Because you’re not a full-time project manager, managing a project is probably a challenge because you will likely have other job priorities. So finding the time to work on your project and gather together the resources you require to execute it can be difficult. Without sound knowledge of the project life cycle and project planning requirements you may be spinning your wheels and risking failure.

Projects Are Part of Your Job

At some point in your career you will likely have to manage a project. Your projects might include: developing a marketing plan, organizing a training event, creating a new product or service, developing a new manufacturing process, creating a new web design, or some other temporary endeavour. A project is a temporary endeavour to create a unique product or service that has a measurable end result. You may undertake a project as an individual or in a team.

Most organizations do not have full-time project managers. Rather, managing projects from time to time may just be part of your everyday job. This can be stressful because you may not have received any training for how to manage a project effectively and so find it difficult to find the time or solicit the necessary resources to support them.

Unfortunately, many organizations today suffer enormous costs owing to bad project management because they do not have a clear process for managing projects in place; one that is simple yet ensures that all projects, whether managed by an individual or a team, are successful. The root cause of many of these project failures is the lack of clarity of project scope and poorly defined project plans.

Why do you need a more structured approach to managing your projects (what we refer to as project management for the non-project manager)? Well, you need it because:

  • You’re stressed about how to stay on top of your project assignments and still get your job requirements done.
  • You feel like you are constantly putting out fires on your projects and would like to feel more in control.
  • You’ve been asked to manage an important event, program or other project and you don’t know how to get started or what process to use to ensure you do it well.

Roger Martin of the Rotman School of Management recently stated in an interview, “At desks and in meeting rooms, every day of their working lives, knowledge workers hammer away in decision factories. Their raw materials are data, either from their own information systems or from outside providers…they engage in production processes – called meetings – that convert this work to finished goods in the form of decisions…and they participate in post-production services (following up on decisions). In regular factories, employees are consumed by repetitive daily tasks. But in decision factories, the focus is on project work. Whether it’s developing an advertising campaign or preparing a budget or coming up with a new product, knowledge workers operate in project mode. You often hear in organizations the rhetoric that a project is taking away from the job. But most white collar work is projects.”

Managing an entire project from start to finish can be a daunting task. Good planning makes all the difference; the project plan has to clearly take into account stakeholder requirements and clearly articulate: the project’s scope, work breakdown structure, budget and duration. You must also be able to present and report to management on the project’s progress. There are many useful techniques and tools to help create an effective project plan and manage projects well; so you are able to maintain a good balance between your everyday job and project assignments.

Adding some structure to your projects will reduce your stress and give you confidence about managing projects because a structure will help you create highly effective ways to develop your project plans, meet stakeholder expectations, work on a project team and keep management informed as to your project’s progress.

Managing a project effectively requires sound planning techniques and people skills. Because you’re not a full-time project manager, managing a project is probably a challenge because you will likely have other job priorities. So finding the time to work on your project and gather together the resources you require to execute it can be difficult. Without sound knowledge of the project life cycle and project planning requirements you may be spinning your wheels and risking failure. So, where do you start?

The Key Stages in Managing a Project

STAGE 1—Project Initiation: Identify Sponsor and Charter the Project

Projects can come from anywhere—an accepted proposal, business requirements, specifications, customer request, etc. A Project Sponsor is the individual who oversees the project. The sponsor selects the Project Manager by using a competency evaluation which verifies their past experiences, skills, and knowledge and develops and presents to the project manager, a Project Charter that outlines the main purpose of the project and its expected deliverables.

STAGE 2—Project Definition: Develop Project Team and Scope Statement

The Project Manager is accountable for project success. Following the Project Management Process therefore becomes crucial. If the project is large enough to require additional people, the project manager will select appropriate resources to work together with him/her. The project manager will invite these key resources to a “kick-off meeting” where there will be a review of the Project Charter and the team will form its operating guidelines and develop the project’s Scope Statement. The Scope Statement reiterates the project manager’s (and team’s, if one is in place) understanding of the project’s mandate, its deliverables and overall scope.

Lastly, the project manager and team will identify all customer and other stakeholder requirements for the project to ensure that they do not overlook their needs. Defining stakeholder requirements at this early stage makes it easier to integrate their needs into the project plan. Many projects are unsuccessful because they do not end up meeting the needs of the intended customers and/or other stakeholders for whom the project was designed.

