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HomeProject managementAn Introduction to the Project Management: learning the basics

An Introduction to the Project Management: learning the basics

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Before diving into the basic concepts of the project management, let us understand what is a project? A project is a temporary endeavor to create a unique product or service. It has a defined beginning, a defined end, specific deliverables and defined resources. Temporary does not necessarily mean that the product of the project is also temporary, for e.g. if a project aimed to construct a building then the project is temporary i.e. it will start and end with a definite date but the building resulted from the project is permanent structure. Creating this blog/ article is also a project which is of temporary nature but the outcome of the project i.e. the blog/ article will be permanent. Every project is unique because it is different from the other project in some way or other. Either the project location, start time, project duration will be different or the result of the project, activities, processes will be different.

Project Constraints

There are some constraints in every project. We can say that these constraints formulate the boundaries of the project. Any project has to be executed within these boundaries and the outcome of the project is also defined by these constrains. The project execution is an art of balancing between these constraints and delivering the desired outcome. Some of the project constraints are as follows

Scope- Scope is defined as what needs to be done under the project. What are the deliverables and objectives of the project?

Quality- The product must be delivered with a quality. A set of standards may be complied to deliver the desired quality.

Schedule- Every project has a fixed timeline. The outcome of the project must be delivered within that timeline.

Budget- The financial constraint is always there in every project. The project must be finished within the allocated budget.

Resources- The resources are limited and has to be allocated to the activities under the project as per allocation plan.

Risk- Projects are exposed to risks. There may be unforeseeable circumstances where unexpected challenges come during the project execution. Risk management and mitigation strategies should be incorporated in the planning stage itself.

Project Constraints

But the question is why the projects are needed? There are several reasons, why they are needed. Some of them are listed below.

  • Reduced Rework
  • Deliver Project Results on Time and within Budget
  • Control Scope Creep and Manage Change
  • Communicate Project Progress
  • Document and Transfer Lessons Learned

The main benefits of establishing a project management model are that it provides us the tools to defined, organized & plan the project and helps the project team to track and manage the project.

project management
Balancing the constraints

Types of Project

The projects are categorized on the basis of either they are delivering a good, object or a service. Further the projects may also be categorized on the basis of type of object or good they are delivering. Some of the project types are as follows

Manufacturing Projects

These projects result in the production of objects and goods like manufacturing of cars, buses, furniture’s, production of soaps, biscuits, etc.

Construction Projects

These projects involve construction of roads, bridges, buildings, tunnels, ports, etc.

Management Projects

These are service oriented projects which result in providing services to the client like design, construction supervision, project management consultancy, creating software, etc.

Research Projects

These projects are used for research and development works of the organizations. The objective of these projects is not clearly established and the outcome is also not defined in such cases.

Some examples of the project are Planning a wedding, Designing and implementing a computer system, designing a website, hosting a holiday party, executing an environmental clean-up of a contaminated site, launching of a space missile from ISRO, organizing peace mission by UN, Environmental Protection (prevention of Ozone layer depletion), etc.

Key Features of a Project

Well Defined Connection of Jobs

All the jobs or activities of a project are well connected with each other. All the activities in a project are well defined in advance and there is a definite sequence of activities. An activity done before a particular activity is called the predecessor activity and the upcoming activity is called the successor activity. It is important to understand that the successor activity cannot be accomplished without doing a predecessor activity, for example, if you are constructing a house then you cannot start construction activities before preparing the drawings. Similarly, the construction of walls cannot be started before completing the foundation work of the house. Therefore, all the activities of a project are pre-defined and connected with each other.

Definite start and end point

All projects have a definite start and end point i.e., the project will start at a particular date and close at another definite date. The reason being the projects has to deliver certain outcome and the delivery time is always predefined by the client.

Non repetitive nature of jobs (different from operations)

Each project is unique in itself either w.r.t. outcome, delivery period, place of project, budget allocated or resources availability. Due to this, the processes of every project are different.

