Project Management - a Short Course
Table of Contents  

What is a project?

What is a project lifecycle?
Why should I learn about project management?
Why do projects commonly fail? What can I do about it?
What are the primary components of a project?
What are the main processes or steps used in project management?

Acknowledgement & Workshop.

What is a project?  

To start with, it is helpful to try to define exactly what a project is what makes it different from other activities such as running a repair service or maintaining the shop floor - and the distinguishing attributes of a project.

  1. A project is a one-time effort with specific objectives and deliverables.

  2. A project requires a commitment of personnel, capital, and other resources over a period of time. 

  3. A project has a defined start and end date.

  4. A project is executed by an organized team.

  5. A project has a certain amount of complexity and is not "business as usual" (operations).

A strategic project is focused on expanding or changing your organization's objectives, capabilities, or direction in order to achieve a higher level of success. (e.g., build a new facility; reengineer a business process or workflow.)

A tactical project is designed to produce a specific deliverable (e.g., develop a new sales brochure; choose a replacement for an aging computer).

What is a project lifecycle? TOP

All projects can be described using a four-phase lifecycle.

In the first phase, a need is identified by the client, customer or other stakeholder. This results in a process to describe and define the needs and requirements, sometimes soliciting information or proposals from vendors, contractors or consultants. We can call this phase Initiation. lifecycle.gif (3495 bytes)

The second phase is characterized by the development of proposed solutions. This can be by a structured bid form which requests specific items of information related to project costs, staffing,  timescales, description of the activities, compliance to technical standards and key deliverables.

The third phase is when the project is actually executed covering detailed planning and Implementation.

The final phase is terminating the project or Closure. In some cases this is marked with formal acceptance by the customer or client with signed documentation.

Why should I learn about project management? TOP

You cannot allow your organization to stay static and simply concentrate on doing the routine day to day work. Delivering most products and services has become very competitive driven by the economy and technological advances. To survive and thrive, you are going to have to compete by satisfying your "customers" better than your competition does.

One of the best ways of achieving that is to deliver traditional services better and new services quicker. Sometimes the way to do either of these will require adaptation and improvement of your business processes or information systems.

Sometimes a radical change in the way services are delivered affect many different workers, clients and possibly even vendors. Changing your operations, its structure, its information system are all examples of efforts that will justify a disciplined approach to planning and implementing change. And you and your staff will be undertaking many such projects if you want to be among the survivors. Project management provides such a disciplined approach.

Why use a disciplined approach to managing projects? Projects don't get done on time and within budget just by chance. Careful management is vital in any but the simplest project. Project failure may have some important short-term and long-term results. In the short term deadlines are missed, expected benefits aren't obtained, talent is wasted, customers get unhappy, costs go up, and your credibility as a leader goes down. In the long term your organization's ability to compete may be greatly impaired, your market position may drop, you may lose business and profitability, your organization may get overlooked when new opportunities arise, and staff morale and effectiveness may erode.

Why do projects commonly fail? What can I do about it? TOP



Projects can and do fail for many reasons that are predictable and avoidable. Projects failures fall into three broad categories: Project process-related factors, Project-related factors, and Uncontrollable factors.

Some common project process-related factors include:

  • too many concurrent projects,

  • too few individuals who can manage projects effectively,

  • poorly defined roles and reporting relationships among those engaged in a project,

  • wavering priorities and resource commitments to the project,

  • project managers whose only power is to cajole and remind, rather than being truly empowered to manage.

Any project which transcends the historically stove-piped boundaries between departments is especially challenging and can test the mettle of even the most skilled administrator or manager.

Some common project-related factors that lead to projects going awry include:

  • unrealistic, undefined or unclear project objectives and scope,

  • project plans that aren't detailed or comprehensive,

  • naive time and cost estimates,

  • inadequate resources or ineffective ones.

Finally, there are factors that can't be controlled such as:

  • a key individual getting ill or hired away,

  • a corporate merger or acquisition,

  • a vendor who fails to deliver on time or at all,

  • government officials deciding to change laws or codes.

Attention to project management can help your project avoid many of the process and project-related problems. It can also help you adapt to and cope with those uncontrollable challenges and provide you at least a fighting chance to achieve success.

What are the primary components of a project?




The primary components of most projects include:

  1. Distinct phases each ending with a checkpoint (or gate) at which time progress is assessed before moving forward. Needs analysis, design, implementation and evaluation are examples of some typical project phases.

  2. Deliverables are the results or end products of a project. Examples are a decision to purchase a specific operating system, a contract, a design document.

  3. Tasks are "pieces of work" assigned to an individual or organizational unit to be finished in a specified period of time, which leads to completion of a deliverable or a milestone. An example might be to work with a selected architect to develop blueprints or a systems engineer to develop a system design. To develop a comprehensive list of tasks, review the list of deliverables and outline the steps to complete each one.

