Project management systematic method

As project management evolves a new set of issues are demanding attention!

Introduction

Project management has been a systematic method for achieving certain objectives within a given set of parameters such as budget and time for many years. Every major break through, throughout history has seen elements of project management at play such as finding a cure for polio or putting a man on the moon1. To think about project management on a primitive level, the subject has evolved and improved through out history from the days of the cave man. Even hunter gatherers used some sort of project management when coordinating the hunts and gathering fruits, so did the great Egyptians when building awe inspiring mega structures such as the pyramids. This shows how project management has been applied throughout significant human history. In modern times the project approach has been an important tool in the construction industry and many other fields. It ensures that all matters are addressed and in timely order. This sort systematic protocol ensures the success of a project, especially if it is a complex one.

Project Management issues

One of the major issues in project management is that the profession has been evolving for quite some time as it evolves new promising approaches should also be developed to match current issues and trends. In the modern present time one of those skills are emphasized on people skills*. This is important because the best project managers are very strong business personnel and also able to deal effectively with individuals trained in various disciplines. Another issue that should be addressed is project risk management; risk management is a key factor in a project as it can save tremendous costs and it plays an important role in the project health and safety factor. Therefore forward thinking companies should foster good leadership skills in a project manager and should equally train them in managing risk.

Project management issues demanding attention

Managing Risk

According to APMs body of knowledge (BoK) definition2 project risk management is basically a structured process that allows overall project risk to be understood and managed proactively optimizing project efficiency by minimizing threats and by maximizing opportunities2.

Over time risk management has been a proactive approach rather than a reactive approach. It is mainly a preventive process designed to ensure that unexpected surprises are reduced and negative consequences associated with undesirable events are kept to a minimum. However it also prepares the project manager to take risk when an appropriate opportunity with factors of time, cost and technical advantage is available. Managing risk successfully gives the project manager better control of overall processes and ensures significant chances of reaching project objectives on time, within budget and meeting the adequate technical performance. Risks as we know are varied, unpredictable and unlimited and have sources such as inflation, market acceptance, exchange rates and government regulations. These types of risks can be categorized as threats due to nature and is not within the project managers or teams responsibility. So therefore external risks are usually factored in before the decision to go ahead of the project as they are extremely important and must be addressed. In order to counter risk, project managers use a four-pronged approach that is usually used in the risk management process. They are;

  1. Step 1: Risk Identification
  2. Step 2: Risk Assessment
  3. Step 3: Risk response development
  4. Step 4: Risk response control
Step 1: Risk Identification

This is the planning stage where normally a list of all possibilities of any risk or that of any risk that could affect the project is identified, this is because this is the stage where the project manager puts together a team that consists core team members and relevant stakeholders to work together to identify these risks. The team uses brainstorming along with other problem identifying techniques to identify potential risk. A common mistake made early in the identification process is to focus on objectives and not on the events that could produce undesired outcomes. Along with the above-mentioned techniques, which are used in the early stages of risk identification, organizations also use risk breakdown structures (RBS) in conjunction with work breakdown structures in order to help management teams identify and eventually analyze risk. Risk profiling is another simple method in identifying risk; it is done by listing a series of questions that address traditional areas of uncertainty on a project. Risk profiles are preferred as they address both technical and management risk.

Step 2: Risk Assessment

The most common and easiest technique for analyzing risk is 'scenario analysis'. Its is done by team members assessing the importance of each risk event in terms of the probability of the event and the impact it has on the event. The quality and credibility of the risk analysis process requires that different levels of impacts and probabilities to be classified into an easy understandable scale ranging from 'very unlikely' to 'almost certainly' or to adopt a more precise numbered scale. The issue with using impact scales is that adverse risks affect project objectives differently; in context a component failure may cause a slight delay in a project schedule but a major increase in project cost. So if cost were a high priority then impact would be severe, conversely if time were more critical then the impact on the project would be minor. Because impact ultimately needs to be assessed being a project priority, different kinds of impact scales will be used to suit the project. Therefore the risk management team should establish upfront in the initial phases about what classifies as a moderate impact and a severe impact.

