Projects are used to capture improvement or development initiatives sitting outside of normal business. This Chapter will seek to capture the salient points to help guide further reading and the evolution of tailored, work-place project management practices.
A project is a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result, often used to embed enduring business change (Larson & Gray, 2011). A well-planned project adopts processes that capture agreed benefits from the outset, putting in place mechanisms that monitor progress and delivery (APM, 2006). Any project must be able to:
- Define what is to be achieved, setting measurable performance targets.
- Create a plan to deliver outcomes.
- Use that plan to monitor and drive progress.
- Deploy people with the competences, authority, responsibility and accountability to deliver project outcomes.
Projects can share certain characteristics. They are finite in nature (with agreed start and end points) and there is often a greater level of risk involved. Therefore risk mitigation forms a central element of any project management plan and a project team is generally neededto drive forward the changes required (Best Practice Management, 2009).
BS6079 provides a useful guide and a sensible start point for the management of routine, less complex projects. This standard emphasises the need for activity coordination, clear objective setting and established schedule, cost and performance parameters (BS6079, 1996). Any successful project has to meet the needs and expectations of a range of stakeholders. Therefore, any project manager wishing to do well must establish who these stakeholders are (direct and indirect) and make sure that they have considered their needs and expectations from the outset.
Common project management terms include:
- Stakeholders. Those with an interest in a project and who may influence (or be influenced by) activities.
- Programme. An organisational framework used to group existing projects (as well as defining and implementing new ones) to focus and coordinate activities.
- Portfolio. Programme managers acts as the owner or sponsor of a group of linked projects, portfolio managers consider the relative priorities, resourcing and viability of projects.
- Benefit. A project is required to deliver value. These benefits should be viewed from four key perspectives (and in the short, medium and long term) - shareholder (financial), customers/suppliers, internal company impact and lessons-learned. Together, these form the project’s value proposition.
Any project possess generic elements across its lifecycle. It requires a start point, with established project initiation processes, it needs to be defined in scope so that resources and constraints are understood and possess realistic objectives. The project must be planned, monitored and controlled throughout its life and there needs to be a mechanism to capture any lessons learned. (Young, 2000).
A range of management processes and associated organisational concerns must be addressed if project benefits/deliverables are to be achieved. A constant focus must be maintained on the agreed success criteria, supported by a systematic stakeholder engagement process. The resources required must be critically reviewed and (if necessary) objectives revisited to see if a more optimal approach/solution can be developed.
Project risks must be captured and mechanisms put in place to minimise threats and maximise opportunities to deliver the projects benefits. This requires a quality management approach to ensure that the projects outputs are ‘fit for purpose’, along with suitable health, safety and environmental management controls (APM, 2006). The three most recognised/established methodologies seeking to address these concerns are PRINCE2™, PMBOK® and Critical Path Analysis.
PRINCE2™ is essentially a collation of best practice project management approaches using professional practitioner network to develop processes as lessons are captured.
PRINCE2™ builds an adaptable framework with a set of stepped elements supporting regular review points (Best Practice Management, 2009).
PRINCE2™ operates under a number of principles, with the most important being the requirement for a clear and agreed business case. In managing the project through clearly defined stages, the essential focus on outputs and objectives is maintained (Best Practice Management, 2009). PRINCE2™ does introduce a focus on control and management rather than innovation and creativity. Managing the project effectively can become the core output as it is too easy to focus on the processes required rather than delivering the project objectives (Morris & Pinto, 2004).
PMBOK® - the Project Manager’s Book of Knowledge - is a term used to describe the body of knowledge, skills and competences residing within the project management profession (APM, 2006). PMBOK® is a knowledge-based approach that provides project managers with information about proven and successful project management approaches (Meredith & Mantel, 2010).
