have worked on various types of projects ranging from infrastructure to software.
How are infrastructure projects different from software projects?
First we must be clear on what we mean by "infrastructure". It could
mean the hardware support for a major software system. However, I take it to
mean civil engineering constructed works such as roads, rail, water supply and
distribution, and so on. In this case, these types of project are differentiated
by the type of talent required for their accomplishment.
Infrastructure works require tradesmen with muscle and brawn, while software
projects require individuals with high intellectual capability. These two types
of people need to be managed very differently. In the first case, operatives
respond better to "Tell me what to do and I'll do it" while in the
second, people respond better to "Tell me why I should do it and I'll try
to figure out the best way." Interestingly, experience shows that these
approaches applied the other way round just don't work.
are the critical factors that measure the success of capital projects?
Traditionally, capital works projects involve relatively large expenditures
spread over relatively long periods of construction time. Work once accomplished
is tangible and is not so readily undone. Consequently, sound planning, especially
of the sequence and integration of the work elements, is essential and, therefore,
the focus is on efficiency, i.e. time and cost. Of course, the works, whatever
they may be, must perform satisfactorily. They must also be seen to be satisfactory
from the public users' perception and, more and more these days, environmentally
sensitive. So that means quality and integrity in the original design.
But, another interesting aspect is, who benefits from the capital project?
Inevitably, there will be those who do and those who don't, so the whole environment
can become very politicized. The only way to deal with this is a conscious public
relations effort and, perhaps, this more than anything will shape the degree
of success of the project.
the present scenario of frequent failure of software projects, can you put forward
some strategies that facilitates successful software projects?
This is a very interesting question. The software development
industry is still very much in its infancy and is searching for
better ways to conduct such projects. A number of methodologies
such as PRINCE2® (UK) or the Rational Unified Process®
(US) are being promoted. Certainly any methodology is better than
no methodology but I suspect that part of the problem is that
such projects are being judged, and managed according to the old
construction project management paradigm. Whereas a client can
visualize a building or a road, it is much more difficult to visualize
a software "system" when what you see and feel is simply
the user interface.
That means you must have some "product" to show the customer for
review and decision-making and it is not possible to plan the software works
in entirety at the outset as in construction. What is necessary is an "incremental"
approach to development but, unfortunately, this flies in the face of traditional
procurement that requires fixed time and cost quotations from the outset. Until
this dichotomy is resolved, or both parties become "educated" to the
inherent conflict and understand how to deal with it, I believe that we shall
continue to have serious software failures.
and deliverables of software projects are changed frequently. This has severe
implications on the projects. How can a project manager minimize their impact
on the project?
This issue is really the flip side of the previous question. The project manager
is often in a difficult position because he or she may not be appointed to the
project until after the most important decisions have been made. That is, the
procurement and contracting strategy to be adopted and the tools to be used
in developing the software product have already been determined. Moreover, many
system developments are not adequately "architected". That is to say,
there is no one serving in the (traditional) role of architect in the design
of the comprehensive product that will produce a beautifully functional whole
that satisfies all the "-ilities" (Availability, Operability, Usability,
Maintainability, Constructability, Reliability, etc.)
Consequently, when these shortcomings are encountered, changes are requested
or demanded, and not unreasonably so. But changes are disruptive of progress
and heighten the possibility of overlooking software dependencies and consequent
addition of bugs. The answer is for the project manager to be well aware of
such impending difficulties and be ready and willing to expend considerable
effort in "educating" management and the other stakeholders!
reviews and audits are important in project management. Can you share your experiences
about their contribution in the success of a project?
You are quite correct that project reviews and audits can be very important
in project management, especially if carried out expertly. They can be a good
source of learning and improvement during the course of the project resulting
in improved outcomes, as well as a source of advantage if the findings are properly
archived for future projects. However, our personal experience is that such
reviews and audits are not popular as they are seen as criticism and not relevant
to the real daily challenges at hand.
The project management process may already be too well established to be changed
to any significant degree during the course of the project. Alternatively, the
project management staff may be "too busy" to take on the added work
load of providing the required information and respond to interviews, or to
make a serious attempt at changing the method of working. It appears that the
most acceptable approach is a post-project review when the players themselves
have time to give serious thought to what happened and be in a position to recommend
ways of improvement on future projects.
have valuable experiences in the field of project risk management. Can you share
your views on how an organization following project management should equip to
cope with and overcome project risks?
