How project managers manage projects?

If you a new project manager and you are going to manage a project, this post is really for you. In the Everyday Project Management book, the author Jeff Davidson explains in detail and in an easy language very basic but important principles.

So, You’re Going to Manage a Project?

In this chapter, you learn what a project is, essential skills for project managers, and what it takes to be a good project manager.

The Elements of a Project

What exactly is a project? You hear the word used at work, as well as at home. People say, “I am going to add a deck in the backyard. It will be a real project.” Or, “Our team’s project is to determine consumer preferences in our project management industry through the year 2029.” Or, “I have a little project I would like you to tackle. I think that you can be finished by this afternoon.”

A “project” is the allocation of resources over a specific time frame and the coordination of interrelated events to accomplish an overall objective while meeting both predictable and unique challenges. It is a temporary endeavor, undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result within constraints of time, resources, and cost. The architect Frank Lloyd Wright once said, “Man built most nobly when limitations were at their greatest.” Since each architectural achievement is a complex project, Wright’s observation is as applicable for day-to-day projects routinely faced by managers as it is for a complex, multinational undertaking.

Experts cite five major elements that define a project: creation, planning, executing, monitoring, and completion, each tackled in a logical sequence. The creation has to do with defining a scope of work that is to be performed, along with major goals that are to be accomplished. Planning is required to define the scope of work and entails defining each job and each task within each job to be accomplished, the duration of the work, the human resources required, and the materials needed.

Execution equates to working the plan. Monitoring, or command as some call it, entails updating the plan as it is worked. Completion means closing out all open tasks required to reach the desired end. However, when you boil things down, projects can be viewed as undertakings that have multiple elements, including the aforementioned specific time frame, an orchestrated approach to codependent events, a desired outcome, and unique characteristics.

Projects are temporary ventures

Projects are temporary ventures. Projects can last years or even decades, as in the case of public works programs, feeding the world’s hungry, or sending spacecrafts to other galaxies.

Projects invariably end, however, because the mission is accomplished or is deemed unreachable or obsolete, or funds dry up, or sponsors and stakeholders move on, or external factors require a shift in focus, or the project is consumed by another project, or any of at least a dozen other reasons.

Many of the projects that you face in the work-a-day world will run somewhere in the range of hours to weeks, or possibly months, but usually not years or decades. As such, the scope of this book will be limited to projects of short duration—say, up to six months, but usually shorter than that.

A project begins when some person or group in authority authorizes its beginning. The initiating party has the authority, the budget, and the resources to enable the project to come to fruition and “make it so.”

By definition, every project initiated is engaged for a precise period, although those charged with achieving the project’s goals often feel as if the project were going on forever. When project goals are completed, a project ends and something else, invariably, takes its place.

Much of the effort of the people on a project, and certainly most of the resources, including funds, are directed toward ensuring that the project is designed to achieve the desired outcome and be completed as scheduled.

Toward completion or realization of a desired outcome, the project might have interim due dates in which “deliverables” must be finished. Deliverables are something of value generated by a project management team as scheduled, to be offered to an authorizing party, a reviewing committee, a client constituent, or another concerned party, often taking the form of a plan, report, procedure, product, or service.

Deliverables can take the form of a report, provision of service, a prototype, an actual product, a new procedure, or any one of a number of other forms. Each deliverable and each interim goal achieved helps to ensure that the overall project will be finished on time and on budget, at the desired level of quality. Remember that Agile project management is also a temporary venture. Agile Principles are the same. When we are talking about product management then we have a difference.

Projects involve a series of related events which are divisible, definable units of work related to a project

Projects involve a series of related events which are divisible, definable units of work related to a project, which might or might not include subtasks. One event leads to another. Multiple events might be contingent on other multiple events overlapping in intricate patterns. Indeed, if projects did not involve multiple events, they would not be projects! They would be single tasks or a series of single tasks that are laid out in some sequential pattern.

