Frequently Asked Questions

 1  Why do some projects fail to meet their goals?

Projects fail because:

  • The purpose has not been adequately communicated.

  • A business case for undertaking the project was not thoroughly prepared.

  • Benefits from using project’s product were not realized.

  • There was no experienced or committed executive project sponsor.

  • Project team members were not well prepared for their roles.

  • Key stakeholders were not kept informed about crucial issues.

  • Stakeholders were not committed to the effort.

  • Important stakeholders were not identified.

  • Adequate resources of all types were not allocated correctly.

  • Time was not accurately estimated or scheduled properly.

  • Resources were not assigned at the right time or in the right quantity.

  • Risks, both threats and opportunities, were not recognized in time.

For more information, see our White Paper, Why Projects Fail.

 2  How should project success be determined?

Success of projects should be assessed by the benefits that a customer or user receives from the product or service.  A project will be deemed a success when the product or service pays-off with increased revenue or improved service. 

A product could be functionally effective and be delivered within planned resource limits but not be a success. The reason may be that key stakeholders did not endorse or support the project’s use in the intended business setting.  Stakeholder engagement is as important to the long-term success of a project’s undertaking as its planning and execution.

For more information, see our White Paper, Benefits Realization Management – What is it? Why is it important?

 3  Is risk management important in all projects?​

Yes! Risk Management is crucial for projects, because risk is inherent in all change initiatives.  Risk analyses, contingency plans, and issue management techniques should be employed in all projects, irrespective of their size or complexity.   

Project managers should conduct a risk assessment workshop early in the life of a project to allow key stakeholders to explore the potential issues and gain support for possible changes as the project develops.

 4  How should people be assigned to specific project tasks?

A quick solution is to apply the following three step process:

Analyze the tasks to the level of detail required for a trained person to understand what is needed to complete an assigned task. The amount of data needed for analyzing each task sufficiently, will depend on its technical and quality requirements. 

Determine the level of skill proficiency and commitment required of the people available.  Can they complete the work without close supervision? Do they need additional guidance or training?  Are they committed to completing the work within the time and other resource limits?

Develop and use human resource allocation matrices so that the right people tackle appropriate tasks with the time and material available.

 5  What skills are required to work effectively in a virtual team?
 
Virtual teams have at least some members who are located at significant distances from the project manager’s office.  Often, in these situations, it is not practical for all the team members to meet or work in one location.  Developing an effective project team in these circumstances is challenging.

When staffing a project team ensure that members are:

Self-directed - The team leader should determine if a member possesses the right qualifications and experience to work without close supervision.

Culturally Sensitive - The team members may be located in one country or internationally.  The remoteness of team members coupled with the possibility of cultural conflict, requires them to be aware of different styles of personal communication.  Cultural differences are an obvious concern in international virtual teams but they can play a significant role in countries with diverse cultures, such as the USA.

 

Flexible and Adaptable - Changes occur often in projects. In virtual teams the opportunities to sort out problems is far more difficult than in co-located groups.The members must know who to check-in with and ensure everyone is “on the same page.”They should be people who: embrace change, can “go with the flow”; and find practical solutions, rather than seek refuge in established procedures.

 6  How can project budgets be controlled effectively?

Project Budgets, like all budgets, are based on estimations and assumptions.  There is always a degree of uncertainty about the outcome.  Projects are by nature, environments of moderate to high risk. Therefore, estimates will not be close to being correct if the assumptions on which they were based are false.  

Project planners need to analyze the project’s activities so that realistic sums of money can be assigned to them and contingency, or buffer funds are reserved for unforeseen changes. 

Budgets should be controlled to ensure that disbursements are made correctly and expenditure forecasts are created with care.

 7  How should project task-time be estimated?

The quick answer is:

  • Base your time estimates on past experience and common sense – be realistic;

  • Involve experienced project professionals and subject matter experts;

  • Use data management techniques, not guesses; and,

  • Change the estimates immediately, if there are variances during the project.

 8  Who are project sponsors and why are they important for a project’s success?

 

Project sponsors are usually executives or senior managers who oversee a project from a strategic perspective.  Traditionally, the role has had two principal responsibilities: one, to control the budget and two, to review progress of the project.  These responsibilities are very important, but an effective sponsor can do much more to ensure a project has a successful outcome.  

