A project could be something as relatively simple as designing a new kitchen, through creating a new website to building your dream house or relocating an entire company overseas. Projects crop up in our personal life and in almost all areas of business and industry on a regular basis but what makes for successful project management?
What determines the success or failure of all types of diverse projects, large and small, comes down to the same few key elements. There are, of course, many factors that vary between projects; not least of these are the people involved. Whether it is the client, various contractors or the project manager they will have different personal attributes which can contribute positively or negatively to the success of the project. But the main areas that determine a genuinely successful project – the areas most likely to cause problems if not managed properly – are as follows:
The scope or requirements of any project must be fully defined at the outset and written down in full detail using unambiguous language. Every member of the project team must read and understand these requirements and also fully understand what has been specifically excluded. To ensure that everyone understands what is both in-scope and out-of-scope the requirements document should be reviewed together by the whole team before it is finalised.
Once the requirements are fully documented it is then possible to put together the project plan. There are many good project management planning tools available for complex business projects but for simple personal projects a spreadsheet will usually suffice.
A project plan is simply a detailed list of tasks and who is responsible for each task with a set of milestones and dependencies. This plan must be regularly updated to keep the project on track and manage any delays in the schedule.
It would be a very unusual project indeed if something did not go wrong at some stage during the project. So if you can anticipate the potential risks before they occur then you may be able to prevent them from happening or if you cannot prevent them you may be able to better manage them because they have not taken anyone by surprise. Every project should have a contingency plan in place to deal with fore-seeable risks. It is a common mistake to just hope the risks will not actually occur and, therefore, not plan for them. But every type of project team should talk about likely problems at an early stage of the project and suggest solutions for how they might be avoided. It is, of course, difficult to foresee every problem but many of them can be predicted.
A dependency is a package of work that needs to be completed fully by one individual or team before another piece of work (usually by another team member) can be started. Understanding in detail how and why the second task is dependent on the first task is critical to success. When a dependency breaks down and the first task is not completed (either satisfactorily or on time) this negatively impacts the next task and potentially further tasks or, indeed, the whole project.
For this reason it is vital to fully document every known dependency at the project planning stage and to track them throughout the course of the project.
Of course, it is also important that all parties involved in a project understand what actually constitutes successful project management. There are 3 simple, yet crucial, elements that together determine the success or failure of any project – these are:
Although it may seem obvious that the cost of a project is a key element, in practise, costs can, and probably will, change during the course of a project. This will almost always be an increase in costs but if the reasons for the increase are understandable and could not have been predicted (so were not part of the contingency fund) then they may be acceptable to the client.
It may also be that a change in requirements has forced the increase. So a project may not have stayed within its original budget but if the customer is happy with the revised budget then this will not cause an issue. It is often the unexplained, spiralling costs that will cause problems in the relationship between client and contractors so managing expectations is essential to avoid project failure.
By commencing a project with realistic costs and a realistic contingency included, it is more likely that adequate resources and a sufficient budget can be assigned at the outset.
As with the budget, time over-runs that could not have been anticipated and can be explained fully will often be acceptable to the client and will not lead to perceived project failure. But at all costs avoid modifying the schedule during the project in order to create the appearance of being on target. This common approach will undoubtedly lead to greater problems further along in the schedule.
It is vital if a project is to be perceived as successful that the end result lives up to the expectations of the client. All too often the contractors and/or project manager view the project as a success, because it has been completed on budget and on time, but the customer or client is disappointed with the end result and it has not fulfilled their requirements fully. This stalemate situation can be avoided if the requirements and assumptions are not only fully documented but also clearly explained to the client during the early stages of the project as well as at key milestones along the way.
Regular and frank communication between client and contractor will help to ensure that the expectations of all concerned are managed and understood fully.
So managing projects to a successful conclusion can be relatively easy for simple, personal projects, but the majority of projects undertaken commercially involve a far greater degree of complexity, larger teams and more stakeholders. It is always advisable to ensure that those assigned as project managers in these more complex situations have received the proper project management training. An appropriate course leading to a recognised project management qualification will teach proven ways to manage all aspects of a complex project and ensure a successful outcome is much more likely. A formal, controlled approach is particularly necessary when undertaking global projects with all the additional complexities they entail.