Monitoring Projects

At the outset to my last article ‘Fail to Plan and you plan to fail’, lets understand the next stage of planning i.e. monitoring.

First of all Project planning and monitoring are iterative activities wherein the scope of project monitoring activity starts with approved Project plan and ends at project closure.

Project monitoring periodically keeps track of project progress and manage deviations from plan by taking timely appropriate corrective actions.

Project monitoring activities mainly involves:

  • Keeping track of the project progress and their timelines.
  • Update the status of the tasks and monitor its deviation from timelines.
  • Management of change in requirements
  • Monitor project resources
  • Identify issues and track them to closure.
  • Manage escalations.
  • Monitor risks and execute mitigation/contingency plan as and when needed.
  • Communicate project’s progress to relevant stakeholders
  • Measure and monitor set quality parameters to track performance, take necessary actions in case of measures are not met.

Successful project monitoring focuses on following activities:

Project_MonitoringProject Status Reporting at the frequency defined in the project plan. It contains qualitative and quantitative information about the project’s progress. Frequency of reporting can be weekly, fortnightly, monthly and/or at the end of milestone.

Project Status Reviews are performed as per the frequency defined in the project plan. Reports form an input to the review. Usually the reviews are either at phase end or at the end of milestone but it may differ as per project specific needs. Following pointers are mainly discussed during project status review meetings.

  • Project progress. Reasons for project delays, if any, and action taken to avoid it in subsequent phases.
  • Effects of change in requirements in project performance
  • Issues resolution and important decisions taken; lessons learnt from them.
  • Risks occurrences and preventive measures.
  • Resources and training need if any identified out of the plan.
  • Project performance and deviations if any.

Corrective actions are action items that are outcome of project status review meetings. Corrective actions are resolved based on their priority and severity.  The completion status of these corrective actions is again reported in the subsequent status reports.

Project plan revision might be a result of either corrective actions from reviews or change in requirements.

Monitoring project performances involves various monitoring methods to understand project performance. They are mainly categorized into Qualitative and Quantitative methods. These methods make use of qualitative and quantitative indicators to help monitoring the project.  Qualitative indicators are subjective and non-numerical whereas quantitative indicators are measurable and numerical. Identification of indicators to measure and monitor depends on project requirements and are well defined in project plan.

Thus, monitoring is a continuous process from project startup to closure. Lessons learnt and best practices should be shared to the relevant stakeholders for reference for similar future projects.

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Fail to Plan is planning to fail

A famous quote by Benjamin Franklin: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”, reflects importance of planning in a project’s life cycle. This quote inspired me to write this article wherein I would like to discuss the importance of planning a project.

First of all a Project plan is a document which depicts the planning of the project related activities so that the same can be monitored and tracked throughout the project execution. A well defined project plan guides the team during project and aids its successful execution.

Despite of understanding importance of having a Plan in a project, managers often hesitate to plan because of several reasons, few of them are mentioned below:

  • Complex project nature
  • New project in particular domain area
  • Research based projects
  • Unclear or frequently changing requirements
  • High external and internal dependencies
  • Project specific constraints
  • Lack of Estimation benchmarks

Most of the reasons mentioned above contribute in delays of project timelines. Often project plan is seen as mere a schedule depicting timelines. However, schedule is only a part of a complete project plan.  Other components of plan document (as seen in the image below) serves as supporting plans that play vital role in project execution. Hence a collaborative plan not only helps in minimizing delays but also ensures that the project is successfully executed while the end product meets its quality requirements.

PToF-FToP

So let’s understand above take a look at why we need a plan.

  • Clear understanding of overall project at the project startup.
  • Identification of project deliverables.
  • To keep track of the project progress and their timelines.
  • Identify the project resources.
  • Identify dependencies and constraints and plan its solutions.
  • Plan the risks and their mitigation and contingency.
  • Plan the internal and external communication mechanism suitable for the project.
  • Plan to train the team to ensure adequate skills
  • Identification of quality parameters that defines end product quality so that the same can be monitored throughout the project and to ensure that end product meets the desired quality.

Often delays in the project is misunderstood as a failed plan. However plan is always open to revision any time during the project execution as project progresses. A revised project plan guides the team in subsequent project phases.

Following are the triggers when there is a need to revise the project plan:

  • Changes in project scope and requirements
  • Changes based on interim project review feedbacks
  • Delay in project execution
  • Identification of new risks
  • Change in assumptions and constraints
  • Learning from causal analysis at the phase end or milestone.

Hence, success of a project depends on how the project plan is monitored throughout the project execution. Nevertheless is it always important to analyze the reasons behind the project delays at the end of the project.  Learning derived from such analysis might help in subsequent projects execution of similar nature and hence should be recorded as lessons learnt from that project for future reference.

Hope this article was insightful. Please share your thoughts/feedbacks in the comment section.

Process Standardization Vs. Customization (Tailoring)

Quality Management System (QMS), is a set of processes and standards defined to ensure desired level of quality in various phases of development/production. These defined processes and standards when implemented help organization to achieve certain goals and objectives.

