Project planning is an important and valuable part of project management. It is, actually, the cornerstone on which the entire concept of project management is based on. Of course, you cannot have one without the other.
Right before you proceed in creating your very first project, you are going to need to understand at least the very basics of project management. It will be a lot easier for you to implement the project as soon as it hits your desk.
A brief introduction to Project Management
The global business environment is a highly competitive environment. Lack of strong, long-lasting projects with an important impact will result in business failure. Projects need to have a strong basis. They need to be delivered right on time. They must be able to meet all of the business goals, or at least the most important ones thus giving the business a professional profile and competitive edge.
Project management is, of course, the way to do that and project managers will play the most important role in the development of the business. Their role is indeed a very complex one that requires an array of organizational skills, analytical skills, and expert interpersonal skills.
The simplest way to define project management is the following:
Project management is the work used to complete a project according to the specific requirement of the plan. It requires a plethora of skills, tools techniques and of course expert knowledge of all of the above.
Project management is the practice that helps create the project plan, identify the problems and solve them and execute the plan and meeting all the requirements.
Throughout the centuries, we can identify project management in some of the world’s most well-known constructions. The Parthenon, the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids of Giza. Amazing structures that required years of planning and building. All of these structures met problems during their construction. The fact that we still see them today is an indicator of how well-organized project management can have amazing results.
The principals on which modern project management for businesses has been built are those applied in these massive constructions. The general concept is the same but the techniques and practices continue to change. The field of project management never stays the same seeing as the highly competitive business landscape demands innovation, faster changes, and modern technologies to be applied.
Defining the project
To understand project management we need to first understand exactly what the project is. What is it that a project manager is expected to manage? Well, there is a definition for the Project that can actually help us understand what it is.
According to the Project Management Institute, the Project is “a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product service or result”. By just taking some time to analyze this definition, we can understand more about the project than what we may have through.
The project is temporary. In other words, there is always a deadline that needs to be met. The deadline is important to the project. Therefore all of the project’s timelines, resources and scopes should be focused on meeting that particular deadline.
The project will not be a part of the horizontal tasks of the company. It will end. But the results of the project need to remain. This is the most important part of the definition.
Unique Product Service or Result
Every project always has a purpose. The purpose is to create a deliverable that will increase the value of the business. Whether that is profit, revenue, brand name, reputation or anything else. The result needs to be unique. It needs to accomplish the specific goals that were set at the beginning of the project.
Most importantly, those results need to stay. Unlike the nature of the project that is, in most cases, temporary, the result should be permanent.
Before moving on to identifying the obligations of the project manager, we should talk a bit about the project itself. By doing a little bit of research you are going to find out that no matter what kind of project you run, no matter the budget or the impact it might have, the stages of the project are always the same. (Of course, there could be some alterations, but still manageable)
We are talking about the framework of the project that basically includes and organizes all the processes that will need to be completed.
To put it as simple as possible, every project regardless of its nature has a beginning, a middle and an end. And here is why this framework, known formally and the Project Lifecycle, is so important for the project manager. It is the map the manager will use to predict potential tasks during specific phases of the project.
Here are the five specific phases of the Lifecycle of a project:
- The initiation or ideation phase
- The planning phase
- The execution phase
- The control phase
- The closure phase
Every project manager needs to have these phases in mind before they start planning and implementing the project!
Obligations of the project manager
The horizontal obligations of the project managers in regards to the project are very specific. They are the ones to plan the project and execute the project. That means that they are the ones responsible to monitor and control all the actions and processes that are necessary for the completion of the project!
Apart from these obligations, there are a few actions that still need to be taken by the project manager, throughout the entire expanse of the project. These actions are the following.
Building the project plan
The project plan needs to meet certain important priorities. First and foremost it needs to be a realistic plan. Simply planning a project that sounds amazing is not enough. If it is impossible to implement then the entire endeavor goes to waste.
Moreover, the specifications of the plan need to be well-calculated. The project must have a realistic timeline and an appropriate budget. The process will also need to identify all the important tools that will need to be used for the implementation of the project.
Assembling the team
What kind of team will conduct the project? In most cases, the team will include members that have never worked together before or have only worked together in smaller projects. This step is of critical importance. Simply throwing in members without evaluating their work or teamwork skills could turn out to be the reason why the project won’t be completed.