 9  How can senior managers be convinced to support a project?

 

Whether you are a project sponsor or a project manager, you can influence executives to support a project by following this three step process:

  • Show how the end-result of the project is going to benefit the organization or a customer and possibly, the executives themselves, in tangible terms.  This approach demands a sound analysis of the potential benefits and costs. The results may be presented as a value chain connecting the project outcome to the desired benefits.   

  • At all times, communicate progress of the project in terms that senior managers appreciate and that concern them.  Use business terminology not HR, or other professional jargon.

  • Communicate how changes will affect their customers and other corporate level stakeholders – the people that influence their decisions.

 10  What are the characteristics and skills of an effective project manager?

 

The requirements for an effective project manager will vary depending on the size, complexity, degree of uncertainty, and the relationships with key stakeholders.

Key Characteristics

  • Broad-Based Thinker

  • Flexible

  • Adaptable

  • Politically Astute

  • Conflict Resolver

  • Resolute Decision-maker

High Importance Tasks

  • Collaborate and communicate with stakeholders

  • Plan, execute, control, and close a project

  • Partner with the project sponsor

Knowledge and Skills

  • Technical Knowledge

  • Project Management Skills 

  • Soft Skills: Communication and Leadership

  • General Management and Business Skills 

 11  How can conflict in a project team be minimized?

Above all else, accept that conflict is part of project management.Adjustment to change, whether the result is negative or positive, will create tension and possibly anger.Conflict will occur because of the competing needs of stakeholders and the requirement for continuous updating in rapidly changing circumstances.

 

However, organizational conflict, including personality based clashes, can be handled by focusing on common goals, using best project management practices.A clearly aligned project management process will minimize frustration and allow people to be motivated to finish the project as planned.

 12  Why should an organization use a standard project methodology?             

A project methodology, of which there are several, provides an organization with a defined framework that allows all parties to understand the process from concept to implementation.  It should be logical, easily understood, and clearly communicated to all stakeholders. 

The methodology may have only a few steps for projects that tend to be simple and short in length, or more detailed for projects with many elements.  In either case, the methodology must be followed without missing any step, even if some elements are only acknowledged and not applied to the work in hand.

 13  What is Agile?

Agile is an umbrella term for several project management methodologies for dealing with change initiatives where there is high uncertainty about results.The benefits to a customer applying Agile are gained from useable products being available in short development steps. It originated in software development but is now being used in a range of situations.

 

The best known Agile methodology is Scrum which has a series of quick (often two-week) development phases. During these periods, a small self-motivated team produces a product that may or may not become part of a larger effort.

 

Agile has been criticized for its apparent exclusive focus on small teams and limited outputs. To some observers, it seems that Agile lacks a business framework. Another Agile methodology DSDM (www.dsdm.org) provides a business and operational structure that can incorporate Scrum within it. 

 14  Why is a Project Management Office (PMO) important?

PMOs are important for organizations that have multiple projects running simultaneously.  The PMO, as a central authority, can provide various levels of assistance to the project teams and senior management.  The basic services provided are resource coordination and clerical support.  Other services that a PMO may offer include  lessons learned from previous projects, research assistance, resource balancing between projects, and assurance that the projects are aligned with strategic goals.

The abbreviation, PMO, may  apply to either Program, or Portfolio Management Offices which are similar bodies for coordinating more complex project systems at higher organizational levels.

 15  How can HR professionals contribute to technical projects?

Human Resource specialists have skills that can support their colleagues in IT, engineering or research, who are responsible for managing projects and implementing results.  Among the skills that HR folks possess which can supplement technical expertise in complex projects are, change management, stakeholder engagement, influencing skills and team building. 

Those are only four of the 17 people-management skills that we have identified.  The full range of skills is listed in our White Paper, How HR can contribute to Technical Projects.

Success in projects will be achieved quicker and less expensively if technical experts and HR professionals collaborate in building and sustaining project teams and stakeholder networks.

 16  How can HR professionals ensure their projects will be successful?

The most important step on the way to project success is to ensure that all key stakeholders understand the business purpose for developing the desired product or service.  The end-result must not only be well-defined with its “technical” requirements, but be emphatically endorsed by the executives in the organization.  Without high level support the project is likely to fail.

The other crucial steps are to ensure that the key stakeholders, including customers, are consulted and communicated with throughout the project.  The project management team must be in genuine partnership with these people.

There are other important elements for successful project outcomes.  Those elements are listed in our White Paper, How to Succeed with HR Projects.  This paper is a primer for exploring the power of project management.