What is project

No matter what your job, you handle a myriad of assignments every day: prepare a memo, hold a meeting, design a sales campaign, or move to new offices. Or maybe your day sounds more like this: make the information systems more user-friendly, develop a res

No matter what your job, you handle a myriad of assignments every day: prepare a memo, hold a meeting, design a sales campaign, or move to new offices. Or maybe your day sounds more like this: make the information systems more user-friendly, develop a research compound in the laboratory, or improve the organization’s public image. Not all of these assignments are projects. How can you tell which ones are?

To start managing projects, one needs to be able to identify them. As most successful organizations are better at managing projects, it’s also important to know what is not a project in a given business context. The classic definition of a project is: A project is the work performed by an organization one time to produce a unique outcome. A project has distinctive attributes, which distinguish it from ongoing work or business operations. Projects are temporary in nature. They are not an everyday business process and have definitive start dates and end dates. This characteristic is important because a large part of the project effort is dedicated to ensuring that the project is completed at the appointed time. To do this, schedules are created showing when tasks should begin and end. Projects can last minutes, hours, days, weeks, months or years.

Let’s start with few examples what a project is:

· building new house

· marketing campaign

· software development

Not everything that a company does is a project, mainly not company’s operations or efforts directed towards keeping company afloat. In contrast with projects, operations are ongoing and repetitive. They involve work that is continuous without an ending date and you often repeat the same processes and produce the same results. The purpose of operations is to keep the organization functioning while the purpose of a project is to meet its goals and to conclude.

Therefore, operations are ongoing while projects are unique and temporary.

· Performing accounts receivable and accounts payable activities

· Executing daily manufacturing orders

· Supporting existing clients

Most of projects are defined by five criteria or features of a project:

· Defined beginning, end, schedule, and approach

· Use resources specifically allocated to the work

· End results have specific goals (time, cost, performance/quality)

· Follows planned, organized approach

· Usually involves a team of people

Most of projects consist of typical elements required for successful delivery:

· Project Definition Document

· Requirements Document

· Project Schedule

· Status Reports

· Responsibility Matrix

· Risk Response Plan

Once you decide on completing a project as a project manager it’s important to ask yourself couple of questions.

· Why are we doing this? (Purpose)

· What organizational level goal(s) does this project support? (Goals and Objectives)

· How does this project fit with the other projects that are going on? (Scope, Project Context, Project Dependencies)

· What is the expected benefit from this project? (Expected Benefits, Business Case, Value, Success Criteria)

· What are we going to do? (Scope)

· Who is impacted by this and who must be involved? (Stakeholders)

· How will we know when we are done or whether the project was successful? (Success Criteria)

There are many more questions to be asked and answered as part of defining a project and most of the questions are revolving around management of resources: Time, People, Money, Equipment and any other Facilities used as part of completing the specific project in question.

Each and every project is somewhat different, however there are common elements that appear in most of the projects. We typically distinguish phases of projects which might be common irrespectively of the specific project that is being undertaken:

Phase 1: Initiating

· Recognize the project should be done

· Determine what the project should accomplish

· Define the overall project goal

· Define general expectations of customers, management, or other stakeholders as appropriate

· Define the general project scope

· Select initial members of the project team

Phase 2: Planning

· Refining the project scope

· Listing tasks and activities

· Optimally Sequencing activities

· Developing a working schedule and budget for assigning resources

· Getting the plan approved by stakeholders

Phase 3 – Executing

· Leading the team

· Meeting with team members

· Communicating with stakeholders

· Fire-fighting to resolve problems

· Securing necessary resources to complete the project plan

Phase 4 – Controlling

· Monitoring deviation from the plan

· Taking corrective action to match actual progress with the plan

· Receiving and evaluating project changes requested

· Rescheduling the project as necessary

· Adapting resource levels as necessary

· Changing the project scope

· Returning to the planning stage

Phase 5 – Closing

· Acknowledging achievement and results

· Shutting down the operations and disbanding the team

· Learning from the project experience

· Reviewing the project process and outcomes

· Writing a final project report

Projects are typically broken down into milestones and tasks. Milestone it is a definable, recognizable point in a projects time line, for example completion of “stage one” would be a milestone. Milestones are taken from the idea of stones used as way point indicators on real world roads listing the distance from one town to another, so in this instance a milestone is an indicator or some significant way point in a projects lifecycle. Milestones can be used as a reference points in a project to help decide early on if a project is on time at a given reference.

The project is completed when its goals and objectives are accomplished. It is these goals that drive the project and all the planning and implementation efforts are undertaken to achieve them. Sometimes projects end when it’s determined that the goals and objectives cannot be accomplished or when the product or service of the project is no longer needed and the project is cancelled. Therefore clear definition of goals allows measuring success of projects or cancellation at the right moment preventing further damage that stems from continuing a project that cannot deliver the expected efficiency.

There are many written definitions of a project, however, all of them contain the key elements described above. For those looking for a formal definition of a project the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) defines a project as: a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result. The temporary nature of projects indicates a definite beginning and end. The end is reached when the project’s objectives have been achieved or when the project is terminated because its objectives will not or cannot be met, or when the need for the project no longer exists.

Projects typically implement agreed project plan. The objective of a project plan is to define the approach to be used by the Project team to deliver the intended project management scope of the project. The key to a successful project is in the planning. Creating a project plan is the first thing you should do when undertaking any kind of project. Often project planning is ignored in favour of getting on with the work. However, many people fail to realise the value of a project plan in saving time, money and many problems. This article looks at a simple, practical approach to project planning. On completion of this guide, you should have a sound project planning approach that you can use for future projects.

At a minimum, a project plan answers basic questions about the project:

· Why? – What is the problem or value proposition addressed by the project? Why is it being sponsored?

· What? – What is the work that will be performed on the project? What are the major products/deliverables?

· Who? – Who will be involved and what will be their responsibilities within the project? How will they be organized?

· When? – What is the project timeline and when will particularly meaningful points, referred to as milestones, be complete?

To be a complete project plan according to industry standards such as the PMBOK or PRINCE2, the project plan must also describe the execution, management and control of the project. This information can be provided by referencing other documents that will be produced, such as a Procurement Plan or Construction Plan, or it may be detailed in the project plan itself.

The project plan typically covers topics used in the project execution system and includes the following main aspects:

· Scope Management

· Requirements Management

· Schedule Management

· Financial Management

· Quality Management

· Resource Management

· Communications Management

· Project Change Management

· Risk Management

· Procurement Management

It is good practice and mostly required by large consulting and professional project management firms, to have a formally agreed and version controlled project management plan approved in the early stages of the project, and applied throughout the project.

Risk Management Plan

Risk management is an important part of project management. Although often overlooked, it is important to identify as many risks to your project as possible, and be prepared if something bad happens.

Here are some examples of common project risks:

· Time and cost estimates too optimistic.

· Customer review and feedback cycle too slow.

· Unexpected budget cuts.

· Unclear roles and responsibilities.

· Stakeholder input is not sought, or their needs are not properly understood.

· Stakeholders changing requirements after the project has started.

· Stakeholders adding new requirements after the project has started.

· Poor communication resulting in misunderstandings, quality problems and rework.

· Lack of resource commitment.

Risks can be tracked using a simple risk log. Create a document and add each risk you have identified to your risk log; write down what you will do in the event it occurs, and what you will do to prevent it from occurring. Review your risk log on a regular basis, adding new risks as they occur during the life of the project. Remember, when risks are ignored they don’t go away.