Thursday, December 21, 2006

Ndarala End Year Message 2006

Photo: Gordon Smith Gara River near Armidale

Ndarala is shutting down for the Christmas break, resuming activities on Tuesday 2 January.

Each year for the last ten years (Ndarala was founded in April 1996) I have taken the opportunity in December to review Group activities and look forward to the new year. This year with the development of this blog I am posting the review for the public record.

2006 has in fact been the most difficult and complicated year since our foundation. Each year to date I have been able to report solid progress. At times over 2006 I have wondered whether we would have any progress to report by year end.

As a Group we have to constantly reinvent ourselves. Our mission was and remains helping the independent management related professional and professional practice achieve personal, professional and business objectives through cooperation while retaining true professional and business independence.

This is not always easy. The very fact of independence that creates the need also creates the main impediment to meeting that need. Sometimes running the Group is a bit like trying to herd cats!

The world in which we operate changes all the time.

Since we began there has been a proliferation of social networks and social networking tools, meeting some of the needs we were created to fulfil. Our attempt to reinvent ourselves by investing in support of cooperative business development activities failed because it did not properly meet the needs of our membership base. Worse, our ordinary operating income collapsed, leading to the close of our central operating company.

Yet despite all this we have survived the year and look forward to the future with some confidence.

Part of the reason for this lies in our previous heavy collective investment in the creation of our own intellectual property. Part lies in the creation of Group infrastructure independent of the previous operating company or indeed of any funding support what so ever. The very changes in the on-world that created part of the challenge we faced also created part of the solution. But in all this the most important reason lies in our people and their continued support for our core vision and mission.

I have no idea just how 2007 will finally evolve. I do know that we will survive and grow and that the Group will be very different by year end.

Finally, I would like to thank our clients, the Group management committee and our key members for their support over 2006.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

RANZCO Setting the Standard - Developing Ophthalmic Competencies

Note to Readers: This case study was prepared by Dario Tomat (left) February 2004 and released following review by Dennis Sligar (right - Director, Education and Training, RANZCO).

In 1999 the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists first introduced the concept of defined standards that could be used to assess competency.

The decision by the Victorian Government to allow optometrists to prescribe S4 pharmaceuticals meant that non-medically trained practitioners were given access to a range of controlled substances.

RANZCO proposed to the Government that optometrists should demonstrate a level of competency before they were registered to prescribe S4 drugs.

This approach saw RANZCO engage Whetstone, a management and training consulting firm that is part of the Ndarala Group, to assist with the facilitation of the development of standards. The work of establishing the Optometric Therapeutic Standards was carried out through workshops involving number of professional ophthalmologists facilitated by Whetstone's Dario Tomat.

Following the successful implementation of these standards, RANZCO chose to use a similar approach to defining standards for ophthalmic training when the need arose to develop and document the new five year training program the College was going to move to and would accredit through the Australian Medical Council.

Dario Tomat of Whetstone was again engaged to facilitate the process.

Overview of Selection and Training Approach

Before the introduction of the five-year program potential applicants were required to complete a Part 1 examination as a pre-requisite for entry to the course. Trainees later sat a Part 2 examination towards the completion of the training program.

Training was undertaken on the job with registrars being assigned to various training posts under supervision of Fellows of the College. Supervisors provided periodic reports on the progress of the registrars. While there was an expectation that during the rotation process registrars would be provided with experience in all sub-specialties, detailed monitoring of the scope of training for each trainee was not undertaken centrally by the College.

As part of the move to a five-year program, the Part 1 examination for entry was abolished and the hospital-based selection process was augmented by the assessment of applicants' behavioural capabilities.

The College also decided that summative assessment during the training program would be desirable to ensure that the scientific basics were well understood early in the course.

Registrars need to have passed assessment in the basics by the eighteenth month of the course. The Part 2 clinical examination was to be conducted during the fourth year of the course.

Standard Setting Process

The Curriculum Committee of RANZCO facilitated by Dario Tomat coordinated the development of the approach to standard setting.

