401.0 The Value of Project Lifecycle Methodology

There are some companies that have built reputations for being able to consistently deliver projects effectively. However, the vast majority of organizations have a more spotty reputation. A lot of the blame for these problems can be traced back to a lack of project management and project lifecycle processes and discipline. In fact, much of the value of project management comes from its application across the lifecycle. The following examples should help illustrate this:

  • The initial parts of project management focus on defining the work and building a schedule. The schedule is going to be focused on executing the project using a lifecycle model. Even if you have great project management processes in place, you still need to know the basic models for the lifecycle. If you are not clear how you will execute the project, you are going to have faulty estimates and a poor schedule.

  • After the project is defined you need to manage it using project management process. Many of these processes are based on the lifecycle. For instance, problems are going to arise during the execution of the project that will require issues management. There are going to be quality control and quality assurance processes in place. Some of these will focus on the project management processes, but most of the quality control work, and much of the quality assurance work, will be focused on lifecycle activities. Likewise, most of the aspects of risk will be related to project execution and project deliverables. Risk management is a project management function, but its application on a project will typically be in relation to executing the lifecycle.

  • Managing people is a project management function. However, except for the project manager, the project team members are all going to be executing various parts of the lifecycle. So the application of people management during the project will be in relation to the lifecycle. If you do not understand the lifecycle required for your project, you are going to have problems managing the project team, assigning them the right work and dealing with their concerns.

Project teams cannot be totally successful unless they understand the project lifecycle that is applicable to their project. There are many ways to execute a project, but many of the approaches provide for a less than optimum solution. Using standard lifecycle processes and techniques help you coordinate resources to achieve predictable results.

Of course, it should be understood up-front that having a good lifecycle model is not a guarantee of success. There is always complexity and uncertainty that cannot be absolutely controlled. However, a good lifecycle increases the odds of being successful, and therefore provides value to the organization, project and the project team. 

The value proposition for utilizing a standard lifecycle process goes something like this. It takes time and effort to understand and utilize standard project lifecycles across the entire organization. This cost is more than made up for over the life of the project by:

  • Ensuring that all of the necessary work is included in the initial estimates and the initial schedule.

  • Using a standard lifecycle model will probably define the majority of the work required for your project. This decreases the start-up time required for your project.

  • Helping ensure that planning is done before execution in all steps of the lifecycle. This cuts down on misdirected work and rework.

  • Using standard templates and processes gets everyone in the organization comfortable with the major deliverables required on a project and the general flow of the project, again resulting in a faster startup time.

People who complain that lifecycle methodology is a lot of 'overhead' forget the point. Your project needs to utilize some type of lifecycle process. The question is whether you will learn from and take advantage of pre-existing processes and templates, or whether you will attempt to invent everything from scratch. Although every project is unique, the lifecycle model typically is not. The general lifecycle model you use will probably be similar to one that has been used dozens (or hundreds) of times at your company before, and millions of times in other organizations. There is no reason to reinvent everything for your project. It just takes longer and contains more inherent risk. The better approach is to utilize a standard set of lifecycle processes, techniques and templates.

After reading this section so far, you might wonder why everyone does not utilize a standard lifecycle process. Or you might think about yourself. Why aren't you using them? There are probably a couple reasons.

  • Good lifecycle processes require an upfront investment of time and effort for analysis and planning.
    Many people consider themselves to be 'doers'. They might not be as comfortable with their analysis, design and planning skills. Many times there is a tendency to be handed a problem, and then go out and fix it. This works when you have a five-hour change request. It doesn't work on a 5,000 hour project. Resist the urge to jump right in. The project will complete sooner if you properly plan it first, understand the requirements correctly and design an efficient solution. This should result is vastly reducing the time, effort and rework required in the Construct, Test and Implement Phases. 

  • Your organization is not committed.
    It's hard to utilize good lifecycle skills in an organization that doesn't value the skills. For instance, if you take the time to formally document the business requirements. If your client asks why you were wasting your time doing it, then you probably are not going to be very excited about formally documenting the requirements on your next project. To be effective, the entire organization must support a common set of processes and models.

  • You don't know how to.
    You may find that the lack of lifecycle processes is not a matter of will, but a matter of skill. Sometimes people are asked to manage and execute projects without the training or the experience necessary. In those cases, they struggle without the right tools or training to execute their projects effectively.

  • Senior managers think that lifecycle management is a tool.
    When you discuss the project lifecycle with some managers, they initially think you are trying to implement a tool. Actually there are many aspects of the lifecycle that can be supported by tools. These range from gathering business requirements and creating models down to the testing and implementation process. However, tools are only part of the answer. Tools are best used to automate features of the lifecycle that are very large or very tedious. It makes sense, for instance, to automate the modeling process since tools are much easier to utilize than building models by hand. Likewise, testing typically requires the tedious application of a vast amount of data. The testing process is a good candidate for tools as well. However, tools support your project lifecycle methodology. They are not a substitute. 

  • You may have been burned (or buried) in the past.
    A common criticism of methodology is that it is cumbersome, paper intensive and takes too much focus away from the work at hand. Sometimes this criticism is a feature of the first bullet point above. Other times, it is a legitimate concern, caused by not scaling the methodology to the size of your project. For instance, if you were required to develop Testing and Training Strategy documents for projects that were only 100 effort hours, you may have been turned off. However, this is not usually a methodology problem as much as it is a misapplication of the methodology.

Some of these fears are natural and logical, while others are emotional and irrational. Although these may be reasons to be hesitant about using formal lifecycle project lifecycle process, they must be overcome. When you use a lifecycle process, be smart. Don't build the project schedule for a ten million dollar project if your project is only ten thousand dollars. Consider all the aspects of your project, and build the right processes for your specific project.

Options for Obtaining a Methodology

To successfully implement a lifecycle methodology, first convince yourself that there is value if the process is applied and utilized correctly. In fact, all projects use a methodology of processes, procedures and templates. If you don't think you have one, it really means that you have a poor and informal one.

If you need a good lifecycle methodology, there are two major sources.

  1. Build one yourself. You can build a custom methodology that perfectly reflects the philosophy and best practices of your organization. Many companies continue to do this today.

  2. Buy one. If you build a methodology, you might be surprised to learn that it ultimately looks similar to most other lifecycle methodologies that people use. No matter how you structure it, you still need to do some level of analysis, design, construct, test and implement. Therefore, many companies chose an option to buy or license a pre-existing methodology. These pre-built methodologies usually have everything your organization needs to be successful.

There is also the hybrid option of purchasing a methodology and then customizing it to meet the specific needs of your organization. This gives you some of the benefits of option 1, while also taking less time, which is the major benefit of option 2.

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