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Giacomo Balli
Innovation consultant specializing in mobile strategy
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Project Management Basics (Feb 2006)

“Project Management is the discipline of defining and achieving targets while optimizing the use of resources (time, money, people, materials, energy, space, etc) over the course of a project (a set of activities of finite duration) … In contrast to on-going, functional work, a project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product or service. The duration of a project is the time from its start to its completion, which can take days, weeks, months or even years. Typical projects include the engineering and construction of various public or consumer products, including buildings, vehicles, electronic devices, and computer software”



Projects

We may in any case state that there are four main kinds of projects: construction, manufacturing, management, and research.

Construction

The first one is the most common and obviously the first that jumps to our minds when we think of projects. The main characteristics of these kind of project is that they are usually far away from the offices and head quarters and outdoors and therefore exposed to the climate and its changes (a big enemy for those who work here). The problem is that unfortunately it is not rare that the weather changes rapidly and delays the processes of the project if not actually undermines its outcome. These projects normally require huge investments and for this reason they should receive a very nosy evaluation and control but they don't this is why many times they fail. Another “problem” is the fact that being so big, they imply the presence of many experts and specialists. Having many top players in the same team often ends up in fighting instead of cooperating.

Manufacturing

The second one is manufacturing projects. Under this category we put all those projects whose aim is to produce some kind of equipment or machinery, ship, aircraft etc. The difference from the first group as we said is the location. In this case it is much better because the team carrying out the project is usually only one (the company itself), and secondly because they all work in familiar place (their actual firm): very important since it allows “on the spot” management and evaluation and control is made much easier. As we all know even here difficulties may arise, especially when the above situation don't apply and, for example. You don't produce the finish product but only one piece. Inconvenients concerning communication, transport, coordination etc. are very frequent.

Management

The third group represents management projects. With this we mean all those activities which sooner or later have to e carried out y every company. A good example could be a new computer system or relocating the headquarters, prepare for fairs and exhibitions, a show. Any kind of operation that involves resources, activities and coordination where the result is not a piece of machinery or construction. Although the outcome or result of these projects usually isn't visible or tangible, it is greatly noticeable after implemented. If we take for example the adoption of a new computer system, we all know that if this is not done properly the effects could e fatal for the company.

Research

The last of these four categories under which we can classify practically all the possible kinds of projects is research projects. Every now and then on television or on the radio we hear about some new discovery or advancement. This might sound thrilling and interesting however research projects aren't so “nice”. In fact, although they might provide amazingly profitable discoveries, usually the just consume vast quantities of money and last for many years. Another problem is that in the other categories if, for example you are unable to terminate the project you still have something which may be used (if you planned to built 6 building and at the end you stopped at 4 you can still use these), with research projects, if you just stop you almost nothing in your hands (especially if we put in relation to what you have spent in terms of money and time). It is for this reason that budgets always have to be set and regular controls have to be scheduled.

The primary project objectives

When dealing with projects we also have to talk about stakeholders. This is due to the fact that usually there are many people interested and therefore many points of view. The primary objectives of any project may be filed under three categories: specification, budget, and time. All objectives however must be SMART

:

Specific: expressed singularly
Measurable: ideally in quantitative terms
Acceptable: to stakeholders
Realistic: in terms of achievement
Time-bound: a timeframe is stated

Specification

This is has to do directly with the “outcome” or product of the project which has to comply with what had been previously agreed between owner and all the stakeholders. Before instead of specification experts used quality. With time, however, they noticed that quality wasn't suitable. This is due to the fact that when bargaining on the terms of the whole project quality isn't something that should depend on time or money. It should always e high. Now in fact we talk about specification and not the quality of the goods or resources used or final product. The ISO 9000 series have greatly contributed to this trend towards the “quality culture”.

Budget

Usually this is the point everyone is concerned of the most. However all the factors should be given the same importance. The project must obviously be terminated without exceeding the budget. This may seem elementary but, especially when talking about publicly funded projects this isn't followed. The problem is not only the fact that you spend more but also that at the end also the profits will be reduced.

Time

The time taken by the project has to comply with what had been planned. This is very important because if it doesn't these lacks will all be added up at the end. Good project managers and planners use slack time to avoid this kind of problems however there shouldn't be the need to do so. No one related with the project will e pleased y the late termination of the project.

Triangle of objectives

In project management, in order to resume and remember the primary objectives, a triangular diagram is drawn: very simple but yet incredibly full of importance. When we take in consideration these three factors it is easy to understand that they are all related and therefore pointing on one means leaving behind the others. Talking about quality or specifications at thins point would be useless since the change from project to project and the relations aren't fixed.

[caption id="attachment_224" align="aligncenter" width="303"]Kliem & Ludin's Triangle of Objectives (1992) Exhib 1: Kliem & Ludin's Triangle of Objectives (1992)[/caption]

Project delays as extra costs

We can however talk about the relationship between time and cost. This is a very well known and recurrent thing. When the time limits are trespassed, also the limits provided y the budget will be blown off. In fact a project costs money every day of its existence; doesn't matter if people work or not. It still costs money. This is also due to facts which aren't so “evident”. A simple example is inflation: when you start a project the price for something is at a certain level but when get towards the end, especially if you wasted a lot of time, the price for the same thing is higher; therefore it will influence the direct costs.

