Waddell Group consultants have worked with all sizes of companies. One of the questions asked quite often is “why would a small company hire an outsourced project manager?” The question of hiring a Project Manager is driven by balancing the needs of investors, the experience and talent of the CEO and staff, and the market opportunity of the product.
Project Managers are often seen as only useful in big companies. In our experience that isn’t the case at all. An effective PM keeps projects on time and budget, communicates status and issues to the people that need to know and generally has the project team operating as efficiently as possible. The added cost of the PM versus the potential efficiency is the reason large companies hire PM’s – both internal and outsourced. Does the same hold for a small company’s projects?
The worst thing that can happen to a small company is that they run out of money. The CEO has to be focusing on funds. For companies that are adequately funded, the CEO is always aware that the next tranche comes with milestones. In both cases, project management needs to happen, and it’s a question of who is doing it.
A CEO of a lightly funded company must show potential investors a solid plan that is realistic and well thought out. This includes risks and how they’ll be handled. If you look at the plans that good project managers put together, it looks a lot like what companies looking for early funding put together. It can be very useful to have someone who has taken many products through this process and partner with the CEO on creating that plan.
For companies that are funded and focused on hitting milestones, being efficient is key. This is done by defining interim milestones, planning around them and working the plan. Knowing where the project is every day and that there is someone focusing on meeting every project objective is reassuring. This project focus is the role of Project Management – important no matter what size the company – with consequences being more impactful for smaller ones.
A small company CEO knows that if they miss a milestone, there may be significant consequences. The options include taking on debt, bridge funding, down round(s), or even stopping. Establishing milestones that are very difficult or even unrealistic to hit is a major mistake, where a more realistic plan may have been just as well received by the funders. A great Project Manager can help set up reasonable and achievable milestones and then manage the plan to hit those milestones.
Finally, no matter where the company is in the process to profitability, in many small companies the CEO or founder is a visionary who thrives on company culture, raising money, crafting a vision for growing the company, and meeting present and future customers. This skill set usually differs from the execution driven nature of Project Managers. We see the Project Managers job as a simple one: Have the CEO look brilliant by making their vision a reality through hitting each milestone on time and budget.
In an earlier blog post we discussed how a project can go off the rails. A key cause is failing to scope a project properly. So this begs the question – how DO you scope a project properly?
What belongs in your Project Scope:
There are two key ways to look at this:
- Scope is set by defining what you are going to do
- Scope is set by defining what you will NOT do – this is critical
When crafting a project plan draw a firm line around your product and crisply define what it is and what it is not. At Waddell Group, we put a box around the product that is 25 words or less. The simple version is: what, by when, by whom, and for how much. You may respond that your project is way too complicated to fit into 25 words. Consider this: John Kennedy said in 1962, we will “land a man on the moon and return him safely to earth by the end of the decade”. He could have improved it by adding “for less than $10 Billion….” But you get the point.
Creating a clear and compelling project definition is not something the Project Manager does alone. This must include the team so you have complete buy-in. It will take some time and may not get done to your satisfaction in the first meeting, so be patient and be willing to work for a great definition. This allows the Project Manager and the team to hold everyone accountable to the vision they all agreed upon.
Defining what is specifically not in the project doesn’t go into the 25 words or less. What’s out gets defined in the project plan right under the project definition statement. Useful categories for defining exclusions are: features; where created, where sold (geographies); market; compatibility with other systems; regulatory requirements; technologies; suppliers… The most important exclusions to list are those likely to get included sometime during the project.
Other exclusions to consider: look at what risks you already know. Plan to include those risks or not.
How do you anticipate risks:
We generally see (at least) five different categories of risks, and several of them are not medically driven in nature. These risks are:
- Access to developers/human resources
As you look at the features of a new – or upgraded – product, meet with your team and assess the level of risk for each element and evaluate what is tolerable for the project and what is not. There are many tools for risk assessment. Choose one that you like, and use it.
- For the technology, assess whether the product can be made with what is currently available, and if not what the risk is.
- For cost, do market research to see whether the product can be made profitably in the existing market.
- Human Resources for some areas are in high demand. How confident are you that the ones you need will be there when you need them?
