University of Phoenix MBA Course Project Plan Paper

Project Plan

The University of Phoenix Online has grown exponentially for several years. This was done through a strong commitment to customer service and to offering a product that was a viable alternative to the conventional product. The product in question is an education. The idea of a higher education has existed primarily for young adults who move away from home to a dormitory and attend classes in the traditional classroom.

The University of Phoenix Online has created an opportunity for everyone else to get an education as well by offering an accredited educational program in a setting that makes it accessible for the working adult to take care of a family, work full time and complete a program that will help them move forward in their career and likely in their private lives as well.

The average UOP student is a 35-year-old working adult. The University has done well in servicing customers in this arena but now they want to shift focus out to a younger demographic. The students, who are at the age that conventional college is an option, sometimes are not suited for the conventional college environment. Services will need to be shifted to support these students, but care needs to be taken to serve the university’s existing students.

The project at hand is one that will develop stronger customer service relationships, through in depth training and increased resolve. This will include learning and understanding the entire market base of potential customers for the university. This knowledge will help the employees better serve each individual customer and provide a basis for a stronger focus on the students and their needs.

The results of the project will hopefully provide the university and its employees with the tools to serve an expanding customer base who are separated by demographics as wide ranged as income, career level, family, geography, life goals, past experiences and so forth. This project should arm the universities employees with the tools to create stronger relationships with the customers and the tools to perform their jobs effectively.

Mission

This project falls directly in line with the goals that the University of Phoenix has established. The universities’ mission statement reads “The University of Phoenix is a private, for-profit higher education institution whose mission is to provide high quality education to working adult students. The University identifies educational needs and provides, through innovative methods, including distance education technologies, educational access to working adults regardless of their geographical location. The University provides general education and professional programs that prepare students to articulate and advance their personal and professional goals. The University’s educational philosophy and operational structure embody participative, collaborative, and applied problem-solving strategies that are facilitated by a faculty whose advanced academic preparation and professional experience help integrate academic theory with current practical application. The University assesses both the effectiveness of its academic offerings and the academic achievement of its students, and utilizes the results of these assessments to improve academic and institutional quality.” (www.phoenix.edu)
The project is definitely a continuation of the mission that the university created for itself many years ago. Now with an expanded outlook, an expanded mission is in order.

Scope

Determining the scope of the project is an important aspect of any project. Margo Visitacion explains the importance of scope, “Before undertaking any project, evidence must exist to support its value. Perform a feasibility study to gauge market potential, enterprise risk/benefit and technological impact before any activities are started. Gaining executive understanding and commitment before undertaking a project, especially one that carries some risk for IT, prevents political jockeying over priorities and resource commitment. Make sure that the project has a designated business champion, and gather the necessary business and technological criteria to justify the project to continue adequate executive support during the life cycle.” (PM Best Practices, 2003)

This project does not have the outstanding risks that face many projects, but an idea of the scope of the project will help to gauge where we can start to see benefits or decide where the problems are within the system.

Success of the project will be difficult to measure at first as the benefits will need to be planted and provide a long term effect on the company. However, success will be measured qualitatively. Through the communication between employees and students and the word of mouth between the students. It will not be easy to measure, but the success will reflect itself onto the company in a favorable manner.

Planning

Planning may be the most important practice involved in pushing a project to success. Visitacion explains that, “Comprehensive planning is critical, even with short development cycles. Make project goals attainable by prioritizing deliverables to keep a team tightly focused on specific issues. From there, involve the team, stakeholders and sponsors in closely managed sessions to discuss each objective and clearly explain risks and benefits to understand exposures and the dangers to the project. “The application of planning leads directly into the action phase of the project.

“When the planning phase is over (and agreed), the “doing” phase begins. Once it is in motion, a project acquires a direction and momentum which is totally independent of anything you predicted. If you come to terms with that from the start, you can then enjoy the roller-coaster which follows. To gain some hope, however, you need to establish at the start (within the plan) the means to monitor and to influence the project’s progress.” (Planning a Project, 2005)

Controls

There are two key elements to the control of a project
� milestones (clear, unambiguous targets of what, by when)
� established means of communication

Another aspect to take into consideration is time management. Time Management
Estimating how long it will take to complete work, develop project schedule, and ensure completion.
Project Schedule – for each project a project schedule should be defined early on. Tasks should be identified down to the task/person level. Project schedule templates (plans for software upgrades, software development etcâÂ?¦) should be developed so that project managers have a “pool” to pull from.

