Project Management

by Alan Harpham, Tony Kippenberger, Graham Bosman

Common questions

  1. What is project management?
  2. Why use project management?
  3. What are the typical roles and responsibilities in a project?
  4. What is the ‘business case’?
  5. What do I need to know before I get started?
  6. Why are stakeholders important?
  7. What part does the project sponsor play?
  8. What does the project manager do?
  9. Why do I need to put so much effort into defining the project?
  10. How are projects resourced and organised?
  11. Why do we need to plan?
  12. What is a work breakdown?
  13. Why do we need to regularly monitor progress on our project?

 

1. What is project management?

Project management is all about managing a one-off assignment, which is very different from running day-to-day operations/business as usual. It therefore requires a different set of disciplines and even a different mindset.

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2. Why use project management?

Experience has demonstrated that there is a significantly higher likelihood of success if we manage complex activities, which have established timescales and defined outputs, as projects. Having a project manager responsible for achieving the outputs provides a focus, and the tools, that are not found in other approaches to activity delivery.

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3. What are the typical roles and responsibilities in a project?

Broadly speaking, there is the project owner or sponsor and a project board, the project manager and the project team, and then there are other stakeholders (such as the ultimate users of the project’s output). They all need special understanding and consideration.

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4. What is the ‘business case’?

This is the financial justification of the whole project, explaining why the effort and time that will go into the project is worth the expenditure. So, it should contain

  • The reasons for undertaking the project
  • A consideration of the different options (or approaches) that there may be to achieve the project’s objective(s), including the recommended option
  • A specification of the expected benefits (and how they will be measured)
  • A summary of the key risks the project may face
  • The cost of the project
  • The timescale
  • An investment appraisal

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5. What do I need to know before I get started?

There are a number of things you need to be very sure of:

  • What is the project’s objective?
  • Who has mandated it? In other words, who is sponsoring it?
  • Is there a good business case?
  • Will the budget and the resources allocated to the project prove sufficient?
  • Is the timescale realistic?

If any of these are unclear or missing, then proceed with caution until you have clarified the situation to your satisfaction.

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6. Why are stakeholders important?

Stakeholders – these are people (internal and external) with a stake of some sort in the project or its outputs – may have the power and influence to disrupt or even derail your project. By identifying them and then communicating with them effectively, you can improve the prospects of success.

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7. What part does the project sponsor play?

The project sponsor has a very important role to play. Not only is he or she the person who is ultimately responsible for the project, it is their role to ensure that those responsible for the project are focused at all times on achieving its objective (and delivering the anticipated benefits). In this sense, the project sponsor ‘owns’ the project’s business case. To be successful, you need a sponsor who is committed to the project and genuinely interested in its success. You also need someone who can influence others in the organisation to support the project. That is why it is so important to develop a good working relationship with your project’s sponsor.

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8. What does the project manager do?

Essentially, the project manager takes the funding and idea and converts it into outputs that enable the sponsor to receive a return on the investment. The project manager makes it happen. This is a challenging role and calls for someone who knows about project management, has technical skills and, very importantly, has people skills. The project manager must be focused on delivery of the outputs and may be committed full time or part time to the project, depending on its size and complexity.

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9. Why do I need to put so much effort into defining the project?

A clear definition of the project is fundamental to delivering a successful project. After all, if you don’t know what is needed, how do you know what to deliver? An explicit definition helps the sponsor get clear in their own mind as to exactly what the need is and also enables the project manager to come up with a robust solution. The definition provides the foundation for all the activities that lie ahead and the baseline for measuring success.

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10. How are projects resourced and organised?

Resource for most projects is drawn from people who have ‘day’ jobs or are involved in more than one project. This matrix enables effective use of skills and capabilities that are scarce or limited, but brings with it the need to work in a team which is constantly flexing and changing. Co-ordinating and managing these resources comes down to the project manager, who needs to use people skills to do it effectively.

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11. Why do we need to plan?

The plan provides the optimal route to the successful delivery of the outputs, taking into account the priorities and constraints imposed on the project. If you don’t know where you are going, any way will get you there! The plan provides the baseline against which to measure performance along the way and helps gain commitment from those involved in overseeing and delivering activities.

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12. What is a work breakdown?

We all know the feeling of not knowing where to start when we begin something big, new and complex. Well, the work breakdown is an approach to dividing the project up into small and manageable packages which we can get our heads around. Once the packages have been identified, activities can be arranged in a sequence which aligns with the plan. In PRINCE2 this is referred to as a ‘product breakdown’, comprising all the products that will have to be ‘made’ (and possibly ‘handed over’) to deliver the total project. This is a key feature of the PRINCE 2 project management method.

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13. Why do we need to regularly monitor progress on our project?

The key components to project delivery are the time, cost and quality requirements of the sponsor. To deliver a successful project, these criteria and their respective priorities need to be met. As with other aspects of life, all projects will encounter problems which steer the project away from the plan and successful delivery. Monitoring progress on a regular basis identifies where the problems are and enables the project manager to take corrective action to bring delivery back in line with the plan. If this cannot be achieved, the project manager can manage the expectations of the sponsor at an early stage. Remember, the later corrective action is taken, the more difficult and expensive it becomes.

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