The Committee identified two potential approaches. One possibility was to divide the subject area into a number of bands of knowledge that increased on an annual basis. The other possibility was to use a sub-specialisation approach.

The Committee decided to set up a pilot of the two approaches. A "Fundamentals" slice covering the knowledge and skills required in the first two years was to be developed, while glaucoma as a sub-specialty unit was also piloted.

Two sub-committees comprising 6-8 volunteer Fellows were established to handle the task.

To minimise development costs, membership of sub-committees was generally confined to a region. A blend of sub-specialists and generalists was sought the committees to ensure that the requirements in the standards were reflective of a general level of ophthalmic practice rather than becoming too deeply slanted to the sub-specialty.

A series of three workshops a week apart were scheduled for each pilot.

As part of the facilitation Whetstone developed a template for presentation of the standards and prepared drafts of the workshop outputs after each session. These drafts were circulated to the group electronically for comment and correction.

Once completed, drafts were circulated to the Curriculum Committee for review and were then placed on the RANZCO web site seeking further review and comment from the College membership.

The drafts were then critically reviewed by a College education workshop.ᅠ The workshop resolved that a hybrid approach to standard setting should be adopted.

The fundamentals draft standard comprising basic ophthalmic clinical and surgical procedures should be retained.ᅠ This should be augmented by standards covering each of the basic sciences.

These standards combined would form the basis for the first two years. Registrars would be required to demonstrate competence in the basic sciences by the eighteenth month and to achieve all of the fundamental standards by the end of the second year in order to proceed to the final three years of study.

Standards for the clinical content of the course were to be developed around the concept of ophthalmic sub-specialities. ᅠThe registrars could cover these in any order based on the experience available within their rotations. ᅠBecause registrars must achieve the standards in all areas, the Director of Training in each training scheme would work with trainees to develop a program of rotation covering all areas.

Because the basic science standards had largely been defined in the previous four year course, their further development was undertaken in one full-day workshop for each of the basic standards. Whetstone or members of the College training staff facilitated each workshop.

Membership of working groups was drawn from ophthalmologists in a region, and included subject experts from the Part 1 Board of Examiners.

A similar process of peer review was undertaken to that adopted for the standards.

The ophthalmic specialty standards were developed over a series of three evening workshops (requested by members) spaced one week apart. Normally the workshops were conducted in private residences, or at College facilities. A light meal without alcohol provided by RANZCO was served each evening.

RANZCO staff sought expressions of interest for standards development from amongst the College Fellows, normally on a regional basis. As a consequence, workshops were undertaken in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Auckland NZ. The use of regional groups meant that the concept of standards could be more widely understood and better ownership of the new process achieved amongst the College members.

These workshops were also facilitated mainly by Whetstone with some undertaken by College staff.

Development of the standards occurred over approximately an eighteen-month period.

Lessons learnt

Use of interested ophthalmologists worked very well, although the nature of ophthalmic practice meant that some working group members were unable to attend all workshops. Having groups of four to six meant that the absence of one or two members did not impede progress at the workshop.

The spacing of evening workshops one week apart meant that members had only three days to review draft outputs. This tight time frame meant that some members did not have the opportunity to provide input. Scheduling the evening workshops two or three weeks apart would assist members to more carefully review each week's output.

Evening workshops that ran for more than 3 hours (excluding meal time) resulted in fatigue among participants.

Planning for workshops, ensuring that members brought suitable references and that they were reminded to attend on each day of the workshop was required.

The further process of peer review was coordinated by College staff, leading to sign-off from the Curriculum Committee on each standard.

The next stage - training clinical tutors, examiners and trainers in the use of the standards - will be coordinated through College educational networks.

Note on authorship:

This case study was prepared by Dario Tomat February 2004 and released following review by Dennis Sligar (Director, Education and Training, RANZCO). The material is copyright Whetstone but can be copied and quoted with appropriate acknowedgement.

