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Thursday, 07 February 2008 11:26

Lean Keen and Ready to Go - Part 1

Written by  Joe Caruso PMP
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Part 1 of this article shows how organizations running lean and mean are prone to resource capacity issues with their projects. A real-life case study examines a typical reactive response. In Part 2, we share how employees in a company can be proactive and mitigate such situations.

 

It’s an often heard mantra – “be lean and mean”. An admirable objective for the operational side of the business towards the drive for increased revenue and profits, but it does present risks to the project side of house. 

One of the consequences we’ve observed of lean, and sometimes, too lean organizations, are programs and projects started with insufficient resource capacity. Lean and mean can also result in little, if any, spare capacity for emergencies. Overtime will then be used regularly just to keep things going. When along comes a project (or two, or three), the situation is then fodder for projects taking longer than expected and stressed out employees. As well, keeping the business going tends to take priority over project work, leaving Project Managers to respond to the resulting problems in a reactive manner.  

In the spirit of embracing Project Management best practices, though, and being proactive not reactive, what can we do to eliminate or mitigate resource capacity issues, and ideally, even prior to project startup? 

In this two part article, we examine first, a real-life case study and the reactive approach it demands, and secondly what can be done proactively to mitigate such events prior to project startup.
 
My Lead Business Analyst has just returned from a cancelled workshop: “So we had booked the morning with them to document and validate their existing processes. They were great all last week, now this morning they don’t show up. They say they’ve got other work to focus on, and they don’t know when they can meet with us again. We’re not going to make our milestones this way. They won’t commit to anything – so I’m escalating.”
 
Well, the first thing I did was thank her for coming to me immediately. If I don’t know about your problems, I can’t help you solve them. Let’s nip them in the bud.
 
In situations like this, a ‘lean’ organization might consider engaging temporary contract resources in lieu of full-time resources to solve this problem. It will help but it will not be the ‘silver bullet’ solution to the problem. It does not guarantee a complete solution and a successful project. There is risk in failing to engage the participation of the full time staff, the Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). SMEs have knowledge of the company’s business that a temporary or new employee will not. SMEs can better predict the potential impact a project will have on the company. SMEs alone can provide that last bit of polish and completeness to Project Management documentation - the Business Case, Project Charter, Business Requirements, Work Breakdown Structure, and Risk Management plans. Can you cultivate SMEs from temporary staff? Will there be times when only external SMEs have the technical knowledge you require? Yes, but realize this requires knowledge transfer of your operation to the newbies brought on board and unavoidably the time of your SMEs.
 
Back to our case study. The Project Manager is forced to be reactive but is empowered to remedy the situation. What can be done?

 

  • Meet with the Functional Managers of the unavailable employees.
  • Ask – what work has displaced the project commitment? Why is this higher priority?
  • Ask - was this a unilateral decision on their part, or under the direction of their Functional Managers, or other Senior Stakeholder?
  • If the former, the Functional Manager has an issue to resolve with his/her staff unilaterally deciding what they will work on, and not escalating workload issues.
  • If the latter, the issue is more serious – the lines of communication are broken, the project priority has been downgraded in somebody’s eyes. Time for a meeting with your Project Sponsor to exert some influence and get the project back on schedule. Be prepared for these discussions. Document the impact of the forecast delays on the Project Schedule and Project Costs within a DRAFT Change Request.  
 

In hindsight, a lean organization plus projects plus overloaded SMEs are not ingredients for project success. But it happens often, so prepare yourself to deal with it. Nothing is constant but change in areas like market share, financial situations, strategic direction which spawns or impacts projects. Even if you are not a Project Manager, you are going to unavoidably be involved in projects during your career – as a Team Member, as a Functional Manager, Project Sponsor – and it behooves you to mitigate situations like our case study as much as possible. And in Part 2 of this article we’ll share how.

 


 

About the Author - Joe Caruso is a hands-on Business and IT professional with over thirty years experience in Project Management, Software Development, Enterprise Infrastructure, and Consulting Services. Mr. Caruso specializes in Enterprise Project Management and Business Transformation through the improvement of Project Management practices. He has managed enterprise infrastructure and development projects in industries as diverse as banking, insurance, energy, telecommunications, hi-tech and the Public Sector. He is an Associate Consultant with TenStep Toronto Inc., Bolton, Ontario, Canada. www.tensteptoronto.ca© 2008 by Joe Caruso
Read 3617 times Last modified on Tuesday, 12 February 2008 12:15
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