Project Management All-in-One For Dummies
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No matter what your job is, you handle a myriad of assignments every day. For example, you may prepare a memo, hold a meeting, design a sales campaign, or move to new offices. Or you may make the information systems more user-friendly, develop a research compound in the laboratory, or improve the organization’s public image. Not all these assignments are projects. How can you tell which ones are and which ones aren’t?

People often confuse the following two terms with project:

  • Process: A process is a series of routine steps to perform a particular function, such as a procurement process or a budget process. A process isn’t a one-time activity that achieves a specific result; instead, it defines how a particular function is to be done every time. Processes, like the activities that go into buying materials, are often parts of projects.
  • Program: This term can describe two different situations:
    • First, a program can be a set of goals that gives rise to specific projects, but, unlike a project, a program can never be completely accomplished. For example, a health-awareness program can never completely achieve its goal (the public will never be totally aware of all health issues as a result of a health-awareness program), but one or more projects may accomplish specific results related to the program’s goal (such as a workshop on minimizing the risk of heart disease).
    • Second, a program sometimes refers to a group of specified projects that achieve a common goal.

The 3 main components that define a project

A project is a temporary undertaking performed to produce a unique product, service, or result. Large or small, a project always has the following three components:
  • Specific scope: Desired results or products.
  • Schedule: Established dates when project work starts and ends.
  • Required resources: Necessary number of people and funds and other resources.
As illustrated, each component affects the other two. For example: Expanding the type and characteristics of desired outcomes may require more time (a later end date) or more resources. Moving up the end date may necessitate paring down the results or increasing project expenditures (for instance, by paying overtime to project staff). Within this three-part project definition, you perform work to achieve your desired results.

main project components The relationship between the three main components of a project.

Although many other considerations may affect a project’s performance, these three components are the basis of a project’s definition for the following three reasons:

  • The only reason a project exists is to produce the results specified in its scope.
  • The project’s end date is an essential part of defining what constitutes successful performance; the desired result must be provided by a certain time to meet its intended need.
  • The availability of resources shapes the nature of the products the project can produce.

The diversity of projects

Projects come in a wide assortment of shapes and sizes. For example, projects can
  • Be large or small
    • Installing a new subway system, which may cost more than $1 billion and take 10 to 15 years to complete, is a project.
    • Preparing an ad hoc report of monthly sales figures, which may take you one day to complete, is also a project.
  • Involve many people or just you
    • Training all 10,000 of your organization’s staff in a new affirmative-action policy is a project.
    • Rearranging the furniture and equipment in your office is also a project.
  • Be defined by a legal contract or by an informal agreement
    • A signed contract between you and a customer that requires you to build a house defines a project.
    • An informal promise you make to install a new software package on your colleague’s computer also defines a project.
  • Be business-related or personal
    • Conducting your organization’s annual blood drive is a project.
    • Having a dinner party for 15 people is also a project.

No matter what the individual characteristics of your project are, you define it by the same three components described in the previous section: results (or scope), start and end dates, and resources. The information you need to plan and manage your project is the same for any project you manage, although the ease and the time to develop it may differ. The more thoroughly you plan and manage your projects, the more likely you are to succeed.

4 phases of a project life cycle

A project’s life cycle is the series of phases that the project passes through as it goes from its start to its completion. A phase is a collection of logically related project activities that culminates in the completion of one or more project deliverables.

Every project, whether large or small, passes through the following four life-cycle phases:
  • Starting the project: This phase involves generating, evaluating, and framing the business need for the project and the general approach to performing it and agreeing to prepare a detailed project plan. Outputs from this phase may include approval to proceed to the next phase, documentation of the need for the project and rough estimates of time and resources to perform it (often included in a project charter), and an initial list of people who may be interested in, involved with, or affected by the project.
  • Organizing and preparing: This phase involves developing a plan that specifies the desired results; the work to do; the time, cost, and other resources required; and a plan for how to address key project risks. Outputs from this phase may include a project plan that documents the intended project results and the time, resources, and supporting processes needed to create them.
  • Carrying out the work: This phase involves establishing the project team and the project support systems, performing the planned work, and monitoring and controlling performance to ensure adherence to the current plan. Outputs from this phase may include project results, project progress reports, and other communications.
  • Closing the project: This phase involves assessing the project results, obtaining customer approvals, transitioning project team members to new assignments, closing financial accounts, and conducting a post-project evaluation. Outputs from this phase may include final, accepted, and approved project results and recommendations and suggestions for applying lessons learned from this project to similar efforts in the future.
For small projects, this entire life cycle can take just a few days. For larger projects, it can take many years! In fact, to allow for greater focus on key aspects and to make it easier to monitor and control the work, project managers often subdivide larger projects into separate phases, each of which is treated as a mini-project and passes through these four life-cycle phases. No matter how simple or complex the project is, however, these four phases are the same.

In a perfect world, you complete one phase of your project’s life cycle before you move on to the next one, and after you complete that phase, you never return to it again. But the world isn’t perfect, and project success often requires a flexible approach that responds to real situations that you may face, such as the following:

  • You may have to work on two (or more) project phases at the same time to meet tight deadlines. Working on the next phase before you complete the current one increases the risk that you may have to redo tasks, which may cause you to miss deadlines and spend more resources than you originally planned. If you choose this strategy, be sure people understand the potential risks and costs associated with it.
  • Sometimes you learn by doing. Despite doing your best to assess feasibility and develop detailed plans, you may realize you can’t achieve what you thought you could. When this situation happens, you need to return to the earlier project phases and rethink them in light of the new information you’ve acquired.
  • Sometimes things change unexpectedly. Your initial feasibility and benefits assessments are sound, and your plan is detailed and realistic. However, certain key project team members leave the organization without warning during the project. Or a new technology emerges, and it’s more appropriate to use than the one in your original plans. Because ignoring these occurrences may seriously jeopardize your project’s success, you need to return to the earlier project phases and rethink them in light of these new realities.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Jonathan L. Portny, MBA, PMP®, has more than 15 years of experience in the field of project management and is a certified Project Management Professional. His father, Stanley E. Portny, PMP®, was an internationally recognized expert in project management and the author of all previous editions of Project Management for Dummies.

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