Chapter 1: Project Management Overview

Learning Objectives

  • Define projects and explain the characteristics of projects.
  • Describe project management and its benefits.
  • Identify primary project constraints.
  • Identify factors for project success and project management success and explain how these factors affect either the success or failure of projects.
  • Examine different types of expertise required in project management.
  • Assess the significance of developing skills in both the technical and socio dimension aspects of project management.

Project managers can be seen in public and private sectors and many industries including IT, finance and banking, law enforcement agencies, constructions, municipalities etc. For several decades, public sector projects were managed by contractors whose primary objective was a profit motive. At the end of the project, the contractor would provide the public sector agency with a deliverable, but on many occasions the contractor would walk away with the project management best practices and lessons learned. Public sector agencies now require contractors to share all project management intellectual property accumulated during the course of the project with then. Also with limited resources in terms of time, personnel and finances, public sector agencies are becoming experienced in project management to the point where the projects are managed with internal personal rather than contractors.

Skills learned by your exposure to studying project management can be used in most careers as well as in your daily life. Strong planning skills, good communication, ability to implement a project to deliver the product or service while also monitoring for risks and managing the resources will provide an edge toward your career and professional success.

The starting point in discussing how projects should be properly managed is to first understand what a project is and, just as importantly, what it is not.

People have been undertaking projects since the earliest days of organized human activity. We use the term “project” frequently in our daily conversations. A husband, for example may tell his wife, “My main project for this weekend is to straighten out the garage.” Going hunting, building pyramids, and fixing faucets all share certain features that make them projects.

Project Attributes

A project has distinctive attributes that distinguish it from ongoing work or business operations. Projects are temporary in nature. They are not an everyday business process and have definitive start dates and end dates. This characteristic is important because a large part of the project effort is dedicated to ensuring that the project is completed at the appointed time. To do this, schedules are created showing when tasks should begin and end. Projects can last minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, or years.

Projects exist to bring about a product or service that hasn’t existed before. In this sense, a project is unique. Unique means that this is new; this has never been done before. Maybe it’s been done in a very similar fashion before but never exactly in this way.

In contrast with projects, operations are ongoing and repetitive. They involve work that is continuous without an ending date and with the same processes repeated to produce the same results. The purpose of operations is to keep the organization functioning while the purpose of a project is to meet its goals and conclude. Therefore, operations are ongoing while projects are unique and temporary.

A project is completed when its goals and objectives are accomplished. It is these goals that drive the project, and all the planning and implementation efforts undertaken to achieve them. Sometimes projects end when it is determined that the goals and objectives cannot be accomplished or when the product or service of the project is no longer needed and the project is cancelled.

Definition of a Project

There are many written definitions of a project. All of them contain the key elements described above. For those looking for a formal definition of a project, the Project Management Institute (PMI) defines a project as a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result. The temporary nature of projects indicates a definite beginning and end. The end is reached when the project’s objectives have been achieved or when the project is terminated because its objectives will not or cannot be met, or when the need for the project no longer exists.

Project Characteristics

When considering whether or not you have a project on your hands, there are some things to keep in mind. First, is it a project or an ongoing operation? Second, if it is a project, who are the stakeholders? And third, what characteristics distinguish this endeavor as a project?

  • Projects have several characteristics:
  • Projects are unique.
  • Projects are temporary in nature.
  • Projects have a definite beginning and ending date.
  • Projects are completed when the project goals are achieved or it’s determined the project is no longer viable.

A successful project is one that meets or exceeds the expectations of the stakeholders.

Consider the following scenario: The deputy chief constable (DCC) approaches you with a fabulous idea. Obviously, it must be “fabulous” because he thought of it. He wants to set up kiosks in the local shopping malls as a community police office. The office will offer clients the ability to sign up for victim services volunteer work as well as provide information about their services. He believes that the exposure in the mall will increase awareness of the services provided by the police. He told you that senior management has already approved the project which aligns with the agencies strategic goals, and he’ll dedicate as many resources to this as he can. He wants the new kiosks in place in 4 selected malls by the end of the year. Finally, he has assigned you to head up this project.

Your first question should be, “Is it a project?” This may seem elementary, but confusing projects with ongoing operations happens often. Projects are temporary in nature, have definite start and end dates, result in the creation of a unique product or service, and are completed when their goals and objectives have been met and signed off by the stakeholders.

