18.04.2011 Opinion

Project management: Simple truths – but essential ones

By Immo Böhm, MD Afresh Consult.
Project management: Simple truths – but essential ones
18.04.2011 LISTEN

Many organisations struggle with projects of all sorts, not only when implementing business software systems. That is quite understandable since executing projects of any kind is a complex activity. If some simple truths are taken into account, bringing such initiatives to a successful conclusion is the likely outcome - rather than seeing them go down in flames, says Immo Böhm, Afresh Consult MD.

Topping the list is the immutable fact that some things just have to take some time. While there is some leeway (which is literally bought – faster means more expensive), accept that nothing happens instantly, especially not an enterprise software project. In the 'instant gratification' culture of the information age, this can be surprisingly difficult to accept – but know that rushing it will result in an even greater cost and longer time to success.

Closely related to the need to appropriately budget for time is the requirement for structure. Most projects must follow a certain sequence; there are no shortcuts and attempting to find one will almost certainly end in disaster.

And if these maxims seem obvious, but satisfying to have in the open, consider this one: 'Nothing is impossible for the person who doesn't have to do it.' That goes to the heart of what can often become a major stumbling block on a complex, time consuming project. Probably most importantly is how this applies to salespeople, who can seek sales by promising the impossible. Those promises can cost later, when the implementation team is saddled with a Herculean task. By the same token, the team leader has to accept that there are limitations to what people can do while bearing in mind the essential requirement for sufficient time.

Bosses tend to demand the occasionally unreasonable – sometimes pushing back is critical to ensure project success. That takes us to the next truism: 'You can con a sucker into committing to an impossible deadline, but you cannot con him into meeting it.' Browbeating individuals or teams into agreeing to a deadline doesn't equal meeting the deadline. If enough time is not provided for, one of two things will happen: the work will be 'completed', but badly, or the project will simply overrun. The end result is likely to be a dissatisfied customer – and a broken team. Your reputation will take a knock, too; nobody wins.

Getting to grips with these truths has a common thread running through: that of communication. While some ERP projects run better than others, all are high intensity. Communication is one of the central factors and a truth in its own right behind ensuring project success.

Consider this: 'I know that you believe that you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.'

Did you look again? That's exactly the point. What one says is not necessarily how the other one hears or understands it. And as more people are involved, the more complex it gets.

It is thus vital to maintain clear communications across a project. Structured meetings, minutes and a centralised system where all communication is stored are considered essential. Collaborate online, retain copies of communication, encourage questions and cross-checks to ensure understanding is reached. All communication about a project must be within the system, be it meetings, minutes, e-mails or even support calls. And remember the last truth, which goes a long way in providing protection: That which is not written down has not been said.' Everything - but absolutely everything – must be documented. Or, more light heartedly, 'When the weight of the project paperwork equals the weight of the project itself, the project can be considered complete!'

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