Project management pertains to methods, processes, and best practices that are used in ensuring the successful completion and delivery of a project. The methods and processes act as roadmap of milestones and deliverables that guarantee all tasks and activities are done on schedule and with high quality output. The best practices ensure that teams are working smartly and efficiently according to norms practiced in the industry and are customizing their processes to fit their methodologies and requirements (Atkinson 338). Project teams without a standardized methodology results to inefficiency of processes and employees, including going overboard the budget, extension of deadlines, possible occurrence of risks, and incorrect execution of programs and processes, among others.
The company on study is a multinational company that focuses on enterprise resource planning (ERP) applications. It allows organizations to use a system of integrated applications when it comes to managing businesses and automating back office work. ERP software combines various aspects of business operations such as product planning, finance, procurement, manufacturing processes, development, and sales and marketing. Considering the huge number of clients and company mergers that transpired, the mother company now has several offshore offices in Asia and Europe, where multiple project managers handle various projects in each office.
The project is the documentation of the Enterprise Applications, particularly the Financials, Procurement, Distribution, and Human Resources applications bundled together as the 4GL Applications. The project plan identifies the documentation deliverables, stakeholders, and dates for a specific release such as the release notes, user guides, help text, installation guides, file layouts, conversion guides, and the applications glossary. Specifically, the deliverables will be delivered in the form of MS Word files and MS Excel for all deliverables, except the online help which are coded using XML help and checked-in in Documentum.
The objective of the project is to come up with online help, help text, printed help, and FAQ, which are delivered to the client together with the product release. Prior to the final release project, minor documents are also produced such as release notes, file layouts, and conversion guides that are sent to clients on a per release basis to give them an idea about the code and feature changes in the new release version. This also helps the Sales and Marketing team in explaining the release changes to the clients.
Documentation is an integral part of the software development process as it helps developers guide their work. Considering that programmers work on multiple modules at a time, a reliable documentation helps them keep track of all aspects of each application assigned to them. In addition, having a consistent documentation ensures that knowledge transfer is faster especially when there are programmers who need to understand why a certain module works the way it does. If the application has a database, documenting the servers, files, and SSL certificates further helps programmers understand how to resolve issues and identify servers used, especially when new or additional modules need to be added into the environment (Azarian). Thus, documentation is not only for the clients when they receive the new product or enhancements to the applications, but are also necessary and helpful for those who form part of the Research and Development team, such as programmers, quality assurance, integration, and certification teams.
Project managers ensure the successful completion of projects from inception to project closing through project management. They divide projects into several phases and keep track of each stage to ascertain a smooth transition within the specified budget and with high-level of quality. They ensure that projects are completed on schedule or ahead of time and continuously improve processes by collaborating and soliciting feedback from project stakeholders and team members. Apart from these, project managers guarantee that communication lines are open among project teams involved to minimize occurrence of errors.
Project Initiation. This is the main aspect of project planning. At this stage, project stakeholders work with project managers to understand the business environment and the project scope. This is where possible hindrances and risks are identified. Another important aspect of this stage is the identification of controls and processes to be followed by all project team members. Other important steps include creation of the business plan, setting up of budget, development and analysis of project feasibility study, and identification of project managers, team leaders, and project team members (Reh).
Project Planning. The next stage is when detailed project planning takes place. This involves classifying detailed budget requirements, setting up milestones and delivery schedules, preparation of project resources such as hardware and software requirements, and detailed identification of project risks (Project Insight). Other integral steps include creation of project plans, discussion of team roles and responsibilities, and discussion of individual and team goals and how personal goals are consistent with corporate goals. It is also important that the project organization structure is defined in order for team members to know who to approach when specific issues arise, thus, this will also include identifying and setting up of proper communication plans and methods. If team training is required, this stage is when preparations for trainings are done (Reh).
Project Execution. The bulk of the tasks occur during this phase. After project stakeholders, project managers, and team members have met, everybody begins working and thus, are expected to meet deliverables and milestones on time. At this point, the project manager begins verifying the status of the project and whether identified processes are executed (Project Insight). In addition, the project manager constantly checks the project plan and the actual results against set deliverables and milestones and ensures that resources are properly utilized (Reh).
