In today’s competitive global business environment, organizations need to implement the right strategies and initiatives for delivering excellence. A systematic approach to business operations is a necessity to stay ahead of the curve. Project management is the buzzword of modern business for implementing any and every new initiative in support of that.
What’s the first thought that strikes you when you think of project management? In simple words, a project is defined as a sequence of activities undertaken for getting a set of tasks done to achieve the desired business goals successfully. Project Management centres on planning and managing everything involved in delivering a Project.
In this article, we’ll walk you through the basics of project management and the various phases of the project life cycle, as well as key management steps to help deliver a successful and well-executed project. (This article covers the fundamentals of project management. It does not cover project management methodologies such as traditional/ waterfall or agile methodologies. These are covered in separate articles.)
In order to understand project management, we must first know what a project is. Everywhere you look, you are surrounded by projects. Whether it’s the construction of a building, development of a product or service, implementation of a new business process, or even smaller things such as buying a car or organizing a meeting, etc. Any such effort made to produce tangible or intangible results can be regarded as a project.
A project is defined as a one-time activity with a series of tasks that produces a specific outcome to achieve organizational goals. Projects are a set of interdependent tasks that have a common goal. No matter what the project is, each project is broken down into objectives and what needs to be done to achieve them, ensuring that the project stays on track and is completed ‘as per plan’.
There are some things to identify when considering a project, its stakeholders and characteristics that distinguishes a project from other ongoing business activities.
Projects have several characteristics-
The primary constraints of a project are:
In order to successfully execute projects, it is critical to manage them within the constraints of time, scope and quality which are popularly known as the “triple constraints” in project management (also known as The Project Management Triangle, Iron Triangle and Project Triangle). Without an organized approach to the task of managing projects and achieving its objectives, it would be very difficult for organizations to deliver projects successfully with the required results.
The triple constraints constituting the three most important elements namely- scope, cost, schedule are imperative for project process. They set the boundaries for the project execution process, which means that the success or failure of the project depends on meeting the constraints within acceptable tolerance limits – the deadlines, the scope, and the budget defined by the stakeholders. All three constraints are inter-connected and any change in one of them can – and usually will – affect the others.
Project Management is the set of practices involving the application of knowledge, skills, processes, methods and tools to achieve specific project requirements according to the project acceptance criteria within agreed budget and timeframe.
Project Management includes various policies and principles to lead a project from the initial stage until its completion. It involves processes to identify the requirements, create a plan to establish clear & achievable objectives, and then execute on that plan until the project goals are achieved.
Project goals and objectives provide a succinct way to communicate specific goals during the project and evaluate success after the project ends. Furthermore, every project needs a plan from start to finish that typically depicts how things will get off the ground, how they will be accomplished and completed.
Whether you are handling a huge conglomerate or running a small-sized enterprise, project management is an integral part of all businesses to be successful. The discipline of project management is gaining popularity and importance in all major industries.
Organizations big and small across industries are striving to deliver excellence in order to achieve a global presence. Project management is a significant part of all major project-centric industries such as construction, engineering, and IT companies, as well as others such as manufacturing, banking & finance, healthcare, pharma, NGOs, nonprofits and government.
In today’s environment, where companies are embracing mission critical initiatives in areas such as Digital Transformation, KYC, M&A, business expansion and so on, the need for managing projects effectively has become mission critical for all organizations.
As mentioned earlier, every project has a start and end and it begins with defining objectives and goals followed by a project plan to meet those objectives and executing it to accomplish final goals. To execute projects successfully – to meet its objectives, a clear understanding of the project management life cycle is essential.
The project management life cycle basically describes the high-level process of delivering a project and the steps involved to successfully deliver the project. The project management life cycle can be defined as a structured, timely and methodical process for effectively initiating, planning and executing a project for a successful outcome – which is to meet the intended objectives of the stakeholders funding the project.
Each project phase addresses a specific aspect of the process of managing a project from its conception to completion. Although these phases are described sequentially, in practice many of these phases may overlap or be applied concurrently during the lifetime of a project.
A project life cycle provides a high-level view of the project and the phases are tailored to fit a project’s needs providing a roadmap to accomplish it. The project management life cycle is divided into 5 phases: project initiation, planning, execution, monitoring & control, and closure.
As mentioned briefly earlier, projects can be executed using a “traditional methodology” such as the “Waterfall methodology” or an Agile method or a mix of the two, which is referred to by many as the “Hybrid Agile” method. Irrespective of the “execution methodology”, all projects typically go through these 5 phases from identification/ approval to completion. This article describes these phases in some detail.
