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Project Management

A project is a particular type of process, where the project plan (often in the form of a Gantt Chart or Activity Network) is the process diagram.

Project processes tend to come in phases, such as:

  • Requirements: finding what customer of project wants. 
  • Investigation: finding out whether we can do it, and planning for this.
  • Development: doing the main R&D work.
  • Test/fix: ensuring the output of the project meets the agreed requirements.
  • Implementation: getting the output of the project working in the real world.

At the end of each phase, there can be defined things done (such as an Investigation Report at the end of the Investigation phase), although the order in which things are done within each phase may be less definable.

The two main keys to project success are good planning and good people management. 

Planning includes identifying all of the work that will be required (it's often the things that are missed out that cause schedule slippage) and fitting the tasks around holidays, people skills, etc. A good project plan also manages risks, for example doing risky tasks up-front to avoid last-minutes panics.

Another key trick in projects is estimation (which fits into the planning part). Because every project is different, estimating is difficult. Added to this is urgency of every single project and the often massive costs involved. There is thus often a lot of pressure from 'management' (and, often, customers) to do it quicker and cheaper, and initial 'optimistic' estimates get cast in stone. What has been called 'gutless forecasting' then may ensue, where the project manager keeps his/her fingers crossed that the end date will be met, even though there is absolutely no chance of this happening. The result is typically a series of small completion-date slips, significant cuts in functionality or serious loss of quality (or any combination of these).

Another cause of project slip is 'creeping featurism' where either people in the project add things 'just because they'd be nice' or customers ask for 'one more thing' to be slipped in. All within the same timescales, of course. And the project manager who wants to keep people sweet today but doesn't realize the eventual effects, says 'yes, of course'.

People management includes keeping everyone working on the project motivated and interested, whilst simultaneously keeping the sponsors and customers satisfied that everything is going well (which, of course, it should be). People skills particularly come into their own when fires break out, which they invariably do.

See also:

Process Management, Gantt Chart, Activity Network, Project Progress Rate

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