Three Basic Project Management Tools

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The three basic tools we have as Project Managers to accomplish our project time, cost and objectives are Planning, Scheduling and Controlling.

While all are used in each phase of the Project Management Lifecycle, there are different degrees of intensity of each tool in each phase.

Project Planning begins the moment someone has a vision of your project. This could be yesterday by someone you know, or a team five years ago you have never met.

This then makes project management planning a touchy subject in many circles. Some say it's all about the task management after you get the project, and some say it's about how you go about your project management business.

I say all of the above, but let's also add that project planning has to include the documentation, communication and organization of how you need to manage a project within the culture of your organization.

It seems every organization has a business process that is considered a project management process by the senior management, but in fact, it's a business process that is designed as a vehicle for senior management to make decisions and follow your project's status.

That means that when the project is assigned to the Project Manager, the job is to implement the decisions of management within the time and cost given.

I have no problem with this kind of assignment, as long as management allows the Project Manager to take a few steps back and understand what had been decided and how the decisions were made. Fat chance though, if committees and matrix are part of the organization - and which organizations today are exempt from these resident evils to all projects!

Ok then Project Managers, we have to realize that a ton of planning has been done to our project prior to us getting it and we simply are not privy to all of the information. This then makes it imperative that our project management planning includes discovering what has been planned, who has planned it, why decisions were made and (with any luck) what politics were involved.

The first thing we must do is define who our Project Customer is, and as you know, that is the person (singular) who is accountable to the organization for our project and agrees with us to all time cost and objective issues.

This makes the Project Customer the owner of our project so that we can own the work of managing their project.

Now we must plan and execute an "understanding" meeting with our Project Customer to unearth all we can about the project.

Some questions to ask and get answered:

- Who's vision was the project? 
- Who's objectives are the project? 
- Is the time strategic, or has it been well defined? 
- Is the budget strategic, or has it been well defined? 
- Which of the three scope constraints (time, cost, objectives) is considered a variable? 
- What is the re-agreement process as objectives change? 
- Etc.

All these questions (and anything else you can think of) are fair game to the Project Customer as you strategically plan your Phase One - Concept/Feasibility.

After you get a better "understanding" of the project, your planning needs to move toward the functional team you have been assigned.

One-on-one meetings with all team members are mandatory because you will need to begin building a relationship of some trust with each member. Don't just rely on the fact that they have been assigned to your team to insure they will follow through with their tasks.

Plan on asking each of them the follow questions:

- Do you have time to be on this project? 
- Are you able to prioritize this project as asked? 
- Do you feel you have the skills necessary to accomplish your tasks? 
- Are you willing to be honest to your progress on your tasks? 
- Will you let me know immediately if your commitment to this project changes?

As a Project Manager, we must realize that our team members are more important than their tasks. Simply, if they don't do the task, for any reason, the task won't get done and the project will be late. The time you spend up front individually with each of the team members, involves each member into the decision making process and in turn creates commitment.

Now our planning calls for some objective definition.

Set a meeting with your Project Customer and your Project Team together and begin the discussion that will lead to your project's deliverables.

Poor communication is the number one reason projects fail, and can be the number one reason projects succeed. This is where it all begins, long before we start the execution phase.

What we have discussed today is how project planning has to include how we are going about our project management business. Many people argue that project planning is only about the tasks. I absolutely disagree.

A solid project management foundation will steer the project through a process that includes documentation, communication and organization that compliments any organizational business process.

It just takes a bit more planning on the Project Managers part to make it all work together.
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