Project Management: Definition and Common Issues
What is a Project?
A project can be defined as a planned method to meet a particular goal. It is usually a large undertaking, involving significant resources.
There are four primary parts to a project:
- Scope: The goal that will be met by the project, or the end result. The scope is a final result, along with any milestones that should occur along the way.
- Budget: The amount of money you are allotted to complete the project. Most budgets are broken down into smaller categories (not just a total) that are allocated for each part of the project.
- Resources: The people and things you need to reach the goal. Resources include materials, tools, and hours of work.
- Schedule: Although time could be considered a resource, it is often classified separately as a schedule of tasks that consists of when and who will complete each task toward the ultimate goal of completing the project. Schedules also contain a notation of which tasks depend on other tasks to be completed first.
The Project Management Process
Project Management is the process of tracking the four parts of a project (scope, budget, resources, and schedule) and bearing the responsibility of the project's ultimate completion.
Project managers must first ensure complete understanding of the scope of the project. This can be done by ensuring all aspects and goals of the project are in place, and by knowing exactly who will judge the outcome and how it will be judged.
Once the scope is clear, the project manager must determine the large milestones that need to be completed toward the ultimate project completion.
For example, let's say that the project is to build a storage shed in your backyard. The milestones might be as follows:
- Pour the foundation
- Build the walls
- Put on the roof
- Install the door
Each milestone will have several small tasks it will take to accomplish the milestone. For example, the milestone of pouring the foundation would include these tasks:
- Buy materials
- Build a wood form
- Pour the concrete
- Let dry
When all those tasks are complete, the project has reached its first milestone.
Project management also includes managing the budget for the project, and ensuring that each part of the project does not exceed its budgeted amount. Additionally, the project manager must allocate the best resources for the job. In the above example of the storage shed, the project manager should make sure that the materials (concrete, wood, etc.) don't exceed the budgeted amount, and that the right resources (builders) are hired to complete the work.
Common Issues for Project Managers
There are many issues that can occur while managing a project. Depending on the scope of the project, there are quite a few things that can go wrong along the way. Here are some common issues and ways to prevent them.
Going Over Budget - Nobody wants to spend more money than they planned to spend, or than they are allowed to spend. So, going over your project's budget can be scary! To prevent going over budget, follow these tips:
- Require your approval for anyone working on your project to spend more than a certain dollar amount. This way you can approve any large expenses, even if they are planned.
- Require periodic check-ins from anyone spending money, so that you know exactly what they have spent (or committed to spend).
- Keep very detailed records, and check your budget daily. Always know how much you have spent and how much you are about to spend. This helps you know if a budget crunch is coming.
Scope Creep - "Scope creep" is the term used for slow changes that affect the overall scope of the project. A small amount of "creep" may not seem like a big deal at the time, but by the end of the project, it can lead to some significant changes to budget and schedule. Control scope creep by following these rules:
- Any changes or additions to the project, no matter how small, require your approval. Also, make sure to get buy in from all other important people in the project, including your boss and anyone else involved in the final approval.
- Make sure any changes or additions to the project are truly being made with the ultimate goal in mind. Keep your eye on the final product.
- Make sure everyone involved in the project in any way knows the exact scope and understands the goals of the project. This will prevent suggestions of scope changes that do not benefit the ultimate goal.
Scheduling Conflicts - A single scheduling mishap can derail a project very quickly. Here are some tips to avoid scheduling conflicts.
- Have all parties sign off on all schedules that apply to them, including which tasks are to be completed when, what tasks depend on what other tasks, and the overall project schedule.
- Keep a master schedule that tracks when any deadline, large or small, is missed. Check this schedule daily and track down any deadline issues before they get out of hand. Check this schedule daily.
Incorrect allocation of Resources - In order to manage a project efficiently, all resources must be allocated in the most appropriate manner. Resources include people as well as tools and other items. Keep resources where they belong with these tips:
- Have an inventory of all available resources before deciding how they will be used. Know what tools and locations are available for use, and when and for how long.
- Keep resumes and skill information on all people working on the project. Know all of their skills so you can assign them the most critical and appropriate tasks.
Miscommunication - A lack of communication, or poor communication, can cause all of the issues listed above and more. Here are some communication tips for managing a project:
- Have regular meetings with everyone involved in the project to review completed tasks, give budget updates, and provide schedule updates.
- In between meetings, send updates via email to make sure everyone involved is aware of progress toward completing the project.
- Send updates or call meetings when something drastic changes, such as scope creep or a major change to the schedule or budget.
With good planning and proper monitoring to prevent common issues, project management can be very fulfilling. When a project is complete and meets its ultimate goals, the satisfaction is amazing!