Dear PM Advisor. October 22, 2012

Dear PM Advisor, The Director I report to takes every project idea and goes directly to planning it. He doesn't look at the equipment limitations and mandates cost and schedule before the planning even starts.

Cautious in Alabama

Dear Cautious,

I've never met a person whose every idea is worthy of becoming a reality. And if I did, I'd suspect they were only telling me the cream of the crop and not telling me the mediocre ones that were worth considering.

In my opinion there should be a phased project approach that looks something like the Cadence life cycle.

An idea is generated and somebody spends a little time documenting it into a request for further consideration. If it is considered a good enough idea, a Sponsor is selected and the idea moves to the next phase. Here a few people join the idea generator to study it for a week or two to see if it is viable.

If so, the best alternative is selected and we move the next phase. Here we do some rigorous research on the idea and create a business case. If it survives this phase, we assign a PM and a team, plan the project and execute the work.

The process is that for every product that comes out the end of this process, two projects might be planned, four to six researched, twelve studied and twenty ideas generated. Mature project management companies go through this weeding out process to glean the best ideas out of the many.

Since little money or time is spent in these early phases, we waste little on those projects that were bad ideas in the first place.

If your company goes straight to planning every idea that is surfaced, one of two things is going wrong. Either people are extremely cautious about presenting radical ideas or you are wasting a lot of money and energy on ideas that should not reach the planning phase. Both are not good signs.

The phased approach shown above comes from Cadence but most companies I've worked or consulted for have a similar funnel that weeds out the bad ideas. Some combine the first three phases into two, some have even more rigorous early phases.

Your company needs this phased approach with clear goals for each phase. Equipment limitations should be considered in phase two when you are looking at alternatives and be resolved before you start planning.

Costs and schedules cannot be mandated before planning occurs unless you have done some early research. It is OK to develop a range of possible costs and schedules in the early phases so that the company can take these into account when deciding if the idea is worth pursuing. But this should be a RANGE that gets narrowed down as you continue to refine the idea. It is not unheard of to be within a range of +/- 20% before you enter the planning phase. But the number that is carved in stone should be developed in the planning phase with the full team present. And a mature management group will add a management reserve of ~10% for the things that go wrong while the project is being executed.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

Send me your questions at Bruce@RoundTablePM.com