What are projects?
According to DIN 69901, projects are concrete, new projects that are characterized by the uniqueness of their overall conditions. Projects are characterized by a project goal, by a defined beginning and a defined end as well as by financial and personnel delimitations from other projects. You often deal with innovative tasks, the realization of which involves considerable risks. With projects, special measures can be defined and implemented in companies in addition to ongoing work in day-to-day business. As a rule, changes are to be initiated and implemented with projects. Therefore, the Change Management is relevant for project management. Projects are often interdisciplinary and therefore particularly complex.
The success of projects is usually measured particularly strictly using the three criteria of performance, time and costs.
Project management simply explained
Project management means leading projects. Project management is a management task for which the usual recommendations on management topics apply.
Because of their special framework, projects, as defined in DIN 69901, require their own project-specific organization, into which management tasks, management techniques and management resources must be incorporated in a suitable manner. Projects do not take care of themselves “on their own” on the fringes of day-to-day business, but require a lot of attention right from the definition and organization phase. Therefore, projects are assigned project managers who are to lead their projects. Note that project managers have sufficient capacity to manage their projects. Otherwise, projects threaten to fail. Also note that not every manager from the line organization is a good project manager. Projects require different skills.
In larger projects, the project manager has a project office, a supporting team that relieves him of administrative work in the project.
The project manager reports regularly to a steering committee on the course of the project, results and difficulties. The steering committee consists of the initiator of the project, the so-called project sponsor, and other managers of the organization. Important project-related decisions are made in the steering committee, in particular approvals for further project phases and approvals of project budgets. The steering committee is responsible for project controlling. For projects that extend beyond company boundaries to other organizations such as customers, service partners or suppliers, the steering committee is usually made up of representatives of these organizations.
The project organization also provides for a project team, an often interdisciplinary core team that is in charge of working on a project. Temporary project committees or working groups can be set up below the project team.
The course of projects is usually designed with a project plan. Such a project plan contains all project activities that are required to achieve the project goal. Larger projects are subdivided into project phases in the project plan, which can connect to each other, but can also overlap. The project phases contain the individual project steps.
The necessary resources are assigned to each project step. It is useful to determine the dependencies of the individual project steps from one another, which shows which project steps must be completed before other project steps can be started. The “critical path” of projects can be read from the sequence of project steps, taking these dependencies into account. The critical path shows the total duration of the project. Along the critical path, project times can be optimized through the targeted allocation of additional resources. Project plans are usually executed in GANTT charts, in which the project steps are represented as blocks and graphically connected with arrows in their defined dependencies. The required project resources or phased over- or underutilization of the available capacities result from the sum of the allocated resources. During the course of the project, it is important to document the actual status in the project plan and to compare it with the original planning in order to identify deviations. There is suitable, commercially available project management software that facilitates the planning and management of projects.
In projects, it depends on the quality of communication. Communication works best if feedback loops are set up during the course of the project, through which imminent deviations from the project plan can be recognized at an early stage and countermeasures can be taken.
Projects are divided into milestones for which defined results are to be achieved. A review is usually carried out for each planned milestone in the project team and then also in the steering committee in order to record the project status and to be able to initiate measures to absorb any deviations.
Projects are completed with a final review meeting in which the results, time required and costs are compared with the goals and a decision is made as to whether the respective project was successful or not. On this occasion, “Lessons Learned” are worked out, which can flow into future projects as experiences. A process is required for this project-specific learning ability of organizations.
Different types of project management
Depending on the environment, organization and task, different approaches to projects are recommended.
Agile project management
Agile project management is recommended for highly dynamic environments, flexible organizations and project topics that are associated with a high degree of uncertainty.
Classic project management
Classic project management is recommended for projects in more stable environments, established organizations and topics that are less complex.
Hybrid project management
A form of hybrid project management can be used for environments, organizations and project topics that are somewhere between stable and highly changeable.