You are here: Home Blogs How to Successfully Execute Projects
Thursday, 12 March 2009 14:43

How to Successfully Execute Projects

Written by  Curt Finch
Rate this item
(0 votes)

Anyone can plan a project, but can you get it done?  On time and on budget?  The answer is yes.

Why do your best laid plans often go unfulfilled? You've put the right people in the right jobs, empowered them to achieve, drafted an excellent plan and got the necessary buy-in and funding. Yet somehow things went into the ditch and now the project is late and over budget, delivering a poor return on investment.

The fact is, knowing the path and walking the path are not the same thing. For example, many of us know how to lose weight (exercise, eat better, etc.) Yet knowing how to lose weight and actually losing it are two totally different things. Likewise, knowing what needs to happen to execute a project successfully and actually executing it are different things. The latter is much harder. If you've had trouble in this regard, you are not alone.

The following is a true story. The names have been withheld to protect the guilty.

The Big Project in a Big Ditch

A multimillion dollar consulting project for a major government agency was in trouble. The big league consulting firm was called to account, and in a panic, they called in their biggest gun to get the project back on track.

Mr. Big Gun walked in and said, "Show me your project plan." Out came the giant Microsoft Project Gantt chart with hundreds of tasks and complex dependencies. He pointed to a task that was scheduled to begin the next day - it was assigned to "Software Engineer 7".

"Who is 'Software Engineer 7'?"

Nobody knew.

"Okay, that's your first problem. Question two: I see you actually have a real person, Fred Silverman, assigned to this other task, and he is working on it right now. Does he agree with the estimate for that task's timeline?"

Nobody knew.

"That's your second problem. How much effort has Fred put towards completing that task?"

Nobody knew.

"Strike three! Now, was that so hard?"

The CIO of the client said, "Get this man on the contract immediately."

You Can Either Be the Big Gun or Look Down its Barrel

Specificity in Resource Assignment. Who's working on it? "Software Engineer #7" never accomplished anything. Large project plans can span many years, so it is reasonable to put placeholders in for people who have not been hired yet. Once you get within a month of the start date, however, you’d better know who's going to work on each task. Not only that, but if you know, the name should be in the plan so everyone else knows too. What will happen if your chosen resource is not written into the plan, doesn't know what he’s working on and, consequently, hasn’t told his boss what he’s working on? He could get transferred, assigned to another project or booked to several, making him unavailable when you need him. That will cause your big project to slip, killing the ROI, angering the customer or both.

For smaller projects - projects that are to be completed within one budgetary cycle - you really ought to be assigning real people to tasks wherever possible.

Estimated Time to Task Completion. Nobody really knows how long it is going to take to complete most tasks until somebody sits down and starts working on them. The more experienced at the work you are, the better your estimate is likely to be. I've written millions of lines of software, so I'm pretty good at estimating how long it will take me to do it. Ask me how long it will take me to replace a curtain rod or a spark plug, and I usually won’t factor in the time it will take to fix all of my screw-ups.

If you have a real person, Sally, working on a task on your project, and she's been working on it for a few hours, now is the time to ask her how long she thinks it will take to complete it. Then update your project file with her new estimate. Do that often on all the tasks people are currently working on, and you'll find out about problems long before Mr. Big Gun gets called in.

Per-Task Effort Tracking. Is anyone actually working on these tasks at all? Are they only 20% complete when 80% of the budget has been spent?

Nobody likes filling out timesheets, but let’s face it, you have to track per-task effort in some way in order to avoid any nasty surprises. That time data is beneficial in more ways than one – later on, you can use it for improving your project estimation techniques.

Who's the Big Gun Now?

Successfully executing your projects is not as hard as it seems, as long as you approach it the right way. Keeping tabs on who you have assigned to tasks, how long it should reasonably take them to complete the tasks and how much effort they are making are the three key components to avoiding trouble in the long run. Once you get those down, you will be able to execute your projects with ease, making your company successful and your customers happy.

Curt Finch
is the CEO of Journyx , the first company to provide Web-based time tracking and project management solutions that help companies ensure successful and profitable project outcomes. In 1997, Curt created the world’s first Internet-based timesheet application - the foundation for the current Journyx product offerings. Curt is an avid speaker and author, and recently published
All Your Money Won’t Another Minute Buy: Valuing Time as a Business Resource .
Read 5458 times Last modified on Tuesday, 28 April 2009 15:47
Login to post comments

News and Promotions

Keep up to date with the latest happenings by signing up for our newsletter. Subscribe below.

Twitter Update

Who's Online

We have 396 guests and no members online

Got something to say?