The goal of the initiation phase is to define the project at a broad level in terms of what needs to be done and achieved in order for it to be successful. This is where the stakeholders (the people or business unit who will fund the project), the goals, objectives and deliverables are identified and the resources and the money needed to do the project are determined at a high level. A high level determination is made whether the project is “feasible or not” based on these.
The key deliverable of this phase is the Project Charter.
Key project management steps involved in the Initiation phase
A business case, a feasibility study and a Project Charter together fulfil the requirement of the Initiation phase to determine if the project is to be approved or not. Once the project is approved, one or more project initiation meetings are held to finalize the project. This is where the project initiation phase ends and the planning phase begins.
This phase begins after the project receives a green light in the Initiation phase.
The Project Planning phase is most critical and requires complete diligence as it lays out the project’s roadmap. It involves defining the work to be done and figuring out how to accomplish it. This is especially true for large and/ or complex projects, which are typically executed using traditional methodologies. Projects that are executed using Agile methods of execution also go through a planning phase, but the plans may be defined at a high level; with the detailed execution being left to the team to plan in short iterations or sprints.
The project manager begins setting goals with a project plan. A well-crafted project plan outlines a detailed project schedule, communication plan to give direction to the team for producing quality output and handling risks.
During the planning stage, the Project Manager defines the scope of the project and project management plan that involves the cost, quality, resources and project timeline. The scope is defined by the project manager with a scope statement and Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) (the deliverables for the project).
Another crucial activity during this phase is the effort and resource estimation for the project. The Project Manager, usually working with a team of experts, provides “rough order of magnitude” (ROM) estimates of all the essential elements of the project, such as effort on various phases and high level tasks, other non-labor resources and overall budgets based on that. All of these inputs go into putting together the high-level plan for the project.
Key project management steps involved in the Planning phase:
The execution phase involved actually carrying out the activities that are identified in the project plan. This is where the rubber hits the road and the project ultimately comes to reality!
This is the stage where planning is turned into action. The project team is built. Specific people and other resources are assigned to the tasks identified in the project plan. The project work is carried out in the required sequence in order to complete all of the work in the most efficient manner possible.
The key outcome of the Execution phase are the various deliverables that are produced in line with the defined project plan.
The project manager organizes the team members, establishes workflow and constantly monitors progress, ensuring that work is done as per plan, while maintaining effective collaboration between the project team and various stakeholders.
Key project management steps involved in the Execution phase:
This phase typically runs in parallel with the Project Execution phase and involves keeping the project on track and ensuring that objectives and project deliverables are met.
The project manager reports on the performance of the project and makes sure the project is going according to plan.. This helps track any deviations from the planned budget, timeline and quality goals of the project.
Any necessary changes to the project goals are implemented after formal evaluation of the potential impact to the project goals and acceptance/ approval of the impact by the project stakeholders.
This phase also involves continuously monitoring the project environment for any risks or issues that are likely to impact the project performance, and taking the necessary steps to prevent or mitigate them as proactively as possible, to minimize impact to any of the project goals.
Key project management steps involved in the Monitoring and Control phase:
Project Closure is the final phase of the project management life cycle, which indicates the end of the project and the final delivery of the project deliverables.
Project Closure involves completion of the final delivery of a project and its approval by the stakeholders. Once the project’s closure is formally approved, other aspects of the closure can be carried out.
The project manager conducts a “post-project review” meeting. or commonly referred to as a retrospective- to review the lessons from the project, and the challenges that were faced during the project. It gives an opportunity to comprehend lessons learned to improve productivity in the future.
Once the above activities are completed, the project team members are released to other projects.
Key project management steps involved in the closing phase:
This article is an introduction to the Project Lifecycle and its key phases and activities. Projects are challenging endeavors across industries and having a good understanding of the Project Management Lifecycle is a crucial first step to executing projects successfully. Projects come in all shapes and sizes – but always involve spending real money to do them and thus are always under scrutiny. Businesses are constantly optimizing costs and investments while trying to extract the most business benefit (RoI) on that expenditure. Running projects successfully to deliver the business value they are meant to deliver is a critical – probably the most important – aspect of that effort.
In other articles, we cover other important aspects of successful Project Management, including managing the project team, managing stakeholder expectations, change management, risk management, resource management, and many others. We will also examine what are some of the biggest challenges to running projects effectively and successfully.
Digite offers powerful project management tools leveraging traditional and agile frameworks to plan, organize, execute and track projects. Get in touch with us to find out which of these would be the right ones for you – and for a customized demo.