The Project Manager

The first part of project initiation is the appointment of the project manager, and the project managers first task must be establish what the project is intended to achieve and whether this can be done in a cost effective manner. For any project there may be more than one solution, the project manager must present these options to the sponsor.

The framework for project management is put in place at this stage, it may use an established methodology such as Prince2 or PMBOK and should incorporate any standards that are required.

The project manager will then complete the rest of the project definition tasks. These tasks will normally require inputs from stakeholders and additional project staff. A project office can be useful for providing the resources required to define a project.

At the end of the definition phase the project plan should identify all the requirements to move on to the development phase.

Cost/Benefit Analysis

The most important aspect of any project is that it should deliver a tangible and measurable benefit to the sponsor and stakeholders. One of the issues with an IT Project is that it does not directly deliver a benefit to the business, it delivers a solution that then delivers a benefit to the business.

How a Project delivers benefit
How a Project delivers benefit

The “Project” and the “Solution” should be costed holistically in the context of the business, a good solution should be more easily implemented than a poor solution. Cost benefits from system upgrades should be taken into account as should reductions in risk. Cost should be considered over time although it is not unreasonable to expect a quick return on an IT upgrade.

The typical IT benefits are:

  • Better
  • Cheaper
  • Faster

If the Cost/Benefit Analysis promises to deliver on a least two of these, it is viable. The expected benefits should be defined as non-functional requirements as part of the governance stream.

The actions that will be taken to realize the benefits must be defined and costed. If the benefits are not financial they should still be defined as a monetary value, benefits such as goodwill and customer loyalty can be defined by metrics. A project that cannot deliver quantifiable benefits for its costs must be questioned. Once the benefits have been defined they should be recorded as part of the overall requirements and incorporated into other documents such as the Project Charter. If the project cannot show a measurable benefit, the question must be asked as to what is the reason for the original request and is there an alternate course of action that will yield an acceptable benefit for a reasonable cost.

A good cost benefit analysis should explore the alternative scenarios and may may explore the risk management options associated with different scenarios, cost benefit analysis should also explore the time frames for different scenarios. A cost benefit analysis is an essential part of the business case for a project, should be able to be revisited as time frames, costs and opportunities change in the course of a project. The benefits of the analysis will provide good long-range goals for project governance.

Project Standards

Generally projects will use existing standards and procedures. If new standards are established these may become the default standards for later projects. Standards are required for a number of reasons ranging from general good practice to strict regulation. Establishing standards is part of project definition, which will normally incorporate existing standards and should be referenced in the Project Plan. If a new or different standard is required the standard should be adopted or created and become a recognized standard. Standards should serve a specific purpose and should reflect strategic and operational planning for the project and for the solution. Standards that are required for reporting and compliance should be referenced as these form an important part of requirements. Quality Assurance and Risk Management standards will be required for Project Planning as may other project management standards. Regulatory standards may actually form part of project requirements and define the business rules under which the solution must operate.

Project Funding

The initial Project Plan should lead to Project Funding, this costing information should be compiled with the assistance of the sponsor and made available to management. The funding should cover the initial estimates and any contingency funding for variance in the project plan. Cost benefit analysis should also indicate which cost centers will benefit from the solution which may assist funding decisions.

Project Charter

Larger projects will need a Project Charter, as a rule, if the project has a steering committee, it should have a Charter. The Charter is an umbrella document that, once approved, initiates a project. A Charter should identify all the salient project responsibilities, including sponsors, funding, stakeholders, project staff and should endorse the initial project plan. Unlike many project documents the Charter should not be regarded as a document subject to change, it should be treated more as the cornerstone of a project and once established, should only be modified if project scope or governance requires the change.

Charter sections may include

  • Description
  • Business Case/Feasibility/Cost Benefit Analysis
  • Methodology
  • Responsibilities
  • Time line
  • Risks
  • Resourcing
  • Communication Plan
  • Documentation

The steering committee will be required to sign-off the project charter, this is a primary governance document and signifies the approval to proceed.

Steering Committee

Larger projects will have a steering committee. The Steering Committee is a discussion forum to enable parties interested in projects to exchange views and track project status. The Steering Committee has these functions:

  • Review project progress

  • To resolve problems of coordination between different groups
  • Facilitate cooperation between the interested parties
  • Ensure that Quality standards are adhered to

The steering committee has no power to force any of the interested parties into any course of action. The Steering Committee will rely on the cooperation of its members. If the Steering Committee cannot resolve a problem it will have the option of referring the problem to the next level of management.

Typically the Agenda for a Steering Committee meeting would follow these lines:

  1. Review of minutes of previous meeting
  2. Review Action Items from previous meeting
  3. Progress report from Project Manager
  4. General Discussion of Progress Report
  5. Quality Report from appropriate manager
  6. Discussion of quality issues
  7. Resolve any Action Items
  8. Set a date for the next meeting
  9. Close

Generally the Project Manager would suggest meeting dates which would coincide with various phases of the project. The Steering Committee would be formed at project initiation and would dissolve after the Post-Project review.