Everything You Need to Know about Project Management
We often hear about projects succeeding, and others not succeeding. A number of things could be blamed for the latter: lack of resources and funding, unsatisfactory leadership, lack of direction for the team. In truth, most often it lacks proper project management.
In this article, you’ll learn about 1) a definition of project management, 2) a step-by-step approach to successful project management, and 3) an overview of non-traditional project management approaches.
PROJECT MANAGEMENT DEFINED
Project Management is defined as the discipline that involves “initiating, planning, executing and controlling the work of a team of people towards the achievement of a specific goal, or sets of goals”. These goals could be the development or production of unique products, services, or some other metric improvements, all of which are expected to deliver additional value. Through project management, activities are conducted using various project management tools and task management software, skill sets, knowledge, methodologies and techniques in order to meet the requirements of the projects.
The main goal of project management is to ensure that the objectives of the project are achieved within specified constraints.
Projects are, by nature, temporary. They have a defined starting and ending point. They will begin at a specific point in time, and will wrap up once the objective or goal has been achieved.
The definition above already marks the difference between Project Management and Program management. It is non-routine and temporary, while Program Management can be long-running. There are defined scopes and resources while, in program management, these aspects could be flexible. There is only one project to speak of in Project Management, but Program Management refers to overseeing several projects all at once.
Project management is also considered separate from the normal, repetitive operations of a business. For example, in a manufacturing company, the actual business process of putting resources into production is not a project, since these are permanent (or even semi-permanent) activities of the business. Now, if management decides to devise a new business process to create another set of products, that is the project.
Projects have four identified elements:
- Scope – This refers to the size of the project, the goals expected to be achieved upon its completion, and the different project requirements.
- Resources – These includes the people or manpower, the materials, tools and equipment that are used in the execution of the project.
- Time – This encompasses the durations of the tasks, the critical path, schedules, and dependencies.
- Money – Projects involve costs and expenses, contingencies, revenue, and profit.
Among the four elements, the scope is deemed to be the most important, since it pretty much covers the other three elements as well. Project Managers must first manage the scope of the project.
All four must be managed, however, since they are interrelated. Ignoring one will adversely affect the others, and vice versa. Successful project management means managing all four elements effectively.
One question often asked is if there are specific types of project management. Project management takes different forms or types when applied to specific industries. For example, a project in the construction industry will be different from that of a project in the IT industry. It goes without saying that management for each project will also differ, since we are talking about two different specializations or fields here. Still, they are likely to follow the same template of project management by following specific project management processes.
STEP-BY-STEP APPROACH TO PROJECT MANAGEMENT
The failure of many projects have been blamed on decisions that were made on the spur of the moment, leading to resources and costs that became too much to handle. This is because they were not able to create a project plan or, even if they did, the plan was not well-made or subsequently implemented. This is the problem with many organizations that are pressed for time: they want to get on with the work, so they skip over the project planning part and immediately launch into it. The result? Too much waste. Very little to no results. A failed project.
The output of project planning is the project plan, which outlines all the tasks, activities, dependencies and the applicable timeframes. Here we will look at its contents:
What are the goals of the project? What does it ultimately want to achieve upon its closing?
You have to take into account the needs of the stakeholders, or the people who have an interest in your project and its results. Will the project’s completion mean the satisfaction of their needs? Will it be able to provide a solution to their problems? Obviously, before you can set your project goals, you have to:
- Identify your stakeholders. They may be your investors or sponsors of the project, the employees or members of the organization, the customers or end-users, or the general public as a whole.
- Identify the needs of these stakeholders. Keep in mind that stakeholders have differences, and that includes their needs. The needs of the investors, for example, will be different from that of the customers. This may done through surveys and interviews.
- Rank the needs from most important to least important. This is a way to set priorities, so you will know which ones to address first. The list will then enable you to set goals.
The goals you set must be CLEAR and ATTAINABLE. There must be no grey areas and all the members of the project team must be fully aware of the goals, and understand their respective roles in achieving them.
What are the things that are expected to be delivered by the project team? Of course, these deliverables must be in accordance with the project goals.
Along with the project deliverables, you also have to indicate the estimated dates of delivery of these outputs.
When you were talking about the project deliverables, you merely gave an estimate of the delivery dates. It is time to zero in on the exact dates of delivery.
Each project deliverable has corresponding tasks that must be accomplished in order for the deliverables to be obtained. In your project schedule, indicate:
- The specific tasks that must be accomplished
- The estimated length of time (in hours, days or weeks) of performing and completing the task
- The costs and other resources required to perform and complete the task
- The target delivery date of the deliverables
When scheduling, be careful to keep things realistic. You do not want to set too tight deadlines, but you do not want it to be so slack that you’ll end up having idle time. Of course, it is a given that there is a chance you will end up needing more time. This can be fixed by going over your schedule and making the necessary adjustments if, and when, possible. With a carefully prepared project schedule, it will be easier for you to justify asking for more time or resources.
The project plan may be standalone, but it does not hurt at all to have supporting plans to prop it up a bit. Examples of such plans are:
- Risk Management Plan, where risks that may be encountered by the project are identified and possible responses are prepared.
- Human Resource Plan, where the roles and responsibilities, as well as accountabilities, of all members of the organization are clearly defined and described. This will aid the project manager in recruiting members to include in the project team.
