What Is A Project?
Organizations need to manage their human, cost, and technological resources effectively; therefore, each project that an organization undertakes has to have a clear beginning and end point. Having set start and end dates assists with allocating budgets. Additionally, it allows organizations to logically structure their portfolio of projects over time.
Each project should also have a clearly defined set of outcomes, which translates into a set of deliverables and a unique end product or service. Uniqueness matters when considering the end product or service, as it differentiates one project endeavor from another. Moreover, it sets project work apart from the routine activities that an organization performs each day.
The Project Lifecycle
In IT projects, work from concept phase to deployment and maintenance of a system is typically organized by the System Development Lifecycle (SDLC). The SDLC categorizes the type of work that is done at each stage of product development or enhancement. In the most traditional way of structuring project activities, work is sequentially performed via the waterfall method, where the next phase of activities does not commence until work from the previous phase is complete and approved (see Figure 1). This approach to the SDLC is implemented best in scenarios where the requirements for the new system is relatively stable and probability of project risk is fairly low (i.e. new technology is not being implemented). On the other hand, when requirements are likely to change often, or need prototyping for discovery or proof-of-concept, developers will modify the SDLC and iterate through phases in a spiral-like fashion - completing several rounds of planning, analysis, design, implementation etc. until the product evolves into a fully functioning system.
What is important to note about the SDLC is that it is specific to the IT industry and is focused on product development. However, there is another way of understanding the lifecycle of a project, which is discipline independent. Furthermore, one can conceptualize the lifecycle of a project from a process orientation. Seen from this perspective, the lifecycle is used to manage the inputs and outputs of the project, which define its overall structure and control. For example, refer to Figure 2.
In this figure, project activities are organized into 4 process groups, taking the project from its initiation to a planned and organized closure. (NOTE: in this example execution is aggregated with the monitoring and control processes; alternatively the PMBOK organizes execution into a separate process group). If we take a look at project management processes in tandem with the SDLC (Figure 3 uses the waterfall method for sake of simplicity), we can see how a project manager might guide an IT project through to handover.
Let's use managing the time aspect of a project as an example. At the beginning of a project, a project manager creates an overall plan to manage and control time factors. As part of this process, a Gantt chart may be used as a tool to plot out project resources over time. This chart will include tasks for analysis, design, etc. and often uses the SDLC to structure the Gantt chart (assuming it is an IT project). As the project progresses throughout the SDLC, s/he executes time management plans, and monitors its targets. This may include modifying and restructuring time plans, as novel events, which have time impacts, happen throughout the lifecycle. Lastly, as the project nears the end of implementation and is handed over to stakeholders, the project manager assesses time plans as part of a final audit. We will go over how project management processes are used with project inputs and outputs throughout the lifetime of a project in more detail in future chapters of this book.
A broad definition of 'project stakeholder' includes anyone who has a vested interest in project outcomes; however, for the purpose of this book, the term, 'stakeholder,' will refer to the clients or end users who have been selected to be part of the project team. This may include technical end users, executives, managers, or business users.
Some examples of stakeholders:
- Portfolio managers
- Program managers
- Project team
- Operation managers
- Sellers/business partners
When a project is too big or complex it may be broken in phases. Each phase will run all five process groups. The end of a phase is known as phase end, milestone, phase gate, stage gate, skill point.
Number of phases will vary by needed phases and required degree of project control. These two depend basically on size, complexity and importance.
When a project has more than one phase there are three ways to intercalate them. They may be sequential, which means that one phase may only start when previous one ends.
Other way to intercalate them is to have them overlapping each other. This is useful to apply a technique know as fast tracking, where one phase starts before previous one has not reached its end. This technique is useful when project has a tight schedule or is running late.
Third way is iterative. This phase-to-phase consists of several milestones with only some features to be delivered. This phases will repeat until project reaches an end.