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Project Management Methodology Explained

~ By Duncan Haughey

Five stepping stones with white lines arranged as a curve

Project management in the modern sense began in the early 1950s, driven by businesses that realised the benefits of organising work around projects, and the critical need to communicate and co-ordinate work across departments and professions.

Project management is no small task. It has a definite beginning and end, and is not a continuous process. Project management uses various tools to measure progress and track project tasks. Projects need ad-hoc resources, as opposed to businesses that have dedicated full-time positions.

Project management methodologies consist of four to five process groups, and a control system. Regardless of the methodology or terminology used, project management uses the same basic processes. Process groups typically include:

  1. Initiation
  2. Planning and Design
  3. Execution
  4. Monitoring and Controlling
  5. Closing

1. Initiation

All projects start with an idea for a product, service, or other desirable outcome. The initiation process group determines the nature and scope of the project. If this stage is not performed well, it is unlikely the project will be successful in meeting the businesses needs. The key project controls needed, are an understanding of the business environment and making sure all necessary controls are incorporated into the project. Any deficiencies should be reported and a recommendation made to fix them.

The first project document is the project charter, which includes:

  • Business case
  • Scope and deliverables
  • Objectives
  • Resources needed
  • Milestone plan and timeline
  • Cost estimate
  • Risks and issues
  • Dependencies

The charter answers the basic question, "What are we trying to do?"

2. Planning and Design

After initiation, the project is planned to an appropriate level of detail. The main purpose is to plan time, cost and resources adequately to estimate the work needed and to manage risk effectively during project execution. This is recorded in the project management plan. As with the initiation process group, a failure to plan adequately lessens the project's chances of success.

Project planning includes:

  • Developing the scope statement
  • Developing the schedule (Gantt chart)
  • Developing the budget
  • Selecting the team
  • Creating a work breakdown structure
  • Identifying deliverables
  • Risk planning
  • Communication planning

This information forms the project contract, used to gain formal approval to begin work.

3. Execution

Execution consists of the processes used to complete the work defined in the project management plan, to accomplish the project's objectives. The execution process involves co-ordinating people and resources, as well as integrating and performing the activities of the project. The deliverables are produced as outputs from the processes performed as defined in the project management plan.

4. Monitoring and Controlling

The monitoring and controlling process group involves managing and tracking the project, so potential problems can be identified quickly and corrective action taken. To do this the project management plan is used. Monitoring and controlling includes:

  • Measuring the ongoing project activities (where are we, against where we should be?)
  • Monitoring the project variables (cost, effort, scope) against the project management plan and the project baseline (where should we be?)
  • Identifying corrective actions to address risks and issues (how can we get back on track?)
  • Managing changes using our change control process (what is the impact of this change?)

The monitoring and controlling process group ends once the project has achieved its goals and objectives as detailed in the project contract. A project may be stopped before completion for various reasons, including changes in the business, lack of resources or higher priorities.

5. Closing

Project closing is an important part of project management, sometimes overlooked. A project that is not closed will continue to consume resources.

Closing a project means finishing all activities across all process groups, splitting up the project team, and signing off the project with the customer.

At this point it is important to know how well the project has performed. This is done using the project closure report. It communicates how well the project has performed against its original business case, quality measures, cost, duration and tolerances.

Rather than leave valuable project experiences locked in peoples heads, it's a good idea to complete and publish a lessons learned report. This is used to pass on valuable learning that can be applied to future projects.

Project Control

Project control is that part of a project that keeps it on-track, on-time and within budget. Project control begins early in the project with planning, and ends late in the project with post-implementation review.

Projects should be assessed for the right level of control needed: too much control is time-consuming, too little control is risky. If project control is not carried out correctly, the cost to the business should be clarified in terms of errors, fixes and added costs.

Typical elements of project control are:

  • Overall business strategy
  • Standards for new systems
  • Project management policies
  • Change management
  • Quality control

Enjoyed this article? Now read 21 Ways to Excel at Project Management


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