This happens also to indirect cost (or overhead). Just think about the accommodation, meals extra for the workers. Every extra single day the project lasts, will be reflected on the expenditures and therefore the budget is very likely to be finished.

Another very common situation is when the project manager, in order to have in his hand all the money he needs, has to go to a bank and ask for a loan. If a project is late then the financing period is increased and therefore also the interests that have to be paid.

And these aren't the only occasion in which being late means you encounter extra costs. In fact there might be a special clause in the contract concerning this. For every week or month of delay the contractor may claimed money (pay less). As you may well notice once these are all added up for a big project you quickly reach extremely high amounts of money.

Project Life Cycle

Projects can be described by using a life cycle approach and the four phases of the life cycle are shown in the graph below.

[caption id="attachment_222" align="aligncenter" width="512"]Project Life Cycle Exhib 2: Project Life Cycle[/caption]

 

In the first phase, the customer has a need and this results in a Request for Proposals (RfP) which describes and defines the needs and requirements. We can call this phase Initiation. You have to understand the user need and carry out an initial investigation in order to find possible candidates.

The second phase is characterised by the development of proposed solutions and the Bidding process. You have to design the database, the input and output. Select the kind of software you will use for the planning and the other equipment. You also have to recruit and set up a good team. Finally, very important, make the actual plans

.

The third phase in which the project is executed covers detailed planning and Implementation.

The final phase is terminating the project or Closure. In some cases this is marked with formal acceptance by the customer or client with signed documentation.

The remainder of this section concentrates on the key activities of the third phase Implementation, and covers planning, monitoring, and controlling

.

Causes for failure

Projects touch many aspects of life and are influenced by many factors and people. Do to this it is very easy that something goes wrong. The most often causes for these problems and in some cases the actual failure are called barriers. Here are some possible barriers:

1. Poor communication

2. Disagreement

3. Misunderstandings

4. Bad weather

5. Union strikes

6. Personality conflicts

7. Poor management

8. Poorly defined goals and objectives

Being a good project manager doesn't necessarily mean that he has to be able to eliminate all possible risks and surprises. What he has to do is find himself prepared in almost any kind of situation in order to deal with upcoming issues in a smooth a fast way. All this in order to prevent the following:

1. Projects finishing late, exceeding budget or not meeting customer expectations

2. Inconsistency between the processes and procedures used by project managers, leading to some being favoured more than others

3. Successful projects, despite a lack of planning, achieved through high stress levels, goodwill and significant amounts of overtime

4. Project management seen as not adding value and as a waste of time and money

5. Unforeseen internal or external events impacting the project

Good tips for all project managers

In conclusion, these are some basic advices a project manager should always keep in mind:

  1. Define things up front. Too often nowadays project managers dive into the action without taking the necessary time to clearly point out objectives, resources, responsibilities and deadlines

  2. Communicate clearly. This is a key point in order to avoid misunderstandings between both the project manager and the client and the project manager and the workers.

  3. Delegate early. Although we said you have to take time this doesn't mean you should waste it. This is true especially when you need the others' help (your team and team work is essential). With the aim of not making the other freak out when they find themselves already completely in the project you should advise them in time of their duties and responsibilities (they could also help in the planning phase).

  4. Build a team. This means first of all to know who you are working with. It is essential. From here you can give out the duties.

  5. Check the advancements. Usually the main cause for the failure of a project is not supervising. After the planning ends and the works start, another big part of the project manager's role starts. He has to always e there in order to control and promptly modify the plan in time otherwise the problems will add all up at the end.

  6. Make the client your ally. Project managers should try to involve (only to a certain point) the customers in what is being done. This is important because both sides are concerned with the outcome. Thanks to this, the “wanting to do” of both should be allied.


Bibliography

Lock D., Gower, Eigth Edition

http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/interop-focus/gpg/ProjectManagement/ (smart objectives, and project life cycle)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_management (definitions)

http://www.mindconnection.com/library/business/projectmanagement.htm

http://www.snc.edu/socsci/chair/333/numbers.html (project life cycle)

http://www.lasa.org.uk/it/lcgpm.pdf (charts, tables and additional information)

http://www.projectsmart.co.uk/pdf/introduction_to_project_management.pdf (causes of failure)

Appendix  













































Term Description Example Form
Vision A sense of what the project aims to achieve in the broadest terms Reduce social exclusion
Outcomes Broad view of the aims of the project Improve service delivery of information to the public
Objectives What the project will do - should e readily measureable Develop a wesite, produce a pamphlet, set up a telephone help line
Deliverables What the project will produce A wesite, produce a pamphlet, set up a telephone help line Nouns, the "what"
Tasks The activities that are required to produce the deliverable - usually many tasks per deliverable Design the pamphlet, commission content, select typesetter etc Verbs, the "how"
Method of  Approach Useful in voluntary sector projects. May encapsulate an oranisation's values Consult widely, involve users

[caption id="attachment_221" align="aligncenter" width="595"]Key Terms in Project Management Exhib 3: Key Terms in Project Management[/caption]

 

Exhib 4: Example Resuming Project Activities
 


Published: Sun, 18 Nov 2012 15:02:56 +0000