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Most studies that have followed have come up with broadly the same reasons. All of these use basic human skills and techniques that have been in place for many, many years. Or has the nature of the skill changed? Many projects have multiple objectives which can cause confusion with different people focusing on different things. We think there should be a single objective with the rest of the desirables identified as success criteria or factors.

The Four Phases of Project Management

This aided the development of a sense of ownership and commitment within the team and helped make sure the plan resembled the probable reality. Without this dialogue we plan in isolation, we lose the collective commitment and the assortment of plans leads to false views of timing and achievable end dates. In most surveys of project failure, communication ranks as one of the key factors. Communication channels can be considered as the veins of Project Management where information is the life blood of a project and it needs to flow effortlessly through them; the analogy with our own bodies is obvious.


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We have seen too many projects where there is neither a communications strategy nor a plan. Communication links within good Governance so that the channels are bi-directional; it is essential that concerns at the work-face can be fed back to senior management without fear of reprisal of any kind.

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Just look at some of the issues identified by the National Audit Office in September for the DWP Universal Credit programme: unclear objectives; unrealistic plan; inappropriate team; poor communication; ineffective controls. This means project managers have had to adapt their approaches and skills to deal much more fully with the people dimension, set within the context of uncertainty and change, where the basic tools, skills and outlook are still relevant but need to be applied with heightened awareness.

We have found the skilful use of interactive project simulations to be invaluable in bringing knowledge taught into action in a safe but realistic environment. Importantly, through this guided experiential learning the knowledge and capability stick and this helps us all move forward with the necessary skills to steer clear of project failures. When unexpected events affect one task, many other interdependent tasks may also be quickly impacted. Thus, solving problems as soon as they emerge is vital for maintaining work progress. To facilitate this, Allan and his team of five to eight members traveled to each university and stayed on site for an extended period of time.

By spending days and nights with the scientists and helping them solve their problems — not as auditors but as colleagues — the JPL team gradually became accepted as partners. Most projects are characterized by an inherent incompatibility: The various parties to the project are loosely coupled, whereas the tasks themselves are tightly coupled. When unexpected events affect one task, many other interdependent tasks are quickly affected. Yet the direct responsibility for these tasks is distributed among various loosely coupled parties, who are unable to coordinate their actions and provide a timely response.

Project success, therefore, requires both interdependence and trust among the various parties. However, if one of the parties believes that project planning and contractual documents provide sufficient protection from unexpected problems, developing collaboration among all the parties may require creative and bold practices. Three months into construction, the contractor accidentally placed a set of foundations 10 inches inside the planned periphery and poured about lineal feet of striped foundation in the wrong place.

Recognizing that firm commitments cannot be made on the basis of volatile information, they develop plans in waves as the project unfolds and information becomes more reliable. With their teams, they develop detailed short-term plans with firm commitments while also preparing tentative long-term plans with fewer details.

To ensure that project milestones and objectives are met, these long-term plans include redundancies, such as backup systems or human resources. One key difference between the traditional planning approach, in which both short- and long-term plans are prepared in great detail, and the rolling wave approach becomes evident when implementation deviates from the plan. In the rolling wave approach, project managers also attempt to answer the question: What can we learn from the performance data to improve the next cycle of planning?

In particular, they attempt to learn from their mistakes — to prevent an unexpected event from recurring. Successful project managers do not limit the learning process to the planning phase but also use it for project reviews. Therefore, he modified the process to give his team the best input for identifying problems and the best advice for solving them. In its place, Marty developed a review process that provided feedback from independent, supportive experts and encouraged joint problem solving rather than just reporting.

Get semi-monthly updates on how global companies are managing in a changing world. The first thing Marty did was unilaterally specify the composition of the review panel to fit the unique needs of his project, making sure that the panel members agreed with his concept of an effective review process. This modified process enabled Marty to create a working climate based on trust and respect, in which his team members could safely share their doubts and concerns.

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At the end of the second day, the entire panel held a summary meeting. It was agreed that the review session had been a big success. Successful managers of more traditional projects, such as designing and building manufacturing facilities, also practice learning-based project reviews. These last four to eight hours and follow a simple protocol: First, the project team concisely communicates its technical and execution strategies, and then the floor is opened to all the invited peers for comments, critique and clarifying questions.

Externally, the project, which was part of a larger NASA program, inherited part of a budget overrun in an earlier project. Don, the project manager, believed that without immediate changes the project would continue down the same bumpy road, with the likely result that cost and time objectives would not be met. To prevent this, he made an extremely unpopular decision: He stopped the development of the instruments, calling on every science team to revisit its original technical requirements to see how they could be reduced.

