WBS, Phases and Control Points, Methodologies, and Life Cycles
Many of the preceding terms are used by project managers to describe the approach that is used to define and execute a project. Each of these has been explained in many other texts and references. Since the focus of this book is using Microsoft Project, the topics are brought up here to provide context only; there is no attempt to provide the definitive use of any of the terms. Rather, the hope is that the reader can apply the concepts and techniques as appropriate when building a schedule. The work that needs to happen during a project's life does not automatically conform to a particular methodology.
Before building any schedule, the project manager must consider two key components: work decomposition (what work needs to be done, the Work Breakdown Structure or WBS) and managerial control (stages, phases, and life cycle requirements). The discipline used for either will depend on the environment in which the project is executed, so the formality will vary but both components must be considered. The tasks or activities and milestones (how the work will be accomplished) should not be defined in a project schedule until the WBS and control framework are determined. WBS will help the project manager set parameters around the scope of work to be done; the life cycle sets the controls in place for decisions during project execution. If these two components are kept in control, the project will have a much higher opportunity for success.
Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)
Step one in building a schedule is to begin with a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) that allows decomposition of the scope of the project from major components to the smallest set of deliverables, called work packages. As a best practice, this process is completed before a true schedule is built. It can be done using Microsoft Project as long as ongoing "use" rules are defined and followed to keep the WBS components intact after the project is approved and baselined.
As mentioned earlier in this chapter, PMI has developed a standard for the WBS. It is a primary component of good project management practices because it forces the discipline of scope definition and control.
For detailed information of how to build a WBS, see Chapter 4, "Getting Started After the Business Initiative Is Approved," p. 87.
If the scope of your project is managed through a WBS, all of the tasks and milestones will be created in support of specific work packages and can be rolled up through the structure for tracking progress using Earned Value Management techniques. This practice eliminates some of the common failure points in project management, such as scope creep and fuzzy requirements. All work is clearly linked to the production of a deliverable, and progress against that deliverable can be monitored.
So many terms are used in the context of managerial control that a few definitions are in order. Hundreds of resources are available to provide detailed explanations; the purpose here is context only. The hope is that these simple descriptions will help the user's understanding when building a project schedule, as discussed in the following sections.
Phases and Gates
Many organizations have established processes for deciding what projects will be approved and for overseeing the projects once they have been launched. In some organizations, the processes are rigorous and robust; in others, the processes may be simple guidelines that have been put in place to help project managers. In either case, a defined set of standard phases and control points (often called gates) simplify the decisions that need to be made when running a project. In most cases, templates can be created that standardize the phases and the required control points for different types of projects.
Phases and gates can allow more management control of the project, as they break the project down into smaller components. This helps to keep executive and team focus aligned on the same set of activities. A change between phases is usually defined by some kind of transfer. In many cases, the transfer requires a formal review before the project is allowed to move into the next phase. It is not unusual, however, for phases to begin before the completion of the previous phase, especially when the risks are judged as acceptable. Each organization will make its own determination of the level of control required.
Building the phases and control points into templates is an excellent way to minimize the amount of work that needs to be done when building a new schedule. Many examples are already available in Microsoft Project, and the organization can build additional ones as needed.
For additional information on building and using templates, see Chapter 18, "Managing Project Files," on p. 581.
As organizations mature in the project management discipline, they very often adopt more formal management control systems. These systems are typically described as methodologies that include processes, rules, standards, and methods for how work will be done. In this section, we will identify a few of the ones used in specific industry segments. Each industry has its own set of methodologies, and this chapter will not attempt to identify all of them. The purpose here is to show how managing projects using Microsoft Project can be included in the methodology to assist in the enforcement and usability of the tools.
Like methodologies, project life cycles are unique to the industries and disciplines in which they are used. Although all projects have a beginning and an end, they will vary greatly in how the work is accomplished. It is nearly impossible to define an ideal life cycle. Some companies and organizations use a single, standardized life cycle for every project, whereas others permit the project manager to choose the best life cycle for the project. In others, a variety of life cycles exists to accommodate different levels of complexity and different styles or types of work.
Regardless of the organization's choices regarding methodologies and life cycles, all choices can use a scheduling tool to help with project execution. The key to success in every case is that the schedule must be focused on the deliverables to be produced rather than the process. The process must be set up to assist with producing deliverables. The next section of this chapter provides several examples of methodologies and life cycles in the field of software development to illustrate how Microsoft Project can be used to enable management of a wide variety of projects.