What all of these human endeavours have in common?
- An University dissertation;
- The Apollo program;
- A bridge design and construction;
- The Human Genome project;
- A theatrical play;
- A drug medical research;
- A marketing campaign;
- An IT infrastructure;
- A software product;
- A musical concert;
- A business trade exhibition.
You may guess: all of the above human activities are considered Projects!
So, what is a Project?
One of the best definitions is given by the Project Management Institute (PMI) itself:
A Project is a temporary group activity designed to produce a unique product, service or result.
And the PMI keeps explaining it:
A Project is temporary in that it has a defined beginning and end in time (1), and therefore, has a defined scope (2) and resources (3). A Project is unique in that it is not a routine operation (4), but a specific set of operations (5) designed to accomplish a singular goal (6).
- It’s time constrained, it has a deadline.
- The deliverables we wish to accomplish within pre-defined project boundaries/constraints.
- It’s cost-constrained in terms of human skills, money/funding, equipments, facilities and so on.
- Meaning, a project is not business as usual.
- Grouped into project phases managed using a set of processes.
- The unique added value the project outcome will bring to your organization.
And, what is not a Project?
Besides knowing what a Project is, we also need to know what is not Project. Here it goes:
A Project is not Business as usual, which are repetitive, permanent, or semi-permanent functional activities to produce and/or support products or services.
Some examples of usual Business activities (also known as Operations) are: supply chain management, accounting, customer service, manufacturing, IT systems administration, etc…
In short, please do always remember, especially if you have some sort of senior/executive management role within your organization:
Projects ≠ Operations
What is Project Management?
Project Management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to project activities in order to meet or exceed stakeholder needs and expectations from a defined project, balancing the following:
- Scope, time, cost and quality (the iron triangle below);
- Stakeholders’ requirements (needs) versus unidentified requirements (expectations).
Projects need to be performed and delivered under certain interrelated constraints. These are:
- Scope (the unique product, service, or result to be deliverable, features);
- Time (the amount of time available to complete a project, schedule);
- Cost (the budgeted amount available for the project, money);
- Quality, being Quality a combination of Time, Cost and Scope.
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This is often referred to as the Project Management Triangle, also known as the “iron triangle”.
Whatever you call it, it amounts to the same thing: you can’t change a project’s budget (cost), schedule (time), or features (scope) without affecting at least one of the other two parts.
Some examples of how it works:
- To bring your project in the finish date (time), you could spend more in resources (cost) to finish the work faster and/or cut features (scope) so there’s less work to do before the new deadline.
- To finish the project under budget (cost), you could get rid of overtime and finish the project later (time) and/or cut features (scope).
- To add features to a product (scope), you could extend the deadline to make time for the new work (time) and/or add people to get it done faster (cost).
And how about Quality? Well, Quality is the fourth part of the project triangle. It sits at the center, so whatever you do, any change to any side affects it. In short:
Fast, Good, Cheap… Pick any two.
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Project Management vs Business Operations
As you may guess at this point, to excel in Project Management you need a totally different mindset from Business Operations Management. And, in fact, this is very true if you take a close look to the following table where we outline the major differences between these 2 critical roles on your organization:
As you can imagine, one of the most controversial executive decisions you can make is to hire a Business Manager (focused on Generating Profits) to manage your Strategic Projects (which your organization need to accomplish successfully in order to be and stay competitive in your market).
So, who are Project Managers?
Formally speaking, a Project Manager is an individual who is responsible for the planning, organization, resource management, and discipline pertaining to the successful completion of a specific project.
But, as you can imagine, Project Managers are much more than the above definition:
Project Managers are Change Ambassadors
Good Project Managers know Life is change, Growth is optional, and usually they choose wisely. Acting on this belief they use their special skills and expertise to inspire a shared vision within all Project Stakeholders (team, sponsors, owners, customers, etc) in order to achieve the project goals.
And because a Project is always a temporary endeavour that will produce an unique outcome, Change is always present during the course of a Project. And because Change is inherently unsettling for people, all eyes will turn to the Project Manager for strength, support, and direction. In one word: Leadership.
Project Managers are Strategic Leaders
Some of the major initiatives taken by an organization’s top management regarding Business Strategy will be related with the creation of new Value (aka, new physical or intangible assets for Operations to optimize), hence involving the successful Delivery of Projects.
And because Strategic Projects (often large and complex) require a ‘client side’ Project Manager acting directly on its behalf, he/she must have a Vision for the course and goals of the Project and the necessary know-how to incorporate it, not only into the Project processes, but mainly into the Project Strategic Planning.
The best Project Managers are also Natural Leaders, recognized as such within your organization, and they know how to use their social influence to enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of common goals.
By combining a Natural Leadership with a Vision, the Project Manager will know, from day one, “the big picture”, enabling him/her to effectively lead the Project’s Strategy and be focused on what he/she does best: managing all Project Process Groups (see below) and giving the Project Team the resources they need to plan, design, execute and deliver a great Product or Service.
Project Managers are Inside Entrepreneurs
Abstract thinking comes with a combination of life and professional experiences, formal and informal studies, maturity, intuition and lots of work. To deal with the pressure, to be comfortable with change and to be able to deal with the uncertainty inherent to Projects, you need Entrepreneurs: people that can easily handle the pressure and shift readily between the “big picture” and the small-but-crucial details, knowing when to concentrate on each, helping others to perceive and/or solve complex problems.
To do this in an efficient manner, Project Managers need to mix their abstract thinking with strong analytical and organization skills: they need to layout the interdependency between activities, breakdown the project into smaller deliverable components, know what to control and choose what to ignore (Pareto principle), and set, observe, and re-evaluate Project priorities frequently.