Step 3: Risk Response Development

When a risk is identified and assessed in step 2, a decision is made concerning which sort of response is appropriate for the specific event. These responses can be further classified as mitigating, avoiding, transferring, sharing and retaining.

Mitigating risk is usually the first response considered and there are basically two strategies for mitigating risk. One of them is to reduce the probability of the event occurring and/or reducing the impact that the adverse event would have on the project. Risk management teams usually address on reducing the likelihood of risk, which most likely eliminates the need for a costly reduction of the adverse impact on the project. Also testing and prototyping is used to further prevent from problems surfacing during the later part on the project. The IT industry is renowned for testing and prototyping projects.

Avoiding risk is changing the project plan to eliminate the risk. However it is impossible to eliminate all risks, but certain risks maybe avoided before the launch of the project.

Transferring risk is a common practice that does not change the risk. This is done in the form of fixed-price contracts where the risk is transferred from the owner to the contractor. Another way of transferring risk is by the way of insurance. Although defining certain project aspects to an insurance broker can be difficult, low probability and high-risk events such as acts of god can easily be defined and insured.

Sharing risk distributes segments of risks to different parties within the project. The advantage in sharing risk is that it can cut project costs and it encourages innovation.

Sometimes when all these measures fail and risks do occur, there are back up plans and initiatives called contingency plans. This is usually an alternative plan that will be used in a possible risk event when it becomes a reality. Not having a contingency plan when a risk event occurs can cause the manager to delay or postpone the decision to implement a solution. Contingency planning also has a buffering process that can be applied in terms of contingency funding or applying time buffers. These are used incase there is an unexpected expenditure or delay on the project. If an unforeseen expense occurs or if there is an unexpected delay the contingency funding and time buffer acts as a safety net absorbing the shock that would have been a negative blow to the project.

Step 4: Risk Response Control

This is the final step in managing project risk. Risk response control is an execution of the risk response strategy along with monitoring, triggering events, initiating contingency plans and watching for new risks. It is vital that project managers keep on monitoring risk just as they track project progress and should be on constant alert for new risks. Also the work culture of the project should be as such where encouragement is given to team members to speak freely so they can present the management with arising problems. If the attitude towards problems were hostile, team members would not speak out which in the long term is harmful for the project.

Leadership

Project managers are required to have great interpersonal skills such as effective and efficient communication. A major trait that is severely required in a project manager is leadership qualities. Leadership combined with effective communication is a formidable and advantageous trait for any project, as it will boost productivity and promote an efficient work environment. A leader ensures that the team approaches the project with vision, positive relationships, teamwork, high morale and inspiration. He is also responsible for addressing and resolving exceptional events through out the project, which subsequently has a positive impact on the functional area of the organization.

Leadership should be encouraged through all stages of the project. This is important because through the hierarchy of the team members everyone is led starting from the top tier, working its way down to the last tier. So every stage is exposed to leading the tier below them, which results in better collaboration and effective communication, which are two important factors in project management. It is important that that effective communication builds cooperative relationships, as it is a key for effective project managing.

It is common misconception that all project managers are leaders. As a matter of fact they are both two separate entities. While managing a project consists formulating plans, monitoring results, taking correct action, solving technical problems and expediting activities; leading a project has a different approach such as initiating change within the team, providing direction and motivation, innovating and adapting accordingly and integrating assigned resources. In other words, managers want the project going while making necessary adjustments along the way coping with complexity while leadership is about coping with change*.

In a project we can expect to see a wide range of individuals who are not directly involved in project but have vested deep interest in the project outcome. Such individuals can be significant stakeholders to vendors, consultants, technical specialist and other functional managers. Managing these individuals can be tedious at times as gaining cooperation between parties can be difficult. So instead of a managing approach, a leadership approach seems more suitable for an environment such as this. Also each of these groups belongs to different expertise, standards, practice and agendas making the structure of the project very complex. So in order to be an effective project manager the manger must understand how these groups affect the project and develop methods for managing the dependency. These dependencies can be identified due to its nature as follows; the project team, project managers, administrative support, functional managers, top managers and project sponsors. Each dependency has its own unique role that is vital for the project to run smoothly.