Projects are more involved; some could be so complex that the only way to understand the pattern of interrelated events is to depict them on a chart, or to use sophisticated project management software. Such tools enable the project manager to see which tasks need to be executed concurrently versus sequentially, and so on.

A project manager is an individual who has responsibility for overseeing all aspects of the day-to-day activities in pursuit of a project goal, including coordinating staff, allocating resources, managing the budget, and directing overall efforts to achieve a specific, desired result. Coordination of events for some projects is so crucial that if one single event is not executed as scheduled, the entire project could be at risk!

At the end of each project is the realization of some specific goal or objective

At the end of each project is the realization of some specific goal or objective. An “objective” as used here refers to a desired outcome; something worth striving for; the overarching goal of a project; the reason for which the project was initiated. It is not enough to assign a project to someone and say lightly, “See what you can do.” Nebulous objectives pretty much lead to a nebulous outcome. A specific objective increases the chances of leading to a specific outcome.

While one major, clear, desired project objective is established, in pursuit of it there could be interim project objectives. The objectives of a project management team for a food processing company, for example, might be to improve the quality and taste of the company’s macaroni dish. Read about quality management on ScrumTime.org. Along the way, the team might conduct taste samples, survey consumers, research competitors, and so on. Completion of each of these events can be regarded as an interim objective toward completion of the overall objective.

Project teams sometimes are charged with achieving a series of increasingly lofty objectives in pursuit of the final, ultimate objective. Often teams can only proceed in a stair step fashion to achieve the desired outcome. If they were to proceed in any other manner, they might not be able to develop the skills or insights along the way that will enable them to progress in a productive manner.

Just as major league baseball teams start out in spring training in Florida or Arizona by doing calisthenics and warm-up exercises, and reviewing the fundamentals of the game, such as base running, fielding, throwing, bunting, and so on, so too are project teams better off honing their skills and capabilities to meet a series of interim objectives and outcomes.

The interim objectives and outcomes go by many names. Regardless of the terminology used, the intent is the same: to achieve a desired objective on time and on budget, with the desired level of quality.

Time and money are inherent constraints in the pursuit of any project

When You Wish Upon a Star—Time and money are inherent constraints in the pursuit of any project. If the scheduled start and stop times—in other words, the time line—is not specific and the project can be completed any old time, then it’s not a project! It might be a wish, a desire, an aim, or a long-held notion, but it is not a project. By assigning a specific time frame to a project, project team members can mentally and physically acclimate themselves to the rigors inherent in operating under said terms.

Many projects are completed beyond the time frame initially allotted. Still, setting the time frame is vital. If it had not been set, the odds of the project being completed anywhere near the originally earmarked period would be far less.

While the budget for a project is usually imposed on a project manager by someone in authority, or even by the project manager, as with the time frame constraint, a budget serves as a useful and necessary constraint of another nature.

It would be nice to have deep pockets for every project that you handle, but the reality for many organizations and project managers is that budgetary limits have to be set. And thank goodness. You are not Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian. Budgetary limits help ensure efficiency. When you know that you only have so many dollars to spend, you spend those dollars more judiciously than when you have double or triple that amount.

Multipart project management

If you have been assigned a multipart project, the likes of which you have not undertaken before, independent of your background and experience, that project is original and unique to you. Yet, even if you have recently completed something of a similar nature the month before, the new assignment still represents an original project, with its own set of challenges. Why? Because as time passes, society changes, technology changes, and even your workplace changes.

Suppose you are asked to manage the orientation project for your company’s new class of recruits. There are 10 people and they will be with you for a three-week period, as with the group before them. The company’s orientation materials have been developed for a long time, they are excellent, and, by golly, they work!

You have excellent facilities. Your budget, though limited, has proven to be adequate, and you feel up for the task. Still, this project will be unique, because you haven’t encountered these 10 people before. Their backgrounds and experiences, the way that they interact with one another and with you, and a host of other factors ensure that challenges will arise during this three-week project, some of which will represent unprecedented challenges.

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