Benefiting from Project Management Practices - Project Management

We'll begin our journey into the world of project management by discussing what project management is and how to take advantage of established practices and tools of the trade. Perhaps you've been recruited to work on your organization's upcoming annual conference. You're working as an assistant to the project manager in charge of making arrangements for the vendors to attend, assigning their exhibit spaces on the conference room floor, and assisting them in making arrangements with the hotel for their hospitality functions on different evenings during the conference. Things progress relatively well until the evening before the conference begins and you discover that several of the vendors' booths are not wired for electricity. To make matters worse, the hotel informs you that they have another conference going on at the same time in another area of the hotel and all their personnel are busy working on those issues and they'll get to you when they get to you.

Applying good project management processes and techniques to your project could have prevented this mishap. That's not to say you'll never experience problems during your projects, but using good project management techniques will make you much better equipped to deal with problems as they arise. And, if you've really done a good job with project planning in particular, you won't be taken by surprise because you will have already accounted for the unexpected.

Project management means applying skills, knowledge, and established project management tools and techniques to your project and the processes used to carry out the project to produce the best results possible. You're going to learn all about those tools and techniques throughout the remainder of this book. Applying these skills once you've learned them is up to you. One thing I can assure you, if you're currently practicing project management by the seat of your pants, you'll notice a big difference in the way your projects play out, and in their success, if you'll apply some of the things outlined here (particularly the planning processes). If you haven't yet delved into project management, following the processes and techniques you're about to learn will make you look like an old pro.

You might be thinking that this whole project management process sounds like a lot of extra time added to the project. Why not just jump in and get started with the real work? In reality, that thinking is incorrect. Remember that time is money, as the old saying goes. Properly planning, executing, and monitoring your project along the way will save you lots of time in the long run. You'll have the tools at hand to measure your success as you go (and to know what you're looking for in the first place). Proper planning and follow-up will prevent mistakes or unplanned events that could creep up on you unexpectedly. At the very least, the impact of those unplanned events (also known as risks) is lessened if they do occur. And if you've saved the company time, what else have you saved?

Note: Utilizing good project management techniques puts you in the driver's seat. Instead of your project running wildly out of control and bumping into every obstacle in its path, you'll steer it to a successful completion by applying the tools and techniques of an established project management process.

Again, good project management techniques put you in the driver's seat. They allow you to control and apply the resources of the project and assure that you and your team are headed for the right destination. As the project manager, you'll realize several advantages when working through your next project by employing good project management techniques. Here's a brief list of the advantages of establishing sound processes in your organization:

  • Improves overall project performance
  • Reduces the time to complete projects
  • Reduces project risk
  • Increases quality
  • Improves communication and provides an open environment for communication
  • Provides standard methodologies for everyone in the organization to follow
  • Ensures consistency in reporting
  • Improves accuracy of project reports

d/or consulting time, to establish project management procedures in your organization. If your company doesn't have an in-house project management expert, this might be one way to get a framework for project management established. Most of these products and processes are easily adaptable to your organization's needs. There are also consultants aplenty who will gladly come in and organize project management processes for your company.

You don't have to purchase someone else's solution, however. With a little time and some elbow grease, and the blessing of your management team, you can develop your own procedures following standards already set out by such organizations as the Project Management Institute (PMI). PMI is the international de facto standard for project management, and I'll rely heavily on PMI guidelines, process, and terminology throughout the rest of this book. There are other project management methodologies besides PMI that will work just as well. In a later section in this chapter, I'll list several websites you can visit to look at their ideas and approaches to project management. Keep in mind that the exact process you use isn't what's important. What is important is that you follow an established procedure and that you properly plan and monitor the work of your project and follow through with good communicating skills and documenting techniques.

Project Management Institute (PMI)

Project Management Institute is a worldwide organization dedicated to promoting the use of standardized project management techniques across industries.

Tools of the Trade

Just as there are established project management standards and practices in existence today, there are several tools and resources available to assist you in various stages of the project. Project management tools are no different than the tools you'd buy if you were building a shed out in your backyard. You should know how the tool is used to derive the most benefit from it, and you shouldn't expect one tool to do everything. You wouldn't use a hammer to screw hinges to the doorframe; in the same way, you shouldn't expect a project scheduling tool to perform risk analysis for you. Above all, no tool takes the place of a good project plan. You can pick up that hammer and start nailing away at boards all day long, but if you don't have a good plan to work from, you may end up with a doghouse instead of a shed.

Note:No tool, no matter how whiz-bang it is, will take the place of good project management practices.

With that caveat behind us, let's take a look at a few of the tools available to help make your next project a success.

