By Craig Covello, PMP:

You’ve probably heard the acronym “KISS”, which stands for “keep it simple, stupid”.  I must admit, I was never a fan of any phrase that assumes the audience has diminished capacity.  And in this case, there is definitely nothing “stupid” about the benefits of keeping things simple, particularly when it applies to project management.

If you have spent any time studying project management courses or preparing for the Project Management Institute’s PMP exam, then you know that there is a good deal of complexity and abstract thought associated with generally accepted project management principles.  The number of concepts can be overwhelming.  They include a good understanding of organizational structures, project scope, time management, cost containment, quality metrics, human resource management, communication plans, risk mitigation and even procurement.  The number of tools and techniques associated with project initiation, control, monitoring and closure can number into the hundreds.  Some might even argue they number into the thousands.  Yet, as with all things, we soon learn to prioritize and select the tools and techniques which suit our project management style as well as the scope and duration of the efforts we undertake.

A case could be made that you could count on your fingers the essential components of a good project management plan.  In my world, these would include:

  1. A statement of business requirements to be addressed.
  2. Project charters, which include information identifying project sponsors, the project manager, a project ID and the anticipated duration of the effort.
  3. A definitive statement of project goals and criteria for measuring project success.
  4. Specific definitions regarding what is within scope and beyond the scope of the project.
  5. Risk assessments, including an appropriate level of contingency planning.
  6. A stakeholder list with subsets identifying active project participants, roles, specific responsibilities and contact information.
  7. A definitive list of project deliverables.
  8. The project budget.
  9. The communication plan and meeting schedule.
  10. Executive level status reports designed to summarize past expenditures, provide fiscal projections and identify issues requiring escalation.
  11. Meeting minutes, action items and issues logs, which I consolidate into something called “project notes”.
  12. Detailed project tasks, assignments and associated schedules.

Okay, I admit I don’t have 12 fingers, but I’m sure you get the idea.  Having small set of project definitions, controls and reporting mechanisms is one way to keep things relatively simple so that everyone has the opportunity to maintain the big picture during the life of the project.  Methodologies, forms and formal procedures can be beneficial until they reach a point of critical mass.  When that happens, they may actually impede progress, hinder communication and obfuscate status.  The confusion and associated slow response to the tragic oil spill in the Gulf comes to mind.  Please forgive my armchair quarterback analysis, but the situation might have been significantly better if some very basic questions had been answered before attempting to address the myriad of details.  Specifically,

  • Who’s in charge?
  • What are the immediate and long term objectives?
  • What is the anticipated duration?
  • How much money is available?
  • Who is available to help?
  • What is the communication plan?
  • What contingencies will be executed on a specific date if “Plan A” is unsuccessful?

If you can get your head around those questions without referring to reams of documentation, then you have a much better chance for project success.

Less is sometimes more.