Project Management Basics
Course Code: PM1
Project Management Basics
This course deals with the core competencies involeved in project management, from inception and through its life cycle.
Duration: 45 m.
Author/Source: Giulia Costantino, Lorenzo Costantino (IDP)
Tags: project management, courses, training, volunteering
Starting: 21/11/2012 Ending: 01/01/2014
Module 1:The basics of project management
DU 1.1 What is PM: key elements
What is a project and what is Project Management as a practice
Project vs. Programmes
A project is any type of activity with a clearly defined beginning and end; such activity (or set of activities) is aimed at producing well defined results by utilising a set of predefined resources.
The many definitions of project currently available all converge to the one put forward in ISO 9001
a unique process, consisting of a set of coordinated and controlled activities with start and finish dates, undertaken to achieve an objective conforming to specific requirements, including constraints of time, cost and resources.
Taking the above definition of “project” as the one universally accepted, Project Management is the discipline of planning, organizing, securing, managing, leading, and controlling resources and activities to achieve specific goals and results.
The three key defining elements of a project
A project is a temporary endeavour with a defined beginning and end (usually time-constrained, and often constrained by financial resources and/or expected results and deliverables), undertaken to meet unique goals and objectives, typically to bring about beneficial change or added value.
The temporary nature of projects stands in contrast with operations, which are repetitive, permanent, or semi-permanent functional activities that produce products or services. In practice, the management of these two systems is often quite different, and as such requires the development of distinct technical skills and management strategies.
Projects have a tri-pronged dimension based on the three key defining elements of time, results and resources.
TIME: refers to the start and end of the project. For instance a project starting on February 1 and ending on June 15.
RESULTS: are to be achieved and/or produced by the end of the project or at a specific moment during the implementation of the project with clearly defined qualitative and quantitative elements. For instance, producing 100 copies of a research report.
RESOURCES: that will be utilised during the implementation of the project and that are clearly defined both qualitatively and quantitatively (when possible and relevant). For instance, financial resources (amounts of a specific currency), human resources (volunteers and professionals), know-how, etc.
The three key defining elements described above are also generally referred to as the "Project Management Triangle" (also known as the "Iron Triangle"): each side of the triangle represents the border, or constraint, within which we operate to achieve that specific result and objective. These three defining elements of Project Management are so intertwined that changes to one element affect the other two: one side of the triangle cannot be changed without affecting the others.
DU 1.2: The Project Management Approach
Why is the practice of Project Management relevant to what we do?
The three factors for a successful project
The need to control and monitor teams, resources, budgets and tasks is vital to the successful completion of a project. In this way, project management is the central component of every project, irrespective of the specific project, field, sector and so on.
The correct use of Project Management techniques has many benefits impact, such as:
- Increase the number of projects delivered
- Increase the quality of products and deliverables
- Set correct expectations for project
- Prevent cost overruns, or at least identifies when this may happen
- Deliver to agreed timelines
- Reduce scope creep and risks
- Significantly improve communication between stakeholders and project teams
- Build on experience
- And ultimately reduces the number of projects that fail.
The role of the Project Manager
Just as the three sides of the "Project Management Triangle" (also known as the "Iron Triangle") defined by time, results and resources, the three critical factors for a successful project are:
- on time delivery: complete the project within the envisioned timeline
- within budget delivery: utilise only the resources foreseen
- high-quality delivery: produce the predicted deliverables also according to their qualitative and quantitative levels
The correct execution of the project is a direct consequence of appropriate Planning (see DU 2.1.)
The project manager is the person responsible for achieving the stated objectives and is the one ultimately responsible for the overall monitoring of project activities. As such, a crucial element for the project manager is to define clearly what are the expected results and overall objective of the project, which allows to clearly pinpoint the so called “project requirements”, i.e. the required steps and actions to achieve objectives and results. Ultimately, the project manager is the person responsible for ensuring that activities are carried out and results are achieved within the constraints – or borders – of the project management triangle.
The definition “project manager” is often not associated with any official title within an organisation. Especially in the non-profit sector, often volunteers are de facto project managers. Regardless of internal definitions and/or official titles, the project manager is that person responsible for the implementation – and completion! – of the project. An important note is that “responsibility” requires also “authority”: at times people may be assigned project management tasks without being properly empowered.
One more important feature of a Project Manager refers to Leadership and the ability of managing the project team.
