The Four Areas of Project Management: Schedule, Scope, Cost, and Status
By Rob Redmond
Schedule, scope, cost, and status are the four areas of project management. If you can manage and deliver all four, you are a master of project management. Delivering doesn’t mean that your projects are all on-time, carefully scoped, and under budget; it means that these areas are managed well.
Status is a different story. Status must be well managed or you are doomed, because status is a PM’s most important job.
The most basic activity in any project is scheduling, otherwise known as planning. This essentially boils down into “Who is going to what by when?”1 Or, to rephrase using Microsoft Project’s ordering of these items, “What is going to be done when by whom?” I prefer the first! Project managers have all kinds of fun getting into MS Project and creating a virtual circus of software gymnastics showing resource allocation and leveling, dependencies, notes, and other items. Remember that MS Project is a tool, and that the purpose of the tool is to help you run a project.
The tool does not run the project. You do. In order to do so, you have to know who is going to do what by when. Yes, you can enter all kinds of dependencies and your GANT or PERT charts will have arrows running all around the critical path. However, it is rare that a project manager actually manages dependencies during execution. Almost all project managers, once the plan is created, simply go through the list looking at due dates, how late everything is, % complete, and then try to find the people responsible.
It seems that “Who is going to do what by when?” really is all there is to a project schedule.
Scope is the defined boundaries of what is considered part of the project. You can write all kinds of fancy documents which say that the tasks in the schedule won’t include this or will include that. You can prioritize requirements. You can even write documents that plan how you will manage requirements, and you can create documents that tie requirements to test plans or to designs. Documents can be spewing out everywhere, but none of this has anything to do with controlling scope. The documentation is just reference notes to help remember what was agreed to – a sort of contract that limits the work being done.
Scope doesn’t have to be that hard or complex to be successful on most projects. Many companies make it far more difficult than it has to be.
Cost is people doing work over time. The same basic PM question: “Who is going to do what by when?” comes into play here. People cost varying amounts of money based on their employment classification or their actual pay. The what costs differing amounts of money because changing tasks involves different people who cost money. The when changes the cost because people are paid for their time, and time is money.
Status, unlike the other three, is entirely different. No matter how good you are at managing schedule, scope, and cost on your project, if you fail to report what is happening on your project effectively, the entire project will present to management as an out-of-control disaster that needs a stronger PM to take charge and provide the desperately desired communication that management craves.
Schedule, scope, cost, and status. Memorize the four terms. Be able to name them quickly without thinking a year from now. Say it over and over again to yourself. Anytime you do project work or have a project meeting, think to yourself, “I need to cover schedule, scope, cost, and status.”
1“Who is going to do what by when?” was coined by Mark Horstman of Manager Tools as being essentially the core of any plan. He recommends a simplified approach to project management and planning that avoids complexities which look good on paper but generally are not actually implemented in practice.
Rob Redmond studied sociology, psychology, and political science as an undergraduate before entering the workforce. Returning to school, Redmond earned an MBA from Georgia State University in June of 2000. Rob is currently employed as a manager of IT of a large technology company. Rob runs the struggling manager blog where he posts about his experience in both management and project management.