Planning for success – successful project management
A project can be defined as a sequence of inter-related tasks that must be completed to deliver pre-determined outcomes.
The project plan communicates how the project will deliver the outcomes, and needs to be detailed enough to make it clear to stakeholders how the project will be managed and performed. To help understanding, let us consider the Betal construction road scheme that was the subject matter of the September 2018 Strategic Business Leader exam to illustrate how the project can be effectively planned.
The project plan should comprise the following key elements:
Although the project schedule and budget are often considered the most important considerations, the project scope needs to be defined first. This is because without a scope, there can be no project since the scope defines the limitations and parameters of the project. The scope effectively clarifies what needs to be included within the project, and what should not. This in turn reduces risk of project overruns and resultant confusion and disappointment among the stakeholders.
The scope of the road scheme is to transform the economy of Betal’s Eastern region, by building a motorway between Gamville and Lake Ita and cutting the average journey time through the Isnardi mountains by almost half. In this basic statement of intent, it defines the purpose behind the scheme upon which the project plan should be based. The scope would be covered by a business case that is drawn up to support the rationale behind the proposal.
Projects are defined by a start and end date, so the duration is a primary consideration for project managers. A project schedule communicates to stakeholders the delivery time, and helps the project manager to manage work progression throughout the project period.
The project manager will divide the project into a number of work tasks, using a technique call the Work Breakdown Structure, which assigns each task an expected start and end date and then placed into the schedule. Project schedules are usually communicated using Gantt charts, which are horizontal bar charts which identify each task in sequential order so that the overall project completion date can be determined. While some tasks will be consecutive, meaning they will have to completed before another can begin, others can be concurrent, meaning that they could be completed at the same time, or after another stage or stages have begun. Taking into account which stages must be done in which order and which are consecutive and which may be concurrent, allows the project manager to determine a critical path for the project and establish how long the overall project will take to be completed.
The outline of the Betal project initiation document [PID], illustrated below, contained details of the planned schedule of work in four stages commencing in May 20X2 and completing in December 20X5. This indicates that the project had an expected duration of 20 months, which provided the project manager with details of the time constraints to schedule the required construction work.
|May 20X2–April 20X3
|February 20X3–April 20X4
|February 20X4–February 20X5
|March 20X5–December 20X5
Budgets are plans expressed in monetary terms and they are used by project managers to assign resources to the project, as and when they are required. However, budgets and schedules are positively correlated, since if a project is running behind schedule it is also likely to be over budget. However, the budget is a distinct and important component of the project plan and should be treated as such.
The Betal PID also details the estimated costs associated with the four stages. The total project budget of $19 billion is allocated to the associated stage in proportion to the amount of work to be undertaken. This allows the project manager to draw down funds when required and adjust the budget allocations as required. However, the total budget is a limiting factor and a constraint that the project manager must work within. Any additional funding required must be costed, justified and approved by the project sponsor.
All projects have requirements, because stakeholders have expectations. Even if these requirements are not stipulated in writing, the project manager needs to know what they are. The project plan is the ideal tool to quantify the requirements and build them into resourcing.
When completed, the Betal government requires that ‘the new road will give a big boost to our country’s economy’. Clearly this desire lies beyond the scope of the project and is not in itself a direct project deliverable. However, the project manager should bear in mind the government’s aspirational requirements when devising the project plan, as it is ultimately supplying the funding.
4. Quality criteria
Another feature of a project is that it must meet certain quality criteria. In fact, quality control is likely to be a key feature of project management processes to ensure stated quality criteria are met. Quality controls are required to ensure conformance to specification, and the project manager needs to plan and schedule such activities into the project plan. The project plan should also include the methods and processes used to ensure the quality criteria will be met.
Although the Betal project considers ‘low price will be an important criterion when choosing the contractor’, the contractor is expected ‘to carry out the work efficiently, with its timetable being as short as possible, to ensure that disruption during construction will be kept to a minimum.’ These are important quality considerations alongside the road being built to specification to ensure it is safe and reliable long into the future.
