As we wade through yet another series of economic crises our organizational imperatives lean towards managing our work and in particular, our projects, on time and on budget. No longer do we have the luxury to exceed budget and time constraints. Yet we must continue to meet and exceed our customer expectations and quality requirements in order to maintain our market position.
As organizations continue to strive to meet ROI and customer needs, project management is becoming a critical tool, driving organizations towards tremendous success. The successful management of projects is not a new fad or strategy but rather a pragmatic approach to work.
What is Project Management?
By definition, a “project “ is a temporary endeavor (having both beginning and end dates) that will deliver a measurable end result. This can be the delivery of a product, service or system, etceteras. Projects can have a total duration of from half a day to three years and comprise of a single resource to multiple resources operating throughout the world.
How Do We Develop and Manage Projects?
How do we get our people involved in developing the plans and successfully managing these plans to meet our quality and customer expectations? And of course bringing our projects in on time and on budget?
The management of projects is a process. The Project Management Process is a simple guide to manage all projects, regardless of size, to improve their success. When followed, the process ensures that customer and quality expectations are met and that the project will occur successfully and be brought to a successful closure.
Where Do We Start?
STAGE 1—Project Initiation: Identify Sponsor and Charter the Project
This stage forms the background information on the project. Projects can come from anywhere—an accepted proposal, business requirements, specifications, customer request, etc. The individual who oversees the project is known as the Project Sponsor. The Sponsor selects the Project Manager and ultimately will complete the final evaluation of the project. The Sponsor develops a Project Charter to present to the Project Manager or they may provide a copy of the business requirement or customer requirements. These documents outline the main purpose of the project and expected deliverables. The Sponsor will select the Project Manager by using a competency evaluation which verifies their past experiences, skills, and knowledge.
STAGE 2—Project Definition: Develop Project Team; Agree on Project Deliverables and Ensure Customer and Stakeholder Expectations Are Met
The Project Manager will be accountable for project success so following the Project Management Process becomes crucial. As part of Stage 2, the project manager, dependant upon the size of the project, will select appropriate resources to work with them on the project. Once selected, the Project Manager brings all key resources into a “kick-off meeting”. During this meeting, time will be spent on reviewing the Project Charter, forming what will now be the project team and developing the Scope Statement. The Scope Statement will reiterate the project manager’s (and team if this is a project requiring a team) understanding of the project’s mandate, its deliverables and overall scope.
Lastly, the project manager and team will develop a list of customer and other stakeholder requirements. This ensures that their needs will not be overlooked. Many projects are unsuccessful because they do not meet the needs of the customers and/or other stakeholders for whom this project was designed. Defining their requirements at this early stage makes it easier to integrate their needs into the project plan.
Although this Stage doesn’t require a lot of time (often completed within a day), it forms the foundation for project success. In my experience, most projects that I audit lack a clear Scope Statement, have never identified and documented the customer requirements and have spent little, if any time, developing the project team. It is little wonder why they find, mid-way through the project, that there isn’t agreement on “what is the scope of this project”.
STAGE 3—Project Planning: Develop the Project Plan
Stage 3 requires the most effort on the part of the project manager and project team…yet in a relatively short span of time (usually one to two intensive days…dependent upon the size of the project). All the activities and related tasks are identified, duration is attached to each task and a resource allocation to each is made. The activities and tasks are structured as a sequential flow of activity known as a Work Breakdown Structure.
In my experience, the level of detail at this stage is often not sufficient to successfully manage the project and bring it in on time and on budget. When I am brought in to audit projects I often find a lack of detail. This generally leads to projects that lose time and commitment by the team members. As well, these projects are often faced with schedule delays.
To change the Work Breakdown Structure from a “To Do List” into a full project plan, dependencies must be created. Every activity must have both a predecessor (what must be done before this task can be started) ad a successor (what can begin only when this task is completed). Milestones are then identified. These represent the completion of key tasks that if missed, may prevent the project from successful completion. The final part of the project is to allocate costs to the lowest level of task possible. At this point we have three quality control mechanisms:
- Customer requirement activities identified in the project plan to ensure that their expectations are met throughout the project.
- Start and finish times for each activity and related task.
- Costs broken down to the lowest level of activity possible.
This stage ends with sign-off by the Project Sponsor to the final Scope Statement and Project Milestones. All project team members and additional resources will now know what they should do, when they should do it, how long it should take, what costs are involved and when finished, who can then begin their task.
STAGE 4—Project Execution: The Project Begins
To ensure that the project team is meeting commitments during this stage, it is important to hold weekly project team meetings. The main objective for each meeting is to examine each resource’s planned start and finish tasks over the past week compared to their actual start and finish dates. We are not looking for blame, rather to identify the early warning signs of potential problems that can be rectified. For example, a resource may have underestimated their original time or were pulled away, etc. The Project Manager can offer assistance or do whatever is necessary to get the project back on track.
This is also the stage where Change Management is critical. The very nature of managing projects is that there will be customer changes, sponsor changes, management changes, or such. In order to maintain the basic integrity of the project it is essential that a “Change Request” form be completed and signed by the Sponsor. Essentially this one-page document includes what the change is, what impact it will have on the project if approved (more time/money, etc.), what impact it will have on the project if not approved, and the recommendations. When signed, it becomes the basis upon which change can be applied to the project’s baseline, permitting adjustments to total duration, cost, quality, and so on, of the project.
A Risk Assessment is completed throughout the project. The project team uses a Risk Management Process to identify two things:
- What can they do to reduce the likelihood of risks occurring?
- What can they do to manage the risk, should it occur?
Throughout the execution the project team will make sure to review and compare their planned schedule and budget versus the actual. Any differences can be managed by using the Change Management Process or the Risk Management Process.
STAGE 5—Project Close: Closing the Project
This final step in the Project Management Process includes control mechanisms, weekly project meetings, and use of the change management documentation, as well as continuous risk, quality and customer checks. You should now have a project that is on time and on budget.
The original Scope Statement may be different than what the final project actually delivered. As long as there are change management request forms that have been completed and approved to account for these differences, then the project is still considered a success. The final project represents the original Scope Statement plus all authorized change documentation. If these don’t exist but the end project differs from the original Scope Statement, the project is not successful. No excuses as to why!!
As a part of closing the project, it is important to complete a final Project Close-Out Evaluation. The project plan will become a template for all future, similar projects. In this way, the next time you have a similar project, you do not need to go through this entire process in the same amount of detail. Rather, you can use the previous project plan as a template upon which to build the new plan. With the comments on the project evaluation, you’ll know what durations, budget requirements or other elements will need to be adjusted.
Knowledge Retention is critical. Knowing the lessons learned from this project to pass on to other project managers and teams for future application will help to accelerate the management of their projects.
I have audited many projects, managed many projects, taught many people how to successfully manage projects and provided presentations on the management of projects. In my experience I have found that the reasons for which projects get into crisis, go over budget or fail to meet customer requirements is that project teams do not apply a disciplined Project Management Process. The key is to understand that managing projects is a process…not just knowledge of the tools and techniques.