A project is a carefully defined endeavor that has a specific start and completion date undertaken to produce results according to the project’s objectives. Projects use resources such as people’s time and energy, money, materials, physical space and information. In the planning of a project, you will be asking yourself who is going to do what, when, where, how and why? To put it a different way, the three elements of project planning are the product (beneficial results), the schedule (start and end dates) and the resources. There are two inputs, time and money that need to be efficiently transformed into benefits in such a way that the benefits are maximized and the inputs are minimized.
Project management is the discipline of planning, organizing, and managing resources to bring about the successful completion of specific project goals and objectives. The success of a project is often defined as having completed the work on time and on budget. The challenge of project management is to achieve all of the project goals and objectives while adhering to the project constraints of scope, time and budget. The other challenge is to optimize the allocation and integration of inputs necessary to meet pre-defined objectives. A major component of scope is the quality of the final product. The amount of time put into individual tasks determines the overall quality of the project. Some tasks may require a given amount of time to complete adequately, but given more time could be completed exceptionally. Since it is not realistic, in our world of limited resources, to expect the very best quality product for the lowest price completed in the shortest amount of time, it is necessary to set priorities in these three areas.
A process is not a project. A process is a series of routine steps. A process is a permanent or semi-permanent functional work to repetitively produce the same product or service. Processes do not have end dates, whereas projects do. A project may exist who's purpose is to develop a new process to achieve a certain function. For example, you may have the project of implementing a computer software application that will change the process of entering financial information into the computer.
A program is not a project. A program is a set of activities performed towards achieving a long-term goal. Since programs never completely achieve their goal or goals, they too do not have end dates, and therefore are not projects. There may be one or more projects implemented as part of a long-term program to achieve some sort of educational goal, for example.
Time, Cost and Quality
A project is defined as an endeavor (cost) that has a start and end date (time) to produce results (quality) according to objectives. We all want good results quickly at a minimum cost. In other words, we all want it good fast and cheap but since we live in a world of limited resources, we will need to set priorities in these three areas. If you consistently tried to be the best at all three, you may eventually go out of business. Assuming that you can’t have all three, you might decide to focus on two of them and let the third one be satisfactory. This isn't to say that you should strive for excellence in all that you do. These three factors are often thought of an drawn as a triangle. The triangle shows each side as one of the three factors. The longer the side the higher the priority. When you change the length of one side, at least one other side’s length is affected.
Projects, whether complex or simple can be broken down into five phases. The middle three phases are not necessarily performed in the order specified as new information becomes available. Design, executing and performing are activities that are constantly changing along the way. Sometimes different terms are used to describe the five phases.
1. Initiation/Creating Articulate the vision for the project, establish goals, planning a team of people, and define expectations and the scope of the project. Do a cost/benefit analysis.
2. Planning/Defining/Designing Detail how the project’s results will accomplish goals, identify assumptions, identify specific tasks and activities to be completed, identify the project team’s roles, identify risks, and develop a schedule and a budget.
3. Starting Accomplish goals by assembling and leading a team of people, communicate, solve problems, set up information tracking systems for project control, and building the project.
4. Performing/Controlling/Monitoring Do the work, compare and communicate performance with plans, make needed changes to the project, adjust the schedule to respond to issues, and adjust expectations, project scope and goals as needed.
5. Closure Deliver the project to your audience, acknowledge results, and assess its success. Take the time to compose a written evaluation of the project and the development effort.
Phase 1 Initiation
Ideas that are articulated signal the beginning of the conceive phase. In this phase you will need to answer the following questions: What could be done? Should you do it? Do the benefits outweigh the costs? Can you do it? Is the project technically possible? Who will the project manager be?
Phase 2 Planning
The plan phase answers the question how the project’s objectives will be achieved. A project plan is written in this phase that details answers to this question. What exactly is the project trying to
accomplish and why? What are the reasons for the project and what are the assumptions? Detailed explanations of the reasons for doing the project and the underlying assumptions are needed.