5. Project resources
The planning and coordination of project resources, such as workforce, materials, and equipment often require the greatest effort from the project manager. It is obvious that should the required resources not be available when they are required, or they don’t meet the project specification, it will delay the project and could even result in its failure.
To correctly account for resources in the project plan, each task is assigned the resources it needs to carry out its work. Since the resources have budget implications, resourcing levels must be agreed and approved before finalizing the project budget. The Betal road project has been costed in terms of building tunnels, bridges, road surfaces, etc. so that sufficient resources can be assigned in sufficient quantities when they are required by the project manager.
A project stakeholder is anyone that has an interest in the success of the project. The project plan should list all of the key project stakeholders and analyse them in terms of their:
- particular interests in the project and its outcomes, and
- ability to influence project changes.
Every project has at least one stakeholder called a project sponsor, who initiates and approves the project and ultimately receives its deliverables. The project manager is accountable to the project sponsor for the delivery of the project in time, to budget and meeting the quality criteria.
The project team, who carry out the required work assigned by the project manager, can also be viewed as a stakeholder. The team needs to be managed well and equitably recognised for their contributions towards the successful delivery of the project.
External stakeholders can influence the ultimate success or failure of a project. In the Betal project stakeholders include the government or transport minister, Betal shareholders, and also ‘some villagers in the mountains and …. a number of species of wildlife’. The building contractor is expected ‘to limit its environmental footprint while it constructs the road,’ which can result in ‘expensive changes to the project to meet the varied, and often competing, demands’ of the different stakeholders.
7. Communications plan
Project stakeholders may wish to be informed about specific elements of project information at various times during its delivery. Therefore, the project plan needs to detail what, when, and how each stakeholder will receive their communications.
In the case of the Betal road project, these include:
- The project sponsor, who needs to know about any project issues or concerns, and how they are being resolved. This will include the project schedule and budget status.
- The project team, who need to know technical and quality information related to their specific roles.
- External stakeholders, who need to know how their explicit concerns and demands are being addressed by the project manager.
8. Procurement policies
Procurement means purchasing of goods, materials, and services from external commercial sources. In small organisations, procurement is relatively straight forward but in larger companies, where multiple layers of approval may be required, procurement may require more formal contractual arrangements. Because of the legal and contractual issues surrounding procurement, the project plan should specify the items that need to be purchased as well as a strategy for performing the procurement activities.
It is highly likely that the Betal government will require certain procurement practices to be observed to ensure that public funds are not misappropriated. Therefore, the Betal road project plan must stipulate procurement policies and procedures to reassure the project sponsor that public money is being managed appropriately and transparently.
9. Risk management
All projects carry a degree of risk. As a minimum, the project has the inherent risk that it will not achieve its planned objectives. Also, the project itself contains many implementation risks which may result in the initial business case and project scope not being fully realised. To mitigate the project-related risks, the following steps should be followed:
Risk identification: all risk events which might impact the project’s success must be identified and defined.
Risk analysis: the identified risks are analysed according to their two underlying components:
- Probability of a risk event is likely to occur.
- Severity of an event resulting in losses and/or harm to the organisation.
Risk prioritisation: The ranking of the most important risk events should be developed within the project plan for tracking and management.
Risk response plans: Suitable response plans should be developed to mitigate the potential harm arising from the most important risks so that rapid action can be taken when, and if, they occur.
The Betal road project identified health and safety, the supply chain and the environment issues as the three key risk areas, but did not analyse these and so was incapable of prioritising mitigating actions. However, a number of control measures were identified ranging from staff training and safety inspections to requiring competitive tendering and a programme for waste disposal.
Putting it all together…
When the full project plan has been developed, assembled and approved, it forms the basis and authority for the project manager to deliver it. It provides a holistic and comprehensive tool to manage the complex inter-related workstreams that will ultimately enable the project to be completed on time, within budget and meeting the pre-determined quality objectives and successfully deliver the business’ requirements.
Written by a member of the Strategic Business Leader examining team