How Top-to-Bottom Visibility Can Transform Your Projects

November 22, 2016 Barry Hodge

by Barry Hodge

The sad reality is a lot of projects perform poorly due to the way they are tracked and reported. According to the Project Management Institute, “For every US$1 billion invested, we see US$122 million wasted due to project performance.”  

I have found from my own personal experience that one of the reasons projects perform poorly is due to the poor visibility stakeholders are given about project progress. In this article, I will show you how a lack of visibility in the way a project was reported led to frustration and poor performance. Then I will show how  you can improve your own project performance through excellent visibility.

Show the Big Picture

One of the projects I picked up when I joined a new company was in serious trouble. It had been running for 3 years, and it had at least three project managers before me. Not a good sign. There is a saying that you should never take on a project that has had more than two project managers, because chances are the project itself is the problem. After looking at it, I decided to take on the project; I could see the reason the project was struggling was due to poor visibility. The project sponsor was getting increasingly frustrated with the slow progress, and the IT professionals who were building it felt under-appreciated.

The challenge the previous project managers had was they would communicate dates, and these would get missed. With a constantly changing plan, the project managers quickly lost credibility, and the end result was the project being labelled a disaster—with everyone blaming everyone else.

When I took over, the first thing I did was call the project a programme of work. Then I set about breaking down all the work that was in progress into 15 smaller projects. I then broke the projects down into tasks and allocated resources to the tasks on a daily level. This meant project stakeholders could see from the top programme level all the way down through the projects to task level. This visibility enabled them to see what was being done and by when.

I started by listing out all of the high level requirements and then grouping them together ... the result was a total of 67 projects that had not actually started and yet were supposed to all be finished within the next six months. ... With current resources, the programme would take another 8 years to complete.

This eased the tension as people started to understand how hard the IT team was working. In all honesty, it also revealed that the team was working on too many things at the same time. It did, however, boost the motivation of the IT team, as they could start to see projects get done and therefore show progress.

After I had provided the visibility from daily task level right up through the project to the programme, I wanted to show the scale of all the work, so everyone could get an understanding of the size of it and ultimately see how long it would take. The view before I started this exercise was that the project was late but it would be finished within the next six months.

I started by listing out all of the high level requirements and then grouping them together. It became clear very quickly that these groups were actually projects in their own right. The result was a total of 67 projects that had not actually started and yet were supposed to all be finished within the next six months. It was clear that was not achievable.

Armed with this new list of projects, I gathered the project team together to find out how long they thought it would roughly take. I asked, “Based on your experience of the projects that have already been completed, do you think these remaining projects are small (effort of 100 days or less), medium (between 100 and 200 days effort), or large (over 200 days of effort)?” While none of these estimates were 100% accurate, the idea was to give a better guide than the current thinking of six months. The end result was that, with current resources, the programme would take another 8 years to complete. Even if these estimates were off by 50%, it was still clear that the current estimate of six months was not achievable.

With a more realistic timetable and visibility from daily tasks through to project and programme level, the atmosphere around the project changed. ... The project had gone from one that was hated to one that was loved, and all I had done was provide better visibility.

Once I shared this, the senior management was shocked at how large the programme actually was. However, as I had improved the visibility from daily level on up, I had credibility, and they could see where I was coming from. After the shock had subsided, the senior stakeholders started to prioritize the projects. They looked at what they really needed, and suddenly the list was dramatically cut from 67 down to 10 projects—all of which could be done within the next 8 months.

With a more realistic timetable and visibility from daily tasks through to project and programme level, the atmosphere around the project changed. The result was a happier project team who was visibly getting projects completed, which in turn made the senior stakeholders happy. The project had gone from one that was hated to one that was loved, and all I had done was provide better visibility.

4 Steps to Improve Visibility on Your Project

As you can see from my project, just providing the same project report week in and week out is not going to work when all you are doing is moving out the dates. Unless your project is going well, all that will happen is you will lose credibility as your project stakeholders become more frustrated.  To be successful, you have to provide visibility into what is being done day to day as well as how this fits into the big picture.

To have success on your projects, take the following approach when tracking and reporting your project:

Step 1: Track Daily Tasks

Schedule tasks down to a daily level and then track progress. Ask the project team at the end of each day how they progressing. For example, if a task is expected to take 4 days, ask at the end of day 1 if they are a quarter of the way through. If not, then you have time to do something about it, such as changing the scope of the task or assigning additional resources. This will help keep your project on track and reduce the chance of needing to push out dates every time you produce a new status report.

Step 2: Break Big Projects Into Small Projects

You've heard the old saying, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” The same principle applies to projects: break them down from large projects into a few smaller ones that are easier to manage. This also motivates project team members who like to tick things off as complete. It feels better to say you have completed five projects rather than you are only halfway through one project.

Step 3: Group Projects into Programmes

Those projects that are related to each other need to be linked together to form a programme. Show how the programme is progressing towards completion by showing progress of the projects within the programme. Also provide a big picture view of the programme by giving a rough estimate of how long it will take to finish.

Step 4: Tie Them Together with a Golden Thread

When you are reporting progress, make sure you link the daily tasks to the projects and the projects to the programme. Show overall progress and demonstrate how delays at a daily level impact the project, which in turn delay the programme. Be open and transparent, and never lie about how your project is doing.

You'll be surprised how fast stakeholders can make resources and money available when they are on your side.

By following these four steps, you will provide project stakeholders with great visibility right through your project. The result will be an increase in credibility in what you are reporting and trust that you having nothing to hide. This in turn leads to project stakeholders wanting to help you out when you do hit problems. You'll be surprised how fast stakeholders can make resources and money available when they are on your side. The key to success is always remembering your senior stakeholders want your project finished as fast possible, so they can start reaping the benefits. They will help you if you are honest and help them.

Remember:

  • Daily Tasks
  • Small Projects
  • Group into Programmes
  • Golden Thread
  • Bonus Tip: Be Honest

I hope you have found this article useful and wish you every success on your project. If you would like to find out more about me I can be found on projectnewstoday.com

 

About the Author

Barry Hodge

Barry is an experienced portfolio, programme, and project manager who specialises in establishing and growing project management in companies that have little or no project management framework. He also coaches and mentors those who would like to get into project management, as well as those who wish to grow and become better project managers. You can find out more about Barry at: projectnewstoday.com

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