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Understanding Corporate Project Management

Business projects can arise from many sources. New commercial opportunities, changes in business process, changes in government regulation and availability of new technology are just some of the triggers that may require projects to be undertaken. At any one time many projects and project ideas are competing for priority and funding and businesses need to manage these multiple demands on resources while maintaining their business as usual.

Business project or program offices are common in large businesses; in smaller businesses a single person may take this role. The project office is responsible for overseeing all projects and coordinating all project activity within the business. They will establish a simple and well defined framework with a staged approach for all projects and maintain monitoring and reporting to senior management on the project portfolio of the business. They also support individual project managers by providing advice and expertise on project management.

Individual project management requires both powerful interpersonal skills and structured management. It is often made to look complicated but it need not be. By keeping to a basic format and following some simple principles you can deliver a successful project on time and within budget.

The first step in getting your project idea off the ground is to gain approval from management. To do this you should prepare a proposal which identifies the business need and the benefits which support the strategy of the business. Finding a sponsor from the management team to support your project, while not essential, will add credibility to the idea and give it a better chance of being selected amongst competing priorities for funding.

Once approval to proceed has been gained each project moves through six stages. At the end of each stage is a gate where the project is reassessed and revalidated. At each gate one of three decisions can be made. The project will move to the next stage, be placed on hold or killed. It is useful to prepare a decision support package, (DSP), for presentation to the steering committee or management board at each of the gates. In addition to providing an update on the project status the DSP should contain information that assists decision makers to validate that the project remains viable, is still a high priority and should continue to be funded.

Feasibility is the first stage of a project. It is a formal examination of the proposal and contains a detailed evaluation against existing business plans. Definition and planning follow the feasibility study and it is in this stage the project scope is finalized and detailed plans covering tasks, resources, risks, deadlines, milestones, budget and costs are prepared. Stakeholder engagement is critical to project success and a communications and engagement plan should form part of the detailed project plan. Using cross functional teams to work on the project can also assist in breaking down barriers to cooperation and set up the project for a successful implementation.

The majority of time taken for the project is expended in these first two stages. Understanding the required outcomes and clearly planning an achievable path are essential to completing the project on time within cost constraints. Where projects run over time or budget it is most often because insufficient time was spent in the feasibility and planning stages.

With a clearly set out plan the project can move through the next stage quickly. The execute stage involves development and desk top testing of the solution. The solution is then fully tested in the pilot stage. A limited scope and time bound implementation takes place and the results are monitored and analyzed, necessary adjustments are made and a roll out plan is prepared before moving to full implementation. In full implementation the solution is rolled out to the entire business and the benefits begin to flow. Pre-determined standards of performance are set and when these are reached the project is formally closed and responsibility for management of the solution passes to line management.

Approximately three months after the project is closed a post project review is undertaken and a final report on the performance specifications and business benefits delivered is made to the steering committee or management board. The post project also includes a review of the project management and lessons learned are captured for use in future projects.

Business project management is about selecting the right projects and managing them in the right way to achieve the goals of the organization. The increasing complexity of the business world and the rapidly changing environment makes not only individual project management but also project portfolio management a strategic imperative.

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