Tag: planning

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.

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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.

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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.

Objectives Measurable Indicators Means of Verification Assumptions
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.

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The Role Of Expert Consultants In Project Management

Successful project management is always a team effort. However, sometimes this team isn’t all in house. For larger and more complex projects, it is not unusual for even an experienced project manager to require outside assistance to help with the planning  process or to perform some of the work. When is a specialist worth the extra expense?

The Need is Temporary

In some cases, the expert knowledge required is only needed for the project at hand. For example, a project for a large telemarketing organization might be to implement a new suite of software applications for call routing, billing, customer service, etc. The necessary IT leadership resources for such an ambitious project are unlikely to be available on staff. The current IT personnel may be generalists or might have been hired mainly for their familiarity with troubleshooting the existing system.

Creating a full time position to fill this gap can cost much more in terms of total compensation than hiring a consulting firm. An added advantage of sourcing an expert to collaborate with existing team members is that the firm can share responsibility for ensuring a successful project outcome.

The Issue is Complicated

Project management planning is only as good as the information it is based on. In some situations, contracting with an expert to collect data that will be used in scope planning and scheduling makes sense. This might be the case when industry-wide information on a specific topic is needed. An outside consultant with lots of industry networking connections may have a better chance of compiling accurate statistics and other information for use in planning than someone on your staff.

Risk identification is an example of such an area of expertise. A ‘blind spot’ in risk planning can lead to disaster. This type of mistake is particularly likely when historical information is low (e.g. when the current project has little in common with previous projects). A third party risk assessor who does not have a financial stake in any risk protection coverage purchased may be able to offer more accurate insights and strategies.

Potential Problems with Hiring Consultants

There are a number of potential pitfalls to consider before investing in an outside knowledge expert. First, this can represent a significant expense. With a tight budget, it can be difficult to justify hiring a consultant for the planning phase when (in the minds of some stakeholders) no visible work is produced. They may question why you need to pay for advice since you are the project management expert and “should already know all this stuff”. Let the consulting firm share the burden of making the case that their services are necessary and valuable.

Second, bringing in an expert may create friction with your team members. This is especially true if someone on staff feels that they are being passed over in favor of an outsider. A consultant should not be hired unless and until you have fully explored the resources available in house. Acknowledge each team member’s expertise in their field and reward their contributions. Also, make it clear that the role of an adviser is to help out – but that your team will be taking the credit for a job well done.

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Quality Planning Concepts & Terminology

In project management, meeting every deadline and staying within budget is of no use at all if the output is of poor quality. That’s why putting together a quality management plan at the outset of a project is critical. Waiting until the end of the project to review quality means it is already too late to take the most effective steps to create output that meets or exceeds expectations. Instead, criteria should be defined in advance that will be used to:

  1. Determine what traits of the final product are really important from a quality standpoint
  2. Ensure that processes from the beginning through the end of the project promote excellence in these traits
  3. Outline and implement a monitoring program to ensure quality at each stage
  4. Develop protocols to correct any shortfalls in quality that are discovered

When a sound quality management plan is in place, everyone involved in the project benefits. The earlier a problem is identified and corrected, the more resources are conserved. This includes tangibles such as materials and payroll costs and intangibles such as team morale and stakeholder confidence.

Quality Can Never Be Assumed

Anticipating that everything will go as planned and that everyone understands the importance of double-checking their work isn’t a wise decision. Quality tends to take a hit when there is no accountability to an outside source. This is one reason to have a team or department whose only responsibility is to ensure that quality is maintained. The role of this sector of the project team should be clearly outlined and explained so employees do not feel they are being “spied on”.

While no one likes to have their mistakes pointed out, it’s much better to experience a temporary hiccup in the process than to have an entire project fail because of a preventable error. This fact should be communicated to team members to ensure they are all invested in maintaining quality. Individuals at each level should also be encouraged to report potential problems that may have been overlooked in the quality planning stage.

What’s the difference between QA and QC in Project Management?

Quality control and quality assurance are terms that are often used interchangeably in some industries. However, each term has a distinct meaning in the PMBOK guide.  Quality Assurance (QA) refers to the implementation of activities that are designed to ensure appropriate process protocols are followed to maintain quality. It involves tools such as audits and process analysis that are used to create a process improvement plan.

Quality Control (QC) is a QA input that focuses on monitoring and measuring project results. Knowledge of valid sampling techniques, statistical analysis, and flowchart creation is helpful in this discipline. QC should typically be performed throughout a project and the data fed back into the QA program. QC data is used to develop recommendations for improving the quality management plan. Information gathered during QC activities is often added to the lessons learned knowledge base for future reference.

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