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Ideas, suggestions and general thoughts about project management for development.

Definitions of Project and Project Management

What is a project?

There are many definitions for what constitutes a project; some of these definitions describe the nature of a project and how it differs from other type of work, the descriptions used to define a project include the following:

• A temporary process, which has a clearly defined start and end time, a set of tasks, and a budget, that is developed to accomplish a well-defined goal or objective.

• A temporary effort of sequential activities designed to accomplish a unique purpose

• A group of inter-related activities, constrained by time, cost, and scope, designed to deliver a unique purpose

• An undertaking that encompasses a set of tasks or activities having a definable starting point and well defined objectives.

• A clear set of activities with related inputs and outputs aimed to achieve objectives and goals linked to anticipated (desired) effects and impacts in a target population

 

From all these descriptions, one can see that there are some specific attributes that define a project and separate it from most ordinary work:

• A project has a beginning and an end.

• A project has limited resources

• A project follows a planned, organized method to meet its objectives with specific goals of quality and performance.

• Every project is unique

 

What is  project management?

Here are some of the standard definitions of project management:

• According to “A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, PMI, Third Edition”, “Project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to a broad range of activities in order to meet the requirements of a particular project”.

• The ISO 10006, a standard for quality in project management defines it as; “Unique process consisting of a set of coordinated and controlled activities with start and finish dates, undertaken to achieve an objective conforming to specific requirements, including constraints of time, cost and resources”.

• PRINCE2, the UK standard for project management, has this definition: “a temporary organization that is needed to produce a unique and predefined outcome or result at a pre-specified time using predetermined resources”. I

• PMA, the International Project Management Association, defines a project as “a time and cost constrained operation to realize a set of defined deliverables up to quality standards and requirements”.

In other words, project management is the planning, implementing, and monitoring of project activities to meet project objectives, achieved by effectively controlling and balancing the constraint of time, cost, and scope in producing quality deliverables that meet or exceed the expectations of the project stakeholders.

 

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The Roles of the Project Manager

Development organizations appoint a project manager for the depth of his or her technical skills. It is not unusual to find a good engineer being promoted to project manager just for his or her technical competence. While it is true that one must have a good understanding of the technical aspects of the project, project managers are also required to have good management skills such as communicating; planning, negotiating, coaching, decision-making, and leadership. These skills are often overlooked at the time of hiring or appointing a project manager.

The job descriptions for a project manager need to be more explicit in defining the managerial skills and competencies required for the job. Organizations usually assign a project manager with the idea that all that is required is expertise in a technical area and often forget the need to have a project manager with the skills to lead a project team, coordinate the use of resources, communicate with stakeholders and manage the project constraints, all at the same time.

Organizations need to build a better understanding of the role of a project manager and understand that this role is not the same as a technical manager. The project manager role is one of integrator, communicator and facilitator; this role is of equal or more importance than the role of a technical manager.

There are three critical roles of the project manager:

  • Integrator; ensures all the project activities, strategies and approaches are an integrated effort.
  • Communicator; most of the work is spend here, communicating with all stakeholders and building the right support and relationships.
  • Leader; motivating and inspiring a team to deliver the project work by providing a vision and direction.

A key responsibility of the project manager is to ensure the proper integration of the project management processes and coordinate the project phases through the project management cycle. This responsibility is to ensure that all areas of the project come together to deliver the project to a successful conclusion. This is the main role of the project manager; it is not related to the technical responsibilities of the project, which in most cases are managed by the project staff. The role of integrator involves three specific areas of responsibility:

  • Develop the project management plans, which consists of the development of all project planning documents into a consistent, coherent project plan document.
  • Implement the project plan, which involves the execution of the project plan and ensuring all activities are performed by all the people involved.
  • Monitor and control the plan, which involves measuring the initial results against the intended objectives and coordinating all changes to the plans.

As communicator the project manager ensures that all stakeholders receive the right information at the right time. This is an important role. The project manager has a holistic view of the project and is in the best position to know the why, when, what and how the project is doing and communicate progress, changes and risks to the parties involved. Studies confirm that the project manager spends about 80% of his/her time communicating. Project managers in the role of communicators assume three functions:

  • Gathering information from project staff and other people involved with the project;
  • Analyzing the information and make sense of its implications; a
  • Distributing the information to the internal and external environments, such as the donor, beneficiaries, and the general public to gain support for the project.

As leader, the project manager must ensure the team and project stakeholders have an understanding of the project vision. A leader inspire others to achieve the project objectives, the leader encourages full participation from the project team, promotes mutual understanding with the beneficiaries and cultivates shared responsibility among all project stakeholders.

The leadership role implies the skills to:

  • Facilitate: To ease and assist the project team to do their work
  • Coordinate: To organize, direct and synchronize the efforts of all involved in the project
  • Motivate: To inspire, stimulate and encourage the team to achieve the project objectives

 These roles are integrated and cannot be treated as separate, and they are critical to the success of any project manager.

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