Using these criteria, let’s examine the assignment from the DCC to determine if it is a project:

  • Is it unique? Yes, because the kiosks don’t exist in the local grocery stores. This is a new way of offering the company’s services to its customer base. While the service the company is offering isn’t new, the way it is presenting its services is.
  • Does the product have a limited timeframe? Yes, the start date of this project is today, and the end date is the end of next year. It is a temporary endeavor.
  • Is there a way to determine when the project is completed? Yes, the kiosks will be installed and the services will be offered from them. Once all the kiosks are installed and operating, the project will come to a close.
  • Is there a way to determine stakeholder satisfaction? Yes, the expectations of the stakeholders will be documented in the form of requirements during the planning processes. These requirements will be compared to the finished product to determine if it meets the expectations of the stakeholder.

If the answer is yes to all these questions, then we have a project. Note that there are some activities which are routine operations and these are different from projects. What are the differences between projects and routine operations?

Comparing Projects with Operations

Projects

Operations

Purpose

Time

Outcomes

People

Authority of Project Manager

The Process of Project Management

You’ve determined that you have a project. What now? The notes you scribbled down on the back of the napkin at lunch are a start, but not exactly good project management practice. Too often, organizations follow Nike’s advice when it comes to managing projects when they “just do it.” An assignment is made, and the project team members jump directly into the development of the product or service requested. In the end, the delivered product doesn’t meet the expectations of the customer. Unfortunately, many projects follow this poorly constructed path, and that is a primary contributor to a large percentage of projects not meeting their original objectives, as defined by performance, schedule, and budget.

Summary of 2009 Standish Group CHAOS report.

Jim Johnson, chairman of the Standish Group, has stated that “this year’s results show a marked decrease in project success rates, with 32% of all projects succeeding which are delivered on time, on budget, with required features and functions, 44% were challenged-which are late, over budget, and/or with less than the required features and functions and 24% failed which are cancelled prior to completion or delivered and never used.”

When are companies going to stop wasting billions of dollars on failed projects? The vast majority of this waste is completely avoidable: simply get the right business needs (requirements) understood early in the process and ensure that project management techniques are applied and followed, and the project activities are monitored.

Applying good project management discipline is the way to help reduce the risks. Having good project management skills does not completely eliminate problems, risks, or surprises. The value of good project management is that you have standard processes in place to deal with all contingencies.

Project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques applied to project activities in order to meet the project requirements. Project management is a process that includes planning, putting the project plan into action, and measuring progress and performance.

Managing a project includes identifying your project’s requirements and writing down what everyone needs from the project. What are the objectives for your project? When everyone understands the goal, it’s much easier to keep them all on the right path. Make sure you set goals that everyone agrees on to avoid team conflicts later on. Understanding and addressing the needs of everyone affected by the project means the end result of your project is far more likely to satisfy your stakeholders. Last but not least, as project manager, you will also be balancing the many competing project constraints.

On any project, you will have a number of project constraints that are competing for your attention. They are cost, scope, quality, risk, resources, and time.

  • Cost is the budget approved for the project including all necessary expenses needed to deliver the project. Within organizations, project managers have to balance between not running out of money and not under-spending because many projects receive funds or grants that have contract clauses with a “use it or lose it” approach to project funds. Poorly executed budget plans can result in a last-minute rush to spend the allocated funds. For virtually all projects, cost is ultimately a limiting constraint; few projects can go over budget without eventually requiring a corrective action.
  • Scope is what the project is trying to achieve. It entails all the work involved in delivering the project outcomes and the processes used to produce them. It is the reason and the purpose of the project.
  • Quality is a combination of the standards and criteria to which the project’s products must be delivered for them to perform effectively. The product must perform to provide the functionality expected, solve the identified problem, and deliver the benefit and value expected. It must also meet other performance requirements, or service levels, such as availability, reliability, and maintainability, and have acceptable finish and polish. Quality on a project is controlled through quality assurance (QA), which is the process of evaluating overall project performance on a regular basis to provide confidence that the project will satisfy the relevant quality standards.
  • Risk is defined by potential external events that will have a negative impact on your project if they occur. Risk refers to the combination of the probability the event will occur and the impact on the project if the event occurs. If the combination of the probability of the occurrence and the impact on the project is too high, you should identify the potential event as a risk and put a proactive plan in place to manage the risk.
  • Resources are required to carry out the project tasks. They can be people, equipment, facilities, funding, or anything else capable of definition (usually other than labor) required for the completion of a project activity.
  • Time is defined as the time to complete the project. Time is often the most frequent project oversight in developing projects. This is reflected in missed deadlines and incomplete deliverables. Proper control of the schedule requires the careful identification of tasks to be performed and accurate estimations of their durations, the sequence in which they are going to be done, and how people and other resources are to be allocated. Any schedule should take into account vacations and holidays.

