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Establishing Project Priority

Establishing Project Priority

As a project manager you’ll likely find yourself managing multiple projects. You may also find yourself going head to head with other departments implementing similar projects, or worse, conflicting projects. Given every organization has different approaches to project management, your odds of success will increase if you know your organization’s approach.

Project priority may shift from quarter to  quarter or year to year. Project portfolio management is a process an organization takes to pick and choose which projects are needed, worthy, and should continue. Just as you might manage your financial portfolio, an organization has a responsibility to manage its portfolio of projects. The value, project champion current success rate of the project manager, and the purpose of a project are all factors a company may use to determine which project takes the highest priority.

Another approach to project management is the creation of a Project Management Office (PMO). The role of the PMO is twofold: it offers traditional project management services for an entire organization, or portion of an organization, and it serves as governing committee for all projects throughout an organization. If your organization were to participate in a PMO relationship, conflict resolution, budgeting, and the process of implementing projects and controlling projects would follow a system of checks and balances unique to your organization.

Your project sponsor should be as excited and motivated by the technology to be implemented as you are. The sponsor hopefully will be able to go to your defense, or more accurately, your project’s defense, should she need to do so. This is one of the fundamental reasons why the right sponsor is needed for the project. A sponsor that lacks the authority, commitment, and ability to protect and promote the project does little to move the project forward.

The goal of a project sponsor is to increase profits through the implementation of the technical project. The project manager acts on behalf of the project sponsor. While ideally project sponsors serve as mentors and guides through the  project phases, a sponsor in many organizations is little more than a figure head and the project manager has no one to shield the project. Hopefully, that’s not the case in your organization.

One of your project management jobs is to relay updates from the project team to the project sponsor and from the project sponsor to the team, as defined in your Communication Management Plan. A Communication Management Plan defines all the required communications, scheduled meetings, and expected types of communication depending on the project scenarios. By keeping your sponsor informed of the project status, you personalize the project for him—as it should be. Figure 2-3 shows the path of communication among sponsors, project managers, and the project team.

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Figure 2-3: The project manager directs the flow of communication between the team and the sponsor.

The project sponsor, typically, has delegated the management of the project to you. You delegate some, or all, of the tasks of the project research and implementation to the team members. Your job, like that of the project sponsor, is not to micromanage, but to organize and keep the team on track.

Depending on your role in a company, the project may be assigned to you, or created by you. Should the project be assigned to you to manage, the role of the project sponsor is like that of the parent in a parent-child relationship. This is to say, the project sponsor is the parent of the project, which is the child, and has deemed you responsible to complete and manage the tasks required to finish the project.

If you’ve created the project, the role of the project sponsor is similar to that of the investor in an investor-entrepreneur relationship. You, of course, are the entrepreneur. You’ve done the research, presented the facts, and then sold the sponsor or the organization on the project idea. The project sponsor has invested their credibility in your plan.

Internal Competition

IT projects can grow quickly and spin out of control and size. Imagine you are doing an operating system upgrade for the client workstations. Your plan calls for using Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) for all of the hosts. You have decided to use Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) to assign all of the IP addresses for all of the workstation operating systems. (Without dynamically assigned IP addresses, users won’t be able to access network resources.) Unbeknownst to you, another related team is working on segmenting the network and positioning switches and routers at key points.

Can you see the trouble brewing? If you’re not a network person, this may look innocent enough; however, these two teams must have plans that take each other into account for either to be successful! Figure 2-4 is a map of the network. If the router and IP addressing information is not agreed upon between the two teams, the entire network can crumble.

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Figure 2-4: Teams must work together for projects to succeed.

The routers and switches team must agree on the network addresses, IP addresses for gateways, types of broadcasts that are permitted to pass through the routers, and more. The client OS team has to agree on which ranges of IP addresses to use, the position of the DHCP servers and DNS servers, and the assignment of any static addresses for printers and servers within each segment.

Most companies should have strategic tie-ins with other departments, lines of communications between project managers, and ways to resolve differences and work together when conflicting projects arise. It is surprising, however, how many companies do not.

At the basis of this problem are myriad issues that project managers find themselves dealing with: greed, personal achievement, personality conflicts, and grudges. These are all issues that can take the focus off the success of the project and can ultimately throw the project off track and even bring any progress to a halt. When these situations happen, and they will happen, there are a few steps a project manager can take:

  1. A meeting should take place with just the project managers from the conflicting projects. These two individuals should outline their projects and discuss how both teams can work together and continue with their projects. The project managers should be diplomatic, willing to negotiate, and eager to find an agreeable solution.

  2. If the two project managers cannot find a solution between them, the next step is to conduct a meeting with the project managers and the sponsors of both projects. The project sponsors should lead the discussions and help the project managers find an agreeable, win-win solution.

  3. If an agreeable solution can’t be found among the project sponsors and the project managers, then the discussion can continue to work its way up the organizational chart until a decision or agreement between parties has been made. Ultimately, the good of the company should win based on the priority of the projects.

