SPECIAL DEMANDS ON THE PROJECT MANAGER
A number of demands are unique to the management of projects, and the success of the PM depends to a large extent on how capably they are handled. These special demands can be categorized under the following headings.
Acquiring Adequate Resources
It was noted earlier that the resources initially budgeted for a project are frequently insufficient to the task. In part, this is due to the natural optimism of the project proposers about how much can be accomplished with relatively few resources. Sometimes, it is caused by a deliberate, unethical understatement of resource requirements to ensure that a project is accepted for funding. At times it is caused by the great uncertainty associated with a project. Many details of resource purchase and usage are deferred until the project manager knows specifically what resources will be required and when. For instance, there is no point in purchasing a centrifuge now if in nine months we will know exactly what type of centrifuge will be most useful.
The good PM knows there are resource trade-offs that need to be taken into consideration. A skilled machinist can make do with unsophisticated machinery to construct needed parts, but a beginning machinist cannot. Subcontracting can make up for an inadequate number of computer programmers, but subcontractors will have to be carefully instructed in the needs of the contractor, which is costly and may cause delays. Crises occur that require special resources not usually provided to the project manager.
All these problems produce glitches in the otherwise smooth progress of the project. To deal with these glitches, the PM must scramble, elicit ajd, work late, wheedle, threaten, or do whatever seems necessary to keep the project on schedule. On occasion, the additional required resources simply alter the project’s cost-benefit ratio to the point that the project is no longer cost-effective. Obviously, the PM attempts to avoid these situations, but some of what happens is beyond the PM’s control.
Case #1- Turning London’s Waste Dump into the 2012 Olympics Stadium
Back in 2006, the 2012 Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) chose a river-surrounded, 1-square-mile East London disposal site loaded with discarded appliances, tops of waste, shanties, and soil polluted with petrol, oil, lead, tar, and arsenic as the site for their 2012 Olympic Stadium to seat 80,000 visitors. To meet a mid-2011 completion due date, the ODA project manager lan Crockford quickly assembled a project team of over 1000, including governmental employees and other stakeholders, such as the London Development Agency as landowner, politicians, utility firms, community councils, miscellaneous local governmental groups, and of course, the athletes, all of whom wanted a voice in the site design. To clean up the site, the team created a “Soil Hospital” on-site with 60 scientists and technicians who processed and cleaned 800,000 tons of soil. To use the surrounding river for transporting equipment and materials to the site, others on the team dredged 30,000 tons of silt, gravel, garbage, and one car from 2.2 kilometers of the river, which hadn’t seen commercial use in over 35 years.
When they were ready to design the stadium, they referred to plans and schedules for London’s 90,000 seat Wembley Stadium (but that took 10 years to build) and Sydney’s 2000 Olympics 80,000-seat stadium (but that would have stretched halfway across the surrounding rivers on the London site). Moreover, the scope for this stadium was that 25,000 seats would be permanent but the other 55,000 would be temporary, built solely for the 2012 Olympics. To respond, the design team planned a highly-compact field of play that was acceptable to everyone, including the athletes. Construction started in May 2008 with the pouring of concrete, but soon they found that the steel-beamed roof as designed would create turbulence on the compact field. The team redesigned a lighter, more flexible roof made, in part, with 52 tons of scrap metal from old keys, knives, and guns confiscated by the London police, fitting with the ODA’s goals of using recycled materials. The entire stadium uses only one-quarter the amount of steel used in the 2008 Olympic stadium in Beijing. Construction was completed by the mid-2011 deadline at a price of £486 million, £51 million under budget.
1. What shape of life cycle did this stadium project have? Compare it with the life cycle of the river dredging portion of the effort. Compare it also with the Olympic Torch Relay project described earlier.
2. Which of the “triple constraints” seems to be uppermost here? Which constraints was Crockford trading between?
3. Were there any ancillary goals for this project? What might they have been?
Source: J. Danko, “Serious Conditioning,” PM Networks, Vol 24.
Case #2 – JUGGLING ACT*
Few project managers have the luxury of devoting 100 per- cent of their time to one project, Instead, many find themselves responsible for multiple ongoing projects at once, This balancing act is laden with challenges: scheduling and resource conflicts, long hours that can lead to burnout, and the constant struggle to keep a dizzying number of mile stones on track.
But knowing how to juggle the personal project portfolio is necessary for professional success, says Linky van der Merwe, PMP, senior project manager, Microsoft Consulting Services, Cape Town, South Africa.
In theory, it’s simple.
**Make sure that you know yourself well enough to know your limits and how much pressure you can handle,” she says. “Never take on more projects than you can handle or you risk jeopardizing your professionalism and your integrity.” In practice, though, juggling projects can easily overload even seasoned project professionals. Here are four areas rife with potential pitfalls and tips on how to avoid them.
Balancing Stakeholder Demands
Annette M. Suh, PMI-RMP, PMP, recently juggled one project with more than 50 stakeholders, along with four other projects of similar size. To keep the schedules and demands straight, Ms. Suh, a senior project manager at data security firm Cloudmark Incorporated, San Francisco, California, USA, didn’t even consider trying to store all the information in her head. “What gets you through this successfully is that you write it down,” she says. “Block off time on your calendar to check in on every project you have. I like to color-code projects, so I can see at a glance what relates to each project. I also keep meeting minutes with attendance, so I know who was present when decisions or commitments were made. With a large group, it’s impossible to keep track any other way.”