Further Information:

The standards developed by the College through the full curriculum review process are in the public domain and can be found at

Case Study: Potential use of Blogs as a communications device within specialist medical colleges

Note to Readers: This March 2006 case study prepared by Jim Belshaw explores the role that blogs and blogging might play as a communications device within the world of the specialist medical colleges. Because these colleges are distributed complex multi-purpose organisations, they illustrate many of the issues that must be resolved if blogs are to be used effectively for management or educational purposes. Jim is a former CEO of the Royal Australian (now Australian and New Zealand)College of Ophthalmologists.

Blogs and blogging have become very popular. Yet despite that popularity, or perhaps even because of it, there is limited available material on the use of blogs as a practical communication device within organisations.

Many senior managers or professionals still see blogs as belonging to the personal, to the domain of the blogging enthusiasts. Where business uses are seen at organisational level, they tend to focus on the role that blogs can play in supporting sales and marketing.

We have felt for a while that blogs can be a useful, practical communications tool within organisations. However, to be used in this way two critical conditions must be met. First, they must meet a real need as seen in the eye of users. Secondly, they must also take into account any user constraints.

To test our thinking, we decided to take the Australian and New Zealand specialist medical colleges as a short case study. We selected the colleges for two reasons:

  • They are distributed multi-purpose organisations operating in a complex environment marked by many players. For that reason, they illustrate many of the problems that must be resolved if blogs are to be used effectively for management or educational purposes.
  • They are also an area where a number of Group professionals have direct personal knowledge, making it easier toᅠcompleteᅠanalysis on possible blog uses without extensive on-ground research.

The analysis that follows does not pretend to be definitive. Our aim is simply to assist people to understand some of the issues involved.

Setting the Scene: Overview

The ANZ colleges are not for profit entities controlled by the Fellows. Fellows are spread across Australia and New Zealand. In addition, many colleges have Fellows in other countries. The Committee of Presidents of Medical Colleges (CPMC) web site ( provides an entry point if you want to find out more details on both the colleges in general and individual colleges.

The colleges have two core roles.

Role one is the training of future specialists. There are thousands of trainees in different specialisations working as registrars under the supervision of Fellows in hospitals across ANZ. In addition, some of the Colleges maintain training activities in other countries.

Role two is the advancement of medical skills and knowledge and the maintenance of professional standards. To this end, the colleges (among other things) publish learned publications, help fund research, encourage the spread of knowledge through special interest groups together with various scientific congresses and run systems for continuing medical education.

The colleges vary enormously in size from the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners with almost 11,700 members and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (9,000 members) to the Australasian College of Dermatologists with 373 members and 60 trainees.

These size variations are reflected in variations in organisational complexity and in the resources available to support College operations.

With the notable exception of General Practitioners, colleges operate in both Australia and New Zealand. This means that they interface with and must respond to two national governments as well as Australia's eight state and territory governments. The practical effect is that at any point in time a college, and especially the bigger colleges, may be dealing with twenty plus issues and a dozen agencies spread across multiple jurisdictions. This adds to the complexity of College operations.

Reflecting multiple jurisdictions as well as history, the colleges combine a branch structure with central operations.

Setting the Scene: The Challenge of Change - Specialist Training

All the colleges face rapid change across the whole spectrum of college operations. This can be illustrated by taking the training of specialists as an example.

The exact structure of training operations varies to some extent from college to college. However, in broad terms, the colleges:

  • define the training process
  • set curriculum
  • set and marks exams to test knowledge
  • accredit training posts
  • and supervise trainees and trainers.

These training activities depend heavily upon voluntary time contributions by Fellows. Within the colleges voluntary committees of Fellows oversight training in both academic and process terms, with staff in a supporting role. On-ground training in hospitals is also provided by Fellows, generally on a voluntary basis.

In recent years all the colleges have had had to respond to great challenges on the training side.

