Project management

a goal-directed approach

Anglo-Alpha Limited


G.P.J. Pelser

University of South Africa

Introduction

This article provides a framework for the analysis and management of projects. Specific techniques used in project management will not be discussed in detail, but the most likely areas of use are indicated. The framework put forward indicates the major activities during a project life cycle, the decisions to be made during those activities, and the end products which should be delivered to assist in ensuring that each phase is successfully executed.

What is offered is a master set of “checklisted” tasks which can aid a project manager in the effective achievement of practical results from an administrative/management point of view. It is not intended that these checklists be procedurized or followed by rota. Use by an experienced manager will strike a chord for improvement only in limited areas; a novice may well follow the guidelines more rigorously.

Projects and the project development cycle are initially reviewed very briefly to set a common departure point on the subject.

Projects have three major characteristics:

1. They usually have definitely stated start and completion dates; the latter requires a major effort to achieve. Projects also tend to be manufactured or produced in a major location with resources being physically brought to that location and controlled and applied to the various activities.

2. Activities are usually well-defined and time sequences can be expressed by a set of predecessorsuccessor relationships (often complex).

3. Each project is new, differing from its predecessors, and few sections benefit from previous experiences and historical data of previous projects.

Project Life Cycle

Projects progress through a series of activities which can be grouped into major phases. These tend to follow each other in a more or less standard sequence. These phases in their sequence of occurrence are:

• Concept

• Feasibility Study

• Concept Revision

• Project Definition

• Tenders/Quotations

• Final Design

• Contracts

• Physical Execution

• Product Tests

• Final and Integrating Tests

• Project Review

• Production/Maintenance

These phases do not always have to occur sequentially; they can happen simultaneously. This is depicted in Figure 1, where the phases are shown in their general sequence of occurrence, but where the nonvertical lines indicate that they can take place more or less simultaneously (i.e., one activity starting while a previous one is not yet completed).

The Framework For Project Management

At this point it is assumed that an organizaton has already carried out a strategic and a project risk analysis for various alternative strategic choices in its task environment. Further, as a result of this risk analysis, a specific strategic choice regarding a product/market opportunity has been made, and this results in the need for a project. With this selection of a need for a project made, a project's “life” can now commence.

Three major phases are identified in this “life”, namely project planning, project control and human aspects.

Figure 1
The Project Life Cycle

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Project Planning

Because of the generally unique nature of a project, to reduce the uncertainty in decision making and to develop a finer understanding of the cause-effect relationships in projects, management tends to carry out its planning functions in depth. Mobilization of resources is expensive and often difficult to alter, so detailed planning is necessary to reduce wasted time and effort. In certain types of projects, planning can be carried out ad nauseam and yet perhaps, not even enough. Computerization projects, for example, do not often have clearly stated end products, since the products are intended to serve people who have their own learning curves in their jobs, and the project is thus aimed at a moving target. Planning in such cases can apparently become “wasted” effort, as it is often necessary to scrap plans and constantly re-plan almost from scratch. However, this does not cancel the need for project planning, and such planning is necessary to ensure projects are successfully implemented.

Classically, project planning is usually perceived to concern techniques and concepts such as PERT or CPM. However, project planning includes prerequisite and subsequent aspects which are more necessary to ensure project success. Such considerations include:

• objective setting

• activity duration estimating

• resource usage estimating

• planning milestones and measuring points

• specifying of deliverables

• activity scheduling

• responsibility allocation and determination of critical success factors/key performance areas and performance criteria

• communication and documentation of plans

• reporting mechanism purposes for control

• project selection (from a choice of alternatives)

• project feasibility

• contingency planning

• planning to manage people

These considerations are not exhaustive, however, and many others can be brought into project planning. Project planning can be seen as the central core of project management with links to project control and people management (human factors) as seen in Figure 2.

Figure 2
Project Management In Perspective

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Planning starts off with senior management who may initiate the need for a project and decide if it is feasible; a viability study has to be executed, and this is usually allocated to someone who is interested in the project. This project “champion” should be decided on as an early activity (probably the first event in planning is the selection of the project manager who should be in charge of the project). The important steps of project planning are shown in Figure 3 in a flow diagram form. Alongside each task (oblong box) is shown a document.

This is intended to indicate a paper (or documented) “deliverable” to be manufactured by that task. The rationale for this is discussed in the conclusion. The rest of the text on project planning should be read together with this figure.

Figure 3
Project Planning Model

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Once a project manager has been appointed and job descriptions and requirements for reporting back have been spelled out, the manager should identify what has to be achieved by the project and what possible alternative modus operandi exist for carrying it out. The feasibility/viability should then be anayzed. Once broad-term planning has been carried out, a choice of which direction to follow can be made, and a broad-term plan can be developed for managing the change that the project will bring about.

Detailed activity and project scheduling then takes place. These include:

• what activities have to be carried out to ensure the project is adequately executed,

• who should be responsible (as a manager) to ensure that each activity does take place,

• who should be involved in executing each activity,

• when is each activity due,

• what is the time duration for each activity,

• what people and equipment resources are needed to execute each activity,

• what is the total cost estimated for the whole project, and

• what budget and cash flow reflects the plan.

Obviously there is a complex, influencing relationship among these various activities. For this reason they would be planned in an iterative manner, i.e., feeding back and looping on themselves until an adequate and satisfactory final, practical solution has been developed.