Unique outcome

No two projects have similar outcomes. They will be different in every aspect. Similar outcomes are seen in the case of operations.

Different from operations

As said earlier, the projects are different form operations. Projects are temporary in nature while the operations are continuous. The outcome of every project is unique but the operations produce similar outcomes, repeatedly, like production of cars in a factory.

Independent jobs interrelated through precedence

All projects have independent jobs and they are connected with each other through precedence, i.e. in many cases, a job can only be performed if its preceding job is completed.

Individual jobs consume both time and resource

Each job has to be done within a fixed time period and with resources allocated for the job. The reason for this is that the delivery of project outcome has to be given within a fixed timeline and we always have limited available resources for a project which are allocated to each job as per their requirement and their availability.

Constant pressure of conformance to time/cost/performance goals

The project outcome has to be delivered within a fixed time period within a budget pre allocated to the project. The quality is also a constraint because the client or customer will not accept the substandard product. Therefore, through the lifecycle, the projects have to be executed within constant pressure of conformance to time, cost and performance goals. If we will compromise any one factor, then other factors will be effected and the success of the project will be jeopardized.

Temporary Nature

As explained earlier also, each project has to be finished within a fixed time period and hence the projects are of temporary nature.

Project Selection Methods & Project

Selection Criterion

Now the question arises that how do we select projects and what are the project selection criteria?

Project identification is the primary step for the project selection. The client or the organization may be receptive to new ideas and motivated to start a project. The vision of the client or the head of organization may be an initiating factor for identification of a project. Every organization has some long term objectives and the organization need to start a project to fulfill those objectives. Often the organizations do SWOT analysis to identify their strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. They may initiate a project to strengthen the organization or to avail the opportunities available for them.  Before embarking on a project the preliminary project analysis and project appraisal is made in the following ways:

Market Appraisal- Market study is important before embarking into the project. The questions like what are needs of customers, what are different forces in the market, whether the business provides attractiveness under current market scenario and how the resources will be obtained must be known before making any decision.

Technical Appraisal- The technology required to execute the project, the technologies available with the organization and within the country, the possibility and cost of importing technology are the driving forces for starting any project and must be studied well in advance. While assessing the technical feasibility, the following factors should be duly considered:

  • Availability of land and site
  • Availability of adequate raw materials
  • Availability of other inputs like water, power, transport, communication facilities
  • Adequate licenses for coping with anti- pollution laws
  • Availability of skilled and unskilled workforce

Financial Appraisal- The gap between available budget and funds required for the project must be determined. The possibility and means of fund raising, cost of capital, etc. must be known to the client or organization planning to start a project. The financial appraisal also involves assessing the fixed capital and working capital requirements of a project.

Economical Appraisal- Economical appraisal means study of economic environment of the country. The economic situations like inflation, buying power of people, availability of resources, overall economic situation of the country where the project being planned, etc. are surveyed under it. The following aspects are also taken into account: raw material requirements, expected sales, expected costs and profits. The location of setting the project is also important. While selecting the location, various government policies, incentives, and concessions offered by the government schemes must be ascertained. The taxation policies of the government must also be studied under economic appraisal.

Managerial Competence- The managerial competence must be apprised before starting a project. Since the project management is the most important aspect of a project and therefore it should be evaluated whether the organization has sufficient workforce having project management skills. In case the project management competency is not available with the organization then skilled workforce should be appointed during the project initiation face or the task of project management may be outsourced to competent agency in skilled and experienced in project management.

Feasibility Study- A feasibility study must be done and the feasibility report must be submitted to the decision makers. The fact that whether the project is economically and technically feasible or not must be established. A cost benefit analysis is done to determine that the project is economically viable or not.

