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Microsoft Project 2007: The Missing Manual by Bonnie Biafore

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What Is Project Management?

Project management is the art of balancing the project objectives against the con-straints of time and budget. Of course, achieving that balance requires skill, experience, and a boatload of techniques. This section gives you a glimpse of what happens from a project's infancy to its old age.

Novices sometimes think of project management as building a sequence of tasks, but those in the know recognize that project management starts before a project officially begins, and doesn't end for a while after the project's objectives are achieved. There's no one way to manage projects, but most methodologies cover the following five phases (also illustrated in Figure 1-1):

  • Getting started. Often called initiating, the first phase of project management is short, but important. It's your only opportunity to get the project off to a good start. In this phase, you answer questions like "Why are we doing this project?" and "Do we really want to do it?" The initial attempts to describe the purpose of a project may produce vague results like "Launch a Web site to improve customer service." But as you identify the project stakeholders (Gaining Support for a Project), you learn what the project is about and what the stakeholders hope to achieve. The more specifically you describe your project's objectives, the greater your chances for success.

    Neglecting to line up support for a project (Gaining Support for a Project) is all too common, and it's always a big mistake. A project needs buy-in from its stakeholders to survive challenges like contradictory objectives, resource shortages, funding issues, and so on. What's more, you, the project manager, need official support, too, so everyone knows the extent of your authority.

  • Planning. Planning, which Chapter 2 covers in greater detail, is where you lay out your road map: every objective to achieve, the work to perform, who's going to do the work, when, and how much the whole thing will cost. Moreover, you set out the rules of the game, including how people communicate with each other, who has to approve what, how you manage changes and risks, and so on.

  • Performing the project. Also referred to as executing, this part of project management lasts a long time, but it boils down to following the plan. As the project manager, you keep the project team working on the right things at the right times.

  • Keeping things under control. In a perfect world, performing the project would be enough, because the project would always run according to plan. But because the world isn't perfect, project managers must monitor projects to see whether they're on schedule, within budget, and achieving their objectives. Whether someone gets sick, manufacturing asks for design changes, or your data center is plagued with locusts, something's bound to push your project off course. In the controlling phase, you measure project performance against the plan, decide what to do if the project is off track, make the necessary adjustments, and measure once more. Chapter 14 and Chapter 15 explain how to use Project to control things.

  • Gaining closure. Like personal relationships, projects need closure. Before you can call a project complete, you have to tie up loose ends like closing out contracts, transitioning resources to their new assignments, and documenting the overall project performance (Cost performance). The closing phase is when you ask for official acceptance that the project is complete—your sign that your job is done. Chapter 18 describes the information to collect, and different ways to archive it.

Planning isn't a one-time event, because no project runs exactly according to plan. Whether changes, issues, or full-blown disasters arise, you regularly revisit and revise the plan.

Figure 1-1. Planning isn't a one-time event, because no project runs exactly according to plan. Whether changes, issues, or full-blown disasters arise, you regularly revisit and revise the plan.

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