Saturday, 1 December 2012

Project Initiation in a Japanese Corporation - Part 1

I am in the final week of the planning phase, within our Corporate Project Life-cycle   The life cycle is based on the Prince2 methodology, seeing as I wrote it soon after completing my Prince2 Practioner exam.  This is the time that the RACI matrix of the phase deliverables is being checked and the components are being completed.  There are many authorisations to seek and complete, of which each document could have between 1 and 6 signatures.  The final Project "bundle" of documents has a header sheet, where approximately 10-12 will eventually sign it off. 

I work for a Japanese Corporation, which follow a strict protocol in terms of project control and budgets.  It is actually quite a refreshing change to work for a company that expects you will spend a serious amount of time in the planning phases, proving your concepts and gaining sign-off from all parties concerned.  It means that each department and management level, understand your project, authorise your project and have buy-in to your deliverables.

Initiating a Project

The initial request for a project is simple.  You create a request for a project, stating just three key items;

  • What do you want to do
  • What are the business benefits of doing it
  • What would the business impact be, if you were not to complete this project
This document is very short and to the point.  Each of the three sections above require just a couple of sentences to communicate the purpose at a high level of the Project.  This is authorised by a number of people and the Project Sponsor is confirmed at this stage.  For me, I think a important factor for the success of a project is to get the Sponsor on-board as soon as possible.

Initial Approval

Once the first document is approved, a project manager is assigned and the high level estimates for the project are required.  This would involve the scope being determined, but not finalized  and the costs associated with the delivery to be calculated.  This is quite high level and these costs could be 25% out.  This gives an initial indication to the management of how much the project is likely to cost to complement the business benefits detailed in the initial document.

Secondary Approval

If the high level estimates are accepted, the Project Manager is assigned.  This can be a different Project Manager from the person who created the high level estimates.  At this point the project will be classified into two categories, one which will be run through the corporation at a local level, or a second which will require authorisation from a Global level.  This definition is quite simple - Money.  If it is above a threshold, it is authorised globally, otherwise it is local.

At this point in the Project Life-cycle the Project Manager will engage the delivery teams, vendors, business units and all stakeholders, will be identified.  The scope will be confirmed in the Business Requirements and a Project Plan and Budgets will all come together.  Full quotes are required at this point to get an more accurate Project cost.   The RAID log will be created at this point, which will be contained in a shared portal for communication and Project Governance.

The Japanese Way

The Planning Phase is the most important phase to the Japanese.  If you submit a project plan that suggests the project will take 6 years, 7 months and 18 days, it might be accepted, but you will be expected to deliver in that time - no more, no less.  If you state you project will cost x, then you are expected to deliver you project for x, not y or z.

The Planning Phase is the key phase to a successful project in the eye of the Japanese Corporation and I tend to agree.  This planning will be scrutinized at every level and the variety of questions from all project stakeholders is very interesting.  Presentations are required to be delivered to all levels of management to explain your project, the costs, timescales, planning approach, delivery approach etc... 

Do I like it?

Yes, yes and yes again.  To begin with, I did not understand the time I was allowed to take in the meticulous planning and design stage.  I am used to having to get my projects delivered "yesterday".  I now understand that this ensures that I, as the Project Manager, am prepared to complete the project in the planned time, to the estimated cost and to ensure the successful completion.

I understand the hierarchical nature of the Japanese and can understand the process which we follow.  This enables many people to have a chance to question any decisions, costs and estimates, and ensures that all levels of the business are aware of the project and what it will deliver.  This multi-level buy-in for a project is mandated and it means that everyone knows what projects are being initiated within the business.  

I really like it.

I am just finishing the final stages of the planning phase, therefore I will have a further update once the phase is completed and we are moving into the next phase.

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