Pawan Maini, MD,
While we may argue what is a complex v/s a simple project - a few things are common to all projects. They have a definite start/end date and each project is unique. However, the life cycle of all projects could be divided into phases like initiation, planning, execution and closure. A set of common tools/techniques are used to control the project quality, cost and schedule. Project management is all about using these tools and techniques to control the project management processes. However, the level of emphasis on project management has been different in different sectors and even in different geographies.
Project delays are a common phenomenon in most of infrastructure projects in India. Just imagine a scenario of a PPP road project worth `1,000 crores cost with a toll revenue say of `60 crores per annum in the initial years. A delay of 3 months would result in revenue loss of `15 crores and additional 25 crores as interest during the construction. The cost escalations due to inflation and indirect losses of benefit to traffic are in addition to this direct loss of `40 crore. The delays could be minimised with effective project management. Project management is not only limited to schedule control but also encompasses other aspects like cost control, quality, risk management, change control, scope management and integration/interface management. If we consider all these factors also, the net savings/benefits on the project would be much more than `40 crore. While the cost is significant it is interesting to note that very often project developers (be it private or the government) often spend only a pittance on project management.
There are numerous tools and techniques to manage project management processes. While there are many complex options, to be able to manage projects it is critical that ideally the tools be simple so that they are not only easily understood but also used. Particularly in India, where not much emphasis is given to project management, if the tools are overly complex it is likely that those managing projects will choose to ignore them for fear of spending too much effort/time just using the tool.
The kick off meeting happens when project execution phase is about to start. The main purpose of the kick off meeting is to create a clear and common understanding of purpose and benefits of the project, the roles of the professional group and/or the individual participants and establish a motivated team with clear vision and framework. The kick off meeting is structured around a standard meeting agenda that is aligned with the project execution plan. This agenda defines the guideline for the project manager when it comes to the planning, preparation and running of the meeting. The project manager must include interactive or co-creative process formats for kick-off subjects when appropriate. For example, defining a common collaborative project approach, identification of business objectives, identifying questions for front loading, identifying possible risk and opportunities events. Actions planned at a kick-off meeting are followed up by the project manager.
Visual planning is a visual team-based process to share knowledge within the project team, manage interfaces between team members and/or disciplines and optimise task plans. Visual planning forms part of weekly or biweekly progress meetings using boards on a wall, post-it notes, flip charts and symbols. The essential elements of the visual plan are visible milestones/deliverables for each discipline. The overall project plan is used as the basis for planning. The visual plan is an eight week plan that is rolled every six weeks i.e. every six weeks, the milestones are removed from the plan and a new eight weeks plan is developed, the last two weeks will be the first two weeks in the new plan. Each discipline lead (or team member) has a horizontal track on the board including the project manager and the customer. Milestones for the next eight weeks are written on yellow post-it notes, milestones from related projects or the customer have another colour, all milestones must be written down on post-it notes prior to the meeting the project manager facilitates the meeting. The discipline leads/team members explain their milestones and deliverables dependencies are aligned. In the weekly/biweekly follow up meetings the participant’s tick-off completed milestones including brief discussions regarding upcoming milestones.
The kick off meeting and visual planning help improve the project management significantly. They can easily be adopted on any type and scale of project and help ensure that not only does the project start off in the right direction but also is monitored and managed effectively during its lifecycle.