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Phases of Project Management

Updated on June 12, 2016

Many projects fail, or at least become unwieldy, during execution in the absence of any prior planning. Most of the small and medium enterprises’ projects become unmanageable and eventually fail due to underestimating project management. It’s like a 100 m sprint; shoot and run.

In the third world, the scenario is worse - Some managers scoff at the idea of hiring a project manager. It is just making business more cumbersome by burdening with more bureaucratic work. I have experienced how the project becomes easier and smoother by preparing in detail before execution, and project management is not just prior planning before initiation, its phases run throughout execution and commissioning. Project planning must be done elaborately before starting the project and the project must be controlled and monitored according to the project management guidelines.

The PMI (Project Management Institute) publishes a book called PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) which contains the terminology and guidelines for project management. The guidelines have been amended over time and the latest is the 5th edition.

A project is managed in phases over the time of the project life cycle. Different books divide the project in 5 or 6 phases but I think the HBR’s (Harvard Business School) 4 phases are sufficient and succinct.

The phases are as following:

  1. Planning
  2. Build up
  3. Implementation
  4. Close out

Activities of each phase:

  1. Planning

Most of the people think that project management is scheduling; in fact scheduling is done during Build-up phase. Planning is really about determining what problems need to be solved and who will do what.

1.1 Identifying the real problem

Before beginning, exercise your thoughts to identify the real problem; it many seem obvious, but it’s not always obvious.

Suppose you have been assigned to manage a real estate building project. Your senior tells you that the location has been determined for building a township. You have to plan the project which includes finding customer for the projects.

In recognizing the problem, you find the fact that the location is very gar away from the city and it will be difficult to find customers who will buy houses and apartments there. So the real problem is not just building the township, it starts with finding a new location that would get customers easily.

1.2 Identifying the stakeholders

Identifying the stakeholders makes identifying the actual problem easily. Stakeholders are the people/organization who have an interest in the project. It includes the company who is taking on the project, the customers, the banker, etc.

One stakeholder may want great quality; the other may wish project to finish as quickly as possible. As the project manager, you have to handle all these and convince the stakeholders on the plan you have drawn up.

1.3 Defining project objectives

Taking into account what all the stakeholders want, divide the project into a coherent and wieldy set of goals. When defining objectives remember the word SMART, where SMART stands for:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Action-oriented
  • Realistic
  • Time limited.

It will make you plan more smartly.

1.4 Determine scope, resources, and tasks

The usual approach to projects in the minds of the stakeholder who has been assigned to execute the work, is “I know how the work is done.”This approach can jeopardize the project or at least will be done less efficiently. The judicious approach to subdivide a task into smaller tasks and repeat it till you reach a point where no further subdivision is possible. At the end what you get is called the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS).

1.5 Make your plan flexible and prepare for trade-offs

The three variables in project management are Time, Work, and Quality. They are related by the equation:

Quality = Work + Time

This might be annoying that during project execution you may find that the work is done less rapidly than what was planned. You will have to increase the pace and magnitude of work or compromise the quality. Be prepare for change in the variables if required.

2. Build-up

2.1 Assemble your team

Selecting individuals who will do the tasks requires your knowledge about all the individuals and what skills they are good at. In a popular phrase, this section is about “choosing the right people for the right job”.

2.2 Plan assignments

After assembling your team, the next job for you to do is assign tasks to your team members. This assignment should be based on knowing who is good at what. If there is some task which no one has done before or which no one is good at, you may have to train the selected persons or bring new persons on board. Assigning the tasks to the team members is a critical job, after all you as the project manager will be the person accountable for the failure or success of the project. Planning assignments require your knowledge about the team members, so be discerning and take time in delegating assignments.

2.3 Create the schedule

Today many software are available for creating schedule. One of the best is Microsoft Project. With it you can make Gantt chart, CPM, Pert, WBS and other useful documents. Scheduling is the most important part of the project management. It is so important many people think that project management is creating schedule. As a project manager you should have the knowledge of all the processes and documents.

2.4 Organize a kick-off meeting

Schedule a meeting before waving the green flag. Every team member must attend this meeting. Address your team and once more make them aware of their jobs and their importance. Also ask whether anyone has any confusion or question regarding the project.

2.5 Developing a budget

Again the project software will help you develop the budget. Take care of what costs are going to incur. How much will be expended in travelling. Are the personnel who have been assigned tasks have been allocated adequate amount of money; no less or more. If the answer is no you have to convince them on the adequate remuneration. Does the estimated cost seems proper or high. You can ask other managers and seniors about the budget. Remember that scheduling and budgeting are the most important parts of project management.

3. Implementation

After all the puzzling over done during the first two phases, now is the time to put your plan into action. Implementation is most gratifying if the project is running swiftly on its tracks, but it is also most frustration when things fall apart.

3.1 Monitoring and controlling

Project monitoring software like MS Project can be useful in monitoring the project. No one approach fits for all types of project monitoring and controlling. Monitoring a big project can have entirely different approach than a smaller one. Whatever be the type of project, always look at the big picture otherwise you may get swamped by trivial details.

It is important to have a close look at data regularly; it will tell you whether the project is going according to the plan or it is lagging behind. Are the costs incurring according to the budget or the expenditure is too high. Graphs can be a great tool as it lets you extrapolate and help you inform where the project and its costs are going according to the plan.

3.2 Report progress

Ask the stakeholders what information they need and in what format. Always be honest in reporting the project’s progress otherwise some project problems may turn into crises and when the stakeholders will come to know about them it may give them a shock.

3.3 Hold weekly team meetings

Holding weekly meetings serve many purposes. All your team members will get to know how others are performing and whether the project is on its path or not. It will also help the team stay focused and make them feel like the members of a team. They will work in co-ordination and speed up or down their work so the project gets done on time with all the goals achieved.

3.4 Manage problems

There are certain kind of problems which usually needs to be tackled.

i) Delay

In almost every project there is this looming problem of falling behind schedule. The problem needs immediate attention and the situation will improve if rectified within short time.

ii) Scope creep

Many times, while the project is even half completed some stakeholders need the quality to be changed to quite higher than what had been initially agreed upon. In such situations the project manage must convince the stakeholders of the consequences of taking a different direction at the middle of the project. If all the stake holders demand such a change then the project manager has no option but to change the work and time variables to meet the new wish of the stakeholders.

iii) People problems

This is the most difficult and frequent problem in project management. This is where a project manager’s capacity to deal practically with human problems is tested. The only way to deal such problems is to make frequent and clear communication with, say, an unsatisfied labor leader.

4. Close out

Has the goal been achieved? The product is ready to be used? All the stakeholders are satisfied with the product’s performance? Then it is time to wind up the project. Now the time is to evaluate the project. The best way to evaluate the project is to call all the team members to a meeting where the project manager in the end will debrief the meeting. The post evaluation meeting is not the place to put blame on each other, it is the time to learn from the mistakes made.


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