What is a Project and how to manage one


What can be an earliest example of a wonderfully executed and successfully completed project?Earliest example of a Project - Pyramid of Giza
The Great Pyramid of Giza!
It was built more than 4500 years ago.

The accuracy of measurements, precise placements of 2.3 million limestone blocks each weighing 50-60 tons, to form a structure of 230 meters (756 ft.) of base side each and 146 meters (480 ft.) height – is simply astounding!

Imagine what a humongous task it must have been for the ‘project management team’ to build such a huge pyramid without any of today’s technological advancements. Yet, pyramids are one of the most brilliantly executed projects that have been around for thousands of years!

Another example?
The Taj Mahal.

More?
The Colosseum. The Eiffel Tower.

There are plenty of examples of huge, complex yet successful projects in the history of humankind.

What are the characteristics of a project

In order to understand the characteristics of a project, let us first look at few scenarios:

Scenario 1-
Mammoth Construction Corp is authorized to construct the bridge across river Cruize. It is estimated that they need about 1700 workers, 75 construction machinery, and 14 months to finish the job. The planned start date is January 26, 2014.

Scenario 2-
Remington Steels is gearing up to automate its entire steel production system. They plan to announce this in their upcoming shareholders meet, and score brownie points in the press as well. The board has authorized a budget of $2million. It is estimated to achieve the Return on Investment (ROI) in about 6 years’ time, with benefits of increased throughput for the plant and reduced labor costs.

Scenario 3-
ReSearch Inc. is given a task of finding out how students living in rural area are faring in middle school, as compared to students from urban areas, over the past decade. This trend will be the input for upcoming fiscal year’s budget to be announced by the Ministry of Education.

What factors, would you say are common in the above three scenarios?

Take a minute and go over them again.

The common factors are –

  • All of them have a definite start date and end date
  • All of them result in specific benefits
  • The third factor that is not very evident from the scenarios above, is that, they are progressively elaborated (which is to say, they are produced in an iterative fashion)

and..

Each of them is a Project.

“A Project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result” – is how PMBOK® guide defines it.

Exam pointer> Remember “PSR” – Product, Service or Result. A project always produces one of these outputs.

All the three instances above are temporary in nature – they had a specific begin and end date. The schedules may stretch and the end date may move, but the project will end at some point.

Even if it is terminated prematurely!

Yes, a project can be closed mid-way for several reasons. One of them could be that the costs are exceeding benefits that project is expected to create.

Each of these three instances create something unique – either a Product (first scenario), a Service (second scenario) or a Result (third scenario).

Understand that ‘temporary’ nature of the project refers to the execution period and not to the result. The Taj Mahal took about 22 years to build (‘temporary’ duration on a time scale) but the result is there for us to see even today.

Elaborating the phrase ‘progressively elaborated’ from PMBOK®’s definition

When a project is planned its business-needs are defined at a high level, and even when the execution starts all of the minutest details are not known. As the project progresses more details become known and constraints surface.
The project management team should be in a position to take in these inputs and produce what is required.

Very similar to building a house.

To start with, you will create the blueprints (such as Floor plan, Elevation plan and Perspective plan). As construction progresses you will figure out more details such as type of flooring, colors of walls, and type of furniture.

This is Progressive elaboration.

As a project progresses though, many mistakes will be made, lessons will be learnt and course-correction will be required. New things are learnt and you make use of this knowledge to manage the project better.

What is common to management of projects across different industries?

The all important question is – what are those common principles by which any project in any domain, or industry, can be managed well. Are there such common principles available?

That is exactly what Project Management Institute, PMI® in short sought to find out few decades ago. They studied lots and lots of projects across geographies and industries. And the good news is, they found few specific knowledge areas that are common to managing any project. The project work can be divided into specific activities called processes. These processes are easier to understand and manage when they are grouped together into specific process groups.

Broadly, PMBOK® guide has –

  • Processes – which are project management activities
  • Process Groups – a way of grouping processes specific to each logical phase of a project, such as Initiating, Planning, Executing, Monitoring and Controlling, and Closing.
  • Knowledge Areas – a way of grouping these same processes based on the knowledge required to carry them out, such as Cost management, Human Resources management, and Communications management.