- What is your competition doing and how should you react to them in this space?
- Finally, what regulatory issues will be hard to overcome?
These items have implications company wide and answers might come from areas that don’t normally talk to each other. As you prepare the scope for a project and look to manage the risks, a good Project Manager will include the right people at the table so everyone can make an informed decision about the scope and risks. And frankly, sometimes you must say, “Too Much” – a risk cannot be overcome and so the feature or even the project must be scrapped. It’s better to get this information now. Waiting until your project is well underway can be an enormous waste of time and resource for both you and your company.
How you create accurate estimates and timelines for your scope:
This is less about a calendar and more about the members of your team. In gathering your experts around a table, the Project Manager must put together the best team possible and establish the culture of the group that will drive the project forward. The right team working together on an agreed upon vision can be held accountable to timelines and be amazingly successful. This is less about the Project Manager wielding a stick and more about the excellent team holding one another to the high standard of performance that they themselves want to be held to.
Not choosing the right team or inheriting a team with members who don’t fit may lead to conflict. Even superstars – in medical device as in sports – can either align with the culture or change the culture. If you have a team member who does not play well with others, will they change the culture positively or negatively? If they can’t work with the rest of the team, they need to be kicked off the team. If the Project Manager is responsible for the timelines, then they are also responsible for putting together the team to accomplish that timeline. But that is a blog for a future time….
Once you have created the scope, identified potential risks, and assembled the team who can deliver on time and budget – all you have to do is manage the heck out of the project! But without the proper scope, this task can prove very difficult for even World Class Project Managers.
You know the scene. The team has tried to get back on plan but everything seems to be going disastrously off the rails and no one quite knows why. The budget is shot, the team is disorganized and the finger pointing has begun. Senior executives meet in a fact finding effort to identify the problem and hope to find a solution.
If this were a movie, this is when a stranger walks in with sage advice that cuts through the fog and brings clarity to the situation. If this is your company, it is where a savvy consultant comes in and tells you which of three things went awry in the project, and what the next course of action can be…
Continue reading and learn how projects go off the rails!
There are typically three key ways a project goes bad, and here some thoughts on how to avoid or solve these problems moving forward.
- It wasn’t defined well. Define the project so you know what it is, and more importantly what it is not. If you’re well into the project, step back and define it now. Do it in 25 words or less.
- Plan it well down to two week increments out six months (it can me more granular after that). The more granular the plan, the more people need to understand the details sufficient to where the issues are or are going to be. Plan it as a team so the entire team owns it, not just the project manager. The project manager must hold the team accountable.
- Manage the scope creep. That’s only possible if the first two steps have been taken. So if something gets added, you need to be able to define the impact to the project and then decide whether or not that is acceptable for the project. What often happens with scope creep is many small changes sneak into the project. And contrary to popular opinion, it is not the marketing team that causes the most scope creep. It is usually the engineering team… If allowed to go unchecked, your project will never get done.
These drive 95% of the issues that cause a project to go off the rails. To get back on track you must redefine, re-plan, and brilliantly manage your project.
Rich Gall: 651.214.5761 or email [email protected].
One of the most frequent questions we are asked is how we, as outsourced project managers, can expect to deliver superior results for our clients over internal project managers. The perceived challenges we supposedly face include having to adapt to a culture, learn a product, meeting the people, and working within a new team.
Some of these concerns are standard questions to outsourcing anything, but when it comes to project management, often these perceived obstacles to success are actually accelerators. We often step into an environment where the strengths of being an employee of the company, someone who knows a product and the people, doesn’t translate into being a strong project manager.
Each of our project managers come with a skillset for getting the job done which requires knowledge of the industry, executive management skills, motivation ability, and working with their peers and their bosses brilliantly. This allows for easy integration into managing a project team. But to accomplish this, Waddell Group requires members of our team to check their ego at the door. This is necessary because the success of the project we have been hired to run must be owned by the team and company of the project we have been hired to lead, and not our very talented project manager.
