So, what really is Project Management? That’s a question worth your attention.
As we know, Projects are catalysts for change, they result in breaking status-quo, delivering something which has never existed before. Immense technological milestones have been achieved by human beings since centuries starting from Egyptian Pyramids, and Great Wall of China to today’s cutting-edge, state of the art advancements in every walk of life. All this have been possible due to conceptualizing something new & further delivering it. In the backdrop of each of these historical events, has been Project Management in one way or other. In recent years, Project Management has been formally developed as a fully functional field of study & is considered a vital skillset for the professionals especially deployed with organizations regularly working on Projects.
The whole process of Project Management may be divided into four major segments (sometimes referred as Steps, Phases or Process Groups), these include
- Planning (Conceptualization etc.),
Another step which envelops all of these is known as Monitoring, which sometimes is considered as an additional Process or otherwise considered part of each Step enlisted earlier. Each of these processes contains many separate activities, each of which are specific to their relevant Step.
Let’s have a look at how all these contribute to the project life cycle.
This is the very first step marking the beginning of the journey to deliver a concept Product, Service or Result. During the planning step a specific Product, Service, or Result is conceptualized & further steps are taken to elaborate the business need of the same as well as the necessary Scope of the Product, Service or result.
Identify the Core Problem
First things first, at the very early stage, we need to identify the actual problem for which we need to develop a solution, this problem will be the foundation of the whole project & all the concepts, Ideas, Plans & rest of the Project Management related activities will be revolving around resolving this problem. Normally, companies involved with Projects come across some ideas from some internal or external clients with a problem statement & are invited to bring their solutions for further consideration. Sometimes we may also be presented with a few solutions to some specific problem & are invited to select the best one to be implemented in order to resolve the problem. However, it may vary based on the situations.
Defining Project Objectives
Once the problem is identified, the next step is to sketch out what the results or deliverables will be looking like or what features the outcomes must contain. This is vital to identify the all expected features before moving on to the next steps of planning & execution. Failure to define the detailed objectives of the outcomes will result is diverting from the actual expectations of the outcomes of the project.
Determine scope, resources, and major tasks/activities
To determine the Project scope is actually defining the project boundary, it is about building a wall around the project. Everything inside the boundary is necessary & supposed to be completed to deliver the Product, Service or Outcomes of the project. It is the only scope which is supposed to be completed & all of this scope is completed. To plan in a proper manner & keep the Project in control, a number of tools & techniques are utilized at this stage i.e. WBS, WBS Dictionary etc. These tools & techniques are here to help define Scope in a systematic manner & aid in the further planning process.
Scope, Schedule, Cost, Resources, Risk & Quality are the project constraints, the outcomes of the project actually result from mix-up of these constraints. Variation in any of these constraints will reflect on the project outcomes. or instance if in the middle of the project the schedule is squeezed by the client or Management now we have two options either have a trade off with money & resources (pour more of Cost & Resources to complete the project in new schedule) or deliver something which is not meeting the expected/planned outcomes of the Project which for sure will not be acceptable to any of the stakeholders.
This is actually the build-up step of the project, here we will perform certain activities which will lead to further project implementation. At this stage, we bring the team together, Time estimates are converted into Schedule, and Cost estimates are converted into budgets. The resources are gathered & we have commitments & we make them.
The very first thing to do here is to assemble a team capable to handle the project end to end. Of course, we already have a small team to help plan the project but now we need more experts to perform the real project planning and execution related stuff. A lot of subject matter experts (SME’s) are now required to get the technical aspects of the project done.
Responsibility Assignment Planning
The team is here now, but what will each of the team members do? It is required to plan in detail with a clear definition of roles & responsibilities, so that during the Project Life Cycle things may move in a systematic fashion. For the purpose of such planning, we need to involve the team members so that they may provide their consent based on their skillset which will, later on, result in a smooth flow of the project.
