Project Management

How to Write a Business Case

Most of us have had to write a Return on Investment or a Business Case for projects we have worked on. The purpose of these documents is to define the overall benefits and costs of a project at a very high level usually aimed at Project Sponsors. The document allows you to provide much more diligence on the costs and benefits, while still not requiring you to actually go through the effort of specifying the work at this time. All Software Projects go through iterations of detail definition as more is known about the project. They key is to set the expectation of the degree of schedule confidence at each level of specification. At the Business Case Level the confidence in the schedule is very low.

When the Business Case is accepted by the Project Sponsor it is time to write a Project Charter and Project Scope Document which can be used to finalize the Project Plan and Work Breakdown Structure.  It is ideal to have the project team identified once the Business Case is accepted. If not, it is vital to have the majority of them identified by the time you finalize the Project Plan, Work Breakdown Structure and Schedule.A feasibility study is used to provide much more diligence and understanding about whether the project is feasible or not. In fact, the feasibility study might be a project in itself. The study might just be a more detailed analysis of the viability of a project and may not require a small project structure.

The result of the feasibility study is a document that is also called a Feasibility Study. There are a number of areas of feasibility that should be analyzed.

  • Technical. Is the project technically feasible? If it is you should state any technical risks associates with the project.
  • Financial. Is the project financially feasible? This would be especially important if the cost of the project was material to your company. It is possible that a project could have a cost that is significant enough to put the entire company at risk. You may have the ability to budget for the project now, but you might also analyze what the impact would be of a significant cost overrun.
  • Operational. You should make sure that you have the ability to run the products that are built by the project. It is possible that the project itself is feasible, but you may have significant risk in being able to operate the product after the project is over.
  • Geographic. Is the project feasible given the physical location of the project team?
  • Time. Is the project feasible given the amount of time it will require from the participants? This is a big worry on larger projects. You may have the budget to execute the project but you may realize you cannot free up the project team for enough time to execute the project. .
  • Resource. Do you have the staff, equipment, supplies and other resources necessary to complete the project?
  • Cost/benefit analysis (high level). You still have to complete the cost/benefit analysis as a part of the feasibility study.
  • Recommendations. The conclusions and recommendations should be noted. One technique that can be used is to look at a number of alternatives for how the project should progress (if at all). For each alternative discuss the benefits, costs and risks. This will show the reader that the right level of diligence was performed and that a number of alternatives were considered. Your final recommendation should address assumptions, risks, ROI (return on investment), estimated cost (with a confidence factor that is fairly low), priority and next steps to be performed.

All of this information provides further detail on the nature of your study and provides your management stakeholders with the complete set of information they need to make the best decision on how to proceed.

July 15, 2009 Posted by | Business Analyst, PMI, PMO, PMP | , | Leave a comment

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June 11, 2009 Posted by | Business Analyst, Living Your Best Life, Outsourcing, Phase Review Process, PMBOK, PMI, PMO, PMP, Project Initiation, Project Management, Risk Management, Schedule Management, Training, Writing and Documentaiton | | 3 Comments

Ways to remain calm during the PMP test

Make sure you have studied a lot. The test is a 4 hour multiple choice test that is randomly selected from PMI’s test base. Bring energy bars and water. They won’t let you take anything in, but will give you a locker to store your stuff. Take a break at least once an hour to stretch your legs, take a snack and break. This clears your head.

When you first get in the testing center, they give you paper and pencil. The first part of the test is a tutorial on how to take the test. Take this time to do a brain dump of all the formulas, knowlege areas and procces groups. The questions are very situational, so you can usually emliminate 2 answers quickly. If you are not sure, mark the question (it lets you do that to come back to it) and go on. Also, somethims questions further on into the test will help answer an earler question. Aim for 30 minutes for looking at the questions you didn’t feel sure about and to review your exam. THen as soo as you push the confirtm question, it will take a few minutes to grade (a long few minutes) but it will help a lot. I wasn’t sure I passed – but I made a 98%! Keep you PMP certifcation eu to date and you’ll never have to take the test again. When I took it, the rule was you had to get 60  PDUs in 3 years. You can get some from training or some from running projects, reading a new PM theory book and other things. Look on PMP.ORG to find out the requirements to keep your PMP certication. And get a good nights rest and calm yourself. No one knows what you make and I think they give you 2 or 3 times to pass.


Have a great day!


June 3, 2009 Posted by | PMBOK, PMI, PMP, Project Management | | Leave a comment

The Nature of Project Management

Why do many talented developers and IT professionals consider project management to be an obstacle, rather than an enabler? Why do clients often resist project oversight or try to minimize it? Does project management really allow projects to reach completion more quickly, or are speed and project discipline mutually exclusive?

We’ve explored the balance of speed and delivery and the nature of innovative projects in recent articles. Let’s tie these themes together and review techniques that help keep project management relevant to even the most unique and innovative programs.