Process Standardization is a process of creating QMS, includes defining and implementing a set of procedures and tools to strive quality and hence customer and employee satisfaction. It streamlines activities across organizational departments.

Standardization helps minimizing coordination issues among departments as well as maximizing quality,   predictability, interoperability, compatibility.

The defined set of standard processes is not always suited to all situations and all projects. Sometimes it is very much time and effort consuming to implement all relevant and necessary processes in a project, or sometimes based on project scope certain processes are not at all applicable. For e.g. let’s say a project of one week duration might not need a detailed level of design document to be created; for testing only projects design phase might not be applicable.

For such projects where all relevant set of standard processes cannot be implemented or not applicable there needs to be a guideline which defines allowable deviations that can be done in the existing processes to suit project specific characteristics. These guidelines are defined in customization (tailoring) guidelines.

Process Customization1

Process Customization (Tailoring) is a set of guidelines specifying allowable deviations or waivers in a defined set of standard processes while focusing on quality and meeting customer requirements.

Customization criteria e.g. project types, project size are used to create customization guidelines.

These guidelines forms a matrix indicating the Process/templates/tools, customization criteria (e.g. Project Types, Project Size), the range for each criteria (e.g. Project Type: Development/Maintenance/QA; Project Size: Large/Medium/Small), and the considerations for selecting a particular range (e.g. Mandatory/Optional/Not Applicable).

This approach ties together the processes/templates/tools, the criteria, and the tailoring considerations.

Process Customization2.jpg

At project startup based on the project scope and requirements project manager uses the tailoring guidelines to identify set of project specific processes/tools needed for that project. These tailored processes/tools are then used throughout the project execution.

Process customization/tailoring thus provide flexibility and ease in process implementation and mainly a positive attitude towards process implementation among users.

Managing Defects

Defect simply means a fault, error or mistake which if not corrected at appropriate time leads to failure. Defects can occur at any point of time during product development. Thus, defect management activity is a crucial part of product development.

DefectManagement.jpg

Defects tracking

Defects tracking in certain phase involves in identification of defects and tracking them closure. Following are the phases while tracking defects:

  • Defect Discovery: It refers to finding of defects. Defects are identified through reviews/testing activities.
  • Defect Recording: Logging the defects in specific document with predefined parameters like defect description, date/time, defect severity, defect priority, defect status, defect category, defect cause etc.
  • Defect Validation: Validating and acknowledging the defect.
  • Defect Resolution: Solution to the defects and making necessary corrections.
  • Defect Verification: Checking whether the defect is resolved correctly.
  • Defect closure: Close the defect if verification is positive.

Defect Analysis

Defect Analysis is done to analyze defects occurred during certain phase of product development life cycle in order to prevent its repeated occurrences in future. Parameters like defect category and defect cause are used to analyze the defects.

Defect Prevention

Defect prevention tries to minimize potential defects in certain phase by analyzing root causes of existing defects or by analyzing potential risks. Defect analysis and identified risks provides valuable inputs in identifying potential defects and causes of defects that might result in defects during subsequent phases.

Various techniques like Pareto chart, five whys, cause and effect diagram, fishbone diagram etc. are used to analyze defects.

Defining QMS

In my previous article entitled ‘Strategic Planning & QMS’, I discussed how strategic planning provides framework and directing inputs to Quality Management System (QMS). Now in this article I shall explore on different types of QMS documentation and steps to define QMS.

A Quality Management System (QMS) contains various types of documents also called as artifacts.

qms_document_types

Quality Policy Manual is a top level document that describes the role of QMS in achieving the Quality and is aligned to organization’s strategic plan (Mission, Vision, Values, Goals and Objectives). This document provides a basis on setting up objectives to be achieved by implementing QMS.

Processes/Procedures are sequence of interdependent tasks when performed using specific inputs generates desired outputs (e.g.  Requirements Process). Documenting a process ensures its standardization. This means that the process is followed uniformly by different users and hence yields to the outputs which are comparable and hence its performance can be analyzed.

Records (Templates/forms/checklists/Reports) are tools to implement processes.

  • Templates/forms are used to ensure that information is uniformly collected and documented that is necessary and sufficient at every instances of its usage. (e.g. Requirements Specification template used for understanding and analyzing requirements).
  • Checklists used during reviews to ensure that all the required points are reviewed and documented. (e.g. Requirement Analysis Checklist)
  • Reports document the details and summary of the activity performed. It provides basis for further discussions, reporting and analysis. (E.g. Project Reports, Review Reports, etc.)

Guidelines are suggestions to determine certain task. Guideline document is intended to facilitate streamlining of that activity being implemented at several occurrences. E.g. Testing Guidelines.

Standards are industry proven low level mandates that helps in implementing the process in effective and efficient manner. E.g. User Interface Design Standards.

Steps to define QMS are depicted in the below diagram.

define_qms_steps_paint

Categorization of processes and sub-processes may be at organizational level or at project level. Schematic diagram of Inter-process dependencies should be clearly framed.

Process definition model may be chosen as suitable e.g.  ETVX (Entry Task Verification eXit), SIPOC (Suppliers, Inputs, Process, Outputs, and Customers). In addition to process implementation tools like templates/ checklists/ reports, software tools may also be used to facilitate efficient implementation. E.g. Using Project Management Software – Teamwork Projects for managing projects.

