For the sake of the project

By Gerald W. Cockrell

Project management techniques have been around for years. Increasingly, control systems integrators and automation professionals use these techniques for projects ranging from retrofit of controller technology to complete system integration from the process to the enterprise.

A project is a temporary activity that creates a product or service. Temporary projects have a defined beginning and end. Projects usually involve a sequence of tasks with a definite starting and ending point. These points fall within the bounds of time, resources, and end results. 

A project is different from normal work-a-day tasks that proceed each and every day. A project consists of several tasks or activities that have the following distinguishing characteristics:

  • Projects have specific starting and ending dates.
  • Projects use resources such as equipment, people, money, and time that are set aside specifically for the project.
  • Projects have well-defined goals and objectives.
  • Projects involve teams of people working in consort to achieve the common objective.
  • Projects have specific goals of performance and quality.

Project management provides business and industry with an organized, logical method for completing small to large one-time activities in an efficient and effective manner. This form of management provides a method for completing an entire project from initial vision to completed product. 

The techniques and methods that form the basis for project management have been studied and refined to the point where it is an acceptable and valid approach to management. 

Conventional project management relies heavily on planning of resources and budget allocation with little regard for overall business strategy. Project managers may view the project as an island that has little effect on the overall success of a company. There is a shift away from contemporary project management techniques because of this limitation. 

A process to provide for the overall management of multiple and simultaneous projects in a company is known as Project Portfolio Management (PPM). PPM organizes a number of projects into a single portfolio. 

PPM involves monitoring and controlling the organization's projects in the portfolio.  This helps to eliminate duplication and allows the executive to stay current with costs and resources. 

Project objectives, costs, deadlines, deliverables, resources, risks, and other critical factors come in reports that assist executives in their overall project reviews. They are able to take an overall look at all projects in the portfolio and base their decisions on the information provided.

Organizations typically invest in projects to insure their future fiscal health. One of the benefits of PPM is organizations will do a better job in aligning their projects to business strategy. This will help insure they work on the right projects for the success of the company. 

PPM methods offer a number of advantages to an organization including optimal resource allocation, increased cost savings, sound funding decisions, efficient use of human resources, redundant project elimination, efficient and focused spending, and increase in profits. 

The automation company interested in using PPM should investigate the many solutions available on the market. An Internet search of Project Portfolio Management will present a rather extensive listing of vendors involved in providing solutions for many applications. These include software integration packages designed to link projects to company strategy by providing an "overall view" perspective to projects. 

The wide variety of projects typically part of the automation activity in a medium-to-large size organization would do well to apply the techniques of PPM. The approach offers a sophisticated approach to organizing and managing projects for those involved in projects as well as company leadership. 

Smaller organizations with a limited number of projects may not benefit from using PPM techniques. 



Gerald W. Cockrell ([email protected]) is a professor at Indiana State University and teaches courses in automation, process control, and project management. He has developed and taught courses and Web seminars for ISA. He is an ISA senior member.