Make or Break with Project Management

Project management is critical to ensuring projects are implemented correctly, on time and within budget. Good project management also communicates to your management or stakeholder that you are a professional. These are thoughts from my experience managing many projects and consulting to clients on projects. The most valuable lessons were learned when taking over projects that were in serious trouble.
Management Structure
There should be one person designated as project manger. In small projects with a lead designer, that person is the project manager. Larger projects may have people responsible for parts of the project and they receive direction from the overall project manager.  
While each project is unique; cost control, timeline development, resource procurement and risk management are standards that stay the same. This applies to any kind of project including one time custom projects, multisite projects, and new product developments. By applying a proven process, managers increase the probability that projects are completed in the most effective and efficient manner. It is important to optimize the use of resources, increase quality, and enable team members to concentrate on important tasks.  
In my experience, you cannot afford to cut corners on project management. The time put in up front on project planning and management pays big dividends later. A good project manager knows how to balance the amount of project management activities so that it is effective and does not become busy work. A good project manager also knows that effective project management means other team members must be regularly informed about project management issues and collaborate to solve them.  
Project Analysis & Design
Before any work is preformed there should be discovery and analysis of requirements for a number of things.
Define Stakeholders
Develop a list of the people that will be stakeholders in this project. This may include management, operators, maintenance, IT, and production planning. Develop a checklist of requirements with stakeholders to clearly understand their needs.
Understand Requirements
Thoroughly understand and document the requirements, obtain agreement in writing with stakeholders, and put requirements documents under version and change control.
Functional Design
Create a high level functional design document of the structure, major modules, physical material flow and data flow for the deliverables. This needs to be written down and reviewed using design walk troughs in a group to identify logical errors, potential bottlenecks, and create better design ideas. This high level functional design must address all stakeholder requirements. Measure the functional design with stakeholder requirement checklists to be sure the functional design satisfies the requirements.
Estimate Project
It is essential to create a project estimate that includes timeline and resource requirements. The timeline should clearly show major project deliverables and end results that are meaningful to the stakeholders. In areas that are unclear, ranges of time and cost can be used.
Prepare a plan that defines the scope, schedule, cost, and approach for a reasonable project. Involve task owners in developing plans and estimates, to ensure feasibility and buy-in. If your plan is just barely possible at the outset, you do not have a reasonable plan. Use a work breakdown structure to provide coherence and completeness to minimize unplanned work surprises.
Risk Assessment
Identify major risks to cost and schedules. What can go wrong? Attempt to minimize by altering the functional design or gaining agreement from stakeholders to reduce the requirements if necessary. It is much less painful at this stage than later.
Project Plan
The project plan is the focal point for project activity and contains the following elements:  
  • Functional description of the final deliverable.
  • Checklist of stakeholder requirements to be satisfied as the design progresses.
  • Project timeline with major millstones defining deliverables.
  • Project cost and price estimate that matches the functional description and time line.
  • Project Change Request Procedure
Project Change Request Procedure
Because changes impact project costs and schedules, a project change request procedure must be defined in advance. A Project Change Request (PCR) is a request during the life of a project to change a project deliverable. Change requests and approvals must be documented. Before a change is accepted, the cost, schedule implications and other impacts of the project change must be estimated and proposed to the primary stakeholder. Once approved the changes need to be added to the project specification.
Project Management
Good project management throughout the project requires the orchestration of a number of things. Below are a number of elements that are important in this process.  
Pro-active Management
Take initiative and be relentlessly proactive in identifying and solving problems as they arise. Project problems usually get worse over time so attack them early. Periodically address project risks and confront them openly. Attack problems, and leave no stone unturned. Fight any tendency to freeze into day-to-day tasks, like a deer caught in the headlights.
Creeping Elegance
Creative designers and stakeholders naturally have better ideas as the project progresses. The project manager must make judgments to decide if enhancements should be simply added or require analysis before deciding to increase scope. These judgments need to be made on facts and estimates. This all needs to be balanced with schedule requirements.
Ensure Stakeholder Satisfaction - Keep your eye on the overall project promises.
Keep the stakeholder's real needs and requirements continuously in view; a project is fulfilling a promise to the stakeholders. Undetected changes in stakeholder requirements or not focusing the project on the stakeholder's business needs are sure paths to project failure.
If it hasn’t been written down, it didn’t happen.
Write important stuff down, share it, and save it. It is important to document requirements, plans, procedures, and evolving designs. Documenting thoughts allows them to evolve and improve. Without documentation it is impossible to have baseline controls, reliable communications, or a repeatable process. Record all important agreements and decisions, along with supporting rationale and add this to the specification.
Track project status and give it wide visibility.
Track progress and conduct frequent reviews. Provide wide visibility and communications of team progress, assumptions, and issues. On most projects this needs to be done at least once a week. Conduct methodical reviews of management and technical topics to help manage stakeholder expectations, improve quality, and identify problems before they get out of hand. Trust your indicators. This is part of paying attention.
An issue is something that potentially jeopardizes project success. Keep a list of issues and review them at least weekly. Issues and their resolution must be documented.
Design Progress Reviews
Regular design reviews, generally weekly, are important because the designer is deep in a project working with many items and others reviewing it can come at it from another perspective.  This is not design by committee; ultimately the lead design person on the project makes the design decisions.
Leverage the knowledge of coworkers, suppliers, and other resources to be efficient. Don't wait until the project has gone south to get their help. When there is ambiguity don’t hesitate to get support from suppliers and other resources. The objective is to get past obstacles, not to prove that we can solve any problem ourselves.
Many engineers have the tendency to spend time to “figure” things out themselves rather than seeking help from others. Suppliers in particular can be a great source for problem solving since they deal with a wide range of projects.
If it hasn't been tested, it doesn't work.
Develop test cases early to help with understanding and verification of the requirements. Use early testing to verify critical items and reduce technical risks. Professionals rigorously test; take it seriously.
Quality Management
There must be a Quality Plan that describes how the project team will assure the quality and “fit for use” of the project's deliverables.
With project management, it is easy to cut corners. Any shortcuts can be costly.  

About The Author

Lydon brings more than 10 years of writing and editing expertise to, plus more than 25 years of experience designing and applying technology in the automation and controls industry. 

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