Project management is the application of processes, methods, knowledge, skills and experience to achieve the project objectives. A successful project must be complete on time, within budget, and deliver a quality product that satisfies users requirements.
Project management is what happens, when sponsors approve project. Then, the manager delivers a project plan which describes how the project team will manage the development process. A critical success factor for project management is to set a realistic assessment of the project.
In the project plan, the manager sets the following:
- identifies all tasks,
- sets development time,
- estimates cost for each task,
- sets the order in which the tasks will be performed
- assigns tasks to specific members of the project team.
During the development process, the project manager leads and coordinates the team, monitors events, and reports on progress.
PROJECT MANAGEMENT TASKS
Project managers perform four main tasks:
Planning stands for identifying project tasks and estimating completion time and costs. The project plan starts with a list of tasks and activities. A project manager should consider many factors before he identifies tasks. In fact, factors change dramatically and they require a quick response.
The four main factors to consider are:
- Project size and scope
Identify all project tasks and how much time each of them will require (includes also time for meetings, project reviews, training…)
- IT resources
The project manager must deal with turnover, job vacancies, salaries and similar factors so that he can keep, attract and retain talented employees.
- Prior experience with similar projects
What was the resource allocation for similar information systems? Was it enough? Experience is especially significant for projects with small and medium size.
The project manager must define if there are some restrictions to the project requirements. Is there a line the project shouldn’t pass?
A project schedule is a specific timetable that shows tasks, task dependencies, and critical tasks that might have some effect on the project (for example, delay it). It also involves selecting staff to work on the project and assigning specific tasks to team members. The project manager must know the duration of each task, the order in which tasks will be performed, the start and end times for each task, and the person assigned to each specific task. He also, has to coordinate tasks. Some practices for better coordination:
- CASE tools to automate all or a part of the development tasks
- Set standards to ensure that team members are performing tasks in the same way and following the same procedures.
- Write documentation with detailed information about the tasks
Later in this article we explain the Gantt charts and PERT/CPM charts as a project management graphical planning tools.
Monitoring and controlling
Project monitoring and controlling requires guiding, supervising, and coordinating the project team’s workload. The project manager must monitor the project’s progress, evaluate the results, and take corrective action when necessary to control the project and stay on target.
Monitoring and controlling includes:
- Measuring the ongoing project activities (‘where we are’);
- Monitoring the project variables (cost, effort, scope, etc.) against the project management plan and the project performance baseline (where we should be);
- Identifying corrective actions to address issues and risks properly (How can we get on track again);
- Influencing the factors that could circumvent integrated change control so only approved changes are implemented.
Project reporting tasks include regular progress reports to management, users, and the project team itself. Effective reporting requires strong communication skills and a sense of what others want and need to know about the project.
GANTT & PERT/CPM CHARTS
A Gantt chart is a horizontal chart that represents a series of tasks. It displays time on the horizontal axis and the tasks on the vertical axis, arranged from top to bottom. A Gantt chart isn’t recommended for larger projects, since they have large number of complex tasks. To get a better understanding, managers can group tasks into task groups and combine activities that relate with each other. Also, for more complex task groups, managers can use separate charts. The chart shows:
- Project tasks and activities
- When each activity begins and ends
- How long each activity will last
- Where activities overlap with other activities
- The start and end date of the whole project
Benefits of using a Gantt chart:
- Gives an easy–to-understand visual display of the scheduled time of a task, or activity.
- Provides more visibility and control over the project.
- Makes it easy to develop “what if” scenarios.
- Shows the actual progress against the planned schedule.
- Allows comparison of multiple projects to determine risk or resource allocation.
A PERT/CPM chart is a project management tool used to schedule, organize, and coordinate tasks within a project. Therefore, the chart helps analyze large, complex projects as a series of individual project tasks.
To create a PERT/CPM chart, a project manager should first identify:
- All the project tasks
- Estimate how much time each task will take to perform
- Determine the logical order in which to perform tasks
- Calculate the time that it will take to complete the whole project.
- Identify critical so that the project is complete on time.
Complex projects require a series of activities, some of them are parallel with one-another, and some of them happen before, or after other activities. This collection of activities is called a network.
- Tasks: Project tasks are shown as rectangular boxes. They follow the sequence in which they should be performed. Each rectangular box, has five sections: Task Name, Task ID, Task Duration, Start Date, and End Date.
- Task Patterns: Patterns can include dependent tasks, multiple successor tasks, and multiple predecessor tasks. When tasks are completed one after another, they are dependent tasks. When several tasks can start at the same time, each is called a concurrent task. Often, two or more concurrent tasks depend on a single prior task, which is a predecessor task. Each concurrent task of this predecessor task is called is a successor task. Often, for a task to start it requires two or more prior tasks to be completed. They might not finish at the same time, so the longest and latest to finish task becomes the controlling factor. In this case we have multiple successor task. Task patterns can also have a complex structure, when various task patterns combine. So make sure you understand the logical sequence.
- Critical path is a series of tasks which, if delayed, would affect the final completion date of the overall project. These tasks cannot be late, because if they are, the overall project will be late. A critical path includes all tasks that are vital to the project schedule. These tasks should be monitored by the project manager very closely.
- The direction of the arrows on the lines indicates the sequence of tasks.
Benefits to using a PERT/CPM chart:
- Improved planning and scheduling of activities.
- Better forecasting of resource requirements.
- Ability to see and thus reschedule activities
- It shows expected project completion time.
PERT/CPM and Gantt charts are not mutually exclusive techniques. Project managers often use both methods. You should also consider using some project management software, to help you plan, estimate, schedule, monitor, and report on a project. Most programs offer features such as PERT/CPM, Gantt charts, resource scheduling, project calendars, and cost tracking.
Here are some project management tools you could use for more successful project management: