An Introduction to Project Management

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The purpose of this article is to provide an understanding of project management, and a brief overview of the methodology that underpins most formally run projects.

Many organisations do not employ full time Project Managers and it is common to pull together a project team to address a specific need. While most people are not formally skilled in project methodology, taking a role in a project team can be an excellent learning opportunity and can enhance a person’s career profile.

Project management in the modern sense began in the early 1960s, although it has its roots much further back in the latter years of the 19th century. The need for project management was driven by businesses that realised the benefits of organising work around projects and the critical need to communicate and co‑ordinate work across departments and professions. One of the first major uses of project management as we know it today was to manage the US space programme. The government, military and corporate world have now adopted this practice.

Here are the main definitions of project management:

Project management is no small task.
Project management has a definite beginning and end.
It is not a continuous process.
Project management uses various tools to measure accomplishments and track project tasks. These include work breakdown structures, gantt charts and PERT [program evaluation and review technique]charts.
Projects frequently need resources on an ad hoc basis
as opposed to organisations that have only dedicated full‑time positions.
Project management reduces risk and increases the
chance of success.
Project management is often summarised in a triangle (see Figure 1). The three most important factors are time, cost and scope, commonly called the triple constraint. These form the vertices with quality as a central theme.

Projects must be delivered on time.
Projects must be within cost.
Projects must be within scope.
Projects must meet customer
quality requirements.

More recently, this has given way to a project management diamond, with time, cost, scope and quality the four vertices, and customer expectations as a central theme (see Figure 2). No two customer expectations are the same so you must ask what their customer’s expectations are.
A project goes through six phases during
its life.

Project Definition
Defining the goals, objectives and critical success factors for the project.
Project Initiation
Everything that is needed to set-up the project before work can start.
Project Planning
Detailed plans of how the work will be carried out including time, cost and
resource estimates.
Project Execution
Doing the work to deliver the product, service or desired outcome.
Project Monitoring And Control
Ensuring that a project stays on track and taking corrective action when necessary.
Project Closure
Formal acceptance of the deliverables and disbanding of all the elements that were required to run the project.

The role of the project manager is one of great responsibility. It is the project manager’s job to direct, supervise and control the project from beginning to end. Project managers should not carry out project work, as managing the project is enough. Here are some of the activities that must be undertaken:

The project manager must define the project, reduce it to a set of manageable tasks, obtain appropriate resources and build a team.
The project manager must set the final goal for the project and motivate their team to complete the project on time.
The project manager must inform all stakeholders of progress on a regular basis.
The project manager must assess and mitigate risks to the project.
No project ever goes exactly as planned, so project managers must learn to adapt to and manage change.

A project manager must have a wide range of skills including:

Leadership;
People management (customers, suppliers, functional managers and project team);
Effective communication
(verbal and written);
Influencing;
Negotiation;
Conflict management;
Planning;
Contract management;
Estimating;
Problem solving;
Creative thinking; and
Time management.

“Project managers bear ultimate responsibility for making things happen. Traditionally, they have carried out this role as mere implementers. To do their jobs they needed to have basic administrative and technical competencies. Today they play a far broader role. In addition to the traditional skills, they need to have business skills, customer relations skills, and political skills. Psychologically, they must be results-oriented self-starters with a high tolerance for ambiguity, because little is clear-cut in today’s tumultuous business environment. Shortcomings in any of these areas can lead to project failure.”
– J. Davidson Frame

Many things can go wrong in project management. These things are often called barriers and include:

Poor communication;
Disagreement;
Misunderstandings;
Bad weather;
Union strikes;
Personality conflicts;
Poor management; and
Poorly defined goals and objectives.

A good project management discipline will not eliminate all risks, issues and surprises, but it will provide standard processes and procedures to deal with them and help prevent the following:

Projects finishing late, exceeding budget or not meeting customer expectations;
Inconsistency between the processes and procedures used by projects managers, leading to some being favoured more than others;
Successful projects, despite a lack of planning, achieved through high stress levels, goodwill and significant amounts of overtime;
Project management seen as not adding value, or a waste of time and money; and
Unforeseen internal and/or external events impacting the project.

Project management is about creating an environment and conditions in which a defined goal or objective can be achieved in a controlled manner by a team of people.

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About Author

Duncan Haughey

Duncan Haughey is an MBA and career long project manager with an extensive working background in IT with consumer goods giant Unilever. He is passionate about good communication and team building in his day-to-day work. He also strongly believes in coaching, empowerment and facilitation. Duncan share's his project management insights and experiences at Project Smart. Website address: www.projectsmart.co.uk

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