Traditionally, the focus of project management has been the completion of defined tasks or activities within given time constraints and cost limits with a defined resource, and also delivering final outputs to the customer at the required standard of quality. In the 21st century organisations of all kinds are increasingly relying on projects to implement business strategy and therefore deliver desired outcomes.

Action Checklist

1. Define the objectives

Fundamental to the successful management of any project is a clear understanding of and agreement on certain factors by both the project sponsor and the project manager.
These are:
• The aims and scope of the project
• The required outcome or result
• Dates and budgets for the completion of the project. Agree and clearly state project objectives with all stakeholders from the beginning. Give time and resources to this before making a final decision as to whether the project will be a cost-effective means of achieving organisational aims, and should therefore go ahead.

2. Appoint the project manager

The project manager must be someone who has a proven track record, can command the respect of a mix of people at different levels in the organisation, motivate them to action and get results. Therefore he or she should be able to:

• Plan and communicate all aspects of the project
• Create a work breakdown structure (WBS) clearly identifying the constituent tasks of the project
• Identify the resource required to deliver the desired outcome by creating an organisation breakdown structure (OBS)
• Designate the right people for the right task at the right time
• Motivate with integrity, sensitivity and imagination
• Gain trust and enhance productivity through shared decision-making
• Lead both by example and by taking a back seat when appropriate
• Monitor costs, efficiency and quality without excessive bureaucracy
• Get things done right first time without being a slave-driver
• Use both technical and general management skills to control the project
• See clear-sightedly through tangled issues
• Have the ability to recognise and resolve risks and potential difficulties.

3. Establish the terms of reference

The terms of reference for the project should specify the objectives, scope, time-frames and initial scale of resource required and clearly identify project and payment milestones. They should also clarify any risks, constraints or assumptions already identified. It is important to make early allowances for cost escalation or plans veering off course, and to build in a level of contingency, such a safety margin and control measures to minimise this risk. This information should therefore be incorporated into a Project Initiation Document.

4. Select and develop the project team

When assessing the resources needed to execute the project, personnel requirements should be at the forefront. If an existing team is to carry out the project, check whether they have the knowledge and skills needed. Is it necessary to second or appoint additional staff or to arrange training? If a new team is being brought together you will want to ensure that you have the right mix of skills and experience. Consider also Meredith Belbin’s work on the roles played by different team members. Remember that it will take time for the members of a new team to develop good working relationships and start to perform at their best.

By monitoring how relationships are developing, keeping an eye out for potential problems, and taking action to pre-empt or resolve conflicts the project manager can create the right climate for the successful completion of the project. It is vital for responsibilities to be clearly allocated: this will therefore avoid duplication of effort and reduce the potential for disputes over who does what.

5. Determine the activities needed to create the component elements of the project

Having established what the project should achieve and drawn up a WBS, consider how to execute the work. Sequence activities so they can be integrated into the final output of the project. Identify the resources needed to achieve each element of the work, as this will help in drawing up schedules, also taking into account the inevitable resource constraints. The resulting schedule then becomes the basis for implementation.

6. Plan for quality

By planning for quality early in the project, major risks, costs and reputational damage can be avoided later in the lifecycle of the project. Planning for quality requires both paying attention to detail and ensuring that the project output or outcome is ‘fit for purpose’. Planning for and assuring quality at every stage also helps ensure that that the final output from the project is also of a suitable quality standard. Built quality measures (systematic inspections against established standards) into the process from the beginning, not later when things could have started to go wrong.

7. Plan costs

This is a key area, as the most frequent error in project management is the underestimation of costs. Typical cost elements include:
• Staff time and wages – usually the most substantial cost item of all
• Overheads – employer on-costs
• Materials and supplies – the raw materials
• Equipment – the pros and cons of leasing or purchasing and the depreciation factor
• Administration – purchasing, accounting, record-keeping.
Among the enabling functions of good budgeting are the monitoring of costs while a project is in progress, and the setting of appropriate levels of contingency as described in (3) above.

8. Set the project schedule

In order to calculate the shortest time (critical path) necessary to complete the project you need to know:
• The earliest time a stage or unit can start
• The duration of each stage
• The latest time by which a stage must be completed Gantt charts, Programme Evaluation and Review Techniques (PERT) and Critical Path Analysis (CPA)  are popular project management techniques which therefore can help with the effective prioritising and scheduling of activities.

9. Monitor and report progress to stakeholders

Monitoring of in-progress costs, time-scales and quality is a vital factor and should therefore be carried out constantly throughout the duration. Quality is the hardest area to measure and, as such, is often at risk of neglect. The key point about monitoring progress is that reports must be accurate, timely and therefore provide the right sort of management information to keep the project sponsor and other stakeholders fully informed. This will ensure that key decisions can be made when necessary. The management of threats can have a strong bearing on the success. Early identification of risks and problems can provide a basis for mitigation and, where required, for contingency planning, and can therefore help to ensure the delivery of successful projects.

10. Deliver the output

Steps preceding the delivery of the outcome may include the compilation of instructional documentation or training packages. The penultimate stage before completion is ensuring that the outcome is acceptable to the customer or sponsor. As customer, you should consider whether the intended audience will understand the report or other outputs. The audience is those who will have to sign off or agree to implement its recommendations.

11. Evaluate the project

By building in a final stage of evaluation it is possible to gain a measure of the project’s success and see what lessons can be learned; therefore ideally there should be evaluations after each major phase. Once again, the three key areas for review are quality, time and costs. Others include:
• Staff skills gained or identified
• Mistakes
• Tools and techniques that were valuable
• What to tackle differently next time
Organisations can benefit by developing a central resource containing project evaluations and lessons learned, although these documents need to be open and candid about failures as well as successes, if they are to be useful to the managers of future projects.

Download the Manager’s Quick Guide to learn more.