Project Management Terms

The Basics of a Project

Before we go into the actual why and how projects are managed, it is important to define some of the commonly used project management terms to help you understand them better.


Although every project can be run differently based on the complexity and the method applied, there are certain elements of the project that remains the same irrespective of the type.

 

Project Basics


Project Manager

A Project Manager is hired to manage the successful delivery of an idea, concept or take control of the existing problem. He or she is purely responsible for;

A Project Manager typically 'owns' the project from a delivery point of view by providing a service to the key stakeholders. The project manager works independently to manage and direct the teams who will deliver. They report risks, issues and progress periodically and consult with the stakeholders to adjust the schedule accordingly.

 

A Project Co-ordinator provides support activities by doing some administrative tasks for a project manager, or on smaller projects the stakeholders themselves. They require a project leader and follow instructions.

 

If you are a stakeholder requiring a project to be delivered, please ensure you understand the difference between a manager and a co-ordinator. Many projects are compromised due to the improper expectations of duties and the clash of directives.

 

Project Manager


Mission Statement

A mission statement is the high level vision of what the project will deliver and is important because it is this vision that guides the team in understanding why the project started in the first place. Alice and Tim decide to buy a land and build their first home. Their mission statement could be;

 

“Building a 4 bedroom, 2 bathroom double storey house with a double lockup garage on newly acquired land within 6 months by outsourcing the project management to a construction company”.

 

That is a solid mission with a set objective to;

a) Build a double storey house (with specific parameters);

b) Build it within 6 months; and

c) Outsource the project management.

Try to avoid any ambiguity as it will leave people working on the project confused.

 


Strategy

Strategy is the method which is used to execute project by specifically noting how resources, time and budget are used.

 

Once you have decided on the mission statement, you may want to come up with an appropriate strategy to manage your project. Strategy is about the execution, the Hows of doing the project, by coming up with an approach suitable for your mission statement. Those who leap into commencing a project without formulating a strategy do find themselves asking questions at a later stage when they should have weeded out any glitches at the start by thinking whether this is the right approach or style for this project.


So while you may have played the game of chess before, the playing strategy changes with each opponent or even when you play with the same opponent at a different time. This is because there are simply too many strategies and you have to adopt your style to what you have at that time. Project management is the same, the strategy changes when you have different people, different expectations and constraints.

 

Strategy


Scope

Scope is a defined statement and list of deliverables which together set a concrete boundary for the extent of works which that project will work on.

 

Often a project is commenced without any boundaries as to what is included and what is excluded. Can you imagine the impact of that to the cost, time and quality? You may as well shut down the project as you will not be able to complete the project due to the fact that you won’t be able to measure outcomes against deliverables as you have not determined what the project scope is going to be in the first place.

 

Project managers who take on the challenge to deliver a project should always ensure scope inclusions and exclusions are formally written down. Exclusions are items that the stakeholders agree on as not been part of the overall delivery.

 

Changes to scope affect all three factors; cost, time and quality. In order to please the stakeholder, often project managers ignore highlighting the exclusions. In the image below, if you don’t set the scope upfront you will encounter scope creep which is where the project delivery boundaries expand/move and thus cost, time and quality is compromised. Have you heard of budget “blowouts” – yes those are classic problems in project management because the project manager fails to point out the exclusions and makes the scope all about the inclusions.

 

Scope Creep


Identifying Stakeholders

Stakeholders are persons, or persons representing groups, who will directly or indirectly be affected by the project and its deliverables. Stakeholders may or may not be a part of the project delivery team.

 

As a project manager, it is important to identify who your key stakeholders will be and what specific interests they have. Depending on each stakeholder's interest, they will play either a small or big role in the project and it is the project manager’s job to ensure the stakeholders identified remain engaged throughout the life of the project. Often you will see that the project manager’s ability to manage the various stakeholders becomes an integral part of the project’s success. Using this information the project manager can identify who the stakeholders are, their power and influence, and prioritise a stakeholder listing by importance so you can work out different communications strategy to manage them.

 

Stakeholders

 

Types of Stakeholders

 

Objective

Objectives provide those who are working on the project with meaning, with concrete structure. In project management world, they are called;

“S.M.A.R.T.” = Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant & Time bound 


Objectives cannot be ambiguous, they need to be clear and communicated properly to all relevant people on the project. Using the above example, a clear simple objective would be "Alice and Tim want to build a 4 bedroom, 2 bathroom double storey house within 6 months".

 

Objectives


Deliverable / Milestone

Deliverables allows a project to be measured clearly and move from one gate to another.

 

Once the objectives are set, deliverables can be outlined which become the milestones of every project which allows one to measure how the project is progressing. 

 

Milestones indicate when a specific target has been reached and may include a number of sub-tasks. For example in construction a milestone can be "slab completed" or "lock up stage". In IT projects it can be "Design completed" or "Testing completed".

