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Getting Started with Project Management

Learn more about the process of project management and its goals and specific challenges.


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In today's economy, especially in the Dev/IT industry, the scope of work is not limited to a single product. Each client has different needs and a unique product or service is delivered to that client. The process of creating that product or service is called a project. The process of managing projects is called project management. We will cover the process of project management and its goals and challenges in more detail below.

Goals of Project Management

As mentioned above, project is the main part of project management. By Project Management Institute's definition, a project is a temporary group activity designed to produce a unique product, service or result. It is temporary because it has a start and end date and time and it is unique because it is not a routine activity. So, the main goal of project management is to apply knowledge, skills and techniques to execute projects effectively and efficiently. This means achieving project goals on-time, on-budget and with the required functionality and quality. However, it is not important just to meet these goals and constraints, but also to determine the optimal allocation of resources needed to meet the goals and complete the project.

There are three main project constraints: scope, time and cost. Scope is the activities that need to be done in order to complete the project; time is the amount of time available to complete the project while cost represents the financial resources available for the project. Neither of them can be changed without affecting the other two. The relationship between them is best understood on the project management triangle:




Figure 1: Project management triangle

So, a large scope of work would result in increased project duration and cost. Small budget (cost) would increase time and reduce the scope. Finally, a tight deadline would result in reduced scope as well as increased cost of the project.

Project Management Challenges

Having the basic project characteristics in mind, you will notice that the people working on the projects and project managers face many challenges. First, it is a hard job to work or manage the activities which are not routine, but unique. Since the job is done for the first time, it cannot be standardized and there is an increased risk of errors. Second, the project team often does not include people who usually work together, making it more difficult to achieve effective and efficient cooperation, as well as high level of expertise. These conditions create many problems that, if unsolved, can result in an unsuccessful project and unhappy clients, managers, project managers and experts working in the team. Some of these problems are:

  • Poorly defined goals
  • Scope changes
  • Lack of adequate skills
  • Lack of accountability
  • Bad risk management
  • Ambiguous contingency plans
  • Poor communication
  • Unrealistic deadlines
  • Lack of resources
  • Lack of stakeholder engagement

Project Management Structure

The process of managing projects can be divided into five phases:

  • Initiating
  • Planning
  • Executing
  • Monitoring and controlling
  • Closing

Initiating

During the initiation phase, it is carefully examined whether the project benefits the organization or not. This is usually done by creating a plan that contains:

  • Analysis of business goals
  • Analysis of current business operations
  • Financial analysis
  • Stakeholder analysis
  • A preliminary plan of time, cost and work scope (project charter)

Also, all the activities taken in order to win the project, such as the negotiation with the client and other pre-sale activities, take place in this phase.

Planning

Planning is the most important part of project management. Failure to plan the project time, cost and resources properly may result in not completing the project goals, losing the client and/or financial loss. On the other hand, with a good plan, half of the job is done and it is likely that the project would be completed successfully. According to Dr. Kerzner 1, project planning usually includes the following activities:

  • Determining how to plan (e.g. by level of detail or rolling wave)
  • Developing the scope statement
  • Selecting the planning team
  • Identifying deliverables and creating the work breakdown structure
  • Identifying the activities needed to complete those deliverables and networking the activities in their logical sequence
  • Estimating the resource requirements for the activities
  • Estimating time and cost for activities
  • Developing the schedule
  • Developing the budget
  • Risk planning
  • Gaining formal approval to begin work

One important thing to consider during the planning stage is that if the planning team is composed of the experts who will be working on the project or if the planning team asks each of them about the time needed to complete a task, there is a risk of planning fallacy — an optimism bias where a person underestimates the time needed to complete his own tasks. It is advised to avoid this situation and to compose the planning team of people who will not be working on the project. If that is not possible, a simple and effective method would be to just multiply the predictions by two.

Executing

In this phase, the processes required to complete the work defined during the planning phase are executed. Resources and tasks are distributed; teams are informed of their responsibilities where each member of the team has their own assignments within the given deadline for each activity. The most important task during this phase is to optimally coordinate people and resources in order to complete the project goals.

Monitoring and controlling

During the monitoring and controlling phase, the execution of the project is observed regularly, identifying the potential problems or variances from the project plan on time and fixing them promptly.

Monitoring and controlling includes 2:

  • Measuring the ongoing project activities (where we are)
  • Monitoring the project variables (cost, effort, scope, etc.) against the project management plan and the project performance baseline (where we should be)
  • Identify corrective actions to address issues and risks properly (How can we get on track again)
  • Influencing the factors that could circumvent integrated change control so only approved changes are implemented.

Closing

Closing is the formal ending of the project. It is the last phase of the project management process and it usually starts after all the project tasks have been completed and the client has approved the outcome. Closing usually includes administrative activities, such as archiving the project files and marking project as completed, contract closure (completing all points written in the contract) and formally informing the project team about completing the project. Optionally, this phase also includes the post-implementation review, which consists of looking at things that went well and analyzing things that went bad on the project in order improve work efficiency and effectiveness on future projects.

Project Management Tips

  • Define clear goals
  • Minimize scope changes
  • Choose people with necessary skills to work on the project
  • Improve accountability in the team – only one person should be responsible for one task
  • Analyze risks before the project and do the "what-if" analysis
  • Communicate effectively
  • Set reasonable deadlines
  • Use project management software

 

More Articles in this Series

Footnotes:

1. [Harold Kerzner (2003). Project Management: A Systems Approach to Planning, Scheduling, and Controlling (8th Ed. ed.). Wiley.]

2. [James P. Lewis (2000). The Project Manager's Desk Reference: a Comprehensive Guide to Project Planning, Scheduling, Evaluation, and Systems.]



   
Vojislav is a web developer, designer and entrepreneur, based in Belgrade, Serbia. He has been working as a freelancer for more than 6 years, having completed more than 50 projects for clients from all over the worlds, specializing in designing and developing personal portfolios and e-commerce websites using Laravel PHP framework and WordPress content management system. Right now, he works as a full-time senior web developer in a company from Copenhagen.
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