To begin with, there has been rapid educational change. Both medical knowledge itself as well has approaches to the practice of medicine have been undergoing rapid change. These changes have to be factored into training approaches, as do changes in approach in the broader education and training environment within which all colleges operate. As part of this change process, all Australian college training programs now have to go through a formal accreditation process managed by the Australian Medical Council (

This educational change has combined with equally rapid policy and regulatory change, a change process complicated by the presence of multiple legal jurisdictions. This change process includes:

  • Rapid change in health policy as well as funding. Changes in health policy and funding at both national and state or territory level affect every aspect of college training operations. Funding of medical places at university determines the number of future potential trainees. Funding of registrar posts largely determines when and where people can can be trained. Changing approaches to the recruitment and assessment of overseas trained specialists affects assessment loads as well as supervision and training requirements. Government mandates as to what and how to teach affects both curriculum and training approach.
  • Adoption by Government of new approaches to public administration including purchaser-provider models and the extension of competition policy. As part of this process, the college training programs have come under attack as anti-competitive. More information here can be obtained by search on the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission web site - see

These challenges have forced rapid and continuing change on all college training programs.

This blog contains one case study example of the change process - the development and adoption of ophthalmic competencies.

In this case, the need to respond to one regulatory change (the grant of prescribing rights to optometrists in one jurisdiction) led to the development of an initial approach to competency definition. The decision by the Australian Medical Council to introduce accreditation (an action combining education and regulatory change) led to the decision to extend the competency approach to provide a solid basis for new training approaches. The challenge then was to define the best way of doing this in the context of a dispersed professional group participating on a voluntary basis.

The Potential Roles of Blogs in Facilitating Management and Change

On the surface, all the issues of governance and management associated with running a distributed higher educational institution in a highly complex and changing environment would appear to make blogs a highly useful tool. For example, blogs might be used to:

  • facilitate general communication among the membership thus aiding retention and a sense of belonging
  • facilitate communication among college council or board members, thus improving governance
  • assist the operation of special interest groups and divisions with geographically distributed membership
  • network trainees
  • facilitate the operations of a wide range of college committees
  • support the operations of local college branches.

Again on the surface, adoption of blogs should be facilitated by the presence of a distributed and highly intelligent membership with an interest in ideas and access to technology.

The reality is in fact a little different. Our view is that blogging can be very valuable, but only if the application is targeted and managed in a very precise way. To understand this, we need to look at the main impediments blocking the effective adoption and use of blogs.

Impediment: Failure to understand Blogs and Blogging

We put this one first not because it is the most important problem - in our view it is not - but because it is the first entry level problem to be overcome.

Discussions with college people last year suggested that the way that blogging has emerged means that very few people see it as a potential management tool. Just as important was the instinctive reaction to see the matter as something for the IT department or web supplier when in fact the management issues are central, the technology secondary.

Impediment and Opportunity: Existing Communications Systems

Because we are looking at blogs as a communications tool, blogs must mesh with and complement or replace existing communications systems.

All colleges already use a variety of communications mechanisms including:

  • Face to face meetings at both and central and branch level. The geographical size of Australia and New Zealand combined makes travel expensive and time consuming. For that reason, many college meetings are clumped with the annual scientific congresses since Fellows are expected to attend these anyway. Even so, travel and accommodation costs form an important element in college budgets.
  • Phone hook-ups.
  • Extensive use of email.
  • A variety of newsletters and magazines.
  • College web sites. These include password protected member sections.

Taking existing communications mechanisms into account, blogging will work as a tool if and only if it:

  • meets a need not already being met at both user and organisational level
  • or meets a need already being met in better and more cost effective way.

Impediment: Time, Need and Payback

Meeting user need is a central requirement.

When I was CEO of the Royal Australian College of Ophthalmologists (1998,1999), the College's IT committee was very concerned about the slow take-up in IT among the Fellows. The trainees were expected to be computer literate (among other things, they had to use an Internet based system to maintain their surgical log books), but many of the Fellows were not or, if they were, did not make great use of the new technology.

To help understand this, I flow charted the daily life of an average Fellow. I found that they generally worked very hard seeing patients. While a few entered patient details into the computer, most dictated patient notes into a recorder over lunch and/or at the end of the day before they went home. They did so because this was the most time efficient approach. Then when they went home, often quite late, they had family commitments. This meant that they could not get onto the computer until quite late in the evening. However, this time was also their time for personal and professional reading, for personal business and for personal relaxation such as just watching TV.

