The Project Notebook

Ready, Set – – – Implement!

By: Susan Peterson, M.B.A., PMP
Copyright 2010, Susan Peterson, All Rights Reserved

Near the end of the project executing phase project plans display that elusive milestone designated as “final implementation”. When many project managers see that milestone looming on their Gantt charts, they often feel that their work is nearing completion. However, the challenges may have just started. This article identifies implementation concerns that need to be addressed during the initiating and planning phases. Despite the emphasis on all of the project management phases, it’s the implementation that leaves the lasting impression in the memories of customers, clients, and users.

Initiating
During the initiating phase final implementation is often defined in tangible terms of specific solutions such as “install software system”, “introduce new product”, or “construct manufacturing facility”. The definition of goals in terms of accomplishments is often overlooked. Why is the software system being installed? What will be gained by introducing the new product? Why is the facility being built? Emphasizing the need to agree on the reasons for a project during the initiating phase is crucial in order to uncover the true needs, wants and expectations. Only then can the project manager understand the forces that will continue to impact project sponsors and participants throughout the other processes.

Examples of specific implementation concerns that need to be addressed during the initiating process include the following:
• What are the potential impacts on the internal organization? Areas such as upgraded employee skill requirements, organizational restructuring, new policies/procedures and facilities changes are a few of the areas to be addressed.
• What are the potential impacts on the supply chain and on both current and potential customers? If impacts are identified, the involvement of appropriate representatives from all affected groups is critical — even if the project manager would rather not hear what they have to say.
• What external factors such as market conditions, the economy, and government regulations may impact the project implementation? What potential changes are likely to occur? The longer the timeframe of the project, the higher the possibility that external factors will have strong impacts.

Planning
In contemplating how to address implementation concerns such as those identified in the “Initiating” section of this article, project managers may feel that comprehensive contingency planning is the best defense. However, even contingency plans are prone to change during the executing phase. There is also a strong tendency to discount contingency planning as a waste of time and resources. “Let’s wait and see if a crisis develops” and/or “Who knows what tomorrow will bring?” are common attitudes towards many proposed contingency planning efforts.

Rather than ignoring potential implementation concerns, project plans can include decision points and related measures to assess the need for revised implementation activities. This technique deals with the question “How can we plan what we don’t know?” For example, two technical research paths may be pursued on a parallel basis for a defined period of time. At the end of the designated time period a decision point in the project plan can identify the need to examine measured progress of the two separate research efforts. Based on the outcome of this assessment, a decision can be made to select the best option for final implementation.

Hoping for optimum full implementation but dealing with probable suboptimum reality is another technique to be employed during the planning process. Some projects are funded only through a portion of the time needed for total completion. Final funding may depend on a variety of uncontrollable factors such as other projects’ budgetary needs, internal management priority changes and external political pressures. An example is a multi-year software development project that is funded one year at a time. The planning process must recognize the potential for cancellation at the end of any budgetary year. The development effort can be structured so that multiple workable modules can be implemented within annual timeframes rather than an “all or none” approach that only plans for a final single implementation. Use of the “all or none” approach guarantees disaster if complete funding is not forthcoming.

Conclusion
In summary, the foundation for successful final implementation starts at the beginning of the project management process. Identifying the true forces during the initiating phase that will impact the entire project defines the framework for successful implementation. Addressing probable impacts and incorporating decision points for unknown outcomes during the planning process facilitates flexibility. Making implementation a part of all of the project management processes is critical for a successful “lasting impression”.

Susan Peterson, M.B.A., PMP, is a consultant who manages diverse programs and projects in both the private and public sectors for individual organizations and consortia. She also conducts enterprise assessments of project portfolio management practices. Prior to establishing her consulting practice Susan led major efforts for Fortune 100 organizations throughout the United States. She teaches the Project Management Simulation capstone course as well as the Project Portfolio Management course in the University of California, San Diego, Project Management certificate program and is a member of the curriculum committee. She can be contacted at susanada@aol.com.

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© 2010-2012 Ray W. Frohnhoefer, MBA, PMP, CCP