Although this Stage doesn’t require a lot of time (often completed within a day), it forms the foundation for project success. When I’ve audited projects that have gone awry I’ve usually found that these projects lacked a clear Scope Statement or have little to no customer requirements identification and as well, there have been little thought and effort to bring the right individuals together to form and develop the project team. It is little wonder then why they find, mid-way through the project, that there isn’t agreement on “what the scope is of this project.”

STAGE 3—Project Planning: Develop the Project Plan

This stage requires the most effort that must happen in a relatively short span of time (usually one to two intensive days…dependent upon the size of the project). The project team identifies all the activities and related tasks required to successfully meet scope statement requirements. They will need to attach duration of time completion for each task as well as assignment of a resource to be accountable for achieving it. The activities and tasks are structured as a sequential flow of activity known as a Work Breakdown Structure.

Too often, 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. This generally leads to projects that lose time and commitment by the team members. As well, these projects will often face schedule delays as a result.

To change the Work Breakdown Structure from a “To Do List” into a full project plan, it is important to identify “dependencies” that relate to accomplishing each planned activity. Every activity must have both a predecessor (what must be done before this task can be started) and a successor (what can begin only when this task is completed). As well, it is important to identify project milestones; these represent the point of completion of key tasks that, if missed, may prevent the project from achieving successful completion. The final part of the project planning stage is to allocate costs to the lowest level of task possible.

The Project Manager and Sponsor will now approve 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 and at what cost.

STAGE 4—Project Execution: The Project Begins

In the project execution phase, the project team must review the project’s schedule and budget progress on a weekly basis at weekly project team meetings. The main objective for each meeting is to examine the progress of each resource’s planned start and finish tasks over the past week as compared to their actual start and finish dates. The next part of each meeting will be a discussion of issues that have arisen over any slippage in schedule or budget as well as any other issues about the project which may need to be addressed. Project meetings are important and should be scheduled regularly; they provide the team with an opportunity to identify the early warning signs of potential problems at a point when they can be rectified.

Change is inherent in all projects; there may be customer changes, sponsor changes, management changes, or such. In order to maintain the basic integrity of the project it is essential to have an organized method for initiating changes and communicating them to those persons that they affect. If changes occur, the project manager and project team should complete and sign a “Change Request” form and give it to the Project Sponsor to sign and approve. This one-page document includes what the change is, what impact it will have on the project if approved, what impact it will have on the project if not approved, as well as the options and the recommendations of the project team as to adoption of the change. The project plan, budget, etc. should not be adjusted until the project sponsor and project manager have both approved the change request form.

It is necessary to assess risk continuously throughout the project. Use a Risk Management Process to pinpoint ways to reduce risk likelihood and establish your plan to manage the risk, should it occur.

STAGE 5—Project Close: Closing the Project

Throughout the management of the project there will be lots to deal with for the project manager and project team. You will have to: implement control mechanisms, conduct weekly project meetings, find ways to manage project changes and undertake continuous risk assessments. You’ll also have to review quality and customer expectations and modify your plan to ensure you address them. If the final project delivers something that is different from the original Scope Statement the project will be unsuccessful unless there are change management request forms to document changes in the project’s scope. This requires that the project team maintain a Change Log with completed and approved change requests that account for these differences. The final project represents the original Scope Statement plus all authorized change documentation.

The final step in managing a project is to complete a Project Close-Out Evaluation. This close out step is an opportunity for the project team to articulate the lessons they have learned about what went well, what went wrong and what they recommend happen in future to avoid similar problems from occurring. This documentation passes on important lessons that can help future project teams avoid similar mistakes. As well, it provides project team members with concrete ideas for how to improve performance on future projects. Spending the time and effort at the Project Close stage for proper project close-out evaluation leads to valuable knowledge retention for the organization.

Summary

Managing a project effectively requires sound planning techniques and strong people skills. Because you’re not a full-time project manager, managing a project may be challenging because you probably have other job priorities. So finding the time to work on your project and gather together the resources you require to execute it can be both demanding and exciting. With the sound knowledge of the project life cycle and project planning requirements you will be clearer on your direction and avoid risking failure.

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