Project Management Functions

Setting realistic expectations, fostering agreement among all parties, and then delivering the product is frequently challenging and always requires a wide array of techniques. From a high level these techniques can be grouped into the three project management functions.

Project definition lays out the foundation for a project. There are two activities involved in this groundwork.

  • The project manager must determine the purpose, goals, and constraints of the project. He or she must answer questions like, Why are we doing this? and What does it mean to be successful? The answers become the foundation for making all project decisions because they describe the cost-schedule-quality equilibrium and connect the project to the mission of the organization.
  • The manager must establish basic project management controls. He or she must get agreement on which people and organizations are involved in the project and what their roles will be. The manager also needs to clarify the chain of command, communication strategy, and change control process. The documented acceptance of these decisions and strategies communicates expectations about the way the project will be managed.
  • It also becomes an agreement to which you can refer to keep everyone accountable to their responsibilities in the project. The written document that comes out of this process of definition can be defined as the project rules because, like the rules to any game, they outline how to play and what it takes to win.

Project planning puts together the details of how to meet the project’s goals, given the constraints. Common estimating and scheduling techniques will lay out just how much work the project entails, who will do the work, when it will be accomplished, and how much it will cost. Along the way, risk management activities will identify the areas of greatest uncertainty and create strategies to manage them. The detailed strategy laid out in the plan becomes a reality check for the cost-schedule-quality equilibrium developed during project definition.

Project control includes all the activities that keep the project moving toward the goal. These activities include:

  • Progress measurement. Measuring progress frequently identifies any problems early, making them easier to solve. Progress measurement is also a feedback mechanism, validating the estimates in the plan and the cost-schedule-quality equilibrium.
  • Communication. Communication is critical in controlling a project, because it keeps all the participants coordinated and aware of project progress and changes.
  • Corrective action. This consists of the day-to-day responses to all the obstacles and problems a
    project may encounter.

These project management functions sum up the responsibilities of the project manager. The functions are sequential: A project must begin with definition, then proceed to planning, and finally to control. And the functions must be repeated time and again, because planning will inevitably lead to modifications in the definition, and controlling actions will require constant changes to the plan and, occasionally, changes to the definition.

During an ongoing project, a manager may spend time every day defining, planning, and controlling the project. Subsequent articles correspond to these three functions of the project manager: project definition, project planning, and project control. Each part deals in detail with the techniques necessary to perform each of these project management functions.

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