The bottom line in all this is that no matter what the advantage to the college, Fellows will only access a blog if the time return to them is greater than all other alternatives. Thinking about this, we concluded that there are three types of blog that might work at Fellow level.

Number one is short term project or working group blogs, blogs formed to facilitate communication within a project. I have not seen any blogging discussion in this area, but intuitively it is a potentially powerful use.

Number two we call, for want of a better phrase, spasmodic use blogs. Many college special interest groups only get together at the annual scientific meetings. For the rest of the year they tend to activate if and only if there is a need. So here we see a standing blog as a device not for continuous communication but as something that could be activated as a support if the need arose.

In thinking about blogs, we also looked at a the third type of blog, a continuous use blog supporting a college core on-going activity. With one exception, we concluded that this type of blog was unlikely to work unless managed on a special needs spasmodic basis. There simply wasn't sufficient need for continuous communication.

The exception was branch operations. Unlike central committees that can draw support from college staff, many college branches have little or no staff support and therefore dependᅠupon voluntary time contributions from busy Fellows to operate. A blog here may well be valuable in reducing load upon key Fellows.

Fellows vs Trainees

We concluded that the position was different when we move from Fellows to trainees.

While there are individual hospitals with largish numbers of trainees, trainees tend to be much more isolated. Colleges already have a range of mechanisms for communication with and networking trainees. Even so, we thought that two blogs might work, one focused on the trainees themselves at a personal level, a second on the training function itself.

In our view, a blog designed to facilitate communication among trainees is likely to work measured by use and outcomes (especially building a sense of community) because it provides a mechanism to help overcome isolation. However, we also believe that it will work if and only if it is seen by trainees as their blog. And this raises a new impediment, fear among college staff and some Fellows that the blog might be misused.

We also thought that a blog or blogs could be used to support the training function by providing a forum in which trainees could share knowledge and raise questions for answer by supervisors and relevant experts. For this to work, the blog needs to be moderated (we use this term in the sense of summary, not control), while relevant Fellows must be prepared to put in time to supply answers.

Impediment: Limitations on Staff Time

One major impediment identified during discussion lay in limited staff time.

The reality in most colleges is that limitations on Fellow time mean that action requires staff commitment. College staff are already over-stretched and simply shudder at the thought of an additional time commitment to first set up and then manage blogs. So any proposal to introduce blogs must have staff support. This means in turn that things must be made as easy as possible in terms of needs definition, set-up and management.

Impediment: Absence of Models and Case Studies

This brings me to the final impediment, the absence of models and case studies that can be used to identify issues and provide guidance. This case study is a small step in filling that gap.
In this context, and looking at it from a management viewpoint, the opportunities that we have identified all have one thing in common, the potential blogs are all one element in a communications armoury rather than an end in themselves.

Our analysis also suggests certain steps that need to be followed if blogs are to be used as an effective communications tool:

  • The starting point is to define what you want to achieve from the blog or blogs.
  • Step two is to look at the blog from the viewpoint of the user. Why should they participate given their limited time?
  • Step three is to look at your other communication mechanisms. What are you already doing? How will the blog fit in?
  • Step four is to look at the structure of the blog. How do you structure the blog so that it is easy for your visitors to use, to find past material?
  • Step five is to look at the management of the blog. Who is going to manage, how much time will be required?


This case study has focused especially on the possible use of blogs as a communications tool within organisations, using the ANZ specialist medical colleges as an example. The colleges are an interesting example because the nature and complexity of their operations draws out some of the possibilities in regard to use of blogs within membership based organisations and as an educational tool as well as a more general management tool.

Our overall conclusion is obviously positive. We believe that blogs should be moved from the world of the blogging enthusiast into the normal tool kit available to management. However, for this to happen experimentation will be required to test and modify the form to meet specific organisational requirements.

