The role of project manager has developed to such an extent that it is now seen as a job in itself, one that is essential and exists in all large industries.
Typically the project manager will plan, initiate, manage and maintain large projects, and usually manage all project resources, establish their own procedures and protocols required to achieve the project goals.
Maybe you would enjoy a career in project management where you would manage a project from the initial planning stages through to delivery. We will take a brief look at project management in this lesson.
Project management is a necessary role now because projects are often international or global, in industries such as IT, construction, and telecommunications. A project manager (PM) might manage a new systems development and rollout, or equipment installations, or development of a new building or complex.
Who needs these skills?
Project management is however a skill that most managers will need to deploy every day – planning, organising and delivering projects is fundamental to most management roles. It calls for skills you probably already have – strong time management skills, organisation, leadership and attention to detail.
So for example a manager tasked with carrying out a feasibility study for a new business would deploy project skills. Also if they were asked to manage the launch of a new department, or product, or open a new retail store, all of these would need project management skills.
So in this context a project is a piece of work with a defined timescale that will produce a particular result – be it a product or a service. It will usually have its own budget, quality standards and goals.
This is in contrast to on – going or repetitive activities that continually produce products or services, such as running a production line or a store.
The management of these two types of activity calls for different skills, controls and management strategies
Project management as a discipline was developed in fields such as civil construction, engineering and defence, around the 1950’s.Before this most managers would rely on simplistic tools such as the Gantt Chart and Critical Path Analysis.
A Gantt chart is a type of bar chart, developed by Henry Gantt in the 1910s.It illustrates a project schedule, offering a visual illustration of the start and finish dates of the different parts of a project,
To complete a project successfully, a large number of activities have to be controlled and completed on schedule. Sometimes a new part of the project can’t be begun until the previous part is completed, and sometimes tasks can overlap
If one deadline is missed or something is finished out of sequence, it can affect the rest of the project. So it is useful to be able to see all the tasks that need to be done, and know when each one has to be completed.
Gantt charts convey the information visually by depicting the tasks in a project, and their order, against a timescale. This gives an overview of a project,
To make a Gantt chart, all the tasks involved in the project will need to be defined, as well as who is responsible for each task, how long it will take, and what problems may arise.
Once the detailed planning is done the manager will know that the schedule is workable, the right people are allocated to each task, and there are contingency plans in place. They will also be able to establish the minimum time the project will take to deliver, and which tasks have to be completed before others can start.
The chart can be used to model schedule changes and their implications, or to communicate that key tasks are complete.
Critical path analysis
CPA is a technique used by project managers that defines the activities needed to complete a project, the time that will be required for each activity and the relationship between the activities. The critical path is the length of the sequence of tasks that have to be completed individually so that the project is completed.
It helps to identify the critical path, or the element of the task with the longest timescale associated with it. Put simply, this defines if a project can be completed in time.
Once the critical path is established, the earliest completion time can be calculated. It may also be used to reorganize the project if problems are encountered.
Food preparation as an example
An example that most people will easily associate with is food preparation.
So let’s consider a meal which includes roasting some meat, which is to be left in a beautiful marinade overnight, prior to cooking. The meat requires a roasting time of 2 hours, and is then to be left to rest for 30 minutes before being served.
Accompaniments will be brown rice, which will require 20 minutes cooking time, and salad which will be served cold.
Before the meal we will serve some handmade appetisers which require 30 minutes preparation time, but can be prepared in advance, then 5 minutes frying time.
After the meal we will serve fresh fruit and cheeses.
So, the critical path is the preparation of the marinade, immersion of the meat in the marinade overnight, roasting of the meat, and the resting time of 30 minutes. This is the element of the task with the longest timescale associated with it.
The preparation of the marinade and the marinating of the meat must be started the day before the meal, or the project cannot be completed on time
So on the day, assuming a meal time of T, the meat must be placed in a hot oven at T minus 2 hours and 30 minutes. If the oven takes 15 minutes to warm it should be switched on at T minus 2 hours and 45 minutes, or the meal will be delayed.
The rice should be put on at T minus 20 minutes to ensure it is ready but fresh and hot.
Around this can be placed the other required activities, such as salad preparation which is not time critical, and the plating up of fruit and cheeses, also not time critical
We must remember to prepare the appetisers at some point so that they can be cooked at T minus 5 minutes.
We have planned all our food to be ready at the same time, when actually to serve and eat the appetisers will take 15 minutes. So we need to revise the other times around this.
So the meat must be placed in a hot oven at T minus 2 hours and 15 minutes.
The oven should be switched on at T minus 2 hours and 30 minutes.
The rice should be put on at T minus 5 minutes, so it can cook while we eat the appetisers.
The non-time critical elements can be planned into the schedule, but they may depend on other factors such as delivery of the products. This must be taken into account in their scheduling.