PMBOK® argues for a balance between the application and deployment of knowledge, behaviours and processes. Experience is seen as being a particularly critical component but PMBOK® does not provide the process standardisation many businesses require when taking forward numerous project. Therefore, it may be sensible to use PMBOK® as a mechanism to capture innovation and creativity whilst also using more formal process models such as PRINCE2™.
The project phases and review points outlined by PRINCE2™ and PMBOK® are shown in Diagram 1:
(Project Performance International, 2014).
The ideas behind the project and the feasibility of delivering the anticipated aims need to be critically reviewed. This includes identifying an owner/sponsor who is going to be responsible for delivery and for allocating the necessary resources if the project is approved. Many unsuccessful projects can attribute their failure to a lack of work at this initiation stage as the end result should be the production of an agreed and resourced project plan (Newton, 2016).
Once approved, it is then necessary to capture all project requirements and create the clearest possible specification and this requires significant stakeholder engagement as stakeholder needs must be translated into project requirements (Larson & Gray, 2011). Agreeing project requirements ultimately requires negotiation, but the aim must be to produce an agreed list as this becomes the defining parameters of the project (Hubbard, 2017). The project manager then develops one or more designs (e.g. including prototypes, product sketches, building plans etc.) outlining the approach they will take to meet project requirements. The aim is to illustrate how the project will turn agreed requirements into outputs/deliverables.
At this stage, project schedules are developed, suppliers and contractors are engaged, personnel are tasked and resources are allocated to project elements. Critical dependencies should also be identified so that the flow of the project can be effectively managed (Newton, 2016).
As the project progresses, it is evaluated in accordance with the agreed requirements and schedules. Compromises may be made, but these must involve stakeholders. Any agreed changes need to be properly documented and the implications fully understood.
An agreed point of project closure is required and there should be a formal handover of responsibilities from the project team to the project owner. Final project deliverables should include ‘lessons learned’ so that future projects of a similar nature can adopt and develop best practice (Burke, 2010).
One of the key challenges for managers is the ability to maintain a holistic oversight of the overall project whilst also focussing on the detail required to meet all of the agreed requirements. Every project should possess some form of Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) that supports the management of this balance whilst also identifying how each distinct element of the work relates to other activities (APM, 2006).
Gantt charts are ideal tools for scheduling work and provide an excellent visual indication to demonstrate project progress. Whilst they do not easily reflect critical interdependencies they can be developed to illustrate activity types (through colour coding of various elements) as well as budgeting information.
Project Evaluation and Review Techniques (PERT) or more simply ‘network diagrams’ enable project managers to identify areas of concurrent activity as well as important dependencies (Burke, 2010). Being able to show the flow of work in relation to time allows the identification of the critical path - the longest sequence of activities in a plan which will need to be completed on time if the project is to meet its due date (ILM, 2013).
In Diagram 2, each event (or milestone) is linked by ‘vectors’ (the arrowed lines) which represent the activity required and the direction of each arrowed line highlights the sequence of each task and where concurrent activity can take place.
When crafting a business case, the aim must be to clearly demonstrate why the project is necessary and the options considered (Greasley, 2015). As a minimum, it should include:
- A clear statement about the problem being face.
- An analysis of the issues to be addressed and stakeholders interests
- A review of the options considered, outlining benefits, risks, costs and the anticipated timetable.
- A recommendation as to which course of action/option should be pursued.
- The lessons learned and ‘best practice’ identified from previous projects.
- Any internal approval requirements (e.g. investment appraisals).
- An outline of the anticipated project outcomes and deliverables.
The tools and techniques available to support project managers are extensive, but at its heart successful project management is about leadership and coordination. It is the ability to identify, engage and communicate with key stakeholders that often proves to be the critical success factor. The personal skills of a project manager are also reflected in what ‘good’ project management seeks to deliver - negotiated and agreed outcomes, conflict resolution (between both stakeholders and objectives) and achievement.
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Morris, P.W.G., Pinto, J.K., Söderlund, J. (2012). The Oxford Handbook of Project Management, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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