Thoughts on Projects and Project Management (I): Document all things

I am writing this, first as a note to myself and then to others.

I work in an environment where there are several activities best grouped as projects. No project management methodology is employed and project/team leads run their activities as they best deem fit.

Since I am PMP, I chose to abide by the PMBOK (R) Guide . But on occasion – I get tangled in the intricacies and uniqueness of my work environment. Often times blending the formal and acceptable practices with the unwritten but realistic general approach to things here.

I often – when assigned a project – ensure a project scope is agreed to, though I prefer client/project deliverable owner/consumer generated written project scope documents, I sometimes accept verbal onesĀ  (and write this up for the customer’s approval). I also document scope changes as a result of additional requirements ordered by client or discovered while developing project plan or implementing the plan.

In a recent incident, the project owner changed and the new client lead dictated additions to the scope – via email. Several more changes came via email and verbally and with an understanding that I know what the client required, I spent approximately 50 hours developing the product and sharing pre-release versions with the client lead.

On all occasions, I get positive feedback – infact on one occasion, the client lead jumped up and down in my office and exclaimed: this is fantastic, I did not expect so much in so little time. Confident I am doing the right thing I continued and saw the project to completion – or what I assumed was completion – asked for final feedback and prepared to handover project deliverable to client.

The shocker:

My manager called and asked if there was a problem with the client and the client lead. And to my shocked question, why? She replied the client is most unsatisfied with my work! And the client lead? Blames it all on me.

Whilst I agree I am no genius, I am afraid, I am no idiot. Scalded and burnt, I resolved to look at the learning points and I share thus:

Document, document, document!

Write it all down – project scope, approved project scope changes, project plan, timelines/schedule, responsibility assignment etc. – and get all positive stakeholders to sign/or write approvals. In case of an about face, you as PM are safe, scope changes are dealt with as scope changes and client may be liable to additional cost depending on the contract that existed between buying and supplying parties.

No verbal changes or approved changes should be accepted – though accepting this may be considered as flexible, but when the chips are down, most may have forgotten what they said and did not say, but a written and signed document would come in helpful.

Keep the communication line open…and use it

Make sure you are reachable by all key stakeholders, you can agree in advance on mode of contact (email, telephone etc.) and frequency of contact (to avoid abuse) and ensure none of the key stakeholders are left in the dark for any amount of time. Ensure however you document all correspondences and accompanying approvals and/or change requests.

Don’t keep quiet if you think the client’s representative is confused or is confusing things (s/he may not) seek written clarifications, report confusing actions to your managers and ensure every tangle is untangled. Otherwise when the blame arrives at your desk, you may well be shocked but there may be no redemption at that point.

Also, remember to keep the communications brief, clear, unambiguous and straight to the point.

Document lessons learnt

Above all, at the end of all projects, document lessons learnt, file this away, share with colleagues and subordinates, reffer to it when starting your next project – as in it there will exist loads of knowledge gems that can assist in preventing the recurrence of bad history or replication of a good one.

Thank you.

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Oluwakorede Asuni is Digital Media and Web Administration Officer at CIVICUS – an International Non-profit based in Johannesburg. His interest spans Technology for improved mass communication, education and development.
He is a member of the Project Management Institute (PMI) and holds the institute’s Project Management Professional (PMP) credential.

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