How to Retain Your Project

So you are working on an exciting new project. Good. Now all you need is sound advice on keeping it from slipping away

Most often, companies find projects are falling off halfway through. The toughest part of any project management is to have a sound strategy in place which will help in the retention of a project with continued interest from all the stakeholders. The expectation from the IT teams, and in particular, from the senior IT managers, is huge. The level of commitment of IT managers will determine the success or failure of the project.

As per Project Management Institutes findings, only 60 per cent organisations are able to complete about 80 per cent of the projects in time. It means that 40 per cent of the companies who have initiated projects have gone back on their commitment for whatever reasons resulting in a huge financial loss.

Expectation from IT Heads
While the challenges for IT heads have been plenty, the business groups have certain expectations from the project managers too. The business heads opine that it is essential for a project manager to understand his team and their attitude is critical for a projects success.

AM Amit Madan, Chairman and Managing Director, OnDot Couriers and Cargo Ltd, says, Allocation of tasks to the team and accomplishing them is important. But good communications skills are mandatory; with it half of the battle is won.

He further adds, If the project manager is certified then most of the time you get the standard progress report, but if you have some specific requirements, then do share them as that costs extra time and money. Other than this, if you have a certified manager then it also helps in maintaining industry compliances.

Big Question: How to Retain the Project?
The obvious rule that helps in retaining a project without letting it fizzle out would be to have regular review reports that are generated and shared with steering committee and key stakeholders to have better control over the project.

Manoj K Gupta, President and CEO, PMI North India Chapter, says, For an organisation doing large and many projects, a well-defined PMO should be in place to keep a tab on the ongoing projects. According to him, a comprehensive escalation mechanism to handle exceptions and delays along with detailed communication plan to report and manage these exceptions should be developed.

Gupta is of the view that reward and penalty system through SLAs need to be in place for outsourced projects and appropriate competency management and performance management system are required for internally delivered projects, which will help in long-term retention.

Sunder Krishnan, Member, ISACA India Task Force, dwells upon the technical aspects that help in project retentionstrong project governance with regard to budgets, RoI, delivery schedule, PERTACPM, monitoring mechanism, explanation for all standard deviations, root cause analysis of variants, which are linked to project KPI of the project leaders and stakeholders.

While business leadership of the projects with high user involvement, business leaning of the IT projects, weekly steering committee meetings, quality assurance, quality criteria and project documentation are critical, Krishan reiterates, Closed downward and upward communication, of project timelines, deliverables, milestones and resource utilisation are must.

UC Dubey, Executive Director-IT, IFFCO Tokio General Insurance Company Ltd, recommends sequencing the milestones of activities as a thrust area, besides crosschecks around assumptions and constraints as vital.

The project manager has to keep a close watch on external dependencies, ensure resources are mapped well, estimation and allocations meet the requirements and modularisation of work for better delivery and control, says Dubey.

Dubey strongly recommends that the issues need to be escalated and not procrastinated lest they aggravate affecting the project status itself. Srinivas Kishan Anapu, CEO, Spandana Infotech, emphasises phase containment that will let you know the percentage slippage at each step of the SDLC.

From my experience, I found that despite having a clearly defined project scope, one has to beware of scope creep, and this phenomenon tends to occur when new features are added to product design, without providing equivalent increases in budget, time or resources, says Anapu.

The key reasons for scope creep would be poor requirements analysis, not involving the users early, underestimating the complexity of the project, lack of change control and gold plating where value is added to the project presuming it increases customer satisfaction. Of course we cannot discount the fact that having a weak project manager or executive sponsor will result in scope creep, says Anapu.

Another way of retaining the project according to BLV Rao, Global VP-IT, Infotech Ltd, would be to define and monitor quality, costs and schedule with five-seven high level parameters.

Rao says that the best practice is about managing risks. Risks are any events which can adversely affect the successful outcome of a project. Risks would relate to staff lacking technical skills to perform the work properly, hardware not being delivered on time, control room being at the risk of flooding in a major thunderstorm and many others. Risks will vary from project to project but it is important to identify the main risks in a project as soon as possible and to have a contingency plan ready to preempt it, or, if the risk cannot be avoided, to at least mitigate it in order to lessen its impact.

Dharmaraj Ramakrishnan, Head-Core Banking, ITCD, ING Vysya Bank finds strategic planning framework, project guidelines, list of factors ensuring sustainability, stakeholders analysis, strategy analysis and scoping to be key imperatives which can help in project retention. Also, its important not to encourage any scope change in the middle of the project lifecycle. This may have direct impact on the cost and the timelines of the project. At times, the scope change may lead to complete design change (in case of any application development project). Hence, identification, analysis and design stages are important. If the project scope is finalised 60% organisations are able to complete about 80% of the projects in time - PM I and design document is signed off, then this indicates that 40 per cent of the project has been completed, says Ramakrishnan.

Ravish Jhala, Systems Manager, Trident Group, who is working out a project management strategy states that scoping is the separation between what is included and what is excluded; the problem occurs when the line is disturbed usually outwards.

Some ways to avoid project slipping, according to Jhala, would be to introduce a change control board team that would evaluate the risk. IT managers should gain the ability to refuse incorporating any changes without proper reason or support.

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