As a project manager you need to be very clear in your own mind what the project development stages are that you will have to go through. A good project manager will apply their management skills in a structured manner, requiring them to identify the times and circumstances that those skills and practices will need to be deployed and applied. This is no longer the black art that it was once perceived to be. All you need to do is understand what the main stages of project development are, applying the relevant skills to each stage in order to manage it through to a successful completion.
The Project Charter.
Having complete clarity as to the purpose of the project is the first hurdle to overcome in being able to successfully complete the project and this is defined in the project charter. Without clearly understanding the purpose of the project you won’t be able to clearly define and communicate the aims and objectives of it to those carrying out work on your behalf. No two projects are ever the same whether you try to compare diverse ones such as launching a spaceship to improving a neighborhood or similar projects like launching a new brand of coffee to a new brand of cola. Whatever the project is compared to previous or other ones, the objectives will have changed and moved on. Ideally you will be involved in the project from its inception, which usually means being involved in a Feasibility Study with the project sponsor, analyzing a current situation and then stating the required improvements to it. You are then ready to define and plan other stages of a projects development.
It might sound a rather obvious statement but everything has to start somewhere, but getting your project off to a good start will pay dividends in the long run. Don’t start a project with the attitude that it’ll all work out in the end, having all your plans ready to go days, weeks or even months in advance is essential if you want to keep control of your project. The main tasks in initiating your project are; setting the objectives for it, defining the scope of the project, establishing your strategy for the project and, perhaps most importantly – determining a Work Breakdown Structure. The work breakdown structure is a key document as it will contain the details of the work plan, budgets and financial controls and the assignment of responsibilities to others. Breaking down the project into small and more manageable tasks such as these is essential if you’re to stand any chance at all of retaining that all important overview of all the work that goes into the project. Having determined the work breakdown structure you can start to look for the key staff you’re going to need for the project; architects, IT staff, accountants, engineers etc.
Specifications for the project.
Next you need to get down to detailing the requirements for your project. It is vital during this project specifications stage that you remember the purpose of the project and refer back to the feasibility study. The reason for this is that you are delivering the project on behalf of the sponsor, whilst you are responsible for the project – it does actually belong to someone else who will probably have responsibility for it on a day-to-day basis once completed, the ‘end-user’. You will need to liaise closely with the end-user of your project when specifying it, to ensure that it will meet their requirements. Normal practice is to have a Requirements Specification which simply details the end-users requirements that can be signed-off by them on completion. An important thing to know here is that the requirements specification is really a list of ‘wants’ from the end-user. This stage of the process does not need to consider exactly how you will achieve or attain their requirement(s). Having got the full picture of what is required by the end-user you should be able to better understand the likely costs and time factors needed to deliver the project. You can then refine you initial plans, returning to the sponsor if necessary for approval to continue, especially if there are serious budgetary implications or a likely time overrun on the original proposals.
With a full set of specifications and approval for them to refine your initial plan if necessary you can now move on to the project design stage. This is when you translate the ‘what is required’ in to ‘how it will be done’. At this stage you can hand over some of your initial plans to the specialists in your team charging them with producing the solutions that will deliver the project. Project designs can be arrived at in a variety of forms such as diagrams, working models or prototypes. However, at some point you will need to ensure that they are all expressed in detailed written specifications in order to be confident that all of your key workers and teams can not only access the design but also have common points of reference within it. For example, an engineer might fully understand how a prototype explains to them how to solve a problem, but will the accounts department understand how to cost it? Before moving on to the next stage it’s always best to refer the design back to the end-user. This serves two purposes, it gives the end-user an opportunity to agree to your design or raise questions on it ahead of proceeding with them; keeping the end-user informed and involved which will mean that they will have both knowledge and confidence that the project is delivering something that they can adopt and work with on completion.
The Build stage.
Whether you’re building an office block or a database doesn’t matter, with all of your plans and designs in place you can actually get your teams started on building the project. The temptation to skip or indeed even skimp on any of the prior stages must be avoided. Having the build stage progress with the minimum of difficulty and delay is of prime importance as this is the stage that will cost the most money. Here a detail missed during the design process can bring small and large projects alike to a grinding halt, omitting a specification will mean your designers have to re-examine their work, whilst failing to have defined the objectives that teams need to meet will lead to confusion and work done improperly. All of which will cost time and money to resolve. This is also the phase that will test your project management abilities to the full. If you’ve planned properly you’ll be able to organize the workforce and if you can co-ordinate effectively you’ll be able to control the project – all of which will require strong and clear leadership.
With the project built the next stage is to implement the project or put it into operational mode. This is the phase in which the end-user eventually takes ownership of the project transferred to them and, following a period of testing and adjustments, fully accepts it. No matter how much you have liaised with the end-user up to now, or indeed how well you have executed your job and the project as a whole, there will almost inevitably be snags that need tweaking and improving. These eventualities will, of course, have been accounted for in your plans and appropriate resources of manpower, time and money will have been made available for them; these were your contingency plans. Time spent on this stage will be well worth it in the long term as by ensuring successful implementation stage your standing as a project manager will ne enhanced, leading to more people wanting you as their project manager.
At the operation stage you have actually handed over the project, got everything running smoothly and finished with it. However there is still one final job to do and that is to write a post-implementation report for the project sponsor. As time goes on projects are frequently re-opened as further changes and improvements to them need considering. Your closing report will be an invaluable tool in helping the project sponsor to consider any changes and may yet prove useful to you if asked to work again as the project manager.