Pragmatic Project Management Requires Focus to Avoid Creep

Experts Share the Secrets of Successful Project Management

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Emerson Exchange 2009

To paraphrase the Beach Boys, be true to your co-workers and clients, just like you would to your process control system and plant.

Most engineers, technicians and operators lavish attention on their process monitoring and control systems. However, the actual people that install and operate these facilities often are neglected or ignored by their supervisors, contractors and each other.

To combat some of these persistent problems and bad habits, four speakers presented the Industry Forum on Engineering (for OEMs, engineering contractors and integrators) this week at the 2009 Emerson Global Users Exchange in Orlando, Fla.

The main advice given by the forums presenters was that specific and complete requirements and specifications, followed by equally formal and thorough change procedures are the keys to good project management and successful projects. They also presented a variety of advice and procedures from the Project Management Institute's A Guide Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK) and other sources.   

"A project can be doomed from the beginning if it doesn't have a good scope and isn't planned adequately," said the first speaker, Jim Carlins, PE, PMP, president of Carlins Technology International LLC. He presented "PMI Scope and Risk Management Methodologies."

"A well-conceived project has a well-defined scope, a process to manage change and an in-depth understanding of project risks and how to deal with them," said Carlins. "Proper application of PMI's principles of scope and risk management provides a solid project foundation and promotes project execution success." 

Carlins explained that PMBOK stresses five process groups and nine knowledge areas, and then cross-references them to create a map that engineers, contractors and managers can use to accomplish better project management. The five process groups are initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing. The nine knowledge areas are project integration and eight types of management—scope, time, cost, quality, human resource, communications, risk and procurement. Users need to make sure they address each of the knowledge areas.

"Some projects fail because of scope creep, which includes unplanned project scope changes, and due to unforeseen project risks, which include risks that weren't identified," said Carlins. "The response is to develop a process for preventing new tasks from stealing project resources and better plan for risk events before they occur."

The second speaker, Manuel Garcia, PE, associate director of the Construction Industry Institute, reported that CCI studied its owners, contactors, suppliers and academic members, and found that people in organizations resist new practices. "People are reluctant to buy in and go into wait-and-see mode or are just neutral to new practices," said Garcia. "The project or change's champions are enthusiastic, but they often lack a clear vision for implementation, and they haven't prepared for the implementation tasks. The greatest barrier is that they don't secure staff acceptance of the change, and they also don't know how to expand their new practice beyond a first implementation to the rest of the organization."

Carlins explained that successful projects begin with scope management, which includes:

  • Scope planning to describes how scope is defined, verified and controlled, and how a work breakdown structure (WBS) is created;
  • Scope definition, which defines items that are "in scope" and items that are NOT "in scope;"
  • Creation of a WBS that divides major project deliverables and tasks into smaller, more manageable components;
  • Scope verification for formal acceptance process for completed deliverables; and
  • Scope change control, which establishes a controlled process for changing project scope.

Likewise, Garcia added that advocates of new practices must consider what impact their change will have on existing processes, corporate structure and culture and on their business model. They also must audit and update their findings. "Introducing change is like climbing a staircase," explained Garcia. "You must start with a needs analysis, prepare to introduce the change and then initiate it and go after low-hanging fruit to get a win that will prove the value of the idea and grow it. Next, you have do benchmarking to establish the change and get it to be used throughout the organization."

To prepare to initiate a new change, Garcia added that its supporters must ask themselves if they have:

  • Formulated a vision for the new process?
  • Provided support from management and staff affected by the new process?
  • Developed a roadmap for implementing the new process?
  • Developed a first communication plan for the new process?
  • Established the necessity for adopting the new practice?
  • Appointed initial champions for the new process?
  • Empowered appropriate individuals to successfully start implementation of the new practice?
  • Provided for education of relevant personnel in the new practice?

"Scope changes will occur, so you need to be prepared and plan for them as much as possible," said Carlins. "Changes can be submitted from any source, but they need to be reviewed within the project scope. The reviewers need to ask: Is this change required for project success? What is its impact on the project's goals or product functionality? What is its impact on the project's budget and schedule, and does the project have a sufficient contingency allocation? Once these questions are answered, accepted changes need stakeholder sign-off and project manager review and, preferably, approval.

Carlins added that another essential element of project management is risk management, which consists of planning, risk identification, qualitative risk analysis, quantitative risk analysis, risk response planning and risk monitoring and control. Risk management planning includes:

Next, a risk assessment (RA) table is developed that includes risk description, potential of occurrence and numerical probability rating; risk quantification, impact potential and numerical probability rating; and risk responses, an action plan and whether to accept and how to avoid, transfer or mitigate those risks. These probability ratings can then be used to create a probability and impact matrix.

Similar to the other project management procedures, the risk review process includes:

  • Identifying potential project problems, comparing project status with the project plan and activating recovery plans before project harm occurs;
  • Performing a risk evaluation to check a risk's impact on a project's next major milestone and its impact on the final project's product or service delivery date;
  • Completing risk response planning to scrutinize contributing factors, establish a recovery plan and develop a contingency plan and define what activates the recovery plan.
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