To have a successful project, you need a clear vision of the delivered result. You need to know why the project is being implemented. You need a strong commitment of management to the project. You need to share managementís vision of how the end results will benefit the company. How will you discover these facts? Ask!
When your boss comes to you, for instance, and reports that you are to manage a project to upgrade the mail servers, you need to find out why. It may not be that the manager really wants the mail servers upgraded; he could just be having trouble
Well-informed decisions result in success for everyone, not just the project.
opening a cartoon his frat brother from Utah sent him and blaming it all on the companyís e-mail system.
When you approach management to find out why the project needs to happen, you arenít questioning their decision-making ability. You are, however, questioning what their vision is for the project. In your company, your immediate manager may be the most technically savvy genius in the world and her decisions are always right on target. In others, if not most, managers know that a technology exists and can be implemented. However, they donít know exactly which technology theyíre after. Figures 1-3 and 1-4 show the difference between effective decision-making abilities and poor decision-making abilities.
As the project manager, your job is to ensure the success of your project and your career, and a successful impact on the bottom line. When you speak with management about the proposed project, you are on a fact-finding mission. Ask questions that can result in specific answers. For example:
Sometimes a manager may come to you with a specific problem for you to solve. In these instances, the project is wider, more open-ended, and youíll have to drill deeper into the problem presented. Letís say for example that a vice president is complaining about the length of time it takes her to retrieve information on customers through your database. She just wants it faster.
Your questions may be something like this:
There are several things we can do to increase the speed of the process. Each may require a financial commitment initially, but would result in faster responses for all of the database users. Do you want to investigate this route?
Notice how youíre thinking like an executive. Itís not technology for technologyís sake. A new multiprocessor database server, gigabytes of memory, and faster switches are all cool stuff, but if they donít earn their keep, they are just toys. When you are inventing a project, think like an executive of a company and show how the investment in software, hardware, and talent can create more dollars by increasing productivity, safeguarding data, or streamlining business processes and ultimately making customers happy.Interviewing the Stakeholders
As you know, stakeholders are individuals, groups, or organizations that have a direct interest in the outcome of the project. Your projectís success or failure will directly affect the way they complete their work, use their existing technology, or continue to buy from your company. Stakeholders can include
In a technical project, the largest group of stakeholders is typically the users. Any project that has an impact on users needs to be discussed with them. This can be done several different ways. The most popular, and sometimes most disruptive, is a focus group. Fair warning: focus groups have a tendency to engage in gripe sessions about the problem rather than the solution. If you choose this route, take control of the discussion and keep the participants focused on the solution.
A focus group allows you to take a sampling from users from each affected department, present the project to them, and then listen to their input. You need to explain how the proposed technology will be better than the current, how it will solve problems, and, if necessary, why the decision is being made to change. Input from focus groups can alter your entire project for the good or the bad.
Another way to interview users is through an intranet site. This method can be an effective form of communication because users have the opportunity to share their opinions and have some say on your project. Of course, with this route, itís best to have your intranet site request responses to a survey so the results can be tallied quickly. See Figure 1-5 for an example of an online survey.
Some project managers rely on the Delphi Technique. This approach is often used in risk management, but can be applied to any consensus-gathering activity. The participants and their comments are anonymous. The participants are allowed to freely comment on the technology, their concerns, and desires for the requirements. All of the comments are then shared with all of the participants, and they can agree or discount them based on their opinions and experience. Because the process is anonymous, there is no fear of retribution or backlash, or offending other
participants. After several rounds of discussion, a consensus is formed on what is needed. An intranet site can automate the method and keep users anonymous.
Finally, learn how the users do their work now. This is especially important for situations like new software development, application upgrades, and new hardware technologies. This can be accomplished in a usability laboratory where mock screens, resembling the technology being implemented, are made available. Feedback from users helps design the solution to be implemented. By working with a user one-on-one, you can experience how the user is using the current technology, how the new technology will affect the user, and what the ultimate goal of a technical change should be: increased productivity and increased profits. Donít lose sight of that fact.
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