- Communication Plan, because it is inevitable for project teams to collaborate with other teams. By coming up with this plan, there is a clearer picture of how information is transmitted or exchanged among the teams. This also includes reportorial responsibilities.
The Project Life Cycle
Project planning will not be possible if there is no project life cycle to speak of. This refers to the series of activities that must be performed or accomplished in order to achieve the project goals. Granted, projects differ in size, focus and complexity. Still, they all follow the same life cycle.
The project life cycle includes five phases. This is also often referred to as traditional project management which has five major process steps.
This involves the determination of the nature and scope of the project. In order to do that, there is a need to look into the business environment and understand how it works. Some of the key activities in this stage are:
- Analysis of business requirements
- Evaluation of historical and current data on the business’ operations, including financial reports and budgets
- Identification of stakeholders and analysis of their roles and impact
- Identification of the stakeholder needs
- Identification of project objectives
It is during this phase that feasibility studies are often conducted. These are excellent tools in figuring out possible options that can address the issues at hand and help achieve the project objective.
It is also often during this phase that the project manager is chosen and installed, as well as the members of the project team and the other participating work groups.
We move on to the more detailed phase of the project. A project plan or a flowchart is prepared to plan the timing, schedule, costs and allocation of resources to perform the activities in the project. This involves taking into account the cost of associated risks during implementation of the activities of the project. It is also during this stage that the project team will gain the final approval to proceed with the project. Activities performed in the planning stage include:
- Putting the planning team together
- Identifying the deliverables of the project, including quality targets and control measures (these may be your baseline)
- Identifying the activities that must be performed
- Developing a work breakdown structure and mapping their interconnections
- Obtaining cost estimates for materials, equipment, labor, and other costs
- Preparation of project budget
- Developing a schedule for carrying out the activities in the work breakdown
- Identification of potential threats, problems or risks and formulation of appropriate responses should these threats, problems or risks crop up in the course of the project implementation
There is no fixed number of activities to be performed in a project. Some projects may have only a handful of tasks, while other projects consist of a long list of activities. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as you keep your eye on the objective.
3. Executing or Implementing
This is the implementation phase, where the key activities of the project are performed or executed in order to obtain the project deliverables previously identified. In other words, the project plan is now set into motion.
Here, the following activities are undertaken:
- Allocation of resources to the appropriate activities or project phases
- Coordination with key stakeholders
- Carrying out the tasks listed in the plan
- Reporting the project progress in regular meetings
4. Monitoring and Controlling
Every step of the project, there is a need to track its progress. This is helpful, so problems can be identified and addressed in order to minimize risks. Feedback plays a major role in this stage. There may be variances from the baseline or target previously set. If they cannot be corrected to bring things back to the original plan, they should be documented as variances.
This phase calls for:
- Measurement of activities as they take place
- Keeping an eye on the project variables and continuously comparing them with the plan
- Taking the appropriate actions to correct problems and address issues
- Regular reporting to stakeholders
- Documentation of progress and updating of the plan, if any
- Review of project deliverables in accordance with the baseline or targets
5. Closing or Completion
At this stage, the project is formally declared to be completed. This will only take place when the stakeholders have accepted and were satisfied with the final output or deliverable.
- Releasing or delivering the final deliverables
- Documentation and archiving of the project files and other pertinent documents used and generated throughout the project
- Conduct of post-implementation review, where lessons learned are talked about, in view of being applied in future, upcoming projects
There is also a need to formally communicate the closure of the project to all the stakeholders.
The Project Manager
In every project, there are several players at work, and the lead character is the Project Manager. You may have assembled a team of highly talented and skilled individuals, with specialized skills needed to get the project done. But you will still need a focal point – that one person who will manage the whole project, all aspects of it, from start to finish.
The Project Manager is the one handed the overall responsibility for the different processes involved in project management, from initiation to the closing of the project. He is the one who is responsible for achieving the objectives of the project.
Listed below are the key functions or responsibilities expected of a project manager:
- Creating effective project plans and project management plans
- Setting project objectives
- Identifying the requirements or needs of the project
- Overseeing all aspects of the project, including cost and time
- Creating reports about the status of the project, and corresponding metrics
- Communicating with top management or program managers about the project progress
- Liaising with other departments and projects within the organization
- Coordinating with external parties and other outside stakeholders
OVERVIEW OF NON-TRADITIONAL PROJECT MANAGEMENT APPROACHES
We have touched on the traditional project management approach, which talks about the stages of initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing or completion. However, this is not the only approach applicable, since there have been more methodologies developed through the years. Let us go through each of them briefly.
- Lean Project Management: This lean approach focuses on reducing time and waste without compromising on the value being delivered. The concepts often included are lean manufacturing and lean construction, since these are areas that often have to deal with bottlenecks and wastage.
- Iterative approaches: Agile project management is possibly one of the most talked about concepts these days. Usually applied in the field of software development and information technology, agile focuses primarily on human collaboration and iteration. Various methodologies have been developed surrounding the agile concept, and they include Scrum, Extreme Programming, Kanban and Crystal Clear.
- Critical Chain Project Management: The focus of this approach is to deal with the uncertainties that come with project management. Of course, it also takes into account that these uncertainties must be dealt with despite the limited availability of resources allocated for the project.
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