The First Steps Towards Successful Project Management
By John Reynolds
IS departments are constantly being downsized or outsourced. Therefore, well-run projects are vital to an IS professional’s career. Carefully managing project details, including time and materials, is essential now that IS is being asked to deliver more using fewer resources. There are several effective, relatively inexpensive project management scheduling and tracking packages available for PCs. These types of packages have been around on mainframes since the early 1970s, though they cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Today shareware packages start at under $100.
Many of these products assume a knowledge of project management that many technical managers do not have. Without an understanding of the basic concepts of project management, managers may often find the software is confusing and hard to use.
The first step in project management is to break the project down into measurable tasks and organize them into a hierarchy called the work breakdown structure (WBS). Different companies have different terms for the various levels in a work breakdown structure. Some levels include stages, steps, and tasks, or phases, activities, and tasks.
Regardless of terminology a company uses, the purpose of the WBS is to organize the project into various deliverables or summary reporting levels. Some of the traditional stage (or phase) levels in IS projects include project definition, analysis, design, development, testing, implementing, and project review. Whether a project has standard levels or not, the main purpose of these higher levels is to group the detail tasks, allowing project administrators to more easily track the project’s progress.
The next step in project management involves determining inter-task dependencies. Once the tasks have been listed and organized into a WBS, inter-task relationships need to be established. These relationships, also called dependencies or links, exist when the start or completion of one task is somehow related to the start or completion of another task.
There are three types of inter-task dependencies: finish-start, start-start, and finish-finish. The tasks that must be performed first are called the predecessor tasks and those that follow are successor tasks.
The finish-start relationship is the most common dependency relationship. In the finish-start relationship, the predecessor task must finish before the successor task can start. Some examples of this type of relationship include situations in which the project definition must be done before the analysis can start or systems design must be done before coding can start.
The start-start relationship is a less common dependency relationship. In the start-start relationship, the predecessor task must start before the successor task can start. This relationship is often erroneously interpreted as meaning that both tasks start at the same time, but that is not always true. An example of this type of relationship is a situation in which setting up interviews must have started before the interviews themselves can start.
The finish-finish relationship is also a less common dependency relationship. In the finish-finish relationship, the predecessor task must finish before the successor task can finish. The relationship is often erroneously interpreted as meaning that both tasks finish at the same time. This type of relationship occurs when, for example, coding must finish before testing can finish or when systems testing must finish before implementation can be completed.
Those are the first few steps to project management and, arguably, the most important ones. Make sure to practice these with each project you do in order to improve your project management abilities.
John Reynolds has been a practicing project manager for nearly 20 years and is the editor of an informational website rating project management software products. For more information on project management and project management software, visit Project Management Software Web.