Project Management

February 2, 2010

Project Management

Project management is a carefully planned and organized effort to accomplish a specific (and usually) one-time objective, for example, construct a building or implement a major new computer system. Project management includes developing a project plan, which includes defining and confirming the project goals and objectives, identifying tasks and how goals will be achieved, quantifying the resources needed, and determining budgets and timelines for completion. It also includes managing the implementation of the project plan, along with operating regular ‘controls’ to ensure that there is accurate and objective information on ‘performance’ relative to the plan, and the mechanisms to implement recovery actions where necessary. Projects usually follow major phases or stages (with various titles for these), including feasibility, definition, project planning, implementation, evaluation and support/maintenance. (Program planning is usually of a broader scope than project planning, but not always – note: the terms program and programme have significant variations in their meaning in different geographical areas, e.g. Europe and USA.)

Project Management

Project Management

Project management is a carefully planned and organized effort to accomplish a specific (and usually) one-time objective, for example, construct a building or implement a major new computer system. Project management includes developing a project plan, which includes defining and confirming the project goals and objectives, identifying tasks and how goals will be achieved, quantifying the resources needed, and determining budgets and timelines for completion. It also includes managing the implementation of the project plan, along with operating regular ‘controls’ to ensure that there is accurate and objective information on ‘performance’ relative to the plan, and the mechanisms to implement recovery actions where necessary. Projects usually follow major phases or stages (with various titles for these), including feasibility, definition, project planning, implementation, evaluation and support/maintenance. (Program planning is usually of a broader scope than project planning, but not always – note: the terms program and programme have significant variations in their meaning in different geographical areas, e.g. Europe and USA.)

Project Management – Start Here!

Project Management is a well-established approach to managing and controlling the introduction of new initiatives or organizational changes.

Projects are finite in length, usually one-time pieces of work involving a number of activities that must be completed within a given time frame, and often on a fixed budget. Common examples of projects are construction of a building, introduction of a new product, installation of a new piece of machinery in a manufacturing plant, creation of a new software tool, or the design and launch of a new advertising campaign.

While the very simplest projects can be managed easily by applying common sense and just getting on with things, projects that are more complex need a great deal of planning, and benefit from a formal, disciplined management approach. From making sure that activities will actually meet the specified need, to devising a workable schedule, developing systems for reporting progress, and managing requests for changes – all of these issues require thoughtful consideration.

Managing projects well requires a great deal of time, skill, and finesse. There are many sides to project management and this is what makes it so interesting and demanding. Project managers are expected to take an uncertain event and make a certain promise to deliver. They are also expected to do this within a specified time and within a limited budget.

Estimating Time Accurately

Accurate time estimation is a skill essential to good project management. It is important to get time estimates right for two main reasons:

Time estimates drive the setting of deadlines for delivery of projects, and hence peoples’ assessments of your reliability

They often determine the pricing of contracts and hence their profitability.

Usually people vastly underestimate the amount of time needed to implement projects. This is true particularly when they are not familiar with the task to be carried out.

They forget to take into account unexpected events or unscheduled high priority work. People also often simply fail to allow for the full complexity involved with a job.

This section discusses how to estimate time on small projects. Time estimates are important inputs into the other techniques used to organize and structure medium and large sized projects (Gantt charts and Critical Path Analysis). Both of these techniques reduce large projects down into a set of small projects.

How to Use the Tool:

The first stage in estimating time accurately is to fully understand what you need to achieve. This involves reviewing the task in detail so that there are no unknowns. Inevitably it is the difficult-to-understand, tricky problems that take the greatest amount of time to solve.

The best way to review the job is to list all tasks in full detail. Simple techniques such as Drill-Down are useful for this.

Once you have a detailed list of all the tasks that you must achieve, make your best guess at how long each task will take to complete.

Ensure that within your estimate you also allow time for project management, detailed project planning, liaison with outside bodies, meetings, quality assurance and any supporting documentation necessary.

Also make sure that you have allowed time for:

Other high urgency tasks to be carried out which will have priority over this one

Accidents and emergencies

Internal meetings

Holidays and sickness in essential staff

Contact with other customers, perhaps to arrange the next job

Breakdowns in equipment

Missed deliveries by suppliers

Interruptions

Quality control rejections

These factors may double (or more than double) the length of time needed to complete a project.

If the accuracy of time estimates is critical, you may find it effective to develop a systematic approach to including these factors. If possible, base this on past experience.

Key points:

You can lose a great deal of credibility by underestimating the length of time needed to implement a project. If you underestimate time, not only do you miss deadlines, you also put other project workers under unnecessary stress. Projects will become seriously unprofitable, and other tasks cannot be started.

The first step towards making good time estimates is to fully understand the problem to be solved.

You can then prepare a detailed list of tasks that must be achieved. This list should include all the administrative tasks and meetings you need to carry out as well as the work itself.

Finally, allow time for all the expected and unexpected disruptions and delays to work that will inevitably happen.

Risk Impact/Probability Chart

Learning to prioritize risks

Risk management is an important function in organizations today. Companies undertake increasingly complex and ambitious projects, and those projects must be executed successfully, in an uncertain and often risky environment.