In short, great Project Managers know how to use their abstract thinking to set a path towards the solution of complex problems, by leveraging the knowledge and experience of either themselves or other Project stakeholders, adapting their approach to the context and constraints of each problem.
Project Managers are Social Givers
In order to succeed Project Managers need to master the dynamics of long-term relationships between people: Projects are all about collaboration and healthy relationships between all Project Stakeholders are the Critical Key to successfully Deliver Value across all the Project Lifecycle.
Project Managers also need to deeply understand humans’ fundamental needs and their motivations like safety, belonging, esteem and self-actualization. In fact, good Project Managers are usually empathetic and hence are highly attuned to the emotions, needs, and motivations of others. They constantly act as catalysts for individual and group growth, finding potential in everyone, wanting to help others fulfill their potential. And they do this in a conscious manner because they know it dramatically increases the chances of project success in the long-term.
Finally, good Project Managers clearly understand the value of information: they clearly communicate project goals, performance, and expectations among all Project stakeholders, manage feedback coming at them from all directions, and specially, give others accurate information without fear of what they’ll do with it, building trust along the way…
The Project Lifecycle
The Project Life Cycle refers to the stages of a project that take it from point A to point Z and consist of several phases. Project Life Cycles will vary based on the industry, the organization, or even the type of project that is being conducted. There are usually transitions between the phases that require some type of hand-off information or component transfer (the deliverables).
Almost all Projects can be mapped to the following Life Cycle structure:
- Starting the Project (commonly known as Initiation);
- Organizing and Preparing (commonly known as Planning);
- Carrying out the Project Work (commonly known as Execution);
- Closing the Project (commonly known as Closing).
An important note: Do not confuse Project Phases (which are part of the Project Life Cycle) with Project Process Groups outlined below, which are processes that can be repeated in every Project Phase.
The Project Process Groups
Generally speaking, a Project compresses 4 processes groups and a control system, and regardless of the standards (PMBOK, ISO 21500:2012) or the methodology (Agile, Waterfall, PRINCE2, etc) you use to manage your Projects, the same basic Project Management Processes will be applied.
Taking as reference the PMI’s PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge), the Project Process Groups can be schematically drawn as:
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An important note: The “glue” that holds everything together is the Project Manager (and the Project Management Team) by using Project Integration Management processes and activities to ensure that the various elements of the Project are being managed effectively and efficiently.
Here is the short description of each of the above 5 Project Process Groups’ purposes and their main processes:
Purpose: Resources for project kick-off, project value assessment, initial financial resources, and initial scope definition, which can be used at the beginning of a project, and at the beginning of a phase if desired, to ensure that the goals of the upcoming work are understood as the foundation for the work to follow and that work is authorized to start. Finally, internal and external stakeholders who will interact and influence the overall outcome of the project should be clearly identified. Main processes are:
- Develop Project Charter.
- Identify Stakeholders.
Planning and Design Processes
Purpose: Resources for project scope definition and planning, and related activities necessary to estimate, budget and plan for project execution. Also includes developing detailed staffing, procurement, and project controls plans. Planning approaches can be used iteratively as necessary for the particular project in order to be adjusted to respond to new challenges and opportunities. Main processes are:
- Develop Project Management Plan.
- Plan Scope Management.
- Collect Requirements.
- Define Scope.
- Create WBS (work breakdown structure).
- Plan Schedule Management.
- Define Activities.
- Sequence Activities.
- Estimate Activity Resources.
- Estimate Activity Durations.
- Develop Schedule.
- Plan Cost Management.
- Estimate Costs.
- Determine Budget.
- Plan Quality Management.
- Plan Human Resources Management.
- Plan Communications Management.
- Plan Risk Management.
- Identify Risks.
- Perform Qualitative Risk Analysis.
- Perform Quantitative Risk Analysis.
- Plan Risk Responses.
- Plan Procurement Management.
- Plan Stakeholder Management.
- Gain Formal Approval to Begin Work.
Purpose: Resources for obtaining a team, executing the work of the project, and integrating the work of people and other resources to carry out the project plan. Includes tools for coordinating people and resources, quality assurance, communicating progress, and developing and managing all Project stakeholders expectations. On an Information Technology (IT) project, this would include the development of the software code or the implementation of the hardware/software infrastructure. On a Construction project, this would include the design and construction activities. On a Training project, this would include the development and delivery of the training. Main processes are:
- Direct and Manage Project Execution.
- Perform Quality Assurance.
- Acquire Project Team.
- Develop Project Team.
- Manage Project Team.
- Manage Communications.
- Conduct Procurements.
- Manage Stakeholder Engagement (and Expectations).
Controlling and Monitoring Processes
Purpose: Resources track, review, and orchestrate the progress and performance of the project deliverables, to ensure that project objectives are being met, performance is being reported, and project cost, schedule, quality, risk, and scope are being controlled. If not, identify any areas in which changes to the plan are required; and initiate the corresponding changes. Main processes are:
- Monitor and Control Project Work.
- Perform Integrated Change Control.
- Validate Scope.
- Control Scope.
- Control Schedule.
- Control Costs.
- Control Quality.
- Control Communications.
- Control Risks.
- Control Procurements.
- Control Stakeholder Engagement.
Purpose: Resources for gaining customer acceptance of project objectives and deliverables, to conclude all activities across all Project Management Process Groups to formally complete the project, phase, or contractual obligations, capturing lessons learned (retrospectives). Main processes are:
- Close Project or Phase.
- Close Procurements.
If you are a C-Level Executive managing a Business that rely on Innovation (which is the creation of something original, new, and important that breaks into a market or society) in order to gain a Competitive Advantage over your competitors, I will leave you with 2 questions:
- Have you already elected the building of a strong Project Management core competency within your Organization as a top strategic priority?
- If so, have you already given your Professional Project Managers the power to Deliver Value to your Business?