The step-by-step guide: Step 1 Understanding the basics

The step-by-step guide:
Step 1 Understanding the basics

Step 1.1 What is a project?

A project is really a very simple concept that many professional and academic books spend pages and pages defining. Essentially, a project is a task with a known end point. For example, building a new house is a project, the end point being when the house is built. Similarly, creating a new piece of computer software is a project, as is launching a new product for a business. Projects can be used to complete many different types of tasks.

Usually the term 'project' is applied to tasks with some degree of complexity. So whilst you could argue that cooking yourself some toast is a project, with the end point being buttered toast on your plate, usually the term is not applied to such simple activities which do not need to be managed with the rigour of a recognised project.

Projects fulfil some clear pre-defined objective, in a planned period of time, and to a planned cost. Once the project is complete something will have changed for example, you have a new house, a new computer system or a new product.

Step 1.2 What is project management? What is your role?

Project management is a formal discipline for managing projects. Project management has been developed over the past few decades as it has become apparent that without a structured approach, people are not very good at completing projects successfully. The aim of project management is to ensure that projects are completed and that the end point (the new house, computer system or new product) is achieved. More than this, project management is about reaching that end point predictably, which usually means to a given cost and within a planned amount of time.

As you read this book you will learn that successful project management is all about structure, control, sufficient attention to detail and continuously driving action.

Your role as the project manager is to understand enough project management to apply its rigour and structure and ensure your project is successfully completed within the time and cost you require. If you follow the steps in this book, you will find this is not so hard. The things you must do as a project manager are:

  1. Ensure there is a clear understanding why a project is being done, and what it will produce.

  2. Plan the project to understand how long it will take and how much it will cost.

  3. Manage the project to ensure that as the project progresses, it achieves the objectives you have defined within the time and cost specified.

  4. Complete the project properly to make sure everything produced by the project is of the quality expected and works as required.

Step 1.3 The project's customer

Every project is done because someone wants it to be done. The person who wants it to be done is called, in project management terminology, the project customer. The customer may be yourself, your boss at work, someone who buys products and services from you, or anyone else you work for or with. The customer may be one person or a group of people.

In projects it is important to understand who the customer is and to work closely with them. Project customers have some specific responsibilities in projects. They will be involved in determining why you are going to do a project and what it will produce, for giving you access to resources such as people and money, and for making various decisions through the life of the project.

Step 1.4 The project team

The project you are about to manage will have a whole range of tasks that need to be done to complete it. For a very small project you may be both the project manager and the person who actually does all the tasks planned. For larger projects a number of people will be involved at different times in the project's life. These people are collectively known as the project team and it is this team that you will be managing.

There is a difference between managing people in a project team and the normal task of line management. The people in the project team usually have a line manager whom they work for on a day-to-day basis. They are only working for you on the project, and they may have other tasks to complete which are nothing to do with your project. When the project ends you may have nothing further to do with the team. Even so, you need to be able to manage, motivate and direct the team. This requires you to have a clear understanding of what you need them to do in respect of the specific project you are managing and how much time they should spend on the project. Critically, you also need to make sure they are spending this time working on your project and not doing other tasks for their normal manager.

The starting point to make this work is to discuss this with each team member's normal manager, and agree that the team member will be available for the project and under your management control whilst they are working on it.

Step 1.5 Delivery and deliverables

There is a word that project managers and people involved regularly in projects use all the time; it is delivery. Delivery in the context of projects simply means getting the things done you set out to do. Your role as a project manager is therefore to deliver the project.

Delivery is a useful piece of jargon as it saves having to write "completing the project to the expected time and cost with the desired outcome" again and again!

Deliverables are what is delivered by a project so taking the examples above, the deliverables from the respective projects are a new house, a new computer system or a new product. In a project the deliverables wanted are defined at the start of the project, and your success as a project manager is in delivering them in the planned time and to the expected cost.

Step 1.6 The five dimensions of a project scope, quality, time, cost, risk

I am about to explain one of the fundamental concepts of project management. It is quite straightforward, but very useful and powerful. Spend a few minutes to make sure you understand this.

Imagine a very simple project you are going to redecorate some rooms in your house. So you sit down and do some thinking about this decorating and decide that you will decorate your front room and your dining room, that you will use three coats of paint on every wall. You do some sums and find out that the paint will cost you 100, and it will take you four days to do the work using normal paint brushes. A friend has a machine that can spray the walls, which is much quicker. Unfortunately, it does not always work and is liable to spray paint all over the place, including any uncovered nearby furniture, so you choose not to use it. The information here has defined some important things about your project:

  • You have defined the scope. Scope is the project manager's word for what your project encompasses. In this case your scope is to paint the front room and dining room.