Module 2: Project Life Cycle: Initiating; Planning; Executing; Controlling; Closing
D.U. 2.1: project life cycle: an introduction
The five steps of the Project life cycle
As described earlier, a project has a clearly defined start and end date. As such, the project in itself has a stand-alone life. In project management jargon, the term “project lifecycle” refers to the various steps, stages or cycles along which any given project is planned, supervised and monitored from its initiation to its completion.
Thanks to the wealth of academic research and operational practice, a set of five stages are universally recognised as the key elements of the project lifecycle, irrespective of the scale, scope or domain of any given project:
- Initiate: defines the nature and scope of the project: identify context, need for a project, consensus by stakeholders, overall project goals. Produces a “Statement of work”, a short document describing the main objectives and guidelines of the project
- Plan: plans in detail the actions required to achieve objectives and scope, with the appropriate balance of time, quality of results and resources. Produces a “Project Plan” with the detail of timing, resources, results.
- Execute: carries out the work as defined in the project plan to accomplish the project´s requirements. Produces the results of the project, employing resources in the defined timeframe.
- Monitor / Control: in parallel with executing, regularly measures and monitors project progress and deviation from plan.
- Close: at the end of the executing phase, formalizes acceptances of product, service or results and closes operations
Module 3: The project life cycle in detail
D.U. 3.1: Initiating the project
Initiating the project
Identification of the stakeholders
Initiating the project is the first phase of the project cycle, and relates to one main issue: deciding what projects are worth doing for your organisation.
Project ideas should also be assessed against relevance, need, general feasibility, realistic timing, adequate resources, acceptable risks, and any other variables depending on specific cases.
Once the idea selected, the initiating stage should define the overall features of the project, which includes:
- Specific needs of the organisation
- The scope of the project
- Analysis of stakeholders
- Analysis of costs and benefits, including an overall budget
- General technical requirements These elements are described in a specific document, called the “Statement of Work” (see further).
The Statement of Work
A stakeholder is “a person with an interest or concern in something, especially a business” (Oxford Dictionary). In project management, stakeholders are all those who have an interest in the project and its results.
For instance: your organisation and its members; the users of your services and their families; the local authorities you interact with, project sponsors. Key stakeholders are those with a more relevant role in the project: the project manager, the project team, the board of the organisation, the funders.
Stakeholders should be consulted during project initiation, to understand their needs and constraints, and during the phase of project planning; they should also be kept informed during the execution of the project, and their feedback taken into consideration.
The Statement of Work (SOW) is a formal document that defines the main features of the project: scope, goals, constraints, costs and schedules. In small projects, the SOW can be a one to two page document. The SOW is relevant as it is the first written description of the project,and it is to be discussed and agreed upon by key stakeholders. It is also the basis of the Project Plan.
As the SOW needs to be approved by the key stakeholders, some project ideas can even be terminated at this stage, because, for instance, their relevance for the organisation is not clearly recognized, or the costs and risks are too high.
A project idea can also be set aside, and the organisation can decide to work on the idea/proposal at a later stage pending the availability of resources or other circumstances.
D.U. 3.2: Planning:
The structure of the Project Plan
Planning is the second phase of the project cycle; in this phase the main features of the project are analysed, and the features agreed upon during the Initiation phase (and described briefly in the SOW) are defined with a higher degree of detail.
The purpose of this phase is to plan carefully all the elements of the project and to draft a “Project plan”, the document that will serve as a guideline for the Project Manager and the project team, as well as for other stakeholders. The Project plan is important as it allows organizations to better direct their efforts and spend the available resources, producing the desired results and therefore achieving the proposed objectives.
Even though drafting a Project Plan can require a considerable amount of time and resources (i.e. involving your team-mates), having a solid Project Plan is key for the success of the planning and execution of any project.
The basic elements of a Project: results, timing, resources
The Project Plan is a document describing in detail the content of a project to be implemented by the organisation.
While there are no standard forms nor templates on how to structure a Project Plan, the following elements are typical:
- Project Objectives: why is our organisation committing to this project;
- Project Results: what do we want to produce during the project, to achieve the objectives set;
- Work Plan: how is the work structured, in terms of content, phases, duration, making the project easier to implement and control;
- Project team: who is involved in project implementation and which skills are required;
- Responsibilities: the role of the people (or other organisations) involved;
- Timing: a schedule of work;
- Risks analysis: an analysis of what could go wrong during the implementation;
- Resources and budget: a description of resources needed (human resources, supplies, equipment etc) and financial details.