Once the detailed activities have been scheduled, the management control and reporting structure must be designed. For example: What reports should be used and issued to each person and manager in the project, and at what points should these reports be used and the project reviewed?

Project contingencies could now be planned considering major project constraints. All activities can now be combined into an integrated plan for the project. This plan ultimately has to be communicated to the various involved people.

Project Control

Two levels of control are distinguished, namely management control and operational control. Operational control is feedback control and consists of changing input and process to achieve correction in output. Management control activities tend to become replanning of what has to be done, once an unacceptable exception or change has been forecast. Both levels will be considered as an integrated entity of control in the remainder of this article. Control, by its nature, also includes a reporting mechanism, an information mechanism, and a people-management mechanism.

Control starts on the basis, “Is the output which has been achieved required in terms of quantity, time, cost, quality, and what input or process changes must be carried out to correct any deviations from target?” The changes can only be within limits already set by higher management.

If there is a discrepancy between what is being produced by the project and what the target initially was, and this variation is of a level to warrant direct action, then this will trigger some form of decisionmaking action.

The manager has to gather as many relevant facts as possible in the short time available, generate alternatives that could be adopted to overcome the variance situation being experienced, and choose the appropriate alternative which is acceptable within the constraints of resources and objectives. Very often the decision produced influences the process itself, its outputs or inputs. An adjustment may be made to the sequence of activities planned, or to the intensity of resource allocation to a segment of the activities. If output is within planned tolerances and acceptable to management's objectives, then no immediate action is necessary.

Other control action is appled to managerial plans such as the consideration of contingencies, methods of improving efficiencies, new requirements for the project, and ways to increase the quality of products and people on the project. A complete replanning of a portion of the project may have to be undertaken and some of the previous project planning activities would be executed again. Whatever new plan results, communication and documentation must automatically follow; otherwise, people involved in the project will not know what is expected in the future and will carry on working according to an old and outdated plan.

The control loop defined above can be predefined and predesigned as far as frequency and format are concerned. The relevant management reports should indicate what performance has been achieved in terms of time, costs, resources and/or quality. Replanning should trigger performance (or historical) statistics documentation which will feed back to another project's planning (as knowledge or learning curve/training in planning).

Once a project is completed, a final review should then take place to ensure that it measures up to the targets set at its inception. As a result of such a postaudit, development guidelines and standards can be updated for future projects. Figure 4 shows a schematic of project control.

Figure 4
Project Control Model

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Human Factors In Projects

People management is critical to the managing of projects. By their nature, projects are temporary organization forms and, therefore, the organizational structure in a project is only transient. People very often do not have a long term role allocation view of themselves as project experts and, therefore, instabilities in projects tend to be higher than in other more permanent organizational forms.

The various issues which must be managed by project managers on the human side include:

• handling resistance to change

• training and education

• encouraging commitment

• effective communication

• people leadership

• managing political behavior

• structuring and restructuring of specific taskoriented teams on the project

• motivation of individuals

• managing groups and group dynamics

• managing conflict

Without going into detail on any of the above factors, a brief model of the important human behavior factors to be managed in general projects is shown in Figure 5. A few of these activities duplicate or link to previous activities shown in Figures 3 and 4 (such as forming a team structure, and planning to manage resistance to change). For the planning of human factors, the following five points are important: team structure formulation; structuring of a management of steering committee with a reporting mechanism; managing resistance to change (and planning to do so), planning a conflict handling mechanism; and planning a people communication mechanism.

Figure 5
Human Factors Model

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From the people control point of view, the following important activities are relevant: performance appraisal/counselling and handback of the skilled staff member to his originating, nonproject department. Ad hoc motivation and communication are always present in any management situation and one assumes that they will be managed on this ever present basis.

The Three Steps In Detail

As can be seen in this article, the management of a project entails planning the project in detail, controlling the execution of the project, and ensuring that the resources to carry out these activities are efficiently and effectively used. The human resources are of utmost importance.

These project steps are detailed in Tables 1, 2 and 3 and they show which activities, which decisions a manager would normally have to make to carry out an activity, and which deliverables (or visible endproducts) should be present to show that each activity has been completed and executed correctly. Tables 1, 2 and 3 should be used primarily as checklists to ensure that all of the activities with their endproducts have been rationally stepped through.

Conclusion

Some major points for consideration are:

• the role of a project manager is absolutely important and cannot be stressed enough; his core skill must be management rather than technical and he is the key to a project's success

• PERT/CPM will be used primarily in the project scheduling phase of project planning, and in the project reporting phase of project control

• enhancing team member status and encouraging individuals to run progress meetings usually develops managerial abilities and can certainly bear dividends (as encouragement and development of subordinates makes for excellent succession planning and motivated people)

• the detailed steps outlined in Tables 1, 2 and 3 can be broken down to specifics which can be stored in a project management file for each project—this file could have different sections than those shown, and what would be filed are the deliverables identified in the right hand columns of Tables 1, 2 and 3.

If the deliverables are adequately and accurately executed and inserted in a project file, the tendency will be for a more successful project.

Many of the factors involved in people relations, and in a particular individual's management/supervisory abilities, are key elements in bringing about a successful project execution.

In conclusion, it is suggested that the checklist put forward in this article be used with a project handbook or file as the project moves through its various life cycle steps. This will not guarantee a project's success, but can contribute heavily towards improving such opportunities or probabilities.

Table 1
Project Planning Checklist

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Table 2
Project Control Checklist

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Table 3
Human Factors in Projects

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This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

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