In a nutshell
1. What is project management?
A project is any one-off initiative that
- Has a start and end
- Has a clear purpose
- Will use resources
- Will cost time and probably money
- Will involve a number or lots of people
- Will be complex
- In other words, not a simple task, but a number of inter-related tasks
- Involving a number of people who need to be informed what they are required to do
- Will run over a period of time
- Will go through a series of sequential stages, each with a life cycle
- Will deliver an output that the owner can then put to use to achieve a desired outcome for the organisation.
So it needs quite a lot of skill and ability to manage one well... That’s why project management has become a recognised discipline in the last few decades.
2. Why, what and how
There are a number of essentials that need to be in place before a project can be managed effectively:
- It is vital that the project’s objective is clearly defined and that the scope (what is included and what is excluded) is set in advance
- It is critical that there is a business case for the project
- It is also important to define the boundaries of the project and, within the project, to identify the full content of work to be done – how long it will take, how much it will cost and what quality is expected
- The plan – how – should include the timescale, the team, stakeholders, budget, resources, desired quality and schedule.
3. Who is involved?
Lots of people can be involved in a project – usually depending on how big a project it is. Amongst them may be
- Project owner/sponsor/executive
- Project manager
- Team manager
- Work package manager
- Team members
- Project board or committee
- Customers (who may or may not be users)
- Other stakeholders
4. At the beginning
When you first become involved in a project, there are some basic things you should try to determine:
- What is the background to the project? Who proposed it, when and why?
- Are the terms of reference, project mandate, statement of requirements or statement of works clear?
- Are your roles and responsibilities unambiguous?
- Is the business case still valid and realistic?
- Is there a plan or do you need to produce one to make sure the stated objectives are achievable before you commit to them.
- What is the governance structure for the project – who do you report to?
- Project mismanagement – look for signs!
- Why have you been involved in the project – what are the expectations of you?
- What type of project is it?
- Should you get some training?
5. From mandate to brief
It may be that you are joining a project that is up and running or at least is all ready to start. So if you’ve answered all the initial questions to your satisfaction, you can then get stuck in. But if, as is often the case, not everything is already done, you’ll need to do it yourself. This may include
- Checking that there is a clear project mandate
- Checking that the sponsor/owner has the correct level of authority
- Confirming user requirements
- Preparing the project brief.
6. Making the business case
The business case is used to explain why the effort and time that will go into the project is worth the expenditure. Created by the project sponsor (or delegated to the project manager, but always with the accountability remaining with the project owner/sponsor), it should contain
- The reasons for undertaking the project, including a consideration of the possible options
- A specification of the expected benefits
- A summary of the key risks the project may face
- The cost of the project
- The timescale
- An investment appraisal.
7. Getting started
Often the most important bit is the project start-up! Never, ever just rush headlong into it. These are some of the things you may want to think about:
- What stage is the project at?
- Am I joining it after it’s already approved?
- How do I know the objective is achievable?
- What should I do if I think it’s impossible (time, cost, quality, benefits)?
- How do I know we can do it in time?
- How do I know we can do it within budget?
- Who has decided on the quality needed? Can it be delivered?
- How do I pick a team? Do they need to be full-time or part-time?
- Can I persuade people to spare people for the team?
- How committed is the sponsor/how much influence do they have?
- Who are the stakeholders?
- What is a communications plan? Why is it so important?
- How do I involve the users?
Over the lifecycle of a project, there will be many different people with an interest or involvement in it – including those who will be affected by it. These are the ‘stakeholders’, who may be internal and/or external to the organisation.
Stakeholders can have power and influence that is sufficient to disrupt or stop your project. So you would be wise to
- Analyse who they are and what their opinion is
- Create a communication plan
- Keep supporters on side
- Persuade doubters
- Neutralise opponents.
