From Chaos to Controlled, and beyondImagine that you are assigned to a project which is behind schedule, way over budget and no-one in the department will touch. How do you parachute in and take control of this chaos? Even better, how do you get it on track, with processes in place, so that you can step back and manage it for only 20% of your time, so that you can take on bigger challenges?
Learn from my experience - these are the things you need to get in place to get your sick project out of ICU and back on the path to being the Darling of the Department. (This is for projects taking an SDLC Waterfall Approach.) You can do these in any order, and have to be flexible, depending on where the project is when you jump in. I have come onto projects where the work is in-flight and the best case is to keep the team working while you course correct from the helm. Other times, the best thing to do is to pull all the team leads off the work, and into a planning session.
1. Get the project charter updated. Find it, dust it off, shine it up with the current knowledge about the project, and then discuss it with the other stakeholders to get consensus on project goals, scope, and all the other goodness of a healthy project charter. Make sure that you know the project, because you will "own" it from here on.
2. Review the Risks and Issues registers. Get them current, and put weekly reminders in place to review them and keep them current. Depending on your organization, you might be the one maintaining these Risks and Issues going forward, or your team leads. Ultimately, you are the one who should review them every week, to make sure Risks and Issues are logged, and addressed.
3. Identify your handful of key stakeholders. Meet them, individually. Get to know them, and they must get to know you. Nothing takes the place of personal relationships with your key stakeholders, be they business partners, executive sponsors or team leads.
4. Schedule regular status meetings with your team. Make sure you have an agenda, time limits, and have meeting minutes. Don't allow anyone to tell you that "We don't need an agenda for the team meeting - we just talk about status."
5. Schedule regular one-on-one meetings with your key stakeholders. You want to keep them informed of progress, and want to hear about issues and risks. (There is no harm in finding out about tangential initiatives that impact your project as well.)
6. Work closely with your project technician to identify your support needs. What reports do you need, and when do you need them by? How are issues to be brought to your attention? What obstacles do you need to clear out the way?
7. Review your project plan - what what work has been identified? Does it match the charter? What is the sequence of the tasks? (I have been called in to fix projects where the project plan was so disjointed from the project charter, it looked like a different project. Any wonder it was over budget, with no end in sight to stop the hemorrhaging?)
8. Make sure that you have leads assigned to each work area / work effort. Make sure all tasks are assigned and that each team lead has understanding of what he or she is responsible to plan, manage, and deliver.
9. Understand the finances for your project. How much was the original budget, where are you now, how much is left? (Or, as is often the case when I am called in, how bad is the bleeding?)
10. Build communication channels for when things go off track. When budget is going over, schedule is slipping, or new information exposes flaws in your project plan.
Use this as a checklist to get a grip on an unruly project. Get these project processes in place within weeks of taking over a project, to get a better picture of where you are. The key to remember is that you need your project leads to give you information and manage their parts of the project. Build mutually-respectful relationships with your keep stakeholders and team members.