  4. A Project Diagram depicts the time flow and task dependencies of a project in a succinct form to help all involved to see the big picture. In addition, the project diagram is used to help balance personnel assignments, to facilitate periodic project progress review, and to help determine how best to make adjustments to the project to stay on time or within budget. PERT and GANTT charts are examples of project diagrams that you may have seen. The preparation of such charts may be the most valuable aspect of their use because preparing a good project diagram forces careful and concrete consideration of all aspects of a project.

  5. Milestones are used to signify key points in the progress of a project, such as the start or end of a project phase. A milestone is a point in time usually marking the beginning or ending of some tasks or a decision point. Milestones should not be so monumental that they are few and far between. Positioning them about two weeks apart is ideal. Completion of especially important milestones should be celebrated with recognition and appreciation so as to keep participants enthusiastic about a big project that has a long timeline. On the other hand, each milestone should represent a significant amount of progress since the last milestone.

  6. Responsibility for each task must be denoted and if a group is responsible, primary responsibility should be assigned to one person belonging to that group.


What are the main processes or steps used in project management?

The main processes of a project include the following:

  1. Using a project management methodology.

  2. Planning

  3. Estimating

  4. Scheduling

  5. Progress Reviewing

  6. Repeat the processes.

What should I know about the project planning process?




In order to achieve the objectives of any project it is essential to look at the details of the work required, which includes identifying specific tasks and estimating time to complete them, estimating associated costs, identifying who will perform the tasks and highlighting areas of risk together with devising appropriate contingency plans.

It is part of the responsibility of the project manager to create the project plan and to update it on a regular and frequent basis. This is an important point – project plans are not made in tablets of stone! They are dynamic and must reflect the current situation. In most projects there are a number of "unexpected" challenges or events which may affect the timescales, costs and outcomes of the project. With good planning these unexpected events can be dealt with effectively and will not cause insoluble difficulties to the project team.

There are four planning concepts that you should be familiar with. The relevant questions are:

  • What is the role and what are the components of a good project description?

  • How does one develop a comprehensive plan?

  • What are some of the other elements of a comprehensive project plan?

  • What characterizes a sound project plan?

What is the role and what are the components of a project description?

Planning begins during the pre-launch stage of a project and continues for the life of the project. The pre-launch stage of a project spans from conception to project approval. Essential for project approval usually is a project description which includes the following:

  • The nature and reasons for the project. A succinct paragraph or two describing these and how the project is different from similar projects the organization has undertaken. Example of important differences are a crucial completion date, an especially high degree of risk, a significant penalty for failure, use of new technology that is not well understood by the team, or a project that calls for multi-department or multi-disciplinary involvement.

  • Key objectives and benefits. List those that will result from successful completion of the project.

  • Measures of success. List the measures that will be used to assess the success of the project. These measures should be quantitative.

  • Project scope. What are the project's functional, geographical, organizational, or customer type boundaries? What are some relevant topics that specifically lie outside the project's scope.

  • Key deliverables. Describe what these are and when they should be available.

  • Tactical fit of this project with others. How will work on other projects affect this one and vice versa? What key assumptions are you basing your analysis on?

  • Specify desired delivery dates. Is there a deadline? What are the reasons for the deadline and the implications of missing a deadline? What trade-offs are possible in the face of a looming deadline?

How does one develop a comprehensive plan?




It is useful to begin the process by identifying all the tasks and elements of the project. The creation of a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is a systematic approach to scoping the project work in which a logical, hierarchical pattern is devised which may resemble an organizational chart. Each branch contains work items which are further broken down into work packages.

WBS.gif (3210 bytes)

The level to which tasks are identified will depend on the size and nature of the project, the level at which a single individual or team can be assigned responsibility and the level at which costs are allocated. Not all branches of the WBS have to be broken down to the same level.

  • Break the project into phases with each phase supported by a detailed narrative describing the specific functionality that should be available at the completion of the phase. Clearly state specific assumptions, constraints and risks related to each phase.

  • List the deliverables for each phase. Then list the tasks that will have to be done to achieve each deliverable.

  • Organize the tasks into their correct logical order and identify appropriate milestones.

  • Assign responsibility for each task including the individual with primary responsibility, the person or group responsible to lend assistance if needed, and the individuals responsible for review and approval.

  • Document issues as they arise (and they will) and develop a plan to resolve them.

These steps are not necessarily done sequentially but are usually done iteratively. Typically two or more cycles of planning may be needed before a comprehensive plan emerges.

In summary, the work breakdown structure:

  • Defines the hierarchy of deliverables.

  • Supports the definition of all work required to achieve the project's objectives.

  • Provides a graphical picture or textual outline of the project scope.

  • Provides the framework of all deliverables across the project life cycle.

  • Provides a vehicle for integrating and assessing schedules and costs.

  • Facilitates the reporting and analysis of progress and status.

  • Provides an association to the responsible stakeholder.


What are some of the other elements of a comprehensive project plan?

