May 21

Project Management in Context


Project Management in Context

Project management in context
Project Management in Context

First, it is important to agree some of the common characteristics of a project:

  • In order to derive benefit the project will be required to produce a plan to set of deliverables
  • Projects are transient – they have a finite time in which they will deliver the deliverables
  • Various sizes – there are overheads associated with any project and are therefore normally a significant endeavour involving risk that must be managed
  • Directed at the achievement of benefits, that is we do not do projects merely because we can.  We expect to derive some long-term benefit from them potentially way beyond the end of the project itself
  • Operating within a predetermined and planned project budget

The project balance

The project objectives are a balance of time, cost, quality, benefits and risk that defines the project scope

Each of these are called success criteria and it is relatively common to hear the term quality used instead of deliverables.

The broad term quality is interpreted as “fitness for purpose” or to put it simply, the products “do what it says on the tin” – with that in being the specification.  You may also hear the word product used, and this term has advantages in that it implies not just any generic deliverable, but one that that you fulfils a stated requirement.

The exact balance of the various components is what the project manager has the balance throughout the project after they have been agreed and documented in the business case and the project management plan.

The balance or equilibrium between the five elements of time, cost, quality, risk, and benefit has to balance the well the project.  There are usually trade offs to be made against each.

The project sponsor is responsible for making and agreeing such tradeoffs.  They are the arbiter of the beneficial outcomes that may be achieved and the cost of achieving them.  This is a fundamental aspect of a project sponsor’s role or means that they can create another and a viable business case.

Projects are different from business as usual

Projects are formulated and undertaken to introduce a change to an existing status quo, and this distinguishes them from operational tasks.  The of the following points clearly show the differences between a project and business as usual (often called “or operations”):


  • Seeks to introduce change
  • Limited by time
  • Key subject matter experts employed to prepare unique plans, specifications and to manage risk
  • Specified scope so we can understand the objective of the project
  • Produce specific deliverables one time
  • I have a discreet number of steps called a project lifecycle

Business as usual (or operations)

  • Seeks to maintain a stable platform for sufficient production
  • Repetitive and continues indefinitely
  • Highly proceed were working practices to enable effective continuity and oversight
  • The first few prototypes of MS produced item may be a project, thereafter they are business as usual
  • Produce specific deliverables but repeatedly
  • Products go through a lifecycle from build, through other Asians to disposal, called a product lifecycle

What are the benefits of project management?

Why do organizations want to go to the time and trouble of adopting a project management approach?

Clearly there are significant problems with doing so, for example trained staff, methods, procedures, structure, defined roles, and so on.  All of these are required and inevitably cost money.  Project management is therefore mainly to help with the management of risk.

Specifically, organisations need to understand the potential problems inherent in the undertaking by adopting the rigour of a project management approach and this includes:

Activity.  Understanding the resources and effort required

Benefits.  Means the organization can recruit, train, redeploy or otherwise ensure that it has the appropriate people for the job, thus avoiding delays through lack of appropriate staff.  It can also manage cash flow and investment funding far more effectively

Activity.  Consulting with relevant stakeholders to understand the nature of the requirements and then two documents them.

Benefits.  Everyone is clear about what will be delivered and when.  Having signed up for the deliverables, the users are obliged to accept them at some point during the project thus ensuring that they are fit for purpose

Activity.  Repairing trouble plans to clearly communicate who is doing what and when

Benefit.  Everyone is clear on the role, there are no gaps in who does what, and similarly there is no overlap or duplication.

Activity.  Providing temporary but agreed reporting lines and accountability is

Benefits.  Projects only exist for the time being, but the organization must ensure due diligence over how the budget is spent.  Accountability through the temporary project structure provides this re-assurance.

Activity.  Implementation of a formal risk management plan

Benefits.  The sponsor and the sponsoring organization have the assurance that there are no bad and expensive surprises that might compromise the project and even the organizations survival.

Project management challenges

There are three principal areas of difficulty – people, process, and technology


As a project manager you are likely to have direct control of all the people working on the project.  They may be contractors, suppliers, staff in other departments and external parties, such as regulatory or statutory bodies.

Influencing these individuals can prove a challenge for many project managers.  Project managers have the task of getting people to want to do the things they need them to do.  I will not have direct organisational authority

One of the main challenges is motivating people to not undo your direct control.  The line managers of the staff may well have other differing priorities from yours.  The staff will be unsure which takes precedence.

Projects, by their nature, involve change within an organization and the resistance to this change can cause real difficulties.  Your organisation will have its own set ways of doing things and a certain culture would have built up over the years.  These traditional ways will be broken down in some ways by the project and the staff affected may tend to resist.

Project management involves thinking through all the plans and risk before proceeding by the project.  This can be perceived as undue pessimism by some individuals.  Especially in a sales or entrepreneurial environment, this be a very real problem for the attempted implementation of project management disciplines.


Organizations want control of projects and, in most mature organizations, they have roles to control them, such as investment approval or go/no go decision points.  Project managers can find these rules bureaucratic and frustrating, but they are necessary for the organization to manage risk.

In contrast though, some organisations to running projects lack enough control.  This can also present a challenge for project managers with everyone adopting a different approach.  It order to run and properly manage a project there needs to be some stability and a structure.

Project managers need to be aware of and interact with a known interface within the organization for example investment regulations, HR policies, planning guidelines and configuration management systems.

They do not have to be super sophisticated, but they are necessary.


Projects often involve technical innovations.  Introducing technical innovation brings with it the opportunity to introduce risks and this has a considerable influence on the way a project is implemented.

Modern technology often requires competence pm. The current skills of the organization, and this is one of the reasons why you may be used outside suppliers simply because the organization cannot do it on its own.

This can lead to the use of an elevated level of contract or agency staff, or an over reliance on an external contractor.  Maintaining an intelligent client is important and they must be informed, constructive and feel a strong partnership in their relationship.

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About the Author

David spent 25 years as a senior project manager for USA multinationals, and has deep experience in project management. He now develops a wide range of project-related downloadable video training products under the Primer and PM Mastery System brand names. In addition, David runs project management training seminars across the world, and is a prolific writer on the many topics of project management.


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