As a responsible manager, you need to be aware of these risks. Does this mean that you should try to address each and every risk that your project might face? Probably not – in all but the most critical environments, this can be much too expensive, both in time and resources.

Instead, you need to prioritize risks. If you do this effectively, you can focus the majority of your time and effort on the most important risks.

The Risk Impact/Probability Chart provides a useful framework that helps you decide which risks need your attention.

How to Use the Tool

The Risk Impact/Probability Chart is based on the principle that a risk has two primary dimensions:

Probability – A risk is an event that “may” occur. The probability of it occurring can range anywhere from just above 0% to just below 100%. (Note: It can’t be exactly 100%, because then it would be a certainty, not a risk. And it can’t be exactly 0%, or it wouldn’t be a risk.)

Impact – A risk, by its very nature, always has a negative impact. However, the size of the impact varies in terms of cost and impact on health, human life, or some other critical factor.

The chart allows you to rate potential risks on these two dimensions. The probability that a risk will occur is represented on one axis of the chart – and the impact of the risk, if it occurs, on the other.

You use these two measures to plot the risk on the chart. This gives you a quick, clear view of the priority that you need to give to each. You can then decide what resources you will allocate to managing that particular risk.

The basic form of the Risk Impact/Probability Chart is shown below.

The corners of the chart have these characteristics:

Low impact/Low probability – Risks in the bottom left corner are low level, and you can often ignore them.

Low impact/High probability – Risks in the top left corner are of moderate importance – if these things happen, you can cope with them and move on. However, you should try to reduce the likelihood that they’ll occur.

High impact/Low probability – Risks in the bottom right corner are of high importance if they do occur, but they’re very unlikely to happen. For these, however, you should do what you can to reduce the impact they’ll have if they do occur, and you should have contingency plans in place just in case they do.

High impact/High probability – Risks towards the top right corner are of critical importance. These are your top priorities, and are risks that you must pay close attention to.

Tip 1:

It’s natural to want to turn this into a two-by-two matrix. The problem here is where the lines dividing the quadrants of the matrix lie. For example – should you ignore a 49% probability risk, which will cause a 49% of maximum loss? And why, in this example, should you pay maximum attention to a risk that has a 51% probability of occurring, with a loss of 51% of maximum loss?

Tip 2:

In some industries, you need to pay close attention to even very unlikely risks, where these risks involve injury or loss of human life, for example. Make sure you pay due attention to these risks.

To use the Risk Impact/Probability Chart, print this free worksheet, and then follow these steps:

List all of the likely risks that your project faces. Make the list as comprehensive as possible.

Assess the probability of each risk occurring, and assign it a rating. For example, you could use a scale of 1 to 10. Assign a score of 1 when a risk is extremely unlikely to occur, and use a score of 10 when the risk is extremely likely to occur.

Estimate the impact on the project if the risk occurs. Again, do this for each and every risk on your list. Using your 1-10 scale, assign it a 1 for little impact and a 10 for a huge, catastrophic impact.

Map out the ratings on the Risk Impact/Probability Chart.

Develop a response to each risk, according to its position in the chart. Remember, risks in the bottom left corner can often be ignored, while those in the top right corner need a great deal of time and attention. Read Risk Analysis and Risk Management for detailed strategies on developing a risk response plan.

Key Points

To successfully implement a project, you must identify and focus your attention on middle and high-priority risks – otherwise you risk spreading your efforts too thinly, and you’ll waste resources on unnecessary risk management.

With the Risk Impact/Probability Chart, you map out each risk – and its position determines its priority. High-probability/high-impact risks are the most critical, and you should put a great deal of effort into managing these. The low-probability/high-impact risks and high-probability/low-impact risks are next in priority, though you may want to adopt different strategies for each.

Low-probability/low-impact risks can often be ignored.

Project Management and Much More!

Scheduling Simple Projects

Simple projects involve only one or a few people over a short time. Typically, simple projects will have few tasks dependent on other tasks, and will be relatively simple and easy to coordinate. Examples might be coordinating delivery of resources for a workshop session, implementing a small marketing plan, or delivering a simple software enhancement.

With simple projects, tools like Gantt Charts and Critical Path Diagrams may overcomplicate project scheduling and communication. Unless project team members are trained in their use, they can often ‘blind people with science’, leading to poor communication and muddled projects.

How to Use the Tool:

Appropriate Timetables and Action Plans are often sufficient to coordinate and implement simple projects. These should be explained and negotiated with project staff to improve the plans and get staff understanding, input and buy-in.

It will often be enough to create a workback schedule, starting from the date by which the project must be completed, and listing all of the tasks in reverse order with due dates for each.

Whatever the size of your project, ensure that you have agreed its scope with its sponsor (the person who wants it done) before you start planning. This will help you to resist changes to its scope (known as “scope creep”), which will seriously affect your plans, once you have started working.

Key points:

Simple projects are often best run using simple Timetables and Action Plans. These should be prepared and negotiated with project staff to improve plans and get buy-in.

During the project these will contain sufficient control points and deliveries to monitor project progress and take any appropriate remedial action.

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Posted by Maico Don at 8:08 AM 0 comments
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