Project management in our new culture of work: 7 easy governance steps


By Kenneth Steiness, CEO of Sensei Project Solutions

How does work start in your organization? Does someone get an idea and start working on it or is there a formal process for deciding what’s worth doing and which initiatives get funded and staffed? What about managing work and projects from cradle to grave?

In many organizations, work gets ‘lost’ somewhere along the way and time and money is wasted as a result. Successful organizations proactively manage the lifecycle of work from beginning to end. For project work, that means having an end-to-end governance process that first evaluates initiatives worth doing and then manages those through the funnel to successful execution and close-out.

Within the framework of a governance process, teams can choose the best methods to deliver the projects, whether that’s in a more traditional approach, agile or hybrid. Regardless, research done by Sensei Project Solutions finds that a best practices governance process will typically cover the following 7 steps:

Step 1: Initial Business Case

In the proposal phase, the user submits the initial business case complete with problem statement, expected benefits, cost and resource estimates. This is also what the Project Management Institute® calls the Project Charter and you may know it as Project Request Form or similar. The goal of the business case is to provide just enough information to get authorization to proceed. Often, too much time is spent on a very detailed business case and this effort could be wasted, if the proposal doesn’t

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align with the priorities of the business. More mature organizations will therefore include a strategic assessment as part of the initial proposal. This allows the requestor to evaluate how the proposal aligns to the strategic goals for the organization and is a quick way to determine whether an initiative is worth pursuing further. This does require a relatively high level of maturity though as the senior leadership team has to define and agree on the strategic goals and their supporting measurables.

Step 2: Department Review

Once the business case has been completed, the proposal is submitted for its first approval. The approver here is typically a department head or PMO Director. They will look at the merits of each proposal individually to determine whether there’s enough justification to put it forward to the steering committee. In the absence of a formal strategic assessment, this is typically the step where the approver determines the alignment against the strategic direction of the organization. At this step, we also review the proposal for completeness and ensure that all the right information is there to allow the executive steering committee to select among the best proposals in the next step.

If your organization is small enough or only a select few people can submit proposals, the two approval steps could be consolidated into one.

Step 3: Steering Committee Review

In the selection phase, all the proposals that were approved by the departments are now reviewed collectively by the steering committee against the overall budget and resources available.

For organizations with a formal strategic assessment, there will be a numeric, prioritized list of proposals. In the context of that prioritized list, initiatives are then evaluated for cost and resource needs. With a limited budget, the steering committee will typically select just the proposals they can fund. The proposals are also evaluated against the available resources, typically by roles and/or skills.

There are several considerations and nuances as part of the steering committee review. First, there’s a decision around whether to include projects already in-progress or leave those untouched. By including them in the consideration, they’re subject to cancellation; and not including them would then commit resources already working on those projects, which means that the prioritization would be based on remaining availability. Second, there’s the consideration of non-project work in the organization, such as Business As Usual (BAU), Support, Administration, etc. Before being able to prioritize initiatives based on resource availability, the steering committee must decide whether to pre-allocate resources to non-project work or to include that work into the prioritization itself. Most organizations choose to allocate a percentage of time to non-project work and those that don’t often will over-estimate their ability to execute on the incoming portfolio.

Step 4: Detailed Scope and Schedule

The proposals that make it through the steering committee review are now considered formal projects and move into the Planning phase. If a project manager hasn’t been involved in the early stages, one is now assigned to build out the detailed scope and schedule and the initial baseline. This can be a very time-consuming activity and is typically most successful if done in close collaboration with the team allocated to work on the project.

The outcome of this step will vary somewhat depending the organization and the size of the project. At a minimum, we should now have a formal project management plan with detailed scope and an effort-based, resource-loaded schedule, but on large projects, this step could also include communications plans, vendor agreements, a risk register, and much more.

Step 5: Baseline Schedule Review

At the ‘baseline schedule review’ approval point, we compare the original business case, including cost and resource estimates to the detailed scope and schedule prepared by the project manager. If the initiative still makes sense, the project will be approved and move forward in the process. If there is a significant variance between the business case and the detailed scope, the project could go back into the prioritization process.

Step 6: Project Execution

In the Execution phase, the project team will work on the key deliverables of the project and track progress along the way. This is typically the longest of all the governance steps as this is where the work is actually being done. Some organizations will have additional governance steps here, such as requirements sign-off, design approval, etc., but that’s often methodology specific.

Communication and collaboration is very important here as teams track their progress towards the project objectives, report on key milestones, monitor variance to plan, track scope changes and much more.

If there are significant delays on projects or major scope changes, it can sometimes be necessary for the steering committee to repeat the prioritization process and evaluate the portfolio again to avoid resource over-allocations and burnout, but otherwise the focus is on project execution.

Step 7: Project Closure Review

The Closing phase is where the team conducts the post project review and the project manager will close down the project by rolling off resources and closing out vendor contracts. This is a good opportunity assess whether the project met its objectives and if we learned anything that can be used on other projects going forward.

Depending on the nature of the project, this could also be the starting point for Benefits Realization, where we track if the project realized the expected benefits over time.

To put it front and center, embed your governance process into Project Online for visibility in the context of the full project timeline and schedule.

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Kenneth Steiness is an expert in Project and Portfolio Management and the author of best practices books for Microsoft Project and Project Online. He is also the founder of Sensei Project Solutions, a leading Microsoft Partner helping organizations achieve their strategic goals through work, project and portfolio management best practices with Microsoft technology.

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