There are many projects that begin well and unfortunately conclude in failure. The most likely culprit is a lack of understanding of the foundational principles of project management. It is a good idea for even seasoned project managers to review these principles periodically to ensure their proper application throughout the project management life cycle.
It is often said that Project Management is part science and part art, although it follows a systematic process. Appropriately applying the knowledge and tools of project management greatly increases the possibility of project success. Understanding and applying basic project management principles is, therefore, imperative for successful project management execution.
This article provides a brief overview, and, perhaps, review of the basic principles of the project management discipline. It is based somewhat on the popular PMP Exam Prep guide by Rita Mulcahy.
A project is defined in its simplest form by two statements from the Project Management Institute: 1) it is a temporary effort and has a definite beginning and an end; 2) it creates a unique product or service. The project end is particularly important to define so there is agreement among team members and customers on what project completion means.
Once a project is complete, the product or service is provided to operations for implementation. The transition from projects work to operations work may require updates to the operations procedures and/or employee training, which all are considered part of the project.
Operations vs. Projects
Because operations work and project work are closely related, it is important to distinguish between the two. Those who do not understand the difference between operations work and project work may be tempted to handle an operations effort like a project, which does not work. Also, most work in an organization is described by either operations work or projects work.
So if you understand these two work types you will better know how to approach the task at hand. The main distinguishing feature of operations work is that it is ongoing. It is continuous in nature. Projects work, however, has a definite beginning and end, as described above. Operations work also tends to produce similar (non-unique) products.
The triple constraint of Project Management is a description of the three most important and opposing constraints that all projects undergo. One cannot change one of the constraints without affecting either one or both of the other constraints. The three constraints of time, cost, and scope are on the three opposing sides of a triangle as displayed in Figure 1.
Notice that in the center is quality. That is because any change to the time, cost, or scope of the project will affect the quality, so quality goes in the center of the triangle as a central theme.
In addition to the triple constraint and quality, the project manager must prioritize resources, risk, and customer satisfaction. A knowledge of all the main constraints (time, cost, scope, quality, resources, risk, and customer satisfaction) in a project is important to know how to adjust appropriately to their competing demands. Again, understanding the impact of changing one constraint on any one of the others is critical.
The question to ask here is who are my stakeholders? There is usually a long list of stakeholders that extend well beyond the project sponsor and customer. A stakeholder is any person that may be affected either positively or negatively by the project. The project manager’s task is to make certain that all the stakeholders understand the project and agree on what project success looks like.
Project Life Cycle
A project life cycle describes all the phases that a project goes through. The project life cycle is linear and describes what you need to do to do the work. It is a logical breakdown of the steps required to produce the deliverables of the project. Projects are either plan-driven or change-driven. Plan-driven projects have the scope, time, and cost determined early in the life of the project. Change-driven projects are iterative or incremental, and the scope definition is minimal. Generally, the change-driven scope definition is clarified just sufficiently for time and cost estimates.
Project Management Processes
It is important to understand all the phases of project management. These are what you need to do to manage the project. The phases of project management are as follows:
- Monitoring & controlling
The project is officially approved in project initiating. After initiating comes planning. Planning involves stepping through the project and getting it organized before actually doing the work.
The executing phase is where you complete the work defined in the project management plan, and also meet the project objectives.
The purpose of the monitoring and controlling phase is to measure project performance against the project management plan. Here you also approve change requests.
Finally, we come to the often-neglected phase of closing. Closing goes beyond scope completion. It is good here to get customer feedback on their satisfaction for the completed project.
By definition a project is a temporary endeavor to produce a unique product or service. It is distinguished from operations work by its temporary nature. Good project managers know how to keep the delicate balance between scope, time, and cost and the closely associated quality.
Additionally, they are aware of all project constraints and the impact of changing any one constraint on the other constraints. Identifying all stakeholders is an important step in successful project management. Expand your concept of stakeholders to include anyone who will be affected by the project.
Project life cycles are either predictive or incremental. Again, project management follows a systematic approach. Knowing the process of managing a project provides a framework for understanding the tools and techniques involved in project management.