Project management is the process of planning, monitoring, and controlling a unique set of tasks that have a discrete beginning, end, and outcome. The project management process is performed within the three constraints of time, costs, and scope. The goal of project management is to produce a technically acceptable product that is both on-time and within budget. To do this, project management attempts to reduce the risks associated with the project and maximize the benefits, including profit and marketability. A number of tools and techniques are available to help the project manager monitor and control projects.
A project is a unique, discrete set of tasks with a defined beginning, end, and outcome. This may be as simple as completing a paper for class or as complex as designing, developing, and testing a new destroyer for the Navy. No project is accomplished in a vacuum, however. Each task must be accomplished under the three constraints of time (e.g., the paper is due on Friday; the first destroyer must be operational and in the fleet ten years from the start of the contract), cost (e.g., research for the paper must be done in the local library rather than paying to download articles from professional sites; the destroyer must be built within the budget set by Congress), and scope (e.g., the paper can only be 5,000 words long, so needs to be limited to a narrow topic even though the background information is very interesting; the destroyer needs to be built to the specifications set at the beginning of the project even though the customer or the project team think that additional features would make it better). Project management is a process that helps the project team accomplish its goals within the three constraints of time, cost, and scope. Using the principles and tools of project management, one can plan, organize, and manage the tasks to be done within the given constraints in order to accomplish the goal of the project.
Unfortunately, not every project is run using sound project management principles. Instead, many companies manage projects by doing the organizational equivalent of putting out brush fires, paying attention to whichever problem is most pressing at the time, while letting other problems grow only to be dealt with later at the expense of other project tasks. In a well-run project, on the other hand, the project manager -- the project authority for planning, coordinating, and managing the project -- needs to be proactive rather than reactive, keeping a constant eye on all aspects of the project so that no one area is allowed to develop problems that could sabotage the overall project, and accomplishing the project goals.
Project management is essentially the art of project control, with the continuing goal of keeping the project on time and within budget. This is often the interactive process of keeping the project within technical scope (i.e., not adding work to the project outside that which was originally planned), within the budget negotiated for accomplishment of the project tasks, moving along according to the predetermined schedule, and balancing the risks associated with changes in any of these areas and how they affect the accomplishment of the overall goal of the project. To do these things, project management activities focus on three things: the project and its goals, the process of how these goals are met, and the performance of individuals and organizations to accomplish these goals. If a project is managed well, its goals can be accomplished on-time and within budget, not only giving the organization a profit in the short-term, but enhancing its reputation for good work at a reasonable cost; thereby enhancing its ability to continue to make a profit in the future.
There are a number of tools available to help project managers manage their projects efficiently and effectively. Several project management software packages are available that help project managers crunch the required numbers associated with risk management and other project management activities. However, project management is not a task that can be completely automated; human experience and judgments are necessary.
To successfully manage a project, one must first understand the scope of the project (what needs to be done, what the end result should be and the limits placed on these elements by the schedule and budget). In many cases, technical specifications will have been provided by the customer. For the example of the research paper, this may be simple: The paper needs to be 4,900-5,100 words long, follow a specific broad outline, be on a given topic, and use at least three professional references cited in APA format. For the example of the destroyer, however, the task is more complicated. Although the customer undoubtedly will provide technical specifications for what they want the new ship to be able to do, such specifications are long and complex, and need to be distilled and synthesized so that they can be tracked for project management purposes. One way to do this is through the use of a work breakdown structure (WBS). A good WBS provides a solid foundation for performing the tasks of project management on a complex project. By developing a thorough WBS, project management can be better prepared to control the project proactively, rather constantly react in emergency mode to unforeseen problems.
At its most basic, a WBS is a list of all the tasks that need to be done to complete the project. This is written as a hierarchy, starting with general tasks and then breaking these general tasks into more specific steps that need to be taken. For the project of writing a paper, the general outline of the project might be to define the topic, collect data, write the paper, do quality control on the paper, and submit the paper. The initial step of defining the topic could further be broken down into substeps such as scanning the textbook and materials provided by the professor to narrow the topic into areas of interest, bounding the problem by doing preliminary research in the library or on the Internet to see what the components of the topic are, and developing an outline defining the sections of the paper that will be used both for data collection and for writing the paper itself. An example of a portion of a WBS for writing a paper is shown in Figure 1.
WBS Number Task Description 1.0 Project initiation 1.1 Define topic 1.1.1 Scan textbook and other materials 1.1.2 Preliminary library research 1.1.3 Develop preliminary outline 1.2 Perform research 1.2.1 Gather library books on topic 1.2.2 Search professional database for articles
In addition to developing a WBS, for more complex projects it is often helpful to determine the critical path that defines which activities are critical to accomplishing the project in a timely manner. Critical path management (CPM) is a tool that helps project managers analyze the activities that need to be performed to accomplish the project and when each needs to be accomplished so that the rest of the project can proceed in a timely manner. This includes determining the order in which the tasks need to be accomplished, what tasks feed into them, and how long each task will take to accomplish. In the example of writing a paper, the critical path might include a target date for finishing the library research that allows sufficient time to synthesize the material before actually writing the paper. For example, a target date for finishing the first draft of the paper should be in place to leave sufficient time to do quality control on the paper, checking it for coherence and flow, grammar and spelling errors, and inclusion of all needed data. In the more complicated example of ship design and development, the development of the critical path would allow the project manager to determine that the training component could not be started until it was determined what tasks needed to be performed both in normal operations and in battle. An example...
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