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MANAGING PROJECTS WELL

By Stephen A. Bender
Elsevier Ltd.| English | 233 pages | PDF | 9.561 KB | Download | Password: project

A project is an organised effort to a specific, typically one-time, goal. We will be looking at projects not only in business but also personally, including home life, raising a family-even self-improvement. It is important to understand what a project is and what it is not. There are many things that go on in a company, or even in a household, that one does not consider to be projects, for example:

  • On-going operational work or day-today repetitive actions, the structure of the work is known, typically via a series of procedures. While the content may differ, the actions to carry out the content are the same, such as running routine errands, making a meal, or seeking family entertainment;
  • Customer service actions, once designed, are not projects so long as the work is routine; and
  • Manufacturing assembly line operations on the shop floor, where the work does not change, even though different cars, machines, or parts are produced.

As we can see from the comparisons, any time you construct a new type of ‘product’ you are running a project. For the purpose of understanding this, we need to define what is meant by ‘product’.

A product is the output of a process. It is not necessarily physical, or even tangible. If a process is an activity, or work, or an action, then a product is the result of such an action. As such, a product can, of course, be a physical thing that is constructed (a home, a piece of software, a machine tool). Because it is the output of a process, a product can also be a customer service action, a meeting, or even a thought-anything that is the result of an activity What defines a project is not the product. It is, instead, the fact that the product is unique and non-repetitive.

Some time ago, the content of this book was conveyed in workshop form to a large scientific research and development organisation. One of the participants questioned whether or not their work was a project. ‘After all’, he said, ‘we don’t actually make anything’. What he meant was, his work and that of his team, after research, resulted in a single idea-an idea for the consumer product that could be built using the technology embodied in the research. This idea is actually a product, because it is the result of a process (thinking and research). The fact that it is not tangible does not matter. Because of the nature of the research, the work done and the resultant idea is unique, non-repetitive, has an end point, and is expressed as one homogeneous unit. Therefore it is a project.

If projects are all different, how can it be possible to have any kind of a method to make their construction more efficient, effective, and of higher quality? Because although what ‘goes through’ a project activity is different, the techniques, activities and problems associated with vastly different projects can be very much the same. In the same way that a software development project can be governed by a phased methodology that remains the same, so too can projects be governed.

This ‘same kind of things’ approach applies not only to the technical aspects of project management, but also to the human side: staying ‘sane’, managing stress levels, managing your time, leading your people, and being a quality participant in the process as a team member.

Projects can be ‘phased’; that is, broken down to a series of sequential steps. They can also have concurrent sub-elements or modules. These pieces can be very small projects in themselves. For example, many job-shop operations, such as software projects, require sequential developmental phases (requirements, design, construction, testing, and implementation). Also, many complex projects need to be broken down into smaller pieces just to make them manageable. The planning of an extensive family vacation might have concurrent pieces done by different family members: selecting the vacation spot, meeting the needs of all family members, planning travel arrangements, booking reservations, completing office work and cross training others for your absence, allocating savings to finance the trip and expenses during the trip, and so forth.

The project manager, in traditional project management tutorials, is the one who plans, organises, and controls the project. Perhaps it should be stated that the project manager plans, organises, leads and controls a project. If assigned this role, you must accomplish your goals through the efforts of others.

The ‘planning’ piece occurs initially, before the project is actually underway by the team members, and may have to be repeated during the project, especially if there are changes along the way. The ‘organising’ piece involves allocating equipment, resources, people, money, suppliers, and anything else that is necessary to run the project, based on the plan. This frequently involves coordination with others.

The ‘control’ piece essentially means the comparison of the plan with the actual progress, and making any necessary ‘mid-course’ corrections. This is an often overlooked area of most projects. In quality terms, the planning piece is ‘prevention’ based; that is, it guides the project in the proper direction, and prevents subsequent failures if properly done. The control piece is ‘correction’ based; that is, it identifies variations of the project with the plan, and re-plans based on actual circumstances. Technically, it is true that prevention is more powerful, and better than, correction, if a choice had to be made.

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