Rock solid

Project management is easy, right? Not
without proper planning, compartmentalization and communications.

“With complex projects, communications
is critically important and the part that is
usually left out,” says Kathie Brady, Project
Manager at Houston-based IT consultancy
DYONYX, who has managed hundreds of
multithreaded projects for the firm’s largest
federal customers. “Planning and compartmentalization take place first, with an
emphasis on how the project will be effectively communicated and to whom.”

Smart Business asked Brady for her
insight managing complex projects.

Where do you start?

Without a solid plan, the project is
doomed. With multiple objectives and
stakeholders, proper resources and
increased coordination is paramount. The
plan must include: purpose, scope,
resources, schedule and budget. This may
sound basic, however, you have to understand that no part of the plan stands alone;
each affects the other. For instance, if the
scope changes, schedule and budget
change. If resources become limited, the
scope or schedule has to be adjusted. And,
communication and sign-off of these
changes become critical to project success.

What do you mean by compartmentalization?

Compartmentalization breaks the entire
project into subprojects; stage gates and
milestones, each with its own plan and
leader. High level tasks are broken down
into layers of responsibility with critical success factors for each segment. Compartmentalization reduces project complexity.
Invariably, as other team members are
brought in to help with certain tasks, compartmental communications becomes even
more important.

How do you set up the communications part
of the plan?

Too much information is overwhelming
and counterproductive. Too little information results in undefined expectations and
lack of accountability. With complex projects, information exchange and coordination are critical at all levels. Portal-based
technology can be used very effectively in
managing communications — more so than
a constant interchange of e-mails. Portals
also provide an effective means of automatically notifying stakeholders, tracking multi-threaded discussion lists and providing a
document repository (with roles-based
access) to everyone involved, from anywhere and in real time.

How important are the leaders in each segment of the project?

Choose your leaders carefully, selecting
for experience and knowledge of their portion of the project. Project leaders should be
good mentors and team players. Since there
will be multiple subprojects taking place
simultaneously, the team concept of interaction is essential for success. Subproject
leaders not performing to expectations
require the project manager’s quick analysis
and decision. Can you mentor them and get
back on track or do they need to be
replaced? When any team member genuinely jeopardizes the project, replacement is
the only answer. If a replacement is required
and an individual from outside of the team
is selected rather than redistributing the
work to an existing team member, the documentation portal and communications network established early on will aid in the
knowledge transfer and ramp-up time.

Can you walk us through an example of a
complex project?

These days it is common for businesses
and government agencies to go through
continuous transition, either due to a
change in service provider, new technology
or change in operational requirements. Let’s
consider a complete, technology-based
transition project, for example. You would
establish plans for each of the subprojects
for, say, Microsoft Active Directory,
Exchange e-mail, BlackBerry, file systems,
applications and help desk transition. Each
subproject will have its own plan, schedule,
tasks and resources.

Placing the existing technical documentation and any additional information discovered during the process on the portal makes
it available to all subproject team members.
The project manager works with the subproject team leaders in developing an overall schedule: the application migration can’t
start until the active directory (AD) structure is completed, so coordination and communication are key. The AD team is going to
discover information that will be needed by
the applications and file systems teams,
such as service accounts that run those
applications and user file permissions,
though these teams don’t need to know the
details of how AD will be migrated. By sharing the knowledge the AD team gained via
the portal, the application and file systems
teams can ensure that their portions of the
transition go smoothly without getting
bogged down in the details of the AD project. A completed transition plan, which
incorporates plans for each subproject, can
be made available to all team members for
review and identification of risks prior to
starting the transition.

KATHIE BRADY is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) with DYONYX, currently serving as the project manager in
charge of IT services for the Division of Immigration Health Services, a division of the Department of Homeland Security. Reach her at
(202) 732-0090 or [email protected].