An Introduction to Project Management

Let’s start at the very beginning…

What’s a project?

How about ‘a unique venture, with a start and an end, and its own budget, perhaps intended to create something new, to meet established goals within parameters of cost, time and quality’. Like most things in life, a good start works wonders. So how, as project managers, can we make sure this happens, particularly when we are given the what, but not the how?

Let’s talk about the what – the end goal, or deliverable of the project. What exactly, in terms of product or service, is the project supposed to churn out after 6 months, or whatever the deadline is? Too many project managers having being told of the end goal tend to work steadily towards its achievement. Then, as deadline day approaches, they have proudly handed over the deliverable, only to be told by the customer that ‘it’s not really what we wanted’. Cue gasps of exasperation!

To avoid this scenario, we need to be absolutely clear what the goal of the project is, and responsibility lies on both sides here. The customer needs to be crystal clear regarding their requirements (what does good look like?), and the project manager needs to confirm their understanding, asking questions where necessary. A SMART goal (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timebound) would not be a bad idea here.

Let’s bridge that gap!

Now we know what we need to achieve, it’s time to plan how we get there. Using knowledge, skills and experience, a project manager will consider the end goal, and then identify a series of tasks and activities which must be completed in a particular sequence in order to achieve it. A variety of planning tools (Gantt charts, milestone charts, network diagrams etc) exist to assist you here – find the one that works for you and stick with it! Don’t forget the critical path – the straight line that runs through the heart of every project. It works on the principle that some tasks cannot begin until the previous one has been completed. These tasks lie on the critical path and must be worked on sequentially. Other tasks can be worked on concurrently, as long as they are ready at a certain point to feed back into the project. They do not lie on the critical path.

Resources, resources, RESOURCES

So, you’ve created the project plan and identified all the tasks and activities to be completed – they’re not going to do themselves! Now it’s time for the project manager to allocate the necessary resources to each task, for example, people, tools, equipment, materials and time. Don’t forget the resources we carry around in our heads! The project team may have the will to get the jobs done, but have they got the skill? It may be necessary to provide training so they are fully equipped to work effectively on the project.

Conclusion

At the start of any project, the project manager is often given the what, but not the how. Both elements deserve your attention if the project is to succeed. First, let’s make sure we know exactly what the project needs to achieve by the required deadline. Having established the goal, now let’s identify how we get there. Create your plan using a suitable planning tool, incorporating all the tasks to be completed. Finally, allocate the required resources to each task. What are we all waiting for – let’s get to work!