Spend a minute on the figure below. It shows a project, as containing 5 process groups. We shall see more details in subsequent posts. The background arrow indicates the sequence of executing of processes in each of these process groups, by the project management team. Note the overlap, more details on that in a bit.

Process groups in Project or Phase

Figure 1: Process Groups in a Project or Phase

What is a Process?

A process is any activity performed that helps manage certain aspect of the project. For instance, Identify Risks is a process using which, as the name states, the project manager identifies all possible risks on the project. Essentially, project management is all about knowing the processes. And executing them effectively, of course. There are 47 processes defined in PMBOK®. And they are grouped into two buckets – sliced and diced.

Which means to say that, any particular process falls into one of the Process Groups and one of the Knowledge Areas.

Chances are you may not be using all of these processes in your project. The decision about which processes to use for a project depends on factors such as size of the project, type of the project, and sometimes the organizational policies and support available to the project manager. For instance, if your project does not employ a vendor to perform some part of work, you may not use any of the Procurement Management processes.

Anatomy of a process

                                                                       Figure 2: Anatomy of a Process

As a Project Manager you will need to know about all these processes, what goes into each of the process, what comes out of it, and how do you produce these output.

That is to say, each process has certain –

  • Inputs
  • Tools and Techniques
  • Outputs

ITTOs process

What is a Process Group?

A process group is a bunch of processes grouped together based on a stage in project life cycle. Any project goes through the stages of initiation, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and finally closing. For that matter, a phase in a project too can go through the same set of stages. Each of these are a process groups. So basically a process group is a way of grouping together PMBOK®’s 47 processes based on which stage of the project they come into play.
There are 5 Process Groups in PMBOK® guide. They are logically sequenced. Each one consists of a bunch of processes. The following figure shows how process groups are related, using a simple example of preparing tea! –

Process groups explained

Figure 3: Process groups, and their interaction

What is a Constraint?

A constraint is any blocker that can potentially create trouble in reaching its goal. There are six types of constraints for a Project Manager to be worried about.

6 project constraints

Figure 4: 6 constraints of a project

What is Project Management?

From your experience as a project manager you would know that there are many constraints involved and they may pose risks to any degree at any given point in time. A project manager needs to bring into effect her knowledge, performance and personal skills to manage these constraints.

Project management is, then, the application of knowledge, skills and tools in order to achieve objectives of stakeholders while effectively handling the constraints such as scope, quality, schedule, budget, resources and risks.

Thankfully, PMBOK® guide pulls all the tools and techniques together for you to be able to achieve success in your project.

Okay! This has been a good start. Before you move further, take this quick exercise.

You wanted to make a cup of tea, and what could go wrong? Many things. Some are listed below. See if you can identify which of the 6 constraint they refer to.

What might be wrong?Constraint Type
 I miss buying the match required to light the stove.
 Instead of 3/4th of a cup of water, I add 1 and a 1/2 cups.
 I ended up over boiling the tea mix, and now my tea does not have the flavor I expected.
 If not careful I might spill hot tea on myself while straining.
 I end up spending all money on buying best quality tea powder and not have money to buy sugar.
 I start making a cup of tea and add coffee powder instead of tea powder. And end up making something that resembles coffee.
 I planned that it should take 4-5 minutes to make a cup of tea. But I end up taking 15 minutes or more (forgetting to fire up the stove, or keeping the flame on low).

 

Answers –

What might be wrong?Constraint Type
 I miss buying the match required to light the stove. Resources
 Instead of 3/4th of a cup of water, I add 1 and a 1/2 cups. Scope
 I ended up over boiling the tea mix, and now my tea does not have the flavor I expected. Quality
 If not careful I might spill hot tea on myself while straining. Risk
 I end up spending all money on buying best quality tea powder and not have money to buy sugar. Budget
 I start making a cup of tea and add coffee powder instead of tea powder. And end up making something that resembles coffee. Scope
 I planned that it should take 4-5 minutes to make a cup of tea. But I end up taking 15 minutes or more (forgetting to fire up the stove, or keeping the flame on low). Schedule

 

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