Critical to making the team's effort efficient and getting the job done is having a thorough and realistic project plan. Other documents prepared throughout the overall project will have covered the rationale for the project, the expected cost, the needs to be addressed, etc. The project plan doesn't need to repeat any of this. Instead, it should focus primarily on what is to be done, when, and by whom. As the project progresses, the plan should also reflect what has already been done, when and by whom.
Using Project Management Software
Any project that lasts longer than about two months or that has more than 8-10 component tasks, will probably be made easier by the use of project management (PM) software. PM software such as Microsoft Project, Timeline, or SureTrak Project Manager can be run on standard desktop computers. These software packages all tend to offer the same basic tools to help you manage your projects, such as: integrated calendars, report generators, scheduling, charting, tracking, prioritizing and more. Choose the package with the interface (look and feel) you prefer, and one that will function on whatever computer you expect to use for this purpose. The initial effort required to enter the data into PM software generally pays off many times as the work unfolds. If project team and steering committee members are connected on a network, PM software also makes it easier for them to view, comment on, and participate in the project online.
Establishing a Schedule
The schedule is an important part of any project plan. It tells you when you'll arrive at where you are going. A schedule is only effective, however, if the goals are attainable. If the goals are unrealistic and deadlines are missed, later deadlines lose their credibility as well. Some people in the computer industry create schedules by estimating the amount of time they think it will take to do the job, and then doubling it. Such a strategy may not apply to your situation, but it underscores the point that selecting and implementing technology can be a very complicated process.
If you are using a consultant or contractor, establishing a schedule will be a part of your contract. If you are using internal staff, they should be included in the schedule development process. Your schedule should cover what will be done, where it will be done, by whom it will be done, and when it will be done for every phase in the implementation process. Any payment to outside consultants or contractors should be based on the submission of specific deliverable items according to an agreed upon schedule. It might also be wise to include a "liquidated damages" clause in all contracts with outside organizations. Such a clause requires the contractor to pay a fee whenever work actually performed fails to meet contracted obligations. The following are some additional suggestions.
WARNING Signs When Scheduling!
Watch out for:
Monitoring the Progress of Implementation
- Projected dates (arrived at by detailed estimates) being overruled for "political" reasons, especially in the absence of additional resources.
- Schedules that assume early implementations will be as smooth as later implementations.
- 'All or nothing' implementation strategies; in other words, large projects without a phasing-in process.
- Outside pressures that result in unrealistic schedules that are doomed to failure.
- Developers turning over the project to those who are responsible for implementation without having first trained them adequately.
A key role of the implementation project manager is to monitor progress on an ongoing basis. It works best to set up a routine where progress is reported on a regular cycle (e.g., weekly or bi-weekly) by the project team members to the project manager. The project manager then integrates these progress updates to produce an overall status update for the project.
Gantt charts produced by project management software are a good vehicle for displaying and updating information on a project's current status and progress to date. An example of a Gantt chart is included in Figure 5.1.
Handling Schedule Slippage
A key issue that often comes up during the course of a project is "schedule slippage" and how to deal with it. Honesty is generally the best policy. If slippage is occurring, it's usually worse to try to disguise it because the news will come out eventually. Breaking bad news gradually may make it more palatable than waiting to deliver a monumentally bad update all at once.