Project bureaucrats

When I teach project management, I often draw a distinction between project managers and project bureaucrats. We’ve all had encounters with project managers who turned into bureaucrats. Project bureaucrats are more interested in ensuring that every step of the methodology is applied and every line of every form is filled in than in what’s actually happening on the ground. On the other hand, it’s common to meet project managers who apply minimal project methodology, yet, through their expert use of relationships and personal interactions, always seem to know exactly where the project stands.

In my experience, it’s the project bureaucrats who often leave a bitter taste with both the delivery team and the client. These project managers turned bureaucrats have forgotten one of the key rules of project management: don’t mistake the map for the journey. All the plans, charts, and milestones mean nothing if they aren’t consistent with the reality on the ground. And there’s the rub; especially in innovative projects, the plans and estimates are often based on a fallacy — there’s the idea that we can predict the progress of something that’s never been done before.

Project spec compliance = success? Not always

In his outstanding book Agile Project Management, Jim Highsmith offers two examples that emphasize the point. The movie Titanic, from a project management perspective, was a huge failure — over budget, over schedule, and plagued by unforeseen risks that threatened to derail the project at every turn. Motorola’s Iridium project, which spent billions of dollars launching satellites into orbit in order to make telephone service available worldwide, was a great project management success. Yet the market is the ultimate judge, and the project management compliance of Motorola’s venture didn’t save the project from failure, nor did the project management disaster (no pun intended) of Titanic’s production taint the film’s appeal to the public.

The lesson that project managers should learn from these examples is that compliance with project specifications does not constitute project success; in the ultimate analysis, only business results matter. Stated another way, the largest risk in any project is not that it will deviate from plan; it’s the risk that the final outcome won’t fulfill the real need. Predictive methodologies, such as the techniques championed by the Project Management Institute in its PM Body of Knowledge, can add tremendous value, especially for projects for which we have a historical basis to look to for precedent. For truly innovative projects, in which any prediction is little more than guesswork and for which we’ll be inventing never-before-seen products, we need to look for a new approach. Hence, the growing popularity of agile approaches.

Agile myths and truths

The central insight of agile methods is not that project overhead is a pain in the neck or that programmers like to be free; instead, it is the observable truth that, especially in innovative programs, customers can’t describe what they want until they see it, and prediction is inappropriate when there’s no way to visualize what the final result will be, let alone exactly how long it will take to build.

Unlike predictive methods, in which the planning, estimating, and risk assessment activities are all front-loaded and often are seen as a separate “planning” phase, agile approaches assume that the requirements will grow incrementally and iteratively as the project proceeds. This emphasis on “just enough” planning and requirements discovery is an acknowledgement of the fact that the key up-front activity in an agile approach is the creation of the first iteration of the product, so that the sponsor can see it and touch it, and discrepancies between the sponsor’s vision and the product created by the team can be modified to fulfill the current business need.

Agile project management is often misunderstood, as illustrated by the proliferation of articles about “agile myths.” Agile methods are not about “buying pizza and getting out of the way,” as these methods are often caricatured. Agile methods, from SCRUM to Highsmith’s APM Framework, are disciplined and structured approaches to product development, just as predictive methods are; these methods just address different types of problems.

Predictive and agile approaches have robust requirements discovery techniques, but agile methods acknowledge that requirements will evolve throughout the life of the project rather than up-front. Both approaches have stakeholder participation practices, but agile methods insist that stakeholders and sponsors are involved throughout the project in a collaborative, interactive manner. Predictive and agile both have mechanisms for integrating changing requirements into the plan, but the approaches use different techniques. Predictive techniques often apply restrictive change management procedures. Agile methods are specifically designed to encourage and implement beneficial change by providing an iterative, incremental approach to development focused on implementing, rather than controlling, positive change.

Innovative projects call for innovative methods, but that doesn’t imply, as many agile skeptics insist, that the benefits gained by applying structured project management techniques must be abandoned. Agile approaches are appropriate for creative, inventive projects because the methods integrate exploratory, collaborative techniques into the project process and acknowledge the mutating nature of exploratory IT projects into the PM methods we apply. Even PMI, in its newly published Body of Knowledge, recognizes the value of the iterative, incremental approaches advocated by agile proponents.

More to come

In subsequent columns, we’ll dig a bit deeper into the specifics of some of these techniques and explore ways that agile approaches can be combined with familiar, predictive techniques to apply exactly the right level of rigor to the project, no matter where it falls on the innovation spectrum.

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Rick Freedman is the author of three books on IT consulting, including “The IT Consultant”. Rick is a Director in the Global Services Division of NEC America, and a trainer and course developer in the Agile Project Management practice of ESI, the international PM training company.

May 28, 2009 Posted by | Communications Management, earned value, PMBOK, PMI, PMO, Project Management | | Leave a comment