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Project management

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How to manage projects and activities effectively including preparation, planning, implementation and evaluation.

Being a project manager can be compared to being a conductor of an orchestra. A conductor has to get all the musicians to play together so they create beautiful music, appreciated by the audience.

In the same way, a project manager has to get all the people and resources working together so that key tasks can be completed, in the right time and the right way.

Project management is the co-ordination of these tasks, laid out in four stages.

1. Preparing the project

Here you look at the ideas, problems and issues working out how to resolve them using all the facts and figures available.

You will be setting overall objectives (what you want to do, by when, how, where and with whom), and determining project scope (what will be included and what will be left out).

Questions to consider when preparing a project

  • What do we need to achieve and why?
  • What solutions do we have?
  • What are the costs, benefits, risks and other implications?
  • Which combination is likely to meet our needs?
  • How long might it take? How much might it cost?
  • What profit or surplus can we expect?

This crucial first stage sets the project boundaries so more time spent on this stage, the better. There are many project management tools for this stage, which draw together all the information into a business case or project plan. Tools include:

  • SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats)
  • critical path analysis (linking tasks together, in order)
  • stakeholder mapping (those interested/affected by the idea).

Another key output from this stage will be the terms of reference which helps everyone on the team understand how to behave, what the scope is and who is responsible for what. 

2. Planning the project

This second stage considers the who, why, when, where, how and what questions in more detail; looking at the tasks to be done, the people required, the way in which things will be done, and the time taken to do them. From this you work out the key project objectives, milestones and outcomes.

Many people use an action planning chart or Gantt chart to break down the project into its individual tasks, listing specific resources, issues and timeframes.

Other key documents are the

  • project budget to control the finances
  • risk analysis to think through potential issues that might arise before, during or after the project

It is good to create these together with the project team (the group of people who will be running the project) so that everyone is aware of and fully committed to project delivery.

3. Implementing the project plan

Project delivery happens here - activities get done, outputs realised and money gets spent. You are trying to keep to the original plan as much as possible, checking things through regular monitoring of quality, deadlines, budget and risk.

To deliver the best product or service possible, it is good to:

  • share information regularly with others on the team
  • build relationships with those interested / affected by the project
  • listen to other people's ideas, even when you don't want to!
  • get support from the project leader or sponsor.

4. Evaluating the project

This is the 'lessons learnt' section - looking at what you set up to achieve, how it went, and what can be improved next time. There are many ways to do this. The Charities Evaluation Service is helpful. Here are some key questions to think about:

  • What went well in the project?
  • What did not go well in the project?
  • What would we change for the next project?
  • What was missing, or missed but not foreseen?

Further help and advice

Why not try the Knowhow Essential leadership skills e-learning training course?

Page last edited Sep 11, 2017

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