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Sunday, 11 September 2011 00:00

Value, the Project Manager's Deliverable

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A project manager's job is to deliver value. Achieving the original schedule, budget, and features is meaningless if the customer does not receive value. As with all simple statements, this much easier said than accomplished. Projects managers must assemble adaptable teams that use flexible, lean methodologies. Arrogantly selling the latest technology or tool is narcissistic. Focus on the customer. Be vigilant at ensuring the information is always available for the customer to reassess the project's value and for the project team to reevaluate their proposal.

 

Maintaining Project Value

The first task is determining the customer's initial value objective. Most projects start with the premise that they provide considerable value. However, numerous assumptions are made in justifying that value. Many of these ill-founded hopes fail to survive the test of time, being proven false in the early stages of the project. As we all know, time begets change. Realities adjust as the customer learns about the product's possibilities, business models morph, and challenges arise in building the product. The project must transform to meet these needs and the project manager must lead this shifting vision.

At times, it is more than a gradual shift. Elucidation of major difficulties, discovery of poorly understood requirements, and loss of business segments, name a few reasons to step back and reconsider the project's premise. The most radical change a project manager can propose is terminating the project. Once the projected value falls dangerously close to zero, the value proposition is invalid and the only sensible solution is ceasing the project. This is not failure. It is leadership at its finest.

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Facilitating Increased Value

Value is the benefit less the cost. Costs are generally quantifiable; however, benefits are often intangible. Goodwill, trust, esthetics, and usability are but a few attributes that can add significant value to a product. In addition to developing the project's cost, project managers must help the customer enumerate all of the benefits.

For the customer to define value, project managers must supply the information on how the product will or could function. There are no constraints to the original concept, added costs, thrown away work, or extensions to the delivery date. The task is to objectively deliver the complete story and let the customer decide the next step.

This does not mean the project manager does everything the customer asks. The project manager must work with the customer's team and help them create their vision, understand their issues, and guide them toward a solution that delivers a value-laden product in the shortest possible time at the least cost.

Grooming the Team

This does not come from sitting at your desk working with spreadsheets. It comes from understanding the businesses needs, the state of the deliverable, the team's capabilities, and the challenges of selling change.

Developing the customer's confidence and trust is the first step. A cohesive, agile, dynamic team is the primary ingredient in doing so. Integrate your teams with the customer, educate them on the customer's business, and immerse them in the customer's pain. This creates a responsive and customer focused team. It reduces the tendency of teams to build products with the latest gadgets that add little to the value.

Maintaining confidence is more difficult. This requires a culture and methodology that is adaptive. Too many times, we use draconian processes to manage projects—methodologies that strive for operational excellence as opposed to product excellence. Granted, some customers (i.e., healthcare or military) require a thorough paper trail for every functional outcome, no matter how low its probability of occurrence. These are far from a majority of projects. Even in these projects, it is worth questioning the validity of the overhead and proposing new solutions.

Averting Failure

Delivering a project's features and functions on time and within budget is incommensurate with a successful project and a happy customer. Dozens of environmental factors affect a project's value. Successful project managers carefully watch these factors and lead the customer through the process of discovery, defining appropriate changes that maximize their project's value. Losing sight of the project's value will inevitably result in failure.

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