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Implement Your Project Like NASA

pm pmo project management Jul 27, 2022
Implement Your Project Like NASA

Apollo 13 was the 1995 movie about America’s fifth crewed mission to the moon that launched in 1970. Two days in, an explosion on board the spacecraft deprived everyone of their much-needed oxygen supply and electrical power. NASA aborted the mission and the rest of the movie was about getting the three astronauts home safely. 

Front and center in this drama was Flight Director Gene Kranz, played by Ed Harris. Flight directors lead teams of flight controllers, astronauts, and research and engineering experts to make real-time decisions to keep astronauts safe. In this role, Kranz was crystal clear in his direction to scores of flight controllers, and received feedback and input from everyone that fed into the decisions he needed to make. This was the ultimate in project implementation. 

Fast forward to your project.  

Your project is undoubtedly not as harrowing as Apollo 13. But, once the project is complete, it typically moves to an implementation phase, in order to realize its benefits. For example, if a new software solution to manage remote workers is created, it is rolled out, or implemented, across the workforce. This is where an implementation plan needs to be built and executed repeatedly until the software is completely rolled out. 

You can picture yourself, or whoever is running the plan, like a flight director at mission control with a headset and clipboard, going down the list of items to bring this project home safely. But, what should be on this plan? 

At a minimum, the following should be on any implementation plan. Think of these as column headings in a spreadsheet.  

  • Task ID - Unique identifier, so there’s never a question about what step is being discussed. 
  • Category - Logical grouping of tasks that can be based upon when they occur, i.e., two days prior to implementation, or whatever makes sense for your project. 
  • Task Name - Short name for what needs to be accomplished in this step. Good rule of thumb is to use a verb / noun pairing. For example, Create Meeting or Move Database. 
  • Task Description - 1-2 sentences describing the task at hand. The goal should be that if anyone picked up the plan off the floor, they would have a good idea of what needs to be done and possibly be able to run it themselves. 
  • Due Date - The date the task must be completed. 
  • Status - Keep it simple. Complete (blue), In Process (green), and Not Started (yellow). You can quickly scan down the list for green and yellow tasks, compare them to the Due Date and work on closing them out. 
  • Team - Identify the team that is responsible. Could be Development, Infrastructure, Networking, etc. 
  • Person - This is arguably one of the most important fields in the plan. Name the person from the Team identified above that executes that task. 
  • Duration (estimate) - How long the task is expected to take. 
  • Duration (actual) - How long the task actually took. This will be good to compare against Duration (estimate) once the implementation is complete. Adjustments can be made up or down to the plan based on the results. 
  • Notes - Include anything that may help the Implementation Manager as they go down the list (i.e., links to procedures or Knowledge Base Articles) or could be used as notes for project debriefs. 

The tasks on the implementation plan are up to you and the needs of your team. But, here are a couple of things to keep in mind.   

First, keep this list short, short, short. Eliminate and Automate as many steps as possible. Anytime people are involved in touching a process, there’s room for error. Your goal should be to automate everything and not even have a need for an implementation plan. That’s not realistic for most projects, especially when things become fast and furious closer to implementation. Regardless, keep the list short and work on making it shorter. 

Second, do a dry run, or three. NASA drilled their astronauts time and time and time again to make sure they knew exactly what to do and when to do it. You should do the same with your implementation plan. Everything may look good on paper, but walking through it in a practice session will reveal if a step was left out, or a person who needed to be involved wasn’t there, or a host of other oversights. Dry runs or rehearsals give you time to fix those things. 

Finally, choose whatever tool you prefer to track your implementation. Could be Excel, Word, or your preferred project tracking tool. Whatever it is, make sure it is available to everyone and you keep it up to date with lessons learned from prior implementations. 

And, it’s up to you if you wear the cool headset and use a clipboard like Gene Kranz!

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