 

Deliverables can be in the form of reports, which can be the status reports released at every major milestone so the performance can be reviewed, or it can be other forms of documentation. In my projects, it signifies the end of one phase and beginning of another. Again, the deliverables are different depending on what type of project it is or the methodology that is applied. In an IT project, deliverables are determined at the start of the project and are broken by phases. So each phase will produce a set of deliverables that are significant milestones which allows the project to move on to the next phase upon successful completion.


 

Schedule

No project ever goes according to the plan, hence the job of a Project Manager is to prepare a schedule or a plan with proper allowances (contingencies) to factor in the unknowns. Scheduling the plan, managing the activity's time, and then applying discipline are  very important skills for any project manager.  I have seen project managers, plan and come up with an unrealistic schedule to impress their stakeholders without putting in any contingency for the unforeseen events and dig themselves a hole because they have not thought through the entire challenges of the project.

 

A realistic project schedule can allow the project manager to stay within budget because they have included sufficient contingency allowing them to move the durations around.  Alice and Tim might have set their initial objective to build a double storey house in 6 months, but what happens if something unforeseen happens and delays that plan another 2 months? An experienced project manager who takes on their project would point out to Alice and Tim the possibilities (risks) and allow contingency.


Call out dependencies and allow time between activities as it will certainly take some time to transition between one to another.

 

Schedule

 

Control

Once you have a schedule and a plan to manage it, there is no guarantee that your schedule will not require further refinement. Although all care and attention went into preparing the schedule or the plan, there are likely to be events that could alter it dramatically. An experienced project manager always ensures he or she is across the schedule and the next tasks and corrects them accordingly while maintaining the objectives.

 

If the schedule is unachievable it needs to be called out immediately to the stakeholders. It is important to stay in control and continuously manage the risks and issues that come along. Often project managers lose control of their projects because they fail to realise the project scope and look for different alternative paths. If a task cannot be met due to a reason, then immediate measures should be in place to look for alternatives or mitigation. Failing to do so, may result in losing control which can cost the project in terms of money, time or quality output.


You may even have to pause or stop the project and re-plan if the strategy you adopted as it is no longer applicable.

 

Control


Quality

Quality indicates a defined level of perfection for which a deliverable must reach based on an ideal design. In engineering this is known as tolerance. 100% perfection cannot be reached, but 100% of a quality standard can be reached. Unless it is clearly stated in the specification, quality is very hard to measure and thus it can be quite subjective.

 

Project management is based on three key principles;

These principles are linked and do not work independently. Impacts on one causes the other two to suffer. So when quality is compromised is it wise to continue with the project? I guess that depends on your stakeholders, for instance if Alice and Tim are looking for the 'perfect' designer imported Italian kitchen bench top with high quality specifications then are they willing to wait for an extra 2 months? Waiting can cost them a lot of money or they can compromise on the quality and get a locally produced bench top which is different from what they requested. Again it depends on the project, some projects have strong requirements around quality, where as others are not so high on quality output as long as the project gets delivered on time and on budget. Either way, it is important to be clear about the final product specifications so quality reviews can be conducted to ensure successful result.

 

Quality


Risk Management

Risks should be identified at the early stages of the project and factored into the schedule. If managed properly they will be avoided thus allowing the project to continue on track. Often risks are not identified or are hidden because the project manager either is not experienced enough, or too worried about how the stakeholders will view it. Raising risks should be a discipline and should be raised at the right time with a plan to mitigate them early otherwise they become an issue.


A property developer managing the development of number of townhouses who fails to take into account the upcoming laws relating to zoning and land use will be in deep trouble if the risk is not managed upfront. A good project manager learns to be risk aware rather than avoid risks because the truth is fact and as the saying goes “No Risk - No Reward”. 

 

Risk Management


Project Review

A project review occurs at the completion of the project and is a post mortem conducted by assessing all aspects of the project lifecycle.

 

The lessons learned from the review can be used within future projects by understanding what worked well, what did not work well, and to ensure these lessons can be passed on. Organisations typically do not encourage project reviews because of the fear of what they may find, and also that it may open up can of worms that they may or may not have the time and resources to fix. They do not realise that improvements come from 'failures'.

 

It is a fallacy that project reviews are about pointing fingers, they are not. They are meant to bring out both the good and the bad of the project, it is meant to be objective and constructive so future project costs can be trimmed in areas of improvement. So if something didn’t work well, would you have the other project doing the same, or would you try and find different ways of doing things?

 

When conducting a review focus on the successes and indicate 'areas for improvement'. This will prevent project teams from feeling threatened. Introduce new project controls and policies to ensure new practices are used. Making it about an agreed process and not individuals again prevents the feeling of threat.

 

Project Review