Simplified Project Management Framework (SPMF)

The IT division of the Food and Agriculture Organization (CIO) aims to ensure that IT initiatives are innovative and transformational in support of long term FAO strategy; demonstrate a positive sign of success and investment for the future and that agreed IT project timescales, budgets and levels of performance (quality) are met. Recently the IT division has been successful in implementing a simplified project management framework (SPMF) to achieve these aims.

The new Simplified Project Management Framework (SPMF) is intended to provide a broad structure using simple performance monitoring and control mechanisms that will enable measurement against industry best practice benchmarks as the implementation is fully adopted and matures. The principles of the SPMF provide a core approach to project management that can be incorporated in any project management system with the required level of support, monitoring and reporting being varied depending on the project size, complexity and requirements.

It is essential to realise that the project management process commences at the initial conception of the project, rather than after the agreement of “the funding for the project” when the operational delivery begins. As such SPMF provides project management support during the project definition and planning phases of all projects. The full life-cycle can be described as a series of distinct phases, with work progressing from the conceptual phases through to implementation phases and into the operational and post evaluation phase. A key part of an effective project management process is the independent review of project progress at the end of each stage, which is expected to verify the benefits and objectives before agreeing and moving onto the next stage, thereby ensuring that the project owner gains the full strategic benefit of the project.

The right mix of planning, monitoring, and control can make the difference in completing a project on time, on budget, and with high quality results. The basic elements of the framework are five key phases during the life-cycle of a project.

Phase 1: Scoping and Approval (identification of a need)

There is a tendency for projects to short-change the planning process, with an emphasis on jumping right in and beginning the work. This is a mistake. The time spent properly planning the project will result in reduced cost and duration and increased quality over the life of the project. The project definition is the primary deliverable from the planning process and describes all aspects of the project at a high level.

This phase mainly identifies whether the need has been researched and justified; is the project consistent with the FAO and IT division’s strategy; have the various options to approach the project been considered and evaluated; has the cost and benefit to FAO been identified taking into account any longer-term recurrent costs e.g. staffing, as well as shorter-term capital costs; have the major opportunities and risks associated with the project been taken into account; are the appropriate internal resources (including time, personnel and/or skills) available to progress to Phase 2 and the subsequent phases of the project; has ‘in-principle’ approval of the project been sought from the appropriate individual(s)/bodies.

This phase is presented to the IT Board for consideration/approval, if approved the process progresses to the next phase.

Phase 2: Project Planning

After the project definition has been prepared, the work plan needs to be created. The work plan provides the step-by-step plans for constructing project deliverables and managing the project. During the development of the work plan of the project, the major elements to be evaluated are whether the skills the supporting project team possess are adequate for the successful completion of the project; has a detailed project management plan been prepared with SMART (specific, measurable, agreed, realistic and time-limited) targets?

The output of this phase is a project initiation document supported with an IT work plan that identifies all elements of the project deliverables, timeline, resources and costs. Approval of this work plan is a prerequisite for the next phase.

Phase 3: Start up the Project

In order to proceed with the start-up phase, the project needs to ensure that all individuals directly and indirectly associated with the project (including the independent reviewer) clearly understand the objectives of the project and the impact it will have upon them. In addition their responsibilities need to be clearly defined and discussed with the independent reviewer. A simple communication plan needs to be developed to define quick and easy communication with members of the project team and other stakeholders in the project.

This phase must provide assurances that there are no significant time gaps between key milestones and that provision has been made for appropriate interim reviews.

Phase 4: Deliver the Project

The main elements of this phase is to ensure that the project stays on track with respect to the project plan; all the expected products and services are being delivered and objectives achieved; all the scheduled project monitoring meetings have been completed; all project issues have been communicated to the Senior IT portfolio officer and /or resolved; and that all major elements of the project delivery are met, like “on time”, “on budget” and “to quality”.

Phase 5: Close the Project

The SPMF requires the project owner to undertake a project evaluation, immediately on completion, to assess the actual performance of the project in relation to achieving the original objectives, success criteria and that the outputs delivered are as expected.

The lessons learnt need to be documented and used to improve the management of similar projects in the future. Also a well-documented production handover needs to be prepared by the project development team and submitted to the operations team to ensure smooth handover to operations.

The SPMF is a framework that is oriented for both “Water fall” as well as “Agile” methodologies.

The waterfall methodology stresses meticulous record keeping where the client knows what to expect and what their program will do in the end (including cost, size, and timeline of the project). Whereas the Agile methodology follows an incremental approach which starts with a simplistic project design, and then begins to work on small modules. The work on these modules is done in weekly or monthly sprints, and at the end of each sprint, project priorities are evaluated and tests are run. The main impact on the SPMF in the Agile methodology, is that the second to fourth phase of the SPMF are repeated for each sprint until the final delivery of all modules is achieved.

Since the introduction of the SPMF in early 2015, the IT division has achieved over 85% successful traditional project delivery, and 90% success on the delivery of agile development activities. In the future, the IT division will propose further evaluation “Post Project Review(s)” planned for 6, 12, 24 months after completion.