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Project success or project failure: it's up to you.

Before trying to determine how to manage a project, it is important to understand what the process is all about. A project is a team oriented, planned, ad hoc undertaking where the objective is to improve, change or add a new dimension to an ongoing operation. Once the project has been implemented, it becomes part of the normal, daily operational activities and the project group disbands or moves on to another venture.

Many times, particularly when a new product is involved, people are unclear as to when a project really begins. This demarcation point should occur only when the outcome is clearly established, a manager is assigned, a team is formed, plans to implement are prepared and disseminated, work is authorized, and reporting and control mechanisms are in place. Prior to this point is a time of analysis and decision making on what needs to be done (introduce a new product, re-layout a plant, etc.) and whether this is really necessary and viable.

It is these pre-project stages of thought, study and research that should consume an ample amount of time, devoted to a very detailed definition of the ultimate goal. This discipline, which is extensively used by Japanese companies, enables the execution of the objective (the project) to proceed with what is viewed by us as lightning speed. Unfortunately, too many times, overzealous individuals responsible for defining the outcome, rush through some type of implementation without providing a clear picture of what is wanted and expected. The price is paid in an inordinately long and/or disorganized project stage with the results, fraught with problems, being dumped into the regular operations. New projects are then necessary and must be instituted in order to clean up the mess.

The traditional way to conduct a project is through scheduling and executing an integrated series of activities, where the completion of one or more usually triggers the start of another. However, in today's fast paced world, more and more projects have parallel activities occurring, thereby reducing the total time necessary for overall completion. A notable example of this was the creation of the Taurus automobile, where simultaneous input from many groups allowed Ford Motor Co. to know how to build the car before the first model was constructed. The keys to success were objective definition, excellent communication among all groups, and people involvement coordinated and controlled through one individual.

Regardless of whether the project is product, process or service related and that its activities occur sequentially or simultaneously, a leader must be placed in charge.

This person, while usually not responsible for any singular activity or detail, is definitely accountable for the entirety of the work and ensuring that specific individuals carry out his or her responsibilities.

The manager and those who have established the objective must be in complete agreement that there is sufficient definition and detail to warrant the start of the project.

The initial duties of this person are to draw up a preliminary listing of necessary resources (personnel, capital, etc.) and a rough project timetable. After these are completed, a project team, that group of functional individuals who will identify and carry out all detailed activities, must be assembled.

Once the team has been formed, and before any specific details are developed and finalized, each person must fully comprehend what the overall objective is and what his or her role is in achieving it. This can be accomplished through a very simple, three step questioning process used by a very famous project manager, Lee Iaccoca:

* Do you know what the objective is?

* Do you know what your role is in achieving this?

* Is there anything prohibiting you from carrying out your role?

It is imperative that there is a complete agreement between the leader and each team member on the first two issues. Once there is, and an obstacle exists or arises, it is the leader's responsibility to personally remove that obstruction in order to let the individual carry out his or her duties. This process will be used throughout the project, as various situations and problems arise.

Once everyone is sure of and comfortable with his or her role, the preliminary plans can be reviewed, modified and finalized by the team. Here, a variety of project management tools can be employed such as PERT, CPM or GANTT charts, computerized management packages, work packets and the like. Each organization should determine what it is most satisfied with, based upon project complexity, available time for recordkeeping, and a general feeling of trust among the team members as to whether each person will fulfill his or her obligations.

Once the road map (project schedule) is finalized, the actual project work begins. Group meetings should be held on both a regular and an as-needed basis, with the main intent being to keep everyone up-to-date on the overall progress. Assuming that nothing ever goes exactly according to plan, the schedule must be reviewed and updated regularly to reflect any changes without, hopefully, altering the completion date. The project manager must communicate on a frequent basis with the team members individually and as a whole to ensure that they are fulfilling their specified responsibilities and, if not, what corrections are necessary to get back on track. This individual must also communicate the project's progress and any deviations to all other areas of the company that have a vested interest in its outcome.

Typically, one gets the impression from articles on project management that if the steps outlined are followed precisely, everything will flow easily and painlessly. To some degree this is true. However, in spite of the best laid plans and extreme conscientiousness of the team members, things do go awry. The key is to recognize and deal with those problems immediately, even if the end result is a delay in the targeted completion date. Failure to do this, or even worse, to assume that you can successfully run a project without a defined structure is to only fool yourself.

The three basic components of any project are time, money and quality. In order to be satisfied that all three will come in at their desired result, your best chance is to follow the aforementioned path. Otherwise, you most probably will be forced to accept a compromise on which two of the three will meet your original expectations, while badly missing the other. This outcome can be avoided, if proper attention is given and necessary adjustments made throughout the project.

Project management can be personally rewarding and actually fun when done correctly. Exercising the correct amount of attention may seem to be a hassle, but in fact, it actually streamlines the work load. By trying to shortcut the process it can easily become a confusing and harrowing experience. The results are entirely up to you and how you approach it.

For further reading

Keider, Stephen P., "Why Projects Fail", Datamation, December 1974.

Kezsbom, Deborah S., "Are You Really Ready to Build a Project Team?", Industrial Engineering, October 1990.

Managing by Objectives, John Wiley and Sons 1972.

Verespes, Michael A., "Yea Teams? Not Always," Industry Week, June 1990.

Vesey, Joseph T., "Meet the New Competitors. They Think in Terms of Speed-To-Market", Industrial Engineering, December 1990.

Peter H. Christian is the director of quality assurance at Binney & Smith Inc. He previously held the positions of operations manager - art, educational and international divisions and project engineering manager. He received his B.S. and M.S. degrees from Rutgers and Lehigh Universities, respectively, and is a senior member of IIE.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Institute of Industrial Engineers, Inc. (IIE)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Christian, Peter H.
Publication:Industrial Management
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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