PROJECT MANAGEMENT : From Vision to Action – Welcome to Our Completed Project: This issue of Management magazine

Project management involves planning and organising the use of resources in order to meet an agreed outcome within time and on budget. It’s an approach that’s long been used in sectors like construction and information technology, and many managers from other sectors are discovering the benefits of applying project management principles to their organisations.
We tend to think of project as massive and involving building something – like power station or motorway. But project managers argue that project management can benefit almost any activity in any sized business or organisation. One challenges me to think about the way in which magazine is produced. He’s right.
The editor is the project manager, responsible for delivering magazine you will want to read, in time to hit the newsstands and without blowing the budget. And she can’t just repeat the last issue; she’s required to create an entirely new magazine. She broke the job down into series of smaller tasks and assigned them to members of her team. She also drew in resources from outside to supplement her staff.
I am one of those outsiders, freelance journalist who moves from project to project. For this job – writing about project management – she gave me deadline, brief and we agreed fee. I broke my project down into chunks – research project management, identify interviewees, draw up structure, carry out interviews, write story – and approached each like mini project.
Projects are notorious for not running smoothly, and this one was no exception. One of the people I wanted to interview was overseas, another was in hospital and third was impossible to get hold of. Other jobs came in and demanded share of my time. Deadlines got pushed and the shape of the story changed, but the fact you’re reading this means we completed our project and are now on to the next one.
Of course, people have always managed projects. From building the great pyramids of Egypt to setting up the factories of the Industrial Revolution, somebody had to make decisions about what would happen when, and whether they could afford it.
But it was war that really got us project-focused. The mobilisation of huge armies for the First and Second World Wars, coupled with the massive production of advanced weapons and machinery and the need to produce food to feed the armies, required new organisational structures which forced the development of new practices.
The Manhatten Project (to develop the world’s first nuclear weapon) was one of the first examples of modern project management; the management of the project was separated from the technical leadership.
And in the 1950s, the PERT (Programme Evaluation and Review Technique) was developed to help the United States build missiles faster than the Soviet Union was doing.
Project management became recognised as discrete discipline in the 1970s, with the establishment of the International Project Management Association (IPMA) in Europe and the Project Management Institute (PMI) in the United States.
Concepts like Total Quality Management (TQM) and Critical Path Method (CPM) flourished in sectors such as construction, and became buzzwords in others. But it is only in the past 10 years that the idea that project management can and should be applied to almost everything has really taken hold.
Even so, says Wellington-based project manager Iain Fraser, former director of PMI and managing director of management consultants Project Plus, many people still think that project managers wear hard hats and steel-capped boots.
“Construction is still important, but project management itself is expanding to all sectors and all things,” he said. Fraser has no hesitation in saying that project management can and should be applied everywhere.
“Any business or organisation looking to increase its market share, to improve its efficiency ahead of the competition, or to push forward in an effective and efficient way should be embracing project management.”
All organisations, from global businesses to local not-for-profit groups, were facing huge and rapid changes from forces like globalisation, the advancement of technology and environmental issues like climate change, he said.
“Whether you are in Dargaville, Eketahuna or Dobson, project management is as equally applicable as if you’re in Chicago, London or Stockholm.”
Project management is particularly useful for managing change, no matter what the size of the operation, he said.
“Scalability and flexibility are two of the characteristics of project management smart leader will adapt and use what he or she needs.”
For example, mechanic running small business might want to increase the number of cars he or she can fix in day.
Applying project management skills, she will look at information like how much s/he can charge an hour, how many hours s/he’s got available and how much s/he has to pay staff. S/he might then decide that introducing new piece of machinery will boost output and profitability, but will need to work out how the equipment will be installed, ensure that staff are trained in how to use it, and calculate how s/he will pay for it. And all without interrupting day-to-day business.
At the other end of the scale, project management could help large companies and even cities and nations cope with changing world, Fraser said.
“It’s all very well to have vision,” he said, “but without action steps to put it in place, it’s just worthless statement.”
Some companies, like Kiwi manufacturer Fisher & Paykel, were masters of project management, he said.
“Fisher & Paykel recognised need for change and developed strategy using project management techniques that turned it to what it is today – global market company.”
Strong and committed leadership and effective communications about the project to everyone in the organisation were hallmarks of Fisher & Paykel’s success.
“Without communication, your project will fail,” he said.
“Fisher & Paykel have shown what can be done, but do they stop now? Of course not – the world is still changing and they need to keep changing with it.”
Many companies are now following the Fisher & Paykel lead and restructuring their entire operations along project management lines.
Called portfolio management, the system groups people and activities together in projects under portfolio managers, covering traditional project management activities and work more often considered business-as-usual (BAU).
“For example, manufacturing organisation might have department called operations,” said Fraser.
“It might restructure it into the operations portfolio, and bring together day-to-day production (BAU) with the introduction of new product to market (project management).”
The approach has the advantage of bringing together specialist and support staff (such as design and finance) with operational staff, and avoids the creation of silos. It also means that projects are integrated with day-to-day business and considered part of the organisation’s core business, and don’t risk being sidelined or railroaded by operational managers with more power than that of the project managers.
Programme management is the next level down. Teams involved in programme management sit within portfolio and are working on more than one project at time, with common theme. For example, an IT programme might be working on introducing new hardware, new software and new telco system.
Larry Robbins has seen project management from both sides of the fence.
As career naval officer, his life was governed by projects.
“We call them operations, but everything the Navy does is really project,” he said.
Robbins was commander of HMNZS Monowai, the Navy’s former survey vessel. He ran the ship – 24-hour, seven-day operation – to budget which he was expected to meet.
“The Navy hydrographer would say ‘you are to go and survey this area to these standards’ but it was up to me to get it to them in the most efficient way.”
Robbins broke the

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