Project Management Software

Go ahead, check it out for yourself. Bring up your favorite Internet search engine and type in the words "project management software." You'll be greeted with a host of products from scheduling to time tracking to risk assessment and more. The products abound. Are they all necessary? Are they all good? Well, that depends.

Way back in ancient times, there weren't any computers and thus no computer software programs. People did everything on…can you guess…paper! The point here is that the tool is only as good as the effort you put into it. Automating processes certainly helps your scheduling, planning, and tracking functions (to name a few), but you still need an understanding of how the results you see on the screen are produced. Elementary schools all over the country today teach children how to perform math calculations by hand and require them to memorize the multiplication tables. Why do they do that when they could issue calculators to every child on the first day of school? Because the kids need to understand why 4 pops up on the calculator screen when they plug in 2 × 2. (And that always brings up the question, what happens when the aliens invade and mess with Earth's electromagnetic field and all the computers become art deco paper-weights? Who will do all those calculations?) If you understand the formulas, processes, and theories used to produce the results, you'll have a much better grasp of the impact changes and risk may have on the project.

NoteOne of the best-known packages for project management is Microsoft Project. In some later chapters we'll be looking at different aspects of this software and how it can make project scheduling easier for you. This product is widely used in many different industries today and has practically made " a household term. The strongest features of this product are its scheduling ability and its resource assignment and usage functions. We'll dive into these functions in a later chapter.

Other software packages are available that perform some of the same functions as Microsoft Project, and I encourage you to check them out. Remember that the outputs from these software packages are not the project plan itself—they are part of the overall project plan. One more thing you should remember is that if you plug bad information into the tool, you're going to get bad information out.

Templates for Project Forms

Did you ever play with stencils when you were a kid? You'd take your trusty number two pencil in one hand, hold the stencil down tight against your paper, and trace away, drawing almost perfect shapes.Templates are like stencils. They provide a consistent format to follow for everything from scope statements to progress reporting and are reusable from project to project.

Project Notebooks

This is one of my favorite tools. Project notebooks are a handy way to maintain all of your project documentation and archive projects in the project library, and you can quickly pull them off the shelf when the boss pops in unexpectedly asking about the project.

Project notebooks should be organized the way your project logically unfolds. Order a few of those trusty three-ring binders, available in any office supply store, and some divider tabs. Start out the notebook with a minimum of eight tabs, adding more as you build the project. The first section contains all the documents pertaining to the origination of the project, the first section contains the project planning documents, and so on. You'll get more familiar with each of these documents and the project notebook sections as we proceed through the coming chapters.

If you're opposed to printing all that information on paper, you can maintain a project notebook on a network server or the department's intranet site and gain the same benefits. Set up separate folders that correspond to the sections, and save your documents to them as they're created and modified. The goal is to maintain all the project information in one place that's easily accessible to the people who need it.

For long-term archiving, I recommend saving all project information onto a CD or DVD and filing it in a safe place. It's not a bad idea to tuck a CD into the pocket in the front of the notebook as well to remind ourself to back up your material often.

Understanding Project Life Cycles

There are five project phases, or project management process groups, that all projects progress through, collectively known as the project life cycle. The five phases of a project life cycle are Initiation, Planning, Executing, Controlling, and Closing. We'll take a closer look at each of these momentarily. First, let's see how they all work together in the big picture.

project life cycle

All the phases of a project when taken together from the beginning of the project through the end.

The production and printing of a book can be a example of a project. A book started with an idea that was submitted for approval and then given the "go" after examination and selection based on various selection criteria (Initiation phase). Then a plan was produced that also received a review and approval (Planning phase). Each chapter was written (Executing phase) and reviewed by technical experts for accuracy. When errors were found or passages discovered that could be clarified, notification was sent to the author for correction (Controlling phase). Corrections were made and resubmitted for review and approval (repeat of the Executing and Controlling phases). Finally, the book was completed, reviewed, approved, printed, and distributed to local booksellers (Closing phase).

Every project, whether it's building a bridge, publishing a book, constructing a building, or creating a new software program, progresses through this life cycle. At the end of each phase, the project manager and others determine whether the project should continue on to the next phase. This phase-to-phase progression is called a handoff. So each phase serves as a checkpoint of sorts to determine whether the project is on target before the handoff to the next phase occurs. If things are not progressing as planned, decisions need to be made to determine whether some of the phases should be repeated or the project should be scrapped altogether.

handoff

The transition between each phase of the project life cycle.

Each phase in the life cycle has its own characteristics and produces outputs that serve as inputs into the next phase or, in the case of the Closing phase, serve as the final approval for the project. Let's take a quick look at the purpose for each phase and what it produces.

Initiation Phase

Initiation is the first phase of a project life cycle and is where the project is requested, approved, and begun.