As project management is all about doing things in a collaborative manner, we need to announce the formal start of the project, which is done during the kick off meeting, all the key stakeholders are invited & major project milestones are explained, a review of the time frame as a big picture is also needed to be performed. Any suggestions are also collected & further considered for analysis & incorporation to the plans if required.
The time estimates for each activity & work package are prepared & further converted into the formal schedule, this schedule is now a baseline for project performance measurement during the project life cycle. To create a realistic Project Schedule team involvement is mandatory, which formally results in internal buy-in & pave the way for the successful execution of the project.
Another vital component of the Project is known as Cost. The cost for each activity is estimated individually & further accumulated as Project Budget; the same budget is further used as a baseline to measure the project performance. The team involvement is important here, to ensure the buy-ins & smooth performance during execution. One thing to remember is that a budget, no matter how carefully is developed is always a guess & may need adjustments later on & variations with actual spending & budget are always expected, so the key is to closely monitor & control.
Now is the time to put the plans to action. Most of the project effort happens at this stage & most of the project resources are required during the implementation stage. This stage is the most exciting as a lot of activity is going on here. It is also the most frustrating stage due to the immense pressure to meet the goals & perform the things as per plans.
Monitor & Control Budget, Scope, & Schedule
Keeping the bigger picture of the project in view is important at this stage, no matter which approach of Project Management is being adopted, the key goal here will be to maintain the control over the three Major constraints of the Project Scope, Schedule & Cost. If we can keep these in control there is no problem in managing the whole project. Adaptation of Project Management approach is another important aspect, there are a few great approaches to manage a project but not all of the these are a perfect fit for a given situation. An approach which is best for huge projects may prove useless & wash away the project due to heavy documentation & paperwork involved. So, while selecting the approach for your project we need to consider the whole scenario of the project.
Project performance may effectively be measured through proper reporting, a lot of different types of reports are available for selection, only those which are necessary and may reflect the true picture of what’s going on under the hood in the project must be adapted. Progress Reports, Status Reports, Performance Reports are few of these. The reports are generated through the work performance data collected from Project site, which is further converted into information, which then is populated into reports to display the whole picture of the projects. Most of this stuff is done in an automated way through different software these days.
Issues & Problem Management
The important task which is the responsibility of the Project Manager is keeping an eye on the Project, identifying the potential problem areas, uncovering conflicts & addressing & managing these problems to solve & safeguard the project from these. It’s important to pay attention to the small signals & triggers of emerging problems, these indicators may include a team member’s increased frustration, lack of interest & enthusiasm, or inability to decision making. Avoiding problems is not a proper approach, we need to face & resolve the problems, find the potential root causes & eliminate these.
As soon as project deliverables are accepted and handed over to the client, the project needs to be formal. The Staff may be released, Project procurements need to be formally closed, all unused material, resources & equipment need to be returned. The project performance needs to be evaluated & all project records & documents are required to be archived.
Project Performance Evaluation
The project is complete, but it is to be evaluated if it met its goals as defined at beginning or not? The project performance, as well as the performance of the product, are needed to be verified if it met its expected target & performed accordingly. The project performance with respect to the agreed scope is also measured. At this stage, Project scope is used as a yardstick to measure the outcomes performance.
Once Project deliverables are accepted & handed over, all relevant documents are archived & project resources are released. Now the project will be formally closed. If everything went as per plan & project has delivered for what it was planned, it’s time to celebrate.
The project may sometimes have had a lot of rollercoaster ride along the way, may also result in over budgeting, over scheduling or show the inability to deliver the outcomes as expected. But still we are supposed to recognize the team’s efforts & accomplishments.
Regardless of Project outcomes, a post-evaluation debriefing session with the Project Management team is a key event at the end of the project, which serves the purpose to brief them regarding the performance and major events during the Project Lifecycle. This must also be documented in the lessons learned. It’s an opportunity to discover the whole Project Life cycle positively rather than blaming or criticizing. This event may be used to find the best way to perform certain things in a project which actually went wrong. The critical team members must be involved to make sure their contribution at this stage leads to the success of the future project.