Project Management Survival Guide

Last week, GovLoop hosted our Government Innovator’s Online Summit. In the fifth and final session, “Project Management Survival Guide,” we heard from two experts in the field of project management, Dr. Bill Brantley and Scott R. Macrae.

First up was Dr. Brantley, certified Project Management Professional (PMP), who provided attendees with some advice on managing small projects. The definition of a small project varies from industry to industry; in government small projects are those with short deadlines, small budgets, and small teams. In order to successfully complete a small project, everyone involved – sponsors, the project manager and team, customers and other stakeholders – must know and agree on three things: why the project is being done, what product(s) will be produced, and what successful completion of the project looks like. These three points must be clearly communicated with all stakeholders.

Communication is important, particularly with small projects. Clear and well-documented communication keeps people engaged and on board with the project as it progresses. Poor communication is the number one reason why small projects fail, but it’s not something that happens on its own. Successful project management requires planning in multiple areas, including communication.

A problem that often arises with small projects is a lack of formal planning. When a project has a small budget and short timeline, it is easy to think that formal planning is not necessary – that tasks will simply be assigned and the work will get done. This clearly doesn’t happen with every small project, making it necessary to engage in some sort of formal planning process.

Any planning process should address the following:

  • Tasks: Though tasks are often smaller, they can mount quickly. Team members need to know what tasks need to be completed and who is responsible for completing them.
  • Resources: Particularly in government (and with small projects), teams often don’t have all of the resources that they need. They must make the best of what they have and be sure not to not waste any resources.
  • Costs: Small projects often have few costs, but unexpected costs can kill the project
  • Risks: Important to think about and monitor risks
  • Communication: Keep everyone in the loop, document communication

Planning is not a onetime process – it’s important to re-examine the plan on a regular basis and update it if necessary.

Next, Scott R. Macrae, Senior Associate at Booz Allen Hamilton and a project management instructor at the University of Maryland, discussed project charters.

Project charters serve an important purpose, formally authorizing and assigning the project manager to the project. They document what resources are available for the project and the organizational constraints that exist, define the end objective, and really lay out what the project manager can do. They are issued by the project sponsor and must be signed by a manager at an appropriate level. Generally speaking, higher level sponsors increase the chances of successful project completion.

The elements of a project charter include:

  • Business need: What problem are we addressing with this project?
  • Purpose: Justification and description of what project completion looks like (How do we know when we’re done?)
  • Project manager(s) and authority level
  • Major milestones: may not be defined until later in project
  • Primary stakeholders: contact information, level of interest, impact on project
  • High-level assumptions, constraints, budget
  • Signatures

Q &A

1) How valuable is a PMP?

Projects are much more likely to be successfully completed when managed by project management professionals. Whether people get certification or not, project management education can provide valuable skills and knowledge that can be used in other contexts.

2) What if you don’t have a project management culture?

Convince others of the importance of project management by putting aside the jargon and talking about doing work more efficiently and effectively and delivering desired results. Integrate elements of project management into the work that you’re doing to make people more comfortable, with end goal of adopting some of the practices in the workplace.

3) Is a PMP certification only relevant for IT professionals? How does one convince managers that project management skills go beyond

No, PMP certifications can be done by any project manager. IT and engineering projects have historically been poorly managed, thus lots of PMP certified folks in those fields. Any fields in which there are projects can benefit from PMP certification. To convince managers of importance of PMP certification, provide examples of projects you do and how they could be done more efficiently.

4) What are the best ways to leverage the expertise of constituents and stakeholders throughout a project?

Develop stakeholder identification and communication plans and use them together. Communicating with stakeholders is key.

5) Are there specific methodologies that you recommend?

Agile, Lean Six Sigma, Adaptive Case Management

Leave a Comment


Leave a Reply