History and Current Development of Project Management

Ever since there have been work endeavors that could be defined as “projects”, people have been using management tools and techniques. After all, without some form of planning, organization and communication strategy, nothing can be effectively accomplished. However, the discipline that we now think of as project management was first formalized in the 1950s.

The original planning concepts were developed for large engineering, construction, and military projects. They included mathematical tools for calculating and managing costs, visual tools such as charts for prioritizing schedule activities, and evaluation tools for determining project scope. By the late 1960s, several project management organizations including IPMA and PMI had been formed. Over the next couple of decades a substantial body of knowledge was developed and published. Several institutes also began offering certification in project management.

How It Has Evolved

Today, project managers have carved out a niche in many public and private industries. Financial institutions, non-profit organizations, and software development firms are just a few of the industries that have joined engineering, architecture, and other traditional fields in using PM principles. Because of the wider application of project management, techniques have changed dramatically. Some tools from the past (especially diagrams) are still in use, but other simplistic tools have been replaced with complex software applications. Concepts like risk management and communications planning have been added to the repertoire of project managers at larger organizations.

Other factors that have impacted the development of PM methodology include:

Ambitious Scope: Today, many projects are larger in scope than ever before – and global in scale. Managing a virtual team that is distributed in far flung locations requires a different approach than overseeing small, local projects. So does dealing with the risks inherent in relying on suppliers and project partners in countries that vary widely in terms of economic and political stability, workplace culture, and business practices.

Better Technology: Software that is specifically designed to evaluate, plan, administer, communicate about, and track projects has been a boon to PMs in every industry. Beyond this, collaborative tools such as video conferencing have enabled faster and more effective communication for multi-location projects.

Speed to Market: Innovations in lean manufacturing and supply chain management along with expectations for a quick turnaround on product development have significantly affected how projects are managed. The software industry is the most obvious example, but other fields are following suit. Agile project management is a methodology that has been created as a result of these market pressures. The PMI has just rolled out an Agile Certification course in response to the growing interest in this fast, highly flexible way of managing projects.

Tips for Career Transitions in Project Management

As a project manager, there’s little doubt that your skills will be in high demand somewhere at any given time. So, whether you are suddenly out of work or proactively planning your next big career move, the odds are good that recruiters are looking for someone with your skill set.

That doesn’t mean there’s no competition! If you want to be the candidate of choice for the best project management positions, you need to give some serious thought to how you come across on paper and in person. There are plenty of great articles already available all over the web on getting your resume in shape and impress a hiring manager in an interview. Let’s assume you’ve already discovered those general tips that apply to all job seekers. Here’s some advice specifically designed for project managers:

Document Your Successes

During the wrap up phase of each project, you should be thinking “How will the outcome of this project look on my resume?” You should begin building a portfolio of projects that showcase your skills. Any numbers and statistics you can collect are very helpful. For example, perhaps you brought a recent project to successful completion 17% under the estimated cost saving your organization $35,000 in the process. That’s definitely a good item to put on a resume. Generate reports from your recent projects (within the last 3 years) to collect the information you need.

Learn from Your Setbacks

It’s not just the projects that went well that can be beneficial to your career. Problem solving skills are essential – and you only gain those skills when there are problems to solve. When you are interviewed for a project management position, a recruiter is likely to ask you about various obstacles you have faced and how you overcame them. This is where you can tell your war stories about a time when everything went wrong and you still managed to find a solution. Comb through your recent entries in your “lessons learned knowledge base” to start creating a narrative about how you operate as a PM.

Use Discretion When Bragging

It’s perfectly fine to mine the data from your previous projects to help you “sell” your skills and experience to a prospective employer. Just remember to avoid disclosing any identifying information (such as the name of a project client) when you are putting together your resume or talking in an interview. Otherwise, you may be in conflict with business ethics and your current employer’s confidentiality policy.

Boost Your Credentials

In a field like project management that is constantly changing, it never hurts to have some recently acquired certifications on your resume. Pursuing continuing education does two things. First, it indicates to employers that you are serious about continuous improvement. Second, it opens up opportunities in new fields and broadens your job prospects. For example, if you want to be seriously considered for a high level position at a company where multiple, complex projects must be managed simultaneously, it might be time to consider getting your PgMP certification to augment your PMP credentials.

