Monday, December 04, 2006

Project Management for Professionals - What is a Project?

The concept of project management as a discipline began
with the US Space Program in the early 1960s Since then, its practice has expanded rapidly into government, the military and industry.

Project management focuses on a project. A project is an undertaking that has a beginning and an end and is carried out to meet established goals within cost, schedule and quality objectives.

Project management brings together and optimises the resources necessary to successfully complete the project. These include the skills, talents and co-operative efforts of a team of people, facilities, tools and equipment, information, systems and techniques and money.

Projects can be very large, running into billions of dollars. They can also be as small as the development of new procedures for answering the telephone.

Project Parameters

While projects vary, all projects have common and interacting elements that together set project parameters:

a. output or deliverable. The project’s end result. This is obviously critical in determining just what must be done and, sometimes, when it must be done by.

Note that the same terms are also often used to describe the results from key tasks or stages within the project.

b. specifications. Key features of the required output or deliverable. They are also often classified in terms of functional specifications (defining the function or duty to be performed), performance specifications (defining the performance required) or technical specifications (defining the technical and physical characteristics)

Specifications may also include mandatory (things that must be achieved) and desirable (things that it would be nice to achieve, if possible) items.

c. outcomes. The use the client expects to make of the results. One of the most common causes for project failure lies in the failure to distinguish clearly between outcomes and outputs.

d. quality. What quality outcome is required? Quality has to be defined in terms of the need to be met. In some cases, a quick and dirty results may be all that is required. In others, a high quality result may be necessary.

In all cases, quality has to be defined as fitness for purpose. That is, quality is defined in terms of the purpose of the task.

e. cost and budget. Budget is often used in two ways. How much can we afford to spend (our budget) as opposed to the project budget, the amount the customer has agreed to spend.

Projects should always be fully costed including indirect costs.

f. time. Time refers both to the time input involved in completed the project (number of people hours or days) and to the elapsed time or period over which the project is to be completed.

g. schedule. The organisation of activities over time to achieve the desired outcome.

The Project Life Cycle

All projects go through a common life cycle regardless of size. The phases in this life cycle are:
a. conceiving and defining the project
b. planning the project
c. implementing the plan
d. completing and evaluating the project.

In practice these stages will overlap. Thus conceiving and defining the project can overlap and merge with planning the project, while implementation in its turn will overlap and merge with completion and evaluation.

Key Project Management Skills

Effective project management is not always an easy task. It involves:
a. organising a project from beginning to end
b. structuring a plan that will stand up under pressure
c. getting people to accept plans and support them
d. setting measurable project objectives
e. motivating team members
f. helping team members solve problems
g. utilising available resources
h. eliminating waste of time and money
i. measuring project performance
j. using information systems that respond to project needs.
k. identifying problems in advance and then altering either the process or the project to deal with them.

Sounds daunting? Its not as hard as it seems.

Previous Posts in this Series

Note on Copyright

Material in this series is drawn from the Ndarala Group Short Guide to Project Management. The material is copyright Ndarala but may be reproduced and quoted with due acknowledgment.

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