When reviewing project notes, pay special attention to the most powerful and influential stakeholders, says Ms. van der Merwe. Using key stakeholders’ management and communication plans can make it easier to track specific demands and prioritize between projects.
Checking in, even briefly, with all stakeholders creates the opportunity to evaluate the project’s alignment with organizational goals before prioritizing, according to Arindam Das, PMP, principal, business services at Bangalore, India-based Infosys Ltd, a PMI Global Executive Council member. “Take a long-term-perspective, and see that everyone’s objectives are taken care of in a balanced manner,” Mr. Das says. “Continuous communication and dialogue with all stakeholders, including occasional joint meetings, will reduce conflict.” When the strategic imperatives and business benefits of different projects are not articulated, project professionals may face unnecessary confusion and conflict, he says. Project managers with multiple projects may not always be able to avoid 80-hour weeks, but to minimize this possibility Mr. Das suggests staggering project schedules whenever possible. This creates breathing room between start and end dates, milestones, and peak periods and gives the project manager time for a personal life, he says.
A high-level outline for each project can be a lifesaver for time-crunched project managers. “Project managers need to make sure they understand how they are going to use their week and their days, and what types of activities they will do each day,” advises Mr. Grindborg.
Managing Shared Resources
With a shared resource pool, working closely with other project managers is a must, says Ms. van der Merwe. “Determine priorities during milestone weeks to ensure the resources are available.” Guy Grindborg also suggests building “think” time into project plans to reflect on the best approaches to manage resources. “We’re getting so caught up in doing, and we’re running all the time, that we don’t stop to think about the ‘why,” says Mr. Grindborg, PMP, vice president and senior consultant at Dallas, Texas, USA-based International Institute for Learning, a PMI Global Executive Council member. “Stop and think.”
Further mitigate resourcing risks by creating a detailed staffing plan in advance, says Mr. Das. If a resource-pool manager is available, include him or her in personnel plans. *Şee that there are operational-level agreements on meeting staffing requirements,” he says. “Getting required resources is a surefire path to project failure.”
Mr. Das encourages project professionals to learn the needs and abilities of team members. Knowing their strengths and weaknesses can ensure that the right people are in the right roles on the right projects. “You need to see that they are given necessary training and assigned the right kind of work, so that they operate at their optimum level of performance and feel satisfied about their contribution,” he says.
Staying on Schedule
Multiple projects mean multiple teams. If team members overlap on related projects, consider having one status meeting to avoid running from meeting to meeting, says Ms. van der Merwe, “Resource and scheduling conflicts are better taken care of, because the joint meetings provide visibility of what is going on with other projects,” she says. “I’ve used a spreadsheet-type of status reporting template before, giving feedback about multiple related projects with details about project goals, start and end dates, summary of progress, risks, and issues.”
To prevent drowning in different schedules, Mr. Das suggests project managers use an umbrella approach. “Developing an integrated plan helps in managing all the projects better,” he says. “This gives a single view of timeline, mile stones and critical paths, and provides much better clarity.”
Technology and tools can automate mundane operational activities, freeing up more time across the portfolio for the critical tasks on each project. The time Mr. Das used 10 spend monitoring myriad data points and generating management reports is now spent paying more attention to core issues and faster decision-making.
“You may not need to develop jazzy dashboards, but do ensure that you have some mechanisms to seamlessly convert raw data from different sources into information and insight that helps in managing your projects,” he says.
Successfully juggling the schedules for numerous projects takes not only project management skills, but also knowledge of one’s own capabilities. “Have a clear set of goals and set limits,” says Ms. Suh. “Be honest about what will happen if your own balance is out of sorts.”
Too Many Balls in the Air
Finding Work/Life Balance With multiple projects in various stages of execution, project professionals not only face time constraints at work but may also feel the stress of work bleeding into their personal time. To maximize what gets done during work hours, Mr. Das applies a time-boxing technique. “It forces you to accept less-than-perfect solutions in certain situations, but at the end of the day, you are in a balanced state, and you achieve more, he says “Other techniques, like using a four quadrant, urgent-important chart, help you achieve more in less time.” If project managers find stress levels spiraling out of control or the quality of their work slipping, they may need to say “enough to their current workloads” Annette M. Suh, PMI-RMP, PMP, Cloudmark Incorporated, San Francisco, California, USA, suggests meeting with a supervisor to discuss exactly what is going on and develop a plan to prioritize or redistribute the workload..
“Outline what will happen if things continue this way,” she says. “Realize when you’ve taken on too much. And know your strengths and weaknesses.” Arrive at this meeting with hard evidence, such as plans and schedules, to illustrate the workload, its hours and its problems, says Guy Grindborg, PMP, International Institute for Learning, Dallas, Texas, USA. “Show me you can’t do this, and I’ll help you,” he says. “When I hear ‘I can’t do this or that because of work,’ I know there is a problem.” Turning down additional projects and saying no” should be part of a project manager’s skill set especially if that’s the only way to maintain professional standards on each project, adds Linky van der Merwe, PMP, Microsoft Consulting Services, Cape Town, South Africa.
Always running late, over budget and with less-than ideal quality are clear warning signs that project managers have too many projects, she says.
1. How many project managers do you think are actually managing more than one project at a time?
2. The article keeps giving advice for handling the pressure of multiple projects. How much do you think the pressure increases relative to the number of projects being handled (most of which will typically share many of the same resources)?