Project Monitoring. Project supervision and monitoring is another important aspect of a project manager’s activities as the role ensures that every aspect of project planning executes correctly. Therefore, this stage is when the project manager monitors and controls processes to manage occurrence of errors and to guarantee the high-quality level of processes and output (Mind Tools). The project manager sees to it that the project stays within the projected budget, schedule, and quality of deliverables, identifies plans for risk management and mitigation, and initiates quality control measures (Project Insight). It also helps to perform evaluation of team members’ output in terms of project milestones to ensure that deliverables are met on time, including the documentation of the whole project (Reh).
Project Closure. This is the final stage of the process, which includes the official release of products and deliverables to the client and the client’s acceptance of the output (Mind Tools). Project documentation and help files are also turned over to the clients, while other files are archived. Because this is the final stage of the whole process, the project manager ensures that there is a formal project and contract closure between the client and the company (Project Insight). As part of the lessons learned session among team members, a post implementation review attended by stakeholders, project managers, and team members take place in order to improve the next projects’ planning and implementation model (Reh).
ESTIMATING PROJECT TIMES AND COSTS
Project scheduling and cost estimation are important tasks in project management. Typically, this is done at the beginning of the planning phase. This determines whether stakeholders or project sponsors will push through with the project or not. The project budget, for instance, takes a long while to accomplish as it creates an estimate of the overall expenses that a project incurs from inception to closure. This includes taking into consideration cost data regarding resources such as hardware, software, and manpower. However, coming up with this project cost estimate rarely provides accurate data because the project manager depends on insufficient data to come up with the projection.
Despite careful budget analysis, costing issues may still arise due to poor requirements definition, inadequate classification of business case, insufficient planning process, and issues on resource allocation, among others. These can be avoided by following certain practices and measures in cost analysis.
Understanding the budget. Before starting with the budget plan, project managers consider the factors that comprise the budget such as hardware and software requirements and the man-hours. They also identify the possible scenarios that could contribute to increased spending and solutions to cost and time discrepancy issues. In line with this, project managers take into consideration what happens if actual costs go beyond the projected cost, including the project sponsors’ threshold for spending. Acquiring the verbal approval of stakeholders is not enough, thus, with a cost estimate proposal, project sponsors are able to review the budget plan and make a decision.
Use of budget management software. Tracking the estimated budget and actual expenses is a tedious process. With budget management software and tools, monitoring employee time and expenses will be easier. Usually, these management tools cover approval of employee time entries and overtime pay, evaluation of estimates versus actual hours worked, and inconsistencies between the two, among others. Other budgeting software also features merging various budget planning modules into other functions of the project in order to create various budget reports that can further enhance understanding of the financial state of a project. When all these are in place, project managers can effectively and efficiently supervise the overall project.
Constant monitoring or review of budget. After setting up all necessary information in the budget management software, it will be easier for project managers to control the budget and the project itself as regular health checks on the estimates and actual is possible. It would be easier to determine whether the project is still within the budget or has gone overboard. Reports can be generated on a weekly basis, thus, project managers can have easy access to how resources are spent, how employees spend their time, and how much more time is available based on the data. In addition, reporting the budget status of the project to clients will be easy.
THE PROJECT PLAN
The purpose of the project plan is to document and map out the details of the project. This document contains background information or overview of the project such as the release date, general availability of features, and whether the release will include language translation. The project plan identifies features that are included in the project as well as out of scope functionalities that may be integrated in other releases. It also contains deliverables, schedules, time estimates, and names of project stakeholders, including their roles and responsibilities during each milestone.
Another important feature of the project plan is the risk assessment section, which identifies possible sources of risks and threats. Thus, it is advisable that from the beginning of the project planning, risks and threats are already identified. Recognizing as many risks as possible helps in avoiding issues that usually crop up when not enough time is spent evaluating potential sources of issues.
The project plan also contains the detailed deliverables for each project phase, including the names of people responsible for the delivery and approval of completed tasks and deliverables. It must also include a revision history so that team members know when changes were made and by whom.
