Richard T Shin
Project Manager

April 2001

Project Management: More Than Meets the Eye

When a client hires an outside consultancy for an engagement, they are often focused on what the tangible outcomes of the project will be: the new front-end design, the added personalization features, etc. It's common, however, to overlook the means by which the completed project is delivered. That means is project management.

The Job Description

So what is project management? Some liken it to being an orchestra conductor, unifying the different talents of individual players into a harmonious performance. Others compare it to being a negotiator, and/or motion picture director. Traffic cop, drill instructor, call it what you want-it's a position that wears a lot of hats.

A project manager has numerous responsibilities. He or she drafts the project plan, estimates resources; schedules the dates and nature of deliverables; establishes and maintains internal and external communications; and assesses risks and drafts contingency plans. All this is in addition to several other duties that may be particular to individual projects.

Because clients are so (understandably) focused on 1) the outcome of the project, more so than the means by which the final solution is produced, and 2) streamlining expenses, project management is often suffers from a lack of attention in project budgets. This creates challenges to the optimal success of the project.

Consider the analogy of a project manager as a coach readying an athlete to reach the finish line in a long-distance contest. Could the athlete train without the coach and finish the race? Yes, probably so. But the coach works to prepare the athlete to complete the race at the desired pace, without injury, and ready for the next event.

By the Numbers

To see the value provided by project management, compare these descriptions of what activities can realistically be delivered under the different levels of commitment given to an engagement.

  • 40 hours per week: With this level of involvement, project requirements are regularly reviewed, analyzed, and updated. Actual progress is measured against initial estimates, and budgets and schedules are tracked, adjusted, and managed accordingly. Deliverables are carefully reviewed before being handed off to the client and/or to the internal resources. Working closely with the project team, the project manager is even able to jump in to help at "crunch time," if necessary. In this mode, project management is a very proactive process, anticipating potential challenges to development and addressing them.

    To extend the coaching metaphor, at this level of commitment, the coach provides one-on-one attention to the athlete. He is charting training times and noting changes in performance, taping ankles before practice and icing down the joints afterwards. He also guides the athlete through the final preparations for the event.

  • 20-25 hours per week: Reduced hours affect the project manager's ability to consistently meet with internal resources, external resources, or the full project team. A significant degree of understanding about the project, its requirements, and complexities is also lost. At this point, much of the job qualifies as "project coordination."

    In addition, part-time project management not only reduces the level of services provided, but also reduces response time. A project manager assigned part-time to a client's project will be placed on other projects by his or her consultancy, as well. Attention and focus is thus diverted elsewhere. When the client contacts the project manager with a question or pressing need, there is a natural delay as he/she shifts gears and changes trains of thought. At this stage, and others below it, project management becomes a much more reactive process.

    Here, our coach can invest more time with the athlete, and address problems that arise (such as treating an injury suffered during training, for example). But the coach must also give attention to athletes that he is training in other sports, as well.

  • 8-10 hours of project management per week: With only this much time in the budget, a project manager has no time to meet with the client or project team on a regular basis, or to study requirements in depth. Unable to spend time guiding the efforts of the project team, the project manager must, in effect, simply inform developers how many hours they have to produce a deliverable, and to "cc" him or her when delivering the output to the client. He or she is effectively reduced to tracking the project's budget and compiling status reports. Under such circumstances, the job becomes simply "project coordination" at best.

    To continue our parallel, a coach with this level of commitment might prescribe a schedule for the athlete, deliver it, and then remove himself to the infield of the track, stopwatch in hand, to monitor the athlete's training from afar. (It would be debatable to many if this would actually qualify as "coaching.")

In short, the project manager is the client's constant lifeline to the project and all related activities. A full-time project manager is able to relate the status of the project on any given day, at any given hour, and is readily accessible to help move the project along.

Don't Take My Word For It…

Need more convincing? Recent industry publications attest to how successful projects are developed. An article in the March 5, 2001 issue of the Industry Standard, for example, detailed the steps that went into creating Kmart's "Both the design and engineering camps … discussed their progress in regular meetings…" the piece reported, "[and] the project stayed on track." An individual involved in the project observed, "We had 17 different trains all having to arrive back at the station three months later…. That's the importance of program management." If project management is currently undervalued, no less an authority than Gartner Inc. has forecast that its value will soon be evident. Given projects' increasing complexity (combining elements such as e-commerce, supply chain management, and customer interfaces) and factors such as a lack of sufficiently skilled IT personnel, says Gartner, effective project management services will be required to guide engagements through to efficient, timely completion. *

Are You Feeling Lucky?

As with anything else, you get out of a project what you put into it. An e-business application is a significant investment, and a client deserves to see it achieve the highest degrees of success possible. Scaling back project management involvement does not preclude the eventual development of the project, but does reduce the likelihood of complete, on-schedule delivery. With so much on the line, doesn't it make sense to do your best?

* "Successful IS Project Management," Jonathan Furlonger and John Roberts, April 18, 2000.

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