Project Management

[ Project Management Topics ]

If project content is allowed to change freely, the rate of change will exceed the rate of progress. (Keogh, 2002, p. 19)

Project Management Definition

Let’s start by describing a project. A project is a sequence of tasks with a definite beginning and end that is limited in duration, resources and expected outcomes. Thus, if you are working on an assignment that has no clear end in sight it may be better coined as a service, program, process, function, or other such term. A project has a start and an end and is usually only done once.

If the project seems to keep evolving into further projects or expanded definition, then you are experiencing scope creep. Scope creep is caused by adding work to a project that was not in the original specifications (or was not clearly defined in the original specifications) until it reaches the point that the original schedule, resource, or cost estimates become meaningless.

Project success is usually based on satisfying customer needs/desires in a timely manner using limited resources and with quality results; a key factor to this is successfully defining the project goals, scope, and requirements early on and ensuring all stakeholders are in agreement.

So now that we know what a project is, what is project management? Well, perhaps the greatest aspect of it is communication and the second greatest factor is organization skills. However, I don't think that would qualify as an official definition. Basically you can think of project management as involving five key processes:

To be successful with each process though you need to manage expectations, actively listen, clearly communicate, and ensure the project is on target in all aspects. There are four basic project management tasks:

Project Life Cycle

So now we have looked at project processes, now let’s concentrate for a bit on the project life cycle. Every project, as noted above, has a definite beginning and end. Due to this, it also has a life cycle. It starts with deciding to start the project and ends with either completion or termination of the project; however, let’s be a little more specific than that. Usually a project goes through some specific stages:

At a minimum, projects go through definition, planning, execution, and closing. Commonly at the end of each phase key stakeholders assess the project and decide to either stop or continue to the next stage.

Key Processes

Lets take a moment to look at each of the key processes in project management:

Initiating - At this level you determine if the project is worthwhile, feasible, practical, and of high value compared to other alternative projects. You also establish goals for the project, the general scope, the general expectations, define the environment (internal and external), and select initial members of the project team. Again, make sure you spend ample time assessing the project itself. Replacing a faulty process with a new one will not solve company problems. Make sure you are addressing the true issues and causes rather than surface or associated issues; and make sure your solutions satisfy real needs or desires instead of simply perceived needs/desires. Equally, spend some time defining potential audiences who could be affected by the proposed project and assumptions made in relation to the project.

Planning - By this time you have determined that you would like to try and move ahead with the project. Now you need to define the work necessary for project completion, identify needed resources (manpower and otherwise), create a project schedule, and develop a budget. At this point you need to refine the project scope and required time, results and resources specified in the initiating stage. You will want to list tasks and activities that will be required to achieve project goal and then sequence these in the most efficient manner possible. You want to be sure that this plan is agreed upon by all stakeholders. Clear specifications at this level will avoid scope creep and conflicting expectations in the progression of this project.

Execution/Implementation - Execution involves coordinating and guiding project participants to complete work as specified in the project plan developed during the planning stage. It also means procuring all necessary resources such as manpower, equipment, hard goods, and time. Throughout execution the project manager needs to communicate with stakeholders.

Controlling - This is basically watching over the project as a whole and making sure it stays on track. Using controlling processes the project manager ensures timelines are being met and job tasks being performed to specifications. It also incorporates change control which limits scope creep and deviations from the original plan. Basically you measure progress toward the objectives.

Closing - As you can guess, this is near the end of the project. At this point you reflect on how the project progressed and hopefully celebrate successful and satisfactory completion. An important part of this step is ensuring there is acceptance of the end-product and ensuring the outcome not only satisfies the original need/desire but is going to continue to be actively used after project completion. You also should review the project processes and outcomes with team members and stakeholders, and then write up a final project report.

Note: the planning, executing and controlling stages are often repeating stages occurring throughout the lifetime of the project, whereas the initiation and closing phases are commonly only done once.

Project Life Cycle

So now we have looked at project processes, now lets concentrate for a bit on the project life cycle. Every project, as noted above, has a definite beginning and end. Due to this, it also has a life cycle. It starts with deciding to start the project and ends with either completion or termination of the project. However, lets be a little more specific than that. Usually a project goes through some specific stages:

At a minimum projects go through definition, planning, execution, and closing. Commonly at the end of each phase key stakeholders assess the project and decide to either stop or continue to the next stage

Note: a project life cycle is different than a product life cycle. Product life cycle commonly includes requirements planning, product design, product construction, and product operations.


Learn more about project life cycles from R. Max Wideman at http://www.maxwideman.com/papers/plc-models/plc-models.pdf. Above is a basic summary of Wideman's resources.