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What is project management?

According to the Association for Project Management (APM), Project Management is;

Project management is the application of processes, methods, skills, knowledge and experience to achieve specific project objectives according to the project acceptance criteria within agreed parameters. Project management has final deliverables that are constrained to a finite timescale and budget.

A key factor that distinguishes project management from just ‘management’ is that it has this final deliverable and a finite timespan, unlike management which is an ongoing process. Because of this a project professional needs a wide range of skills; often technical skills, and certainly people management skills and good business awareness.


A similar, but lengthier definition is offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI);

More specifically, what is a project? It is a temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service or result.

A project is temporary in that it has a defined beginning and end in time, and therefore defined scope and resources.

And a project is unique in that it is not a routine operation, but a specific set of operations designed to accomplish a singular goal. So, a project team often includes people who don’t usually work together — sometimes from different organizations and across multiple geographies.

The development of software for an improved business process, the construction of a building or bridge, the relief effort after a natural disaster, the expansion of sales into a new geographic market — all are projects.

And all must be expertly managed to deliver the on-time, on-budget results, learning and integration that organizations need.

Project management, then, is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.


PRINCE2 defines projects and project management as follows:

What is a project?

A project is a temporary venture that exists to produce a defined outcome. Each project will have agreed and unique objectives as well as its own project plan, budget, timescale, deliverables and tasks. A project may also involve people from different teams within an organization who are brought together to accomplish a specific goal.

What is project management?

Project management can be defined as the discipline of applying specific processes and principles to initiate, plan, execute and manage the way that new initiatives or changes are implemented within an organization. Project management is different to management of business as usual activity, which is an ongoing process, as it involves creating new work packages to achieve agreed ends or goals.

Three definitions of the same skill using the same and similar terminology to articulate the same thing. Across all three definitions they attempt to explain the project management triangle of Scope, Cost and Time to determine the quality of the project delivery.


Why does the project triangle exist?

What is good about PRINCE are the meaning behind the words used in the Acronym. PRojects IN Controlled Environments — the two key words are controlled and environment.

· A project will be assigned a goal/objective/outcome to deliver (Scope).
· The project will have a desirable or required date with which to deliver the scope (Time)
· The sponsor (entity that is paying for the work to be done) will have a finite amount of money to invest in its delivery (Cost).

With all these factors analysed, you have your controlled environment. The control is the autonomy given to the Project Manager to ensure the delivery meets the 3 criteria — To scope, on time and within budget. The art form is controlling these conditions to determine the quality of the end delivery.

The project management triangle does not determine the success of a project, it is used to analyse the progress of a project to reach its successful conclusion. Other factors are used to measure the success of the project at the end of the project’s lifecycle.


Quality

Quality is about expectation. What you assume you will receive from a product may be very different to what other people delivering the work for you assume is what you want. If there is a mismatch here, the delivery of what it is you asked for is not what you get. The delivery did not meet expectations, the quality is not as expected and ultimately the project did not meet its goal and could be considered a failure.

Control needs to be asserted throughout the delivery of the work to ensure what is being delivered is as agreed as part of the scope, within the budget agreed and can be delivered within the time-frame. The art form is ensuring the scope correctly articulates the quality of the result.

In technology projects, a commonly used practice is to express the scope as stories. Instead of writing about requirements, the focus shifts to talking about them. Stories usually take the following form:

As a < user>, I want < some goal > so that < some reason >.

Example: As a customer I want to pay for my goods using my mobile so that I do not have to get my wallet out.

Sounds lazy, but there is logic behind this story. The customer behaviour could be just about being lazy or they are security conscious, having had their wallet stolen from them in the past. It could also benefit the shop because if the delivery of the story allows the customer to pay more quickly, the shop attendant could serve more customers, increasing revenue.

So how would this meet customer expectations? Through customer surveys, the retailer may expose that customers generally spend up to 3.5 minutes trying to find a method payment, entering details to pay and then putting payment methods away before being able to leave with their goods.

The retailer may calculate that if there was a 50% reduction in time taken to make a payment, the shop assistant may be able to add 25% more transactions daily. If the retailer had 1,000 shop assistants working across their retail estate — the retailer may realise an increased revenue potential and/or a lower cost requirement as less shop assistants are required to achieve the same revenue targets.

In this example, the scope is for the customer to be able to pay for their goods, but the quality is clearly defined as creating payment methods that enable customers to pay for their goods within 1.75 minutes. In this example, the quality is intrinsically linked to the Time variable. The cost to deliver this really cannot exceed the projected revenue gains and/or cost savings estimated by delivering to this level of quality, otherwise it is not worth delivering the story at all.

