Anything that has a start, a finish and produces a deliverable is a project. A project is unique because it is not a routine operation, but a specific set of operations designed to accomplish a singular goal.
Within organisations, a project will require collaboration between many people for execution. In order for this to occur, it is vital that organisations implement effective project management.
What is project management?
Project management is the method by which a project is planned, monitored, controlled and reported on – in other words, managed. Further, effective project management will ensure that the goals of a project closely align with the strategic goals of the business.
There are 5 key phases of project management:
These phases include:
- Initiation (Getting Started)
- Defining a Project
- Delivery Planning
- Project Governance (Monitoring and Reviewing Your Project)
- Closedown and Review
Here are tips for executing each key phase of effective project management in organisations:
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Phase 1: Initiation (Getting Started)
Initiation is the first phase of project management. This is where a project’s value and feasibility are measured.
Teams will abandon proposed projects that are labelled unprofitable and/or unfeasible.
However, projects that pass this phase can be assigned to a project team.
To carry out the initiation phase, we recommend the following:
- Develop a solid business case for your projects. Where appropriate, ensure you obtain the senior managers’ agreement before you start the project. Research points out that too many projects are started without a firm reason or rationale. Developing a business case will identify whether it is worth working on.
- Ensure your project fits with the key organisational or departmental agenda and your personal strategy. If not, why do it? Stick to priority projects.
- Carry out a risk analysis at a high level during the initiation stage. Avoid going into great detail here – create more of an overview focusing on the key risks.
- Identify key stakeholders at this early stage. Consider how much you need to consult or involve at the business case stage. Seek advice if necessary from senior managers.
- Where appropriate, involve finance people in putting the business case together. They can be great allies in helping crunch the numbers which should give credibility to your business case.
Phase 2: Defining a Project
Once the project is approved, it needs a well-written plan to guide the team and to keep them on time and within the organisation’s budget.
This phase will prepare organisations for the obstacles they might encounter over the course of the project and helps everyone understand the cost, scope and timeframe of the project.
To define a project, consider these tips:
- Produce a written project definition statement (sometimes called a PID) and use it to inform stakeholders. This document is your ‘contract’ to carry out the project and should be circulated to key stakeholders.
- Use the project definition statement to prevent going beyond the scope of the project, through its use in the review process.
- Identify in detail what will and will not be included in the project scope. Avoid wasting time by working on those areas which should not be included – identify these in the PID.
- Identify who fulfils which roles in your project. Document them on the PID. Include a paragraph to show what each person does.
- Identify who has responsibility for what in the project e.g. project communications is the responsibility of AD. This helps reduce doubt early in the life of the project.
- Think ‘Team Selection’ – give some thought to who should be on your team. Analyse whether they have the skills required to enable them to carry out their role. If not, ensure they receive the right training. Check that they are available for the period of the project. This includes any contractors you may need to use.
- Form a group of Project Managers. The Project Manager’s role can sometimes be very lonely! Give support to each other by forming a group of Project Managers.
- Identify who the stakeholders are for your project – those affected by the project. This should be an in-depth analysis which needs updating regularly.
- Recognise early in the life of the project what is driving the project. Is it a drive to improve quality, reduce costs, or hit a particular deadline? You can only have one. Discuss with the sponsor what is driving the project and ensure you stick to this throughout. Keep “the driver” in mind, especially when you monitor and review.
- Hold a kick off meeting (Start-up Workshop) with key stakeholders, sponsor, project manager and project team. Use the meeting to help develop the PID. Identify risks and generally plan the project. If appropriate, hold new meetings at the start of a new stage.
- Ensure you review the project during the Defining a Project Stage. Involve your sponsor or senior manager in this process. Remember to check progress against the business case.
Phase 3: Delivery Planning
In this phase, organisations will be building deliverables that satisfy the customer and the organisation’s needs.
Team leaders make this happen by allocating resources and keeping team members focused on their assigned tasks.
This phase relies heavily on the definition phase.
In the delivery planning phase, we recommend:
- Create a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) for the project. A WBS is a key element you will need to develop your plan. It lists all of the activities you will need to undertake to deliver the project. Post-it notes can be a great help in developing your WBS.
- Group tasks under different headings once you have a list. This will enable you to identify the chunks of work that need to be delivered, as well as put together the Gantt chart and milestone chart.
- Identify dependencies (or predecessors) of all activities. This will let you put together the Gantt and milestone charts. Ensure you write them down otherwise, you are trying to carry potentially hundreds of options in your head.
- Estimate how long each activity will take. Be aware that research points out that we are notoriously bad at estimating. If you estimate a task will take 3 days, identify how confident you are that you can deliver in 3 days by using percentages e.g. “I am only 40% certain I can deliver in 3 days.” You should aim for 80%. If you do not believe you can achieve 80% then re-calculate.
- Identify the critical path for the project. The critical path identifies those activities which have to be completed by the due date, in order to complete the project on time.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate! Delivering a project effectively means you need to spend time communicating with a wide range of individuals. Build a communication plan, review it regularly, and include it in your Gantt chart.
