The Shape of Projects

Shapes being placed on a table

In this article, I’m referring to IT projects with the ‘shape’ of them being their visible form.

Projects, IT projects in particular, come in many different shapes (i.e., plans). The PMBOK (A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge) states that a project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result. The temporary nature means that a project has a definite beginning and end.

The duration can be short, or it can be long, but deliverables likely exist beyond the end of the project and could even last for centuries (for example, the pyramids in Egypt or the Great Wall of China). Projects drive change.

Factors that lead to the creation of a Project

The following are examples of factors that lead to the creation of a project:

  • New technology
  • Competitive forces
  • Material issues
  • Political changes
  • Market demand
  • Economic changes
  • Customer request
  • Stakeholder demands
  • Legal requirement
  • Business Process Improvements
  • Strategic opportunity
  • Social need
  • Environmental Considerations

More Project Attributes

A project is developed using ongoing consistent elaboration. Projects are often defined generally when they begin, and as time passes, the specific details of the project’s design and configuration become clearer. Therefore, projects should be developed in increments, so you can identify the effort shaping the design of them. This process defines what the feature does, how it works, and where it fits into existing flows. It includes combining interface ideas with technical possibilities and business priorities. Keep in mind that most IT projects usually require resources from different areas or departments. This includes people, hardware, software, and other types of resources.

Projects involve uncertainty because every project is distinctive. It’s sometimes difficult to define appearance clearly, estimate how long something will take to complete, or determine how much it will cost. This uncertainty is one of the main reasons project management is so difficult, especially when new technologies are involved. Every project should have a primary customer or sponsor. The project sponsor usually provides the guidance and financial support for the project. Sponsors for projects should be from senior management in charge of the main parts of the organization impacted by the projects.

Project Constraints

Every project is constrained in different ways—by scope, time, cost, and quality. To create a successful project, a project manager needs to balance these often-competing goals:

  • Scope Management involves the work effort required to ensure all defined requirements are properly produced and verified.
  • Time Management deals with the mechanics of translating the scope into defined work units/activities required to meet the deliverables.
  • Cost Management refers to the various activities and processes that drive the budget process (for example, resources and/or material costs). The project manager then establishes a control function to guide the project as it progresses.
  • Quality Management is oriented to the customer and is made up of two key parts: quality assurance (QA) and quality control (QC). Whereas QA is process-oriented, QC is product oriented. The goal here is to meet the needs and expectations of the customers by rating progress against certain defined metrics.

Other project restraints may include Human Resources management, communications management, risk management, procurement management, and integration management. There are many project management tools and techniques available to assist the manager and their teams in conducting the above constraints or knowledge areas.

Development Process

Defining the right development process (i.e., Waterfall and/or Agile methodology) for your organization will have a profound impact on controlling the schedule, costs, and quality of a project. The PMBOK is a good starting point for developing/creating the best methodology or model for your organization. An organization should strive to have as few development models as possible. Project members will be most effective and productive using a model that they understand, have experience with, and that everyone can get behind. Familiarity with an acceptable model will aid significantly in the continual successful implementation of that model.

Summary

Setting project boundaries requires figuring out how much time the raw idea is worth and how the project should be defined. This process gives us the basic boundaries to start shaping what an IT project will look like. Of course, a QA attribute is a measurable or testable property of a system that is used to indicate how well the result satisfies the needs of its stakeholders.

Your thoughts on project shapes in the comment section below are appreciated.

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Written by Ronald Smith

Ronald Smith has over four decades of experience as Senior PM/Program Manager. He retired from IBM having written four books and over four dozen articles (for example, PMI’s PM Network magazine and MPUG) on project management, and the systems development life cycle (SDLC). He’s been a member of PMI since 1998 and evaluates articles submitted to PMI’s Knowledge Shelf Library for potential publication.
From 2011 – 2017, Ronald had been an Adjunct Professor for a Master of Science in Technology and taught PM courses at the University of Houston’s College of Technology. Teaching from his own book, Project Management Tools and Techniques – A Practical Guide, Ronald offers a perspective on project management that reflects his many years of experience. Lastly in the Houston area, he has started up two Toastmasters clubs and does voluntary work at various food banks.

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