Introduction to project management

In this section an introduction to 'project management' is provided.

What is project management?

A 'project' is a set of agreed activities with a definite start, middle and end. Together these activities produce business products or services in line with an approved business case which is sponsored by senior managers within the organisation.

'Project management' provides structure and control of the project environment so that the agreed activities will produce the right products or services to meet the customer’s expectations. 

Projects are temporary structures which must be properly managed and controlled in order to meet their stated objectives. They are usually delivered in an environment where both funding and resources are constrained and subject to competition.

Projects may be part of overarching programmes.

Purpose of project management

A project has a lifecycle, underpinned by a plan, which is the path and sequence through the various activities defined to produce its products. Project management is a controlled implementation of the project plan under the direction of the organisation’s senior management.

Traditionally, a successful project is one that has delivered its products or services according to the project plan, meeting overall business objectives.

Project success is now seen more and more in terms of delivering projected business benefits or the capability required for benefits delivery within the business.

A properly managed project will usually have:

  • senior level sponsorship from within the organisation
  • strong leadership, accountability and governance arrangements
  • a dedicated project manager
  • a project plan and adequate resources to implement the plan
  • clear processes for the management of risks, issues, stakeholders, communications and benefits
  • effective project assurance arrangements
  • well defined reporting structures and a clearly understood project scope

Some of the key documents usually associated with a properly managed project are:

  • a business case justifying the investment and proposed changes
  • a project initiation document setting out the project objectives and the means for achieving them
  • a project plan setting out the main products or services and all associated resources and activities
  • standards for reporting progress and highlighting issues
  • registers for recording risks and issues and managing their escalation
  • end project and lessons learned reports
  • a post project review report, independent of the project, reporting estimates against eventual outturns including the extent to which projected benefits have been realised

Project management guidance

Project management methods have been developed to help apply a structured approach to managing projects and to aid successful delivery. In government, PRINCE2 (projects in controlled environments) is an accepted standard.

PRINCE2 is widely used in the private sector both in the UK and internationally for all types of project. A PRINCE2 approach should always be applied to government projects.

Project management roles and responsibilities

The main roles, and their associated responsibilities, in project management are:

  • project board; comprising representatives from both user and supplier sides - representatives with authority to make decisions and commit resources; the board is chaired by the SRO and has overall accountability for project success
  • senior responsible owner (SRO); chairs the board with overall accountability for the project; the SRO is the key decision maker responsible for continuation of the business case, project structures and plans, controlling and monitoring progress, problem referral and resolution, formal closure and post implementation review
  • senior user; the board member responsible for providing user resources, ensuring project products or services meet user expectations and deliver expected benefits
  • senior supplier; the board member representing the interests of those designing, developing, facilitating, procuring and implementing. Is also responsible for the quality of products or services supplied
  • project manager (PM); responsible for day-to-day project management, the PM has been given authority by the board to run the project within agreed constraints
  • project team; responsible for the production of products or services defined by the project manager within the time, cost and quality constraints set by the board; the team reports to the project manager
  • project assurance; owned by the board but often delegated, it must be independent of the project manager; project assurance provides assurance that the project is being properly managed and includes frequent checking of the quality of the project’s products or services
  • project support; the role can include administrative help for the project manager and board but may extend to administration of planning, control and configuration systems. Depending on skills and experience the role may extend to advice, guidance and limited support on a range of project areas
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