Project Management Concepts – Why Do We Do Projects?

I’ve been giving some thought recently as to what lies behind the work we do as project managers. Too often we get caught up in the tools and techniques, the how of what we do, without looking at the concepts and ideas behind it, the why of what we do.

Let’s go back to the very basics. Why do we do projects? What are they for?

I think this one is simple, but far too often forgotten: The primary aim of every project is to benefit the business.

To begin with, let’s look at the traditional view of business as usual. A company has a particular process it goes through to create its product, to produce as many of it as the company can.

One of the things we can say about this situation is that it is steady-state – the company can continue going through the same process to build ever more of its product. But, of course, the environment that the business operates in is going to change. And that means the company needs to adapt.

This is where projects come in. A project is about change. An individual project in this case could be about improving manufacturing methods, developing a new product to make, finding new markets, and so on. While the details of the project may change, all of them are change, about bringing change into the business.

But why would we want to do this? Why bring change into the business? Well, as I have already suggested, a business cannot stay the same while the environment it is in changes. New competitors may arise, economic conditions may alter, suppliers may go out of business.

A company that doesn’t react to these changing conditions, that doesn’t bring change into itself, will fall behind. It will suffer because other companies are reacting to the changing environment. These companies will take their market share, and eventually drive the first company out of business.

This means that we need to find a way to help the business. We need to deliver a project that benefits the business.

Now, of course, that benefit can make different forms. In general, the output of the project will directly either make, or save, the company some money. For example, the project may develop a new product to be sold, or improve manufacturing processes to reduce costs.

But this is only a generalisation – it may be the project itself only touches on the financial side indirectly. For example, a project may improve brand awareness in the marketplace. While this improved awareness will lead to increased sales, the project itself doesn’t deliver them.

So that’s why we do projects – we bring change into the business, and by doing that, or at least doing it successfully, we benefit the business. And that is one of my project management concepts: The primary aim of every project is to benefit the business.

Project Management Concepts Through Interview Questions for Project Managers – 3

The aim of this series of articles is to introduce project management concepts. Interview questions one may face for project Manager positions, are used as a vehicle to introduce these concepts. This is the third part of the series and covers additional concepts. The series is going to be in ten parts, and each article in the series will discuss five questions that you may get asked and explain the related questions. Concepts introduced should help you prepare for PMP certification that is often required for a Project Manager position.

Project managers need diverse skills besides being a professional manager.

What are the additional skills a project manager might need?
A PM needs to be skilled in all the knowledge areas required for project management. Strong leadership qualities are a necessity for the person. Planning, vision, leading the team and such skills are needed that make for good generals. He has to take a bunch of disparate people to a common goal. Business environment imposes other constraints like a given budget and time limits.

Processes and process groups are important concepts in project management.

How does one define a process and a process group?
The emphasis on process arises from the fact that when a process, or a clearly defined way of doing things, is used risks of making mistakes are reduced. That in turn, means that the end product of the process comes out with minimal flaws. A process needs to define not only the required actions but also the sequence in which they should be invoked. An activity as elaborate as a project needs to have processes defined for many tasks. Each of these processes should define clear inputs, defined outputs and the tools and techniques to be used on the inputs. As a process goes through various stages of its life, different sets of processes are required to get the required tasks done. These groups have been defined as process groups in the Project Management Book of Knowledge. Planning process group is one such example.

While discussing the qualities of a PM, reference was made to knowledge areas.

What specific knowledge areas apply to the successful execution of a project?
Communication management must be the most critical thing in any endeavor involving human beings. Management of scope of projects has to be next most important knowledge area. Keeping the scope well-defined is a necessary condition for its success. Executing a project in terms of its scope is not sufficient. Given enough time and money, possibly, any project of any scope can be achieved! Time and cost/budget management are two other relevant knowledge areas. Quality management knowledge needs to be added to the required knowledge areas as a defined level of quality is a must. Project integration knowledge puts it all together and thus is a necessity. These main knowledge areas are supported by a few more. Monitoring and controlling of risks, is vital as is procurement of material and at the right time. Since all of these activities are to be conducted by human being, human resources management is another required support area.

Project Integration Management covers activities that ensure all activities undertaken work towards success of the project. All the processes need to be geared toward that goal.

What processes are needed?
Project charter development is like an anchor point. That is what defines what exactly the project is. All the relevant plans are the next most important set of activities. These would include project management plan development, direct and manage project execution and monitor and control. The final set of activities is the closing of the project or the current phase. Changes are inevitable. What needs to be done is that an integrated change management is in place so that these changes do not cause any chaos.

What are the important check items a PM should keep in mind always?
A PM needs to be constantly aware of a few key issues. Risk is one such issue. A PM should be able to take lowest risk actions. That requires that he/she is constantly aware of the risks. Assumptions, issues and dependencies applicable to decisions taken, defined scope and just about everything else should be clearly known to the PM. RAID is a mnemonic applied to these factors. For a PM, being on top of RAID is vital.

Part 4 will take up another five questions. 10 articles will cover 50 questions between them.

Project Management Concepts – Awareness and Control

I’ve been giving some thought recently as to what lies behind the work we do as project managers. Too often we get caught up in the tools and techniques, the how of what we do, without looking at the concepts and ideas behind it, the why of what we do.

Today, I want to look at what we are trying to achieve when managing a project. What do we actually want to get from project management?

The project management concept I want to look at today is: Project management needs both awareness and control of the project. Control is impossible without awareness.

We already know that project management is about bringing change into a business, in a limited fashion. In other words, we attempt to control change, to stop it being chaos.

But to be able to do that, to have that element of control, we also need to understand what is actually happening with the project. We need to have an awareness of what is going on.

Without that awareness, control becomes impossible. You simply cannot know what direction you need to steer the project in if you don’t know what direction it is currently going in! You can’t know if your attempts at control are working unless you can see what is happening.

So, we need to be aware of what is happening in the project, so that we can then try to control what is happening in the project. And that brings us to a project management concept: Project management needs both awareness and control of the project. Control is impossible without awareness.