When an organization embarks on a special project, generally, the first task is to define what the project objective will be as it relates to expected deliverables. This task is usually accomplished fairly quickly by initial stakeholders; they include operations managers and other staff interested in the benefit the project deliverables will bring to the operation. Problems generally begin to arise when the project has been approved and the process of defining how to create the project deliverable, what costs will be associated, what resources will be required, and how to schedule these resources for a special project in addition to their normal daily tasks must be considered. Projects have to be structured and managed, maintaining a balance between utilizing the organization’s resources for daily operations and for required tasks to complete work activities on a project.
Resources can be human resources and any other resources, including financial requirements, that will be needed on a project; however, they have to be defined, showing how they can be utilized in the balance of daily operations tasks and special project tasks. This can create a challenge for operations managers because they have an obligation to daily work activities but want to see special projects completed and struggle with ways to balance human resources and other resources within their department to complete both of these tasks. Part of this dilemma stems from the department manager being loyal to his obligation in the daily operations and will typically err to ensuring operations are not impacted, thus creating constraints for utilizing resources on special projects. The other part of this dilemma might be the department manager’s inexperience with scheduling resources for both departmental tasks and project tasks. Project managers who are separated from operational departments do not share the same loyalty and, in fact, are probably more loyal to completing project tasks and will negotiate with departmental managers in scheduling resources for project tasks. Project managers can also solicit the use of resources from outside the organization to complete project activities if internal resources are simply not available.
The second component that presents a challenge with special projects in an organization is defining all the costs associated with project activities and developing an overall budget for a special project. Typically, the error in costing projects is looking at project activities at a high level and trying to associate a more “generalized” cost to complete the entire activity, not taking into account all the specifics within each activity. Although this approach can be used in cost estimating a project, it is typically the reason that projects go over budget and that project activity costs are difficult to control. If project activity costs have been established based on the overall activity, as the activity plays out and specific tasks have resource, material, and equipment requirements that have not been accounted for, these requirements can add costs. Because these resources are needed, these costs present challenges in trying to control costs for the overall activity. Project managers typically have more time and techniques to break down activities to understand all the associated costs to derive a more accurate work activity cost and project budget.
Organizations that do not have project management capabilities will ultimately struggle with the implementation of projects in defining project costs, scheduling resources, and controlling project work activities. The key element, in addition to properly costing and scheduling a project, is in the control of costs and scheduling of activities and resources to ensure a project completes an objective at the estimated cost and within the allotted schedule.