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CIF301 - Information Systems Project Management
Abstract - The current paper discusses the various project management aspects Solar Ltd. should consider about the planning of Microfashion Ltd. online store project. Particularly, it discusses about the term of project management and what are the goals of a project manager. The feasibility and planning phases of the project are including by providing as much information as it is possible in this short report. Furthermore, it introduces the monitoring and control phases and also gives some guidance, methods and techniques that can help to the monitor, control and plan of the project. Finally, it refers to specific project management models and techniques as well as to the tools which can help to their creation and to the entire project successful completion.
A project is something new and unique, in which there are not any routine tasks. A detailed and well structured plan is absolutely required in order to complete it successfully.
A project includes some basic components. These components can be defined as the selection of project's requirements, the allocation of the resources required, the planning of the whole project, the planning and execution of the project's tasks and activities, the monitoring of its progress and the adjusting of possible deviations from the plan.
Furthermore, projects are large, complex, and they have specific goals to reach, specific tasks to complete and a specific product to create. There have also a specific time period, a deadline at which the product must be ready and the project to finish. At the most cases, the project has a project team or an individual who carry out the work for someone else (the customer). There are also some resources available in order to reach the specified requirements which might be the budget of the whole project as the customer requested and the quality standards.
Especially, the software projects have some unique characteristics. They are invisible because their progress cannot be always seen clearly and are complex but also flexible because they can be changed easy, something that could not happen at a construction project of a building. Microfashion's project include these characteristics because it will also function a database for the needs of the online store.
The project management is the most basic chapter for the successful completion of a project. In order to complete any kind of projects such as the creation of a software application, a website or even the construction of a structure, have to be applied a collection of tools and techniques.
So, the management of a project is about the project manager's ability to successfully manage all those components which have been mentioned above. A successful management must completely satisfy the four key characteristics or constraints of a project. These are the project budget, schedule, quality standards and the project goal and objectives. (Munns, 1996).
Solar ltd., has enough experience of web technologies but is not an expert in creating e-shops, because the company it is proceeding for the first time so deeply in the area of e-shopping. Solar ltd., is looking forward to the future inside from its customers expectations. The contract with Microfasion Ltd. is a good beginning for reaching its goals, with all of the previous years' maturity and reliability to the business. Will also be given expendability and it will increase Solar's market share in a new field.
At the next sections will be discussed, the feasibility analysis, the planning of the project and of course the monitoring and control which is necessary for a smooth and careful operation of the project's procedures and tasks. Finally, will be introduced the use of project management tools which can help to its right structure and execution.
Feasibility and planning
In order Solar to complete successfully the project, it is required a systematic and critical approach. First of all, it has to examine the requirements of the client and evaluate the feasibility of the project as well as the level of project risk. Is the company able to handle the project in the specific time period with the specific requirements and the desirable quality and goals? Is this project beneficial for Solar in any term? Is there income benefit? Since staff will gain experience in this field, the implementing cost will decrease in comparison with previous projects in conclusion of increasing the overall benefit.
For achieving the given project's objectives it is required a high level plan. "Even when projects are completed on time and to budget, the result is often less effective than the business required or hoped for" (Anderson, 2003).
The company must examine the scope of what the customer wants to achieve and then to calculate if the delivery of project could be achievable in the tight timescale of six months that Microfashion has set up. Therefore, an estimation of the required time in real hours and manhours is needed. Of course it has to investigate if there are the requested skills and funds to complete such project. For the last one, the evaluation of the cost of the project (e.g. Employees' salaries) is absolutely needed. It has to be examined the probability of having other running projects the same period of time which might affect the duration or any other factor of the current project.
A project evaluation is needed to define strategic, technical and economic issues. Also, must be a risk identification strategy in order to discover possible risks. Then, the risks must be evaluated and ranked in case to find a way to manage them and reduce any failure possibility.
According to Proctor (1995), the planning is a deep analysis of the project. Is required a specific plan before the beginning of the project in order to reduce as more as possible the uncertainty, to improve the operation and make it more efficient, to give a better understanding of the objectives and to provide a basis for monitoring and control phase which is as critical as the planning phase.
The planning stage involves three parts. First, it helps to the creation of a work breakdown structure and then it helps to identify and sequencing all the activities and tasks. Then it helps to the creation of a complete drawing of the overall project schedule diagram including project tasks, their predecessors, resource allocation in terms of employees, hours, funds and therefore it provides an estimation of activity times and costs as well as the critical tasks path (Proctor, 1995).
The choice of the appropriate modeling technique depends from the project nature. Some of the most common models are, the entity-relationship diagrams which are more related with databases, the system architecture diagrams, and the web interaction diagrams which are also useful for web-based applications or advanced websites, especially for e-shopping.
Furthermore, a good plan includes all the project's characteristics and constraints. The methods of execution differ from project to project. A typical model of project execution includes the stage of requirements' collection, analysis and specification, design, coding, verification and validation, documentation, installation and maintenance and support.
