Every project is different. Different schedules, different products, and different people are involved. And, on any given project, the various stakeholders may have differing ideas about what the project is about. Your job, as project manager, is to make sure that everyone involved understands the project and agrees on what success will look like and other project rules already established.
The term project rules is not in any project management text or glossary, but clarifying the rules of the game for a new project is exactly what skilled managers need to do. And before they can communicate these rules to the players, they must be absolutely sure of them themselves. As in any new game, a project manager might ask, Who is on my side? How will we keep score? or What is the reward? Seasoned project managers know that a new project can be as different from its predecessor as ice hockey is from gymnastics.
The need for project rules is part of the challenge of each new project. Since each one is different, you have to re-create the basic roles and processes of management every time a project begins. A close parallel is what happens in a reorganization of a company. After a reorganization, the typical questions are: Who is responsible for what? How will we communicate? and Who has authority? If these questions are not answered, the organization will fall apart; the same holds true for projects.
Project Rules are the Foundation
Remember the five rules for the success of a project? They include agreement on goals, a plan, good communication, scope control, and management support. No less than three of these crucial factors are dependent on a careful writing of the project rules:
- Agreement on the goals of the project among all parties involved
- Control over the scope of the project
- Management support
This article looks at how to create project rules that will address these three factors. All project management activities flow from and depend on these rules and this is why there must be general acceptance of the project rules before the project begins. All the stakeholders—the project team, management, and customer—must agree on the goals and guidelines of the project. Without these documented agreements, project goals and constraints might change every day. They are the guidelines that orchestrate all aspects of the project.
Let’s take a closer look at how a careful writing of the project rules can influence our three success factors:
- Agreement on the goals. Getting agreement on project rules is rarely easy. This is because the views of all the stakeholders must be heard and considered. This give-and-take may be so time-consuming that some may push for moving on and “getting to the real work. ” This haste would be counterproductive, however. If the stakeholders can’t come to agreement on the basic parameters of the project before the work begins, there is even less chance they will agree after the money begins to be spent. The time to resolve different assumptions and expectations is during this initial period before the pressure is turned up. One of the definitions of a successful project is that it meets stakeholder expectations. It’s the job of the project manager to manage these expectations, and this job begins by writing them down and getting agreement. Project rules document stakeholders’ expectations. Project rules also set up a means by which the project may be changed in midstream, if necessary. This change management stipulates that the same stakeholders who agreed to the original rules must approve any change in the rules. (For more on change management, see Chapter 10.) The possibility of change emphasizes once again the necessity of having everything down on paper before the project begins. With this material in hand, the project manager will be well equipped to detail any effects that the changes might have on cost, quality, or schedule in an ongoing project.
- Controlled scope. Because each project is different, each is an unknown quantity when it is started. This
uniqueness adds to the challenge and fun of projects, but it can also lead to dramatic overruns in budgets and schedules. Later in the chapter, we’ll look at several ways of avoiding these overruns by keeping the scope of a project clearly defined. A careful writing of the project rules is key in keeping the project team focused and productive.
- Management support. It is a rare project manager who has sufficient authority to impose his or her will on other stakeholders. This is why a sponsor from senior management (as defined in Chapter 3) is a crucial factor in the success of a project. We will discuss how this management support may be written into the project rules. There are four methods to ensure that everyone understands, and agrees to, the project rules. The first, the project charter, is an announcement that the project exists. The following three, the statement of work, the responsibility matrix, and the communication plan, are developed concurrently and constitute the actual written documents containing the project rules.
Furthermore, in order to establish project rules you can check there three articles that will help you dive deeper into this subject:
- How to Write a Proper Project Charter
- How to Write a Proper Statement of Work
- How to Write a Proper Responsibility Matrix
- How to Write a Proper Communication Plan
Each new project is a new beginning, with new opportunities and new pitfalls. Making the project rules will put it on a firm footing and point it toward three of the five project success factors.
The project team, customer, and management must all agree on the goals of the project. Write down the goals and constraints in the statement of work and let the stakeholders demonstrate their agreement by signing it.
The size (scope) of the project must be controlled. Listing the deliverables and writing the scope statement are the first steps for controlling scope. Once the statement of work is signed, it can be used as a tool to refocus all the stakeholders on the legitimate responsibilities of the project.
Management support. Tangible support from management starts with issuing the project charter and signing the statement of work.
The project definition activities here are the foundation of project management. The project plan will depend heavily on the responsibilities, scope, and deliverables defined during this stage. Communication strategies will form a structure for project control.
Making the project rules is also the first opportunity for the project manager to exercise leadership. Successfully bringing the stakeholders to an agreement about the fundamental direction of the project will establish your role as the leader.