Project management: the 10 commandments

Don't get blinded by science or overwhelemed by paper work, get the basics right and you will be able to convince your colleagues of the benefits of project-oriented management structures.


In our increasingly project-centric world, the productivity to be gained by good project management is far too promising to ignore. But for most companies, shifting to a project-oriented management structure represents great change – and people resist change, regardless of the benefits that it may bring. Rules and guidelines are needed, so here is a list of 10 commandments. By following them, businesses can position themselves to enter the promised land of project-based culture.

1) Thou shalt narrow the scope of projects

Nothing is worse than the never-ending project. It can suck up resources and exhaust even the most resilient teams. To keep projects tight and focused, carve larger efforts into smaller projects that have achievable deliverables and can meet deadlines. In the long run, a series of small wins has more impact on the organisation than a big bang that never sounds.

2) Thou shalt not suffer an over-sized team

The best way to get off to a good start is to ensure that the project team is the right size. Larger teams are more difficult to motivate and manage – and personalities can get in the way of the work. There is no optimum team size, though a good rule of thumb is “a role for every person and a person for every role”. But if team members need to play more than one role, that is fine. If businesses are going to err, they should err on the side of a smaller team.

3) Thou shalt require full-time business participation

To ensure that the desired results are delivered, the business perspective must be represented on a full-time basis. And if business leaders want the best and brightest from the IT department working on their initiatives, they need to provide the same from the business side. By committing full-time resources to every project, business leaders confirm that project work is important.

4) Thou shalt establish project review panels

A project review panel is a project team's governing body, addressing issues of business policy and strategic direction while assisting in avoiding and removing project roadblocks and pitfalls. Typically, mid-level business and IT managers from relevant areas participate in fortnightly project status meetings. To ensure flow and continuity, any problems identified during these meetings are assigned to project review panellists, who address them while the project team carries on with its work.

5) Thou shalt not provoke burnout

It is not unusual for project staff to become both mentally and physically exhausted by the stress and struggle of the work. Be sensitive to this and take precautions to avoid it. One common contributor to burnout is serial project assignments. Organisations tend to assign the "usual suspects" to every high-visibility initiative. If certain people seem to come off one project only to be assigned immediately to another, it may be worth considering policies that limit or monitor this.

Beyond the project

Portfolio-based project management calls for IT work to be organised into projects and programmes and managed as a whole, like a portfolio of shares. In this way, the initiatives that offer the greatest potential benefit to the organisation are staffed and funded, while those that do not are discarded in favour of new ideas that can be added to the portfolio.

If there is one overarching operating principle that every organisation interested in project portfolio management should put into place, it is this: all the company’s work must be included as a project or programme in the corporate strategic plan.

By adopting this principle, businesses can ensure that all initiatives are fully understood by the management team and that potential organisational conflicts have been considered as part of corporate priority setting. In this way, the company is better positioned to aggressively manage its resources and is less likely to squander assets on ill conceived ideas.

This comprehensive and objective way of handling projects and programme opportunities will yield benefits far beyond the obvious as increased discipline and rigor extend throughout the organisation.

Adapted from The Best Practices Enterprise (J Ross Publishing, 2006) by James M Kerr.

6) Thou shalt seek outside assistance as needed

Using outside project experts is another way to prevent burnout. Besides augmenting project teams, outsiders can often provide valuable new ideas, perspective and energy. It is essential to bring the right consulting support into a project at the right time. Specialised technical or business expertise is one type of support, project management expertise is another. Be sure to consider where a given project team is in both its project plan and overall experience curve before deciding on a specific type of external resource.

7) Thou shalt empower project teams

Project teams struggling to meet deadlines should not be expected to perform routine activities such as filing time sheets or attending departmental status meetings. Rather, they should be empowered to do whatever it takes to get a superior job completed on time and within budget. People will work harder in a trusting environment where expectations are well understood and individual initiative is valued.

8) Thou shalt use project management tools

Mundane project management work can be automated. Look for tools that offer project tracking, task management, workflow administration and resource analysis support on an intranet-based platform that promotes information sharing and communication. But remember, using technologies that add another layer of complexity to an already challenging project is not a good idea.

9) Thou shalt reward success

All project participants should be recognised in some positive way for their toil and personal sacrifice. The rewards need not be extravagant. Sometimes a sincere letter of commendation from a corporate officer is enough. More significant forms of gratitude such as tickets to sporting events, theatre evenings, extra holiday time and financial bonuses should also be considered if results warrant it.

10) Thou shalt not tolerate quick-and-dirty methods

Solid project management policies should counter the temptation to indulge in quick-and-dirty project work, which only leads to error, waste, redoing the work and frustration.

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