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To begin the discussion of project management essentials, we must first define some project management terms. Let’s start with the definition of a project.
A project is a sequence of tasks that lead toward a singular goal. Projects have boundaries, such as the time, people and resources needed to complete the project. These all depend on what results you want to achieve and when you want to achieve them.
Those results are your outcome, which produce deliverables.
Deliverables, also known as requirements, are anything produced or provided because of the project. Deliverables can be both the results of the project itself, but also the results of the process of the project, such as the project plan, reports or other documents.
Projects are made up of deadlines. Each task and phase of the project has a due date, which means your project has a schedule.
Budgets are also part of a project. You need money to pay for the resources to meet the demands on the project within the time allotted. Typical resources include the workforce, work supplies and equipment. A project budget outlines these expenditures.
Most projects have five phases:
Initiation: Here is where you outline the project scope, the goals, the organization of the project, its business case, its constraints, who the stakeholders are, what the risks are, the project controls, the reporting framework, etc.
Planning: This is where you build the roadmap to take you from Point A to Point B, which means creating a schedule of the tasks, deadlines and resources needed to complete everything on time.
Execution: The project begins and the project plan is put into action.
Monitoring and Controlling: To make sure the project is proceeding as planned, you need to set up mechanisms for monitoring progress. If the project isn’t proceeding as planned, work to control and resolve issues before they become problems.
Closing: Projects are temporary endeavors, so they eventually come to an end and need to be formally closed. But it’s not as simple as producing deliverables, there’s paperwork to sign off on, resources to reallocate and other loose ends to tie up.
Effective project management requires effective task management because a project is broken down into tasks—smaller, more manageable pieces. Tasks are temporary activities with a either a defined duration or a deadline.
Because the success of a project is dependent on tasks being done in a timely manner, they are often prioritized and scheduled across a timeline. Some tasks are standalone acts, but others are dependent on the completion of one task to start another. These are called task dependencies. It’s critical to stay on track and get these tasks done so that the project proceeds according to its schedule.
A project would be considered successful if it produces the desired outcome while staying within the budget, scope and schedule.
Task Management Tools: There are task management tools that allow you to create to-do lists for yourself and assign tasks to team members. These tasks can sometimes have notes, files, links, and images attached that relate to the task, and team members can collaborate at the task level. You can also automate email notifications to know when a task is completed and to remind people of impending deadlines.
Timesheets and Workload Tools: In terms of managing the people working on the project, which can be a project by itself, there are timesheets. These are online documents that make it easy for each employee to track and record their hours worked, and they can be filed to the manager when complete for sign-off.
When it comes to managing the workload, resource allocation tools allow you to see at a glance if you’ve allocated your resources properly across the project so that everyone is working and the workload is balanced. In some cases, you can run reports from your workload management software, too.
WHO IS A PROJECT MANAGER?
Did you read the term project manager? I snuck it in earlier without attribution. It’s the person in charge of the project. That much is clear, but that might be too simple of an explanation.
The project manager leads the project through every phase. That means they’re responsible for first selling the project to stakeholders, then planning and defining the scope of the project.
Project managers figure out all the tasks necessary to achieve the project goals, then they sequence those tasks into a schedule. Those tasks and schedules are then given the resources needed to achieve the project’s objectives. That means assembling a team, getting the tools they need, supplies, securing a site, and whatever resources that are necessary.
The project manager is also the person who creates the project budget in order to pay for those resources. They are responsible for managing all the documentation, and then archiving those documents at the end of the project. They also manage risk and monitor project progress to make sure people are working unobstructed and within the schedule and budget.
So essentially, anything project related is under the purview of the project manager. They are the leaders of the project and manage the teams that are executing the project plan. However, they’re not the boss. The project manager has sold the idea of the project to a sponsor or stakeholder, and they report to them on the project’s progress.
Therefore, a project manager is a very well-organized person, one who is goal-oriented and passionate about process. A project manager must work well under pressure, provide leadership and know how to motivate people to do their best. Beyond people skills, communications skills are paramount. And they must know the methods and techniques that help deliver projects successfully.
THE TRIPLE CONSTRAINT
Regardless of the method you use to manage a project, understanding the triple constraint is key. All projects are carried out with certain constraints. These are cost, time and scope. That is, projects must come in within budget, be delivered on time and meet the agreed upon scope.
If you think of the triple constraint as a triangle, then if you’re managing the cost, time and scope, the triangle is quality. So, if you’re managing the cost, time and scope of the project, then you’re going to meet the customer’s quality requirements.
But the triple constraint is more than that; it’s like the ballast on a ship, and keeps the project balanced no matter how rough the waters get. For example, if you need more money, then you’re going to have to adjust the time or scope of the project. Accordingly, if you’re short on time, then the budget or scope will have to change.
If you keep the triple constraint in mind while managing your project, along with the project phases and management tools, then you have the means to make the necessary adjustments that can keep the project on track. It’s the formula for success.
Since the project is dynamic and the environment changes over time, the ability to document, review and manage risks is a primary job of the Project Manager. Ensuring that you minimize self-inflicted risks is critical as well, such as having an incomplete requirements list, not tracking the deliverables against the schedule, and losing track of the budget. These items can be reviewed and prevented before the project begins.