Project initiation begins at the beginning.The Initiation phase determines which projects should be undertaken. It examines whether the project is worth doing and whether it is cost beneficial to the company when all is said and done. Most important, project initiation acknowledges that the project should begin and commits the organization's resources to working on the project. Some of the things that will be accomplished during this process are:

  • Defining the major goals of the project
  • Determining project selection criteria
  • Assigning the project manager
  • Writing the project charter
  • Obtaining sign-off of the project charter

Planning Phase

Project planning is the heart of the project life cycle. This process tells everyone involved where you're going and how you're going to get there. I'm a strong advocate for a good project plan. It isn't unheard of to spend as much time planning your project as in executing all the other processes combined; however, the majority of project time and costs is usually spent in the Executing phase. The documents produced during the Planning phase will be used throughout the remaining project processes to carry out the activities of the project and monitor their progress. Some of the things that will be accomplished during this process are:

  • Determining project deliverables
  • Writing and publishing a scope statement
  • Establishing a project budget
  • Defining project activities and estimates
  • Developing a schedule
  • Determining special skills needed to accomplish project tasks

Planning phase

The project life cycle phase where the project plans are documented, the project deliverables and requirements defined, and the project schedule created.

Executing Phase

Executing is the process where the work of the project is produced. Here, you'll put all the plans you devised during the planning processes into action. Your team members are assigned and raring to go, and the project manager keeps them on task and focused on the work of the project. The Executing phase is where most of the project resources are utilized and most of the budget is spent. Be aware that this phase is where you'll likely run into scheduling conflicts. Some of the things that will be accomplished during this process are:

  • Developing and forming the project team
  • Directing and leading the project team
  • Obtaining other project resources
  • Conducting status review meetings
  • Communicating project information
  • Managing project progress
  • Implementing quality assurance procedures

Executing phase

In this phase of the project life cycle, team members perform the work of the project. Teams are assembled, the task assigned, and the work carried out.

Controlling Phase

The Controlling phase of the project is where performance measures are taken to determine whether the project deliverables and objectives are being met. If not, corrective actions are taken to get the project back on track and aligned with the project plan. This means that you might have to revisit the project Planning phase and the Executing phase in order to put the corrective actions into place. Change management also takes place in this process and involves reviewing, managing, and implementing changes to the project. Some of the things that will be accomplished during this process are:

  • Measuring performance against the plan
  • Taking corrective action when measures are outside the limits
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of the corrective actions
  • Ensuring that project progress continues according to the plan
  • Reviewing and implementing change requests

Controlling phase

This phase of the project life cycle concerns monitoring project performance to make certain the outcomes meet the requirements of the project. Change requests are monitored and reviewed in this phase.

Closing Phase

The Closing phase is the process that is most often skipped in the project life cycle. It seems that once the product of the project has been produced and the customer is satisfied, the books are closed and everyone moves on to the next project. However, closing is an important process. It's during this phase you'll want to celebrate the success of the project, document what you've learned, and obtain a final sign-off on the project deliverables. Some of the things that will be accomplished during this process are:

  • Obtaining acceptance of project deliverables
  • Documenting the lessons learned over the course of this project
  • Archiving project records
  • Formalizing the closure of the project
  • Releasing project resources

Closing phase

The last phase of the project life cycle, where final approval is obtained for the project, the books are closed, and project documentation archived for future reference.

Tip:You may have a substance for poison control hiding in the back of your medicine cabinet called syrup of ipecac. You can easily remember the life cycle phases of a project with this mnemonic: IPECC (Initiation, Planning, Executing, Controlling, Closing), which sounds like the syrupy lifesaver. Effectively using these processes on your next project could be a project lifesaver.

As stated earlier, project phases recur throughout the project. As an example, let's say our book project has progressed to the Controlling phase.While reviewing one of the chapters, an editor discovers that an important topic was missed. In order to determine where the topic should be inserted, she revisits the Planning phase. After she figures out where to insert the new information, the Executing phase is also repeated (the new material is written) and then the Controlling phase is performed again to review the new additions for accuracy. All projects follow this kind of process. The most often repeated processes are the Planning, Executing, and Controlling phases.

The next image shows how these processes interact. Initiation has outputs that become inputs into the Planning process, Planning outputs are inputs to Executing, and so on. You'll notice on the graphic that the Controlling phase has outputs that are inputs back into the Planning and Executing phases. This shows the recurring nature of the project life cycle.


Some project management methodologies combine the Executing and Controlling processes.There's nothing wrong with that as long as you're careful not to skip anything along the way. We'll discuss each of these processes later in the book as separate processes so you can see the unique characteristics of each. Then you can decide for yourself if you'd like to combine these processes into one


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