Introducing the Gantt chart
As highlighted previously, the three key dimensions of any given project are Time, Results and Resources.
These elements are inevitably captured by the Project Plan:
- Time: a project should have a defined start and end. Make sure your
- Project Plan sets an exact date for the project to start and to finish;
- Results: Results are the products of the project, what you will build, produce, generate during the project. Results can be tangible (e.g. books, funds collected, etc) or intangible (e.g. awareness raised on a certain topic, training, etc). The Project Plan should define the results both in their quantity (e.g. at least 100 people trained) and in their quality (e.g.: at least 100 parents of primary school pupils trained);
- Resources: the Project Plan has to clearly define the amount of resources (human resources, equipment, money) needed to produce the results within the set timeframe.
The Gantt chart is one of the most largely used tools of Project Management.
It shows the tasks into which the work is divided, and their start, duration and end.
An example of Gantt chart:
D.U. 3.3: Executing
Executing the project
The Executing phase relates to the actual implementation of the project.
This is when the actual work is carried out and activities are implemented: at this phase the Project Manager and the whole team shifts from planning into executing.
The best way to ensure success to a project is to have a successful project kick-off meeting: the kick-off meeting is the formal start of the project and requires the presence of all the people involved in its implementation.
At the kick-off meeting, the main Project Management tools and means are defined; also, this is when a complete stock-taking of objectives, timing and resources is carried out to ensure that all key elements of the project are available. The Project Manager is responsible for the organisation and management of the kick-off meeting: the Project Manager facilitates the direct involvement of all team-members and secures their commitment to the project. As for all other project meetings, in advance to the kick-off meeting, the Project Manager will circulate the agenda of the project with binding timeline, schedule and topics, as well as responsibilities of the participants (i.e. who does what during the kick off meeting).
At the same time, the Project Manager will make sure that accurate minutes of the meeting are recorded and then circulated to all meeting participants to keep track of what was discussed during the meeting and what next steps were agreed. The next steps are usually recorded in an “Action List” with tentative – but realistic – timeline and responsibilities. At the kick-off meeting, the Project Manager also defines the key element of communication during project implementation.
Communication is a key and essential element in the execution of the project. Usually, communication has two dimensions: internal and external communication. Internally, communication serves the purpose of keeping all the people involved in the implementation of the project on the same page and up to date on all relevant issues affecting the project, such as possible inhibitors and risks but also drivers and opportunities to scale activities and results. Internal communication is usually ensured by the Project Managers themselves, and is often supported by email exchanges or tools, such as the back-office space of a website or an intranet in the case of large organisations. Most commonly, group emails are an effective means of securing internal communications, though team members (and Project Managers first of all) should make appropriate use of internal email systems not to overwhelm project participants.
External communication is more focused on supporting the dissemination and visibility of the project. External communication can be delegated to a specific team member (i.e. a communication officer, a public relations specialist, etc). Irrespective of who is in charge of external communications, various tools are commonly used to maximise the visibility of the project: dedicated websites or web-pages, press releases that are then disseminated through free media resources, traditional and new media. An important element of the external interface for any type of project is the use of logos so as to provide immediate visibility to a specific activity. The logo (both project and organisations’) should be used on any dissemination and external communication means and tools in order to ensure consistency in the external communication efforts.
|Internal Communication |
- Mailing list (careful use!)
- Website Back-office /intranet
- Informal communication
|External Communication |
- Project Logo to be used in any external interface
- Website / dedicated project website
- Press releases, newsletter, report
- Dissemination, events, publications, etc
The real success of any given project lies in the team behind it. The best idea with plenty of financial resources does not necessarily achieve any impact if not properly executed by a committed and technically prepared team. The team of a project is usually defined at planning stage, where a qualification and quantification of the type of human resources needed to implement the activities is preliminarily defined.
The Project Manager will define the quantity and type of human resources on the basis of technical considerations using a skills matrix, which is a simple grid that allows to profile the type of resource needed to carry a specific task, as simplified in the example below:
Dissemination and external visibility
|Skills required |
|Experience / Education |
3 yrs of PR
Once the type of human resources required are identified against the stated objective and proposed activities, the Project Manager – with the help of peers and colleagues – will need to check the availability of those resources/staff members, their need for training/retraining, any operational and financial implications for their direct involvement in the project, their motivation and commitment levels, etc.
