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Posted by on Sep 11, 2015

Success is Difficult: Part Three

I started this series of blogs on project management challenges with a discussion of project management success factors (“Three Pillars of Project Management”). Then I asked the questions – if we have known how to be successful for more than 20 years, why is it so difficult? What are the challenges? In my most recent blogs, I talked about Challenge #1 – Uncertainty and Challenge #2 – Requirements. Today I will share some thoughts on about managing Challenge #3.

Project Management Challenge #3 – Constraints

Keeping with the theme of requirements, I feel project constraints are a type of project requirement in that they are expectations for the project. And they are a factor in determining project success. The constraints can be self-imposed, specifically in terms of cost, schedule, and performance baselines – the triple constraint, or project trade space (e.g., the left-hand diagram in the figure). This is very essential part of managing projects and is the result of project planning and governing-body approval.

PM Image

Constraints are also imposed by project stakeholders. Probably the most significant stakeholder in terms of constraints is the customer; the recipient of the product or service resulting from the completion of the project. A project can be delivered on time, within budget, and to specifications and still be unsuccessful if does not meet the customer’s satisfaction. So this adds a fourth trade-space to project constraints (e.g., the middle diagram of the figure). I feel this was the driving factor in PMI’s addition of the Stakeholder Management knowledge area in the most recent version of their Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK)®.

But there can be several stakeholders with constraints that can be a factor in delivering a successful project. For example, the right-handed diagram in the figure was a trade space I identified for a nuclear weapons test project. In addition to the four from the middle diagram, other key stakeholders put constraints on the project, including one of the most vocal stakeholders – NIMBY, or “Not in My Backyard” – otherwise known as, the general public.

Managing the Challenge

Here are several practices that I have used to manage the challenge:

  • Project Planning and Controls. To be effective with planning and control processes is to produce sound baselines. It starts with a Work Breakdown Structure that details 100% of the scope. Then valid and realistic cost and time estimates are developed, performance baselines are established, and deliverables and milestones are clearly documented.   Effective controls involve establishing performance measurements and monitoring the accomplishment of project objectives throughout the life of the project, and making adjustments when necessary.
  • Stakeholder Management. Understanding the unique needs and expectations of project stakeholders—anyone with a vested interest in the successful outcome of the project—is a critical element in managing constraints and delivering a successful project. This involves actively building and managing stakeholder relationships. It involves establishing stakeholder management processes that are maintained through the life of the project, acquiring skilled resources to execute the processes, and continuous monitoring of changes in stakeholder constraints (e.g., laws, policies, business process improvement, competitive pressures, and changes in organizational strategic objectives).
  • Communication is a key skill for project managers for effective stakeholder management. Every stakeholder is different and project managers need to understand which forms of leadership and communication are best suited for each stakeholder. This includes knowing techniques for resolving conflict and managing issues.
  • Customer Relationship Management. Aalthough more of a business development / retention focus, customer relationship management (CRM) principles are being adapted to managing a key project stakeholder – the customer. CRM is about developing relationships and project managers need to identify and use the skills necessary to develop and manage customer relationships. CRM is about understanding the customer’s needs thorough customer input, one-on-one solutions to customers’ requirements, and direct communications to help solve their issues. By involving customers early an often throughout the project will help identify and prioritize customer requirements and ensure delivery of a product / service that meets their needs.

Delivering successful projects not only involves knowing the “success factors” but also understanding the challenges in managing projects, and more importantly, the ways to address the challenges. It starts with the basics of project management, and then applying the skills and tools to manage the challenges.

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