A Statement of Work is a written confirmation of what the project will produce and the terms and conditions of the project. The people who requested the work and the main people of the project
team all need to agree to all of the terms in the Statement of Work document.
Phase 3 Starting
In the start phase, preparations are made to begin the project’s actual work. The actual tasks involved in the project are not started until the performing phase begins. The first thing to do is to assemble the project team and assign roles to them and tasks to them. Team members should know when the project starts work, how they will accomplish their tasks and how they will be managed. Tracking systems are set up to track time and money and the team members should know how to use these systems.
Phase 4 Performing
This is the phase where actual project work is performed and controlled. Team members perform their tasks and report their progress to their supervisor or project manager. A comparison is made between actual tasks completed and the project plan created in phase 2, as well as the resources used so far and still needed. Issues that arise are reported and dealt with. Periodically the team members meet to discuss the overall progress of the project.
Phase 5 Closing
When all of the project tasks that are completed, there are still a few final things that need to be done. Your client’s approval of the final results are necessary. The project’s resource accounts should be closed. The project team then meets to discuss and evaluate the project and identify the lessons learned.
Phases are Dynamic
In many projects, the phases don’t always fully complete until the next phase begins. The success of the project will likely depend on taking this flexible approach. You may have to work on one or more phases at the same time in order to meet the project’s deadlines. In other cases you may have to go back and modify your project plan due to any number of changes that occurred, such as a change in project personnel, project scope or the project’s budget.
Requirements of Successful Projects
Projects first need commitment from management and team members to be successful. Projects need people with decision-making authority to be involved. Projects need accurate, complete and timely information. They need to have good communication. The project manager will need to successfully manage people, systems (procedures for acquiring and assigning resources) and processes (the work’s planning, organizing, controlling and decision making).
As defined in the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) 2000 Edition, a project plan is “A formal, approved document used to guide both project execution and project control. The primary uses of the project plan are to document planning assumptions and decisions, facilitate communication among stakeholders, and document approved scope, cost, and schedule baselines. A project plan may be summary or detailed.”
A project charter or project definition (sometimes called the terms of reference) is a statement of the scope, objectives and participants in a project. It provides a preliminary definition of roles and responsibilities, outlines the project objectives, identifies the main stakeholders, and defines the authority of the project manager. It serves as a reference of authority for the future of the project.
Phase 2 Planning Activities
Planning all of the important work of a project is one of the most important factors of successful project management. It is discussed here in some detail. After the work is planned it is also important to estimate the time and resources it will take to complete it. When beginning to list all of the activities and tasks of the project, it is recommended to start at the top and use a hierarchical approach. Break the project down to a few parts or phases. Take each phase and further break that down to major activities. For each activity, list the tasks involved. List any subtasks as necessary. Include all the relevant details. How far should you continue to breakdown these activities or tasks? If you estimate that an activity will take longer than a week then perhaps it should be broken down further, but not necessarily. Activities that are months or years in the future may not be so easy to breakdown into subtasks if there are too many unknowns. This is a process that will require regular periodic revision. If an activity is difficult to estimate the needed resources (time, money and so on) then breaking it down further will help. If the activity is difficult to communicate to another person such they clearly understand what needs to be done, break it down further. There are many cases where decisions need to be made and these decisions can be activities themselves and should be included in the list.
Phase 2 Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)
After listing all of these activities in detail, in order and in a hierarchical fashion you will have your first draft of your Work Breakdown Structure. You may wish to use a numbering system. For example, if one of your activities is to purchase a computer, and its the fifth activity in your list, you would call that activity 5.0.0 Purchase Computer. The tasks might be to determine the specifications of the computer, get three quotes, make a decision then purchase the computer, as follows: 5.1.0 Determine Specifications 5.2.0 Get Three Quotes 5.3.0 Make Decision 5.4.0 Purchase. In the third task, Make Decision, you might want to break that down further into first deciding the decision criteria (the most important thing is the warranty, for example), creating a spreadsheet listing the three computer quotes and their specifications, then actually deciding. Your numbering system would then have 5.3.1, 5.3.2 and 5.3.3 for the three tasks under Make Decision.
