01 June, 2014


Recently I was browsing through the postings on the Irish Chapter of the Project Management Institute’s LinkedIn page and I was diverted to a web page which frankly shocked me. This page contains the statement: “It has been said that there is no such skill as project management”. For the first time in my life I could understand the missionary zeal of early Christians when they learned of the heathens in Darkest Africa; I had to speak out about this.

In these days of cost cutting, allegations that project management is simply “a variety of management practices already carried out by various management roles in organisations” could see companies get the impression that project managers might be worth considering in the next round of cuts. So it is important that we have a clear picture of why project management is necessary and appreciate the value a project manager brings to a project.

To my mind, project management is all about integration. It is not simply about schedules or budgets or getting things done, but a combination of these and much more. Anyone who has done a Project Management Professional (PMP)® exam preparation course will appreciate the importance of integration. On these PMP® courses, integration is presented as just one of ten project management knowledge areas. But it soon becomes apparent that this is the glue that holds the whole operation together.

Take the first integration process for instance. Developing the Project Charter is all about setting the scene for the work to come. Okay, the approval of this document provides authorization for the project to go ahead and the process also is where the project manager is assigned but, at a more fundamental level, the project charter is where the boundaries – the triple constraint as it were – are set down. It defines what we have to deliver; it gives us a time limit – maybe a hard deadline, like a trade show or the Christmas market – and it holds us to a budget. The project charter is the foundation for everything that is to come.

The next integration process sees the project manager take centre stage. We now need to create the project plan. For the uninitiated, the project plan vaguely relates to scheduling and they picture the project manager slaving over a Gantt chart and muttering strange incantations to the Project Management deities. But remember the title: creating the project plan is all about building up a single plan from a whole set of other plans – integrating these into an overall document.

So we will start with scope. What do we have to do? We need to collect requirements; tease out what those overall requirements in the project charter really mean. We have to be more rigorous – the vague wish lists of the project charter must now become testable and measurable requirements. We must also determine what goes into the work we have signed up for. Using a tool called a Work Breakdown Structure we determine the building blocks that will lead to the project deliverables. We will also put a traceability matrix in place, so we will know at the end of the project when we have everything complete.

It is only when we are clear about what needs to be done on the project do we consider scheduling. We need to break down the work even further – into specific activities and we need to determine the order these need to be done in. We will then estimate how long each will take and what resources they require, before combining this knowledge into a schedule.

Resources cost money so, knowing the resources we require, we can estimate what our budget will be. But we often have a reality check at this point. The ideal set of resources may not be available or are just too expensive. Similarly, our carefully produced schedule might miss the specified deadline. How can we square the circle?

This is where project managers earn their pay. To return to the project sponsor and state that the project cannot be completed within the time and budget allowed will not enhance a project manager’s career prospects. Instead, alternative possibilities need to be presented. If the deadline is the critical factor, more resources could just do the trick. Alternatively, if budget is the problem, a longer schedule could bring the project in within cost limits. If schedule and budget are both important, either scope or quality must be sacrificed.

Speaking of quality, the project manager must consider this. What quality standards will we follow on the project? What measurements will we take and how will we measure project success? What audits and inspections will we carry out? Of course, all this costs money, so how much can we do within the budget? Have we factored in quality activities in our Work Breakdown Structure? If not, it’s back to the drawing board.

What else do we, as project managers, need to do? Communicate! That is always listed as a primary project management skill. However, with whom will we communicate? The obvious candidates are the stakeholders. So we need to identify them and determine what they need to know and how frequently we need to update them. We also need to know their preferred communications channels or they could well ignore our messages.

Then there is risk. Risk identification is something that looks obvious when it is done, but sitting a group in front of a blank piece of paper and asking them to identify risks is a daunting task. However, the project manager knows of plenty of areas to find risks. S/he just walks down the knowledge areas. What could prevent me delivering this scope? Are we breaking new ground here? What happens if the new technology does not work? What happens if we cannot obtain the skills needed? Now look at the schedule: what dependencies have we? Where could we get held up? The budget: will these prices go up during the project? What happens if we need more materials? Is our existing equipment good enough? What happens if one of our machines fails?

Even without all of the banana skins the knowledge areas provide, the project manager will be versed in techniques such as SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) which will cause the project team to examine factors both inside and outside the organization.

Finally we need to consider what we need to buy in. Do we need materials and equipment, or are we going to outsource parts of the project to third parties? Again the project manager needs to understand contracts and how to select a vendor.

When the project plan is approved, the integration work continues. The project manager will direct and manage the project work, while at the same time monitoring and controlling progress. At the end of the day, the project manager will close the project or phase properly.

So the people who decry project management as merely a collection of other skills, forget the integration aspect. As an example, take a computer programmer who agrees to add an extra feature that the customer has asked for because it is easy to do. However, the project manager will not be so agreeable because s/he sees the extra testing and documentation that this extra feature will require. Which reminds me: I forgot one of the integration processes: Perform Integrated Change Control.

To understand better what project management is about and to join the ranks of project management professionals, please consider one of our project management certification courses. For your convenience, we run our courses in Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Galway. Find out more by visiting our training page or by contacting us directly.


By Velopi Seamus Collins

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