Some basic planning components are the objectives, schedule, budget, policy, procedures and standards as well as the human aspects of projects. There is also the need of a well studied staff selection for the creation of effective trained teams, staff motivation for their better performance and of course the ability of staff to focus only on their tasks. (Anderson, 2003)
Finally, has not to be forgotten that Microfashion wants a world class online retail store. That means that the project will face several different countries' culture. That the online store might be in more than one language and at every country might have different product disposal. Thus, it might be required to be designed a plan for each case separately. Or several different plans to be somehow included in the master plan.
Monitoring and control
"Developing a strategic implementation plan for IT projects does not guarantee their successful implementation. Consideration should be given to the continual performance monitoring of the implemented IT project over its' life cycle" ( Stewart, 2008).
The online store development is a production process and a plan schedule of tasks, breakdown the project in several activities and stages. Rodney Stewart (2008) mentioned that, the project monitoring plan should consider performance measures and data collection strategies required for each IT project implemented by an organization.
It is important for the project success and quality to be an emphasis on monitoring and control of the project against planned progress. In other words, by monitoring and controlling the entire project progress, the project manager can have a point of view on the product development and know if all the tasks and activities are managing properly. Also, he/she can efficiently manage all the resources of the project such as workteams, funds and time schedule. The delivered product may be evaluated to determine whether or not the task was completed as planned and whether the product is of acceptable quality. Monitoring such development projects in this way is quite common (McBride, 2007)
"Corrective actions arising from observations made during project monitoring tend to realign the project progress with the planned progress" (McBride, 2007). Often, the projects may get out of schedule. In order to get the project back on time schedule, the most common modification to project tasks is the assignment of more work hours to the workteams or to add more people to the tasks. In some cases, companies are forced to outsource their needs to other companies for immediate or further help in an attempt to bring the project back to the planned schedule. But this would cause serious budget overflow. By adding people to late tasks doesn't always work. In fact, the task might delay further. Additionally, another corrective action is to balance the workload by moving the work from one task to another or from one team to another. However, if none of those give the expected solution, then the objectives of the project can be reduced to a number that can be achieved until the deadline. Otherwise, the scheduled time will be expanded as it is needed, something that has to be avoided (McBride, 2007).
So, according to McBride (2007), monitoring can be performed on two levels. The first level is the day-to-day interactive monitoring of tasks related to the project plan's work breakdown structure. This monitoring method is good enough because is tight and reduces the chance of escaping from a task's goal but it will be successful only if the planned tasks and their requested goals have been designed from the beginning as intended. The second level is through the structure of the project life cycle, which affords opportunities to examine whether the work completed so far demonstrates the increasing requirements of the project. A way that monitoring could be accomplished is, by communication with team members, data control and by reporting the progress using planning tools or by printing reports of any kind like reports for staff activity, cost monitoring, critical path activities, etc.
Project management tools
For the planning and the monitoring phases of Microfashion's online store, the project manager can apply several activity planning methods and tools, such as network diagrams, critical path method, milestones chart and Gantt charts. Gantt chart is one of the most common methods because it combines almost all of the characteristics of the methods that mentioned previously. It is a time bar chart which is giving a quick overview of project's tasks and activities, tasks' predecessors, critical tasks/paths, resources' allocation of any type and it also shows project status by identifying which task is ahead or behind of schedule. Gantt chart is widely proposed because it is easy to use and produce, is useful, simple and easily understood and read. At figure 1 it can be seen an example view of a Gantt chart.
At the current project, Solar has to do also with databases (DBs) which must also be connected with the online store. So, methods like the entity-relationship diagram (ERD) and data-flow diagram (DFD) might also be useful for the designing of these databases, while Gantt chart will help for the planning of the entire project (Gelbard, 2002). At figure 2 it can be seen an example of a databases' DFD, while at figure 3 an E-R diagram.
The level of usage of a variety of project management tools and techniques was measured and it is shown at figure 4 (Murphy, 2007).
Thus, as it appears, project management tools are very useful for the planning and monitoring phase of a project. These tools can help to the easier, better, more accurate, easily, more readable and understood project planning. They help enough by saving precious time. Such tools is the Microsoft Visio with which a project manager or an analyst, has the ability to create detailed DFDs and ERDs, and also the Microsoft Project which is very useful tool in creating accurate Gantt charts which have many useful components as well as it can almost automatically create useful network and activity diagrams, it can also help enough to manage the resources allocation, and more.
"Statistical results show that having a full-time project manager and applying project planning techniques are most likely to increase the chances of success" (A. Murphy, 2007)
So, in order for the project to be successful, it has to achieve its purpose, to satisfy the client, to satisfy the needs of the client, the online store's users, to meet its objectives and be within its constraints, to satisfy the project team and to be beneficial for the whole company (Wateridge, 1995 and Turner, 1993).
"Planning is to be done once and with only minor corrections, will accurately predict how the project will be carried out" (McBride, 2007)
The monitoring and control phase are equally important. The project manager have to be interested in tracking the right resources allocation, work flow with the ultimate goal to be the achievement of the project (Martins, 1996).
Finally, the project management tools, methods and techniques have been proven very power and useful to the whole project life-cycle, from the feasibility and planning phases until the monitoring and the delivery day of the product.
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