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August - 2007 - issue > Project Management
An Improved Approach to Project Management
Vimal Kumar Khanna
Thursday, August 2, 2007
Prof. Peter Drucker has suggested the Feedback Analysis (FA) approach to discover one’s strengths. The approach suggests writing the expected results on making a decision. After some time, compare the expected and actual results. This analysis reveals your strengths. Utilize these strengths in activities and achieve good results.

Over the years, I have tried to significantly enhance the Feedback Analysis concept as applied to different management domains — Project, People, and Process Management. Let’s call this as the “Project/ People/Process Management Feedback Analysis” (PMFA) approach. The approach defines a formal procedure for making, executing,, and continuously refining decisions for management activities. The procedure applies FA at multiple stages of the activity to continuously improve the skills of managers and the quality of decisions.

The PMFA Approach
The following steps are followed in the PMFA approach for making and executing decisions:

1. Derive all Objectives
Based on the expectations the activity stakeholders identify activity Core and Subordinate Objectives. The key expectation becomes the Core Objective, which is the hard constraint that must be met by the overall-decision, like: “Complete a project within specified time and cost”.

Identify activity attributes. Table 1 lists some attributes for software project execution - the Project itself and development Process for project execution.

Identify complexities/characteristics associated with these attributes. Table 1 lists some Complexities for the Project attribute – Technology and complexity in Customer Interactions.

Identify all stakeholders and their expectations. Table 2 lists typical Stakeholders - Customer, Organization and Employee, and their Expectations.

Some of these stakeholders are responsible for executing the decision. Identify capabilities of these stakeholders. Table 3 shows some Capabilities of the stakeholder Employee – Technical and Managerial Expertise.

Generate subordinate-objectives by seeking stakeholders’ inputs or by making your own judgment about their expectations. E.g., one subordinate-objective can be: “Team Leads should handle some managerial tasks to get trained for future management roles.”

Individual subordinate-decisions are to be made for each objective. The “overall-decision” is the set of individual subordinate-decisions made for each of these objectives.

2. Generate Alternatives
Generate multiple alternatives to meet each of the objectives as follows:
(a) Identify the Expectation(s) within the objective.
(b) Identify the activity Complexities that impact meeting the Expectation.
(c) Identify the limitations in Capabilities of the Stakeholders that impact meeting the Expectation.
(d) Generate alternatives by devising means to meet the Expectation despite the constraints imposed by Environmental Parameters mentioned in steps (b) and (c).

We have identified the Environmental Parameters that impact different Expectations within typical management activities and the “weight” of the impact, with a parameter satisfying an expectation better having a higher weight.

A number of Environmental Parameters impact the weight of an Expectation. We suggest the use of “Impact Matrices” to determine weights of the expectations. An “Impact Matrix” generates the weight of an expectation based on the values of different Environmental Parameters impacting it.

Use multiple means to generate multiple alternatives for each of the objectives - reuse subordinate-decisions made for similar past objectives, seek inputs of stakeholders and apply your own judgment. Decide the risk management plan for each alternative.

3. Make a Decision
The overall-decision is the set of individual alternatives chosen as the subordinate-decisions for each of the objectives. Identify all possible combinations of individual alternatives as possible overall-decisions.

Determine the weights of individual alternatives within a decision, to determine the overall weight of the decision. The weight of an alternative is its ability to meet the objective expectation. Typical weights are defined as “High”, “Medium”, and “Low”.

Generate different combinations of individual alternatives as possible overall-decisions. Rank these overall-decisions as below:

i) Evaluate if overall-decision meets the hard constraints, like Time and Cost. Reject all overall-decisions that do not meet these constraints.
ii) Evaluate if the individual alternatives (subordinate-decisions) within the overall-decision meet their corresponding subordinate-objectives with at least “Medium” weight. Rank the overall-decisions as per the total number of subordinate-objectives met by them.
iii) If some overall-decisions are still ranked equally, choose the overall-decision that meets more subordinate-objectives with “High” weight.

4. Execute the Decision
On execution of the decision, apply three levels of FA, each with a different purpose:

4.1 1st Level FA: Apply Corrective Actions in case of Deviations
Specify the timeframes for performing 1st Level FA. The period can be intermediate milestones based or periodic. Mention expected results at each milestone.
Perform FA at each milestone. In case of major deviations from the expected results, analyze the reasons and decide the corrective action. The corrective action is based on the difference in the current environment and the environment at the start of the activity, based on which the decision was made. Perform one of the following actions for the alternative (subordinate-decision) that failed:

i) If the activity environment has not changed then fall back on the risk management plan for that alternative. If no risk management plan is in place for this unforeseen risk, fall back on the next best-ranked alternative.
ii) If the environment has changed then reevaluate all alternatives by repeating Step (3) to determine new ranking of alternatives as per the changed environment. Select the best-ranked alternative.

4.2 2nd Level FA: Refine the PMFA Approach
At the end of the activity, perform 2nd Level FA to refine the elements within the PMFA approach as per the learning from the activity, as follows –

i) If some activity attributes or their complexities were missed then add these to Table 1. If some stakeholders, their expectations or capabilities were not considered then add these to Table 2 and 3.
ii) If the impact of some activity complexities or stakeholder capabilities on an expectation was not considered, refine the Impact Matrix for that expectation by including these parameters as additional impacting factors.
iii) If the impact of an activity complexity or stakeholder capability on an expectation was not weighed correctly, refine the corresponding Impact Matrix with the correct weight.

4.3 3rd Level FA: Discover Your Strengths and Weaknesses
After applying the PMFA approach in multiple similar activities, apply 3rd Level FA to discover your strengths and weaknesses. Analyze decisions that were successful and derive commonality among these decisions. You would realize that these decisions succeeded due to some specific actions taken by you while making or executing the decisions. Discover your inherent strengths that always make you succeed in such tasks. Similarly, evaluate all failed decisions to discover your weaknesses.

In the future activities, consider your strengths and weaknesses while generating and evaluating alternatives. Make decisions that you can execute well with your strengths. Continuously improve your strengths. Work on your weaknesses through trainings.
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