Following on from the initial post on Project Acceleration, this post covers the second aspect of accelerating any project, which is to have a precise and current understanding of your project’s status and outlook against your plan. If you are going to make material changes in the team’s activities, you need to know from what base you can make the change.

Another Dilemma – How much do you know?

You may have a dilemma, depending on the current status of your project status – having enough current information. To make a decision on a material change in project delivery, you need a pretty rich, accurate and current set of project information.  The potential dilemma is you may need to refresh your status, which will interfere with the initial stage of the plan, as outlined in this post.

As we saw in that previous post, in the first stage of assessment, you want to make an initial assessment of doability without risking disruption or other unintended impact.  So you will be in one of 2 scenarios:

  1. You have rich and up-to-date status info (tick, carry on)
  2. You don’t have all the info (read this post to see what I mean by ‘all the info’)

If you don’t have all the info on your project’s current status then you have 2 options:

  1. Privately risk assess the missing info: make guesses, assumptions and assign risk probabilities; or
  2. Go and ask.

Both options have their downsides. The first is fine theoretically. You can go back to your sponsor and say “based on these assumptions, my recommendation is…” Sometimes that’s all you can do.  But if you think that will transfer the accountability for the decision away from you, I’d think again.  You aren’t covering anyone’s ass with assumptions.  You are just using them as an (albeit intelligent) crutch for decision-making.  The second option potentially triggers all the issues we were trying to avoid by doing the initial fast-scan assessment.  You can manage that exposure by limiting the number of people you talk to but once the genie’s out of the bottle there’s no getting it back.

Always Know What is Going On

So the advice here is to maintain a high level of understanding and data on project status at all times. This, of course, is good / best PM practice anyway, but not always maintained? Nor is it easy to maintain without coming across as an irritating nagger.  The art and science of obtaining this information is beyond the intent of this post, but perhaps I’ll cover it in another one. If anyone is interested.  And this advice doesn’t really help if you are already in that situation of being asked to facilitate big decisions without having the full understanding of what’s going on with your project.

Project status isn’t just about the external facts of on-time or RAG traffic lights.  There’s a level of detail and richness which is open-ended: you cannot know too much about what is going on with your project, and unless you have an understanding of “Project Status” vs “Rich Project Status” you don’t really have a solid footing in the leadership of the project.

Rich Project Status: What Do You Need To Know?

What aspects of project status do you need to have considered to have “Rich Project Status”.  You need to have this before embarking on a do ability assessment of delivery acceleration?  This is pretty much the same as what do you need to know to truly be up-to-date with your project’s status.

Here are a few tips. Can you think of any others?

  • Do you have a deep understanding of status, or is it superficial?
  • Have you received or obtained explicit and rich status information regularly in recent past, or have you just been reviewing “no change. On track” summaries?
  • What objective evidence do you have that validates the overall perceived / reported progress? Demonstrations, test results, tangible deliverables?
  • Have you been able to independently or personally verify and validate the status information that had been provided?
  • Is your understanding based both on reported data and also,on personal experience with the whole project team?
  • Do you have a fleshed out delivery model for your project that covers all the deliverables, their dependencies, estimates and the owners and their resource model?
  • Are you up to date with all resource assignments? Sometimes resource teams reassign people for various reasons, and it’s easy in a large or distributed team for the PM to miss those reassignments at the time.  Given the dramatic variation in the productivity of different individuals in their roles, particularly software developers and technology specialists, this can make a big difference to your assumed rate of progress of a given team on a given task.
  • Have you considered upcoming holidays (both public and personal)?  Do any key team members have planned and unmoveable leave? Are they about to be transferred or assigned to some high-impact internal program? like an Executive Training Course? Does anyone in the project have personal circumstances that may impact a changed delivery model, e.g. University studies with exams or big assignments coming up?
  • Do you have a validated scope for the projects and when was the last time the PM had objective evidence of stakeholder and team agreement
  • Has there been any undocumented or uncommunicated change in the projects implementation or solution capabilities? How certain of this are you?  Do you have a “gut feeling” that anything is showing dissonance between reported status and actual?
  • Are you on schedule? Or late against published schedule?  Or even early?
  • Is the cause of any lateness intrinsic to the project team or external?
  • Have the explanations for lateness been rational and reasonable?
  • Were you informed of these delays ahead of time, after it had occurred? or did you just find out some other way?
  • Do you have quantitative data on the project that gives a baseline of productivity, e.g. story point velocity?  Are you comfortable with the accuracy of this data?
  • Is the project instrumented to collect data on progress and productivity on a relatively short timeframe? daily or realtime reports, or monthly?
  • If not all deliverables are on schedule and “green light” RAG status, do you have a good understanding of why?
  • Are your financials up to date? Including estimates of “accrued” costs from vendors not yet invoiced, Or internal costs not yet posted? A and do you have up to date ETC? Is your budget fully costed? Every deliverable can be traced to one or more budget line items and vice versa?
  • Do you have a sense of whether there is any unpublished or undisclosed bad news from any team.
  • What is the mood of the respective teams? Positive and engaged? Or fractious and disengaged? Or whatever?
  • Recent history. Have there been many major changes in recent past? Has the team been working long hours or been under abnormal pressure recently? For how long?
  • And so on

I’m convinced that I’ve left some things out.  If I think of them I’ll add them in an updated post.

If you can think of other aspects of project status, let me know via the comments.

Conclusion

On the whole, these are aspects of project intelligence that the PM should maintain as up to date all the time, but we all know that sometimes this isn’t possible. The PM may have been on vacation (as if), sick or travelling. There may have been a crisis that has distracted the PM away from normal best practice. Or the PM may not yet be aware that they need this information, or possibly not strong enough to obtain it.

We’d all like to have this level of sensitivity and richness in our project status.

The absolute worst way to face a potential change is not having a firm foundation and that foundation is a solid, complete and current knowledge of the true status

References:

  1. Project Action Principles #1: Achieve Outcomes, Rapidly
  2. Principle-Based Project Leadership (Beta Book)