Editor’s note: This article is penned by our Project Management program director Tim Bombosch. As a certified Project Management Professional (PMP®) with more than 10 years of experience managing projects for Cisco, Ericsson, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Becton-Dickinson, Beckman Coulter, Genentech, Iridex, Affymetrix, Kaiser Permanente and Mindjet, Tim knows a thing or two about project initiation and planning. Here’s why you need to know about these topics!
For the first time this spring, we are offering Project Initiation and Planning BUS ADM X442.7 as a new required class for the Certificate Program in Project Management. First, it will be available as an in-class offering in January, with the online version appearing in mid-spring.
Why Are You Introducing This Class?
Strictly from the certificate perspective, it's a new required class, intended to be the next-to-last class you take. It is the prerequisite for Project Execution and Control BUS ADM X471.9.
By the time students progress this far in the certificate, they will have learned a wide range of project management practices, tools, techniques and standards. This class—along with Project Execution and Control—will give students the chance to develop all of the project management deliverables for a single project, from the earliest stages of project initiation through project closure.
Along the way, students will integrate project data across all knowledge areas through the entire project management life cycle. As needed, students will update planning documents as new information emerges that affects scope, schedule, cost, risk and quality.
Then, during Project Execution and Control, students learn to account for new information, take corrective actions, manage variances from plans, respond to risk and manage changes to project requirements.
Upon completion of these two classes, students will have demonstrated deep and complete mastery of core project management knowledge and have produced portfolio-quality deliverables that they can show to prospective employers.
Why Does the Project Initiation and Planning Class Matter?
While we must absolutely understand each of the project management knowledge areas—that's the goal of earlier classwork—project management is, above all, a set of well-defined, predictable processes that proceed through time.
Second, one of my biggest pet peeves about project management relates to project initiation. If you read the PMBOK®, this phase of the project results in a project charter that identifies project deliverables and requirements. Constraints related to schedule and costs are put into place, as well as a few other things.
But here's the problem: Where do requirements come from? How do we even have an inkling of how long the project will take or what it will cost before planning takes place? How do we know that the project will produce anything of value?
This approach to project initiation reminds me of the idea that storks deliver newly born babies, all wrapped up in a lovely blanket. But as anyone knows, there's a whole lot more that had to happen before the delivery took place!
This class takes project initiation seriously. You will learn a variety of methods to understand how organizations identify project needs and translate them into requirements and deliverables. You will investigate how to make a business case for projects, determine if they are feasible and validate stakeholder requirements—before you get to a project charter.
What Else Is Important In the Class?
These are big questions for the class and they matter for every project:
- What should you do if your project plans demonstrate that the project cannot meet its targets?
- How do you plan for uncertainty?
- How do you make sure your project delivers what's expected?
- How do you transition from planning to execution and control?
1. What should you do if your project plans demonstrate that the project cannot meet its targets?
What's new to this course is addressing the all-too-common reality that careful planning can reveal that a project cannot be delivered according to its original constraints.
Development will take too long.
The costs will be too high.
We don't have the skills to do the work.
Or some combination of these things.
In such a case, the project manager should go to the project sponsor with the bad news. Sponsors don't like bad news and will try to convince the project manager that the project must indeed proceed as expected. What's a project manager to do? The best response is to carefully demonstrate that the planning processes were done properly and that some combination of scope reduction, schedule lengthening and budget increases are needed to make the project viable.
In this class, you will be shown how to present project data to a sponsor in such a way that you can make your case clearly, put yourself in a stronger negotiating position and (hopefully) reach a viable outcome. You will also learn what to do in case the outcome isn't as viable as they like.
Hint: It's better than this reaction:
2. How do you plan for uncertainty?
There's an old saying, "The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry." That is certainly true of projects.
In fact, it is the rare project that goes 100-percent according to plan! Some statistics state that 70 percent or more of projects fail! The inability to account for uncertainty is one of the leading reasons why our best-laid plans go awry. On the surface, this sounds like an oxymoron: How can you account for something that is uncertain?
One of the great achievements of project management is the development of risk-management practices that help solve the problem of uncertainty. Through tried-and-true risk-management practices, you will learn how to identify, analyze, plan for and respond to project risks. As a result, the best laid-plans will less often go awry.
Risk-management planning won't do us any good, however, if we do not leave ourselves the means to deal with those risks that inevitably occur. You will learn how to leave room in the schedule and have extra budget to help us when risk events do occur. This aspect of risk management is crucial, and the sponsor may resist building a longer schedule and increasing the costs. But the ability to reduce uncertainty and to increase the ability to deal with setbacks are key parts of project management.
3. How do you make sure your project delivers what's expected?
In a word, quality management. Okay, that's two words.
Project management has developed a wide range of practices to make sure projects deliver the goods and services that stakeholders expect. This doesn't mean projects have to commit to gold-plated bathroom fixtures. It means that we do these things during planning:
- Understand what the customer wants and articulate them as requirements.
- Define our project work in such a way as to deliver what they want.
- Design controls that measure compliance with requirements.
- Dedicate time and resources to creating quality-management plans, performing quality assurance and control, and have processes in place to deal with quality issues as they arise.
We will walk students through all of these steps.
4. How do you transition from planning to execution and control?
This is another aspect of project management that doesn't always get the attention it deserves. While the concept of establishing a project baseline is well understood, getting approval for that baseline and transitioning to delivery is not always clear in project management training.
This class will introduce students to the concept of a Gate Review, a point-in-time comprehensive review point at which the sponsor and key stakeholders approve or reject a project or request changes. You will learn how to prepare for a Gate Review and negotiate approval for the project.
The next step is to transition from planning to delivery. You will prepare kick-off agendas to share with teams, as well as learn the range of things you need to cover and how to get a team off on the right foot. This final deliverable will help you launch your efforts in Project Execution and Control.
So this is a big, ambitious class. You will have learned much of this material before, but we will help you kick up your project management skills a notch.
You'll learn how to properly initiate projects, integrate your planning data, deal with real-world situations with your sponsor, manage risk and quality effectively, conduct a gate review and prepare your teams to delivery.
With this course, you'll take an important step from learning about project management theory to putting it into practice.