Project Management Basics (1)

With the first post series, I want to talk about the basics of project management: what exactly is and what are the key things that everyone new to it should know. This post is not about
explaining everything in detail, but about giving a first quick overview that hopefully helps paint the bigger picture and give (some) direction.

When I started with my new job, I felt like I needed some kind of overview of what project management is all about. The first thing that I did, was an online course on the basics of Project Management on Coursera (if you want to check it out, you can find it here. While I can’t say that it was the best or the most complete course ever, it did provide me with a few basics that I would keep in mind as I would be taking over my current project and joining client calls, or just getting involved in other side projects.

First of all, let’s just take a look at what I would say is a pretty standard definition:

Project Management consists of planning, initiating, executing, closing and controlling a one-time, coordinated undertaking, in order to achieve a definable goal. It is a one time effort to produce a unique service, product, information or result that brings value or a benefit, and that operates under certain constraints.

Here you see that it talks about the different phases, how it is a one-time effort and it also mentions having constraints. The constraints part is where I am touching on today; and there are four elements or constraints of a project: scope, cost, time and quality. This is the basic, traditional version of project management, and while now other approaches include a few more elements like resources for example, I will only take a look at these four for now.

1. Scope – refers to the goal of the project, the requirements that have to be fulfilled.
2. Cost – is the amount of money needed to complete the project.
3. Time – or how long does it take for the project to be completed.
4. Quality – it refers to how good is the scope.

The main idea is that all of these constraints are interrelated, and the visual way to put it is through the project management triangle.

Once I learned about these four constraints, I would always think back and have them in mind during the client calls or project meetings. The idea of the project management triangle is that if you want to change one element, at least one of the other elements will also change. It is a very basic idea that makes total sense, and it should always be kept in mind, especially if you are just starting, but not only.

I get very surprised that pretty experienced people tend to forget about it and you hear them saying “yes, we will add that” and “yes, we will change that” and actually promising the client that something new will be done, without taking the time to consider how will it impact the other elements of the project.

It is true that often, clients might forget about this or will simply just choose to ignore it. This means that many times, your client will want to change the scope of the project and add new items, requirements or functionalities, pretty much on the go, and then they would not understand how come you cannot deliver in the agreed deadline anymore or within the same budget; or, they might want the project to be delivered earlier, without having the scope and the quality affected. It is our job as project managers to constantly remind them that you cannot expect to change one of the project elements without changing at least one of the others. It goes without saying that this has to be very clear from the beginning, but it should also be reminded to all stakeholders along the way ( a.k.a. managing expectations).

All of this might sound very basic and obvious, but I strongly believe that one should not underestimate its power. Often times people might feel under pressure during client calls and meetings and this can easily lead to overpromising. Therefore, I think it’s a very useful exercise to actively keep this in mind during client communications, and especially doing so in the beginning and until it is well settled.

I am writing based on my experience so far, and this post is a way of reflecting on my own learnings. I am of course still new to this, so please let me know your thoughts below.

Thank you for reading!

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