Here at Nebbia we have a wide variety of projects – they can range from one person for one week to eight consultants for several months. The challenge with this, from a project management point of view, is to consistently provide high-quality delivery and reporting while appropriately sizing the overhead and management each project requires.
Project management flexibility goes beyond simply adding time and cost buffers to account for change. Instead, we focus on allowing flexibility in the processes and taking a pragmatic view to reveal tasks that could be scaled back which frees time for other resources on unexpectedly large challenges.
There are a few key ways that I try to ensure flexibility in all of our engagements and help provide the proper level of project oversight while allowing for agility.
Plan ahead for change
In all of our projects I try to plan in flexibility and time for changes within the engagement. Identifying the riskier aspects of a project helps me develop an appropriate strategy to mitigate those to not impact execution, such as tackling it first to gain understanding up front or holding off in order to wait for additional information to be made available. This allows other work to keep moving while we are working on the hard problems or waiting for outside resources. It’s important to have all parties know how changes are to be handled. This way when they come up we feel confident on assessing the impacts, presenting alternatives, and proposing the most ideal solution, so we can get back on track as quickly as possible.
Empower everyone on the team
As the single project manager for multiple ongoing projects, I cannot be involved in every decision or part of every discussion. I want our entire team to feel responsible for making decisions and not require unnecessary approvals or slow down the process. It’s important that there is a shared responsibility for success and understanding of expectations from everyone involved. This allows problems to be properly addressed early and reduce delays.
Break the work into reasonable chunks
Breaking work into smaller pieces where we can show we are producing real outputs quickly and efficiently helps the team stay flexible. By breaking a larger deliverable into smaller pieces, we can validate along the way and get feedback that will overall produce a better product. This method works well with scrum, where the focus is on delivering to production each sprint, but it can also be leveraged on other engagements. Instead of just checking the boxes on the deliverables, examine each one to see if there is a better way to approach it. This could be done potentially iteratively where we can take something from idea to complete, instead of pushing all the work slowly through typical waterfall planning gates.
Set clear expectations and validate along the way
One of the most common ways a project can get off track is when there are different expectations. We might be working on providing knowledge transfer as part of an engagement, and the manager is expecting formal documentation to be provided while the engineer is expecting a few working sessions to demonstrate things in real time. In this scenario, we could get to the end of the engagement and not meet the manager’s expectations, which can then cause additional work and scope that wasn’t initially planned. Therefore, I like to try to call out any assumptions as early as possible in the process, show real examples of what they can expect, and validate that our expectations match the client’s. This process can be part of more formal project review meetings or done informally through discussions, but the important thing is to document and share assumptions as they come up and confirm expectations are being met.