Twenty-first Century Project Management - Project Management

Is project management different today than it was hundreds of years ago? The guess is there probably isn't a lot of difference in the way the projects are managed today than when Noah built the ark or when the medieval castles were designed and constructed. We have many more tools available to us today, such as computers and software planning tools, than our ancient counterparts did, but believe the core processes we use now are the same as they were then. Ancient project management went something like this: Someone with lots of time and money on their hands thought up the project—they didn't need approval for the project because the project requestor was usually the ruler of the kingdom and you don't argue with someone like that. An expert was hired (or "recruited") to manage and monitor the execution of the project and then beheaded when it was completed. Okay, fortunately we don't behead project managers today, or you and I wouldn't be very interested in this topic. But I can't help but believe that the core processes themselves were the same. The idea was hatched, a plan formed, the work carried out, and the project closed out.

What's Old Is New Again

Even though we may perform some of the same basic processes as our ancient counterparts did, we probably call them by different names. PMI has worked hard to establish project management standards, guidelines, and terminology that can be used across industries. Putting official names to processes and project details helps everyone involved on the project to understand the topic at hand. When you tell me you're having a problem scheduling resources for tasks, I know what process you're talking about and where it falls in the project life cycle.

The formula for project success is simple, and it hasn't varied since project work began. Successful projects meet or exceed the expectations of the stakeholders. Stakeholders can be anyone from the king or queen who commanded that the project be completed to the customer who is paying you to complete the project for them. As the project manager, you are a stakeholder, as are other department managers, vendors, the customer, and so on. Stakeholders have different parts to play in the project. We'll talk more about stakeholders and their roles in Chapter, "Initiating the Project."

stakeholder

Anyone who has a vested interest in the project.

Constraints

Let's go back to our bike project. The boss comes in and starts giving you some high-level ideas about this project and what the end product should look like. You diligently take notes, and the wheels in your head start spinning as he's talking. Then he says something that astonishes you, "You have an unlimited budget and all the time you need to get this project completed and into production. And quality really isn't a big concern, nor are we that worried about what the end customer thinks of the new candies. Just get the project done and the candies rolling off the line."

Did you have to reread that to believe it? I know what you're thinking and you're right, this is the stuff of grade B sci-fi movies! Each of the things the boss mentioned in this unbelievable statement is called a constraint. No project manager anywhere has ever worked on a project under conditions like these. All projects have constraints.

constraint

Anything that limits the actions of the project team.

Not too long ago, the big three constraints, also known as the triple constraints, were the project management doctrine preached from the lips of all experienced project managers. The big three constraints are time, resources, and quality. However, since the definition of a constraint is anything that restricts or dictates the actions of the project team, you can see that there are probably many more constraints than just these three. These three, plus customer satisfaction, probably have the biggest impact on project outcomes, and that's why they get so much attention. We'll examine each of these in a little more detail.

Time

Most projects operate under some type of deadline. If your project entails building a new shopping center that must open in time for the holiday shopping season, your project is said to be time constrained. This time deadline determines the way project activities are scheduled and completed.

The stakeholders, or perhaps the project requestor, have stated that the new center must open by October 1. You work hard on the project schedule and come up with a plan that allows for all the activities to complete by the dead-line. Be aware that time constraints, which usually involve scheduling activities, can cause some interesting problems for the project manager. If your schedule calls for paving crews at a specific point in the plan but no paving crews are available at the scheduled time, you'll have a dilemma on your hands. We'll talk about how to solve dilemmas like this when we look at project scheduling in depth in a later chapter.

Resources

All projects require resources in order to carry out the project plan. Resources can include people, equipment, materials, and money. Project budgets are a constraint because they restrict the team's ability to obtain resources to fulfill project activities. As a result, budget constraints have the potential to limit the scope of the project. In other words, some of the things the project requestor would like to have delivered with the project will not be included because the budget can't support the additional resources needed to complete those pieces.

Budget constraints aren't something that should take the project manager by surprise. One of the things you'll develop during the project Planning process is a resource plan.You'll have the opportunity to discuss this plan with the stakeholders and determine whether budget adjustments or project adjustments are required.

Quality

Quality is the last of the triple constraints but by no means the least important. Quality assures that the end product conforms to the requirements and the product description that's defined during the Planning process.

The shopping center example has many quality constraints. For example, during construction there are industry and state and local regulations that must be met. The building structure may require a specific type of stone on the sides facing the street. The building entrances may require marble floors in designated areas and a specific type of tile in other areas, and so on.

Taking quality measurements and performing quality control assure that requirements like those stated above have been met. They also assure that the project measures up to the original requirements.

Customer Satisfaction

Customers are the reason companies are in business. Even though we've all had those experiences where we could swear otherwise, customers, and their satisfaction with the company's products or services, are the key to achieving success. This is true for project management as well. Time, budget, and quality can all track exactly as planned, but if the customers aren't satisfied, they aren't going to come back.

You might be thinking that if quality is okay, which means the requirements of the project have been met according to the product description, and if the product or service was delivered on time and under budget, how could the customer not be satisfied?

I'll answer that question two ways: first, communication problems, and second, relationship building. These two topics go hand in hand. If a project manager alienates the customer because of poor communication skills or poor people skills, the customer will not be satisfied with the project. They might love the product but dislike the way the project process was carried out. When you dig deep enough, you'll see that the roots of customer dissatisfaction (when they are otherwise happy with the product itself) can be attributed to communication problems and differences in interpersonal skills. We'll devote entire sections of this book to these topics later, but for now keep in mind that good communication skills can avert a host of problems on your project. Commit yourselves to brushing up and improving these skills soon.

Juggling Acts

Managing to the triple constraints may seem like a real juggling act for project managers. One minute all the balls are in the air, and the next minute one of them drops to the floor and bounces into the corner. Typically though, constraints are give and take. If budget is the primary constraint, then time and or quality may have to give a little. If time is the biggest constraint, then it might take more money than originally thought to complete the project according to the deadline. You can keep all the balls in the air and manage project outcomes by understanding the constraints and their impacts.

Constraints limit every project but they shouldn't prevent you from accomplishing the work of the project. An important step you can take early on in the project process is to determine which of the constraints is the primary constraint. Knowing that time is the primary constraint, for example, will help you address issues concerning budgets and quality as they come up.

It is sometimes difficult to determine which constraint is the primary driver. Here's an example.Your boss has assigned you to a new project to get the company network upgraded. He tells you that you have until November 1 to get the network converted to the latest technology, and the budget for the project cannot exceed one nickel over $150,000. How do you know which of these is the primary constraint? At first glance, you don't.Time and budget are both constraints on this project. To determine which one is the most important, ask the boss this question, "Boss, if you could have only one of those two alternatives, which would you choose?" If the boss answers that you must stick to the budget, you know that money is the primary constraint for this project. Does that mean you shouldn't try to meet the deadline? No, but it does mean that if there are problems down the road, you might be able to convince the boss to bend a little on the deadline, whereas you know the budget is not going to change.

Constraints can include things other than the triple constraints. The management team may issue directives that restrict the project team. Technology may dictate what type of equipment must be used for your particular project. Government regulations may dictate the actions of the project team. What's important is that you are aware of the project constraints so that you can plan, estimate, and control your project activities appropriately. Constraints are one of the items documented and filed into your project notebook. We'll cover this again in the Planning phase of the project


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