Note on Copyright

The paper is copyright Ndarala 2006. However, it can be quoted, copied or reproduced with due acknowledgement. The following should be included for citation purposes: Jim Belshaw, Case Study into the possible use of blogs as a communications device within specialist medical colleges, Ndarala Staff Paper, March 2006.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Belshaw Takes a Break

Photo: South West Rocks, New England

Tomorrow I leave for a few days in South West Rocks, one of the most beautiful places in New England.

While there is an internet cafe in South West Rocks and I will be checking my blogs and responding to any comments, I do not expect at this point to make any posts.

I want a rest to rethink and re-charge.

Project Management for the Professionals - Planning the Project

This post continues our series on project management. A list of of posts to date in the series can be found at the end of the post.

Having defined the project, we can now proceed to detailed planning. This means listing in detail what is required to successfully complete the project along the three critical dimensions of quality, time and cost. As before, steps are likely to be carried out on an iterative basis.

From a consulting perspective, the project brief represents stage one, whereas the proposal covers stage two. Again from a consulting perspective, the central point is never assume that the first stage has in fact been done properly. This is rarely the case.

Overview of Steps Involved

Key planning steps are:

a. establish the project objective.

b. choose a basic strategy for achieving the objective.

In practice, both a. and b. should have been established during the first phase. The objective now is to test and extend them.

c. break the project down into sub units or steps, specifying the relationships between the sub units.

d. determine the performance standards for each sub unit.

e. determine the time required to complete each sub unit.

f. determine the proper sequence for completing the sub units and aggregate this information into a schedule for the total project.

The degree of difficulty in steps c. through f. rises exponentially with the size and complexity of the project. Past a certain point, project management software is required if the project is to be expressed and managed in any meaningful way.

In most cases, such software is not required. However, in all cases simple graphical techniques such as GANTT charts and flow diagrams can be used to help project planning.

Flow diagrams simply express the relationships between the different elements in pictorial form. A Gantt Chart is a horizontal bar chart that graphically displays the time relationship of the steps in a project. Each step of a project is represented by a line placed on the chart in the time period when it is to be undertaken. When completed, the Gantt chart shows the flow of activities in sequence as well as those that can be underway at the same time.

g. determine the resource and financial requirements for each sub unit and aggregate costs into the project budget. Typical cost components are:

  • Labour
  • Overhead
  • Communications
  • Travel and Accommodation
  • Materials
  • Supplies
  • Equipment Rental
  • General and Administrative
  • Profit (if applicable).

So long as activities have been specified precisely, most input costs can be reasonably well defined. The usual exception is time. For a variety of reasons, time inputs are always underestimated. As a rough rule of thumb, initial time estimates by an in-experienced person can usually be multiplied by three to gain an estimate of total time outcomes. With an experienced estimator, a 1.5 multiplier usually provides a reasonable guide.

Development of budgets often forces project revision. The first budget estimates are often called the base line budget and are then used as a base for subsequent revisions not just of costing, but of basic project structures themselves.

h. design the necessary staff organisation, including the number and kind of positions and the dates and responsibilities of each.

i. determine what training, if any, is required for project team members.

j. develop the necessary policies and procedures.

k. develop the project plan as the basic planning document. This should specify outputs and outcomes, define activities clearly, specify the relationships between activities, and define the implementation path together with relevant budget information.

The steps described to this point are generally applicable to all environments. However, some additional features do come into play in a consulting environment.

Proposals and Project Plans

In general, the proposal to the client sets out our understanding of the brief (project definition) and the way we propose to meet the client's requirements (project planning). The proposal in combination with the brief are therefore critical project documents.

The proposal now needs to be turned into a project plan. In general, this is done once we know that we have been awarded the contract.

Where the proposal is very detailed, the transformation into project plan is relatively easy. However, where (as is often the case) the proposal has been prepared under pressure, development of the plan may involve significant additional work.

Preparation of the brief plan may reveal weaknesses in the proposed approach requiring corrective action. If significant, these may need to be agreed with the client during contract negotiation.

Again depending upon the form of the proposal and brief, task descriptions will need to be prepared. These should define outcomes, timing, relationships with other tasks and allocate responsibilities. The task descriptions form the basis for contractual arrangements with various participants in the project team.

