Project Management 101

I am often asked what project management is and how it differs from other areas of management, such as operational management. Project management is the discipline of planning, organising and managing resources to successfully complete specific goals. A project is therefore a temporary organisation with a defined end date.

Examples of projects are building a system, launching a new product, organising a party, bottling a new wine, publishing a book and building a new house. In contrast with this, operational management is the ongoing management of the recurring activities involved in the running of a business.

Phases of the Project Management Discipline

The project management discipline covers the following 5 phases: Initiation, Planning and design, Execution, Monitoring and control and Closure. To illustrate what these phases entail, let’s take the example of building a new house.

1. Initiation

Starting with the idea or concept that needs to be designed and implemented, the main role-players to help with this are identified and their involvement is contracted. In our example it could be the architect and building team. Contracting them at this stage will make sure that they can offer input into the planning stage. A preliminary budget and timeline is agreed, which help to define the scope of your project.

2. Planning and Design

Design is done by the architect, taking into account requirements such as functionality (e.g. how many bedrooms, bathroom, garages) and style preferences (e.g. plaster walls instead of face-brick, aluminium windows instead of wooden frames).With input from all role-players, the detailed implementation plan can be drafted, covering what must be done, by when and by whom, as well as the sequence of the tasks. This detailed design and implementation plan assists to refine the original project cost. Another round of planning is required should the cost be higher than what the client is prepared to pay and/or the implementation date later than envisaged.

3. Execution

This implementation phase means the building work can start and will progress according to the detailed implementation plan. Managing according to the detailed plan will ensure that the right people are doing what they should and when they should.

4. Monitoring and Controlling

Parallel to the Execution phase, the actual progress is measured against the original plan and budget. Progress can be assessed by asking the following questions:

  • Have all the activities been completed according to the planned implementation timeline?

  • Is the budget on track?

  • Is the delivered work up to standard?

  • What can be done to get the timeline and costs on track?

It is possible that delays in timelines and the budget overspends can impact the scope of the project. Decisions might be needed on whether all the items as per the original scope are still included (e.g. perhaps not build the wall as the budget has been exceeded).

5. Closure

The building of the house has been completed. The client’s acceptance of the final product and final payments wrap up the project. Reflecting what went well or what to do differently next time will help to achieve greater success in the next project. The maestro that holds this process together is the project manager, who facilitates the above process through effective communication between all the parties involved. Effective communication ensures that all parties give input on their part of the project and enables timeous feedback on progress. The project manager creates appropriate communication opportunities so that any issue can be addressed timeously, minimising the impact on the design, timeline and budget.