13 tips for turbocharging projects

Today's rapidly changing business environment requires a faster, stronger, more flexible approach to project management

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One more tip: Insist that team members develop their own work breakdown structures and task estimates, in consultation with their project manager.

When the project team figures out the work and estimates it, they own the results and can commit to them. The consultation is to prevent both excessive padding and excessive optimism.

Next-gen project management tip No. 11: Manage progress -- don't just track it

When a team member misses a deadline, the right response is usually, "What are you going to do to get back on track?"

You should preemptively assume every team member is a professional. Expecting professionals to have a plan to get back on track is entirely reasonable. There are, of course, exceptions, when external circumstances make recovery an unreasonable expectation. It's one reason among many that project management is more than just following a formula.

Next-gen project management tip No. 12: Consider the critical chain

The critical chain methodology recommends an alternative for task estimation and schedule management: that you estimate every task based on the most optimistic assumptions possible -- in other words, that absolutely everything goes right. Take the critical path total, divide by two, and add that number to the end of the project as a "buffer" to be consumed at a reasonable rate throughout the course of the project. That's the "critical chain." There's a lot to like about this approach.

But it also poses a serious challenge: By estimating each task as aggressively as possible, you can no longer expect team members to treat the estimates as deadlines.

And yet, as project manager, you need a way to spot nonperforming team members so that you can do something about them. It's a subject that deserves a long discussion, but this space is far too short to provide it.

Next-gen project management tip No. 13: Know how to say "we're done now"

Strange as it might seem, many projects fail to end because there's always something more that might be done -- especially in the sponsor's eyes. Also, end-users very often insist on aesthetically desirable but functionally meaningless changes to the user interface, or project team members don't realize they've reached the exalted state of "good enough."

For more information

Project management is, as pointed out last week, probably the single most important competency for modern corporations to master.

This is a very brief look at a very deep subject. If you'd like more information on these ideas, I extracted them from the Project Management Institute's PMBOK, a number of sources on agile development, Eliyahu Goldratt's critical chain methodology (and thanks to Realization for allowing me to attend its fundamentals class), and my own "Bare Bones Project Management" approach.

This story, "13 tips for turbocharging projects," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bob Lewis's Advice Line blog on InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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