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Project Management: Planning and Control

When a project is simple, straightforward and needs little effort to accomplish, or when a project is being done by a single staff member, there is no need for formal project management and project control. However, many projects are not so simple. Rather, the project’s objectives and outcome (products) are often complex requiring the use of many different resources over its life span. These resources include time, money and manpower.

That is why project management is both feasible and efficient in all situations requiring a team effort. And a good project manager can provide excellent direction and knowledge to any such situation. Before any organization plunges into a full-blown project management effort, it is important to understand the advantages and disadvantages involved in of such an undertaking.

Solving a problem through project management keeps management informed of the project’s progress by the manager: Quality and control is built into the process through periodic reviews with one well-informed source. In addition, project management encourages staff involvement because all individuals have a comprehensive understanding of the project at each step. Finally, thanks to the documentation afforded by project management, the result can provide a historical bank of data to management for future planning.

A project manager can schedule enough time to make a thorough investigation of all issues involved while providing accurate documentation of these issues, as well as any concerns which arose throughout the project’s lifespan. Such a manager can also aid in scheduling subcontracted segments of a project (work performed by other companies) and provide discipline to help avoid omission of important tasks. Furthermore, experienced project managers are able to spot potential problems in time to take preventative action.

Finally, through project management, informed decisions regarding staffing requirements can be made and a realistic time frame can be established. Most importantly in relation to manpower, a project manager can realize the correct assignment of tasks according to staff members’ skills and time availability.

Among the potential disadvantages of project management is the fact that responsibility for the project lies with the project manager’s superiors, who may have only limited authority. In addition, project management can also generate a great deal of paperwork for an organization’s support staff.

The project manager is the pulse of management when it is involved in a teamwork effort. Project-related work must be managed and coordinated through the project manager between the project’s team members, and from other functions, such as the financial and data processing departments, and outside resources such as subcontractors, equipment, vendors and so forth. In addition, the project’s originator may change the scope or objectives of the project while also demanding periodic status reports.

Good project managers assume daily responsibilities as planners, organizers and coordinators. They have an excellent grasp on communication and are able to negotiate between several parties. The manager must keep constant watch on “the big picture” while understanding all the details involved. Finally, they must be able to successfully maneuver through political situations (and be able to understand all of the potential ramifications.

The project manager’s principal role is a leader: In practice, project management includes humanistic appreciation as well as technical knowledge. Absence of either quality can have a negative effect on the project’s direction, control and administration.

In the early planning stages, the project manager may not know who is going to be on the project team, but he or she should know the types of talents needed for the team. Rules of thumb: A team should not exceed 8 to 10 in members; it should be supplemented with other resources on an “as needed” basis; and should it include a representative of the project’s originator as well as “technical” experts.

Be sure to remember that certain characteristics must be present on the team. These include financial expertise, public relations skills, writing ability and more. If the project manager does not have a solid grasp on any of these qualities, then someone else on the working team possesses the needed skills.

Assigning responsibilities (to the person on the team who is most qualified to perform each task) may be done on a job title basis or an actual name basis. Match each task to a person having prime responsibility; be sure to designate those having supporting responsibility as well. If more than one person is working on a task, always make one person primarily responsible.

There are steps that can be used to assess staff capabilities, such as defining required skills for each activity, reviewing the team members’ skills inventory and deciding on individuals that have the correct skills currently.

If quick information is needed about the activity, management will not want to question everyone involved. A fast, direct answer will be required; if one person is primarily responsible, there will be a quick, reliable source to turn to. Also, it is a solid management philosophy that one member of the team should be held ultimately accountable for each activity. Therefore, there should only be one “boss” per activity.

The as project manager will automatically assume primary responsibility for many assignments. But he or she should not assume responsibility for every assignment. If someone else is better qualified for a certain job, that person should be primarily responsible for it. In fact, the project manager may merely support that activity. This method of allocating responsibility is not only fair, but is a fine way to introduce younger members of the project team to roles of responsibility. Delegation is one of the most important tools in management.