Once identified and selected for a specific task within the project, the Project Manager will have to keep the motivation of the team members high so as to ensure their effective contribution and commitment to the project. In this case, the Project Manager will face the challenging task of creating a team spirit based on trust. Effective communication and transparency are the key factors generally conducing to trust within a team. The Project Manager will need to keep the motivation high and prevent any possible conflict within the team.
In addition to identifying, retaining and motivating team members, the Project Manager needs also to secure resources as identified during the planning phase. While financial resources are a key element of any project, other types of resources come into play when planning and executing a project.
Logistical and other physical resources are often used in project implementation (e.g. facilities to host events) as well as other resources such as know-how (e.g. a methodology, a software, etc). When identifying resources needed to implement a project, common mistakes refer to not considering fully the type of resources needed for the project as a whole: a typical mistake is not to consider overhead (or indirect) costs, as well as miscellaneous expenses (a typical example in associations is often not to consider accessory expenses to obtain administrative permits for a public event).
In the planning phase the Project Manager needs to carefully pinpoint each and every element of project activities and identify the most suitable resource (human, physical, financial, logistical, etc) required to implement that specific activity and achieve that specific result. At implementation phase (i.e. before and during the kick-off meeting) the Project Manager will secure resources.
D.U. 3.4: Monitoring and Controlling
Monitoring and Controlling
During project Execution, project progress must be monitored to keep under control all project components (starting from the three key components –time, results, resources-); this allows the Project Manager and the team to identify possible problems in Project execution, and define and carry out corrective measures.
Monitoring and controlling entails the following activities:
- Measuring project activities during their execution: where are we?
- Comparing them with what is stated in the Project Plan: where should we be?
- Identifying deviations from plan: are we late / spending too much/ producing results not adequate?
- Define corrective measures to tackle the problems and get the project back on track
To monitor the project, a number of tools can be used, such as:
- Regular meetings between the Project Manager and (key) members of the team
- Internal reports (short written documents)
- Checking the schedule of activities carried out against the project’s Gantt chart
- Keeping records of the money spent compared to the budget planned
A milestone is a significant event in the project; milestones often coincide with the accomplishment of a main result or the end of a task. They are identified during the planning phase and are illustrated in the description of activities in the Project Plan.
They represent major steps in the project, but also an important monitoring tool, what is also called a “go/no go”: their occurrence allows to measure project progress, approve what has been achieved until that moment and decide whether the project can proceed further according to the Project Plan, or if corrective measures are needed.
D.U. 3.5: Closing the project
The need for a closing phase
Closing the project
When is the project finished? In principle, when all the key elements have been accomplished according to the Project Plan: results have been produced (in the quality and quantity set) in the defined timeframe and using the resources identified in the project budget.
A formal closing phase is necessary for:
- The stakeholders: they must know that the project is (successfully) completed; results must be delivered
- The Project manager and the team: they must know that they are no further engaged in the project, and that their efforts have been successful
- The employment of resources: some durable resources (e.g. equipment) can be employed in other projects
Projects can be closed in many ways, with a different degree of formalism, depending on their size and scope.
In smaller projects, the formal closing of a project could be achieved with one or more of the following:
- A (short) final report stating what has been accomplished
- A meeting with the whole project team
- A presentation of major results to key stakeholders (the funders, the board, the network organisation)
- A presentation of major results to the final users
Usually the closing phase includes the evaluation of the work carried out, as well as of the contribution from team members. One important element of this evaluation is the identification of the “lessons learned”, the analysis of what went well and what went wrong: this exercise is particularly relevant for future projects, to build capacity and to improve skills.
One more element of the Closing phase is communication and celebration: especially when the project is successful, it is important that team member feel that their efforts are recognized and validated.
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Body of Knowledge 5th edition, Association for Project Management, 2006, ISBN 1-903494-13-3.
Russell D. Archibald (2003), Managing High-Technology Programs and Projects (3rd edition), Wiley, ISBN: 978-0-471-26557-3.
Bjarne Kousholt (2007), Project Management – Theory and practice. Nyt Teknisk Fortag. ISBN 87-571-2603-8.
Sebastian Nokes (2007), The Definitive Guide to Project Management, 2nd Ed.n., London (Financial Times / Prentice Hall), ISBN 978-0-273-71097-4.
Martin Stevens (2002), Project Management Pathways. Association for Project Management. APM Publishing Limited, 2002, ISBN 1-903494-01-X.
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