Then there are some criteria on the basis of which the projects are selected. Some of the project selection criteria are listed below:

Investment

The funds available with the organization or the client is the main criteria for the project selection. The requirement, scope, duration, etc. of the projects are governed by the availability of funds. After initial appraisal, if the client identifies that enough funds are not available for the execution of the project then the project may be dropped at the initial stage only.

Rate of Return

Sometimes the project decisions are taken on the basis of rate of return expected to be received from the project. Suppose the client or the organization is planning to invest some amount of money in a project with the intention of getting some future income. Then the cost of capital to be invested in the project is compared with the rate of return expected from the project. If the rate of return is more than the cost of capital employed, then the green signal is given to the project otherwise it will be abandoned.

Risk

Risk assessment is an integral part of a good project appraisal. If the risk in the project is more as compared to the benefits received, then it is not worth to commence the project. To learn more on the risk profiling click here.

Likely Profit

The likely profit from the project may sometimes be a major criterion to select the projects. If the profit is not as per expectations of the client, then it’s not a wise decision to do the project. Cost benefit analysis is sometimes made to take the right decision.

Payback

As discussed earlier also, the receivables from the project should be more than the expenditure to be made. Sometimes the payback is measured in terms of rate of returns and sometimes in terms of annuity or expressed as net present value. In nut shell, irrespective of the method employed, the paybacks form the project should be more than the cost of capital employed.

Similarity to existing business

If the upcoming project is similar to existing business of the organization, then obviously the resources and technical know-how/ knowledge of the organization can be utilized for the execution of the project. This may also be a criterion for project selection.

Project Life Cycle

Project lifecycle is a framework or process comprising of following phases.

Phase 1: Initiation

Phase 2: Planning and Design

Phase 3: Executing

Phase 4: Monitoring and Control

Phase 5: Closing

Project Lifecycle

All the phases of the project lifecycle are described in detail below. Before that let us have a look on figure 2.0 below which illustrates the behavior of project during each phase of the project lifecycle. At the X- axis the time is shown during which the project is progression and at the Y- axis the cost and manpower is shown. We can easily see that during the initial stages i.e. during initiation and planning phase, the cost and resource consumed by the project is less which increased gradually and reaches at its peak and then stabilizes during the execution phase after which it decreases sharply till it reaches to zero in the closing phase.

Resource Consumption during Project Lifecycle

Initiation

Project Initiation

This is the first and one of the most important phases of any project. The success of great projects depends on good initiation. This is the phase in which the business case of the project is created and the overall structure of the project is defined. The following activities are mainly processed during the initiation phase.

Initial scope of project is defined- During the initiation phase; the initial scope is defined. The understanding of initial scope is important because without it the resources and time may be wasted in unnecessary activities.

Initial financial resources are committed-  Every project need to be funded. In the initiation phase, initial fund allocation for the project is made. Necessary approvals from the competent authorities/ client are taken during this phase.

Project Manager is Appointed- Appointment of project manager is an important activity which is to be done in this phase. This is important because if the project manager will be appointed during the initiation phase then he/ she will be involved since beginning which is good for project execution.

Following processes are integral part of the initiation phase-

Develop Project Charter

A project charter is a formal, short document which provides the project summary in brief, including the objectives of the project, the methodology for execution and stakeholders of the project. It is very important document because it makes the basis of project planning and is used throughout the project lifecycle. The project charter comprises of following details:

  • Reasons for starting the project
  • Project objectives and constraints
  • Project stakeholders
  • Risks identified
  • Benefits from the project

Identify Stakeholders

Project Stakeholders Identification

A stakeholder is a person/ entity which has interest in the project. The stakeholder may be positive or negative. A positive stakeholder is interested in the success of the project because he derives benefits from the successful execution of the project, like the client, customer, project manager, etc. A negative stakeholder tries to hinder the project because his interests may be clashed by the successful execution of the project, for example, if the government is planning to construct a highway and tries to acquire land of local people then the local people may be the negative stakeholders for the reason they are not willing to give their lands for the above purpose. The identification of all the stakeholders is important activity of initiation phase.

