Projects occur as a series of phases, structured along a timeline designed to produce deliverables, meet stated goals, and utilize allocated resources. Without this structure, projects would prove unmanageable as the work effort would just be too massive and undefined.
As a project begins, the initial “blank slate” can be overwhelming. Phases put the work to be done into perspective, replacing the blank slate with a framework for planning. “Phase” management also provides the opportunity for periodic review and reflection – to examine progress at key points, ensuring that the project is proceeding as planned and required. To take full advantage of these potential benefits, each phase must include checkpoints for management control, also known as stage gates or exits. Checkpoints provide a basis for analysis and evaluation, to determine whether the project is proceeding as planned, and to take corrective action as needed. Every project phase should pass through the checkpoint gauntlet to ensure that essential goals and deliverables are being met, and to identify potential issues and problems in stages, before they become overwhelming.
For full benefit and impact, checkpoints should be identified according to specific project phases, and as needed to ensure the timely advancement of project goals and deliverables. Checkpoints must be structured to answer one primary question – are you ready for the next phase? If the answer is yes, the project proceeds. If the answer is no, other action must be taken, to include progress with corrective/compensating actions, project suspension, or outright cancellation.
To illustrate checkpoint utilization, we can use a project structure organized into five (5) phases, as follows:
Continuing with this illustration, the following checkpoint "decision tree" leads the way through the progression process.
Checkpoints can present difficult choices. Every checkpoint analysis requires an objective examination of the project to date. This can be a difficult task for the project manager and the team who have so much invested in every project. At times, checkpoints will not be passed, and unpopular actions must be taken, up to and including project cancellation. But, when project viability is in doubt, it is better to walk away than to proceed with a non-viable initiative. In the end, checkpoints can provide a much needed safety net to prevent wasted time and resources.
In order to have any realistic shot at a successful project, (delivered on time and on budget) the overall vision, work effort and expected result must first be fully defined --- i.e. broken down into small, manageable and actionable parts. This article provides a practical overview of the definition process, putting "project definition" into context and perspective. Read More
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Strategic "project fast tracking" is a streamlined project management process, specifically used to overcome the most common types of project obstacles, including insufficient time, resource shortages, budgetary deficiencies and stakeholder conflicts.
Get an illustrated view of the fast tracking process in the "Step-by-Step to a Fast Tracked Project" infographic.
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