Project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to a broad range of activities in order to meet the requirements of the particular project. A project is a temporary endeavour undertaken to achieve a particular aim.
The Latin word projectum means, “to throw something forward.” Project Management is all about making things happen and moving forward and has existed for thousands of years. For example, the Great Pyramid of Giza 2,550 B.C, the Great Wall of China 221 B.C. – 206 B.C or the Roman Coliseum 80 A.D. all used project management techniques.
Project Management is as much a way of thinking as it is an approach that can be applied to any initiative large or small that must deliver within a certain timeframe and cost, in order to meet specific objectives.
Recognised as an essential capability for organisations to maximise value and reduce costs, Project Management has developed considerably in the past 20 years. Today Project Management is a professional discipline with a body of knowledge, a set of skills and competencies and professional certification bodies (listed at the end of this article).
The Basic Principles
There are a number of significant principles which determine success in any project. These are simple and well known principles, however they are difficult to apply and are quite frequently ignored in practice.
1. Precise Business Needs
Successful projects are business driven. This represents the ‘why’ of the project, and it is important because it provides the basis for all decision making.
2. Defined Benefits
Projects are about translating the business need into the business benefit. In addition to the business need, the ‘bottom line’ benefits must also be well defined in terms of source, timing and quantity.
3. Explicit Plans
Effective planning, allows people to work together in a co-ordinated way in order to achieve the project objectives. Effective planning is dependent on being at an appropriate level of detail and being presented in an appropriate way.
4. Agreed Deliverables
Quite simply a ‘deliverable’ is an unambiguous way of defining responsibilities in terms of outputs rather than inputs. Each phase, area and task within the project plan should have a tangible deliverable associated with it, ie. something that one can see, touch, or otherwise validate.
5. Pro-Active Decision Making
Project work has little momentum of its own, unlike routine work. All parties involved are therefore required to take the initiative and actively look for ways of driving and improving the project outcome.
6. Single Point Responsibility
In business tasks are only completed successfully when people have unambiguous accountabilities. ‘Single point responsibility’ for results is of the very essence. The Project Manager is ultimately responsible for making the project happen.
7. Active Follow-Up
Plans have practical value only when they are used to help people do their daily work. They are similarly used as a means of identifying problems while there is still time to overcome them. Plans must therefore be used throughout the entire project in order to allocate tasks and monitor achievement.
8. Open Communications
Time must be invested in communication as it is the key to a successful project. By effectively communicating the project and issues everyone involved has the opportunity to take the initiative and contribute fully with ideas and decisions.
9. Good Teamwork
Teamwork in projects is absolutely critical but does not happen automatically. Project work involves people from different parts of the organisation, often with competing priorities and different perspectives, which can make teamwork all the more difficult to achieve. Teams must therefore be actively developed by the Project Manager.
10. Strong Leadership
Successful projects are usually led by an individual who is committed to the project objectives, and who has a completely clear view of where the project is going and how they intend to get there. The leadership qualities of the Project Manager are as important as their technical management skills.
Benefits of Project Management
In order to apply project management principles it takes time and effort, disciplines and techniques. The results are there for the taking if you are prepared to make the effort.
Applying a project management approach is not easy. At the start of a project the project management approach may not necessarily show immediate results. But the investment always pays off in the long run.
Project management adds value in quite a number of ways, some of which are detailed below:
- maximises the benefits of the project by focusing the efforts, of everyone involved, on the business need while working to improve the value of the result.
- advances the benefits by minimising the time taken for the project and wherever possible, achieving a phased delivery of business results.
- optimises resources by ensuring that everyone knows what they have to do.
- minimises costs by ensuring that only essential work is completed, and that work does not have to be redone.
- avoids wasted time simply by communicating extensively, and running effective meetings which result in agreed actions, which are completed.
By using project management principles and practices millions of dollars can be saved on projects. It can dramatically accelerate the introduction of beneficial change, and greatly increase the satisfaction of everyone involved, alleviating enormous frustration usually involved in projects.
When applied with sensitivity and adjustment the benefits of project management far outweigh the time and energy invested.