Chapter 11: The Rhythm of Project Execution

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Topics Covered in This Chapter

All About Execution

Creating the Baselines

Getting into a Rhythm

Quality Audits




Case Study

This chapter is all about what has to be done when you execute your project. It seems pretty straightforward that your team will be performing the tasks of the project. But you will be amazed by all the activities that need to be done while those tasks are being performed. One of the activities that you might not be familiar with is the concept of quality audits. I introduce that concept in this chapter and talk about what gets audited. I also cover the subject of how many quality audits you might consider on your project. I finish that topic with the timings of quality audits.

First, though, you have to set up a baseline. I talk about each type of baseline and then cover how to use them and the purpose of baselining in general. Next comes the idea of getting into a rhythm on your project.

In "Teaming," I talk about another element to use to develop the project team: training. Team members will not perform effectively if they are not trained to do the job properly. I cover the different types of training that might be needed.

In "Politics," I talk about obstacles to executive communication. You might run into a couple executive types you have dealt with before: the Mad Hatter and the Executive Ostrich.

In the case study, Chris spends most of her week getting ready for the meeting with June. She still has to complete the budget and the schedule to properly brief June. She gets caught up in a lot of meetings, though, and has a lot of details to work through to finish in time.

All About Execution

Finally, you are ready to begin the execution process of your project. It seems like you've been planning forever. You'll soon see that it was well worth it: You can much easier execute a project that you have planned well than a project that you have thrown together. You have created a workable plan and have anticipated what can possibly go wrong. You've also actually built mitigation plans, just in case things do go wrong. You are ready to go. So what needs to be done now that you are executing the project? Do you need to do specific activities, or is it simply a matter of performing each task in the project schedule?

Actually, you must take care of a handful of executing activities. I cover those in this chapter. You'll also see in Chapter 12, "Keeping the Project on Track," and Chapter 13, "Controlling Changes," that all the activities discussed in these three chapters get done while executing the project. You will be very busy executing the project, controlling changes, and keeping everything on track. Let's start with a concept that sets the stage for all the work activities in these chapters: creating the baselines.

Creating the Baselines

A baseline is the line you draw in the sand that states, "This was my intention. This is what I planned to do." You always create a project plan with the best possible way of getting the work done. You might modify your planning at the end to get to a certain objective, but you understand exactly what the trade-offs are in getting to the objectives. You build the best possible plan and save it. This is your baseline. It provides a point in time for you to compare your plans against what is actually happening. You need to create several baselines when you have finished your project planning:

  • Schedule baseline—The schedule baseline is a copy of the tasks that your team must complete to execute the project on time. It is usually a copy of the network diagram or a Gantt chart of the schedule, showing each task, the predecessors and successors for each task, as well as the needed duration of each task. You'll want to save this copy at the end of planning before any actual executing work begins.

  • You can save this copy via either a project management software program, a spreadsheet, or any other electronic means. A hard copy will also do, if you value simplicity. The best way is to let your project management software keep the baseline for you; it will also do comparisons for you when you want to know if you are on track or off track.

    Really cautious project managers also store a copy of their project schedule in their project management software, just in case they lose their current copy of the project.

    Baselines in Microsoft Project - Microsoft Project creates a baseline for you and stores it for future comparisons. In fact, it has the capability to create several different baselines. For more on this topic, see Microsoft Project for Mere Mortals, by Patti Jansen.

  • Cost baseline—You create the cost baseline during the budgeting process. This is the sum of all the work of the tasks of the project by resource and resource rate needed per task. Another view of the cost baseline is the budget minus any fees, reserves, or contingency money. This could be a spreadsheet that you've created that depicts all the budget components for your project.

  • Again, the best way to create this kind of baseline is to let your project management software keep the baseline for you. The cost baseline will be stored within your project software tool if you populate the resource sheet with the project resources and their resource rate. You will also be able to run reports to do comparisons on what you've planned to spend versus what you have spent.

    Your organization might also have mechanized tools or spreadsheets that you must fill in for your accounting department. Find out what is required before you settle on a method.

