Project success starts with a simple principle. We have to Know What Done looks like before we start.
In Michelangelo's painting to the left, the two fingers are not touching. In the paradigm of a deity this may be sufficient to complete the job. In our our mortal world this is a nice example of almost done.
It's more than common that we are stuck at 90% complete for a long time after the planned completion date. There are several independent variables here that are the sources of this problem.
- The estimated and then planned completion date and the associated budget are incorrect - because they are not credible. So arriving late and over budget is the outcome, since the confident in the actual data and budget was low on day one. We're steering to the wring target.
- The execution of the credible Performance Measurement Baseline is flawed. We can't stay on schedule, budget, or technical performance targets. Why lots of the reasons, but the plan is good but we can't execute.
- The plans and execution churn too much. The target is moving.
So What's a Project Manager to Do?
Here are six steps to creating a credible picture of what done looks like and execution to that understanding.
- Define the work in terms of products or services that must be delivered to implement the needed capabilities from the project.
- Build a strategy showing how each of the deliverables will be produced and how these deliverables will increase in their maturity as time passes.
- Identify the reducible risks for each of the deliverables and the work needed to reduce this risk and the measures of this risk reduction to assure they are handled.
- Build plan of the order of the work that provides the increasing maturity according to the strategy.
- Identify the irreducible risks and margins needed to protect the project from the unfavorable variances that arise. This means schedule margin, cost margin, and technical margin.
- Baseline this information and apply change controls so variances can be used to produce corrective actions.
These six steps can be applied to any project management or product development approach from agile to formal DOD acquisition.
The key here is to connect the Programmatic performance (cost and schedule) with the Technical performance of the project, measure the variances of actuals to plan and take corrective actions to get back on plan or better yet stay on plan.