- Are you involved in a major change project? If you are, think through the implications of this on key stakeholders and how you may need to communicate with and influence them.
- Conduct a Risk Assessment – Carry out a full risk analysis and document it in a risk register. Regularly review each risk to ensure you are managing them, rather than having them manage you. Appoint a person to manage each risk.
- Develop a Gantt chart and use it to monitor progress against the plan and to involve key stakeholders in the communications process.
- Draw up a milestone plan. These are stages in the project. You can use the milestone dates to check the project is where it should be. Review whether activities have been delivered against the milestone dates and take a look forward at what needs to be achieved to deliver the next milestone.
Phase 4: Project Governance (Monitoring and Reviewing Your Project)
In the Project Governance phase, teams must monitor tasks, calculate key performance indicators and track deviations from allotted cost and time.
While executing a project, this vigilance helps keep the project moving ahead fluidly.
To do so, we suggest the following tips:
- Have a clear project management monitoring and reviewing process, agreed upon by senior managers (the Project Sponsor and the Project Board, if you have one).
- Ensure your organisation’s corporate governance structure and your project management monitoring and control structure are compatible. If you do not know whether this is the case, seek senior management involvement.
- Be aware early in the project what needs to be monitored, how they will be monitored and the frequency.
- Keep accurate records of your project, not only for audit purposes but to ensure you have documents that enable you to monitor changes.
- Use a Planned vs. Actual form. It allows you to monitor how you are progressing with specific tasks – time and money. Link these forms into milestone reviews.
- Identify with your sponsor the type of control that is needed – loose or tight or a variation of these, e.g. tight at the start, loose in the middle, tight at the end. Ensure the system you develop reflects the type of control intended.
- Agree on a system for project changes – have an agreed system for monitoring and approving changes. Use change control forms and obtain formal sign-off (agreement) by the sponsor, before action or change. Look for the impact of a change on the project scope as well as the “key driver” – quality, cost and time.
- Appoint someone responsible for project quality, especially in larger projects. Review quality formally with the client at agreed milestone dates.
- Make certain you have agreed on who can sanction changes in the absence of your sponsor. If you have not agreed to this, what will you do in their absence?
- Set a time limit for project meetings to review progress. Have an agenda with times against each item and summarise after each item, at the end of the meeting.
- Produce action points against each item on the agenda and circulate within 24 hours of the meeting. Use these action points to help in the creation of your next agenda.
- Review the items on the critical path, checking they are on schedule. Review risks, your stakeholders, your communication plans, and whether you are still on track to deliver on time, in budget, and to the required quality standard.
- Set a tolerance figure and monitor it e.g. a tolerance figure of ±5% means as long as you are within the 5% limit you do not have to formally report. If exceeding the 5% limit (cost or time), then you need to report this to the agreed person (probably your sponsor).
- Report progress against an end of a stage – are you on schedule, time, cost or quality? Ensure that if something is off schedule the person responsible for delivering it suggests ways to bring it back on time, within budget or to hit the right quality standard.
- Develop an issues log to record items that may be causing concern. Review at your project meetings.
- See whether you are still delivering the original project benefits when reviewing your project. If not, consider re-scoping or if appropriate, abandoning the project. Do not be afraid of abandoning a project. It may be better to abandon now rather than waste valuable time, money, and resources working on something that is no longer required. If you close a project early, hold a project review meeting to identify learning.
- Produce one-page reports highlighting key issues. Agree on the areas to include with the sponsor before writing a report.
- Use a series of templates to support the monitoring process, e.g. milestone reporting, change control, log, planned vs. actual.
- Apply traffic lights to illustrate how you are progressing – red, amber and green. Use these in conjunction with milestone reports.
- Engender honest reporting against specific deliverables, milestones, or a critical path activity. If you do not have honest reporting imagine the consequences.
Phase 5: Closedown and Review
The project can be closed once teams deliver the finished project to the customer, communicate completion to stakeholders and release resources for other projects.
This essential step in project management allows the team to evaluate and document the project and move on to the next one, using previous project mistakes and successes to build stronger processes and more successful teams.
Within this phase, consider these tips:
- Agree well in advance on a date to hold a post-project review meeting. Put this onto the Gantt chart.
- Invite key stakeholders, the sponsor and the project team to the post-project review. If the date is in their diary well in advance it should make it easier for them to attend.
- Focus your meeting on learning – identifying what you can use on the next project. Share the learning with others in the organisation.
- Check whether you have delivered the original project objectives and benefits, and have not gone out of scope.
- Make sure that you have delivered against budget, quality requirements and the end deadline.
- Understand how well you managed risks and your key stakeholders. Use questionnaires to obtain feedback.
- Prepare a list of unfinished items. Identify who will complete these after the project and circulate them to any stakeholders.
- Hand over the project formally to another group (it is now their day job) – if appropriate. You may need to build this into the project plan and involve them early in the plan and at different stages throughout the project.
- Write an End of Project report and circulate it. Identify key learning points in the report.
- Close the project formally. Inform others you have done this and who is now responsible for dealing with day-to-day issues.
- Celebrate the success with your team! Recognise achievement. There is nothing more motivating.
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