In the case of the Enterprise Applications project, after identifying the scope of the project comes the scheduling of milestones and deliverables, which serves as the roadmap for stakeholders and team members in identifying the stages of development. For the project, the project plan is specific for the Technical Writing team, which creates and updates all printed documentation and online help. Thus, the document includes dates pertaining to the code cut off, Certification testing of online help files and help text, integration of online help into the modules, and the final delivery of the remaining documentation deliverables, such as release notes, file layouts, installation guides, user guides, and more.
MANAGING PROJECT RISKS
All projects come with risks. This is the reason why risk assessment is a crucial aspect of project planning. Common sources of risks include inaccurate project and scope estimation, unforeseen budget cuts, poorly identified business requirements, unclear definition of stakeholder and team member roles and responsibilities, volume amount of change requests from clients and stakeholders, undertrained team members, and staff turnover, among others. However, all these can be avoided if risks and threats are detected early on (Atkinson 341).
Incorporate risk assessment and administration when planning the project. Risk assessment planning and management should happen at the onset of the planning stage. Project managers may opt to check past project management plans and business requirements to verify if old issues could still affect the current system or not (Jutte).
Create a risk communication plan. Identification of project risks may not necessarily all come from the project manager, but from other team members, too, which makes inclusion of possible risks and issues in meeting agendas is necessary. This also means identified risks must be communicated early on to let management or project stakeholders understand the situation and come up with a decision, if necessary, especially since some identified risks could have greater impact than others. Therefore, identifying a risk owner is necessary in order to know who should be held accountable for the identified risk. The risk communication plan should also be documented in a risk log, which contains information on how to resolve a risk and what needs to be done to prevent it from happening (Jutte).
PROJECT AND PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT
The final aspect of project management is evaluation of results, including the positive and negative dynamics that occurred in the team. This can be done through a Lessons Learned session within the team level and evaluate what went well and what went wrong in the planning up to execution and delivery of the final product. These discussions must be documented and communicated to all, especially the stakeholders, to ensure that issues are avoided in the future (Davenport).
A project manager’s role is vital in the determining whether a project becomes successful or not. The individual tasked to perform the role of project manager has the responsibility of driving the project to success from initial planning, finalization of requirements, allocation of resources, implementation, monitoring, and project closing. When project teams fail in delivering their commitments, then the project stakeholders will hold the project manager accountable for results.
Atkinson, Roger. “Project Management: Cost, Time and Quality, Two Best Guesses and a Phenomenon, It[‘]s Time to Accept Other Success Criteria.” 1999. International Journal of Project Management 17(6) 337-342. Web. 14 February 2014. <https://notendur.hi.is/vio1/Project_management_Cost_time_and_quality.pdf>.
Azarian, Irma. “Why Is Documentation Extremely Important for Developers?” 2013. Web. 14 February 2014. <http://www.seguetech.com/blog/2013/09/12/why-documentation-important-developers>.
Davenport, Diane. “Importance of Lessons Learned in Project Management.” 2012. Web. 15 February 2014. <http://www.pmhut.com/importance-of-lessons-learned-in-project-management>.
Jutte, Bart, “10 Golden Rules of Project Risk Management.” N.d. Web. 15 February 2014. <http://www.projectsmart.co.uk/10-golden-rules-of-project-risk-management.html>.
Mind Tools. “Project Management Phases and Processes.” N.d. Web. 15 February 2014. <http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newPPM_63.htm>.
Project Insight. “5 Basic Phases of Project Management.” N.d. Web. 14 February 2014. <http://www.projectinsight.net/project-management-basics/basic-project-management-phases.aspx>.
Project Management Institute [PMI]. “What is Project Management?” n.d. Web. 15 February 2014. <http://www.pmi.org/About-Us/About-Us-What-is-Project-Management.aspx>.
Reh, F. J. “How to Manage a Project.” N.d. Web. 16 February 2014. <http://management.about.com/od/projectmanagement/ht/ProjMgtSteps.htm>.