Leading Projects: The ten things you most need to know

What your goal is

If you don’t have the answer to the “what do you want?” question, you can forget everything else. This is the first step in defining your project and is the reason for doing it.
The relative importance of Time, Cost and Quality

You also need to know how you will define success, having achieved your goal. What are the time, cost and quality criteria against which your project’s success will be measured and, equally important, when shift happens and you need to change your plans, which of the three must you protect and which can you compromise?

Who your stakeholders are
Your stakeholders will define the success – or not – of your project. So you need to know who they are. They are everyone who has some form of interest in your project: in its delivery process and its outcome. They may be affected by it: they may be able to affect it. Their influence and judgement will ultimately carry more weight than all of your planning, delivery and control efforts.

… and what they care about

So find out what your stakeholders care about and what their attitudes are. You may or may not be able to shift them but must certainly engage actively with their concerns. “You can please all of the people some of the time… ” so make sure that you make informed decisions on whom to please and whom you must upset; negotiate hard and always treat all of your stakeholders with respect.

Your governance processes

The governance process protects the organisations that are spending money, taking the risks and committing their future. Ensure you have in place robust process to fulfil the two essential governance requirements: sound and accountable decision-making, and full-bodied critical oversight.

The critical activities

You need a plan and you need to know which elements of your plan need to be protected to ensure delivery to schedule and to budget, so that you can prioritise your resources accordingly. No one project planning tool is better than any others, but select those which give you the insights you need to understand your delivery process and the information you need to control it when you start to implement.

The resources you will need

Projects require people, money, information, assets and materials. Inventory what you will need and ensure that you can secure them all and put them into your planning process, so that each is in the right place at the right time. Take adequate steps to ensure the availability of scarce or much sought-after resources that can have a tendency to evaporate while you are not looking.

Where the risks lie

Murphy’s law competes with the laws of thermodynamics for the central place in our universe: “If it can go wrong, it will.” Shift happens so you need to plan for it, with a structured risk management process: identify your risks, analyse them, build plans and manage them actively throughout your project lifecycle.

How you are going to control your project

Knowing shift happens, you must resign yourself to the fact that your plans will be out of date pretty soon. So what control processes will you enforce to spot the shift and understand the choices you have to address it? Reporting, change control, risk and issue management, constraint analysis are all vital project management disciplines.

What the key levers are

When you are controlling your project there is usually one or two key levers that you, as project manager, can focus on to keep your project on track,. For some projects it is risk, for others it is schedule, delivery, quality, testing, resource allocation, … If you can diagnose which element or elements are most vital to your success and monitor those with utmost scrutiny, you can maximise your chance of delivering your goal on schedule, on budget and to specification.