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Are you a dreamer of managing a Project? If yes, here are some practical tips FROM a Project Manager

Empirical data: State of the art in project management

 

In this chapter, the empirical findings from the interview will be presented.

Presentation of the Interviewee

In order to connect with reality and to collect updated information on project management practices an interview is conducted with Carina Höyheim. She has worked on projects for over 15 years. She worked on various projects from product development to complex products within IT, telecom industry and insurance. She has experience in project management with PROPS with Ericsson, and has also worked as line manager with responsibility for projects.

She worked as certified coach PDI at Personal Development Institute, 2007 and for several years as consultant in Project Management. Since 2002 she is running her own business, a project consultancy company to train and coach managers of projects. She used to provide coaching on both project methodology and project management. Further to her extensive experience she is also a certified PMP (Project Management Professional) from PMI Project Management Institute, USA. Moreover, she is also involved in teaching the course of PM at Linköping University, Sweden.

Characterization of Project Work

As per the view of Carina Höyheim the project management differs from production management with respect to the aspects of uniqueness and nature of project work. She believes that projects have a fixed start and ending time, and projects often involve activities that need several different competences. In some of the projects the project sponsor and product manager perform key roles in controlling and evaluating the project progress. The project sponsor decides project delivery dates. According to Carina the delivery date of project is normally negotiated between sponsor and product manager. Project progress is monitored on weekly or monthly basis to see how all sub projects within the main project fit in. In normal practice project evaluation begins with a business analysis coupled with a pre study, to identify the economic benefits and the technical aspects are evaluated by different individuals in organization, depending on individual’s technical knowledge and position in organization.

Value Specification

The customer benefit (value) is very much ignored in projects. According to project consultant often value specification is not very clear, because either of the values does not look to be specified, or it is done quickly as the team is interested to start the project”. Value remain neglected in some projects until the end of project and then project members start discussing what the value to customer was. At the same time she also believes that value specification of project should be done during business analysis, when the long term and short term goals are decided and value is accessed. The steering committee is responsible to analyze the business value and to identify what kind of value the project generates. In some projects the project team arranges a requirements workshop with the customer to collect the user requirements and to investigate what the customers are willing to buy. Further, the project team asks the customer for those features that will create most value for them. Afterwards the features and required capabilities are translated into user requirements.

According to the Carina Höyheim value adding is what the customer is willing to pay for, and non-value adding activities are those activities that do not add value to the customer. She believes that there are a lot of product features that are non-value adding. Moreover, in her opinion the laws, rules and regulations imposed by different regulatory bodies for specific kind of products are also non value adding from customer’s point of view, but if you really do not do that project may be at risk, as the regularity bodies may reject the product for not following the regulation. Furthermore, in her view the aspects of quality, time and cost influence what is value adding in a project. Whatever features and functions are chosen, it needs to be delivered on time. Thus, timely delivery is also one of the key aspects of project value.

State of the art practices related to value stream mapping

The project process and activities within a project are sequenced with respect to their dependency, each activity needs some input before it can be started. The sequential approach is very risk free as organizations verify each phase using Collaborative decision making by involving a sponsor, product manager and steering committee for key decisions. This approach takes a long time since every phase has to be verified. As an alternative to a sequential approach organizations overlap phases so that next task can be started even if the input is delayed, overlapping approach increases the efficiency of project.

According to Carina Mosheim it is not common in companies following a sequential or an overlapping approach to map the value stream of project; nor involve supplier’s part of process in value stream mapping (VSM). Further, the tendency to identify the supplier’s process in project management is very low, and suppliers usually avoid sharing the information of in house process, but it also depends on the duration of buyer supplier relationship. As an alternative most of the organizations involve supplier by asking supplier to write the requirements specifications to identify if they understand the problem well and if they will be working on the right goal and solution.

Project Flow

Carina Höyheim explains that there is no such thing, as a general project flow. This rather depends on the selected project approach. In some cases a sequential process is used. In a sequential approach the flow of work is planned in the planning phase. Afterwards, the flow is maintained according to the dependencies planned earlier in planning phase. Moreover, it is observed that there is not always a continuous flow in projects. Delays are experienced and “one cannot start working until someone else is finished”. In such situations project managers either gives some other work to the succeeding team, or if the succeeding team is skilled enough they may be asked to work with proceeding team. According to Carina Höyheim “waste in the form of waiting times are not stripped in sequential approach”. In contrast, this is done to some extent in agile approaches. In a sequential approach, at the end of each phase the receiving team uses tollgate meeting to verify the requirements and quality of deliverables. The different types of check points used in sequential approach are e.g. stage gate, executive gate, tollgate meetings and approval cycles. These are not seen as waste. However, if these decision point meetings are delayed then these add delays in the project progress and add waste in the form of non-value adding time.

Such delays are observed to be more common in companies that collect key peoples with different knowledge and expertise in one room for decision making. Carina Höyheim explains that there are some companies that arrange such control board meetings only six times in a year. This means that the project manager may have to wait for two months for a decision. In contrast, some companies avoid delayed meetings and prefer flexible meetings to maintain the pace of work. These flexible approaches make it easier to adapt to changes in requirements using frequent control board meetings.

In a sequential approach the process is predetermined and the receiver of a deliverable is clearly defined. However in agile the new features determine who will receive the task. At the same time it is identified that there is not always a clear clarity of process and roles of project teams. This lack of clarity creates frustration among team members, in order to counter that some companies sign a contract which makes things very clear. Furthermore Gantt charts and tollgate meetings inform the project team about the flow and progress of project work.

 

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