You may have heard of the term “triple constraint,” which traditionally consisted of only time, cost, and scope. These are the primary competing project constraints that you have to be most aware of. The triple constraint is illustrated in the form of a triangle to visualize the project work and see the relationship between the scope/quality, schedule/time, and cost/resource (Figure 1.1) [1].

image
Figure 1.1 A schematic of the triple constraint triangle.

In this triangle, each side represents one of the constraints (or related constraints) wherein any changes to any one side cause a change in the other sides. The best projects have a perfectly balanced triangle. Maintaining this balance is difficult because projects are prone to change. For example, if scope increases, cost and time may increase disproportionately. Alternatively, if the amount of money you have for your project decreases, you may be able to do as much, but your time may increase.

Your project may have additional constraints that you must face, and as the project manager, you have to balance the needs of these constraints against the needs of the stakeholders and your project goals. For instance, if your sponsor wants to add functionality to the original scope, you will very likely need more money to finish the project, or if they cut the budget, you will have to reduce the quality of your scope, and if you don’t get the appropriate resources to work on your project tasks, you will have to extend your schedule because the resources you have taken much longer to finish the work.

The dynamic trade-offs between the project constraints values have been humorously and accurately described in Figure 1.2.[2]

image
Figure 1.2: A sign seen at an automotive repair shop.

Project Management Expertise

In order for you, as the project manager, to manage the competing project constraints and the project as a whole, there are some areas of expertise you should bring to the project team (Figure 1.3) [3]. They are knowledge of the application area and the standards and regulations in your industry, understanding of the project environment, general management knowledge and skills, and interpersonal skills. It should be noted that industry expertise is not in a certain field but the expertise to run the project. So while knowledge of the type of industry is important, you will have a project team supporting you in this endeavor.

Let’s take a look at each of these areas in more detail.

Application knowledge

By standards, we mean guidelines or preferred approaches that are not necessarily mandatory. In contrast, when referring to regulations we mean mandatory rules that must be followed, such as government-imposed requirements through laws. It should go without saying that as a professional, you’re required to follow all applicable laws and rules that apply to your industry, organization, or project. Every industry has standards and regulations. Knowing which ones affect your project before you begin work will not only help the project to unfold smoothly, but will also allow for effective risk analysis.

image
Figure 1.3: Areas of expertise that a project manager should bring to the project team.

Some projects require specific skills in certain application areas. Application areas are made up of categories of projects that have common elements. They can be defined by industry group (policing, emergency management, etc.), department (Administration, Street Crime Unit, Forensic, and Traffic Unit etc.). These application areas are usually concerned with disciplines, regulations, and the specific needs of the project, the customer/client, or the industry. For example, most government agencies have specific procurement rules that apply to their projects that wouldn’t be applicable in the software industry. Since today’s fast-paced advances can leave you behind fairly quickly if you don’t stay abreast of current trends.

Having some level of experience in the application area you’re working in will give you an advantage when it comes to project management. While you can call in experts who have the application area knowledge, it doesn’t hurt for you to understand the specific aspects of the application areas of your project.

Understanding the Project Environment

There are many factors that need to be understood within your project environment (Figure 1.4)[4]. At one level, you need to think in terms of the cultural and social environments (i.e., people, demographics, and education). The international and political environment is where you need to understand about different countries’ cultural influences. Then we move to the physical environment; here we think about time zones. Think about different countries and how differently your project will be executed whether it is just in your country or if it involves an international project team that is distributed throughout the world in five different countries.

image
Figure 1.4: The important factors to consider within the project environment.

Of all the factors, the physical ones are the easiest to understand, and it is the cultural and international factors that are often misunderstood or ignored. How we deal with clients, customers, or project members from other countries can be critical to the success of the project. For example colours have different meanings in different cultures. White, which is a sign of purity in North America (e.g., a bride’s wedding dress), and thus would be a favoured background colour in North America, signifies death in Japan (e.g., a burial shroud). Table 1.1
[5]Summarizes different meanings of common colours.

Table 1.1: The meaning of colours in various cultures.

Colour

United States

China

Japan

Egypt

France

Red

Danger, stop

Happiness

Anger, danger

Death

Aristocracy

Blue

Sadness, melancholy

Heavens, clouds

Villainy

Virtue, faith, truth

Freedom, peace

Green

Novice, apprentice

Ming dynasty, heavens

Future, youth, energy

Fertility, strength

Criminality

Yellow

Cowardice

Birth, wealth

Grace, nobility

Happiness, prosperity

Temporary

White

Purity

Death, purity

Death

Joy

Naturality

Project managers in multicultural projects must appreciate the culture dimensions and try to learn relevant customs, courtesies, and business protocols before taking responsibility for managing an international project. A project manager must take into consideration these various cultural influences and how they may affect the project’s completion, schedule, scope, and cost.

