Time and again, projects that fail do so as a result of similar types of issues, such as poor planning, lack of leadership, people problems, inefficient communication process, changing requirements, missed deadlines, and much more (although every project is unique with reference to the scope).
We are aware that everyone can now access a plethora of resources, tools, and expert advice to avoid common project management issues and drive project success.
For this reason, we have prepared four unique, specific, and practical, real-life project management examples that hopefully will provide you with valuable information that you won’t find anywhere else on the Internet.
For each of these examples, we will explain the strategy we have applied to manage constraints, overcome challenges, keep the project on track and, finally, deliver successful outcomes.
Finally, we will provide you with our Project Management Toolbox that we’ve gradually created based on the experience gained with these projects (and a myriad of other projects that we tackled and successfully managed over the years).
For sure, you already have your personal Project Management Toolbox based on your own experience and personal learnings. Nevertheless, we would be more than delighted if you could get some inspiration from our toolbox (especially in moments of turmoil) and put some of our secrets into practice with your own projects.
Table of contents:
- 4 real-life project management issues & the right tools to solve them
- Focus HQ’s Project Management Toolbox – Best tools & techniques for success
1. 4 Real-Life Project Management Issues & The Right Tools To Solve Them
1. Structuring the decision-making process based on achievement criteria to avoid caramel
Our first case study is a real-life example of how we structured a highly critical decision-making process and helped everyone involved in the project achieve the desired outcomes.
But first, here is some background information: After the first country went live as a pilot in a global rollout program, it was found that one of the technical components was a misfit. As a result, this situation was putting at risk the entire future rollout.
Without a doubt, everyone was sceptical and needed to decide whether it’s best to get rid of that component and switch to an alternate solution (which would have delayed the entire rollout with increased costs) or keep it and continue with the project. The big question was how the team and the executive committee could easily make a good decision as many efforts had been previously invested in fixing the project delivery.
What we did to fix this issue was to create a decision flowchart. We’ve documented all the achievements on a weekly basis. Each week, we used to sit with the executive committee and compare the actual progress against the plan. In the first four weeks, it was evident that we were not going anywhere. In parallel with that, we’ve also created an alternative plan (plan B).
The decision flowchart was extremely handy as it helped us switch to the alternate plan (plan B) and deliver it while keeping the CEOs with us in a transparent manner.
To sum up, when we went through a critical and difficult decision-making process, we identified the achievement criteria and transparently communicated with the CEOs in order to take them on the journey.
What is remarkable is this learning is that it highlights how everyone needs to be brave (project managers, project managers, executive committee, etc.) to face this process and involve everyone in the decision-making process.
2. Using front-end loading (and other best practices) to avoid UAT storm
Our second real-life project management example is related to a very ambitious program that had been previously attempted earlier, and it was unsuccessful.
In this case, we’ve built the custom ERP. The global template was the solution for one specific country.
Our apprehension was that the business might reject it when conducting the User Acceptance Testing (UAT). We were expecting the business to come back with a complete list of changes that would have been a considerable risk imposed on the program.
As we’ve anticipated this risk (called “UAT storm”), we communicated it with the business and IT stakeholders and started thinking about measuring the risk mitigation plans.
So, what was the déjà vu here? We were expecting the business to reject something they have not actually seen. Most of the time, it happens for bad reasons, and IT cannot really fight it out.
This situation created a hostile environment, and the whole program came under stress. The challenge for us was to control the project scope and prevent scope creep (as we had no time to change).
Our first approach to fix this issue was to approve the risk. Then, we’ve introduced the solution to the business and the business to the solution: we’ve called this “Core Model Validation” (instead of Gap analysis – however, gaps were raised during those sessions although we didn’t call the model “Galp analysis”).
The reason why we’ve introduced the Core Model Validation was to give the business an opportunity to bring more changes (that we’ve called “observations”).
Then, we’ve prioritised the observations by introducing the MoSCoW analysis (which stands for “Must have” (M), “Should have” (S), “Could have” (C) and “Won’t have” (W). As a result, the business gave us all the critical must-haves which allowed us to go live. After going live, we’ve also delivered the desired outcomes.
These practices have now become a commodity for us. Furthermore, we’ve learnt a few more special techniques, such as adopt vs. adapt (the business adopts changes and tweaks the business process while the IT adapts and changes the solution).
We have also approached the front-end loading process (“Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today.”). As a result, we’ve started bringing a lot of activities forward.
3. Playing the “ball game” to measure and foster velocity across teams
To introduce the ball game while defining a scope, we went through sequential steps shared between business and IT until the business signed off. The pace was a disaster while teams were playing the “blame game” (they were blaming each other for slow velocity).
Sometimes, IT is very technology-centric. So, we’ve introduced the ball game across business and IT to create transparency and visibility for the IT delivery progress.
This fun element of the ball game introduced in a completely serious business was a whole new concept (that helped us foster velocity across multiple teams). The principle was very simple: each team has to keep the ball for the minimum duration in their court, then pass it to the next court.
So, what was the main issue here? Before introducing the ball game, nothing was really progressing in the delivery as each team was assigning blame to other teams.
But thanks to the ball game, we started measuring the movement of scope unit on a daily and weekly basis across multiple teams.
As a result, every team has started taking accountability for their own scope units (although the first reaction of each team to the ball game was “our work is too complex for this naive approach”).
