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Manage Complicated Business Processes Effectively

Does your organisation engage in projects? Does your staff have the requisite project management skills? Do you provide the necessary inspiration and leadership to make project management an enjoyable and productive way of conducting business? Do your clients trust you and your organisation to undertake projects for them, or on their behalf? Are you losing certain types of business because the answer to the above questions - even to just one of them - is "No"?

What constitutes a project?

A project is a collection of work processes or whole work-flows put together for the purpose of a single objective. This objective is often time limited with a specific 'finish by' date. There is also usually an allocated budget. And many people getting involved partly or fully.

The purpose of a project can vary enormously. It can be as small as consolidating customer address lists from Outlook to a professional CRM system - or as large as putting a Space Shuttle into orbit. In a commercial context it does not take long to scrape together a list of potential projects:

  • Sales: Improve customer information sharing through use of a CRM system. Or - Put together a large client proposal.
  • Client Support: Improve client issue tracking and prioritisation to reduce workload and increase efficient resolution.
  • Administration: Increase document access accuracy through using a DMS system. Improve customer relations by using a unified communications system.
  • Accounts: Improve the information flow from sales and production to reduce accounting errors and provide just-in-time management information.

Dealing with each of these issues will take the collaborative effort of many people in your organisation. These people have their normal job roles to fill. They may also not agree on the importance of each of the issues at hand. They are nevertheless the most imporant 'resources' when a project finally gets the go-ahead, if for no other reason than they have to live with the result of the project once it is completed. So it had better be good.

Have you got what it takes - to initiate, plan and complete a successfull project in your organisation?

Each person participating in a project has to be able to operate on two levels, one doing 'the work', the other managing it. Many people like to complete tasks and find it easy to do 'the work'. Others are better at managing a project, but less effective at completing tasks. Nevertheless, everyone involved has some of one and some of the other to contend with.

First, you have to start, or initiate, the project. This involves sitting down with your staff (if it is an internal project) or your client to find out why this project is happening, what it is aimed at achieving and what they are expecting from the project. The project manager drives this initial phase and documents everything, including hopes and fears of those involved, in a simple project initiation document. This document, or a collated version of it, must be circulated to those who will take part and a certain amount of 'buy-in' must be achieved at this stage. The project manager needs all the sales and motivational skills s/he can muster. This is where yu are selling the vision of the completed project and in order to do so effectively, you must also establish collective agreement on what the final 'product', the deliverable, looks like.

Secondly, the planning phase. This is where you detail what needs to be done, which tasks to complete and how to prioritise the tasks in order to reach the goal. You will decide how to communicate the progression of the project to the client and ensure that each project team member fully understands their individual role and the expectations of their contribution.
You will then begin to develop the project plan. This plan will categorize tasks, create timelines, and assign tasks to team members. To keep each new task from disappearing in the fast increasing volume of information, you will start entering it into some kind of project management software.

You are now ready to create milestones in your project plan. These help to visualise to each project member, as well as to you, how far the project has progressed and whether it is on schedule or not. It is good practice now to begin developing a risk management plan, so it can be fully integrated into the overall plan. If something can go wrong - it will! Show your client you know that and tell them what you will do when it happens. It increases their confidence in you.
You are now ready to execute the project, i.e. doing the work you collectively set out to do. To keep things on track each project team member must now start monitoring what they are doing and comparing that to the plan. This control function is crucial to catch slippage early and to avoid that a problem escalates into a disaster.

Third, and last, the project closing. Once all the tasks have been completed and the project has come to a close, you need an official approval and acceptance of the results. This takes place in a meeting where the project outcome is presented and compared to the original objective. Everyone involved has to express satisfaction that the project has completed and the objectives achieved. It is normal, at this point, to discuss the future and to note some sort of provision for future requirements.

Making the job easier - project management software

In order to keep track of everything you need to do in your project, in order to monitor if you are on track, in order to inform your client of your progress - in order to increase your own and your team's productivity - you need a systematic repository for all the information you collect. This is normally done with project management software. There are hundreds such software packages, ranging from the simplest to do/task list in Outlook to the most complicated software ever devised. Some of these are single user, some are multi-user, but they all revolve around a database containing all your information and a graphical user interface designed to make it easier to get an overview of where you are in the project at any given moment.screenshot-egroupware
The right choice of software is important, although multi-user access through a browser over the Internet probably is the single most important feature for teams, if you want to keep the team spirit alive and your project on track.
Apart from that, you need to be able to record tasks, including start date and expected/actual finish date, as well as who is responsible for each task. You need to be able to record project 'resources', which are mostly people working on one or several tasks according to skill and specialisation. It might be useful to have a project Wiki to let members share experiences and information not needed for the actual project deliverable. This way members can save time looking repeatedly and redundantly for the same information. Most important is a visual interface - a GANTT chart - to show everyone where the project has progressed to at the current time. This helps everyone keep track of delays and offer a helping hand when it happens.

We hope to have inspired you that projects need not be difficult and that projects can be dealt with easily and effectively.

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