  4. The two projects must be evaluated and weighed, the goal being to determine which project will increase profitability of the company the most. Once that has been determined, a solution must be created so the two projects can continue, one is dissolved, or one is put on hold.

This entire struggle is unnecessary if departments would simply communicate with each other. This internal struggle tears down morale, wastes time and finances, and hurts the company. IT project managers must learn to work together, to be reasonable, and to communicate.

A system to share information on projects should be created in every entity with multiple project managers. An intranet solution would be easy to implement and manage. As new projects are being researched, a quick look into existing projects on the company intranet would allow teams to work together, accomplish more, and, again, be more productive.

Obtaining Budget Dollars

Research for any project must include information on the financial obligation required to implement the technology. Chapter 4 will focus on all aspects of budgets; this section introduces the financial planning stages of a project.

When you are considering implementing new technology, you must take a long, hard look at calculating expenses. Any company can throw money at technology and hope for the best. However, that’s as promising an investment as playing craps. The technology you recommend the company purchase needs to be the right power, the right size, and the right price.

In the technology world, it’s easy to fall in love with the latest application, multiprocessor server, or network operating system. But is the technology good for the company? Ask yourself these questions when making decisions on technology:

  • How will this technology allow the company to be more productive?

  • Will the technology promise an acceptable ROI?

  • How is the technology the right selection for the company?

  • How soon will this technology need to be replaced?

  • What is the break-even point (also called management horizon) for this investment?

  • When does it become profitable?

If you cannot answer these questions fully and accurately when selecting new technology, then you have not completed your research.

Value Versus Investment

Value and investment, when purchasing anything, often are incorrectly seen as the same concept. Value is a perception. Investments are a reality.

Here’s a simple example: imagine you are purchasing a bag of flour. The one- pound bag of flour is priced at $1.00. The three-pound bag of flour is priced at $1.92. Reason says that it’s better to spend 92 cents more for the three-pound bag of flour. The problem is, unless you actually use more than one-and-a-half pounds of flour, the purchase isn’t a value, it’s a loss.

How does this relate to IT projects? When you are making your technology selections for your company, it is imperative that you know what technology will produce the desired results. The largest piece of technology is not always the best. Some consultants will advise you to buy the biggest chunk of technology you can afford because it will be outdated in six months anyway. Wrong!

Always buy the right technology that will help your company achieve the desired results of the project. And as for the consultants with the “spend big” mentality, question their credibility along with their advice. Take note that it’s not their budget, their career, or their project.

A contributing factor in all projects is the expected level of quality. Quality is the ability and the completeness of the project deliverables to meet the requirements the stakeholders have defined for your project. Within the confines of quality, you’ll find grade. Grade is the ranking of service or materials. For example, you can purchase different grades of cables, monitors, computer equipment, and so on. You can also subscribe to different levels of software support: bronze, silver, and gold.

Within a project you must evaluate the expected level of quality and then the correct grade of the materials and services needed to satisfy the requirements. Low quality is always a problem, low grade may not be. In addition, you must consider what happens if you overshoot the expected level of quality? While it’s better to err on the side of caution, it can also be wasteful to deliver a level quality that far exceeds what the customer was expecting. When you deliver far and above the expected level of quality, cost is likely to increase, and this is called gold plating. Not something to aim for.

Another budgeting concern you must consider during the research phase of your project is time—one of the largest and often overlooked expenses of project management. For example, if you have five members on your team and a project that will take 3 months to implement the technology, that’s 15 months of combined time. Figure 2-5 shows how an increase in time must be tempered by specific goals and a deadline, otherwise costs run awry.

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Figure 2-5: More time equals more expense.

So? If the project team is on the project full time, that’s 15 months of time away from regular duties, 15 months of salary, and 15 months of time that can never be recovered. When implementing the technology, consider the time commitment required from each team member and yourself. While not all organizations assign team members to a project on a full-time basis, you still must account for the sumof the project team’s time and its value to the project.

Should you decide to implement the plan through a third party, such as a value- added reseller (VAR) or the original vendor of the product, consider their costs combined with the time they’ll need to complete the job.

There are usually two different ways VARs will bill for technology implementations, and either can be costly if you don’t stipulate all of the conditions:

  • Time and material Most technology integrators like to bill time and materials because there may be some additional problem discovered in the midst of the project that can result in the vendor working extra hours toward a solution. The trouble with time and material billing is that some deceptive vendors take advantage of the situation and stretch the hours to increase the invoice. If you choose this billing method, you’ll want a not-to-exceed (NTE) clause in your contract. You will also spend more time managing the contract to ensure you are getting the appropriate value for the time you are paying for.

  • Set fees Some vendors know exactly what it will take to complete their technology installation and will offer a set fee. The trouble with set fees is that your company may feel cheated when the installation takes very little time and is completed long before you thought it would be. Understand that most installers probably have developed a script or routine that automates much of the installation process. They can do the job in less time and with less frustration than you could on your own.

With either method, consider the vendors’ costs and calculate the ROI. Finally, make the companies completing the implementation guarantee their work in the contract you negotiate.

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