Project risk management is really not a difficult concept to understand and
not a difficult process to implement. At the earliest possible stage, gather
the troops, hold a brain storming session on all the things that typically and
might go wrong, assess probability and impact of each item to establish a ranking
order, and find ways around for those of the highest order. Thereafter, keep
an eye on what is going on in the project's environment, look for "early
warning" signs and be ready to plug in the appropriate response with minimum
The problem is that all this is "overhead" effort and is readily
sacrificed to the god of "cost control". Risk avoidance, like accident
prevention programs are difficult to quantify in terms of return on investment.
This is especially true since projects are generally "unique" and
have no established baseline to be matched to. Add to that attempts by consultants
to introduce sophisticated software analyses that are really suited only to
very large and dangerous projects, and it is not surprising that corporate management
tends to build resistance to the idea. In my view, the answer is to establish
risk management as part of the enterprise's overall standard project management
philosophy, but keep it very, very simple. There is always the opportunity to
work at a more sophisticated level later, if need be.
of stakeholders is crucial for the success of the project. What strategies would
you suggest to project managers so that they can involve all the stakeholders
in the various stages of a project?
Involving stakeholders is very problematical. Who are they and what do they
stand for, and what are their respective interests? Depending on the size and
nature of the project, determining this information can be a serious challenge.
Moreover, how do you get their interest before it is too late for the project
outcome to be significantly influenced? In other words people will participate
if they really think they can make a difference. However, both this process
and the results of this process will cost time and money and potentially take
the project in a different direction. All of this could well be contrary to
the interests of the project's sponsor who is "footing the bill".
It can also be a challenge to the project manager who is left wondering "Who
is in charge?" In my view, not held by everyone of course, is that there
should be lots of stakeholder involvement in the conceptual, planning and design
phases, and lots of involvement during the "finishing" phase when
the product of the project is being transferred to the "care, custody and
control" of the operators and/or users. But during the main execution phase
of the project, keep the stakeholders informed of progress, but otherwise keep
them well out of the way of the production line!
role do you envisage for future project managers in improving the discipline
of project management?
I believe that there is an important role for project managers, first to take
the time to study the subject and apply the knowledge to their projects, but
secondly to work towards a consensus on what are the best approaches to solving
project problems under varying circumstances. At present there is much talk
amongst project management associations about "best practices". These
are often assembled through academic research questionnaires that only serve
to determine what the majority of people presently do. That can be useful information
but does not in anyway imply what everyone ought to be doing!
But today, there are still serious gaps in both the "front end"
and "back end" of project management philosophy. The first is the
best way to identify and formulate the most advantageous projects to start with,
while the second is how best to transfer the product of the project into its
working environment at the conclusion. These "best" practices can
only come about through practical experience, and it is up to project managers
to capture and publicize that information in principle confidentiality
and copyright of specific project information notwithstanding.
How important do you think on the job training is for the project managers and
team members? How can training needs be identified?
I do not believe that management or, for that matter, professional disciplines
can be mastered entirely through "book" learning. Practical experience
is essential. However, to obtain the best advantage from practical experience
it is necessary to have some book learning first. By the same token, book learning
is far better absorbed after some practical experience. So, we have a "chicken
and egg" situation here.
My ideal, therefore, is some elementary book learning first followed by practical
experience followed by more advanced project management learning, followed again
by more senior exposure in the practical world of project management. This is
not at all easy to arrange in practice, and it may well be incumbent on potential
project managers to seek out their own experience. After all, commercial projects
are not the only source of experience. Projects launched by volunteer organizations
and societies abound and, from the all-important people perspective, are sometimes
more difficult to manage.
Identifying training needs is a rather different issue. People who don't know
what they don't know cannot identify what they need to know. Therefore, there
must be a commitment on the part of senior management firstly to the program
and project management disciplines, and secondly to improving the capability
of their personnel. Perhaps the best way of identifying the specifics is for
an experienced project management mentor to act as coach and advisor to management.
If the organization has many projects, especially those that need to be managed
as programs and/or a portfolio of projects, the answer is some form of program
office or project management office. Such an office can provide services to
projects and also be the custodian of a skills inventory where shortcomings
can be identified with some realistic degree of accuracy. By the way, you can
find a lot of information on all of these topics on my web site. Study the site
map for the information that you need.
Thank you, Projects and Profits, for your questions, I enjoyed answering them.
FICE, FEIC, FCSCE, FPMI