Once prepared, contractual arrangements within the team (responsibilities, payment terms etc) should be agreed, subject to any revisions as a consequence of contract negotiations with the client.

The last stages in the planning process are to agree final specifications with the client and negotiate the required contract.

During contract negotiation either we or the client may suggest variations to the approach contained in the proposal. Care must be exercised here. In the euphoria of winning the contract, variations can be suggested and agreed too which may subsequently create real financial or performance difficulties.

All variations must therefore be clearly identified, their project implications specified, and any necessary changes made to the project documentation.

Previous Posts in this Series

Note on Copyright

Material in this series is drawn from the Ndarala Group Short Guide to Project Management. The material is copyright Ndarala but may be reproduced and quoted with due acknowledgment.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Project Management for Professionals - Conceiving and Defining the Project

The hard part in any project is getting underway. There is something basically daunting in a blank sheet of paper or computer screen.

The key thing to remember is that any project begins with study, analysis and discussion. Do not aim for perfection in the first instance. The key is to get some initial ideas down that can then be used as a base for discussion and refinement.

We can now turn to look in more detail at the various stages in the project life cycle beginning with stage one, conceiving and defining the project.

Projects vary greatly in complexity and hence in degree of planning difficulty. However, even with simple projects good results depend upon the adoption of a structured approach. In fact, much later project failure can be traced back to failure to follow a properly structured approach during this first stage.

One of the hardest things to get across to people is that time spent in conceiving and defining the project is rarely wasted. Many people just want to get on with it. This leads to a project cycle that runs do, plan, fix.

Overview of Steps Involved

Even if you alone are to be responsible for the project, it can still be helpful to involve others in the project definition stage in order to test and extend your ideas.

Brain-storming is a useful process during this early stage. It taps into the creative potential of a group throughassociation of ideas. It also begins the establishment of the group view that is generally necessary if the project is to be a success.

The key steps in this first phase of the project life cycle involves:

a. identifying the people who should be involved, at least in the early stages

b. defining the need the project is to meet, including any essential outcomes

c. defining and then collecting the information necessary to write the project definition or specification

d. setting the end results objective. A clear distinction must be made between what the proposal is expected to generate (the deliverable or output) and the use to which those results are to be put (the outcome)

e. listing imperatives and desirables

f. generating alternative strategies

g. evaluating alternative strategies

h. choosing a course of action

In practice, these steps are likely to be worked through in an iterative fashion. The degree of detail needed will vary depending upon project complexity.

For much of our work, the client will already have conceived and defined the project and expressed this in the consultant's brief. We then use the proposal preparation phase to test and refine that brief.

Implementing the Steps

Learning curve is a common term in complex systems development environments such as aerospace. It refers to the way in which knowledge and skills are acquired. Initial progress is slow, but then grows at an exponential rate before flattening out.

Learning curve issues are particularly important in projects since teams are bought together to meet a particular need and then dissolve. The project manager has to recognise and find the best way of managing these issues

In all cases, action begins with study, discussion and analysis in order to:

a. define the need to project is to meet, including any essential outcomes

b. Identify the people who should be involved, at least in the early stages.

c. define and then collect the information necessary to write the project definition or specification.

These three steps will normally be done together.

In general, it is desirable that all those who will be involved in the project, as well as those who will use the outcome or be affected by the project, should have some measure of involvement from early in this initial phase.

This allows problems to be more easily identified, gathers project support and reduces learning curve difficulties in that those who will be involved start to develop shared objectives and build project knowledge. It also makes it easier to define and collect required information.

Having got this far, the next step is to write the project definition. This involves:

a. setting end-results objectives. The need to be met has already been defined. The project outcome must now be properly defined and related to the defined need. Just what should the project deliver? How will this meet needs?

b. listing imperatives and desirables. Most projects involve multiple outputs. However, a major problem in project definition is that projects can be overladen with just too many requirements. So it is important to be clear as to those things that the project must deliver as compared to those that would simply be desirable.

c. generating alternative strategies. Just how might the project objectives be achieved? Answers here are usually not clear cut. The critical need at this stage is to identify as many alternative paths as possible without bogging down in detailed evaluation.

d. evaluating alternative strategies. The identified strategies should be analysed and ranked.

e. choosing a course of action. The best course of action can now be chosen and expressed in a project brief.