Along with this, our project managers are technical project managers and very skilled at getting medical devices through design, testing, submission, studies and ultimately launch. It is having this experience with multiple companies, on numerous projects, in many environments that gives us the ability to adapt, manage and run a project successfully. The strengths of the companies we work with, including their culture, products and people must conform to the process of taking a medical device to market. We are immensely skilled at managing that process. This is why our clients bring us in – they know what they want done and we know how to do it. This is also why we have so many success stories.
By Rich Gall [email protected] 651.214.5761
Wouldn’t it be great if everyone wanted to attend your project meetings? I am not saying anyone should be rolling out a red carpet anticipating your entrance into the meeting, but it would be nice if you put on a meeting where people were enthusiastically engaged.
Well, that should be happening.
If you are scheduling and running meetings that are pointless or unconstructive, your team is not going to give you their best work, because clearly, you are not giving them your best.
Attributes of an effective team meeting
In addition to wanting people to feel excited about meetings and be actively engaged, there are a few other things that make up an effective meeting:
- Decisions are made and kept
- Dependable – meetings always occur
- Candid dialogue occurs
- Conflicts occur and are handled constructively
- All commitments, actions, milestones are tracked
How to run an effective meeting
Here is what you really want to know – what you need to make a meeting successful:
- Clearly articulate the purpose of your meetings. People love to know what is to be accomplished.
- Build team culture of schedule and quality. Don’t put up with the question “do you want schedule or quality?”.
- Demonstrate weekly urgency – means looking forward to the upcoming week and capturing what needs to be accomplished during the next week.
- Always know where project is vs. where it should be on your project schedule. Track the project tasks.
- Ambiguity is the enemy – decide! Use team meetings to make decisions so your team can confidently move forward.
Take the advice above and apply it so you are giving your team your best. If you provide them with structure and communication channels, they will have what they need to keep the project on track and you in the loop.
Project management needs people
Project management is a profession that will never be done by an app or machines. It needs people and here’s why:
Work gets done through people
On the most basic level, project management software and tools can tell you where you are and what needs to get done, but only with the input from a human. For example, Asana is an amazing app for task management, but in no way can it run a team without a human. Businesses need real, live project leaders to assess and manage risk, manage conflict and motivate the team.
Team loyalty and relationships matter
When a project leader fosters a relationship with the project team the team becomes loyal to the project leader. That loyalty leads to the team feeling invested in the success of the project and in helping the project leader succeed. For example, at the end of a project when all the balls a project leader has been juggling begin to fall, a loyal team will be there to help the project leader manage catch the balls rather than watching the project leader struggle. The relationship a project leader builds with the project team is priceless; a project team will never feel loyalty toward a machine.
Stakeholder relationships matter
The power of stakeholders is often underestimated. Project leaders confer with the stakeholders at the beginning and end of a project, and ignore them during the project – but this is a missed opportunity. Project leaders can and should foster relationships with the stakeholders in addition the project team because stakeholders tend to be well-connected people – and well-connected people are an invaluable resource to project leaders when something goes wrong or experts need to be brought into a project.
Rest easy project leaders. While it seems as though machines, software and apps are replacing people in the workplace, your ability to think critically and form relationships makes you irreplaceable.
You have probably noticed we use the term “project leader” more often than “project manager.” That is no mistake. The two terms are not synonymous and we believe project leaders have the ability to take projects and teams to a whole other level.
What is the difference between project managers & project leaders?
A project leader is a project manager, but a project manager is not necessarily a project leader.
Both managers and leaders are professionals who are tasked with planning, executing and closing a project. Both are in charge of a project team, but only project leaders inspire and motivate that team. Project leaders take the time to get to know the team, keep them in the loop and act as mentors.
Why does it matter?
Both project managers & project leaders get the job done, so why should businesses care? In short, project leaders don’t just get a project done; they improve communication, employee satisfaction and quality of work.
One of a project leader’s most time consuming tasks is team management. People make projects happen, but people have lots of needs. You can’t force a team to get work done by showing them numbers, charts or angry emails from stakeholders. Well, you can… but it won’t be quality work and you will not only have angry stakeholder, but also disgruntled employees.
Project leaders understand that. Project leaders understand the value in listening to and addressing employee concerns. They understand the importance of constructive criticism and showing gratitude. Project leaders inspire employees and strengthen teams.
For more, check out this great article from Executive Brief: