The business scenario is now project-based. Projects involve cross-functional teams, and diversity of opinion helps in innovation. The objective of many business projects is to meet and exceed customer expectations. Integrated project management is the new business mantra, wherein project management is an integral process of the execution of the strategic plan. Understanding the process of a project lifecycle is critical for all areas of work as it translates to better efficiency.
Businesses often rely on “projects” to satisfy customer needs. A “project” is distinguished from everyday routine activities and long-term “programs” by certain characteristics. In order to be called a “project” a task should have a specific objective, should be a one-time effort with an established life span. Projects also have performance specifications and are limited by time, money, manpower and other resources. Each project lifecycle is characterized by four stages: the defining stage, planning stage, executing stage and delivering stage.
Project management is the process of planning, scheduling and controlling projects. Several factors have led to increasing emphasis on efficient project management. Increasing global competition has led to compressed product lifecycles. Businesses are dealing with shorter “time to market” product development scenarios. The knowledge explosion with shared information networks and increased customer focus have contributed to greater complexity in the nature of projects. This requires an efficient management of cross-functional project teams. Companies are also performing numerous projects simultaneously. Therefore, allocation of resources and efficient project management is of strategic importance.
Planning in the context of a project involves providing a roadmap for the proper execution of the project. The planning process involves defining the project, including the proposed outcome of the project. The planning process also involves clearly defining the goals and objectives of the project, the specifications of the quality, the budget and time estimates and control parameters. In short, the planning stage is a stage to review and reaffirm the project objectives and guidelines and resolve any undermining issues. Contingency approaches are also designed during the planning process to avoid pitfalls. Ideally, the planning process should involve all the team members.
Scheduling projects involves breaking down the project to clearly defined simpler tasks. This is also known as the “work breakdown structure”. This structure allows the team members to understand a complex project in terms of simple achievable tasks. Scheduling also involves assigning these tasks to the relevant personnel and establishing the time, money and other resource constraints for each task. For example, if the project is to organize a convention, then the work breakdown structure would involve tasks such as booking a hall or printing brochures. Specific people are assigned to each task with time, money and quality constraints.
Execution of the project involves dealing with unexpected events. While establishing a clear plan and scheduling process minimizes ambiguities, careful control has to be exercised by the project manager in order to maintain the time, quality and budget requirements. Two elements of project control involve establishing and achieving clearly defined project milestones and maintaining clear lines of communication. Milestones help in monitoring progress, and communication helps in oversight and improving team effort.