Maintenance of QMS documentation deals with periodical updates in the QMS based on feedbacks and process performance analysis. It helps QMS to improve continually.

All the documents under QMS need to be organized in structured manner which can be easily located as and when needed by users.

Strategic Planning & QMS

“Create and publish to all employees a statement of the aims and purposes of the company or other organization. The management must demonstrate constantly their commitment to this statement.”    Deming (Point 1 of Deming’s 14 points for management)

In this article, I shall discuss strategic planning and its importance in establishing Quality Management System (QMS).

Strategic Planning: Strategic planning is a management activity that collectively defines organization’s perception of success, focus and priorities and set directions to accomplish them. Thus strategic planning helps an organization to focus and prioritize its efforts towards achieving desirable success.

strategicplanning-qms-paint

Mission: Mission statement reflects ‘Why’ we exist as an organization. It forms a mental image of the organization. It is a clear and concise statement that describes organization’s purpose, reason of existence. It reflects its present state.

Vision: Vision statement reflects ‘Where’ we want to be in future. It describes the desired state of the organization in future.

Values: Values of core beliefs and priorities of an organization to which it is committed in any circumstances. Mission and vision statements should be aligned to the organization’s core values.

Mission, Vision and values statements should be well framed and well understood by all the employees in the organization as they inherently guide goals, conduct and operations of the organization.

Goals: Organizational goals, aligned to mission and vision, are generic set of desired achievements.  They set a clear futuristic path towards what it has to accomplish.

Objectives: Objectives are specific set of achievable tasks towards accomplishing goals. These objectives when achieved collectively help organization to reach their goals. Objectives should be specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time bound.

All of the above elements of strategic planning provide framework and directing inputs to QMS.

Quality Policy: It is a policy statement defined in the QMS that states the quality objectives and expectations towards it, directions to focus on achieving quality and underlying responsibilities.

Quality policy is defined jointly by management and quality experts and needs to be thoroughly understood by all the employees.

By establishing and implementing QMS, jointly aligned to strategic planning and quality policy, these quality objectives are measured and hence continually improved. This ensures that organization is continually improving and progressing towards its defined mission.

Therefore QMS provides a framework to the organization to ensure that organization’s efforts are focused and positively leading towards achieving its vision.

Developing QMS

In my previous article entitled ‘QMS: Aspects to Ponder’ I discussed few aspects that need some brainstorming before we actually start developing Quality Management System (QMS). So now we are aware of what preparations we need to do and what kind of challenges we might face while implementing QMS.

So now it’s time to start developing QMS. This article shall give you an overview of activities that needs to be performed.

DevelopingQMS

  • Set Clear Goals:

Existence of any organization is complete and meaningful if it has its defined goals. This is in a similar way that as a person’s existence is more meaningful by the goal he/she wants to achieve in their life.

An effective QMS is the one which is aligned to the organization’s strategic goals and objectives. Organizational goals set a clear futuristic path towards what it has to achieve. Objectives are short term achievable tasks towards goals. These objectives when achieved collectively help organization to reach their goals.

E.g. Organizational Goal – To achieve high productivity; Quantitative objective: Achieve 70% Productivity in six months.

  • Set Measurement Objectives:

Strategic objectives are derived from strategic goals. Measurement objectives are strategic objectives that need to be managed quantitatively.

These quantitative objectives should be aligned to the processes to be built so that metrics can be derived from the processes implemented.

Later on, after implementation, these metrics are collected and analyzed to understand how well the process is able to meet these objectives.

  • Define Scope of QMS

Scope of QMS determines what are inclusions and exclusions of QMS or in simpler terms boundaries of QMS.

Inclusions and exclusions can be defined based on organizations physical locations, types of projects, types of products, services, departments, etc.

E.g. Scope of QMS includes all types of projects excluding research based projects.

  • Define and Implement QMS

Processes in the QMS are defined aligning to the QMS scope and measurement objectives.

This includes process definition documents, policy manual, guidelines, tools to implement the process (templates, checklists, forms, automated tools, etc.), case studies, manuals etc.

Once the processes defined it needs to be implemented by relevant stakeholders across departments. An implementation plan should be prepared that describes the scope of the implementation to be carried out.

E.g. QMS implementation is done phase wise. In which phase 1 only short term projects will start implementing the QMS. Research department is excluded in phase 1 implementation.

  • Evaluate and Improve QMS

QMS needs to be evaluated periodically so that same can be improved for better performance.

Evaluation of QMS effectiveness, efficiency can be based on qualitative and/or quantitative analysis.

  • Qualitative analysis involves analysis of Implementation feedbacks from users and customers, audits, reviews reports etc.
  • Quantitative Analysis uses statistical methods to analyze metrics collected by monitoring QMS implementation.

Improvement feedbacks are used to revise the QMS. Revised QMS is then implemented in the next iteration and so on, hence called as continuous improvement.

Revisions in Strategic goals may result in revising the measurement objectives and therefore the aligned QMS processes.