Planning & Design

Project Planning & Design
Project Planning & Design Phase

Project planning in the heart of the project life cycle. It is the most important phase and if the planning is done nicely then the project execution will be smooth. It is the phase when the project plans are documented, the project deliverables and requirements are defined and the project schedule is created. The project plan acts as a guide to the project team during entire project execution journey and it helps the project team to manager cost, time, quality, risk, etc. It ensures that the project deliverables are delivered within time, cost and with required quality.

The basic process of the project planning are as follows:

  • Scope planning
  • Preparation of work breakdown structure
  • Project Schedule development
  • Resource Planning
  • Budget Planning
  • Procurement Planning
  • Risk Management
  • Quality Planning
  • Communication Planning

Benefits of planning

Planning the project has many benefits. It helps to improve communication among various stakeholders. The communication plan is already established during the planning phase and it is defined that what will be the reporting mechanism under the project. It is also defined that when and how the stakeholders will be communicated various information. Since the precedence of activities is established during this phase and each activity is allocated definite time and resources, hence it minimizes re- work and improves schedule predictability. If the projects are planned properly and quality management plans are incorporated in this phase, then the projects deliver quality products on time. We can say that planning helps us visualizing the project well in advance.

Executing

Project Execution
Project Execution

Project Executing is the phase where you actually implement the planning. This is the most difficult stage of the project lifecycle as you will overcome with a lot of challenges. When the project team embarks on the project execution, they may face certain gaps in as envisaged in the planning stage. The reason of the gap may be the time schedule estimated for the project activities is not realistic or the activities consume extra budget or resources then allocated for the same. Sometimes there are certain project risks which are not expected by the project team during the planning phase. Risk profiling and risk management is necessary to overcome these situations. This phase of the project execution consumes maximum time and resources.

Following activities are part of the project execution phase.

  • Perform quality assurance
  • Acquire Project Team
  • Develop Project Team
  • Manage Project Team
    • Tracking team member’s performance
    • Providing feedback
    • Resolving issues

Monitoring and Control

Project Monitoring and Control
Project Monitoring and Control

The project monitoring and controlling phase happens in tandem with the project planning in the project lifecycle. This phase involves activities reviewing the status of the project as it proceeds, evaluating the obstacles and implementing changes/ variations. During this phase the project team has to keep eye on various things like adhering to the timeline, staying within budget, avoiding scope creep and managing risk. The following processes form the integral part of this phase.

  • Monitor and control Project Work
  • Verify Scope
  • Control Scope
  • Control Schedule
  • Control Costs
  • Perform Quality Control
  • Monitor and Control Risks
  • Facilitate communication among stakeholders

Project Closing

Project Closing

Project completion is the final phase of the project. It includes acceptance of the project outcome, analysis of the project, handing over of the product to the customer and documentation of lessons learnt. The activities given below are part of the project completion group.

Closing Activities

  • Capture lessons learned and formally end the project
  • Assess actual project cost
  • Conduct project close out/review meeting
  • Identify persons responsible for post project tasks
  • Reward and recognize team members
  • Disbanding of Project Team
  • Handing of Project to User
  • Accounting and report writing
  • Capture lessons learned and formally end the project

Problems in Project Execution

Project execution is not smooth always. Almost all the projects face problems in some or other ways. Below are certain types of problems the projects face usually:

  • Financial- Sometimes the finance available is not enough as required for the project or the budget allocated may be already exhausted due to some unforeseen expenses.
  • Legal- There may be laws of land posing challenge to the project or any stakeholder may take legal recourse against the project.
  • Engineering- The latest technology required may not be available with the project team or within the country. In that case it will be a limitation.
  • Site Evacuation/ Development- In infrastructure projects mainly, where land is required, there are problems of land acquisition. The people being effected may protest against the project.
  • Labor unrest / unavailability- In some cases, availability of labor is a challenge for the project. Labor may agitate also for their demands which is also a challenge in project execution.
  • Weather Conditions- In areas having extreme weather conditions, the project execution may be difficult, for e.g., id a highway has to be constructed in high Himalayan terrain then the work will be obstructed by heavy rains, snowfall, landslides, etc. for almost 4 to 5 months of the year.