Each team member will need to be able to bring to the table, expertise that will add value to the project. The manager needs to look for the right specialists that have the ability to work together in synergies to complete the tasks on time.
Assigning the tasks
The tasks are the bread and butter of the project. Apart from the fact that they need to be realistic and implementable, they need to be well-defined in terms of details, timeline, and results.
A wise decision is that the manager gives the team members the option of declaring their interest regarding the tasks, before assigning them. There is a chance that not everyone will get to work on what they want. By declaring an interest, it will be a lot easier for the project manager to evaluate the tasks in comparison to the members and assign them as best as possible.
Remember that in most cases, different tasks require the collaboration of the team members. The manager must be thorough in the evaluation process, making sure that the tasks run smoothly.
Being the team leader
Finding the team members and assigning the tasks is a great way to create smaller independent teams within the project. Those teams will need to be able to work properly without supervision. But supervision itself cannot be missing from the project.
The word supervisor might be a bit heavy. The project manager must not act as a supervisor but as a team leader. Sure there are a few technical obligations that need supervising. These obligations include time management, deadlines, status updates, and reporting.
However, the team leader needs to be able to solve other more interpersonal problems that might appear. There will always be bumps on the way. Disagreements and negotiations might hold the project back. The project manager needs to be there and help solve all those problems.
At the end of the day, the project manager needs to remember that as a team leader, it is important to keep the morale high, provide the team with training and mentor the members whenever they need mentoring!
Every project has a budget. The budget could vary depending on the project, the obligations, the requirements and of course the expected results. However, if the project plan has been set appropriately it will be a lot easier for the project manager to come up with the budget and allocate it properly.
The process has a lot of steps. One of the most effective ones is to compare real-life expenses with potential project expenses to try and estimate the budget and adjust it to the project.
Finding external sources and collaborators
At some point during their implementation, either intentionally or not, most projects require some external sources and collaborators to complete tasks. In some cases, project managers assign tasks to team members, to find these collaborators. This is a big mistake.
This is a managerial job that should be completed by the manager. The task is rather important seeing as it will require the manager to evaluate external services and add them to the budget.
If you know from the beginning, what external sources you are going to need and how much they will cost, simply add them to the original plan and budget.
However, it is always recommended that you set aside some of your budget for emergencies. You never know when you might need last minute services from an external source. Make sure you are ready for such emergencies.
Delivering the project, after the completion
The project has been completed. And now what? The project has certain results and these results need to continue. The team that worked on completing the project will now dismantle. The project will have to be passed to the team responsible for the managing, maintenance, and operation of the project results.
This is a very important step for the project manager. They are no longer going to be responsible for the project but they do need to be able to perfectly present the project to the next team. Basically in this step, the project manager will need to fully report the project which will result in showing the work the team has done under their management.
Documenting the project
Perhaps the most mundane work that is required by the project manager but an equally important one. Throughout the lifetime of the project, everything should be documented. Nowadays, project managers are lucky. They no longer have to deal with towers of papers that need sorting. Everything can be found on a computer.
However, all the documents, physical or digital need to be categorized, documented, sorted and stored in the right files.
A project manager that sees this as just a procedure has nothing to gain from it. You need to keep in mind that all that data holds important information that can help you as a project manager evolve.
You can see, written in paper, what you did right and what you did wrong. Maybe could identify all the strong points of the project and all the weak ones. You can separate them between you and the team.
Moreover, another thing you could do would be to immediately work on the things you may have done wrong. You can also work on improving your current skills and competences. It is also possible for you to learn how you can identify the potential strengths and weaknesses of the team from the very beginning. Perhaps even before you choose the members or assign the tasks. That way, the next project you are going to lead is going to be much more effective, with better and faster results.
Find the right methodologies
Lastly but certainly not last is the methodologies. Project managers need to be able to do things in a way that will be easier for them as well as the rest of the team. The methodology you are going to choose will basically be the way you are going to approach the project.
Because there are many methodologies for project management (and more seem to be appearing ever so often) you need to find the one or the combination that is going to suit you the most.
Project management can be a complicated matter. There are many things that you will need to take into consideration and even more obligations that might emerge during the implementation of a project. A project manager always learns for the mistakes and improves the work they have done. Give yourselves time to study and take your time while planning the project!