Can we use the project brief – idea – to control?

Can we use the project brief (or idea statement – statement of work) as the basis for starting the project control effort? Keep in mind, such a document is brief – a few sentences at most.

What do you think?

Control versus the baseline?

One of the common areas of misunderstanding in project management is related to project control and establishing what is the baseline.

Many practitioners and organizations believe in the concept of a baseline, where the term refers to “approved plan.” However, the term “plan” typically indicates a project plan or project management plan, which can be produced after an extensive planning exercise. The planning exercise may include various topics including developing the scope of work, cost and time estimates, staffing and communications plan, among other things.

Do Not Delay Control

However, what many practitioners, professionals, and organizations often forget is that project teams should not delay their control effort until they have a detailed plan. They can start control with the project idea statement, which is usually one to three sentences no more. The challenge is that some project management practitioners, cannot visualize how to control in comparison to a concept. They view control as an action of checking the work against a plan and taking the necessary measures to maintain progress along the initial plan (roadmap).

If practitioners view control as counting widgets, actual versus plan, then they need quantities in order to perform proper control. However, the reality is that some of these professionals might not have the competence to perform conceptual control. As a result, there will be no control action before the detailed plan is finalized.

The Foggy Period

There is a foggy, ambiguous period, from initial approval (or charter) to the final plan. This could be an extensive period and teams fall in the traps of no control. No control translates into scope creep, scope growth, hidden changes and all of the consequential impacts such as project cancellation or failure. The best case maybe a project completed with less than optimal performance or with missing out on some of its objectives.

How to Control?

Then how to control in comparison to a concept?

In the SUKAD CAMMP™ Model, we have a document – at the very start of the project – output of the concept stage, which is called Project Brief. This project brief includes three sentences.

  1. The first sentence is a description of the project; high-level description. WHAT
  2. The second sentence is why the organization wants – needs – the project. WHY
  3. How does the project align with the organization strategy?

So it is important to have, as a minimum, the what and why!

Let us forget 2 and 3 for now and focus on the first sentence only. That one sentence is not a detailed project scope of work and detailed specifications to allow the implementation work. It is a high-level conceptual description of the project. So, can we control with no widgets? How can that be possible?

Keep in the mind, is the idea is not about control of details – number of widgets – but it is about ensuring the project progress during the planning – development period – along with the designated objectives and expected output – product.

Let us see a few examples of how teams can get lost if that first sentence is not clear and unambiguous.

Project One

Let us compare these statements, all for the same project. The organization has about 300 employees in an industrial zone. As you read these statements think about the output, the product that you will produce if you were the project manager.

  1. The project is to improve the employee health.
  2. Build a gymnasium in our warehouse.
  3. Executives management require a project to improve employee health, which may include a gymnasium.

The first sentence focuses on why but not the what. Following such a statement, the options of the project’s product (output) are quite open.

The second sentence emphasizes the what but not the why. In other words, it is quite specific.

Yes, the third sentence is long but here is a short version: “project to improve employee health, which may include a gymnasium.” This third sentence is mostly about the why but it touches on an option for the what.

What do you think will happen during the stage where the team will develop the concept of these projects, to produce the details required for implementation? Would the team be working on the same project?

Project Two

This second project is by a team that I have been working with recently. Think the same way as before and as you read on.

  1. The project is a road show video to enhance the interest of Nationals in our company.
  2. The project is a road show to enhance the interest of Nationals in our company.
  3. The project is to produce a video to enhance the interest of Nationals in our company.

There is a one-word difference between 1 and 2, did you see it?

It is “video.” So what is the project, the video or the road show? Do not you agree that with the first sentence, the team could work to produce a video only? This is not much different from option 3, or is it?

Let us consider the second statement – it does not mention a video – so the output might or might not include a video, which is acceptable unless management has a video in mind. However, besides the video, what do you think is the output of that second sentence? What would the team produce? Think about it.

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Done thinking?

Would the project in the second sentence produce all of the materials for a road show? Maybe

Would the project include conducting the road show or shows? Are these road shows a one-time event to justify labeling this work as a project and not operation? This concept is ambiguous so it is hard to control the work. Therefore, we need a better sentence. How about this:

The project is to develop multimedia materials to conduct a series of road shows at local universities and vocations schools, for one school year. Now this is quite specific, although there is no mention of the number of road shows or the universities but that could be developed later.

Closing Comments

The above discussions (sample projects) focused on the “what”, the first sentence. If we expand the focus to include the second sentence – then the project could be different. Notice, Project One the why was included in the what – combining two sentences into one. However, for Project Two we did not talk about the “why”. In this case, the why is to increase the number of interested individuals in the company and increase the number of applicants.

To close – consider the objective of the second project – increasing the number of applicants, and if one focuses on this objectives – then the road shows might be considered … … or the team could consider other options if the statement read like this: Consider options, with pros and cons, for increasing the number of Nationals interested and applying to our company. The approved concept will be pursued. In this case, management opened up the scene for the team to be creative and innovative instead of zooming in on one option – road shows.

The key conclusion is that without a good project brief – idea statement – then one cannot exercise proper control. However, with a clear statement, the team can have enough control to stay on the road on the foggy period of project development.

What do you think?