Customer Archives - TAB Corporate

Project Plan Assumptions

Project Management for Small Business XI

Because the project manager wants to get on with a project, the last two sections of a project plan tend to be the risks and the assumptions. These sections are often started from a previous project plan, and adjusted for the current project. It’s my experience that in a small business project plan, very little thought is given to risks and assumptions.

Undistributed middle argument map

All about assumptions. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’re an experienced manager, you’ve definitely run into the following scenario numerous times:

Customer: My team has started to review the new system. We couldn’t find the yield management module. What is the status of it?

Project Manager: Yield management is out of scope.

Customer: You’ve got to be kidding! The system is useless to me without yield management.

Project Manager: But, it wasn’t in the requirements and you approved the requirements. Iassumed that you knew it was out of scope.

Customer: Yes, but I assumed yield management was included. It’s so important to our business.

In this scenario, the project manager may indeed be in the right.  But this is a situation where being correct is not much of a consolation.  Here, everyone has lost.  In small business projects, important assumptions need to be stated, and be to very clear.

Project assumptions consist of external project dependencies as well as scope related clarifications. Regarding scope, you can include the important out of scope items either in your Project Scope section or in the Assumptions section.  The location doesn’t really matter, as long as your assumptions are clearly stated in the project plan. A cautious project manager may not want to call attention to assumptions; for fear that the project will not go forward. But hiding assumptions is a mistake, not being forthright will often land you in the scenario described above.

For the assumptions section of your project plan, try to put yourself in the shoes of your customer. What things might they expect that are not included? Make sure to write down these expectations. I would also recommend assembling the project team, just like for developing the risks, and going through an exercise of developing assumptions. This will not take a lot of anyone’s time, and will ultimately achieve a better result.

Here are some questions to ask when you develop assumptions for a project plan:

  • What items might my customer assume are in scope, and which items are out of scope?
  • How much time is required from each team member? Time estimates should include quality assurance, training and for support.
  • How hands on do I expect the customer to be? How much time will be devoted to customer support?
  • What external vendors are required? What additional funding will be needed for vendors?
  • What is our internal budget availability?
  • Are there technology dependencies that involve assumptions? For example, is a new release of underlying software needed that includes a new feature?
  • Once the project is implemented, how much effort is required for support? Who will do provide the necessary support?

Finally, Occam’s Razor is a good principal to follow in developing assumptions. Generally, Occam’s razor advises that the right solution is often the simplest. More formally, the principle states that one should not make more assumptions than the minimum needed. That is, make sure that the important assumptions are stated clearly, and are not buried in a bunch of unimportant assumptions.  Small business project managers will do well if they keep Occam’s Razor in mind.

 

 

Project Scope – Getting Everyone on the Same Page

Project Management for Small Business IV

The first step to creating a project is to define the Project Scope. The project scope should be defined with a document that describes what is to be accomplished by the project team. In the case of Project Tweet, the scope might seem obvious: add a Twitter presence to Hummingbird Deliveries’ marketing plan. In reality, the scope of Project Tweet is much broader.
The scope is a statement of what the project intends to accomplish. The key elements of the project scope are:
  • Summary of Key Project Attributes: Project name, project manager, key stakeholders, high-level description, and expected completion date.
  • Project Justification
  • Product, Service or Process to be Created
  • Deliverables
  • Objectives

Think you’ve got it?  Let’s create an abbreviated scope for Project Tweet:

Summary of Key Attributes: Project Tweet will add maintaining a high profile on Twitter as a part of the daily business operations of Hummingbird Delivery. McKenzie Rogers will serve as both the manager of the project, and will ultimately determine the success of the project. Hummingbird Delivery will begin tweeting on December 1st.
Project Justification: Social media is becoming increasingly important to small businesses. For Hummingbird, social media has the potential to attract new customers. In the current business climate, our prospects expect us to be active on Social Media. In fact, social media is the first place many prospects will go to find a local delivery service.
We also see Twitter as an important customer service tool. Customers tend to be very impatient with our service; they want their packages to arrive, and they want them to arrive NOW. Usually, we are able to meet these demands, but  on occasion, things happen to slow down deliveries. We believe that Twitter will allow us to inform customers of projected delays almost instantaneously.
Service to be Created: The service to be created is adding maintaining a Twitter presence to our ongoing business operations. Our Twitter presence will include business-development related tweets such as promotions and great customer experiences. This project will seek to have our customers promote our great service through Twitter. This service will also include tweets regarding delivery status. On Twitter, we will both convey delivery issues, and tweet about our normal, positive operations. It is important that our prospects don’t just see the broadcast of occasional delays.
Deliverables: To get the project started, and to be sure Project Tweet does not run out of steam, we’ll create a weekly tweet schedule for the first month. Ms. Rogers will review our tweets at least once per day.
Objectives: After the first six months of Project Tweet we will:
  • Have at least 500 Twitter followers.
  • Acquire at least one new customer per month on Twitter.
  • Use Twitter to improve communication with existing customers.
Now we have our scope defined.  What next?
Review the scope as a team. Don’t just email it out to the team and ask for comments, set a meeting where everyone is expected to have read the Project Scope, and to come to the meeting prepared to discuss any concerns or questions. Then, step through the document section by section in the meeting, and ask for comments. This process prevents the inevitable miscommunications that occur when you send an email to your team, and expect everyone to be on the same page. After the meeting, update the document and send it to your entire team for a final review. Ask your team, including your stakeholder(s), to respond with their approval.
Here are a few best practices regarding scope:
Make sure the scope specifically documents anything that is explicitly excluded from the scope.Everyone reads scope documents with their own biased lens. The most common challenge with projects is the “I thought that this was going to be included,” question. This question puts the project team back on their heels. If there is any chance that a reader might expect something to be included, and it is not in the scope, give an explanation as to why.
Resist the temptation to be verbose. Newer project managers might think that a longer project plan is better. As Mark Twain wrote, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Brevity is important- unnecessary length can work against you. The project scope should reflect nothing more than the key attributes of the project, stated concisely, and nothing more.
A well-defined scope creates alignment. An alignment where each team member will walk away with the same understanding of what they are trying to accomplish.
In our next post, we’ll discuss Project Success Criteria.