Project Management: The Importance of Soft Skills Part 2

By Marc Backer, Project Manager, STG

Project Management: The Importance of Soft Skills Part 2

This Project Management Part 2 blog covers the 4 M's; Scope Management, Time Management, People Management and Quality Management.

Scope Management
Scope management means - you are to do what you are suppose to do and only what you are suppose to do according to the Statement of Work (SOW).  Any other work should be addressed under change orders and only if they do not impact contractual dates.

We have all heard the term “scope creep”.  Why does this happen on almost every project?  Simple – we do not take the time to discuss the scope of the project with everyone involved.  Make it your job to discuss scope with the project sponsor and other project resources explaining in detail the impact of scope changes on cost and time.  Also, discuss with your team, the scope of the project and how to say “no” when asked to do something that is easy but out of scope. It is always easier to say no upfront than try to explain a missed key date or a budget overrun.

What really happens when there is a change in scope?  There is a defined relationship between project scope, the quantity of project resources and the project end date.  This is often referred to as a project’s triple constraints (scope/time/resources). When there is an increase in scope; the number of contributable resources must increase or the end date must be move out or both.  It is a simple mathematical relationship. So when the client says – There is a new requirement and there are no more resources and the end can’t change – how do you respond?  The laws of physics can’t change either.  Explain the relationship and ask for advice.

Time Management
Time is a fleeting commodity.  Once an hour is past it cannot be recaptured, reused or undone.  Use your time wisely and plan appropriately.

As projects are being organized and planned, we as project managers are always asked for project hours and end dates.  Rarely does a project manager have the luxury to plan to the lowest level of detail.  In reality, planning to that level of detail early can be problematic.  Committing to early estimates may box you into a corner later.  Projects are fluid and are constrained by our knowledge at any point in time.  Plan your project knowing that you do not have a complete set of information and set expectations appropriately. Make it known early that re-planning will occur at key points during the project or when previously unknown and/or new requirements surface.

Projects are made up of hundreds sometimes thousands of tasks.  To what level of granularity do you plan?  I have seen tasks planned for one hour in duration and some months long.  A good rule of thumb is to plan to a level that is easily measurable without being burdensome.  For big projects, I like to make my largest task no more than 40 hours and the smallest task should not be less than a day.

Make sure your team members understand how their tasks are integrated into the overall plan. Encourage team members to ask for help when needed. Resources should ideally be recording time to task or percentage of task completion. As a project manager, you do not want to wait for a due date to find out that a deliverable will be late. Roll up your sleeves and dig into the details. Kick the tires and ask the right questions.  You do not have the luxury of taking every word as the truth – they may not know the truth.

People Management
People – if it weren’t for people, this job would be much easier.  Good Project Managers surround themselves with good people - properly skilled and with common understanding of project goals and objectives.

Having the right number of resources with the correct technical skills is half the battle.  Not every person may be equipped for project work.  Project skills include: interpersonal skills, time management skills and the ability to balance the level of detail.  Get to know your project team by interacting with them outside the constraints of the project.  Look for the symptoms of a potential problem resource.  You do not have the luxury of time on your side.  Make resource changes quickly and decisively.  This can include internal team members, client resources and outside consultants.

Are you in a constant state of missing deliverable dates?  You can’t get your project resources to commit.  Make everyone accountable.  Easier said than done you might say.  If you engage your technical resources in the early stage of estimating tasks, you have a greater ability to hold them to it.  In fact, if they helped with the original estimates, they feel more accountable.  If you as a project manager are being held accountable, it only makes sense that all project resources should fall under the same set of rules.

Stay in touch with your project team continuously. Get to know them so you can detect changes in their behavior.  When projects reach critical points, individuals react to stress differently. Look for the signs. Address stressed individuals early.

Quality Management
There are a lot of new programs with familiar names describing quality objectives and processes.  Quality is not rocket science.  Keep it simple and practice it everyday.

Have you ever delivered a report or some other end product and you don’t get the reaction you were expecting?  In fact, the recipient either ignores or pays little attention to what you thought was a superior piece of work.  What happened?  You probably made a simple inaccurate statement somewhere deep in your report which discredited the entire document.  Make sure you check your facts.  Something very simple, which is taken for granted, may be wrong.  The last thing you want to do have a very good piece of work go down the tubes due to a small issue in quality. It is always a good idea to have a second set of eyes looking at deliverables.

Are you sometimes disappointed with the quality of work delivered by your team members?  Your vision of quality and your team’s vision may be very different.  Spend time discussing quality standards and your expectations.  Do not make your team guess what’s in your mind.  Pro-forma deliverables are a good way to gain a common understanding of expectations.

This is a continuation of a 3-part series addressing Project Management soft skills. Prior topics included:

  • Introduction to Project Management Soft Skills
  • Relationship Management
  • Integration Management

The next part of this Project Management 3-part series will address:

  • Communications Management
  • Change Management
  • Conclusions

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