Project Management Essentials

December 17, 2020

We want to clarify: What is project management?

Project management is indisputably an integral part of our working environment. This is due to the many advantages of project work, which enable us to meet today's working environment's complex requirements. Working on projects enables us to focus on creating value, solving complex problems, and positively affecting our employees' motivation and further training.

Since project work is already so natural to us, we all have our personal perception of it.  

In this article, you will learn more about project management and safely navigate the field afterward:

In short, projects are described as following:

A project is defined by its uniqueness of conditions and is limited by time. The goal is to plan and control projects correctly to limit risks, take advantage of opportunities, and achieve project goals qualitatively, on schedule, and within budget.

Therefore, the task of the project manager is to plan, control, monitor, and organize the project. This also includes influencing the behavior of project employees - only together can the project goals be achieved. In many organizations, however, the project manager is not on his own. If an organization has several projects, a Project Management Office (PMO) often assists the project manager. Here, the PMO helps to plan and implement the structure and process organization.

This definition suggests a simplicity that we will follow. However, many pitfalls that we need to avoid.  

A project is divided into four phases:

  • Project definition and analysis
  • Project planning
  • Project implementation and project management
  • Project completion  

Even though GPM provides for a five-phase model, we are sticking to our four phases. In the GPM model, the project initiation, which occurs before the project definition, is added. The higher management usually decides this, in practice, with little influence of the Project Manager themselves. Here theory and practice go their separate ways.

We will now take a closer look at these four project phases to explain the subtleties of the phases.

Project Definition and Analysis:

  • This phase often starts with the task and the wish to solve a problem. The client has usually identified a need for action and instructs the Project Team to examine this in more detail. In this phase, it is therefore essential to understand the instruction and to resolve any ambiguities. Above all, it is vital to analyze the problem correctly to solve the core cause and not its symptoms. The collection of information should, therefore, be well thought out
  • The requirements and relationships between stakeholder groups are clearly defined. Then the necessary project management tools are selected. The methods are chosen to suit the project environment
  • In the so-called rough planning, the business case is also determined to see whether the project can make a worthwhile contribution to the organization.
  • All these findings are incorporated into the project charter, where the project manager is assigned to the project

Project Charter: 

  • In the detailed planning of the project, the scope, duration, budget, and stakeholders are defined in detail. These should be recorded in a master document and communicated with everyone involved in the projects. Important: Final reports from previous projects can be beneficial for this purpose
  • In the planning phase, the departments and fields of action involved in the specific project are also defined. After that, it is crucial to familiarize everyone with the chosen project management methods and agree on an operating mode
  • The master document should also define the distribution of roles, goals (clearly define what is in scope and out of scope), and responsibilities
  • It may well be that the detailed planning will provide new insights that will change the project definition's assumptions

Project Implementation and Project Management:

  • In this phase, the project plan must be executed as specified. Communication, especially between fields of action, is becoming increasingly important. Therefore, regular steering meetings constitute a significant part of the project manager's activity. This also includes the management of content that has already been worked on and its quality control
  • Important: The implementation of the project is accompanied by project controlling at the same time
  • First conflicts will arise in this stage, which need resolving. The competencies of the project manager are required here to mediate and arbitrate
  • Ensuring and communicating the progress of the project is the essential part of this phase. The control of the adherence to milestones allows identifying deviations at an early stage. If this is the case, it is the project manager's task to initiate countermeasures. Also, carrying out control of costs to avoid missing project goals
  • The failure to meet project goals is usually caused by the inclusion of changes in the project. Thus slowly, more expenditure and costs creep into the project, which undermines planning. Therefore changes should be planned and discussed in an organized manner

Project Completion: 

  • The project completion phase serves the controlled end of the project. Here it is checked whether all agreed services have been performed and the project goals have been achieved. Primarily the project result should be accepted by the client to declare the project as finished
  • For a project to be successful, it should be anchored in the organization in the long term. Unfortunately, this goal is often insufficiently pursued
  • To finish the project correctly, the project documentation is collected, and a conclusion is made. These artifacts are precious for the internal Lessons Learned, as others in the organization can use them to guide the next project. Even though the Lessons Learned's importance is well known, they are often neglected out of time constraints
  • The project organization can be dissolved when these necessities are completed

In our series of articles on success in project management, we focus on communication in projects, goal setting, stakeholder management, and team members' further training.