Agile Techniques That Mesh With Traditional Project Management

Agile project management is an iterative approach that focuses on achieving project objectives in distinct stages. It is typically used in the software development industry but has some applications in other fields as well. When the overall scope and specific deliverables are likely to change throughout the lifecycle of a project, an agile approach can make it easier to keep moving forward. This methodology is often best suited for use with small to mid-sized projects. For large scale projects with well-defined deliverables and a high degree of complexity, the agile approach tends to be less useful. However, this doesn’t mean certain features from the agile “toolbox” can’t still be used.

Learn as You Go

You might consider a blended approach that involves traditional waterfall and agile methods. For example, regular meetings that include a review of all lessons learned in the previous week are a core feature of agile project management that can be incorporated into many projects. Since stakeholder feedback is a key factor in compiling lessons learned, the project’s communication management plan must include a way to collect this feedback on an ongoing basis. So, this is an ideal option for projects that involve a client who likes a very “hands on” role.

Quality Takes Center Stage

The agile method also relies heavily on quality control at each stage (since software must be tested and debugged). This is another area where PMs in traditional industries would do well to pay attention. Project quality management should be designed to monitor project deliverables at crucial junctures. Let’s say component B’s performance is predicated on the quality of component A. To avoid delays and increased costs, a quality check should be performed during or immediately after the schedule activity that results in the completion of component A. This type of quality assurance plan can be developed based on an activity sequencing diagram.

Adaptation Requires Flexibility

No matter how thoroughly you plan, there will always be issues that require change requests. With an agile attitude, your team doesn’t have to view these as setbacks. Instead, each modification to the project plan can be seen as an opportunity for brainstorming and problem solving. A project management team that learns to collaborate is more likely to increase the value of a project through creative solutions rather than simply suggesting stop-gap measure to keep the whole thing from falling apart. To make this work, a leadership style that focuses on developing team members rather than simply issuing instructions is essential. In the long run, companies that feature a collaborative environment are almost certain to outperform their competition. So, this is one aspect of the agile method that should be adopted by all businesses that want to remain viable in today’s marketplace.

Project Management Using A Logframe

The Logical Framework Approach (LFA) to project management has been around for about 4 decades. It is a method used for designing a project and aiding in planning – typically for non-profit organizations. A “logframe” document is the output of the LFA process. It clearly displays the overall design of a project using a visual matrix and text. This can be a valuable tool for PMs to use during initial stakeholder communication because it boils down even complex projects to a basic summary. The types of items covered in a logframe are:

  1. Project objectives (ultimate purpose/goals and tangible outputs)
  2. Activities that must be completed to achieve these objectives
  3. Resources required to carry out schedule activities
  4. Assumptions regarding external and internal factors (risks, challenges, and opportunities) that may impact the project
  5. Metrics that will be used to verify that the project’s objectives have been achieved

This document is not intended to show a full work breakdown structure or all aspects of project scope and schedule. Instead, its purpose is to cut through the noise and clarify the essentials. Jumping straight into detailed planning without putting this framework in place can cause a project to drift off course without anyone fully realizing it. For example, the scope might increase to include goals that cannot be objectively measured. “Fuzzy” goals that are inserted by well meaning project management team members and stakeholders rarely add value to a project and usually drain resources that could be better applied elsewhere. If high value objectives are identified later in the project, these can be added to the logframe as needed – as long as the other aspects of the matrix are also updated to take this new factor into account.

Matrix Format

The framework is set up as a table with rows and columns covering each basic aspect of the project and showing the logical relationship between these components. Some project management experts who use a logframe recommend starting with a list of problems. For example: “Mobile clinics in the XYZ region of Africa cannot adequately sterilize multiple use instruments leading to high rates of patient infection after surgical procedures”. This would then be restated as a series of positive actions or solutions such as the ultimate goal of reducing post-operative infections in patients served by these mobile clinics.  The immediate purpose of the project would be to provide a means for the clinics to efficiently and thoroughly sterilize all instruments. The output might be the delivery and installation of a portable autoclave unit for each clinic. The activities might be sourcing a reliable medical equipment vendor, arranging the logistics of delivery, and determining how the autoclaves would be tested and serviced regularly once in place to ensure optimal operation. The resources or inputs required can be listed on the matrix at the intersection of activities and measurable indicators.

ObjectivesMeasurable IndicatorsMeans of VerificationAssumptions
Goal
Purpose
Outputs
Activities

The diagram shown here is a very simple version of a logframe. These matrices can be more complex and include different column and row headers if desired. Here’s a good example from the DFID that includes milestones and other project management planning features.

