Project Management Resolutions for 2009

new-yearFast away the old year passes. It’s time for New Year’s Resolutions. Even if you’re not a resolution-making sort of person, the additional challenges the economy imposes on the coming year make it absolutely essential to think through some changes in approach.

Budgets will be tighter, and in the grand tradition of good things that roll downhill, the people who will most feel the squeeze are the people in charge where the rubber meets the road, the project managers. You will be challenged to do more with less, to face multiple changes in strategy and scope, and to achieve success on tighter timelines.

Here are some suggestions for thinking outside the box in 2009:

Manage your team, not your project plan.  Your project plan file is merely a tool for planning and tracking. The key to success is your daily leadership of your team.  Meet frequently with each contributor to your plan to understand where their difficulties are and to suggest tactics for moving past bottlenecks. This is much more valuable to the project than reporting that task 345 is only 45% complete as of the end of the week. This leads to the next resolution, which is:

Embrace collaboration tools aggressively.New times and new challenges call for new tools.  Use project portals to the fullest. Get beyond Level 1 portal usage (shared documents) and fully exploit the discussion and alerts features. Build status dashboards for your executive sponsors, so that status communication becomes more than a once a week meeting or conference call. With widely dispersed teams becoming more the norm than the exception, twitter-like tools can help project managers to keep tabs on the current activities of all team members, and foster real-time assistance when team members tweet about a newly encountered difficulty.

Slim down that project plan!  You just knew there had to be a diet resolution in here somewhere…  Your plan needs only enough detail to quantify effort, predict duration, and define a critical path. More detail beyond that means more overhead in terms of status tracking and replanning, and if this is not in the project budget, it’s only going to come out of your personal time.

Build contingency plans into your approach from Day 1. All that stuff about completing projects on time and within budget as the measures of project success is very pie-in-the-sky.  There will be changes in scope. There may be changes in budget before you get to the build phase. The key milestone date may well be pushed up while you are still in the analysis phase. Have a clear idea of what’s essential for launch and what can be deferred from Day 1 and you will be in better shape to roll with the changes.

Align effort with risk.  Don’t spend 80% of the analysis effort on 20% of the business functional domain, unless that 20% is the most mission critical, the most regulated, or the most central to driving revenue. As the  project manager, you must rein in project team members who are focusing on areas that are not really central to the success of the effort. In this new tighter budget, compressed timeline world, there are going to be some bumps in the road. You need to make sure that mission critical requirements are safeguarded at the expense of those business requirements that are less crucial from a bottom line perspective.