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Understanding Key Project Management Concepts

by Olufisayo
Project Management Concepts

Managing projects is an exciting career that requires an elaborate skillset with a fundamental understanding of different key concepts that together ensure projects are managed successfully.  In this article, we shall look at the five main stages of a project’s lifecycle, and some of the general concepts that require particular attention from the project manager managing the project.

Moreover, certifications like PMP provide a robust yet flexible framework on which to build project management processes that are universal regardless of industry and project size.  You can also find an online Project Management Tutorial that can help you understand key concepts in project management from PMP methodology and beyond so that you can start reaping rewards faster and manage projects more effectively straight away.


Initiation Stage

Depending on the nature of the project, the initiation stage can generally start through an RFP reply or the submission of a proposal following an expression of interest. It is of the utmost importance that points are clarified to their fullest extent, keeping in mind how sometimes knowledge can be a curse rather than a blessing.

The curse of knowledge

The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias we can all be guilty of when in our communication we assume the listening (or reading party for that matter) has knowledge which is known to us but in reality, is unknown to them. This can happen both ways, leading to huge misunderstandings and unfounded presumptions that are exuberated by each side thinking the other side has the knowledge it does not.

Be as crystal clear as possible in your communication, listing not only what the project will achieve but what it will not (being out of scope). Spend time to truly understand the requirements and what the customer wants to achieve and not only what they are necessarily saying. Put yourself in their shoes and ask questions.

The scope will also help you determine both timelines and cost. Everything is possible given enough time and budget, however, in the real world there are restrictions so make sure that you truly understand what these are.

Planning stage

The planning stage is where the project goals are laid out. This requires the buy-in and commitment of all parties that will in one way or another contribute to the success of the project. Ensure everyone is comfortable with the goals and timelines and not coerced or bullied into agreeing to something that simply cannot be delivered. Be overly specific; the devil is always in the details so make sure you suss him out.

Goals also need to be measurable, otherwise, parties will not agree whether they have been reached or not and will have you going around in circles trying to satisfy requirements that simply do not exist. To this end, goals need to be considered as goals by everyone, especially the project’s sponsors.

Resource allocation is another pitfall which can lead many projects to fail. Do not try to fit resources in a pre-set timeline. Remember, we live in a world of limited resources and there simply is no way around it.  Resources also have roles and responsibilities which need to be clearly defined. A RACI matrix can greatly help you communicate expectations clearly including an escalation plan. Although hopefully, everyone will take full responsibility, this might not always be the case so have an escalation plan and have it signed off.

Execution stage

Execution is how well you, as the project manager, are able to execute what you have planned. Not everything will always go to plan so have contingencies ready for whatever may happen.

One way to do this is through decision trees where each possible outcome branches out from a decision process. This exercise allows you to pre-empt whatever can go wrong and have contingencies in place. Pick the best and worst outcomes and make sure you know how to deal with both – and everything in between.

Communication is an important aspect of execution, where project managers need to ensure it happens as consistently as possible. Try to schedule face time as this will not only help you build better relationships with stakeholders but allow you to get a clearer picture of what is happening ‘on the ground’, After all, no plan survives contact with the enemy so make sure you’re there as much as possible.

Monitoring Stage

In the planning stage, figure out the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and make sure key stakeholders and project sponsors agree that they are of value – without their buy-in, you will not be able to ‘sell’ your progress. Measure them as effectively as possible and make sure you communicate them clearly. The PMP methodology offers practical reports which are both clear and concise for nobody wants to spend time pouring over irrelevant reports that say little and mean nothing.

Be open, clear, and precise in your communication. Remember the cognitive bias that lives in all of us and plans your communication accordingly.

Closure Stage

Depending on the nature of the project, closure can happen throughout the project (closing off each phase individually) or at one go once all goals have been attained. Either way ensure you have sign-off documents ready, detailing how all goals have been met to the client’s expectations.

The RACI matrix we spoke about earlier will now help you get sign-offs from the appropriate people who can actually sign-off milestones and the project itself. The clarity sought in the initiation and planning phases will also make sure you are able to get the required sign-offs since these have been made crystal clear and agreed upon by all relevant stakeholders.

Being a project manager is like a game of chess where each knowledge area can either be an opponent or a strategy for winning. As with everything else in life, taking the time to develop your understanding and invest in yourself and your skillset. This will help you reap multiple benefits and is as true in project management as in anything else; so make the effort and you will surely shine.

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