Project management is a critical aspect to every economic activity. Whether you are the owner of a small company or a professional project manager in a Fortune 100 multinational corporation, project planning and management is at the core of your business. So, what are the basics of project management we are trying to address?
No matter the size of a new project, whether you’re talking about renovating the bathroom, decorating an office, building a house or building an oil pipeline or a highway, before doing it stakeholders must balance the benefits of implementing the project and the costs required to execute it. For that, it all comes down to two simple questions:
- How much is it going to cost?
- How long is it going to take?
To answer these questions, you need to start planning. You need to break the project into tasks. For each task, you need to determine the amount of work and the skills that are required to execute it, what materials do you need and how much of each, and how many human resources you will be able to assign to it, what are the other expenditure’s required.
Because you know the amount of work, how many skilled workers you plan to allocate and how much of each material you will use, you will be able to estimate the cost of work, the cost of materials and expenses. And if you sum it up, you will obtain an estimation of how much it will cost to execute a task.
Because you know the amount of work that is required to execute the task and the amount of human resources you will allocate, you can estimate how long it will take finish the task. And if you do this for each task and put all the numbers together, you will be able to tell how much the entire project will cost and how long it will take to complete it.
Now that all the planning is done and you can tell how much you estimate it will cost and how long you estimate it will take, stakeholders can make an informed decision on whether the project should be executed or not. If the decision is made to execute the project, you will have to regularly answer another set of questions:
- Is the project on time? Is it going to be delivered within the estimated time frame?
- Are expenses under control? Are they going to stay within the estimated budget?
To answer these questions, you need to closely monitor project execution. For each task, you need to find out how much was consumed and how much was spent with respect to how much was budgeted. If the costs and material usage start to slip out of control you will notice and you will be able to take necessary measures to put the project back on track.
Now this is the theory and it sounds all nice and easy, but doing it, especially for large projects, that’s a totally different matter. It’s a tedious, time consuming and error prone task. You need some sort of software program to make things faster and eliminate error, Of course, you can put together a spreadsheet to calculate your project’s costs and schedule, but that requires extensive programming techniques and is far from being flexible enough.
Now let’s discuss Blind Spots
Any project manager who’s been around the block has heard the questions: “Does this project accomplish company objectives?”, “Who’s in charge of this task?”, “When will it be done?”, “Who on your team is pulling their weight?”, or “What could we do better next time?”
If you felt a knot twisting in your stomach as you read, chances are you’ve experienced the dread and confusion that come with project blind spots. Either as a project manager or as a member of a department, you’ve run into frustrating times when you can’t answer these questions. You probably know that these blind spots can cost your company in terms of morale, revenue, and competitive advantage. Well, good news: you can eliminate those blind spots, but you should know where to look. The following five sources of project blind spots are a good place to start:
1. Information hot potato
If your department is using multiple apps, spreadsheets, or dashboards to track and manage projects, with information being moved and duplicated from one to the other, it’s almost guaranteed that some of that information is falling through the cracks. Of course, it only gets worse as members use their own different, preferred systems. And if everyone is using different systems, where do you go to see who is working on any given task?
2. Apples to oranges
No two systems will gather information exactly the same way. It’s very unlikely that data from one system will match up well with data from another. This prevents you from synthesizing your data into the kind of coherent, useful analysis you need to see what’s happening, to optimize your projects, or to improve processes for future projects.
3. Lukewarm software adoption
Even when your department members are working in the same software, not everyone will adopt it willingly. This guy might not like the dashboard. That lady might gripe about the email functionality. Too often, individuals drag their feet in adopting mandated systems in favour of using their own pet solutions.
Unfortunately, this amounts to a team that is only partially using the software, which in turn means that the software is receiving only partial data, which equals unusable data for future accountability or planning.
4. Patchy communication
Communications during a project can tell you volumes about what worked and what didn’t. With preferences constantly fluctuating between your department members, some prefer IM, others email, and still some remain loyal to the phone. The problem is ensuring that these messages connect with the right recipients and gathering all those communications in one place for future leanings.
5. Cost-benefit data
Few project management solutions allow you to enter projected project benefits and then track project costs against those benefits. And few organizations use those features. But when it comes to answering the question, “How does this project contribute to company objectives?” or “Is this project worth it?”, cost-benefit data is essential. Without it, you’ll have to do a lot of digging, gathering, and fudging before you come up with a passable answer.
So, what is the best way to overcome these sources of project blind spots? As you might have guessed, the ideal solution would be mandating that your entire team work from a single system that is easy to adopt and facilitates and tracks communication and cost-benefit data analysis.