9. Planning a project
Once a project has moved from its original mandate to a project brief and a business case, a fair amount of planning will have been undertaken. But before the project actually begins in earnest, project plans should be in place. Considerations include
- Recognising assumptions (and recording them)
- Having a work breakdown structure, flow diagrams, network analysis, schedule (such as a Gantt chart) and specifications
- Breaking the project down into stages
- Choosing milestones, such as the end of a stage, so that you can monitor progress
- Making sure that progress will be reviewed at appropriate intervals
- Understanding what are the expected benefits so you can ensure they are delivered
- Allowing for contingencies
10. Managing risks
There is a whole topic on Risk Management within this resource, where you’ll find answer to questions such as
- What is risk?
- How do I identify risks?
- How do I assess each risk?
- What does mitigating risk mean?
- How do I mitigate risk?
- What possible constraints, dependencies and other risk problems should I be thinking about?
- What is a risk log?
11. Tools and techniques
There are a number of tools and techniques that can be used, including
- A work breakdown structure, breaking down all that is required to fulfil the project into tasks and sub-tasks
- Estimating the duration of the project, through lessons learned reviews, standard times or bench-marking
- A ‘critical path’ – the route through the series of activities or tasks needed by the project which has the longest duration; it is used to forecast the length of time a project will take
- A Gantt chart, which is a bar chart that illustrates a project schedule in an easily understandable form
- Change control.
12. Managing the project
Once the project is under way, it will need managing.
- The business case should be reviewed regularly to check whether anything critical has changed and so you can take appropriate action if it has.
- To prioritise, you should use the critical path as a guide and also keep a close eye on spending in relation to the budget.
- Control the costs by watching the more expensive items in the budget.
- The monitoring of commitments made is much more important than the monitoring of actual cash flow.
- Manage stakeholders by keeping to the communications plan.
- Time spent on stakeholder analysis can help to avoid running into internal politics.
- A PESTLIED analysis can help you deal with external politics.
- Reviewing progress is a key part of the project manager’s role.
- Decision-making is an integral part of project management and making the right, or good, decisions can make all the difference between success and failure.
- Reports are also an integral part of project management.
- If things start to go wrong, the first thing is to understand why, so you can start to form a plan to correct the problem.
13. Managing the people
There are many topics within this resource that will help you manage the people involved in the project. Separately, you will need to manage both the project sponsor and others outside the team who nevertheless have a stake in the project.
You need to choose the style of management and leadership that is appropriate to each individual in the team.
Managing the project’s owner/sponsor means keeping them well informed, not holding back bad news, but always suggesting ways to overcome bad situations and trying to influence the ‘boss’ to use their skills and authority to the best ends of the project.
Managing people outside the team, including contractors and other stakeholders. The important thing here is to communicate and use your political intelligence.
14. Problems along the way
Unfortunately, projects don’t usually run as smoothly as planned and problems crop up along the way. For example:
- The team isn’t working together
- Nobody is giving the project priority
- Time is passing, but there is no apparent progress
- It’s not going to do the job!
- It just isn’t going to be good enough!
- People are resisting it
- It’s running over budget
- You need more money
- You need more resources
- You need more time
- You need to get the team motivated...
- You need more support from the sponsor
- You need a back-up plan.
To find solutions to these problems, you first need to identify the cause by asking yourself some searching questions.
15. Delivering the benefits
Gaining the benefits from the project is critical to success – this involves getting the expected outcomes from the projects output. So you have to
- Make sure the benefits are delivered
- Involve users early on in defining what they want
- Make sure they have any training that may be required
- Recognise the impact of change – working with the grain and planning for the transition from old to new ways of doing things, while keeping ‘business as usual’ running, is central to managing benefits
16. Closing a project
Projects need to be formally closed down when the work is complete.
- It’s important for future projects to capture lessons learned from your project. One way for the organisation to do this is to capture the lessons learned from the outgoing project manager and keep these in a format that is readily available to new or incoming project managers.
- Another way to capture the lessons is with facilitated workshops, where team members are motivated to openly discuss what happened as a way of sharing and absorbing valuable lessons.
- Manage the team’s break up – arrange a party, help team members find new positions, get training and so on.
- Know what you are going to do next!
17. What else do I need to know about?
It’s a big subject, but you may want to know about:
- What project management qualifications there are
- PRINCE2 – a methodology and a qualification
- Programme management – a definition
- Portfolio management – what is it?
- Project capability as competitive advantage
- Benchmarking and maturity models