The goal of project management is to obtain stakeholder acceptance of the project result. This means that the stakeholder agrees that the quality specifications of the project parameters have been met. In order to make this go smoothly, the stakeholder and project manager must have a well-documented criteria of performance in place from the beginning of the project. This information should be documented in the project management plan which should include all changes requested through the life of the project.
Objective, measurable criteria are always best, subjective criteria are risky and open to interpretation. There should be no room for doubt or ambiguity, although this is often difficult to achieve.
The project may not be complete when delivered to the stakeholder. Some final project areas that may need to be considered are:
- Documentation requirements
- Provision of people trained on operating product of facility
- Update risk and work registers
- Equipment and hire returns
- Warranties and guarantees settled
Although the project close-out and handover are typically the final phase of the project this does not mean that the relevant activities should only commence when the previous stage is complete. On the contrary, it can be seen by the list above that work such as as-built drawings should be developed as the project progresses through the earlier stages and be ready for handover as soon as the work is complete.
Finally, project team members need to be reassigned; surplus equipment, materials and supplies disposed of; and facilities released.Post-project evaluation review
The final step in any project should be an evaluation review. This is a look back over the project to see what was learned that will contribute to future projects. This review is best done by the core project team and typically in a group discussion. If possible it can be beneficial to include the client, customer, users or any appropriate stakeholders. The post-project evaluation review will take place during project closure.Why hold a post-project evaluation?
If we always do what we’ve always done, we’ll always get what we’ve always got. This means that if we always do things the same way we will get the same results. With all projects there are always areas that can be improved upon; however, it is typical for project personnel and managers, to get away from the project as soon as possible. This may be due to the fact that they are required immediately on the next project and they are glad to see the back of it and want to forget the results. Whatever the reason, the benefits of such a review are rarely seen, and dismissed as time-wasting. It is therefore very important that the lessons learned from the project, whether good or bad should be reviewed, documented and fed back to the next project.
What should be reviewed?
It is obviously very important that, first, an evaluation of what the project delivered against what was expected should be conducted. This again highlights the importance of agreeing the measurement of success at the outset of the project and with all stakeholders.
We should therefore consider the three questions asked when we defined our project:
- Do we know where we are going?
- Do we know how we are going to get there?
- Do we have agreement of all of the stakeholders on the first two questions?
If we could categorically say yes to the above questions then we should now be asking:
- Did we get where we expected to get?
- Did we get there the way we expected to?
- Are all the stakeholders happy with the outcome and the way it was achieved?
If the answer is no to any of the above questions we should be asking why and what can be done to make sure the answer is yes in the future. Equally, if the answer is yes we should be congratulating the project team and ensuring that we clarify what was done well so we can do it again and also what could be improved upon next time.
Some questions that could be considered are:
- Did everyone involved understand and agree on the project direction and objectives?
- Did we have the appropriate skills in the project?
- Did we have and use appropriate tools and techniques?
- Did all the team work well together?
- Were our stakeholders kept well informed of the project progress?
- Did we manage project challenges effectively?
- Did we follow the agreed project life-cycle?
- Did we encourage and deal with feedback effectively/
- Did we anticipate project problems effectively?
- Was our agreed procedures followed as planned?
Again if the answer to any of these questions is no, then we should ask why and put measures in place to ensure that in the future they are corrected. Likewise, if the answers are yes then ask why. Was it luck or was it good project management? Either way, the results should also be documented and fed back into future projects.Things to consider when executing a projectAccuracy of progress measurement
It is often said that progress on an activity rushes to 95% then slows down. There is also the issue of ambiguous progress measurement. The importance of accuracy in progress measurement cannot be overemphasized as, without accurate measurement, all of the benefits of best practice cannot be realised. Depending on the type of project involved, it may be possible to agree what needs to be achieved to “claim” earned value percentages against different types of activities, or visual checks on progress may be necessary, but somehow the successful project manger needs to be sure that the progress measures being reported are accurate, to allow them to make the right decisions.Cost versus schedule
The real value of Earned Value Management (EVM) is that it compares cost and schedule progress measurements – providing the project team with accurate measures and forecasts. However, the timely reporting of actual costs (AC) is not realistic in some organizations. In these cases it is still possible to calculate a reasonably accurate costs-incurred figure based upon known payroll costs or committed costs through finance systems. To not measure costs and schedule simultaneously is to make decisions based on potentially misleading data – which should worry any project team.Forecasting and early warnings
The purpose of accurate forecasting figures such as estimate at completion (EAC) and budget at completion (BAC) provides an early warning to the project team, project manager and project stakeholders of all types. Hiding this bad news early in a project is a mistake that many project managers are tempted to make – convincing themselves that they will compensate for early problems later in the project. However, history tells us otherwise. A timely warning of a negative trend (schedule, cost, or both) can point towards poor estimating, planning or simply an expected or unexpected risk occurring. All organizations need to know early if there are issues. No project manager is thanked for delaying bas news. Equally, good news should be made available as it may allow an organization to channel much needed resources elsewhere if they are now available.Variations and change management
Almost all projects will encounter change and it is the ability of the project team to recognize change, evaluate the effects of change, and make a reasoned decision (or refer it in a timely fashion) that can often make the difference between a successful project and a disastrous one. Human nature often leads to variations or changes being accepted without challenge. The consequential effect of an ill-considered change is one of the most common causes of project cost or schedule overruns.The learning organization
Capturing and recording “actual” has an importance to most organizations considerably beyond the project itself. If an organization is to learn lessons from the past and improve its project performance it is essential that the data recorded for progress reporting during a project is also analysed at project completion for “lessons learned”. It is common in most organization for project staff to be reallocated immediately (or before) a project is completed. However, a little time spent recording and disseminating lessons learned and actual can pay immense dividends to the organization and is, in mature project organizations, an integral part of good project management.Conclusion
Measuring progress against a baseline plan, forecasting cost and schedule variance and managing change are some of the most critical tools and techniques available to the project manager and yet often the post overlooked. As some of the progress measurement techniques require timely and accurate data, and an understanding of earned value management (EVM), they are often avoided as “too complex”. However, ignoring these best practice tools leads to projects being run “blind” – in ignorance of their real progress and, therefore, the real cost and schedule outcome. In extreme cases this can lead top projects continuing when they should have been stopped – effectively gross misconduct within an organization.
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