Ideas, suggestions and general thoughts about project management for development.

Project Management for Development

Project Management Constraints

Every project has to manage four basic constraints; scope, schedule, budget and quality. The success of a project depends on the skills and knowledge of a project manager to take into consideration these constraints and develop the plans and processes to keep them in balance. It is not enough for a project to meet the budget targets or to show to the donor that all activities have been completed on time. Development projects need to balance all four constraints if they want to realize the full benefits of a project.

Classical project management usually considers three constrains on a project: scope, time and costs (known as the project triangle), we believe that it is important to place under this category the constraint of quality. For development projects it is not enough to deliver a project according to the scope, on time and under budget; but the project must meet the needs and expectation of the beneficiaries who are the ultimate judges of the project quality.

Managing these constrains requires careful analysis and an agreement on the priorities for the organizations, the donor and the final beneficiaries. Depending on those factors a project may place more importance to the budget and quality than to the schedule or scope; these types of decisions, early in the project, have a fundamental impact on all the project plans that will need to be designed to ensure that the project is able to manage the four constraints. Failure to do that may result in the use of resources on areas that do not contribute to the ultimate success of the project.

The definition of project management implies that projects have specific limits in scope, schedule, budget and quality.  Understanding the combination of elements will allow make better choices when the project needs to make tradeoffs. The use of a triangle helps understand these relationships, adjusting any one of these sides, the other two are affected. For example, a change in the project plan to shorten the schedule might result in an increase in costs or require a decrease in scope.


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What is the Project Lifecycle?

All projects have certain characteristics in common that makes them unique from other type of work:

  • They all have a beginning and an end.
  • All projects are unique. They may be similar to prior projects, but they are unique in terms of timeframes, resources, business environment, etc.
  • Projects result in the creation of one or more deliverables.
  • Projects also have assigned resources - either full-time, part-time or both.

Project management is the planning, implementing, and monitoring of project activities to meet project objectives, achieved by effectively controlling and balancing the constraint of scope, schedule, and budget, in producing quality deliverables that meet or exceed the expectations of the project stakeholders.

Project management defines the overall management and control processes for the project.  Just as there are common project management processes to manage most projects, there are also common models that can provide guidance on how to define the project lifecycle. These common models are valuable since they save project teams the time associated with creating the project work plan from scratch each time. 

All development organizations do most of their work through projects. Projects can be managed using a common set of project management processes. In fact, a similar set of project management processes can be utilized regardless of the type of project. For instance, all projects should be defined and planned, and all projects should have processes to manage scope, risk, quality, budget, etc.

A project lifecycle provides a basic outline that can be used by any project; in other words, the detailed work to deliver the outcomes is referred to as the "project lifecycle". It basically starts with the understanding of a need, then with the designing of a solution, proposal to a donor, approval of funding, implementation and monitoring, and evaluation and closing of the project. Each of these major areas of focus is called a phase (Initiation Phase, Planning Phase, Implementation Phase, etc.) Even a small project still goes through these basic phases. 

A project lifecycle also refers to a logical sequence of activities to accomplish the project’s goals or objectives, as such is an approach that takes the project in distinct phases from its initiation until its completion. Different organizations have different phases and even different names for the phases. Each phase is also an opportunity for the project to stop and evaluate its progress before moving to the next phase in the cycle. This allows for opportunities to improve and reevaluate the assumptions the project makes.

Most organizations follow one type or another of a project cycle. Even donor organizations have well defined models for project cycle, but with a heavy emphasis in the funding phases to ensure the funds will be allocated to the most viable solution. The important point is that a common, scalable project lifecycle can be used effectively on all projects.

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