Integration is about doing the right thing at the right time to make the project happen.
As we have seen in Chapter 3, there are five process groups that may be used in a project or a phase of a project, and the skills required across the five together fall into nine knowledge areas. This sounds complicated, and the five process groups and nine knowledge areas are the way that the PMI divides up the expertise that you, the project manager, needs into manageably sized chunks. In return for the complexity of two dimensions, knowledge areas and process groups, we get a manageable way of looking at all the project management tools and techniques, and how they fit together. Don't worry about the complexity: if you are a practitioner, get a rough feel for things and pick out the bits that seem useful to your project. If you are learning for the PMI exams, do enough rote learning to pass the PMI exams. In practice the project manager's task requires managing the interactions that extend beyond the boundaries of the process groups and the knowledge areas, and this is how project integration management is useful in real life.
Project integration management is about linking and coordinating project and product processes and knowledge areas to ensure the best possible planning and execution of the project. This can be a difficult task. It requires a trade-off between competing requirements and objectives. On the one hand, it incurs the cost of complexity and bureaucracy by having the two dimensions of knowledge areas and process groups instead of the single dimension of a simple 'prepare, plan, do, review' for the project manager to think about. So on the other hand the benefits from having our project management tools and techniques organized into knowledge areas and processes must exceed those costs, by enabling us to do things much more efficiently or on a much bigger scale, and at much lower cost and risk than a simple linear approach could possibly achieve. Do we in fact get this net benefit? Only if we know how to select the right tool at the right stage in project management. This is also what integration is about.
In real life, being able to do integration requires a certain level of knowledge and experience on the part of the project manager. Integration management is an exception to the general rule in project management that most of project management is applied common sense, that is, it can be worked out just by thinking about the task. While it is common sense that in a large or complex project, there is a discrete task that is integration, even if it is called by some other term, the processes involved in such integration are not so easily deduced from first principles in the way that much of planning and HR management, for example, can be. The integration knowledge area derives from careful analysis of how projects have succeeded and failed over many years.
There are many different project management methodologies, but the key to all of them is integration. Integration is important because in order to satisfy the sponsor and stakeholder requirements, a project manager needs to manage the interactions across all organizational and process boundaries. This requires making trade-offs. As the performance trade-offs will be different for each project, experience and history are only partial guides. The larger and more complex the project, the more iterations will be necessary to ensure stakeholder requirements are met, as well as getting agreement on the process outcomes.
The project manager's main responsibility is to make sure the objectives and agreed deliverables are met, on time and within budget. This is what integration is about.
The most important tools for project integration management are planning, communication and leadership. Other skills are influencing, negotiating and problem solving.
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