Project Management: Where Common Sense Goes to Die

Joe Mamlin, PMP

The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) is a collection of information full of common sense ideas and methods, but it’s very easy to focus on process and methods and lose sight of the goal of the project.  Project Management (PM) as a discipline is only as effective as the project manager, the project management team, and the common sense with which they approach the work at hand. 

Project Management tools can help in all areas of our work.  They help to move us from being reactive to being proactive.  Using these techniques we can define the scope of anything we want to accomplish and identify resource needs and resource gaps.  A common sense PM approach can help to identify and define workable sets of tasks, assign responsibility and accountability, address the need for timeliness and meet deadlines.  Yes… I said deadlines. 

According to the PMBOK, a project is “a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result”.  You can build a project around virtually anything you hope or need to achieve in your agency. Certainly this can and will include information technology (IT) related projects, but it can also be applied when you want to create a result such as a better paternity establishment process, or passing legislation, devising a budget, reorganizing your office, raising your children.  (Well, I don’t really think you should apply this to raising your children… but maybe you can use it to guide your children in raising your grandchildren.)  So everyone get a project in mind… ready?

For whatever project you have in mind, you will need to go through the following phases:  Initiation, Planning, Executing, Monitoring and Control (which is concurrent with planning) and Closing.  Like a 12 step program (with only 5 steps), you cannot and should not try to skip any of these phases.  You might not know me personally, but you just have to trust me: bad things will happen if you do.

Phase 1: Initiation – This includes the processes and activities performed to define a new project or a new phase of a project, and this is where authorization is given.  The most important item to come out of this phase is the Project Charter.  The Charter is the document that defines what the project outcomes will be and provides authority and resources to complete the project.

Phase 2: Planning – This phase includes the processes that establish the scope, refine the objectives, and define the course of action.  The most important artifact to come from this phase is the Project Management Plan.  This plan defines the approach and identifies staffing and other resources needed to complete the tasks and activities in order to meet the milestones and maintain the schedule. 

Phase 3: Executing – This includes the processes and activities that complete the work of the project.  These are defined in the Project Management Plan, detailed in the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), and tracked in the Project Schedule.  This is where the work of the project is actually completed, and the objectives or products are produced. 

Phase 4: Monitoring and Control – Running concurrently with the Executing phase, this includes the processes required to track, review, and regulate progress and performance of the project.  This is also where the need for changes in the plan are identified and initiated.  

Phase 5: Closing – Often neglected, but very important, this phase includes the processes performed to finalize all activities and close out the project or phase.  While this is the final phase – hence the name “closing” – you should be thinking about this on day one.  It starts with defining what constitutes success and completion in your project, and it is supported every day that you don’t let the scope move your finish line more than absolutely necessary.  Draw the proverbial line in the sand where one project ends and where “new” requirements or needs become the next project.  Too much of the work we do seems to be never ending.  When you have a defined project with a defined finish, celebrate it and it will encourage people to get moving on the next project with a belief that it, too, can get done.

Final words of wisdom

This is only a small taste of what is available to help manage projects. Project Management is a discipline and a set of tools.  No one size fits all.  Spend some time exploring what’s out there, and try to mold your approach to what works for you.  For example, a project schedule should be a tool that supports the goals of your project.  It can be as detailed as you need it, but it can also be high level if that meets your needs.  Allow yourself some leeway to experiment and adjust your approach.  Once you get started, try to follow through with your approach, but keep track of what works and what doesn’t work and every project will get the benefit of the ones that came before.

Don’t do process for process sake… let common sense live!

If your agency needs support with project management, needs help in strengthening an existing project management techniques, or would like to explore other ways of managing work, the experienced professionals at Grays Peak Strategies can help. Use the contact link at the bottom of this page and we will be happy to reach out for a consultation.