Gantt charts are the most generally useful tool in project planning. They are used for scheduling and monitoring tasks, for showing costs and expenditure at all stages throughout the project, for communicating progress and producing reports. They show, on a simple block diagram, the activities and costs over time in an easy-to-understand way. They can be created in a range of software tools or even in a spreadsheet.
The project is broken down into individual tasks which are listed in rows on the chart. Each task has a timeline extending out to the deadline of the task. Overlaying the timeline is a progress line, showing how much work has been done on the task so far, and also the important milestones along the way. Estimated and actual costs to date can also be added at the end of the timeline.
Because the chart covers the days, weeks and months of the whole project it is simple to track progress of the project provided the chart is updated regularly and accurately.
Project Scope is a definition of the limits or boundaries of a project and the reason it is so important is because poor management of the project scope is one of the major causes of project failure. Good management of the project scope by the project manager involves 3 key factors:
- devote adequate time to fully defining the requirements
- reach a formal agreement on the scope with the stakeholders
- avoid scope creep
Scope creep is when un-authorised or un-budgeted tasks lead to uncontrolled alterations to the documented requirements during the course of the project.
There is, of course, a tendency for changes to be requested during the life of a project. As projects progress, the end-users inevitably see areas where additional features could provide increased benefits. And the purpose of scope management is not to prevent such changes either being requested or implemented, but to ensure that all changes bring substantial, well-defined benefits.
In order to deliver successful projects that come in on-budget and on-schedule and meet the needs of the business, it is critical to manage the risks inherent in every project effectively. Managing risks within a project involves identifying and analysing the risks then designing a strategy to deal with the risks. No project is ever without risks, but it is the nature and complexity of the project that are likely to determine the impact of the risks on the overall success of the project.
The main tasks involved in Risk Management are:
- Identify and analyse the risks.
- Establishing and maintaining a Risk Log listing the risks and their severity.
- Analysing the probability of each risk occurring and its impact
- Developing a strategy for responding to risks that occur
- Allocating contingency funds and time in the schedule
Every project needs a business requirements specification document because it is the formal agreement between the client, the business stakeholder and the project manager. It states exactly what will and will not be included in a project and what the client can expect once the project is completed.
Fully analysing your business requirements before embarking on a new project will lead not only to improvements but to a transformation of the business. So instead of ending up with a new business process, policy or system you could actually enable a substantial change in the business.
PRINCE2 is a methodology for managing projects effectively. It stands for Projects In Controlled Environments and is a flexible process with a strong focus on the business justification of a project and an emphasis on dividing the project into small manageable and clearly defined stages. It also has a defined organisation structure for the project management team.
It is a framework that focuses on the delivery of products rather than carrying out specific tasks and has a finite lifecycle. PRINCE2 is used to ensure the following:
- Effective use of available resources
- Effective management of risks
- Early identification of issues
- Good communication
- Lessons are learned from every project
APM PMQ is a knowledge based qualification for which a project manager needs to be able to demonstrate knowledge of all aspects of project management and understand how they interact and how a project fits into the strategic and commercial environment. It is an internationally recognised qualification sponsored by the Association for Project Management (APM) aimed at those wishing to achieve a broad level of project management knowledge.
The breadth of knowledge required includes budgeting and cost management, conflict management, communication, earned value management, leadership, negotiation, procurement, sponsorship and teamwork.
PMP is an internationally recognised project management certification sponsored by the Project Management Institute (PMI). It is designed to objectively assess and measure professional knowledge and candidates must satisfy educational requirements and demonstrate a defined level of experience before embarking on the course. To achieve the certification a project manager must demonstrate a high level of understanding and knowledge about project management and those granted the PMP certification must also demonstrate ongoing professional commitment.
Anyone applying for PMP Certification must hold a university degree and have a minimum of 4,500 hours of project management experience in Initiation, Planning, Controlling, Execution and Closing. They must also have at least 3 years of project management experience within the last 6 years and at least 35 hours of project management education.
SWOT is an acronym of Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats and is used to help with decision-making in the planning and risk elements of large, complex projects.
But it is not purely a method used for controlling areas of planning and risk – it is also used to highlight areas of the project that could be maximised to the benefit of the whole project or individual areas where some competitive advantage may be gained. It is used to evaluate particular activities of the project in order to optimise their potential as well as to evaluate risks in order to determine the most appropriate way of mitigating those risks.
SWOT analysis is normally performed during the initial project start-up phase so that the elements of the analysis can form the basis of the project plan, but it can also be used later in the project if the project is running into difficulties with scheduling, deliverables or budget and needs to be brought back on track.
Smart is a method within project management designed to ultimately achieve a goal or aim. Goals have a much greater chance of being accomplished if they follow the Smart philosophy which is a mnemonic for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Reasonable, Time-bound
Goals or tasks must be clear and unambiguous so the project team knows exactly what is expected, why is it important and who’s involved. Clear criteria for measuring progress must be set so you know whether the team is making progress towards successful completion.
The goals must be achievable – if expectations are too high (or too low) then they tend to be ignored. They must also be reasonable or realistic, given your specific resources, so they represent an objective towards which the team can work. Lastly, every goal should be set within a time frame and have a target date. Without deadlines it is difficult to focus on completing a task.
Remember that the people involved in the project are the key to whether it is delivered successfully or not. Develop, encourage and motivate the project team because an enthusiastic, committed team of people can often achieve more than expected. Deal diplomatically with the stakeholders to ensure that business politics do not become a risk to the project and communicate clearly with the client or end-users to ensure they understand fully what to expect when the project is completed.