  • Product requirements baseline—You created the requirements for the product of the project early in your planning process. You now need to baseline those requirements before you begin to create the product and basically execute those requirements. This is probably a text document, so you can create a baseline by doing the following:

    1. Get a signature from the project client on the completeness and approval of the requirements.

    2. Save a copy or use document versioning to show the version of the product requirements that were approved.

  • Use this approved document as a marker to show the features and functions of what you plan to create; it will become very useful when people ask for changes in the product. You'll get into that discussion in Chapter 13.

  • Quality baseline—The quality baseline is the information that you gathered in your quality planning process. This information spells out the quality objectives that you have planned for the project. You'll again use this information while you are executing your quality plan, to compare your quality performance back to your objectives in your plan. You'll probably get signatures and do version control to create this baseline.

Putting all these baselines together creates what the PMBOK® Guide calls the performance measurement baseline. This is the sum and collection of all the parameters that you use to measure whether you are executing your project correctly. This includes all the baselines we just talked about. You are executing your project correctly if you will successfully deliver according to the triple constraints of time, budget, and the agreed-upon Measure of Performance.

When can you change a baseline or rebaseline? Good question. Most organizations have set rules regarding when a project manager can rebaseline. The rule of thumb is only after some type of major event. Say, for instance, that you have signatures on the product requirements, and you've built the project schedule and budget to build that product. A major event occurs like one of the following:

  • The executive in charge of the product leaves the organization and a new executive joins the firm. The two have different visions for the product.

  • A competitor launches a product very similar to yours.

You get the picture. The event makes you go back and rethink and redo the requirements; therefore, you have to replan the entire project. This is the type of situation that requires you to rebaseline different elements or the whole project because you are basically starting over on your project planning. The key here is to get approval from your project sponsor before you baseline. You can't rebaseline just because something goes wrong; it has to be major and approved.

Getting into a Rhythm

You've set your baseline, and the team begins the first set of tasks. You are on your way! It's time to establish a few fundamental activities that will serve you and the project until you deliver the project. Here you try to establish a rhythm for your project. Successful projects have an unmistakable rhythm to them. Figure 11.1 shows the type of tempo you are looking for. You are looking for a steady drum beat of activities, like a heart rate monitor.

Figure 11.1

The rhythm of execution

You will strive throughout the project to keep this rhythm going and to not allow anything to disrupt it.

Status Meetings

You can see from the rhythm diagram that the high point for your activity is the status meeting. This is your first fundamental activity. Now is the time to set the frequency of the status meetings. How often do you need the team to meet and discuss the status, issues, and successes? Chapter 4 talked about setting the frequency for how long a task can be out of control without you knowing about it. You must take that into consideration along with the drum beat. How often will you need the team to meet to talk about the status and issues and to keep them motivated?

Most project managers set their status day to once a week, once every two weeks, or once a month, depending on the previous factors. People tend to stay away from Mondays and Fridays because a lot of people take these days off for holidays or vacation. You need to understand the culture of your organization and determine what time of day is most conducive to having your status meeting

Issues Management

You also should establish your issues management process now. This is another activity that will help you set the rhythm of your project. Chapter 4, "Laying Out the Work," briefly covered issues and defined an issue as an item that needs discussion or research before a task can be completed.

Figure 11.2 depicts the process you will establish for managing issues. An identified issue should be brought to the project manager if urgent, or to the status meeting if not.

Document the issue at the status meeting, making sure that you establish a due date. Assign one person to be accountable for resolving the issue. Also document the other people required to solve the issue. The people who need to resolve the issue should discuss and resolve the issue outside the status meeting. They should bring back information about their progress to the status meetings as they work through the issue. They also can bring back information about their final resolution when they reach that point. The entire team can discuss and document the issue and resolution at that status meeting. The issue then is closed after this last step. Figure 11.3 shows a sample issue-management form for your future use.

Figure 11.2

Issues management process

Figure 11.3

Issues management form

Your job as the project manager is to manage the process and hold people accountable for getting the issues resolved. You also need to set up a file or database of issues so the team can review issues and their resolutions when they can't attend the status meeting.

You have established these two fundamental activities; you now can get into a rhythm for your project. The next critical step is to just get the work of project execution done.

The Work of Project Execution

So far, the discussion has been pretty general concerning the work of project execution. Until now, it has simply been characterized as "successfully execute some tasks." Let's get specific now and talk about the types of work that get done while you execute your project.

Types of Work

The types of work include the following:

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