– All projects that have more than 5 resources and have duration of longer than 1 month should utilize Microsoft Project to develop a project schedule.
– Requirements should be done prior to development work.
– In areas where business changes are needed, significant time should be allotted to do this.
– Include entire project team in planning. This will help minimize tasks being overlooked in the plan.
– Break the project into small pieces. Not all functionality has to be delivered with one release.
– Time needed for the project by the various resources needs to be better identified. Often the time is underestimated. (Business Services, 2005)

Simulation

The “Selecting and Initiating Projects” simulation offered a great nuts and bolts approach to initializing a project. The number one lesson from the simulation is that no matter how excited you are or how invested you are in a project; you must weigh all of the options and seriously study alternative projects. A project can become something that grows quickly in costs, both monetarily and also in how the company is portrayed to the public. Sometimes the bottom line can come as a disadvantage to a company when something equally as important is sacrificed.

All points of view must be considered or else you could miss out on important ideas that could greatly influence the project both positively and negatively. The second important lesson from the simulation is the idea of breaking the project down into manageable pieces and adding a weight and measure to that piece. By determining the importance of each facet of the project, better decisions can be made when changes need to be made or decisions finalized. For my project it would be beneficial to break the project into pieces to weigh the importance of targeting a certain demographic or providing different types of training for the employees.

Lastly, any project will have its risks. The important thing is in how you react after the risk has been taken and the consequences have fallen. At this point it is important to evaluate and move the project in the direction that benefits the company. Sometimes you must roll with the punches to be able to see the project to its completion. A good project manager can work well in this framework and work with the fellow employees to create the best possible results for the company.
Task and Risk Management

Every project plan meets the point where tasks and risks need to be managed in order to provide the best possible path for the project to travel. Specific tasks and milestones must be determined in accordance with the determination and evaluation of any risks that may face the team as they are working on the project.

When risks are evaluated they must also be assessed for their importance. Strategies must be determined to mitigate the risks and contingency plans must be in order for the chance that the project is not going down the right path. My project designed to improve the customer service habits for the University of Phoenix must have specifics detailed and methods to mitigate the risks associated with the project.

The first specific task that must be set in place for the university would be informing the employees of the new tasks and steps they must take in the workplace. The project plan and its scope must be carefully considered and weighed against the cost and risks that will be associated with the project. When the plan is in place and risks have been evaluated, mitigation strategies must be set in place. Now we are off and the project can move forward, being constantly evaluated and modified when needed.

The following are some risks that can affect any project and could be very problematic within this project. Obtained from the University of Texas – Dallas:

Ineffective Organization and Management: The project should have firm and effective commitment and sponsorship from appropriate administrative levels. Management support should include proper prioritization, required staffing levels, and commitment of necessary resources. Management should be involved in the project and review the status on a periodic basis making necessary staffing, timing, and resource adjustments. Management should assure assembly of a capable project team.

Insufficient and Untrained Staff: Appropriate numbers of staff with relevant job skills should be identified and assigned to the project. Scheduling and other delays related to hiring of skilled staff and/or training of staff must be accounted for. Lack of proper training or specialization may result in increased errors and rework efforts. Retention of staff and contract personnel through the project duration must be considered.

Insufficient/Inadequate Design: The project design should address all major issues. Oversimplification, excessive complexity, inappropriate design, or other factors that might contribute to the need to redesign and re-implement the project should be avoided. Unfamiliar methodologies or processes should be avoided.

No Change Management Process: Projects are dynamic by nature and they are comprised of many variables. Project objectives and timelines may be altered when project requirements are changed due to technology, regulatory, or general discretionary factors. A change management structure should be implemented in order to evaluate changes as they arise and to determine whether such changes should be implemented within the scope of the project. Appropriate administrator review and approval of changes can keep the project focused on its goals and timelines. Failure to control change may result in a failed project.

No Project Guidelines Are Established: Projects should be structured and conducted in a rational, practical manner that leads to the accomplishment of project goals. Guidelines related to all aspects of the project should be developed and utilized in order to assure uniformity and consistency of processes and tasks within the project. Guidelines should minimize ambiguities and uncertainties. Guidelines can be very detailed or they can be general, depending on the magnitude and complexity of the project.

Unrealistic Expectations: Project deliverables should be based on realistic and Accomplishable projections based on commitment, resource availability, and staffing levels and capabilities

The results of this project may be difficult to quantifiably measure in the initial stages. However, the organization has a strong belief that great customer service will always translate into more students and essentially more income for the University. Customer service is a difficult task to measure as the satisfaction or dissatisfaction of the customer may not be readily accessible.

