That’s right! How IT Project Management can make YOU a millionaire.
Er, I suppose, during your lunch break, you could buy a lottery ticket.
Did you expect more from the header of this post? Did I build your expectation unrealistically? Apologies, it’s more than a devious bit of click-bait though. In IT Project Management, the temptation to over-promise is still rife and under-delivering is a pain still suffered by many as a result. Managing expectations is tricky.
Tricky, but crucial.
If expectations are unrealistic then all the planning, resource allocation, governance, scheduling, scope definition, and budget setting in the world won’t stop you ending up with a perceived failure on your hands. So, here are just five ways to meet great expectations.
Always Have The Best Players On YOUR Team.
This may seem obvious, after all, who would start an IT Project with under par staff?!
It’s deeper than that though. When you break down a project into tasks and assign the best person to complete those tasks, sometimes there are capability gaps. Many project leaders fill these gaps in-house but this can often overstretch other parts of the project. Others look to the Project Management as a Service market to find solutions, some opt for a hybrid of the two. The point is that they have a strategy for ensuring that the best available talent is always available and you should too!
To stakeholders, IT Project expectations should look as elegant as a swan, above the surface, they have no interest that below the waterline you are paddling like mad – they just want the elegant swan! Having access to the right talent helps you deliver on agreed expectations.
1 – Build-In Project Warm-Up Time
Have you ever exercised? Or been to see a football or rugby match? Or marvelled at Mo Farah sprinting to the finish line? Did you or they jump straight in and set off at breakneck speed? Of course, they didn’t – they and you warmed up first. It takes a bit of time at the start but pays back throughout the exercise session, game or race.
Often Projects fail to build in a clearly outlined “warm-up” period where Project Managers and stakeholders can assess the road ahead, suss out the pitfalls and devise ‘work-arounds’ – effectively warm up their project management muscles. When you break down the project into chunks, set realistic timelines and budgets and define the scope you reduce the risk of scope creep, stress and avoidable delays, expectations that are created in such an atmosphere of calm, measured thoughts are the ones that stand the greatest chance of being met.
2 – Start With The End In Mind
The best project managers do this when planning. Visualise the end result and then work backwards.
There are two ways to do this.
If you haven’t agreed on a delivery date yet, assess the work required. With a picture of what your delivered project will look and feel like, break down the tasks needed for completion into timed chunks. Add the time together and then build in the room to manoeuvre around any obstacles that may crop up along the way. Build in a period for that warm-up session and the accumulated time is the lifecycle of your project. Decide upon a start date and then project forward based on your calculations until you have your delivery date which you can then communicate to stakeholders. This forecast is based firmly on a forensic analysis of the duration of tasks needed so you can justifiably turn down requests for bringing forward delivery and not eliminate the risk of falling short of expectations.
If, on the other hand, you have agreed on a definite delivery date, start with that and create a work plan that still includes some time for meeting unexpected challenges. For instance, if you need to deliver your project in four months, plan the work and tasks as if they were completed at optimum speed … then you know how much wriggle room you have. Let’s say your accumulated plan consists of three months’ worth of tasks then you have a month to fight project monsters.
Important Note: I have seen Project Managers promise that they’ll be able to deliver a month ahead of schedule in cases like this … don’t do that! This time belongs to you – not the stakeholders. It is breathing space for delays, errors and ‘miscalculations’. If everything does complete early then that is your moment of glory.
3 – Have Transparent Mile Markers
When you work backwards like this you can easily set markers along the way of what your project will look like at different stages of the lifecycle. Don’t keep these to yourself … if you expect the beta version of the app you’re working on to be ready for testing three months in – share that with your client.
It’s not just something for everyone to look forward to, it’s also a useful expectation benchmark. Imagine if there is a problem and the testing is delayed a week, a client who is in the loop can adjust their expectation around full delivery.
In my experience, clients who are kept abreast of progress and issues along the way are more understanding of delayed delivery than those who get a call on their way to the launch party.
4 – Anticipate Problems
It’s not being negative to assume that things will go wrong. Anticipating problems is halfway to solving them.
One of the biggest challenges with IT Projects is that problems can come at you from many different angles, vendor issues, other projects using your resources, stakeholder scope change requests, a competitor’s launch that renders your project outdated, etc, etc, etc.
Using some of that warm-up time to try to see around a few corners can pay back handsomely – Forewarned is forearmed. The best project managers almost seem telepathic and they always meet expectations despite being beset by a seemingly endless procession of challenges.
5 – Governance, Governance, Governance
Ultimately, an IT Project’s best defence against unmatched expectations is governance. It’s not a quick fix, it’s hard work but the difference it makes to project outcomes is measurable.
A school friend’s mum used to say, “what gets nagged gets done”. Governance gives you command and control of outcomes and therefore also gives you your best shot at meeting expectations.
I’m a bit a champion of governance but I understand that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. One IT Project Manager told me that he was “no good at governance” because he was a creative type. It is a “left-brained” activity and therefore favours more logical, analytical, and objective individuals. I understand why more creative PMs see this as boring admin.
The Project Management as a Service market has people, processes and methodologies that are effectively a governance patch for your project, so there’s no excuse.
In conclusion, I am surprised that IT projects still fail to deliver on expectations. It’s usually because someone somewhere has unrealistic ambitions. I guess that really comes down to communication. Try these tips and get in touch if you need more help.
In the meantime, good luck with that lottery ticket. If you win the jackpot remember who told you to buy it. I hope it’s not an unrealistic expectation that you’ll share your good fortune with me.