Project Management – the process

64So as we have seen in Part 1, we all manage projects every day, but these are simple projects that can easily be visualised and planned without the use of sophisticated tools and techniques.

Project managers (PMs) tackle much more complex problems and projects that encompass many elements that interact and are interdependent. They need to adopt a formal approach and use tools and techniques to ensure that complex projects achieve their goals and are delivered to time and budget.

A lot of planning is required to produce a schedule that covers all activities, is achievable, reports progress against milestones, can accommodate change if necessary, and can certainly accommodate slippage.

So PMs takes a planned event with a lot of uncertainty surrounding it and its management, and turn it into a well-planned event that can be managed and delivered to an agreed schedule and budget. They reduce, and attempt to eliminate, the risk of failure. They also aim to eliminate problems by planning in great detail, and build in contingencies wherever possible.

To do this they will use established, tried and tested Project Management methods, tools and techniques to help with planning and management. They organise resources and activities, and plan in minute detail.

To achieve this, a common process is normally followed. These will be the usual stages;-

Stage 1 A project description or business case is drawn up.

The scope of the project is agreed with the management who are financing the project. The intended Project Manager will usually be directly involved in this stage.
Getting an agreement here is likely to take some time, and involve some negotiation and debate. This is a good thing as it forces everyone to think through the scope and requirements of the project.

The worst outcome is that the project is badly thought out. Goals are not correctly defined, and some months down the line, management suddenly “move the goalposts “and ask for different targets and outcomes. This will prove to be difficult and expensive and waste time, effort and resources. So robust debate and argument now is to be encouraged.

The specification should be as detailed as possible and include objectives, parameters and scope, outputs, budget and ideal timescale. The reporting structure will also be defined. This agreement will be the measure of success used to judge the project. The Project Manager should only be held accountable for matters within their control.

When the exact specification for the project is defined and agreed it should;-

  • Define the objectives and outcomes of the project
  • Define timescales, budget, scope, authority
  • establish staffing resources required and ideally nominate the team
  • establish an agreement as to processes
  • define milestones at which progress will be reviewed and measured

Stage 2 Key team members are selected.

This stage could arguably switch places with the next stage, but as key team members ought to be involved in planning, the PM would be wise to get commitment for, and from, key players by this point. The team members will be critical to the success and management of the team, especially if it is complex or of a technical nature.

This will also ensure accurate financial planning, as salaries and contractors costs will be better known. In addition it will ensure ownership and “buy in” to the project if players are involved in the early planning stages.

Stage 3.The project is planned in detail.

It is usual to involve the team in this, as it is important to anticipate every possible detail of the project, and plan around it. It is essentially an analytical and logical process , establishing the component tasks and activities, their timescale and the correct order of the tasks.

Particular attention needs to be paid to interdependent tasks, where one task cannot be begun until another is completed. Delay to one task will delay the other.
(For example in our food preparation example, the cooking of the meat could not begin until the marinating was complete.)

In a technical or complex project, planning should involve technical specialists who will understand the process and be able to input their requirements at this stage.

Project management tools such as Gantt charts and critical path analysis may well be used at this stage. Often planning will start with the desired outcome and work backwards through the process to establish the timeline and start date.

The PM takes a project which usually has some unknowns surrounding it, and plans it in detail, so that it can be managed and delivered to the required schedule and budget. They aim to eliminate problems by building in contingencies, and reduce or eliminate any risk of failure.

A prudent PM will build in sufficient contingency to allow for the inevitable slippage that will occur, even if it is not the fault of the team, but results from late delivery of parts, being let down by subcontractors, illness or whatever. So both time and financial contingencies are often built in.

The manager to whom the PM reports is more likely to accept a realistic plan with contingencies, than to accept slippage, missed targets or overruns in an ambitious or unrealistic plan.

If the given deadline does not allow for financial and time slippages, then planning must be that bit cleverer to allow for some slippage, because slippage there will certainly be!!

Stage 4 The plan is communicated to the team.

This ensures good communication, and also helps with buy – in. If people have been involved in the plan and have not expressed concerns, they are implicitly agreeing to the plan. It is a good idea to involve other groups whose cooperation will be needed or helpful, to get their trust and buy – in.

Stage 5 Project actions are allocated and delegated.

As we have discussed in previous lessons, delegation must be undertaken carefully, with a full briefing and an understanding of the implications of the task for the rest of the team. Everyone should be aware of the agreed project specification and targets, and should know what their individual targets and constraints are, their goals, timescale and financials.

Stage 6 Project goes live

The PM now manages the team and fulfils all the usual duties of a manager on an ongoing project – achieve the task, communicate, signpost the Vision, encourage, motivate and enable the team.

Stage 7 checking and monitoring

Regular performance checks and monitoring will be carried out at agreed milestones and review points.

The PM will check and measure as agreed, adjustments will be made to the plan, contingencies called into play. Everyone is briefed on progress.

Stage 8 Project completed, review held

A debrief and review should be held, ideally with the entire team, certainly with key team members. Any failures should be discussed and documented, together with lessons learnt.

Remember it is less important to establish who made a mistake, than why. How can a recurrence be prevented? Establish a “No blame” culture.

Successes should also be discussed and lessons learnt, praise and thanks given to the team, with special mentions where appropriate.

The report written should measure and record results and achievements, with reference to the original specification and goals. It should also make recommendations for any follow up needed.