Other elements depend on the nature, size, and complexity of the project. We won't even attempt to cover all the possibilities here. But, among them are:

  • Developing a prototype plan used for quickly building models of key deliverables,

  • Change management plan,

  • Project organization plan which should identify a project sponsor, project manager, and project team.

  • A staffing plan and a communication plan to interconnect the sponsor, management team, project team members, project champions, members of other teams and stakeholders.

Finally, developing and maintaining a project notebook can pay off in terms of helping you and your team learn from each project. Such a notebook depicts a standard framework for the project, serves as a repository for essential documents and working papers, and provides continuity over the project's life.

What characterizes a sound project plan?



  • A sound project plan is comprehensive and detailed covering all aspects of the project. It defines what will be accomplished, the participants, their responsibilities, a road map to completion, and checkpoints at which progress is assessed. A sound plan makes estimating a project's costs and time a much easier and accurate task.

  • It is unique and constitutes the only approved overall plan. Plans developed and executed independently are a common cause of schedule slippage and coordination problems.

  • A sound plan is unambiguous with each task assigned to one individual or organizational unit. Deliverables are crisply defined so progress towards them can be assessed realistically.

  • It is authoritative. The plan has been approved by its sponsor and endorsed by the management of each participating unit.

  • It is current and updated on a regular and scheduled basis so that it represents the project's true schedule at all times.

How should I do project estimating?




Estimating is an important process in project management. The purpose of the estimation process is to get an approximation of the cost, personnel requirements, time frame and value of a project. It begins with a comprehensive project plan.

What are the key obstacles to realistic estimating? There are actually quite a few and among them are the following:

  • insufficient analysis

  • poorly defined deliverables

  • incomplete task plans

  • lack of historical data for estimating completion times

  • a team not familiar with the problem or technology at hand

  • deadlines imposed by fiat rather than analysis

  • lack of well-enforced change control

  • a plan based on undocumented assumptions or documented but wrong assumptions

  • unrealistic constraints

  • lack of estimating experience

  • a Pollyanna-like optimism that nothing will go wrong

Sources of time delays that are commonly overlooked include:

  • multiple sequential approval steps

  • time lost because of personnel availability problems

  • moving and logistics interruptions

  • project administration tasks including meetings, organizing, and communicating with dispersed team members.

  • long lead times for some material deliveries and tasks

  • shifting priorities

  • reorganizations

  • ineffective communication

  • time required for rework

How is project scheduling done?




Scheduling is the process of assigning specific resources to tasks in relation to a specific calendar time. Key steps include:

  • Collecting duration estimates for each task,

  • Inspecting the organization's calendar for holidays and other closings,

  • Checking the calendar of team members,

  • Developing time lines that show the start and end dates of each task.

A visual representation of this process is helpful and a Gantt Chart or bar chart is a valuable aid to planning and achieving this aim. Project milestones, time points that indicate completion of key phases, and deliverables, defined and tangible outcomes of the project, can also be marked.

How should I go about reviewing progress?




Reviewing progress is another important process in project management. Of fundamental importance is knowing where you are in relation to your starting point.

A progress report that simply states what was accomplished and by whom is not of much value. Knowing where you are relative to where you want to be is a tougher question to answer, but an essential one. Frequent progress reviews and disciplined accountability for results are critical to the success of any project. Project reviews are meaningful only if they are based on sound plans against which progress can be assessed.

In progress review meetings it is best to focus on what remains to be done between now and the next deliverable date. Here are some progress review principles:

  • Review frequently and in detail

  • Don't confuse effort with progress (!)

  • Look ahead, not backward

  • Focus on critical tasks and try to accomplish them on time without fail

  • Anticipate problems and delays and think of alternatives

  • Keep planning throughout the project

  • Know the current outlook at all times

  • Problem solving should take place off-line with as few people as possible with the solution broadly communicated.

Develop a PM methodology.




The purpose of using a common methodology for all projects is to provide a consistent vehicle for communication, management and reporting of project work. The principles and procedures introduced within your Project Management Methodology will help eliminate or reduce risk, ensure interaction and integration of various project efforts, improve quality and ensure customer satisfaction and business results.

Obtain the knowledge or expertise relevant to completing a project successfully. Outside consultants may be one way of acquiring this expertise quickly, especially for complex projects.

You and your team will be involved in many projects. If the experience from these various projects can be gathered and pooled in some way, this experience can be extended to subsequent project teams which can materially improve the productivity of the project team.

As mentioned before, developing and maintaining a project notebook can pay off in terms of helping you and your team learn from each project. Such a notebook depicts a standard framework for the project, serves as a repository for essential documents and working papers, and provides continuity over the current project's life and reference for future projects.

Acknowledgement and Workshop



  This brief overview of project management has been adapted from a workshop developed by A.J. Vasaris, PMP for Value Management Partners, Akron, OH. If you are interested in a custom workshop for your organization please call or email.   

Copyright Value Management Partners, LLC 

3867 W Market St #302  Akron, OH 44333

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