Project Management – the Basics

As resources become increasingly scarce, organisations look for silver bullets to improve their work management practices.  One of the great hopes for organisational transformation is project management.  It is fairly simple in concept, but is often ineffective for a whole range of reasons.

A project has a well defined output – a deliverable or a product – that is designed to achieve a well defined result – an outcome or impact.  A project also has a well defined deadline by which the project should be completed and a budget that limits the number of people, the types of materials, and the amount of money available to complete the project. Every project is unique – the only repetition is the way in which project management processes are implemented.  Project work is very different from operational work.  Operational work tends to have a greater urgency and it tends to keep the organisation afloat – but in the longer term, project work delivers improvement and change.

There are two directions in which a Project Manager needs to focus – looking up and out to the stakeholders outside the project who are expecting a certain outcome from the project; and down and in to the people working on the project who need clear direction to deliver what is expected in a timely fashion and according to budget.

From an external stakeholders’ perspective, project management is a constant decision-making tension between three dimensions:

  • Scope (what the project is meant to deliver)
  • Budget (how much money and therefore resources and materials can be applied to the project) and
  • Time-frame (when must the project outputs be delivered).  A change in one dimension inevitably leads to a change in one or both of the other dimensions.

These three dimensions are relatively easy to manage provided you have a clear and documented agreement about them.  But from an external perspective, it is my belief that there is an extremely important fourth dimension – managing stakeholder expectations.  It is probably the least effectively managed of any of the four dimensions.  Therefore, it is important to have an agreed Project Plan that covers such issues as scope, budget and time-frame as well as:

  • Governance (how decisions will be made and how directions will be given – often through a Project Board or Project Sponsor who can give you direction, support, and resources)
  • Engagement (how much do they want to be involved); and
  • Reporting (how stakeholders will be informed about progress , what do they want to know, how do they want to be told, and how often).

From an internal perspective, project management is a detailed process of planning, doing, checking and communicating.  The following are critical tools in the implementation of your Project Plan:

  • A Project Scope Statement – it clearly defines what change you are aiming to achieve and what you are trying to deliver to achieve that change
  • A Project Schedule – a task list with dependencies, responsibilities, resources, timing and order
  • A Project Budget – a way to keep track of costs
  • A Project Risk Register – a list of the risks, an assessment of their importance, and any mitigating actions proposed
  • A Project Issues Register – a list of all of the questions and issues that are raised while the project is extant and be diligent about dealing with them
  • A Post Implementation Review Strategy – a way to go back at a later stage and formally ask yourself whether the Project was successful – and learn from what you discover!
  • A Project Closure Strategy – a checklist of actions that will ensure that all loose ends are tied up – culminating in the submission of a Project Closure Report.