Saturday, October 1, 2016

Applied project management #2 Project strategy

Let us take a look at the definition of projects;

  • Projects have definite start and end dates.
  • Projects are performed by people. 
  • Projects are temporary in nature. Upon completion of the project, the project team is dismantled. 
  • Projects deliver unique products or services as output 
  • Projects are progressively elaborated. When we start a project, we have very less information about the project. As we progress, we gain more insight about the project. This we call as progressive elaboration. 
As we can see, projects deliver unique products or services as output, hence no two projects are same. There cannot be a fit for all type of project strategy. Based on the nature of the project at hand, one need to spend time in developing a project strategy, which is the best for the project. Broadly we can classify the projects on two parameters; requirements and technology. For some projects requirements can be very clear, and for some requirements could be very ambiguous, or it could be anything in between. For some projects the technology can be very familiar to the team, and for some, the technology could be very new to the team.

For projects where requirements are ambiguous and technology is very new to the team, then developing an end to end plan could be a futile exercise, because things will change rapidly. These type of projects are the right fit for Plan, Do, Study and Act (PDSA) cycles. The project is iterated (fast PDSA cycles, with a maximum iteration duration of 30 days), with a view to fail fast, and to learn from failures and successes, to incorporate them into the subsequent iteration. This is the right approach for new product development, research & development kind of projects. The project management frameworks revolving around PDSA based rigorous iterations falls into the umbrella 'Agile'. There are multiple flours of it and the most popular ones are Scrum, XP, RUP, TDD, Devops etc. Fast failures are celebrated in these models.

For engineering disciplines like construction, mechanical, electrical, plumbing etc, the engineering discipline itself does not allow for change. Once the foundation is laid, we cannot have major scope changes to any construction project. These kind of projects call for end to end planning, and revolves around Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) cycles.   The projects are planned from start to end, and everything is managed as per the plan. Very often, every deviation from the plan is treated as failure. The traditional project management frameworks like PMBOK and PRINCE revolves around PDCA. Of late they are trying to include the PDSA approach as well.

The time invested to identify the nature of the project at hand and then choosing the PDSA or PDSA or a combination of both, is a good investment. If we apply PDCA to a project where requirements are not clear and technology is unfamiliar to the team, then it will be doomed sooner or later. If we apply PDSA to a project where requirements are very clear and technology is also very familiar to the team, then it will be an over kill. 

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