I run a small I.T. consultancy. We need to create a formal management structure for our projects, which are always small (one day up to a few weeks in duration). We don't need a full-time project manager, nor do we need a full-blown PMBOK methodology as might befit larger projects. What we need is a solid structure that someone can follow a couple hours a day to keep things on track and stay in communication with our clients throughout. I'm considering hiring a project management consultant to help design our workflow. Since project management is not my personal strength, I'm not sure where to start. What do you suggest?
I don't know how much your workflows vary from project to project which may have some impact on the best way to develop this, but a good starting approach could be to analyze the current workflow(s) that you are using now and then document best practices based on that as well as incorporating research-based best practices into your workflow(s) depending on they type of workflow that needs developed. Checklists, templates, etc. could be developed to assist your staff based on this analysis.
Happy to discuss further. I have developed many processes and project plans for IT related processes in the Healthcare sector. Steve
Make sure your employees use common terminology and documentation is template based.
List tasks and milestones that are either common to all projects or common to most projects.
Assign a role to each task.
Note dependencies and hand offs for each task.
Save this list as your work breakdown structure WBS template.
Create list of corresponding associated risks with columns to identify impact of risk, probability of risk, and response.
Save this as risk management template.
When your team starts a new project, create project specific documentation from your WBS and risk management templates.
Adjust as needed, including adding planned start and end dates, new tasks, etc.
Having working in multiple Fortune 500 companies as a Project Manager, and IT Delivery Manager, the head of a Production Support team, and certified in CMMI process I can tell you there are a number of questions that need to be understood before your formal structure can be fully defined. From the perspective of a 10,000 foot view there is always a starting and ending point that need to be tracked plus managing the tasks in the middle. For example, How / what initiates your IT requests? Is there a central way these efforts are communicated? Are specific approvals needed before the work can start (aka, is there a budget to do the work). Is an estimate needed first or do you go right to project? Who manages the project? How do the impacted teams get identified / notified? Does scope creep ever happen? if so, how does that get approved / paid for.? In essence, there are a lot step by step tasks that can be thought through and grouped together into logical components and recorded for tracking purposes in a spreadsheet. Ultimately your goal is to create a repeatable process with the proper oversight to ensure time / cost / quality / scope are as expected. Once you understand the tasks, you can identify who is responsible for the oversight. And then you can document the process. Some people may suggest creating the process first and assigning responsibility second, and id'ing the tasks third. Either way, having a formal structure to your projects (without overkill on the process) will serve your company well. Any need to discuss further let me know...
From my project management training, I always remember that the most important tool a project manager has is the checklist. So, a standard checklist of daily tasks for a project would be an excellent tool for things that do not vary from project to project - such as sending status reports to clients, following up with staff, etc.
The other very important deliverable is the Work Breakdown Structure. This is the list of tasks, with estimated effort, resource assignments, dates and dependencies, that make up the project. The document should be shared with all team members and the project manager uses it to watch for variances from the plan.
With checklists and Work Breakdown Structures, you should be able to keep things on track.
I've been managing projects for 15+ years for big organizations, small companies and my own personal projects. Based on the scope of your projects, it sounds like a single project manager could simultaneously manage multiple projects for you.
An important consideration is to find someone who's style of project management fits well with your goals, team, your company culture and your clients. For example, if your projects are smaller in scope, you don't need to put the same type of project management system in place that a multi-million dollar global system upgrade would require. You want to make sure that the project management layer helps get things done more effectively and efficiently, rather than just add another layer of administration and overhead.
One way to choose the right person for you, whether that person is intended to be an employee or consultant, would be to find 2-3 candidates, then ask each to develop a sample plan (or part of a sample plan if it's a big project), for the same project (or part of a project), then ask the project manager to walk you through the plan and how they would manage it. Doing this gives you an idea of each project manager's style and how it fits or doesn't fit with your goals, team, company culture and clients. I'd think expecting no more than an hour of work along these lines from potential candidate would be a reasonable request.
Hope that's helpful and happy to discuss further on a call!
If your needs are not too too complex, it may be possible to use a CRM type software to integrate project management with customer service in a single database.
Many CRM solutions include some form of automated workflow that can take care of the standardization process that you are after. You would be able to create a rule that once X happens, Action A takes place. For example, if a step is complete, then the system automatically sends an email to the client about it, etc...
With projects lasting between 1 day and a few weeks, I assume the projects are different enough, where you may want to automate at a high level only. Each type of project may have its own template or workflow.