Pearls of Wisdom Specific Techniques
The technique of Work Breakdown Structures (WBS) is probably one of the most important in project management. Dennis describes the WBS Concept, suggests alternative patterns, and provides examples in easily understood terms, together with logical coding systems for larger projects. The WBS is the prerequisite to satisfactory Planning and Scheduling.
As an example of poor time scaling, he observes:
"Whenever any job has to be finished within a time deadline, it is advisable to have some idea of the relationship between the time needed and the time available. This is true for any project, whether a dinner is being prepared, or a motorway constructed. In the first case one would be ill advised to tell guests 'Dinner is at seven - but the potatoes will not be ready until 7:30.'"
Estimating, essentially for costing and scheduling in the course of planning and scheduling, is generally accepted as a fundamental skill for acceptable project management. Where this is not the case, and cost and time estimating take a back seat on a project, it may be claimed that what is going on is not project management at all, but rather product development management. This situation is most prevalent in the case of in-house projects for the reasons mentioned earlier.
Dennis devotes several chapters to these and related topics of estimating, but first he takes aim directly at estimators and their skills. As he says: "Project cost estimating, particularly for labour times, is not an exact science." Consequently there tends to be "Optimistic Estimators; Pessimistic Estimators; and Inconsistent Estimators." Conceptually, "There is a possibility of finding a person capable of providing estimates that prove to be consistently accurate. This possibility is so remote that it can almost be discounted." Bottom line; know your estimators' strengths and weaknesses.
But estimating on a project is not a full time activity, so where should these expert folks reside? Dennis has the answer of course. As he says:
"Unless the organization is too small to support the additional expense, it makes sense to set up a central project management support or project services group, usually called a project management office.
This is staffed with people (not too many!) who are capable of the day-to-day chores of planning; resource scheduling, cost estimating, work progressing, cost and progress reporting and general supervision of the company's project management computer applications."
On the subject of Managing Risk, Dennis opens this chapter with the observation: "Everything we do, from getting out of bed in the morning to returning there at night, carries risk." He might have added that there is also a risk of being in bed, but let's not go there. Projects are susceptible to particular risks that Dennis then describes in general terms, followed by the current standard approach to Managing Risks in projects.
It is not until Chapter 9, however, that we get to actually "Implementing the Project Plan". Hopefully all of the likely problems have been anticipated by this time, but not necessarily. As Dennis observes:
"Even when a clear technical specification has been prepared [How many times is that?!] there are often many loose ends to be tied up before actual work can start. The extent and nature of these preliminary activities naturally depend on the type and size of project."
Nevertheless, problems will be encountered, especially those that require fast action and innovative solutions. Hopefully, the project manager will take the time to write up the challenge, the adopted solution, and report the resulting success. And even more hopefully, this report will find its way into the project's final "Lessons Learned" report. However, such reports are rarely couched in terms that are useful to project managers on subsequent projects even assuming that these reports are pulled out and studied.
Dennis Lock is a great man for Checklists, checklists that cover anything and everything that is likely to be repetitive, checklists that list a set of relevant questions and imply the answers that will pre-empt information requirements. What better place then for aggregating Lessons Learned, suitably converted into Q&As, and adding them to the relevant checklist, e.g., Project Startup, "so that lessons learned on each project are remembered and put to use on projects that follow?"
8. Ibid, Chapter 6 pp67-81
9. Ibid, 84
10. Ibid, p35
11. Ibid, pp35-36
12. Ibid, p36
13. Ibid, p65
14. Ibid, p44
15. Ibid, Chapter 4, pp43-50
16. This observation is not intended to be derogatory. Many books on project management deal only with the planning of same, and never get to advice on actually managing the work.
17. Ibid, 124
18. Ibid, p128