In every area — instruments, spacecraft, ground operation, integration and testing — scientists had to go back and ask such questions as: How much can I save if I take out a circuit board — and how much performance will I lose if I do take it out? To seal the agreement, he assured them that, by using descoping tactics, the project would not go over budget. Completed early and below budget, the spacecraft has provided excellent scientific data ever since. The original project manager for the second attempt was dismissed in midcourse due to poor performance, and a new project manager, Terry, replaced him.

To keep costs under control, Terry decided to have two contractors compete for the final contract. Terry quickly realized that both contractors were approaching the development too conservatively and that unless he took a more radical approach, the project would be canceled again. Therefore, he told the contractors to completely disregard the military standards and adhere to only three key performance parameters. One of the contractors, Lockheed Martin, took this directive seriously and changed its approach dramatically.

It decided to build the missile fuselage not out of metal but out of composites. And to accomplish this, it found a company that made baseball bats and golf club shafts. The company had never built a military product, but it knew how to weave carbon fiber and was open-minded.


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Following trials with several prototypes, this company was able to manufacture a product of the highest quality. Lockheed Martin transformed this small company from a baseball bat provider to a cruise missile supplier, which led to Lockheed Martin winning the contract — as well as to remarkable cost reductions. As noted earlier, when unexpected events affect one task, many other interdependent tasks may also be quickly impacted.

As Leonard R. Sayles and Margaret K. In a recent knowledge development meeting, a group of 20 project managers at The Boldt Company, a construction services company based in Appleton, Wisconsin, focused on how best to cope with unexpected events. It became evident that most of the managers employed three complementary practices: hands-on engagement; frequent face-to-face communication; and frequent moving about.

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Regarding hands-on engagement, one project manager, Charlie, said that to solve problems he often engaged in activities such as making phone calls, convening urgent meetings and taking trips to local retail stores to purchase missing parts. Documenting the time it took him to resolve 10 recent problems, Charlie reported that three were resolved within 30 minutes, three within 60 minutes, and three in less than one day; one problem took two days until it was resolved.

Charlie also said that, because of his quick responses, he made one mistake. However, he was able to quickly repair its damage the following day. The entire group at Boldt agreed that maintaining forward momentum was more important than always being right. Very often, the meetings enabled the team to identify and resolve conflicting priorities before they became problems.

Matt noted that, while the primary purpose of the huddle was to update everyone, it also reinforced a spirit of camaraderie and a sense of shared purpose.

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As a result, these meetings turned out to be very valuable for sustaining teamwork. As for the third practice, frequent moving about, one project manager, Tony, described the three primary outcomes of spending 30 minutes a day roaming around the project site.

First, he was able to develop rich and open communication with his team members. Tony explained that while many workers did not feel safe asking him questions during various formal meetings, they felt very comfortable interacting with him freely during his on-site visits, which had a great impact on their motivation. Second, receiving immediate information, and in particular a greater range of information, enabled him to identify problems early on. At times, he was able to detect conflicts before they actually became an issue.

He found that coming to the weekly and monthly planning and scheduling meetings equipped with firsthand, undistorted information allowed him to address questions and solve problems much better. The Boldt project managers did not agree on the preferred timing for moving about and, in particular, whether one should schedule the visits, as Tony did, or leave their timing flexible. However, they all agreed that moving about is a most effective practice that should be applied as often as possible. These three practices are not limited to construction projects. For example, in the previously mentioned JASSM project, which was geographically dispersed, all three practices necessary to maintain forward momentum were employed by the various project managers at each production site.

Acknowledging the emergence of a problem is a necessary first step, allowing the project manager to respond quickly and effectively. Some organizations assume that almost all problems can be prevented if the project manager is competent enough — resulting in project managers who are hesitant to admit that they are facing an emerging problem.

In fact, a recent study indicates that project managers submit biased reports as often as 60 percent of the time. In contrast, the two prevailing project management approaches, the traditional approach and the agile approach, do not require project managers to encompass all three orientations. The traditional approach primarily intention-driven stresses information, whereas the agile approach primarily event-driven stresses people and action.

By assuming the four roles discussed in this article, the successful project managers we studied are both intention- and event-driven and embrace all three orientations. Developing collaboration requires them to be people-oriented. Integrating planning and review with learning requires them to be information-oriented.

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Project management

Preventing major disruptions requires them to be action-oriented. Finally, maintaining forward momentum, which is pursued throughout a project, requires them to adopt all three orientations. Senior managers must ensure that all three orientations are considered when selecting project managers and developing project management methodologies. Geraldi et al. Geraldi, L. Lee-Kelley and E. See also I. Holmberg and M. Tengblad Oxford, U. Aaltonen, J. Kujala, P. Lehtonen and I. Piperca and S. For examples of the poor statistics of project results, see T.

Flyvbjerg, M. Skamris Holm and S. Boehm and R. For the idea that building trust requires deliberate and careful choice, see R. Solomon and F.