Skip to content

Project Directors: Take Control Over the Projects! (Part 2)

In the first part of this article, I discussed the fact that, as a Project Director, you need to gain more control over the projects. To do this, two structures should be set up, namely: Portfolio Management and the Project (Program) steering committee. The latter can be done by applying 7 principles, which are based upon the Prince2 principles. In this part I’ll elaborate these.

Principle 1 – Bear the Business Case and act accordingly: Even though, at the level of portfolio management, a consensus has been reached that the project should be executed, at the start of the project it must be assessed again whether or not there is still a business justification for it. Even at that time the decision can be taken not to start the project. Bear in mind that when the project is started, the business case must constantly, during the whole project lifecycle, be monitored and updated with new information. It’s the responsibility of the steering committee to make sure that each stakeholder understands what needs to be done and why it should happen. This to make sure that the change gets accepted by the entire organization. A project doesn’t always proceed as planned, that’s for sure, but that does not automatically means that it fails. A project is called successful when it’s properly corrected in unforeseen circumstances. The foundation for efficient and effective control when things do not go according to plan is the business case. This business case has to be supported by all stakeholders.

Principle 2 – Learn from experience: As of from the start of the project, learnings and experiences from previous projects should be identified. These could provide interesting knowledge to help us prevent making the same mistakes again and again. This practice should be continued throughout the whole project and at the end of the project, learnings from the current project should be noted down to see what went well and what not, what can be improved in the future, which will be the conditions we must take into consideration and so on. In most projects, lessons learned are not captured at all or captured just before project closure. The steering committee must ensure that these are recorded throughout the whole project, otherwise it is a missed opportunity in the long term and the same mistakes will be made over and over again.

Principle 3 – Involve stakeholders and make them co-responsible: It is important to know who has an interest in the project and its outcome. They need to be identified already at the start of the project. This is done by the project sponsor (as member of the steering committee) and the project manager. From this group of stakeholders, the members of the steering committee are chosen. It should be taken into account that there are three groups that have a particular interest in the project. They represent the organization / management, users and suppliers. As a member of the steering committee, they share responsibility for the success of the project and they will definitely have to make sure that the exact needs are identified, that users are available to test the results, and so on. Although the steering committee is ultimately responsible for the success of the project, a project cannot be successful without the cooperation of other stakeholders. Their involvement is of great importance. This can be achieved by:

• Consult them to find out what needs / requirements they have of the project

• Communicate with them regularly and provide them the correct message

• Involve them at assessing the delivered results

Principle 4 – Provide phase by phase assignments: As mentioned earlier, certain circumstances can affect the project, which makes it almost impossible to establish a conclusive project plan. It’s therefore better to divide the project into different phases. This provides a better overview and makes it easier to direct the project. The project manager has to create a phase plan that can be used by the steering committee to assess whether or not the project is still justified. If not, the project should be adjusted or stopped.

Principle 5 – Manage by exceptions: The steering committee should maintain at all times the control over the project. On the other hand, the members of the steering committee want to efficiently devote their time and do not need to be continuously involved in the execution of the project. To achieve this, use can be made of tolerances. These tolerances indicate the boundaries within which the project manager can make adjustments himself without the steering committees involvement. When there’s a threat that these tolerances become exceeded, the steering committee should be informed so they can make decisions on whether or not to adjust the project or possibly stop it. Tolerances can be allocated at the level of the budget, time, quality, scope and risks. No project runs according to plan, it is therefore an illusion to think that there are no tolerances required. Daily, problems can arise that need adjustment. Without tolerances, this would mean that the project manager should escalate to the steering committee so they can decide what to do with it. This is not workable and is certainly not an efficient use of time.

Principle 6 – Focus on products / Steer on results: Initially, the steering committee must put the focus on the results it wants to achieve, rather than on the activities to create these results. First, ensure that you know what you get (including the quality you get) when you get it and what it will cost. The foundation here is a good project plan which describes the main products. This does not have to be detailed because they will be further elaborated in a stage plan (see principle 4). The project plan will enable you to check whether the results will be delivered on time and comply with the required quality. This should provide enough information so that you still can make timely adjustments if needed.

Principle 7 – Tailor the method to the size and complexity of the project: Each project has its unique environmental factors such as size, complexity, geographical distribution of the team, culture, etc. This requires a customized project approach. The steering committee should therefore ensure that the project manager takes this into account, however without touching the 7 principles.

Conclusion In order to get more control over the projects, the steering committee must dare to take the control. For this, an effort in time and money has to be done in establishing a good clear portfolio and project structure. An effort that, eventually, will ensure that the results will, indeed, be delivered faster and cheaper.