Managing Long Projects
We all have been there … a project that runs for years. By the time you know that you are not on the right track, it is too late, or risks have been realized. This results in lack of progress in critical areas and shows up as budget and time slippages. It also puts a Project Manager on a reactive path and robs them of the time they need to be forward looking. So how do we avoid this pitfall?
It may seem arduous to think of every eventuality and be prepared for a long journey and a successful product. However, there’s good news. Here are a few useful tricks to help prepare you for the journey and ensure a successful outcome.
Starting with the end in mind
We don’t know what we don’t know is especially true on a long-term project. There are several factors that you may not be able to foresee and account for when you start the project. Thus, creating a comprehensive timeline for the whole project may not be realistic and will not be reflective of eventualities at a later stage. When creating a timeline, it’s my experience that using the final delivery date as the starting point and working backwards can help you just focus on the critical milestones. This may seem counterintuitive, but the end date of the project is one of the solid milestones that a Project Manager can anchor the timeline to. This will give the Project Manager a very good understanding of areas which need special attention or require more resources to complete.
Setting measurable and short-term goals
Once a timeline is defined, one of the key issues a Project Manager faces is lack of clarity to measure progress against the plan. Creating short-term and measurable goals helps the Project Manager break the entire project into small projects, usually of shorter durations. This allows the Project Manager to focus on important near-term tasks and activities, which keeps the project on time and on budget. Setting goals that are specific and measurable with clearly defined success criteria enables measuring the progress of the project. This also gives the Project Manager the ability to adjust one part of the project without making sweeping changes to the entire project plan.
Keeping an eye on overall scope
Another dilemma a Project Manager faces on a long project is managing the scope. There is a very delicate balance between not allowing scope creep while being flexible enough to allow change if it is absolutely necessary. No one wants to deliver a product that is already obsolete or has features that are no longer needed! As a Project Manager, you must know how to differentiate between gold plating and necessary (and deliberate) scope creep. You not only need to watch the scope with an eagle eye yourself, but also ensure that your stakeholders participate actively in managing scope. This is one of the key differentiators between success and failure of a project.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
There is a reason we work as a team. I always tell my project team to “raise your hand early and often” and I follow the same advice myself. The responsibility of the success of a project lies with the Project Manager, but they do not work in a vacuum. It is not always possible to know the answer to every question, but it is always possible to come up with a workable solution when we put our heads together as a team and bring different perspectives into the conversation.