  • You have defined the quality. You have decided to use three coats of paint on all the walls. Quality is a complex concept and depending on what a project produces, the way quality is measured will vary considerably. However, most deliverables can be created in some way with different levels of quality. By changing the level of quality, you make more or less work to produce the deliverables. Quality can be a nebulous but important concept: other examples of quality could be how robust or reliable a deliverable is, or how well presented a deliverable is.

  • You know the time it will take four days.

  • You know the cost 100.

  • You understand the level of risk you want to take you are choosing the low-risk option (painting by hand). There is an alternative high-risk option of doing it with the spray painting machine. If you choose to use this machine, you may do the work more quickly, but there are risks to your furniture and it may not work.

You may be thinking at this point so what? The 'so what' is that these five pieces of information are not independent facts but interdependent variables. Change any one of these and you may impact the others. So for example, change your scope and add your hall to be painted as well, and you will increase the time and the cost. However, if you subsequently reduce the quality so you use only two coats of paint on the walls, or alternatively take the risky option and use your friend's spraying machine, you may still be able to do it in the original time and cost but with the increased scope. Alternatively, by spending more money and getting in a couple of professional decorators, you may be able to reduce the time and increase the quality of the end result. There are a vast number of ways you can juggle between these five dimensions of your project.

Business projects are more complex than this but the principle still holds. Once you understand these five dimensions, you can trade them off to get the optimal result you need. For example, often in projects there are conditions set, such as the project must be done for 10k or less, or it must be completed before Christmas. If you do not think you can achieve this, then by looking at changing the scope, or the quality of your deliverables, or taking a higher-risk approach, you may be able to meet these conditions.

The following table shows some examples of these five dimensions for three projects, plus some sample trade-off decisions:

Table 1.1. Examples of the dimensions of projects
  Project One Project Two Project Three
Description Build a development of executive homes Set up a Christmas party for staff in the company Computerise the office in Portsmouth
Dimension 1 Scope Five four-bedroom houses, each with a double garage. Opening drinks, dinner, and dancing for the 500 staff in the company, plus some after-dinner entertainment. Transport for staff to and from the venue to be provided. 50 PCs installed withnecessary office software and staff trained how to use them.
Dimension 2 Quality Top-quality fittings throughout to meet expectations of people who will buy them. Needs to be equivalent to quality of a four-star hotel. Must be top of the range, high-specification computers.
Dimension 3 Time to complete 6 months from start time. Starting on 1 November the project will complete by 20 December. Needs to be complete by 15 September.
Dimension 4 Cost 2 million 55,000 Cannot be more than 75,000.
Dimension 5 Acceptable level of risk Low Medium Low
Example trade-off decisions
  • Can the quality of fittings be lowered slightly to reduce cost?

  • If we could expand the scope to build a sixth house, how can it be done in the same time andcost?

  • It is essential that the work is completed by Christmas. At present the plan shows the project finishing on 20 December, which seems a bit close. Can we spend some more money on outside events management to ensure it happens and reduce risk?

  • If we need to reduce other costs to pay for the events managers, what parts of the scope can we remove?

  • The plan shows that this will take until 1 October. But we could install 35 by 15 September. Can we reduce scope to 35 computers installed in the most important areas first and hit the date and lower the risk of failure? We will then install the remaining 15 computers after 15 September.

  • The plan shows it will cost 90k. However, if we reduce the specification of some of the PCs we can reduce to 75k. Is this acceptable?

Step 1.7 The stages of a project a lifecycle

Every project goes through various stages in its development. These stages vary depending on the type of project. For example, a project to build a new car has different stages compared to a project to develop an advertising campaign for a new type of washing detergent. However, at a generic level projects must go through common steps such as:


Specifying in detail what the project is for.


Planning the project and working out how it will be done.


Doing the project and creating the deliverables according to the plan.


Checking that the deliverables are as you originally wanted and meet the needs.


Closing the project down.

These five steps defined are a simple project lifecycle. The lifecycle is a skeleton framework which you can build your project around, and Chapters 2 to 5 of this book are arranged as a straightforward lifecycle.

You now know as much as you need to get started. You are ready to adopt the role of a project manager and begin to deliver your project. As you go through the following chapters of the book, you can literally do your project as you read.

You may find it useful to come back and read the definitions in this chapter again once you have explored some of the other material in this book.

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Project Management Step by Step. The Proven, Practical Guide to Running a Successful Project, Every Time
Project Management Step by Step: The Proven, Practical Guide to Running a Successful Project, Every Time
ISBN: 0273707884
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2006
Pages: 43
Authors: Richard Newton
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