With the second part of the Basics series, I would love to further deconstruct the project management definition, and have a quick look at what I believe is the second big pillar of project management and that in the end helps you have a broader understanding of it. The purpose of this post is that along with the first part, it will help you be aware of a few basic elements that will start giving shape to all the pieces around you when you have just started with project management, and that will give you a sense of direction.
Same as with the previous post, we will have a quick overview parting from the 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.
The focus is on the very first part of the definition, and it underlines a very basic and quite obvious idea – there are several phases that a project has to undergo in order to achieve that final objective/product/service – nonetheless pretty essential. It is very important to be aware of it and its specificity, especially when you first start with project management. Below there is also a simple diagram that helps visualise the flow and the interrelation between the phases.
1. Initiating – assessing the client needs and defining the scope, preparing the project charter
2. Planning – time, cost and resources have to be carefully planned and risk should also be assessed
3. Executing – getting project deliverables, tasks lists and bugs lists done, managing and allocating the resources
4. Controlling – monitoring the activities and assessing where we are against where we should be, doing quality assurance and correcting errors
5. Closing – formally closing the project and assessing the success/lessons learned
Now, why do I think it’s so important to be aware of these phases if they are so obvious? Firstly, even if you are new to a project and just joined the team or you are simply new to project management, being able to identify the stage of the project that you are in, immediately brings more context to the situation and also gives that sense of direction that I mentioned earlier. By mapping the moment that the project is in to the actual phases, this already gives you an indication of what can the client expectations be in terms of communication, what is most important to focus on at the moment or what’s coming next and therefore what you should prepare for.
It is a known fact that the first two phases, initiating and planning are the most important ones; they can determine the success or the failure of a project right from the start. It is critical to ensure that the client needs are very well understood and met by the project scope.
As a side note here, I think it is very important to involve all stakeholders during the planning phase in order to get the best understanding of what the need is, how the end product/service impacts everyone and what needs to be delivered in order to satisfy all sides involved .
From my experience working in software project management, it can often happen that the client wants to have a certain product/service delivered that is actually meant to be used by a third party or a different group that is not involved in the planning. Therefore, it is extremely important to discuss all aspects thoroughly with the client as make sure you get the whole picture. Moreover, I strongly believe that it is the responsibility of the project manager to make sure that all voices are listened and all dimensions are being taken into account, otherwise, you can run the risk of delivering a product/service that is not serving its purpose.
The purpose of the planning phase is to communicate the project plan effectively while managing expectations along the way. Executing and controlling happen mostly at the same time: getting all the deliverables done, doing quality assurance, correcting the errors and executing again. As for the closing, what I think is most important, it is to have the client formally sign the project off, and ensure they don’t request further fixes or requirements beyond the project’s initial scope.
These stages might not always apply exactly in the same way to all industries, but having them in mind can help you get a better understanding of the project you are joining and see the bigger picture.