PPM 301 - Project Management

Section 10. Improving Project Management


This lesson focuses on the last chapter in the text. Objectives important to this lesson:

  1. Organizational project management competence
  2. Project recovery for the team
  3. Project recovery for the project

This chapter discusses how an organization can be said to have project management competence. It describes an organization that supports doing its work through projects. This still bothers me, since we were told by these authors that projects are not daily work. Let's see where they want to take us.

We see in the first set of bullet items on page 402 that the organization makes strategic plans for projects. It seems to use projects as the basis of their business.

We see a repeat of the advice about choosing projects, and choosing team members to work on them. The text expands the idea of project teams to explain that this organization may have a core team or a full time team established for projects. The core team has permanent members who handle business and technical issues, and also has "performing" members who are added to the team for particular projects. A full time team will have permanent members of both sorts.

We should move ahead to page 405 where the text presents a checklist of three critical project problems and possible causes for each of them. It may be useful to review this list in order to watch out for the underlying problems that may cause them. The bottom line seems to be that a competent organization will avoid these problems by avoiding the underlying causes.

Page 406 offers another set of things we should do, this time organized by the length of a project. There are fewer things to do with a short term project (the text calls them small projects). The common ideas are good for any project.

For a short assignment, compare the three lists of considerations on pages 406 and 407. Find the common themes and list them in your own words.

Page 407 turns to projects that are failing. The text describes a project that is not meeting its goals, a manager who has been overcome by stress, and a team that has worked too many hours to be effective any longer.

  • The text tells us that the project environment is a problem if the project plan was inadequate or the project has grown too large due to project creep.
  • We are told that five factors in particular can contribute to team degradation.
    • Long hours lead to loss of sleep, which leads to ineffective work.
    • Fatigue from long work weeks that continue for several weeks at a time (6 to 8) compounds the lack of team productivity.
    • The text discusses stress from family members, but does not include it in the graphic on this page. This is a real issue for people who are working at a long distance from their families for extended periods, or people whose families are less functional than we might hope.
    • The text tells us that lack of exercise by team members adds to a general lack of stamina. This can be caused by too many meetings, and lack of reasons to get up from desks and move. This is all true, but it seems like a reach to say that the company should be expected to tell people to move around. Generally, the employee is left to their own choices about exercise.
    • Poor diet and poor nutrition from fast food is also blamed for loss of stamina, energy, and work quality. Again, the company is typically not responsible for the employees' diet.
  • Safety issues arise when employees are not rested, not attentive, and not ready to work around dangerous equipment.

The text tells us that a good team leader will be watching for signs of the problems above, and will take action to change the team's behaviors that are leading to project failure. The bottom of page 410 shows us a list of symptoms that should alert a manager to problems with staff members.

On page 411, the text begins a section of advice about helping staff recover from the conditions listed above. Some of the advice is repetitive. No doubt this is due to the idea that readers of the book will be looking only at the sections that apply to their current interest. Despite that, the advice seems sensible"

  • Sleep deprivation can be cured with sleep (surprise!), and the symptoms may improve with light exercise after sleeping
  • General fatigue should be treated with sleep and exercise as above.
  • Both problems above should also be addressed with a shower and fresh clothes (daily), light healthy meals, and social contact that provides a break from work
  • Stress should be addressed by managing the causes of the stress, getting counseling for personal problems, and moving to a different job or project if the stress is part of the current assignment. Sometimes people just need a break and some perspective.

The text continues this theme with several suggestions for preventing staff burnout. Some will apply better than others in specific projects or job situations, but they may all be considered.

  • Build trust and confidence in the team leader and in other team members.
  • Team leaders (and team members) should show genuine concern for the people who are on the team. Their problems are real, and sharing those problems with someone who cares can lessen them.
  • New team members should be assigned a buddy or mentor who can teach them the business of the team from the perspective of a co-worker.
  • Frequent communication to staff about the project, progress, problems, and solutions is beneficial in diffusing tension and doubt.
  • The text recommends rewards for extra achievement. Monetary rewards are not always possible, but recognition of work and achievement is always possible. Showing your appreciation of effort, improvement, and achievement are welcome when the appreciation is genuine.

The text turns to the subject of a project that needs to be recovered (salvaged) on page 415. A list of signs that a project has problems appears on page 416. The obvious solution to many of them is to address the problem stated in the symptom. Better plans and better communication would address several of the points. The text says that recovering a failing project takes smart thinking. This means that we must perform some troubleshooting to find symptoms, to determine causes, and to plan corrective action. The list on page 417 gives us many things to check, but does not address what to look for, what not to look for, or what to do about what we find in several cases. In actual practice, it may be best to start at the project plan, and to examine each part of the project related to the problems you have noticed.

Page 419 has a quick plan to recover a project, assuming it is suffering from the problems these steps address:

  • Correct flaws in the process. This is so general, I am not sure what the authors mean.
  • Revise the project plan to conform with known constraints.
  • Replace a project leader who is not performing or is too fatigued to continue. Keep that leader available for consultation.
  • Add new resources if they are needed. The text points out that adding resources may slow the project while those resources are learning how to function in the project.
  • Resolve issues and limit assumptions.
  • Give the team all the information on the changes in the project.

The chapter continues with more material that repeats other portions of the text.