Projects comes in all sizes, levels of intricacy, and levels of importance. They can last a few days or many years. For instance, having a few close friends over for a quiet dinner is not a large, intricate project. Having a formal dinner in which the boss and his wife are guests is not a large project either, but could be very important. Providing a banquet for hundreds of people is a large undertaking. It certainly would require at least some planning. Goals might include things like: a signed formal contract before you purchase the food; a visit to the facility where the food will be served; and maybe a contingency weather plan.
In this article, we would like to introduce you to the overall concept of project management and what it entails. This won’t be a “How-To” guide on project management. We certainly can’t delve that deep here. But we can give you a taste of what project management entails.
Definition of project management
I have touched on what project management is in the opening paragraphs. But just what’s the definition? The Project Management Institute, (PMI), defines project management as:
. . . the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements
The PMI goes further and breaks project management activities into five distinct groups. They are:
- Monitoring and Controlling
We will touch on all of these below and see how they come together to form the entire project management effort.
1. Project Initialization
This phase or process of project management is the most interesting. It is where the lead players all come together to establish the goals of the project. It is a process of free association. It is one’s first impressions of the project overall. The main goal of initiating a project is to determine its feasibility. Participants discuss how they view the project, some of its pitfalls, and how to control and monitor progress, time-frames, and costs.
Each participant should go away with an assignment to put their thoughts to paper. Not necessarily in a formal style but at least in outline or Kiplinger format. For example, you may have been tasked with upgrading the company’s computer system. Your IT director may hand you back something that looks like this:
At our initialization meeting to discuss upgrading our computer system you asked me to give you an informal memo on my thoughts. My main concerns are:
- Testing the new system before we commit to installing it
- The disruption to our existing business services
- Training my department on any new software and equipment
All of these are very good points and should be thoroughly covered in the planning phase.
Project planning is probably the least understood processes of project management. The goal in this phase is to describe the deliverables or goals. The customer or upper management must agree on plan. Too many managers tend to either be too vague or too detailed. They don’t communicate between project members enough, and don’t integrate the individual elements of the plan. This leads to confusion, conflict, and delay.
In the example above, the IT manager listed three areas of concern. It is natural then to have him/her expand on the problems and how to avoid them. In regards to testing, for example, maybe written test procedures should be established. For training, a formal training plan for each individual might be required.
And finally, the timeframes for these goals must be established. The IT department manager may estimate 2-4 weeks for training before the system is installed, and so on. It is then up to the project manager to keep the end users informed as to the projected installation date.
At this time, the flowchart and the schedule must be already developed, with all the processes well-defined. If you feel like starting yours, check this tool. It’s free and a easy-o-start one.
In this part of the project, the actual deliverables are produced. Hammers hit nails and code written into computer memory. The project manager does not execute the plan, the “team” does! The project manager is the lead. He/she delegates authority to team members to proceed with the plan as approved by upper management. The project manager has ultimate responsibility for meeting the plan’s goals and objectives, however. Team members will report back to the project manager on the status of their assigned tasks. Formal progress meetings should be scheduled to discuss current progress and impacts of any unforeseen problems.
4. Monitoring and Control
Monitoring and control can be paraphrased into one word, “status”. Status is more than just progress, however. The PM must not only monitor the physical status, but the financial status, quality, and time until completion. If any of these areas do not meet the project’s goals, then a change in procedure must be implemented. This is how control is maintained.
Closing is nothing more than the acceptance of all project goals by the customer or upper management. Remember that a project is a temporary undertaking and therefore has a formal start and end date. Generally closing includes final payment or acceptance. When planning, the final acceptance should also be defined just as any other sub-goal. It is, in essence, the ultimate goal to all other goals within the project plan. Closing will include such items as warranties, vendor guarantees, quality control formal acceptance, receipts for products, and project completion certifications.
In summary, we have discussed what a project is and its constituent parts. Project management is a very broad topic and this article is meant as an overview. Students will study project management techniques over several semesters in most good business management curricula. Even then, most project managers will agree that it is only scratching the surface because each project is unique. No course of instruction can cover it all.