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Plan Properly for Peak Project Performance

I spent two days at Project Challenge last month.

One of the presentations I managed to catch was entitled “Better planning makes better projects”, and was given by Paul Kidston and Simon Taylor of the Association for Project Management‘s (APM) Planning, Monitoring & Controls Specific Interest Group (PMCSIG). You might think that this title is basic common sense, but organisational experience shows that project plans by themselves are not generally a good predictor of either project end dates or overall projects costs. Having created the initial plan, effective controls need to be applied during the course of the project to ensure the plan remains a usable road map to project delivery. So there is plenty of opportunity for the project management function to be a whole lot better at it!
With this in mind, PMCSIG has taken a “back to basics” approach and written a book on planning and controls, couched in plain English to make it easy to use as possible. I will shortly be reading and reviewing the book, but in the meantime (to help you decide whether the book is worth a closer look) here are my key take-aways from the presentation (which was effectively a “taster” of the book):

  • Senior Execs are often puzzled by the lack of correlation between the reporting of project finances and the achievement of project milestones. This is often due to ineffective communication between the project planner and the project accountant. Get these people to talk to each other about the cost of each piece of the delivery and how they are phased in time, and the correlation [and reporting transparency] improves.
  • The progress on work packages reported to the PM is often on the optimistic side of reality, and so is the forecast of overall project costs (see also my own posts on Watermelon Reporting). Add to this a dash of the PM’s own optimism, and by the time project reports reach the Senior Executives, they are often greener than they should be (see also my own posts on Green Side Up Reporting). This limits the Senior Executives’ opportunity to use their influence to help the PM apply corrective action. The application of (even light touch) Earned Value Analysis can help greatly here.
  • People don’t learn anything from doing things the right way; they learn from making mistakes. To save you the trouble of making uncomfortable (and potentially expensive, and career-impeding) mistakes, the PMCSIG has taken a long, hard look at their collective library of mistakes. They have included in the manual both the lessons they learned from making those mistakes, and steps you can take to avoid making those mistakes yourself.

The APMG has devised an exam and qualification based on the book, with the overarching aim of increasing the quality of project planning and controls, moving us closer to a world where all projects succeed.

On the basis of this presentation, I look forward to reading the book. As to what I think of the book, watch this space..!
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