Successful Project Management is one of the the key organizational strategies to saving money and satisfying customers in troubled economic times.

As we wade through yet another series of economic crises our organizational imperatives lean towards managing our work on time and on budget. No longer can we afford to exceed budget requirements and time constraints. Still, we must continue to meet and exceed our customer expectations and quality requirements in order to maintain our market position. Michael Stanleigh explains how business can learn to better manage projects, thus saving tremendous dollars and increasing customer satisfaction.

Successful project management is not a new fad or strategy but rather a pragmatic approach to work. As we approach the 21st century we are seeing it bring many organizations tremendous success.

The Project Management Institute’s “Body of Knowledge” defines a project as a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product or service. Projects can take as long as half a day to three years and require a single resource to multiple resources operating around the world. Project Management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques necessary to develop and successfully execute the project plan so the project will meet or exceed customer and stakeholder needs and expectations.

Project management is a process, best articulated by the Project Management Life Cycle. Designed to act as a simple guide, the life cycle helps those responsible for the management of projects, regardless of projects’ size. When followed, the life cycle ensures that customer and quality expectations are met, and successful project plans are executed to bring the project to a successful end.

STEP 1: Defining the Project

Projects can come from anywhere: an accepted proposal, business requirements, specifications, customer request, etc. The individual who oversees the project is the Project Sponsor. He or she selects the project manager and ultimately will complete the final evaluation of the project and its project members. The sponsor develops a Project Charter to present to the project manager or may provide a copy of the business requirement or customer requirement etc. These documents outline the main purpose of the project and expected deliverables.

As the project manager is accountable for the project’s success, following the Project Management Life Cycle is crucial. The project manager must select appropriate resources relative to the project size then bring the key resources together to kick-off the project. At the initial meeting, the project charter will be reviewed, the project team will be formed, and the scope statement will reiterate the project manager’s (and team’s if this is a project requiring a team) understanding of the project’s mandate, its deliverables, and overall scope.

Although this stage doesn’t require a lot of time, it forms the foundation for project’s success. 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.

STEP 2: Developing the Project Plan

This stage of the project life cycle requires the most effort on the part of the project manager and project team, yet in a relatively short time span.

At this stage the activities and related tasks are identified, a time frame and a resource allocation is attached to each. This is a sequential flow of activity knows 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, so I have set some rules of thumb to follow. On a project with a total duration of three months or more, the lowest level task should be no more than five days. If total duration is less than three months but more than one month, the lowest level task should be no more than two days. If total duration is less than one month, the lowest level of task should be no more than one day. These control criteria are often missing.

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 start) and a successor (what can begin only when this task is complete). 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 (if your project has been given a budget, or if you have been asked to develop one) to the lowest level of task possible.

At this point we have three control mechanisms:

  • Activities are identified to meet customer requirements.
  • Start and finish times are set for each activity and related tasks.
  • Costs are broken down to the lowest level of activity possible.

This stage in the project life cycle creates the control mechanisms that ensure the project’s success. If poorly completed and not to the level if detail suggested, the project is likely to come in over-time and over-budget and lack customer focus.

STEP 3: Project Execution

The plan is now complete. All project team members and additional resources know what they must do, when they should do it, how long it should take, what costs are involved, and, when finished, who can begin his or her task.

Weekly project team meeting ensure commitments are met. They allow time to review what was to have been started and finished over the past week compared to what was actually started and finished. This is not to apportion blame, rather to identify the early warning signs of potential problems and ways to prevent them. As project manager you must 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 project management is that there will be customer changes, sponsor changes, management changes, to name a few. In order to maintain the basic integrity of the project, it is essential that a change document form be completed and signed by the project sponsor. This on-page document describes 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 any 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, etc. of the project.

STEP 4: Project Close

With the control mechanisms in place, weekly project meetings, use of the change management document, and continuous quality and customer checks, the project should now be on time and on budget.

The original scope statement, cost and time structure, as well as customer requirements may be different than what the final project delivered. As long as there are authorized change management forms to account for these differences, then the project is a success. The final project represents the original scope statement plus all authorized change documents. If these don’t exist, but the end project differs from the original scope statement, the project is not considered a success. No excuses as to why!

I have audited and managed many projects, and taught many people on how to successfully manage projects, as well. The key is to understand that project management is a process, not just knowledge of the tools.

Michael Stanleigh

Michael Stanleigh, CMC, CSP, CSM is the CEO of Business Improvement Architects. He works with leaders and their teams around the world to improve organizational performance by helping them to define their strategic direction, increase leadership performance, create cultures that drive innovation and improve project and quality management. Michael’s experience spans public and private sector organizations in over 20 different countries. He also delivers presentations to businesses and conferences throughout the world. In addition to his consulting practice and global speaking he has been featured and published in over 500 different magazines and industry publications. For more information about this article you may contact Michael Stanleigh at mstanleigh@bia.ca