Projects are usually associated with efforts to achieve goals in unfamiliar environments, and the purpose of project management (PM) is the design of working processes aimed to accomplish the required tasks within rigid time and cost frames (Harrison & Lock, 2004). Because the realization of a project relates to high risks, the major PM activities should be implemented to assess intended project goals, align PM strategies with organizational or client’s goals through planning and scheduling, and evaluation of project outcomes.
Assessment of Project
As stated by McFarland (2002), initial systematic assessment of projects is the major prerequisite for PM success. Critical strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis is suggested to evaluate both internal and external environments, regardless of the desired project goals. SWOT analysis should involve a brainstorming session led by project managers.
Evaluation of environments will help to illuminate the factors that can be used and controlled on the way to the accomplishment of needs, and identify the potential problems that cannot be controlled internally but can be avoided (McFarland, 2002). SWOT analysis is important because it helps to determine the areas of concern and the directions for expansion. It helps to generate ideas that can be implemented in the further stages of PM.
Project Definition, Structure, and Alignment
According to McFarland (2002), “the success of any project is heightened when the parameters of the project are well defined” (p. 118). It means that the formulation of goals, identification of scope, project team structuring, evaluation of risks, as well as the alignment of project parameters with the organizational culture are the crucial steps of PM strategies. A project starts with the clear identification of its purposes and its scope (what resources will be used). At this stage, it is important to organize the team structure – identify subgroups and responsibilities – and evaluate the potential threats using data accumulated through SWOT analysis.
Planning – Critical Path Networks
While structuring a project, managers need to create project plans that include all activities, networks, and individual tasks interrelated within a framework (McFarland, 2002). Harrison and Lock (2004) suggest organizations to utilize critical path networks that would graphically display all project activities in their logical sequence. Network logic charts represent the patterns and sequences of project tasks, links among them, time estimates, significant purchases, and managers’ responsibilities. By following the work pattern, even without the precise estimation of time constraints for every project activity, a project team may significantly increase work, time, and cost-efficiency.
Earned Value Analysis
Evaluation of ongoing project processes is essential to the timely intervention of work activities and the prevention of systematic errors that may lead a team to failure. One of the most efficient techniques of control analysis is the variance analysis aimed to evaluate the difference between the planned outcomes and the actual results (Harrison & Lock, 2004). The variance analysis can be implemented for multiple areas of concern: costs, time frames, start and finish points of any activity, achievements, gained benefits or losses, competence, and managerial effectiveness.
Variance analysis is a commonly implemented tool, but it is considered that, in some cases, it can be misleading (Harrison & Lock, 2004). To avoid the inadequate use of analysis data, it is important to take into account a great number of subjective influences that may affect labor efficiency and output measures, i.e., cultural and regional conditions, project’s characteristics (size and complexity), team motivation, and organizational changes that impact work rhythm, etc.
Significance and Purpose of Projects
A project is commonly defined as “a temporary endeavor to achieve some specific objectives in a defined time” (Young, 2006, p. 13). Projects can significantly vary both in size and duration and may require the inclusion of different resources. Projects are associated with the accomplishment of unique goals that can never be repeated. However, despite the apparent differences of projects, the major common characteristics of their efficient implementation include a well-defined focus on purpose and objectives, the creation of organizational benefits, a well-defined project life-cycle, and the effective alignment with organizational structure, culture, and strategies.
Although projects aim to achieve multiple distinct goals, they usually have some common purposes. For example, an implicit goal of project development may be related to the accumulation of knowledge, acquisition of new skills, and the establishment of new professional relationships (Young, 2006). Projects allow organizations to grow and expand business operations through the implementation of PM strategies.
For example, a firm may efficiently use projects for the initiation of new services and the introduction of products into the market. Along with this, projects also provide opportunities to enhance work practices because they involve the constant evaluation of work effectiveness during the realization of PM programs (Young, 2006). Control analysis is an important part of PM strategy, and the assessment of project activities’ results can help managers to identify the weaknesses in organizational performance and undertake necessary measures to improve it. Moreover, projects help to exercise the organizational competencies that can be demanded less during the realization of ongoing daily operations.
In this way, a company may significantly expand the extent of its functions and business operations. Based on this, projects allow organizations to gain various benefits that ultimately lead to the development of sustainable competitive advantages.
While considering the mentioned purposes of project initiations, it is possible to say that their success is interrelated not merely with the accomplishment of the desired goals, but also the accumulation of tangible and intangible organizational values throughout the duration of project activities. Fulfillment of primary performance, cost, and time objectives may be regarded as the basic elements of project success.
However, Harrison and Lock (2004) suggest that the ability of a project to satisfy the needs of stakeholders in both narrow organizational and wider external social environments can be considered “an unqualified success” (p. 5). It may be not possible to consider the interests of all stakeholder groups while developing a project, but the performance of social responsibility substantially contributes to project success. In this way, the PM strategy should focus on the balance between the efficient achievement of primary goals and consideration of stakeholder interests.
Projects may provide companies with the opportunity to perform corporate social responsibilities. And, it is observed, that when a project strives to make stakeholders satisfied and happy, the chance for success and accumulation of organizational advantages significantly increases (Harrison & Lock, 2004). Along with the achievement of organizational goals, a project may serve as a method for the improvement of an organizational image in public that may help to enhance the attraction of potential customers, develop brand or product awareness, and increase customer loyalty by integrating new social values into the organizational culture.
Harrison, F., & Lock, D. (2004). Advanced project management: A structured approach. Burlington, VT: Gower Publishing Company.
McFarland, A. J. (2002). Avoiding Project Management Pitfalls. Journal of Park & Recreation Administration, 20(1), 116-129.
Young, T. L. (2006). Successful project management. London, UK: Kogan Page.