Types of Performance Reporting

Performance reporting can take place as part of any project management process group. But it is most commonly associated with Execution and Control/Monitoring processes. The information in these reports is distributed to stakeholders according to the communications management plan. There are many aspects of performance that may be covered in such reports. Here are some of the most common:

Cost & Budget

Cost updates are usually of primary interest to stakeholders in upper management who are under pressure to keep spending to a minimum. These reports make it possible to determine how closely a project is adhering to the planned budget. If it becomes obvious that the estimated budget is inadequate, the cost baseline may be raised. Or, other aspects of the project scope may be adjusted to reduce costs. These corrective actions typically require input from multiple stakeholder groups to reach an effective solution.

General Performance

For stakeholders who need a look at the bigger picture, performance reporting may cover variances in both cost and schedule – as these are usually interrelated. Timekeeping software that logs hours worked on a project can be useful for generating this type of report. For example, it can highlight whether the planned amount of human resources (as measured in labor hours) are being devoted to achieving project milestones. If the hours worked are fewer than planned, it would be easy to figure out that unexpected cost savings are tied to the fact that the project work is being delayed. Forecasting that updates the anticipated completion of various schedule activities is another critical part of overall performance reporting.

Quality Control

When there are shortfalls in the quality of project work, reporting must happen in stages. First, there is the notification about the initial quality variance. Next is the suggested course of action (along with the reasoning behind the decision). Finally, the outcome of the course correction is reported. Skipping one of these steps can lead to lack of confidence on the part of stakeholders. For example, hiding the fact that there is a problem in the first place makes others think there may be even worse problems lurking under the surface. Notifying stakeholders about a quality issue but failing to communicate about how it will be fixed may leave them wondering if the issue is being taken seriously. Not reporting on the outcome makes them assume the project management team isn’t following through effectively.

Other Reporting Aspects

Contract performance is an important reporting area in projects that require substantial acquisition of resources. These reports can measure how well a vendor is adhering to contract terms. This information can be used to determine whether a vendor should be incentivized or penalized and if they will be permitted to bid on future projects.

Risk reporting is not a common practice in project management, but perhaps it should be. Over the course of any large project, the risks tend to change rather than remaining static. Accurate assessments and reporting can have a significant impact on decision making.

Lessons learned are considered organizational process asset updates. These lessons are actually collected throughout the project but might only be reported formally during the closing process.

Project Management Process Groups

According to the PMBOK, one way project management can be defined is as a series of five process groups. These aren’t phases. Instead, each group consists of specific activities. Some of these activities may be reiterated multiple times throughout the project (e.g., for each phase). In addition, the output from one process may become the input for the next process. This means there is often a definable flow in how the processes are connected, but several processes may also overlap and/or be repeated in the project timeline.

Initiating

This is the first process group. Its purpose is to achieve authorization for a project and define its objectives. The general scope, duration, resources, and desired final output are described. The project management team may actually have only limited input at this point depending on the organizational structure. For example, the project may be initiated by another department when a need arises that requires a complex solution outside their ability to achieve through their normal mode of operation. This initiated project may then be assigned to a project manager for fulfillment. Outputs for this process include the project charter and a preliminary SOW.

Planning

This process involves determining how the newly initiated project will actually be carried out. This includes refining the information developed during initiation and reviewing the resources needed (including human resources). Planning also entails identifying risks that may affect the project and deciding how these will be handled. Quality and communication planning take place as part of this process group. Cost management and procurement strategies are addressed as well. A WBS including various deliverables and work packages is constructed and schedule activities are defined and sequenced.

Executing

The execution process group involves taking steps to act upon and complete the project work according to the procedures outlined during the planning stage. Any approved changes are implemented as part of this group. Coordination, communication, direction, and management skills are all essential to these processes. The project management team is acquired and developed and contact with vendors is initiated. Reports about project progress, quality, and challenges are a core component of the information distribution aspect of execution.

Monitoring & Controlling

These processes occur concurrently with all the other process groups. Observation, problem identification, and correction are the three basic purposes of monitoring and controlling. Any variances from the project’s initial objectives and the project plan may be cause for concern. This process ensures that only approved changes are made so the project doesn’t morph into something unrecognizable over time. A well developed system for collecting and analyzing data is required for appropriate monitoring and controlling. Quality control plays a significant role in this group of processes.

Closing

This process finalizes a project and closes it out. This activity often includes satisfying the terms of any outstanding contracts. The project manager must ensure that other processes (planning, execution, monitoring) are complete and the final deliverables are ready to be handed off to the end user or stakeholder group. Ideally, there should be no loose ends upon closure.