Project management in its simplest form is the organisation and tracking of tasks required to complete a project. A project can be anything from planning a new garden layout for your own home, designing a new website, building a new bridge or organising the Winter Olympic Games. Projects appear in our personal lives and on the global stage and at almost every stage in between.
So projects can be very diverse: large or small, simple or complex with many different factors, people and organisations affecting how a project progresses during its life and how it reaches its final outcome. There will always be a client and project manager involved but also maybe a project management planning and control specialist and various contractors, teams, groups, legislative organisations etc who may need to be involved at some point. But ultimately success in project management (or failure) boils down to a few essential factors – if these are well-managed and controlled then the end result will be successful.
The requirements or scope of a project are a detailed, written description of what the client wants from the project. Everyone involved in the project should understand what will be delivered and also understand what is excluded from the project.
Fully documented requirements enable a detailed project schedule of work to be put in place. There are specialist project management planning tools to help with this task and these would typically be used for complex projects but for simple projects a spreadsheet can often be used. The schedule should list every task that has to be performed and the person responsible. It should also include milestones and deadlines and be frequently monitored to ensure the work is keeping to the schedule.
By anticipating potential risks before they occur you can either prevent them from occurring or, at least, be able to manage the problem better. Projects of every size should have a contingency plan for coping with problems that arise either by adjusting the budget, time or scope of the work. Never trust to luck that risks will not materialise into a real problem as this approach will just make it harder to deal with the risks that inevitably occur in every project.
It is also important that success criteria are agreed at the outset of the project so that everyone involved can agree if, and when, the project has actually been completed successfully. The success criteria are likely to include three determining factors:
Cost is, obviously, a key aspect of the success of any project but a client’s cost expectations can change during the course of the project. Some increased costs can have a valid reason and may be acceptable to the client. Others may be the results of changed requirements at the client’s request so, again, the increase can be borne. But spiralling costs for no apparent reason will cause friction and possibly the halting of the project.
Always start a project with realistic estimates and an adequate budget is more likely to be allocated at the beginning.
The time taken to complete individual tasks and the project as a whole is closely linked to budget and, in the same way, fully explained reasons for time-overruns will often be acceptable but any perceived lack of progress through idleness or no sense of appreciating deadlines will certainly lead to probelsm.
For any project to be seen as successful it must meet the expectations of the client. It is never acceptable for the project manager or project team to see the project as a success simply because it has been completed on budget and on time. There must be a satisfactory outcome for the client. This is one of the reasons why success criteria must be documented and agreed in the initial stages of the project and why one of the aspects of good project management is to manage the client’s expectations through regular discussions in person (not via email).