Part 1 | Identifying Your Ingredients
It is common knowledge that project management is essential to the success of any project, but let’s be honest with ourselves – How much quality time do we actually spend on thorough planning?
Chances are, not enough.
The outputs of the planning process, such as a defined scope and requirements documentation, are important for any project. When working with IT projects, the quality and detail of these elements is especially key as they are directly correlated to the project success. If adequate time is not spent on thoroughly defining business critical requirements and project scope, there can be significant risks to your budget, timeline, and overall implementation.
Think of a software project like cooking a meal; a missing ingredient or an oversight of a nutritional restriction could wreak havoc on the outcome of the meal.
Plan Your Meal
Like with all projects, preparing a meal starts with an idea, the identification of a need. With a meal, it could be as simple as providing sustenance or as complex as organizing a full course dinner party. The level of complexity of the meal will determine how much time you need to spend preparing. Equally, the more complex the project, the more time needs to be dedicated to the planning process and definition of objectives.
Take, for example, planning a dinner party. Before determining what to cook, there are items that need to be defined, such as:
- How many people are expected? Cooking for four people is significantly different than cooking for forty.
- Are there any dietary restrictions or food preferences that need to be addressed? If there are nut allergies among the guests and few like fish, pecan crusted walleye is probably not the best choice.
- What type of cooking equipment is available? If you don’t own a food processor, ensure that your recipe does not require one.
- How much time do you have to prepare? If you only have a few hours to prep, a 10-hour smoked brisket will need to be avoided.
These are just a few of the elements that need to be considered before even opening up a recipe book and beginning to plan your menu. In many ways, defining the needs of those you are feeding for a dinner party is the same concept as defining the needs of your business for a project. How can you determine what software package to purchase if your business needs are not fully identified? All too often, a project will enter the design phase, after the vendor contract has been signed, only to discover that the product does not meet the full needs of the business. There may be an integration requirement that was not discussed or interdependencies that were not taken into consideration. When this happens, factors such as timeline and budget can experience significant risk. The entire project comes to a screeching halt, potentially reverting back to the beginning planning phases and often requiring more time and/or money be spent to resolve the issue. If your guests don’t like or can’t eat the meal you serve them, you will end up spending additional time making something else to meet their needs. Likewise, if you do not delegate resources early in your project planning, you may be implementing the wrong objectives for your business.
Make Your Grocery List
Once meal preferences have been defined, it’s time to identify your meal ingredients. Generally, this begins by searching your pantry to determine what you have against what you need. This may result in a menu change if necessary ingredients are missing and you don’t have the time and/or budget to purchase them. The make-or-buy decision is made during this time, and the outcome of this process is your shopping list. The identification of missing ingredients is crucial to making your shopping excursion effective; if it’s not on the list, it may not get purchased, and if it does not get purchased, you will either need to make a substitute, risking quality, or alter your meal plan mid-way through.
Like your shopping list of ingredients, requirements must be defined in order to ensure your end project will fully meet your business needs. This is essential if a vendor will be contracted for a portion of the project; a thorough requirements document is in effect your shopping list that will determine if the vendor meets your needs. All too often, assumptions are made or even discussed but not documented. If a requirement is not noted, your project experiences the risk of impacting quality, budget, and/or timelines in order to accommodate for the missing piece. A project’s only assumption should be that the items documented on the requirements list are the only items that will be included in the end product. As such, this phase of project planning presents a high level of risk to the project as a whole, and gathering your project “ingredients” should be a key deliverable for your team.
KISS the Cook
When it comes to project planning, it is important to be effective and thorough, but this does not mean creating complicated documents that address anything and everything that could possibly arise. Try to refrain from these rat holes of “what if” scenarios that can drain energy from the project and waste time. Instead, remember to KISS when you’re planning and documenting project requirements: Keep It Simple, Silly.
- Identify the critical-to-quality elements for your project in terms of “need to haves” and “nice to haves.”
- Engage all stakeholders early.
- Keep a running list of requirements in a central location that can be easily accessed by all project team members and stakeholders.
- Keep the project objective close at hand and only discuss items that are value-added.
Effective project planning in the beginning phases of a project minimizes the risks throughout the remainder of the project. A well-defined scope and thoroughly documented requirements are vital ingredients for cooking up project success.
Stay tuned for next month’s post on the final project planning phases, including efficiently executing on your IT “recipe.”
Sabrina Schindler is a consultant with Eide Bailly Technology
Consulting. She is a certified Project Management
Professional (PMP) and has more than 7 years of experience
managing software application implementation and
optimization projects covering scope, timelines, and