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4 building blocks of predictable project execution

July 1, 2011 - Project Management

Predictable project execution.  The holy grail for PMOs everywhere.

crystal ballWe (the IT organization I work for) have lately been on a quest for this nirvana-like accomplishment, hoping against hope that there is a trick, a secret key to achieving it.  And if we only discover those hidden tools that surely exist, we will never have another project surprise again.  Never another project delivered three months late at 2x the cost.  Never another project that doesn’t realize its planned business benefits in the first year.  And all that jazz.

For the past week, I’ve had the opportunity to work with a brilliant mind named John Bellwin, and during some intellectual musings, he shared some of his ideas on the topic.

What I expected:

“Document and communicate your work breakdown structure in this way…” or

“Here’s a super secret estimating tool…” or

“Make sure every project team member has a cup of coffee with three teaspoons of sugar and a shot of espresso each morning at 8:03…”

What he said:

“Get super good at churning out project deliverable estimates.”

That’s not magical at all!  But I couldn’t disagree with his building blocks of predictable project execution:

1. Keep project history

Keep track of how long deliverables take for every single project.  And keep record of how complex the deliverables are (for example, a 100-requirements document vs. a 1,000-requirements document).

2. Compare project similarity

Track some project attributes to ensure that, when using project history for estimating a new project, you’re comparing your project to a similarly complex past project.

3. Be consistent

Each project needs to be executed in a consistent manner.  The same deliverables, the same processes — no workarounds or exceptions.  Only then will the project estimates be predictable.

However, I do disagree that the key to predictable project execution lies in the project estimate alone.  I would add a fourth building block to this list:

4. Robust project change control

If project changes are taken seriously — not simply snuck in, but documented, the impact analyzed, and approved — inevitable requirements changes, schedule adjustments, and compromises will be measured and expected instead of becoming grenades that send the project team reeling into red status.

Dilbert Change Control


What are your building blocks of predictable project execution?

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