Project management is about setting out a route map to deliver a scheme. Clients are satisfied when they know where the project is and that the reasons for any changes have been pre-agreed or anticipated. Clients know that things don’t always go to plan but they do expect the professional team to have anticipated the risks and set aside contingency in time or money to deal with them. Clients also expect that any decisions to change course or deviate from the plan are governed by change control so that they have made those decisions in a conscious and deliberate manner. No client likes a fait accompli (“something that has already happened or been done and cannot be changed”).
Navigation is defined as the process or activity of accurately ascertaining one's position and planning and following a route. A well run project has the following key deliverables in place to ensure that the navigation is effective:
Project Execution Plan (PEP): This defines the why, what, how, where and when of the project. Anyone should be able to read this and understand what the project is about and what it is trying to achieve by when, for how much and how it will be done. This plan has risk and contingency allowances to deal with variables and unknowns that may well occur. The client agrees to this and then expects the team to deliver within it.
End Stage Reports: You must break down the project in to bite sized chunks so that the plan can be converted into smaller schedules with closer deadlines and well defined deliverables. These end stage reports make clear what has been achieved in the last stage and what the plan is for the next stage. It allows the client to “take stock”. The real benefit is that if the project has started to drift away from the PEP you are finding this out long before the end of the project. In navigation terms you are off course but not lost.
Progress Reports: The frequency of these should reflect the risk of your project. In a highly volatile environment these will be frequent. The reason being that you cannot go for long without checking where you are because the impact of being lost, even for a short time, is not acceptable. Typical construction projects may demand a minuted weekly meeting and then a formal monthly report and stock take. The client should never feel lost because you only have to be 7 days away from your last point of reckoning.
Exception Reports: These are an essential element of every project. Simply put they tell you that the PEP is under threat and that you are forecasting that you will not meet the project objectives. They then set out the options and their implications (generally under high time pressure) for the management team to make informed choices. They will be estimates of impacts but they allow us all to make a sensible decision when there is uncertainty. Imagine a trip where you are delayed due to a traffic jam or weather or mechanical failure. The exception report recognises that despite leaving early and checking your car was serviced, things still go wrong.
Change Control: And the final piece is ensuring that any corrections to course are approved before making decisions. Changing course without everyone knowing means that the team are lost in terms of PEP and also in relation to each other. Clients must be presented the choices of going left or right, or spending more resources to stay on course. If these decisions are made for them without their knowledge you have taken control without authority.
The metaphor we use in Provelio is relating a project to planning an expedition to a remote destination. It forces the team to think everything through because you cannot assume you can pop out and grab anything you might have forgotten. If you are a client you should ask yourself if you feel lost on your projects. If you do feel lost then ask to see these equivalent documents or demand that they are put in place.