Management Knowledge and Skills

As the project manager, you have to rely on your project management knowledge and your general management skills. Here, we are thinking of items like your ability to plan the project, execute it properly, and of course control it and bring it to a successful conclusion, along with your ability to guide the project team to achieve project objectives and balance project constraints.

There is more to project management than just getting the work done. Inherent in the process of project management are the general management skills that allow the project manager to complete the project with some level of efficiency and control. In some respects, managing a project is similar to running a business: there are risk and rewards, finance and accounting activities, human resource issues, time management, stress management, and a purpose for the project to exist. General management skills are needed in every project.

Interpersonal Skills

Last but not least you also have to bring the ability into the project to manage personal relationships and deal with personnel issues as they arise. Here were talking about your interpersonal skills as shown in Figure 1.5.

Communication

Project managers spend 90% of their time communicating. Therefore they must be good communicators, promoting clear, unambiguous exchange of information. As a project manager, it is your job to keep a number of people well informed. It is essential that your project staff know what is expected of them: what they have to do, when they have to do it, and what budget and time constraints and quality specifications they are working toward. If project staff members do not know what their tasks are, or how to accomplish them, then the entire project will grind to a halt. If you do not know what the project staff is (or often is not) doing, then you will be unable to monitor project progress. Finally, if you are uncertain of what the customer expects of you, then the project will not even get off the ground. Project communication can thus be summed up as knowing “who needs what information and when” and making sure they have it. Figure 1.5[6]

image
Figure 1.5: Interpersonal skills required of a project manager.

All projects require sound communication plans, but not all projects will have the same types of communication or the same methods for distributing the information. For example, will information be distributed via mail or email, is there a shared website, or are face-to-face meetings required? The communication management plan documents how the communication needs of the stakeholders will be met, including the types of information that will be communicated, who will communicate them, and who will receive them; the methods used to communicate; the timing and frequency of communication; the method for updating the plan as the project progresses, including the escalation process; and a glossary of common terms.

Influence

Project management is about getting things done. Every organization is different in its policies, modes of operations, and underlying culture. There are political alliances, differing motivations, conflicting interests, and power struggles. A project manager must understand all of the unspoken influences at work within an organization.

Leadership

Leadership is the ability to motivate and inspire individuals to work toward expected results. Leaders inspire vision and rally people around common goals. A good project manager can motivate and inspire the project team to see the vision and value of the project. The project manager as a leader can inspire the project team to find a solution to overcome perceived obstacles to get the work done.

Motivation

Motivation helps people work more efficiently and produce better results. Motivation is a constant process that the project manager must guide to help the team move toward completion with passion and a profound reason to complete the work. Motivating the team is accomplished by using a variety of team-building techniques and exercises. Team building is simply getting a diverse group of people to work together in the most efficient and effective manner possible. This may involve management events as well as individual actions designed to improve team performance.

Recognition and rewards are an important part of team motivations. They are formal ways of recognizing and promoting desirable behavior and are most effective when carried out by the management team and the project manager. Consider individual preferences and cultural differences when using rewards and recognition. Some people don’t like to be recognized in front of a group; others thrive on it.

Negotiation

Project managers must negotiate for the good of the project. In any project, the project manager, the project sponsor, and the project team will have to negotiate with stakeholders, vendors, and customers to reach a level of agreement acceptable to all parties involved in the negotiation process.

Problem Solving

Problem solving is the ability to understand the heart of a problem, look for a viable solution, and then make a decision to implement that solution. The starting point for problem solving is problem definition. Problem definition is the ability to understand the cause and effect of the problem; this centers on root-cause analysis. If a project manager treats only the symptoms of a problem rather than its cause, the symptoms will perpetuate and continue through the project life. Even worse, treating a symptom may result in a greater problem. For example, increasing the ampere rating of a fuse in your car because the old one keeps blowing does not solve the problem of an electrical short that could result in a fire. Root-cause analysis looks beyond the immediate symptoms to the cause of the symptoms, which then affords opportunities for solutions. Once the root of a problem has been identified, a decision must be made to effectively address the problem.

Solutions can be presented from vendors, the project team, the project manager, or various stakeholders. A viable solution focuses on more than just the problem; it looks at the cause and effect of the solution itself. In addition, a timely decision is needed or the window of opportunity may pass and then a new decision will be needed to address the problem. As in most cases, the worst thing you can do is nothing.

All of these interpersonal skills will be used in all areas of project management. Start practicing now because it’s guaranteed that you’ll need these skills on your next project.

