One the questions we are often asked is ‘what is a project management process?’

Many of our clients are initially concerned that they aren’t managing their projects right and are interested in the process that sits behind it. In this article I am going to share with you some thoughts on the project management process, using a ‘start – middle – end’ structure.

Start – getting it right before you leap into action!

At the outset of a project it is vital that you know what you trying to achieve. Clarity around this is essential, otherwise you can end up at the wrong destination having consumed a whole load of business resources.

A really good tool to use at the outset is a PID. PID stands for Project Initiation Document and is a really smart way to define the project management process thereafter.

A PID usually contains the following items:

  • Scope of the project (and what is explicitly excluded).
  • Who the stakeholders are.
  • Key team members.
  • Deliverables.
  • Timeframe.
  • Ongoing communication / reporting method.
  • Success criteria.
  • Risks and opportunities.

It is also good practice to have a signature box at the bottom of the PID, so that you can capture the commitment of the people authorising the project and those agreeing to deliver it.

Two other really important considerations at this stage are team selection and project management style.

Team selection is often a challenge. You will need people around you that have the skills and attitude to deliver the project. The project will most likely be focused on achieving a specific outcome, so having a nice team as opposed to an effective team is not always that best choice. Choose your team wisely (if you are allowed to!).

In terms of project management style, the main two methods that we come across are the waterfall approach, or the iterative approach.

The waterfall approach is often referred to as traditional project management. It is characterised by sequential tasks, often graphically represented by a GANTT chart.

The iterative approach, often referred to as agile methodologies (or SCRUM), centres around short sprint activities and concurrent working.

We’ll review these different approaches in another article. The key here, is to be clear about what approach you are currently running with.

project management process overview
An overview of the project management process

Middle – effective and efficient project execution

As we are considering the project management process, we now come to the delivery aspect of your project. If you have set the project up correctly, you should know what you are trying to deliver, who is involved and how long you have.

From a process perspective, the middle of the project management process is often depicted as a loop. This cycle can cover a range of tasks including:

  • Planning and scheduling tasks (across different time horizons).
  • Execution of the programme.
  • Dealing with known and unknown issues.
  • Regulating resource (including people, equipment, materials).
  • Dealing with quality concerns (and safety and environmental, depending on what kind of project you are running).
  • Liaising with your customers and suppliers (internal or external).

Short cycles, like the one above, are very effective. This is one of the points where the iterative and waterfall approaches can cross over, if you choose this ‘production loop’ approach.

When the loop comes round to the start again, you can reflect on whether you have completed the project (or not). Alternatively, this might be the opportunity to move to the next sprint, or the next phase of a programme.

Having a cycle like this can help to really define the project management process, especially on longer duration projects. Many businesses are good at the planning stage and then structure starts to fall away as you get into the project delivery element.

Leadership style at this point can make a big difference.

There is an opportunity here to adopt a style known as ‘servant leadership’. If you can imagine a typical organisation chart as a pyramid, you visualise the typical control and command structure. In servant leadership, the pyramid is inverted.

This is a philosophical approach; respect and control are still intact. The approach here is the realisation that one of the jobs of the leader is to ensure that their team can produce and deliver.

Translated into our project management process, this means that the leader needs to know about the obstacles the team are facing and facilitate their removal. Without this impedance, productivity should naturally increase. Removing obstacles is, usually, a daily leadership task.

project management process
Same structure, different approach (and often, results)

The end of the project management process

If your initial PID has been effective, then you should know where the end of your project lies.

Many organisations struggle to know where the end of their project truly is. If you look at many projects, as soon as some tangible deliverables have been achieved the team are disbanding and moving on to their next project. Many clients only remember the end of a project, not all of the hard work that went into the majority of the activities. If the end of your project is weak, your client will likely remember this as being the whole project.

There are, however, some key tasks that should be considered at the end of our project management process. These items include:

  • Acceptance by the customer / stakeholder of the project’s completion.
  • Ensuring that any ongoing routine tasks (including maintenance and housekeeping) are properly defined.
  • Delivering training and an effective handover from the project team to the end users / customers.
  • Carrying out a project debrief, and learning from it.
  • Updating any standards, documentation or tools (ready for your next project).

After these tasks have been completed, the team can then start with their next project.

Summary of the project management process

There are many articles, books and seminars about this topic. Most organisations want to embrace an effective (and efficient) project management process. I hope that by reading this article a few points have stood out to you.

If I had to summarise a good project management process:

  • The start, middle and end are clear to everyone involved.
  • The deliverables are known and are explicitly defined.
  • Progress is visual and visible, with concise reporting to the stakeholders.
  • The handover to the customer / users is clearly defined. Think how they pass the baton during a relay race at the Olympics!
  • Time is taken at the end, however brief, to reflect on what happened during the project.

Keeping your project management process simple, but clear, is a good approach to take.

Giles Johnston
Giles Johnston

Giles Johnston is a Chartered Engineer that spends his working life helping businesses to become more organized, more efficient and get back in control.

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