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.

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.

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.

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

Olympics: Eye on the Gold

The emergence of Project Management as a profession is attributed to public works projects in London after World War II. In 2012, we’ll have an opportunity to see London in action again. While the Bejing Olympic Torch was only lit last night, planning for the 2012 Olympics is well underway. In fact, according to the British Olympic Association’s (BOA) web site, the planning goes as far back as 1997 when the idea of an English Olympic bid first emerged. It was eight years later, in 2005, that the location was actually awarded.

The award actually comes after three unsuccessful bids by Birminham and Manchester. The BOA went into high gear and lobbied the voting members of the International Olympic Committee (IOC). What they learned is an English bid wouldn’t be acceptable until they returned to the committee table with representation from London. Thus began this long term project, which including lobbying and public relations efforts to let the world know they were serious. Government backing was won in May 2003, but there would still be preparations and a presentation in Singapore in 2005 before the host city contract would be awarded.

The BOA efforts were true representation for the principles “if it is to be, it is up to me” and strategic planning. Too many companies abandon long term planning, citing an inability to see the business and marketplace landscape for more than a year out. Yet having a long term plan, with occasional mid-course corrections, may be a more effective way. They are, in a sense, creating their own future by envisioning it, living it, and making it happen.

I’ve been reading The Answer, the business version of The Secret, and this type of planning falls within their recommendations and principles, but I’ll save this for another week. In the meantime, enjoy watching the 2008 Summer Olympics in Bejing.


Back to Basics

If you had a small audience with limited project management skills (or at least a limited definition of what it meant to be a project manager) and had just one hour to cover some information, including time for an interactive session, what would you do? This was the challenge I was confronted with this week.

My product is around 25-30 slides of basic information: definition of project and project manager, top 3 critical success factors for projects, the special benefits of project management (improved execution on strategy, innovation), and some information necessary to instruct on creating a task list and then adding estimates and resources. The exercise will be to come up with a high level plan which we will then refine over the coming weeks.

The primary audience consists of education administrators. Coincidentally I found a really good article on project management for primary and secondary educators on the PMI Education Foundation web site. The author, Kim Liegel, PMP has a web site named Make it Happen! What’s really good about this site and the materials is it conveys the message that you can make things happen WITH PLANNING. This is difficult to convey to people in this age of “Just Do It”.

Too often Just Do It turns into Ready, Fire, Aim type of progress. Partway through a complex project, its realized that something is seriously wrong and the end goal can’t be met. Sometimes these setbacks aren’t enough to initiate a planning effort, and things progress with Ready, Fire, Aim until goals are never met, or met in the distant future by accident.

I’ll be on the road most of next week and will try to let you all know how this planned session on planning turns out. If you have any thoughts on other approaches for a one hour presentation as I’ve outlined, please drop me a comment on this post or email

Herding Cats Not Required

Some people like to refer to project management as herding cats. With all due respect, project management should be more about planning the work and then working the plan. This is usually very easy with a group of dedicated resources working on a single project, but gets to be much more difficult when fractional resources working for multiple project managers are involved.

Without the proper planning and preparation, these projects can become a little like herding cats — you constantly have to be checking in on the team to make sure the tasks for your project are getting the proper level of attention. Properly planned and executed, however, these projects can finish smoothly without the need for micro-management or cat herding.

Here are a few things you can consider to make the management of multi-project, fractional resources an easier management task:

Start with the kickoff meeting — make sure the expectations and ground rules for handling competing priorities and planning are known up front.

Plan the work and work the plan — a thorough plan with well estimated and defined tasks goes a long way to making sure everyone is on the same page. Ask everyone to carefully consider their estimates and the commitment in light of their other work.

Don’t micro manage — encourage the team to follow the plan, but be available if needed to resolve conflicts. Use the flexibility of scope and schedule to negotiate.

Enlist the aid of the functional manager — the functional manager who manages the resources needs to be sure they understand the nature of their commitment.

Handle issues promptly — since there are competing priorities, be sure issues get sorted out as soon as possible to make sure all tasks stay on track.

There will obviously be other challenges, but focusing the team on the plan will help you to spend more time planning and managing than herding cats.

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