Phase 2 100% Rule
The 100% Rule of the WBS states that the WBS includes all of the work defined in the project scope and all of the deliverables in the project’s scope. This rule applies to all levels of the hierarchy such that the sum of the work at the child level equals all of the work at the parent level.
Phase 2 Mutually Exclusive
There can be no overlap in scope definition between two elements of a WBS. The same element cannot be included twice. If it is, this ambiguity could result in duplication of work and miscommunication regarding authority and responsibility.
Phase 2 Work Breakdown Structure Dictionary
Detail any risks that you think of when preparing your Work Breakdown Structure. To do this you might create other documents that support each activity or task. You could include any “what if” scenarios as well. You might also think of any resources you need. A Work Breakdown Structure Dictionary is what you are creating now. You might also who the individual who is responsible for the task. You might detail exactly what the output of the activity is. In the above computer purchase example, the output is obvious. It is not so obvious when the activity involves the production of a document or report and therefore it may need to be fully explained. Finally, the task might require a narrative of exactly the processes and procedures used to complete the task.
Phase 2 Planning the Schedule
With the Work Breakdown Structure completed, and possibly an accompanying Work Breakdown Structure Dictionary, you are now ready to document the estimated duration of each task and the sequence of tasks. A PERT chart is a network diagram that show the activities, the duration of the activities, the milestones (you may also call them deliverables, events, results or victories) and also shows which activities must be completed before the next activity is started. The network diagram is also called a dependency diagram. Each activity can be drawn using an arrow. The arrow has a start and end point and the start and end points can be drawn using two circles, one where the arrow starts and one where the arrow ends. Inside the circles are the events or milestones. Every project must have at least one arrow and a milestone for "Start" and another milestone for "End". You may decide to label all of the other milestones using the alphabet. The arrow is labeled with the name of the activity and the span time. One way to do this is to use the numbering system described above and using the letter "t". For example, the activity of getting three quotes would be written on the diagram using an equation with the letter "t" with a subscript of "5.2.0", the equals sign, and the span time such as "1 week". The span time of one week is the actual calendar time needed to complete the task, not the number of hours required to complete the task by an individual. In other words the span time will include the time waiting for the vendors to reply to your request for three quotes. If you determine the immediate predecessors for every activity in your project, you now have all the information you need to draw your project's network diagram. There may be several activities that must be completed before moving on to the next set of activities. This is a milestone. In the diagram you will show several arrows pointing to this milestone and you would label it accordingly, such as "Ready To …". The 80% rule states that no single task in your WBS should require more than 80 hours of actual work. If it does, break it down into smaller tasks. The 80 hours refers to actual total work time required to do the task, not the span time of the activity.
Phase 2 Network Diagram
The network diagram is also called the project logic diagram. Parallel tasks are tasks which are not dependant on the completion of any other task. They may be done at any time before or after a particular design stage is reached. Dependant tasks are tasks that are dependant on another activity being completed first. The outputs of one task may be the inputs of the next task, such that the design of a house forms the inputs of the construction process.
Phase 2 Gantt Chart
A Gantt chart is a graph illustrating on a timeline when each activity will start, be performed and end and also shows the milestones and when they will be achieved. Time is shown along the bottom, moving from left to right. The beginning of the project starts at the top of the chart showing the first activity at the top. Software packages can be very useful with creating and printing Gantt charts.
Common Mistakes of Project Planning
Many people underestimate the project’s inputs and it’s obstacles to completion. Many people don’t do enough planning. There is a temptation, once the project gets a “green light”, to jump in and start doing the work itself without fully planning and researching at the outset. This is why this discussion on project management has focused primarily on Phase 2. The project manager too often gets too involved in the details of the work itself at the expense of coordinating the entire project.