Now, if the delivery team find it takes three times longer to deliver this story than planned, is the story still worth delivering? If the impact of additional time and cost suggest it is, then the story is likely to continue. If not, it is most likely to be cancelled. There are cases where stories enable other stories to exist. In these cases, the story itself does not really add any value, but is part of a larger collection of stories where they depend upon this story for overall success.

This example looked at quality in one way only. It also uses a relatively simple (and very common) situation project managers face when aiming to deliver something within the environmental conditions created.


Control

So many factors can change during the delivery of a project that can affect the result. Without a person, or group of people, aware of these changing conditions and controlling how they will impact the end delivery, the end delivery will invariably miss the conditions set on it.

An example: a project has an agreed budget of £1m to deliver a mobile application across multiple devices. The mobile application cannot go over this budget — the company is a start-up and cost conscious. The requirements for the application are agreed and delivery proceeds. However, one of the features agreed upon is far more complex to deliver than originally estimated. It will take the delivery team 3 times longer to deliver the feature than originally estimated. What should be done?

If cost is the fixed condition, then time and/or scope from the project management triangle must shift. This will change the quality of the end outcome. The project manager offers two options to the Client:

1. Push the launch date back by the additional time estimated to deliver the feature.
2. Remove the feature from the scope of the application launch.

The risk averse client will pick option 2 as they will want to protect their budget. That is what is most important to them. Their rationale is likely to see the project will come in under-budget and the feature that did not make the launch could still be delivered post launch as a result of the anticipated revenues generated from the launch of the product. The project is still a success because the Client’s expectations have been managed and the outcome is still achieved.

A risk tolerant Client may choose Option 1 if there is sufficient trust the revised estimate can be delivered within budget. On this basis, the project could still succeed with the original scope intact. However, the delivery team may not meet their revised estimate and require more money to complete. Further, the Client may not know how tight a grip the project manager has on the budget and the spend for the feature is at the cost of completing the product for its intended launch. The Client risks the product never launching as a result.

The Client has a choice, put trust in the revised estimate and the project manager to keep a tight grip on the financial running and delivery of the project to delivery all the features originally planned, or agree to the removal of the feature to protect the budget and secure the launch of a product.

The Client chooses option 2. Is the project still a success? Yes. Why? Because the project manager has controlled the expectations of what the Client will receive for the launch date (the goal). The project manager used the triangle to analyse the situation, offer options (and recommendations) for the Client to decide what to do. The Client can make an informed decision that enables their product to launch within budget. The informed decision agrees to the changing situation and changes the definition for the successful outcome of the project.


Without a project manager, the Client will still be expecting that feature within budget. The delivery team will have continued to deliver the more complicated feature, risked spending all their budget on completing this one feature before completing other features to complete the product for launch. The project will have run out of money and at worst do not have a viable product to launch at all, leaving the Client with an incomplete outcome.

Without a project manager, sponsors of initiatives risk the intended objectives to consume more budget, more time and potentially deliver features that were never part of the agreed delivery. Even if a member of the delivery team assumed the role of a project manager, they invariably will not have been trained in ways to manage a project, leading to increased probability of failure to complete the intended objective within the environmental conditions set.


Governance

Project Management as a discipline has existed since the beginning of time. Wolves organise themselves into packs for travel and hunting, with one coordinating for a successful outcome. Humans organise themselves into teams, companies, governments, enterprises to achieve a common goal.

It has only really been since the early 1900’s that scientific method, practice and formality has been applied to the project management discipline, creating frameworks for successful delivery. These frameworks govern how a project will start, end and everything in between. Governance provides a recognised framework for project managers to exert their control over the project to ensure it meets its objectives.

PRINCE2, APM, and PMI all have governance frameworks, recognising a project goes through multiple stages to reach its successful conclusion. The framework recognises artefacts that should be delivered within each stage to ensure the progress of the future stages go smoothly. They are largely based upon the same core but approach sequencing the delivery in slightly different ways.

Part of a Project Manger’s skillset is to understand these governance frameworks and apply them to the project to be delivered and tailor the framework to suit the organisational processes where the project is to be delivered. No two organisations are the same. One organisation may not have a governance framework at all and expect the project manager to devise one as part of their delivery. Others may have a centralised Project Management Office that has defined the governance framework that all project managers must follow.

Frameworks are scalable. Projects have a framework that fit into programme frameworks, that can also fit into portfolio frameworks.

Without a project manager, it is likely no framework will be followed and a sponsor’s investment in getting something done cannot be controlled and managed to meet their expectations.


