Week 1: An Introduction to Project Management

Project management is increasingly important today as projects become larger and more complex and take place on a global basis. The following video highlights significant projects in recent decades:

While these projects have been very successful, many others are not, often with severe consequences. The following video was produced to explain to employees why their pay cheques were wrong after a new software implementation project:

This week we will look at an introduction to project management and consider the reasons for project failure that we address in the course. This course is for students of the University of Waterloo. In addition to the materials created here, students have access to our internal learning management system with links to lecture recordings and other course materials.

The Project Management Body of Knowledge

The Project Management Institute is the largest professional organisation in the world for project managers. They produce the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) which details the methodology for project management that has been developed by the PMI. It is used as the basis for the examination for people who wish to become PMI certified Project Management Professionals (PMP).

The PMBOK has been developed by the members of the PMI over many years – it is currently in its fourth edition – and details the processes that they believe will be useful to project managers. In this course, the PMBOK is used as an example of a project management methodology. The PMBOK is relatively weak on the human and organisational side of projects and so these areas will receive further emphasis in the course.

This course will not prepare students to sit the PMP exam. The University of Waterloo offers an online course, available online globally, to prepare for the exam. Details of the Project Leadership Programme are available from the university’s Centre for Extended Learning.

Joseph Phillips is the author of one of the textbooks that is used in this course. In the following video Joseph introduces the PMBOK:

What is Project Management?

The PMBOK defines project management as:

“the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to project activities to meet project requirements. Project management is accomplished through the application and integration of the project management processes of initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing. The project manager is the person responsible for accomplishing the project objectives.”

Simply put, project management is about making projects take place successfully. Projects themselves have very specific characteristics that distinguish them from operations – the activities that organisations engage in on a daily basis. They are also often linked to the achievement of an organisation’s strategic plan objectives, making wide scale changes to an organisation’s activities or products.

Management of a project involves first identifying the project requirements and establishing objectives for the project that are clear and achievable. In all projects there is a need to balance project quality with the project scope, the time required for the project and the money that will be spent on it (the cost). There are usually trade offs that are needed to achieve this balance.

Projects also involve stakeholders who are affected by the project implementation or output and they can have a significant impact on the success or failure of a project. The project manager also needs to manage the concerns and expectations of project stakeholders. Stakeholders are the subject of a future course week and the following video provides advice for project managers in dealing with them:

Projects are usually temporary, they have a finite duration within which they take place. They do not continue over time indefinitely. Projects also produce a unique product that has not been created before – they may be very similar to projects that have been completed before but will take place with a unique set of circumstances and / or requirements.

Projects usually take place through a process of progressive elaboration. As the project is completed, progress is continually reviewed and changes are made to project plans and activities. In this sense, projects are incremental. They also should have clearly defined objectives.

The PMBOK acknowledges that it does not contain all of the knowledge needed to manage a project successfully. It states that knowledge of the area that the project is being undertaken in is important along with knowledge of specific standards and regulations that are relevant to the project. It is also important to understand the project environment, the organisational context of the project. Project managers also need general management skills, the ability to manage people, to understand financial aspects of their projects and they need excellent interpersonal skills. A good project manager is highly skilled.

Projects that take place within an organisation often take place alongside other projects. Where a group of projects take place towards a common overall goal they are known as a programme. Organisations may also undertake a range of projects that are separate from each other and be known as the organisation’s project portfolio. Subprojects may also exist that are subsets of an overall project.

Many organisations have established Project Management Offices (PMO). These are typically responsible for supporting the project management activities of the organisation through promoting a common project management methodology and providing various project management tools and resources to project managers. The following video discusses the role of the PMO:

Projects usually take place in phases. Within each phase work is undertaken towards deliverables for that phase. Each phase will involve specific people and should have specific processes to control and approve changes to it.

Project activities are usually sequential with clear boundaries between them. Project costs are usually low at the project start and then increase as project implementation proceeds. At the end of the project they usually drop off quickly as the project is completed. Risk to the project is usually highest in the early stages of the  project and then declines as the project proceeds. Stakeholder influence on the project is usually highest at the beginning of the project and then declines as implementation takes place and the cost of project changes increases.

As each phase of the project is completed there should be a review of progress and decisions made on whether and how to proceed with the project further. Proceeding is not automatic and will be dependent on expected project outcomes. It is important to be realistic here and identify problems in the project as early as possible and deal with them.

Organisational Influences

Projects usually take place within an organisational context. Organisational systems are often suitable and supportive of project activity in organisations that primarily exist to undertake projects. They can be more problematic in organisations that are not mainly project based. Projects will also be influenced by the organisational cultures and values.

The following chart illustrates the range of organisational structures that exist in which projects may take place. This is an idealised depiction and most organisations will embody characteristics that fit more than one category.

This chart shows the range of organisational types that a project manager may encounter, from the Functional organisation where the project manager may have little or no authority to the Projectised organisation where they will have a high level of authority. The organisation type will influence the role that the project manager will play.

Why Projects Fail

The reading for this week of the course is Kweku, E. (1997), Critical Issues In Abandoned Information Systems Development Projects, in Association For Computing Machinery, Communications of the ACM, September 1997, 40,9 pg. 74, (7 pages). It reports the results of a survey on why information systems projects fail and lists the following reasons:

  • There is a lack of general agreement on a well-articulated set of project goals and objectives
  • There is a weak project team
  • The project team does not work well together
  • There is weak project management
  • There is a poor system to measure project progress
  • There is poor leadership when critical decisions are needed
  • The project team lacks the technical capability required for the project
  • The project lacked sufficient senior management support and involvement

This article illustrates that project failure is about more than the processes used to manage the project but also involves people and organisational skills which feature in this course. The following video discusses project failure in information technology projects and the need to understand why it happens:

This week provides an introduction to project management and explains the approach that is taken to it in the course. The reasons for project failure are discussed. The final video for this week looks at why software projects fail:


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