You know the drill. You get a new project by whatever means – usually assigned to you by someone you report to – and then you go about your normal business of preparation, kickoff, and execution. But are you a shoot from the hip type of project manager or are you extremely rigid…following the same very set protocol on each and every project you manage? Do you do everything ‘by the book’ so to speak, or do you follow some sort loose project management process that varies enormously from project to project? Or are you somewhere in between these two ‘extremes’ with your own hybrid methodology that works for you?
I do realize that how we manage projects, the detail and formality involved, and the exact methodology we follow is often dictated by the organization we are working in, but most of us have a tendency to add our own ‘flair’ to the process…however good or bad that might be.
Assuming you have some say in how formal or informal each individual project is run, what’s your process for deciding? What ingredients go into laying the groundwork for how strictly you follow a prescribed methodology for each project engagement that you manage? Please share your thoughts and experiences. As for me, I get handed a project and I generally go through these items to decide exactly how the project schedule will look and how much detail is going to be needed:
The account manager
If there was a ‘sales guy’ or account manager overseeing the customer engagement process, then this person is going to be my best first source of information about the project, budget, timeline, and customer. Depending on the project and customer, this may be the decision point on how the project needs to be run. You might find out enough info from this person to know right away that the customer wishes or requires that the engagement be managed and reported on very formally or perhaps the industry (government, etc.) requires it. Likewise you may learn – as I did on one small project – that the customer was overly concerned with budget (almost to the point of being obsessive) so that may tell you a less detailed approach and fewer hours put into very formal documentation may be the proper route to take.
The statement of work (SOW) is the next go-to source of information for calculating how you might want to run the project. A good SOW, if one is available to you, will tell you about the deliverables, milestones and assumptions and may give you some good information about the formal processes and documentation that will be needed and expected on the engagement.
The next source is the customer. When it’s time for the PM to have that first discussion with the project customer often some pointed questions will give the PM ideas about how the project should be managed, how the customer should be engaged and managed and how much formality should be built into the project. Don’t get me wrong, I am definitely a fan of erring on the formal side because you really can’t over plan and over document, but some customers don’t want it, some projects just don’t need it, and some small project budgets will just never be able to handle it.
Finally, the budget and timeline will tell you a lot about how to build out the project and how much formality you can inject into it. Small budgets and short timeframes are rarely going to give a PM and team time to create all the usual formal planning documents that you would expect to see on a yearlong, $1M project. Be a wise manager of the budget and timeframe given to you on the project.
It would be easy if all projects had to be run exactly the same. Well, not easy, but it would take the guesswork out of the process. But in my opinion it would also make project management boring. Some organizations don’t allow for variations on how projects are run, but many do and a little creativity can be a good thing.
What are your thoughts? What changes things from project to project for you?