Sunday, February 27, 2011

Key to success: preparation

I've watched today "The Mechanic" with Jason Statham in the main role, as a paid killer. As always, ingenious ways of making the most well guarded people lose their defence, and get them killed, and a lot of action and muscles.

One quote though raised my attention and was a guiding line throughout the whole action: "amat victoria curam", or "victory goes to those who prepare", or... in order to succeed, you must first prepare. It is not a new discovery, just a restatement of something that we've known since ever, and that we always forget about in the rush of our lives. So I am not going to teach you how to leave your life...

When we try to apply this principle to project management, it becomes obvious that this is what we have to do, and this is what the theory states so boldly. When preparing for the PMP certification, for example, the topic where you spend most of your time is on planning: you have to plan everything: your resources, your communication, your financial, your procurement, the quality, the acceptance, and of course the risk.

It is important to leave nothing to chance, and try to foresee almost everything about your project. You also need to find the right balance between planning and execution, of course - if you spend most of your time in planning, and thinking about what might go wrong, it's not good - but rushing into execution is as dangerous.

But... what is the right amount of time to spend in each phase of the project? There are many answers to this question, and - depending of the project type, domain, business needs, clarity of objectives, existing expertise - you might spend anything between 10% to 30% in drafting your plan.

What I usually do is plan the major milestones of the project, and go down into the details of the first phase, and maybe the second one as well, and the rest stays a little bit in the fog. As the project progresses, you will uncover more details, you will better understand the project environment, your stakeholders, the expectations, and you will be able to detail each phase.

During the project plan development (and as the project progresses), it is important to review your assumptions, and make sure that they still hold true - or re-assess them. You should avoid being too over-confident about your plan, as circumstances can become deceiving. Use the incremental development method, in a rolling wave style, and your project will be a successful one.

Coming back to the movie, you might believe that finally the son of McKenna has accepted that Arthur has killed his father and he's fine with that - but the end proves it completely wrong. No, I won't spoil the ending, I let you watch it first.

Oh, one last point: you should not confuse planning with scheduling: you should start the scheduling only when you are done with the planning, and you know WHAT you want to schedule. You need to decide WHAT your project is about and HOW you want it done, before scheduling all steps.

What are are success factors, from your point of view?

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