Always keep to the project plan

Becoming a certified project manager

Project management is quite an easy concept but one which can quickly explode in complexity when a project is underway. All people involved in project work should strive to keep tasks under control and to hold to the original plan where possible. This may be difficult but is a great goal. With proper attention by executives and other management staff, it is possible to adhere to a program of keeping projects as simple as possible.

All projects are a balance of the Triple Constraints of scope, resources and time. Each of these cannot be altered without affecting one or both of the others. For example, a reduction in the budget may cause the completion date to slip or the scope of work performed to be reduced, or both. This is a simple concept that is easily understood. In order to keep complexity out of the project, the project manager should always keep the triple constraints in mind by periodically re-examining these simple questions:

Scope: What is the project going to do?
This describes the size of the project and is the intent of the work to be performed. Many involved people may loss sight of the intent, adding unnecessary functionality to the finished product without due consideration of cost and schedule. The scope is the biggest factor to consider when evaluating whether a project is successful or not. A textbook success would be a case where the project does exactly what is planned, no more, no less.

Resources: What is the project going to cost?
Resources are the items used to complete the project. They may involve money or staff labor. All things cost money so a staff member assigned to do task work represents a cost of resources. Similarly, a piece of equipment has a cost. If it must be purchased, it has a direct cost. If it is already on site, it has an opportunity cost. While it is used for one task, it is unavailable to do work on any other task. Planning should attempt to identify as many resource costs as possible, both direct and indirect.

Time: When is the project going to be finished?
The schedule is the final of the triple constraints. Overall planning may declare that a certain amount of work should be completed which takes six months. The estimated completion date is therefore the start date plus six months. Other planning methods work with an established deadline. If a new software application must be released by a certain date, that becomes the completion date. The scope and resources would be adjusted to ensure that the deadline is attainable. This is often the operating environment for software, school construction and other work that is influenced by seasonal restrictions.

The basic goal of a project manager should be to keep the entire effort focused on the simple project questions:
1) What is the project going to do?
2) What is the project going to cost?
3) When is the project going to be finished?

Each of these can be expanded to fit the situation. In fact, many project templates are available which contain headings or complete documents to further specify scope, resources and schedule. Unfortunately, working with such templates may cause additional work, especially for very small projects. Take project cost, for example. A template may specify that there should be a review of build or buy options. The sample document would have staff evaluate available in-house expertise compared to that available from the vendor community. A relative ranking of costs would be performed to determine if the project should be done by staff or purchased from a vendor. While many projects must evaluate these choices, most small ones do not, or they may only need a brief evaluation. The formal project template would have all projects rigorously perform the work at considerable cost.

Instead, organizations should keep the basic project questions in mind and only expand on them as necessary. The standard project management textbook contains over forty instances of work which can be included in a project. These cover Risk Planning, Communications Planning, Quality Control and many more detailed components of scope, resources and schedule. In a perfect project world, all projects of any size would diligently complete all of the detailed component documents. Each would make up a small section of the master project plan document. Every new project team would create all of the documents from scratch, only relying on existing documents for guidance. This approach would be very expensive so it is rarely done, even for very large projects.

Most organizations attempt to hold down costs by re-using as much project documentation as possible. When a project plan is available for a similar project, that document forms the basis, (or template), for a new project. In many cases, this is reasonable. Phase two of a project would use the project plan for phase one, especially if the time between them is short. This is an obvious area of cost savings. Perhaps the communications plan would only need slight modifications since many of the company staff are affected by both projects. The same would hold for the risk planning document. Both projects would be at similar risk should key staff, resources or vendors not be available when needed. A simple copy of the earlier risk plan, however, would be a big mistake. Lessons would have been learned from the original project. These should be used to update the risk plan for the next project.

Lessons learned from earlier projects are a big source of knowledge that can help a project manager deliver more successful projects in the future. All organizations should insist that proper documentation be created by all project workers. Too many times, experiences are not adequately captured in documentation, (or not at all). This fact can hurt the future efforts of a company. A subsequent effort may run into the same problems simply because they were not known in advance and were not completely described in a library available for review by company staff. This is an avoidable problem. With a library of lessons learned from earlier work, or even from external sources, a company can take advantage of earlier work without having to needlessly complicate their new efforts with laborious templates.