So, the ball game is a fun way of tracking and measuring the actual delivery against the target. The main lesson we’ve learnt thanks to the ball game is velocity (velocity of the scope movement).
4. Fostering team collaboration to achieve success
Our fourth (and final) example is related to team collaboration.
We’re sure you already know that collaboration is key to success.
Imagine you have that kind of environment where multiple service providers are working together, finger-pointing while delivering towards the same outcome (two IT companies started delivering two different technical components of the same program, so the User Acceptance Test was not perfect. As a result, each of these companies started assigning blame to the other).
Of course, that was exactly the opposite of what we wanted. For this reasons, we’ve sent an email to everyone (including our multiple service providers) showing the picture of a boat with four people aboard that begins sinking off, while one of the people abroad is saying, “I’m sure glad the hole isn’t at our end” (the picture explains how a lot of people think – They let other people fix a problem without realising that it’s going to affect them as well sooner or later).
The picture has been discussed at all levels. We’ve reminded everyone that there is only one winner and loser in the program. After sending this key message, the scenario has completely changed as people changed their behaviour.
In this example, the key point is that we need to share success. In a team model, the winner or loser is only one. You cannot get different outcomes for different people that are part of the same team.
2. Focus HQ’s Project Management Toolbox – Best Tools & Techniques For Success
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, we’ve gathered some of our most valuable learnings in the form of this toolbox (some of the lessons we’ve learnt are based on the real life examples above, while others are based on the experience we’ve gained thanks to other projects).
You (and anyone else) can relate to it whenever you are looking to kick off a project (no matter the project type you are working on).
Below you will find 14 practices that we’ve gathered in our Project Management Toolbox:
1. Plan is sacred – Planning is the most critical step in project management. It may not be the
most enjoyable project phase, but it is crucial for reducing risks.
2. Know what you have to do every day, day by day – Your team need to know what they have to do every day. You need to properly define roles and responsibilities in order to empower your team, improve cohesion, and achieve goals faster.
3. Every minute counts – Effective time management is critical for projects, people and processes, so make sure you keep your resources accountable and make every minute count.
4. Set and share your targets – If you push people to share their plans, they will be fully committed to meeting them. Think of someone who is trying to quit smoking. If they do not share their intention to quit smoking, they may not be able to do it. But if they share their plans with their family and loved ones, they have higher chances to quit smoking and reach their goals.
5. Reprioritise for efficiency – Sometimes, projects need to be re-evaluated for appropriate reprioritisation. Make sure you reprioritise work whenever it is necessary in order to quickly react to changes.
6. Bring solutions, not problems – In project management, you must consistently deliver solutions (and not just problems). For example, you can propose a number of possible solutions to fix a specific problem.
7. We all depend on each other – A team is more than a group of people working together. A team is a group of people who trust each other, rely on one another, and depend on each other while sharing a common goal.
8. Don’t close tomorrow what you can close today – This concept is similar to the front-end loading concept, and it creates contingency for the team at project level.
9. Front-end loading – As mentioned in the first section of this article, front-end loading enables you to bring many activities forward and focus on high degrees of pre-planning at the front end of your project to identify and control risks.
10. Ownership, passion, and wow ability – In project management, you need ownership (using your management skills to effectively own the project), passion (passion plays a key role in determining whether or not your project will be successful) and wow ability (the ability to exceed expectations).
11. Collaborate and communicate – For effective collaboration and communication (that are critical for project success), you need to create a culture of transparency, remove silos, and rely on accurate project management tools (such as the one provided by Focus HQ).
12. Be strong – ask for help – This rule is especially applicable to multicultural environments. Way too often, asking for help is seen as a sign of weakness. So, you have to teach your team that asking for help is the only way to grow and be successful.
13. Plan B – When your project gets stuck or is in a rapidly changing environment, you need to have an alternative route (which is plan B that may help you avoid project failure).
14. Be humble and continuously learn – The project manager is like the head of a family. They drive actions, protect their teams, and share the success. As a project manager, you need to be humble and create a habit of continuous learning which is a key element for a successful team.
Summary: In this post, we have seen enough examples proving that delivery and strategy execution is key for business outcomes.
In the first example we provided, we’ve seen how to structure a critical decision-making process based on achievement criteria and transparently enforce the decision in the right direction.
In the second example, you’ve learnt more about UAT storms and project management practices, such as the Core Model Validation, MoSCoW analysis, adopt vs adapt principle, and the front-end loading process that helps you create contingency.
The third example highlighted how a fun game (the ball game) could help you measure and track the fifth project management constraint – velocity. Of course, other project constraints such as scope, cost, quality etc., remain important constraints defined by the PMBOK, but velocity has become the new norm in the current business environment.
Finally, the fourth example has highlighted the importance of collaboration and the one-team approach in a multi-partner scenario.
Each of these examples provides valuable lessons that we used to create our project Management Toolbox (while also adding lessons that we’ve learnt from other projects where we encountered issues).
We invite you to use all of these valuable lessons to build your own Project Management Toolbox (or improve your already existing one).
If you need an efficient tool to predict, automate, and guide all of your projects to success, do not hesitate to start your90-day NO-OBLIGATION FREE trial with Focus HQ. You will get 24/7 access to a myriad of amazing features that will enable you to deliver your projects on time and within budget and realise the expected benefits.