01 June 2003
Project management fundamentals
By William K. Pollock
Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part series based on a technical paper, "Using a Quality Management System for the Engineering Phase of a Project," delivered by William K. Pollock at the ISA 2002 Technical Conference.
Managing projects successfully is an age-old challenge. While a large percentage of engineering projects are completed on time, under budget, and in a way that delights clients, there are also too many projects that do not meet budgets and schedules. And generate unhappy results.
Rather than have new generations of engineers learn for themselves, we need to find ways to pass on lessons learned by others. To work toward this objective, we registered a Quality Management System under the Controls and Information Systems Integrator's Association's "Best Practices and Benchmarks" process.
To be repeatable and useable, the project management process should come down to a convenient checklist for the project manager. Although we can't present the entire system in an article like this, it is possible to define a few concepts. We will look at project management fundamentals, concepts that are important to keep in mind if you want to achieve effective project management.
The project manager owns the scope, the schedule, and the fee, and is ultimately responsible for managing the project and satisfying the client. Effective project management allows you to say what you will do and stick to it.
Planning ahead is very important. An old adage states, "Don't wait until you are thirsty before you start to dig a well." This is a good rule for the project manager to follow. Start early; plan ahead; be prepared. In the rush of project schedules, good things take longer than you expect, and bad things happen way too fast.
Knowledge of your project costs gives you the power to control them. Managing a project starts with allocating and tracking the time people will spend on assigned tasks. Few employees really love to fill out a time sheet.
The effective project manager knows at all times where the costs are and how much earned value he has provided for those costs. Without this knowledge, project costs can get so far out of control that it is impossible to avoid an overrun. A part of avoiding overruns is avoiding unnecessary design. High-quality projects do not need unnecessary detail.
One concept that inexperienced project managers often fail to understand is the difference between project management and resource management. There are many project management and scheduling tools. There are other tools that provide resource management. The difference between project management and resource management is that resource management allows for the assignment of resources to specific tasks and budgets. Project management provides schedules, critical paths, and activity triggers.
Resource management is important because it helps the project manager effectively guarantee staffing for projects, and enables placing the appropriate staffing on and off the projects in a timely fashion. The effective project manager needs both tools. Being cost-effective means a staffing assignment could cover more than one project, so multiple-project problems potentially end up as resource management problems.
There is a cost associated with providing more design or deliverables than a project should cover. In these days of tight budgets it is important not to overdeliver. The project manager should learn to manage projects so that clients meet their needs, without allowing elements of "creep" to add unnecessary functionality and cost to the project.
You cannot afford to allow a client to be indecisive. Time is money. Chose your clients, markets, and projects well. You will be more efficient where you have more experience, and margins will be higher. Never overdesign, never have unclear expectations, never work without a defined scope, and never allow your team members to do any of these things. Always ask, "What is the minimum that will be acceptable?"
Good communication is a critical part of successful project management. The exchange of information between managers and their clients, as well as their project team members, can be the difference between success and failure of a project. It is equally important to document communication for future reference. You need to make effective use of telephone conversation logs, save copies of your e-mail and faxes, use letters of transmittal, and always issue meeting notes. Many times failed projects could have succeeded if only communication had been better.
Next month we will develop a list of activities and tools that a project manager can use to successfully complete the design phase of a project. IC
William K. Pollock, P.E., is president of Optimation Technology, Inc., a Rush, N.Y.–based control and information system integrator. He is a founding member of Control and Information System Integrators Association and presently serves on the association's executive board. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Return to Previous Page