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Projects Tell a Story

If you don't like photography, maybe you'll like stories.

A project, like a good story, has a beginning, a middle, and a satisfying end. Think back to any project you've managed or worked on. Can you recall the beginning, middle, and a Hollywood ending?

The story for all projects is that they move through five process groups to get from start to finish. Within each process group there are key activities that help a project move along. Figure 2 demonstrates the flow of a project through the five process groups, described in the following sections.

Figure 2Figure 2

Initiating the Project

This process group starts all the fun. In this group the business need for the project is identified, some initial solutions might be proposed, and the project manager is selected.

The most important document to come out of this group is the project charter, which authorizes the project work and assigns the project manager the power to complete the project on behalf of the project sponsor. The project sponsor is typically someone high enough in the organizational hierarchy to have power over the resources that need to be involved in the project. (Having a weak sponsor for your project can also, unfortunately, lead to cheap tequila.)

Planning the Project

For planning, the project manager must know what the project will create. The project manager and the project stakeholders—the people who have a stake in the project outcome—have to determine what the desired future state is. A dreamy wish list won't work. The project demands exact requirements. If you don't know what the project should create, how will you ever get there?

After the project requirements have been agreed upon, the project manager, the project team, and in some instances the project stakeholders will create a plan for ways to achieve the project objectives. This isn't a one-time process. Planning is an iterative process that happens throughout the project duration. Planning is a cornerstone of project management—skip planning or do it half-heartedly and the project is doomed.

Executing the Project

Ever hear the quip, "Plan your work and then work your plan?" This is the working part. The executing process group is the project team executing the project work according to plan—and the project manager working with any vendors who might be involved in the execution or support of the deliverables needed for the project completion.

Controlling the Project

Control freaks need not apply. Controlling isn't about micromanaging—it's about compliance with the project plan. As you can see in Figure 2, there's a balance between execution and control. The project manager works with the project team, not over it, to ensure that it's doing the work as it was planned. And if not? The project manager makes corrective actions to get the project back in alignment with the project plan.

Controlling is also about balancing the time, cost, and scope constraints as the project moves along. The project manager has to measure, compare, and adjust controls within the project to ensure project success. If we do not measure, we cannot improve.

Closing the Project

Aaah...closing. This process group centers on closing out the project accounts; completing final, formal acceptance of the project deliverables; finalizing any time, cost, or quality reports; completing the project's lessons learned documentation; and finalizing any financial or procurement audits. The project manager might have to complete a review of each team member, a review of the vendors, and a review of his own actions in the project.

Project closure also involves some rewards and recognition. For some, this means bonuses, vacation time, or other rewards. If this isn't appropriate or available in an organization, the project manager should at least verbally reward the project team for its hard work and a job well done (assuming that the project was done well).

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