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Dharmender Kapoor

Dharmender Kapoor is the Chief Operating Officer of Birlasoft.

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Mastering Execution: 5 Steps for Great Project Delivery

Project Manager must create a team member wise Task List for the next day and share it with them the previous evening.

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There’s enough written and researched about Project Management. I believe when a lot is written about something, very often, the very character of the subject gets lost in the noise. Today, I write about Project Management because I see hordes of ‘certified’ and ‘trained’ people remaining clueless while they manage a real project. There’s a repetitive pattern of failed projects, attributed to silly mistakes than on any sophisticated practices of literature. I have been a part of quite a many winning and losing deals and in each of the latter, I attribute lack of passion and the architecture of the sales process leading to a win as two of the main reasons behind their critical failure.

Hold On. This article isn’t yet another one about why projects fail. Instead, I plan to focus around the simple things done right that make good projects a great success. Based on my vast experience of managing critical projects, I choose to pen down 5 Things that have translated into My Way of managing projects.

1.       Detail each projects to tasks, no bigger than 8 hours.

This “8 Hours Principal”, is something I constantly endorse and has never failed me. The effort lies in dividing all tasks longer than 8 hours until each becomes shorter than 8. Why 8 hours, one may ask. Firstly, it will force you and your team to be granular instead of taking a 10000 Ft view. Secondly, no task would be delayed for more than 1 working day. This makes minute delays visible at the earliest avoiding any cascading effects. Thirdly, the team will be sensitized on completing  the work timely than thinking up excuses. Fourthly, you will avoid last minute surprises and be in complete control of the project.

2.       Have “30 minutes daily huddle” first thing every morning.

All of us conduct project review meetings at various times, more often than not after the project has begun heading south. I recommend doing this from Day 2 of the project.  The initial meetings wouldn’t have much to discuss, however, it sets the needed discipline and sends a strong message to your team. Often, it is the initial complacency that hits projects hard. A simple cadence of 30 minute can set the project in motion. Few working habits I recommend in these meetings are – Make it a stand only meeting. Check status of previous day tasks. For those unfinished, ask for a reason, request to finish this immediately and offer any help if needed. Since there is another activity assigned for the next 8 hours,  quickly discuss corrective action that needs to be taken for the delay and move forward. More often than not, you are aware of delays and have time to correct your estimation or improve the productivity.

I reiterate that a project manager who does not create and work by WBS is not doing project management. The 30 minutes daily huddle is hugely dependent on the WBS. Also, no WBS is complete unless resource loading is performed and every single person is clear of his responsibilities.

3.       Make team member are of his/her "Next Day Plan".

Project Manager must create a team member wise Task List for the next day and share it with them the previous evening. This sets the tone for completing the day’s work and readying oneself for the next task. It is a mistake to assume the team is aware of their tasks basis the overall plan discussed with them. Project management is a disciplined job and if you are not disciplined, the team will slow down. Every afternoon, don’t forget to send the plan for the next day, to every single individual, separately.

4.       Follow the "Aircraft Theory" of execution modes.

One of the worst practices in project management is enjoying a relaxed Start and End with a hectic Mid Project life cycle.  In fact, I recommend an exact opposite plan! In an aircraft during take-off, everyone remains alert, seated with their seat belt fastened, engines are on full throttle, with zero distractions. When it is at cruising height and speed, the plane is monitored to maintain status quo rather than exercising aggressive controls.  A project also experiences the most crucial time in the beginning. Once the crucial job is accomplished, it’s time to monitor and maintain the project on-track. However, in reality, projects are relaxed in the beginning and excessive controls kick-in only when it hits turbulence in mid-life cycle. Lack of planning and design at the Start leads to project failure. Subsequently, while landing, both planes and projects need close monitoring and better controls again. Projects need to ensure it delivers the requirements and takes care of related change management issues. The Journey is not complete unless the project has landed safely, precisely and smoothly.

5.       Perform “SNAC Analysis” at take-off - S=Stakeholders; N=Needs; C=Constraints and A=Alterable.

Each project manager must clearly know his stakeholders - Sponsors, Business Users, Suppliers, Decision Makers, and few Team Members. A workshop should be held to understand the need and role of each stakeholder. These needs are often unwritten, however extremely important as they can make or break the project. It is a grave mistake to assume that stakeholders are aware of their own needs. Next, get to know the constraints for the project. - Financial, Technical, Functional, Team, Resources or Material, External or Internal. Constraints planned in advance can reduce risk of failure significantly. Finally,  the project deliverables would alter processes, work culture and require trainings for many in the organization. To bring about an effective change management, one must be aware of these consequences to plan better. Half the products fail not because they are inferior but because of an ineffective change management leading to low acceptance.

Before I wind up, I would like to stress on one more important aspect in managing a project that doesn’t figure in the above 5 as I consider it to be a bare minimum requirement from a Project manager - Adherence to maintaining and tracking Minutes of Meetings (MoM). Have you ever heard of the quote that says in meetings, hours are lost and minutes are kept? Most of the discussions, actions and agreements get lost for one simple reason that managers don’t insist on writing Minutes of Meetings (MoM). In absences of such simple documentations, teams find themselves on a different page, often fight with each other due to lack of common understanding, and end up spending time in coming to a common ground. In the absence of MoMs, even the 5 steps detailed above are headed to failure. How will a PM know what next day tasks are if he isn’t on the same page as the rest of the team?

These 5 steps are tiny corrections in our daily schedule that go a long way in shaping our project delivery. I agree that the list isn’t exhaustive. If you ask me to pen down 5 more, I can. However, mastering these will help you master project execution and rest of the things, I believe, will automatically fall in place. 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house


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