One of the project manager’s primary responsibilities will be to insure that those who are given primary responsibility are also given the requisite authority to accomplish their assignments. The task of assigning the correct type of person with the talents to perform the task includes creating an environment that engenders efficiency and productivity. An environment conducive to such qualities saves the manager from continually having to bring the person “up to speed.” A positive environment also prevents the person being assigned the task from becoming frustrated and ultimately leaving the organization.

The project manager needs to maintain control of the team at all times if the project team is such an integral part of the success of the project. There are methods of exercising such control at each stage of the project: Before the project is actually begun, the project manager takes the wishes and needs of the project’s originator and translates them into a document defining the project’s objectives, which includes an initial estimate of time, money and the quality of the end product. To accurately make these projections, the project manager must see the boundaries of the project. These boundaries first concentrate on the outcome expected from the project. They then expand to include the benefits and financial ramifications of the project; why the project will benefit the organization and what it will cost the organization to develop. In a sense, this means developing a “contract” that will serve as a series of performance checks throughout the duration of the project.

The project objectives must be developed relative to the end-product in order to assist the project’s originator in assessing the project’s impact on their operation, in setting limits for planning and budgeting, and in providing management a means by which to prioritize projects. These objectives should be quantified at the beginning of the project within this document or as as they become known.

One of the project manager’s roles will be to re-negotiate the project objectives after an initial effort to develop the project’s base lines. Periodic reviews and re-definitions should become standard. To ensure efficient execution, however, the project’s originator must be held at some distance from the actual activities.

This document should include categories such as purpose, assumptions, constraints, risks, alternate strategies, recommended strategies, start and end, initial outlay cost, responsibility areas and list of activities. The document should also outline the following areas in detail:

  • Project Staffing. This section should include the number of staff and what skills must be present within the project team. The creation of an annual report may require a writer, a researcher, an analyst and a typist. Would the report benefit from a graphic designer for the cover as well as for effective charts and graphs?
  • Commitment of Resources. This section should include specific detailing of whether certain resources will be external or internal, and who will be responsible for them. Will the project’s manager supply a fax machine or does he or she assume that the leasing or purchase of a fax is included in the budget?
  • Commitment of Project Manager. Will the project manager need to be available on a daily basis? How many project reviews is the manager responsible for? What type of fiduciary responsibilities does the project manager have? Is the project manager in charge of hiring and firing?
  • Tasks To Be Executed. This should only be specific as need be. For example, does the development of an office park include obtaining lessons or merely construction of the park itself? The more involved the project becomes, the more detailed and the more numerous the tasks will be.
  • Effectiveness of the Project Staff. Is flexibility an issue or does each task require a strict adherence to schedule? If the rate of work needs to be closely monitored, specific quantification is essential. If a store’s grand opening includes a certain inventory, when is the buyer responsible for filling the stock? What accountability will this buyer have?
  • Resolution of Issues. Any concerns that either the project manager or the project’s originator have should be handled in this section of the document. The review of the document and its approval is never complete until both sides agree on how these issues will be handled.
  • Turnaround Time. This must be as specific and quantifiable as possible, not only for the entire project itself, but for each task and area. Whatever flexibility is allowable should be enforced.

Other considerations which might be included are the risks — strategic, technological, financial, productivity-related and personnel-related. What happens if the project is not done, and who is ultimately accountable?

Problems can arise with the scope and objectives document if it is too general in nature and does not include enough specifics. It must be complete; it cannot only attack the surface of the problem. It should be easily readable; a project’s originator should never say that they did not have the time to read it. This includes avoiding being too technical, too verbose, or too esoteric. Finally, it may not remain in a consistent tone: Many recommend at the same time as mandating.

After the project is completed and enough time has elapsed for the dust to settle, perform a Post Evaluation Review or Audit. This exercise communicates to management exactly how much money was spent on development of the new product compared to what was estimated.

It also reflects the actual effect on annual operating expenses (recurring costs). Will the project’s originator derive the actual payback or savings that was estimated? The post evaluation should discuss the quality of the product in order to determine whether more work is required. Finally, it provides the project manager with facts to compare his or her original estimates. This is the only way for the project manager to have a learning experience and become a better estimator in the future.

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Copyright, A.E Schwartz & Associates. All rights reserved.
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