Technical & Socioculture Dimension of Project Management

It is important that project managers are skilled in both the technical and socio dimension aspects of project management. Some commentators suggest that the technical dimension represents the “science” of project management while the sociocultural dimension represents the “art” of managing a project. To be successful, a manager must be a master of both. Unfortunately, some project managers become preoccupied with the planning and technical dimension of project management. Often their first real exposure to project management is through project management software, and they become infatuated with network charts, Gantt diagrams, and performance variances; they attempt to manage a project from a distance. Conversely, there are other managers who manage projects by the “seat of their pants,” relying heavily on team dynamics and organizational politics to complete a project. Good project managers balance their attention to both the technical and socio-cultural aspects of project management.

Fig 1.6 Technical and Socio-culture Dimensions of Project Management.

Project and Project Management Success Factors

Project success and project management success are different. Project success deals with the impacts of a project’s final product or service on stakeholders. Project management success focuses on the processes of a project including successful accomplishment of the scope, within budget (cost), within time (schedule), and quality aspects.

A project may be successfully managed but not meet the client or customer expectation. The definition of a project encompasses value creation and therefore the overall success factor of a project is the realized value of the project that can be measured by the project stakeholders. The following factors have been identified by research to lead to overall project failure:

  • Absent or ineffective relations with the clients/customers and other stakeholders;
  • Excessive cost and duration
  • Insufficient resources
  • Politics and conflicts
  • Decreased profitability
  • Unrealistic goals
  • Competitive disadvantage
  • Poor communications
  • Customer dissatisfaction
  • Errors in perceived value of the project
  • Contracts and legal agreements.

Project management plays a role in project success but that role is affected by many other factors outside the direct control of the project manager. Therefore even if the project management process is a success in an agency, the accomplished project may be perceived as a failure. The factors that may cause project management to fail include:

  • Inadequate rationale, objectives, tasks and goals
  • Wrong project manager
  • Unsupportive top management
  • Lack or misuse of project management techniques
  • Inadequate or incorrect communications
  • Inadequate project planning
  • Lack of commitment to the project.

Successful projects need successful project management. Successful project management requires good planning and require resources with a commitment to complete projects, a skilled project manager, good communications and information flows, great value to stakeholders and changing activities to accommodate the constant dynamism of projects.

Key Takeaways

  • A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result. The temporary nature of projects indicates a definite beginning and end. Projects have constraints and objectives that includes scope, cost, schedule, resources, performance and customer satisfaction. The end is reached when the project’s objectives have been achieved or when the project is terminated because its objectives will not or cannot be met, or when the need for the project no longer exists. Projects also require teamwork.
  • Organizations and agencies that work on various projects need to acquire good project management skills and techniques.
  • For the project manager, to manage the competing project constraints and the project as a whole, there are some areas of expertise the project manager should bring to the project team. They are:
  • particular industry standards and regulations
  • understanding of the project environment
  • general management knowledge and skills
  • interpersonal skills
  • It is important that project managers are skilled in both the technical and socio dimension aspects of project management.
  • Project success depends on project management success. Project success deals with the impacts of a project’s final product or service on stakeholders. Project management success focuses on the processes of a project including successful accomplishment of the scope, within budget (cost), within time (schedule), and quality aspects.

Attribution

This chapter is based on chapter 2 in Project Management by Adrienne Watt. Project Management by Adrienne Watt CC BY 4.0 is a derivative the following texts: Project Management by Merrie Barron and Andrew Barron. © CC BY (Attribution).


  1. The triad constraints by John M. Kennedy T. (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_triad_constraints.jpg) used under CC-BY-SA license (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/).
  2. Illustration from Barron & Barron Project Management for Scientists and Engineers. Source: http://cnx.org/content/m31508/latest/?collection=col11120/1.4 
  3. Figure 1.3 Table from Barron & Barron Project Management for Scientists and Engineers, Source: http://cnx.org/content/col11120/1.4/ 
  4. Figure 1.4 Table from Barron & Barron Project Management for Scientists and Engineers, Source: http://cnx.org/content/col11120/1.4/ 
  5. Table 1.1 Adapted from P. Russo and S. Boor, How Fluent is Your Interface? Designing for International Users, Proceedings of the INTERACT ’93 and CHI ’93, Association for Computing Machinery, Inc. (1993). Table from Barron & Barron Project Management for Scientists and Engineers, Source: http://cnx.org/content/col11120/1.4/ 
  6. Figure 1.5 Table from Barron & Barron Project Management for Scientists and Engineers, Source: http://cnx.org/content/col11120/1.4/ 

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