Project Management

Ready, Set, Launch! 7 Questions to Ask for Successful Project Management

What is the cost of too little scrutiny? Any project that lasts longer than a year or that costs more than $1M ought to be given special attention, as this class of project is more likely to fail than most. Before your next big project launch, John Collins writing for Business 2 Community suggests seven tips for stellar project performance.

1. Objectives

Q – Are the project objectives clear and achievable?

A – Any successful space mission has its objective(s) (land on comet X, sample rocks from planet Y). So too must your project have a clearly defined and planned end goal. Document it in your project charter. Align it with your organization’s strategic objectives. Keep it within scope and on budget through regular assessment. Broadcast it at project kickoff. Highlight it in your project status reviews!

2. Business Case

Q – Is the business case sound?

A – This is where interplanetary travel gets hairy. Why do we need a space station on the Moon? When costs exceed benefits, projects get grounded. If it doesn’t save the company money through efficiencies, increase revenue, or add new tools and capabilities, then what is it for? If the answer resembles “Because it’s cool,” better get back to the drawing board.

3. Sponsorship

Q – Are the sponsors aligned and engaged?

A – In the case of NASA, the US government is like a sponsor (well, ideally the taxpayer is, but I digress). If NASA fails to capture the hearts and minds of Washington or the American people, they lose their license to operate:

The surest way to kill a project is for the sponsor to feel that they aren’t going to get what they paid for. Unfortunately, because of their demanding jobs, sponsors tend to be very busy and have limited time to consume a project status and make key decisions that will affect the ultimate outcome. – So true for our NASA example as well!

4. Schedule

Q – Is the schedule realistic?

A – If the goal is to put a permanent colony on Mars by the year 2050, perhaps the project deadline needs to be reassessed. All the ‘unknowns’ need to be factored into the project plan. Are the estimates sound? All the risks covered? Contingencies built? Non-work related absences accounted for? Meteor trajectories factored in?

5. Team

Q – Is the team capable, prepared and available?

A – This is one facet you can’t afford to get wrong. From astronauts to control room staff, to cockpit engineers, physicists, and astronomers, every individual must be committed to successful delivery come launch time. An RACI matrix determines whether individuals members are Responsible, Accountable, and Contributing. With project responsibilities fulfilled, an escalation path to resolve resource conflicts, resource / time-reporting requirements, and other fail-safes in place, the team should operate like a well-oiled gravity-defying machine.

6. Risks

Q – Are the risks understood and mitigated?

A – Proper risk assessment is a no-brainer. By proper, we mean structured. One tiny hole in the fuselage or other such defect could spell disaster at launch time. Again, an RACI is indispensable, and steps for effective risk management echo those of preparing a successful team.

7. Endurance

Q – Does the organization have the endurance to finish?
A – Endurance is important because, as a project drags on, the likelihood of problems occurring or of declining project value increases substantially. The unmanned Voyager II spacecraft took over a decade (from 1977 to 1989) to reach the outermost solar system. This kind of sustained mission requires incredible institutional resolve: the ability to prove value on a continual basis, proper resourcing, managing periods of peak activity (planetary fly-bys) against lulls, and compartmentalization of large projects into smaller sub-projects.

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