The length of the project brief will vary depending on the size and complexity of the project. It may also vary depending upon whether the job is to be done in house or via external contractors.

Whatever the job and approach, there are two major problems that must be avoided during the process.

Problem one is that of over-specification in terms of the approach to be followed. At this stage in the process, it is simply not possible to be too prescriptive since the approach will, or more precisely should, vary during the next stage in the project process, planning the project.

Problem two is ensuring that all the required project sign-offs are in place.

Previous Posts in this Series

Note on Copyright

Material in this series is drawn from the Ndarala Group Short Guide to Project Management. The material is copyright Ndarala but may be reproduced and quoted with due acknowledgment.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Project Management for Professionals - What is a Project?

The concept of project management as a discipline began
with the US Space Program in the early 1960s Since then, its practice has expanded rapidly into government, the military and industry.

Project management focuses on a project. A project is an undertaking that has a beginning and an end and is carried out to meet established goals within cost, schedule and quality objectives.

Project management brings together and optimises the resources necessary to successfully complete the project. These include the skills, talents and co-operative efforts of a team of people, facilities, tools and equipment, information, systems and techniques and money.

Projects can be very large, running into billions of dollars. They can also be as small as the development of new procedures for answering the telephone.

Project Parameters

While projects vary, all projects have common and interacting elements that together set project parameters:

a. output or deliverable. The project’s end result. This is obviously critical in determining just what must be done and, sometimes, when it must be done by.

Note that the same terms are also often used to describe the results from key tasks or stages within the project.

b. specifications. Key features of the required output or deliverable. They are also often classified in terms of functional specifications (defining the function or duty to be performed), performance specifications (defining the performance required) or technical specifications (defining the technical and physical characteristics)

Specifications may also include mandatory (things that must be achieved) and desirable (things that it would be nice to achieve, if possible) items.

c. outcomes. The use the client expects to make of the results. One of the most common causes for project failure lies in the failure to distinguish clearly between outcomes and outputs.

d. quality. What quality outcome is required? Quality has to be defined in terms of the need to be met. In some cases, a quick and dirty results may be all that is required. In others, a high quality result may be necessary.

In all cases, quality has to be defined as fitness for purpose. That is, quality is defined in terms of the purpose of the task.

e. cost and budget. Budget is often used in two ways. How much can we afford to spend (our budget) as opposed to the project budget, the amount the customer has agreed to spend.

Projects should always be fully costed including indirect costs.

f. time. Time refers both to the time input involved in completed the project (number of people hours or days) and to the elapsed time or period over which the project is to be completed.

g. schedule. The organisation of activities over time to achieve the desired outcome.

The Project Life Cycle

All projects go through a common life cycle regardless of size. The phases in this life cycle are:
a. conceiving and defining the project
b. planning the project
c. implementing the plan
d. completing and evaluating the project.

In practice these stages will overlap. Thus conceiving and defining the project can overlap and merge with planning the project, while implementation in its turn will overlap and merge with completion and evaluation.

Key Project Management Skills

Effective project management is not always an easy task. It involves:
a. organising a project from beginning to end
b. structuring a plan that will stand up under pressure
c. getting people to accept plans and support them
d. setting measurable project objectives
e. motivating team members
f. helping team members solve problems
g. utilising available resources
h. eliminating waste of time and money
i. measuring project performance
j. using information systems that respond to project needs.
k. identifying problems in advance and then altering either the process or the project to deal with them.

Sounds daunting? Its not as hard as it seems.

Previous Posts in this Series

Note on Copyright

Material in this series is drawn from the Ndarala Group Short Guide to Project Management. The material is copyright Ndarala but may be reproduced and quoted with due acknowledgment.