To consider just the impact of the risks associated with the project is also difficult to measure at first. To put it plainly, untrained staff may be able “fake” their way through the job for quite some time. In other cases, employees that are trained well may lose motivation or have factors that push their motivation away from the mission of the project and of the University. The other risks have identifiable factors that would come forth in an assessment. The problem of having no change management process should not be a factor if the first few steps of the project are done correctly. However, some risks that were not evaluated may come about and require a different change process. Problems with insufficient design or lack of project guidelines would be assessed quickly as the project is simply not going anywhere.

“The strategies and actions to manage risks that pose a real threat to a project must be built into the baseline project plan, from the outset. The management of these risks must never only be treated outside the mainstream project management processes, yet in many projects today, this is almost exactly how it occurs. Teams need to understand the difference between mitigation and contingency planning, and when each needs to be applied. Moreover, teams also need to know how to integrate the information from risk management with the mainstream technical, management and performance measurement processes (e.g. Earned Value Management).” (Improving Project Risk Management, 2005)

The number one mitigation strategy for this project is the importance of sufficient planning. To be able to have completely evaluated risks and set steps in the process that evaluate the project and can demonstrate the effectiveness of the new steps that are being taken. A change management plan is an essential component of any project and Susan Heathfield from about.com provides a few tools that are necessary for successful change, particularly for project managers and their project team.

– Provide answers to questions only if you know the answer. Leaders destroy their credibility when they provide incorrect information or appear to stumble or back-peddle, when providing an answer. It is much better to say you don’t know and that you will try to find out.
– Leaders need to listen, just listen. Avoid defensiveness, excuse-making, and answers that are too quickly given. Act with thoughtfulness. The power of real listening cannot be over emphasized. Real listening is one of your most critical components in change communication.
– Make leaders and change sponsors available, daily when possible, to mingle with others in the workplace
– Communication should be proactive. If the rumor mill is already in action, the organization has waited too long to communicate.

Since the project is something that will have a company wide impact, these recommendations are very helpful as every employee should be able to provide feedback. This feedback is necessary for change decisions, for determining if the project is a success, and also to determine what works and what doesn’t. The employees will be a crucial part of the constant evaluation of the project.

Murphy’s Law that “IF anything can go wrong, it will”, provides a great stepping off point for project managers. The idea is that something will most definitely go wrong, so how do we fix it? The “Managing Project Risk” simulation provides some insight into how to manage risk and move forward to project completion.

A character in the simulation explains that “additional resources may not be available during this period. Therefore, use the schedule, cost, or effort variance limits as performance measures and not additional reserves.” The main goal of the simulation is to “be able to understand project risks and assign the appropriate strategies to counter them will determine success.”

The first step is to determine the risks that can cause the greatest damage to the project. The greatest risks will be different for each project but after they are identified mitigation strategies must be assigned to each risk. Mitigation strategies must be balanced within time and cost constraints.

Management priorities have changed. This may be the last risk a project team considers, particularly when a management speaks so highly of the project. Any risk that is not accounted for, though, will likely cause problems. One major lesson to learn is that only considering the cost of risks and mitigation strategies may create critical risks that endanger the whole project. Sometimes running over budget is a necessary evil. The major idea is that there are three steps essential for managing risk within a project and they include identifying the risks, analyzing the risks and responding in a way that best suits the risk and the project.

Project Plan Forecast

Now that the project has been evaluated for risks and task management a project forecast should be set in place. The project forecast is another step in the process of determining if the project is something the organization still wants to move forward with and also provide the estimates and budget goals the organization would like to meet. The first step will be to develop a communications plan, or devising a way for the progress to be reported. This also includes a time forecast, implementing a closure process for the project’s end, a process to audit the project and maybe most importantly, a budget for the project.
Finally, the “Applying the Project Life Cycle” simulation will provide learning points that can be applied to the project plan[S1] . A communication plan is something that needs to take into consideration several factors that will directly impact any project. The project management team at the University of Washington explains that “Although every project undergoes some kind of communication planning, it is frequently informal – determining who needs to attend which meetings, receive which reports, etc. Projects of long duration will benefit from formal planning because the project stakeholders are likely to change over time. Projects that affect a large number of people or organizations may also benefit from formal planning to ensure full identification of both stakeholders and of communication needs.” (www.washington.edu, 2006)

Since this plan will affect a large number of people, it is best to have a strong and long reaching communication plan. UW also explains that “A communication plan needs to consider, and where appropriate document each of the following items”:

� Project Name
� List of Stakeholders (Who has interest in the project? See the project definition for an initial list of stakeholders. Be sure to include both business and technical stakeholders.)
� Information Needs (What kinds of information about the project are of interest? Consider need to communicate plan, status and progress reports, changes, major events, availability of prototypes and demonstrations, etc.)
� Communication Methods (What information will be communicated to what groups in what ways? Common methods include reporting and documentation, email, meetings, and web sites.)

