By Hena Naranbhai

Project Managers (PMs) come in all shapes and sizes, some will deliver business process change, others will implement new technology solutions, and if you’re really lucky you’ll find a PM who will look at all aspects of delivery, encompassing both operational changes and technology.

Many Project Managers follow a specific methodology from the long-winded and traditional waterfall approach to the ever-eager Scrum Master ready to deliver Minimum Viable Product (MVP), through an agile approach. I can also hear you shouting at me already… A Scrum Master is not the same as a Project Manager, I know but often the boundaries are blurred. And finally, let’s not forget our process engineers who love a bit of Lean Six Sigma.

Regardless of which approach you adopt, the combination and blend to fit your organisation and stakeholders, there are some things that always stand true for successful delivery.

You must have a clear definition of your outcomes. What does success look like? Without this, you will struggle to achieve a meaningful result.

  1. Define your scope, although you know your target, stakeholders love stretching and changing the boundaries and expecting projects to just absorb the difference. In some instances, this isn’t a big deal, but often there are consequences.
  2. A good Project Manager will use the governance process to highlight any change and the impact this has on the overall project. Whether that be cost, timelines or change in outcomes to name a few.
  3. This leads me to outline the Governance process and cadence with all parties, regardless of their interest. This is the Project Manager’s best communication tool. It sets expectations and can help to reiterate roles and responsibilities.

Often the Project Manager is blamed for not engaging or communicating with the correct parties. By laying these foundations you have a strong basis to navigate challenges and curve balls that you will inevitably receive over the project life cycle.

Once your foundation is outlined and you commence mobilising, the next step is to plan and design. Break your end outcome into manageable work packages, and seek input from experts such as architects or developers to build an informed plan. As you plan don’t forget to capture your assumptions and dependencies. These are important as you highlight the unknown or where you will require collaboration from others outside your influence or direct control.

Once you feel you have a robust plan which will withstand a reasonable level of scrutiny, share it amongst key input providers and a handful of stakeholders before seeking formal approval. This will now form the basis of benchmarking progress. If you’ve done a “good” job you will find that you’re broadly tracking to where you said you would. However, as time goes by you will potentially find you start to deviate or you discover something unexpected.

This is where the introduction of scope creep can appear, blame or deviation to what you set out to do. Now depending on the situation, the Project Manager will need to take steps to update, inform, and ultimately resolve why the difference has occurred.

All projects report on their health or status, where there is slippage or unexpected discovery, that wasn’t originally planned, the status can change from Green to Amber. What does this mean? Well, firstly there is more work for the Project Manager. They should highlight any cause for concern, coupled with an action plan on how and when the project will return to Green, often referred to as a “Path to Green”.

In most instances, these obstacles on a project trajectory can be resolved. The Amber status provides the right level of tension between respective stakeholders, whether that be the business, technology or third party to come up with a solution.

Occasionally there are instances when milestones or check points on a plan turn Red. It’s rare that milestones go from a status of healthily Green to Red. The majority of time there is usually some warning beforehand.

Where milestones and projects turn red, there is a need to take a course of action as this is a severe position. The most common options are;

  1. Replan and rebase-line your plan, benefits, and outcome, which will need to go through a rigorous approval process again.
  2. There may be an opportunity to dissolve the project into other deliverables, that the organisation has in progress or scheduled for a later date.
  3. The project just isn’t viable anymore and senior management make a decision to stop.
  4. Or something else.

Whichever way you choose to move forward a decision is required.

Successful projects require project managers to lay firm foundations, be completely transparent with the communication and status reporting, and finally don’t shoot the Project Manager, they are just the messenger.

About the author

Hena is a Director Strategic Development in Finance, having led a number of Transformational Programmes to deliver Big Data solutions, General Ledger migration and Target Operating Model design. Hena is a qualified accountant and has spent over 20 years traversing between Technology and Finance.

Hena is a member of the Women in Technology committee, leading on various external partnerships as part of the Attract Pillar. The WiT network aim to empower women of all levels and backgrounds to achieve their career aspirations in technology.

Hena has also led various wellbeing initiatives and is passionate about DE&I.

Read more career advice here.