Why Do Projects Fail?

A project is considered to be failed if it has not delivered what was required, in line with expectations. In order to succeed, a project must deliver to cost, to quality, and on time, and it must deliver the benefits presented in the business case. Making timely decisions, considering smaller projects and managing expectations of all the stakeholders are some measures which play crucial role in the success of any project.

Sometimes the projects fail due to unrealistic targets or objectives. It is important to note that the wrong business requirements have been addressed in advance. If It is not possible to deliver the business case, then be realistic and prepare business case in detail. The projects may also fail due to poor governance or poor implementation. The project management team should be skilled enough to face the challenges of project execution. Sometimes the social, political, legal and environmental changes may also be a reason for project failures.

New Technology in Project Management

New Technology in Project Management

New technology in project management helps in easy sorting and listing of activities. There is certain advanced analysis practical only with computer programs. Many commercially packages or computer programs like MS Project, Primavera, etc. are available now a day which may be used to plan and execute the projects, especially large complicated one. As per a study of PMI, the projects that use technology are most likely to succeed (76%) then those who don’t (61%). The technology has changed the project management in following ways:

Data backup- Storing physical files in a cabinet are obsolete now a day. Technology makes it possible to back up your data in digital form and store in cloud or in server which can be used in future.

Instant Communication- Modern software uses electronic communication which is faster and safer as compared to the conventional methods of communication. You can work from any location and communicate anyone in the globe instantly. Using the technology, you can be a part of the global team virtually form anywhere.

Adhering to the deadlines- Completing different activities of the project within scheduled timeline is a challenge. Project management software establishes the precedence of activities and determines the critical path which ultimately helps keeping the project within time.

Budget tracking- The projects have multiple heads of expenses to manage. The project management software helps keep tracking of the budget under different heads and to monitor whether the project is going under or over budget.

Key Takeaways

(a) Project management required skilled and experienced team.

(b) During project initiation phase, project charter should be prepared, project stakeholders should be identified, project team should be selected and the project manager should be involved singe beginning.

(c) The planning stage is most crucial and important phase of the project management lifecycle. If the planning is done in details and meticulously then the chance of project success will enhance manifold.

(d) The consumption of project resources increases gradually from initiation and planning stage to reach at maximum level during the execution phase, stabilizes during execution and monitoring & controlling phase and then decreases sharply during the closing phase.

(e) The monitoring and controlling phase moves in tandem with the execution phase.

(f) In reality, the projects face a lot of challenges therefore risk planning and mitigation process should be an integral part of the project which should be incorporated at planning stage and executed during the project execution and monitoring & controlling phase.

(g) Project completion is as important as other phases of the project. Testing, approval, and handing over of the final product is crucial in the success of the project. Lessons learnt should be well documented for organization learning and taking input for future projects.

(h) New technology like MS Project, Primavera, etc. should be used in managing the projects, especially large complicated one.

(i) Many projects fail due to setting unrealistic targets, unavailability of financial & other resources, change in political, social and legal environment. Therefore, the project team should be experienced enough to foresee, plan and manage of these challenges appropriately.

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Rajesh Pant
Rajesh Panthttps://managemententhusiast.com
My name is Rajesh Pant. I am M. Tech. (Civil Engineering) and M. B. A. (Infrastructure Management). I have gained knowledge of contract management, procurement & project management while I handled various infrastructure projects as Executive Engineer/ Procurement & Contract Management Expert in Govt. Sector. I also have exposure of handling projects financed by multi-lateral organizations like the World Bank Projects. During my MBA studies I developed interest in management concepts.
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