Risk Management

When you boil this phrase down, everything is risk. Getting out of bed could be risk if it results in over-exertion and a heart attack. There is a risk of getting hit by a bus, there is a risk of choking on your food. Risk is everywhere.

As a project manager, the skill is how you analyse the environment the project resides within and identify the risks that may impact the project, the actions you can take that are within and outside of your control, the outcome of taking those actions and the resulting risk (residual) left as a result of taking those actions.

The keyword here is ‘may’; what might impact the successful outcome of the project? Project Managers need to analyse their environment and work with people to understand what options there are resolve impacts that could stop the project from succeeding. Not only are they picking up concerns expressed by other people and validating them, they are recognising potential issues from the reporting they are gathering. This is not crystal balling; it is utilising trends from experience and more importantly listening. Listening can only happen if you have open communication with the people who are impacting the project. By establishing sound relationships with these stakeholders, they are more likely to communicate with you. Their language, expression, emotional behaviour and even off hand comments expose concerns they have from an angle a project manager simply cannot cover. A project manager cannot have ‘oversight’ knowledge, they can only take in feeds from all the Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) to process that data and output it as information that recognises potential risk to a project.

Beware of the offhand comment by a single stakeholder, they can invariably be a single small factor that ends up snowballing into a situation that causes project failure. As a project manager, you are the eyes and ears. Looking and listening for risk so it does not become an issue is vital to its success. There is no harm in over-cooking identification of risk, you are simply closing off more items that you know are not going to impact the project’s success. Better this than under-cooking and not picking up on items that end up derailing the project. If a sponsor does not recognise that principle, make it clear to them at the outset that open dialogue between the sponsor and project manager needs to be tight, otherwise the project will fail.


Approaches

There are many approaches to project management, each with their own effectiveness. It is wise to get to understand these if you become a project manager and go into organisations that already have governance frameworks set up.

Some of the approaches are as follows:

Benefits Realisation Approach:
Outlining the benefits from the outset and tracking these measures through project conclusion to measure the success of the project.

Critical Chain Approach:
Applying the theory of constraints, the organisation already knows it does not have enough resources to complete all the projects it wants to deliver and prioritise those that are critical to success and organise resources for smooth transition from one to another.

Earned Value/Schedule Approach:
Performance Based management system to track progress of projects, particularly well suited for software projects. It enables sponsors to only pay for value delivered. For example, the budget is £5,000/week. The value delivered was £4,000 — the sponsor need only pay £4,000 but may decided to £4,500 as part of the commercial terms.

Iterative/Incremental Approach:
Again popular in software development, but also in projects with high degrees of ambiguity and large factors that are unknown. Utilising the cone of uncertainty, measures can be put in place to deliver specific phases of work as a project in itself, as opposed to looking to budget all the perceived phases of a project. It helps to break down larger initiatives into more manageable chunks of work for investment.

Lean Approach:
Popular in manufacturing for developing materials with less waste and reduced time.

Phased Approach:
More akin to a traditional waterfall approach. All projects theoretically go through phased approaches, it depends upon how rigid process of delivering the work for each phase is going to be. Agile tends to carry out all the phases as part of smaller, more functional, and focused delivery. Waterfall will only move from design into development once all designs for the entire project have been done, (as opposed to say the designs for one story within a project of 100 stories).

Process Based:
As the name suggests, the approach focuses on the processes used within an organisation and measures success by maturing the improvements in these processes. Typically realised through automation of processes to increase efficiencies within governmental organisations.

Product Based:
Products is most closely aligned to PRINCE2. Looking at the objective and breaking it down into smaller component parts for delivery. It works well for Work Breakdown structure, and for product focused companies that have recognised product management functions that build out roadmaps of value delivery.


It is likely an organisation, consciously or sub-consciously, will veer towards a one or multiple approaches. Therefore, tailoring your delivery to suite their preferred approach will enable the organisation to track success in line with their preferred approach. Further, understanding these approaches makes it clearer to you when discussing prospective engagements whether your preferred approaches match with the prospective Clients (if they have one).


Summary

A detailed and hopefully insightful description of project management. The benefit of a project manager enables those sponsoring the initiative to ensure a best practice approach to governance is applied to control and mitigate risks that jeopardise the successful delivery of the initiative. Without one the project is far less likely to succeed in reaching the expectations the sponsor is looking to achieve from their investment.


Would you like to know more?

If you found this article useful, do let me know, it will encourage me to do more. If you want me to write about anything specific on project, programme, portfolio or PMO management, get in touch. I plan to release more under the title “P4 Perspectives” so follow/subscribe to be notified for the next one.

The P4P series, and this article in the series is also published through Medium. Read Here..

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