Communication will need to be consistent not just to ensure the success of the project but also as a measurement tool to understand if the project is succeeding or not. Employees will need to communicate through reporting and documentation. These practices are already in place at the University of Phoenix. Including, employees running and completing tasks around daily, weekly and monthly reports[S2] .

The time forecasted for this project will be open ended[S3] to an extent as the project will be put in place to help all of the employees perform their jobs better and provide better service to the customers, which is something that is incredibly important to the success of the organization and will hopefully guide the continued success of the organization and how well it serves its customers.

Jeffrey Barager of the Point B Solutions Group provides some great tools to use when applying the finishing touches to a project. Some of those are very valuable to my project and would provide a great way to close the project on a strong note, with a vote of thanks for the employees that made it happen. Barager explains that “a project has a beginning and an end. But without a formal closure process, project teams can fail to recognize the end, and then the project can drag on- sometimes at great expense.” (Barager, 2006)

Project closure ensures that:
� Outcomes match the stated goals of the project.
� Customers and stakeholders are happy with the results.
� Critical knowledge is captured.
� The team feels a sense of completion.
� Project resources are released for new projects.

The most important tools for the University of Phoenix to utilize in regards to this project would be to ensure documentation has been created to provide all of the necessary information for the organization to use, to grow and develop further. Knowledge must be documented. Plan a final meeting with upper management to make sure they are pleased with the results and all of the objectives have been met. A great deal of discussion will need to take place over subjects such as the successes of failures, key lessons, and any related projects.

Another incredibly important closing activity is to provide some sort of reward or recognition for the project team, or in this case the employees who have worked so hard to ensure the project’s success. The employees could use the support and the recognition after a hard worked project. Finally, evaluate, evaluate, evaluate. The whole project should be weighed and measured. Any knowledge that comes from this project could be crucial to a future project.

The project audit process will fall in line with commonly used audit processes. This includes reviewing the projects control structure by obtaining information and analyzing results from the project. The audit personnel will work closely with the project manager to be able to understand all aspects of the project and then a report will be provided to the project manager explaining the findings that were found. Basically another step in evaluating and strengthening the project process.
The number one forecast made in regards to this project has everything to do with the company’s bottom line. If over the course of the project the company is able to see positive growth in the number of students and the amount of tuition being paid, then the project is essentially a success. The quantifiable measures will come in the way of employees being able to show increases in their “numbers”, which are just the results from the tasks that they perform for the students. Enrollment will increase, retention rate will increase and the students will leave the university with a positive feeling and will have felt as if the have been served to the Universities highest level.

A project can be implemented in four distinct phases, definition, execution and delivery. To define includes determining objectives, specifications, forming teams and assigning responsibilities. In the planning stage, the project scope, schedule, quality level to be maintained and the budget are determined. In the execution phase the product is produced, measures are taken, activities are monitored and actions are taken to correct any issues. Delivery includes getting the product to the customer and releasing new equipment or materials to the team.

The “Applying the Project Life Cycle” simulation is about Rubicon Studio Works and their opportunity to take their company to a higher level. Now that I am in a place to implement the project, several learning points can be taken away from the simulation. The sequencing of the project is crucial and the correct sequencing will provide a seamless flow of materials. Setting milestones is also an important aspect of ensuring a successful project. Resources must be carefully considered. Always tied directly to the budget, resources must be used carefully but efficiently.

A very important learning point to be taken from the simulation is that the project manager must utilize all of his resources. This includes any advisors. The resources are set in place and are to be used. The organization will budget the resources, so the project manager must make the most of those allotted to him.

The project plan can be constantly evaluated and in most circumstances will require modification. Anything from faulty resources, to a team member leaving the company can throw a large wrench in the workflow process. The project manager will need to act quickly to minimize the damage and deliver a project that is successful, below budget and on time.

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