A leader in a project management position should have a series of influence as exchange; these are described in the project management world as currencies. There are a number of currencies that help good management in a team such as task-related currencies where the project manager directly contributes to others accomplishing their tasks, position related currencies which is the project managers ability to enhance others position within the organization, Inspiration-related currencies where influence to perform is based on inspiration, relation-related currencies which have more to do with strengthening the relationship with someone than directly accomplishing the project task and finally personal related currencies where individuals need an overriding sense of self-esteem.

Social network building is a key leadership quality of a good project manager. There are different ways to build upon this quality; some project managers use a technique called mapping dependencies. It is a very systematic map to see if the project would carry on smoothly with other parties depending on the project. A good hypothetical example can be if a company decides to upgrade its mainframe software and if one department has a problem with the implementation, it can be easily spotted when a dependency map has been drawn out. Once you spot the problem it can be easily resolved by attending to that departments needs and listening to their problems. This way when the software upgrade is done the problematic department will be willing to be more accommodating. Other ways to build upon social networking is through management by wandering around (MBWA), managing upward relations and leading by example. MBWA is when a project manager making a point to interact with individuals and issues outside his office. Through face-to-face interactions project managers are able to build essential cooperation and stay in touch with what's really going on in the project, as they will experience it with a hands on approach. They also make it a note to interact with stakeholders, vendors, top management and other functional managers regularly when there are no out standing issues. So in case an issue does come up it doesn't feel like bad news or a favor is required. By using MBWA, frequent communication is used between the project manager and co-workers. This alleviates peoples concerns, dispels rumors, warn people about potential problems and it also lays the groundwork for dealing with set backs in a more effective manner 4,5. Managing upward relations is another vital issue in social networking within project. Project success is strongly affected by the support the project receives from the top management. Often times project managers will have to seek favorable responses from the top management regarding certain demands, additional resources, and also to recognize the accomplishments of the team members. So therefore project managers have to be skilled in the art of persuading superiors. Leading by example is crucial in project management, as when faced with an uncertain situation, people look to superior others to mimic the behavior. A project manager's behavior should layout the format as to how other people should work on the project. In order to do this the project manager should 'walk the talk'. There is a set of guidelines to be followed in order to achieve this; they are having priorities, problem solving, cooperation, ethics, urgency and standards of performance5. When a project manager adheres to these guidelines, he sets a certain standard modal to follow. The co-workers then adopt this modal, as they tend to look up to quality project managers.

Conclusion

As discussed in project management issues, a project manager requires multiple qualities and traits in order to ensure the successful completion of the project. These qualities are mostly people skills also known as interpersonal skills. Even though only two primary skills were discussed, there are many more skills such as teamwork and good governance. Just as APMs BoK6 needs occasional reviewing and updating, these skills that are already in the APMs BoK7 should be upgraded to suit the financial and project environment of global standards, which will ensure the output of quality project managers.

References

  1. Gray CR and Larson EW. Project Management: the Managerial Process. McGraw-Hill International 4Th edition. 2008
  2. Body of Knowledge 5th Edition Definitions (http://www.apm.org.uk/download.asp?fileID=362)
  3. Fretty P. Project management 2.0 PM Network, Jul2006, Vol. 20 Issue 7, p38-44
  4. Bucero, Alfonso. Listen and Learn. PM Network, Jul2006, Vol. 20 Issue 7, p20-22, 2p
  5. Jones, Tegan. Skills DevelopmentPM Network, Oct2008, Vol. 22 Issue 10, p66-68
  6. P.W.G Morris, M.B Patel, S.H Wearne. Research into revising the APM project management body of knowledge. Int J Proj Manag 2000;18 155-164
  7. P.W.G. Morris, Ashley Jamieson, Miles M. Shepherd. Research updating the APM Body of Knowledge 4th edition. Int J Proj Manag 2006;24 461-473

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