
8) Do User Research:
This step can be done a bit earlier in the process. However, using the experience and skills of your consulting firm will shorten the time consumed here. In this step, it is assumed you know the business imperatives of the project. But now it is time to ask the users of the final results what their needs are. In short, get to know the users. Assume that users have a different view of the world than you do. Validate all strategies against “what is important for the users!” Ensuring solutions meet the needs of users will inevitably meet business needs.
9) Set Mile Markers:
While you have the grand vision of your project, the best approach, however, is to structure your project into smaller projects that fit together like train cars. Each connection adds to the length and success of the entire project. There are several benefits of this strategy. If, for example, you are working with a consulting firm for the first time, the smaller project can serve as an audition for not only quality, but also for the previous step: Red Flags. This mile marker strategy also helps you avoid budget crunches as you get stronger buy-in across your organization as you show progress.
10) 80-20 Rules and Expectations:
It is amazing how often the 80-20 rule shows up. Technical project are no different. Here are some examples. 80% of the work can be done in 20% of the total time. This example usually applies to what “appears” to be 80% of the work. The visible work is often a very small portion of the total work required. Managing expectations accordingly is important to the overall project experience. Don’t allow yourself or the committee to believe that 80% of the work is ever done just because a consulting firm can show you screen shots or print outs. Screen shots and printouts usually represent less than 20% of the real work and time required.