This article will help you understand how to use operationalized project management processes.
To operationalize a task or activity means to do the following:
- Create a standard way of executing the task.
- Document measurable, defined outcomes of the task.
- Ensure the task is aligned with the goals of the project and business.
The purpose of operationalization is to remove any ambiguity around project variables and vague requirements and to ensure everything is measurable. Operationalization of tasks also allows them to be conducted in the same way every time, enabling consistency and repeatability.
The Importance of Operationalized Project Management Processes
To understand the importance of operationalizing processes, let’s look at an example: product testing.
If product testing is not operationalized, how would you ensure the test results are reliable?
For instance, one tester may report they discovered ten defects, while another tester reports they discovered none. What is the issue here?
Without operationalization it could be any of the following:
- Each tester has a different definition of what is considered a ‘defect.’
- Each tester ran different tests.
- One tester completed ten test scenarios, and the other only did two.
Even worse, if the testing process isn’t operationalized, how do you ensure they were testing the right things, or that the tests can be repeated? Imagine if the tester with ten defects did not document his tests, and cannot remember how to replicate them. How will your developers investigate and resolve the reported issues?
Operationalization is a critical component to successfully executing and controlling your project. There are four primary methods that you can use to operationalize:
- Measures and controls
Measures and controls
As discussed, one of the reasons that operationalizing is conducted is to remove any ambiguity from your project requirements. To do this, measures and controls must be created and implemented.
It’s impossible to know if something was completed successfully if you have not defined what it means to be successful. Any project requirements need to have a quantifiable measure to track against.
For example, a customer may have asked for ‘fast reports.’ You will need to define (with the customer) what speed is fast enough to satisfy the requirement. Then, you will need to have a reliable way to measure reporting speed to ensure it meets the requirement.
A Verification Cross Reference Matrix (VCRM) or a Requirements Traceability Matrix (RTM) is a common tool for documenting project requirements and how they will be measured. To create one, first, you break your scope requirements down into defined, quantifiable sections. Then you detail what is considered an acceptable outcome and what test will be used to verify that each requirement is met.
The report may also include information such as the following:
- The relevance of requirements (how they tie to project or business goals.)
- Who is responsible for conducting tests.
- Who will approve tests.
- When testing will occur.
- The current status of testing.
- Comments and notes.
First, you will need to determine which aspects of your project need to be controlled. For instance, you may determine that you don’t need to control how someone creates the software code but that you do need to control the testing of the code.
The next step is to consider what methods, tools, or processes will be used for controlling your project. These may be manual controls, such as your signed approval being required for any changes. Or the controls could be automated, such as software access being restricted to ‘read-only’ for everyone except the developers.
Automating tasks can help operationalize them as it increases the likelihood that the tasks will occur the same way every single time. Automation can also reduce the time it takes to complete tasks, and allow them to occur outside of normal working hours.
There is some risk to relying too heavily on automation, as machines are not perfect. Have you heard the saying, “code is only as good as the person who created it”? A test program for software might miss certain errors if the person who built it did not think to test for those specific errors.
The way to combat this risk is to incorporate some human oversight into any automation process. For example, machines may make a product, but people manually inspect every 5th one.
When deciding what to automate on your project, consider the following:
- What is repetitive and standardized?
- What has little chance for variation?
- Do you have the tools, technology, knowledge, etc. required to automate the process?
It’s important to look at all of your project tasks, activities, and processes and consider which ones can be improved or optimized.
Automating processes is one way to optimize, but it’s not the only option. For example, DRY stands for, “don’t repeat yourself” and it is a key software principle that can be used for optimizing projects.
The belief behind this principle is that any system can be broken down into smaller and smaller pieces until you get to individual representations of knowledge and that each of these representations is only allowed to occur once within a system.
This same principle can be applied to your overall project by dictating that the lowest level of your Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), is not allowed to have any duplication. Of course, some level of redundancy may be necessary, but, it should be kept to a minimum to increase optimization.
Consider which areas of your project you or your team are doing things more than once. For example, when you update your project progress, do you need to manually input updates into both your schedule software and your cost tracking software? If the two systems were linked, it would save you time, reduce the likelihood of keying error and ensure both systems are always aligned.
There are two aspects of collaboration that are relevant to operationalizing your project:
- Knowledge management
There is a saying, “No one knows everything, but everyone knows something.”
Projects involve a lot of interconnected pieces. Any change to one aspect can impact many other things. For example, a scope change can shift the schedule, cause the budget to increase or decrease, change the testing requirements, create new risks, and so on.
Due to this interconnectivity, and the fact that no one knows everything, knowledge management is imperative to your project’s success. If one isolated person makes a decision about a scope change, he or she will likely be unaware of some consideration or potential impact.
Two main types of knowledge management are knowledge sharing and knowledge transfer. Although the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, one study on knowledge management defined them as follows:
- Knowledge transfer refers to the overall flow of knowledge, including the systems used, the conditions required, and the obstacles and barriers preventing successful transfer.
- Knowledge sharing refers to the process of individuals developing personal knowledge from each other.
In this context, knowledge transfer would involve any databases, processes, procedures, and tools that you put in place on your project to provide people with information.
For instance, a SharePoint site containing the project documents is a method of knowledge transfer. A change management system that notifies users of pending changes is another example.
Knowledge sharing, on the other hand, would include things such as training junior staff, coaching system testers, and debriefing your project sponsor on the status of the project.
When planning knowledge management, it’s important to consider who needs to know what. Your project sponsor likely does not want to know about system bugs, unless they’re high-priority defects. Your developers, on the other hand, need to know about every bug so they can evaluate them and determine a course of action.
Another consideration is whether the knowledge will be pushed or pulled. Pushing knowledge means you send it out to people, regardless of if they asked for it. Sending an email, or setting up an automated software alert are two examples.
Pulling knowledge means that people only get it when they go looking for it. For example, if they have to log onto the SharePoint site, find and then open up the change log to check for pending design changes, they’re pulling the knowledge.
Instead of trying to do everything yourself as the project manager, it’s important to delegate appropriate tasks and responsibilities. This method of collaboration allows you to free yourself up for more important work, and assign things to people who are better suited to them.
Six steps to successful delegation are:
- Be clear on exactly what you are delegating, and what results are expected. Include information such as when and how often they should update you.
- Assign the responsibilities and authorities to your delegate. Clarify any relevant details such as the timing of the activities, budget assigned, and the required format of the deliverable.
- Confirm that the delegate understands what is expected of them and what they are responsible for. One way to do this is to ask the person to tell you in his or her own words what has been delegated.
- Confirm that your delegate is aware of any consequences that will occur for the company, the project, or themselves if the task does not occur as required. Ensure he or she is committed to getting it down.
- Don’t take back tasks you have delegated. If someone is struggling with a task, resist reclaiming it, and instead focus on how to coach the employee through it.
- Ensure that the person you delegate a task to is accountable for the successful completion of the task.
You will learn more about successful delegation and other methods for optimizing your project team in the next course on working with a team.
Operationalizing processes allow you to standardize and quantify any vague or variable aspects of your project, in order to improve execution, monitoring and controlling.
Operationalizing can be done through four main methods:
- Implementing measures and controls.
- Automating processes and tasks.
- Optimizing processes and tasks.
- Promoting collaboration using knowledge transfer and delegation.