Project Management and Project Alignment Strategy
Project management has been practiced mainly in the engineering and construction sectors. This is mainly due to the fact that tasks in these sectors have to be organized in a systematic manner if they are to yield the required results. However, since the 1990’s, project management has gained prominence in other sectors as various firms execute their operations in forms of projects.
As such, project management is no longer restricted to the creation of products but it has been used to facilitate business transformation as well as to business improvement during the implementation of strategies. The rapid rate at which project management is being applied in businesses is currently being referred to by business critics and commentators as the “the projectification of society” (Cicmil and Hodgson, 2006).
As Hauc & Kovac (2000) reiterate, “Projectification in an organizational context has resulted in the apparent agreement that projects and project management are an efficient means of implementing organizational strategy.” This paper shall discus this statement by reviewing relevant literature pertaining to this topic.
To this end, a brief discussion exploring the content, limitations and potential problems brought about by strategic alignment of projects shall be provided.
Brief overview of project management
The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines a project as a temporary work effort that has “a clear beginning and end that is intended to create a unique product or knowledge” (PMI, 2004). Projects vary in size and they may involve the effort of a single individual or even hundreds of people working as a team. Project management involves “application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques” so as to achieve the desired end-result (Cicmil et al, 2006).
While small projects may be undertaken without necessarily applying project management, a significant project must involve project management. Experts agree that while good project management does not guarantee the success of a project, poor management invariably leads to a project’s failure. For this reason, the project management component is very essential for any sizable business project.
Projects and strategies
Strategies refer to the overall plans and procedures designed to execute a particular goal or objective. Cleland and Ireland (2006), state that projects mainly dwell on the equipments, tools and techniques. The project manager must come up with a strategy that lays out how the various aspects of the project work together to yield the expected results.
The alignment of projects presents various opportunities and challenges. However, as Grant (2005) reiterates, the success or failure of any given project depends on the strategies formulated to facilitate in the implementation processes of each project. To this end, if an organization aligns its project in such a manner that the success of one project affects the others, there may be problems if cases of misappropriation of funds or failure to meet the set deadlines occur.
Importance of project management
Without PM, projects would be delivered late, have cost overruns and in most cases; the product would also be of inferior quality. Project management involves coming up with a plan so as to ensure that all the objectives are clearly stated and everyone involved in the project knows their role.
Without such a plan, the project is bound to be delivered late and at a higher cost. Also, owing to the fact that the roles and objective are not clearly defined, the final product will be of inferior quality.
Project management involves balancing conflicting demands to ensure resources are optimally utilized to achieve the end-product. To achieve this, the Project Manager begins by clearly defining the objectives that the particular project aims to achieve and the scope of the project (Kerzner 2003).
The project manager then develops a detailed schedule that contains the various activities that need to be undertaken and the resources that shall be utilized to fulfill the same. An organizational structure that highlights the duties and responsibility of each member of the project is also developed to ensure the effective management and implementation of the necessary work. Some of the main objectives of PM include but are not limited to:
Defining the objectives and scope of the project
Developing a schedule of activities and resources required
Developing an organizational structure for the project
Ensuring the commitment and backing by the project stakeholders
It should be noted that no project can be successfully undertaken without the commitment and approval of the various stakeholders of the project, chief among them being the financiers and the senior management. The project manager will therefore set out to gain the approval of these important parties. Successful projects are characterized by having clear objective, good project plan and effective communication among the involved parties (Freimut, et al, 2001).
All projects involve some measure of risk. Risks arise as a result of the uncertainties that are inherent in each project. One of the things which make risk management hard in all projects is that there is no standardized approach to dealing with risks (Norris, Perry & Simon 2000).
This is because no two projects are alike and as such, each project had its own unique environment and variables which leads to differing risks (Kerzner, 2003). To this effect, risk Management is normally ignored since most project managers deem it as unnecessary paperwork. This notion leads to aggressive approaches to dealing with problems that appear in the life of the project.
Risk analysis and management
Risk analysis and management involves the recognition that risks exist. It entails a thorough assessment of the project to identify what could go wrong. The concept of risk management involves conducting a detailed assessment of a particular project so as to identify significant things that could go wrong with the project. Norris, Perry and Simon (2000) assert that project risk analysis and management if properly undertaken increases the likelihood of successful completion of a project on time and within stipulated costs.
Value of risk management
By undertaking risk management, the project manager increases his/her control of the project as risk management provides a framework which enables the future activities to be undertaken in a consistent manner (The Institute of Risk Management 2004).
In addition to this, risk management stipulates that project risks be identified beforehand. This will lead to an improvement in decision making since the decisions will be based on facts. The efficiency with which the project will be undertaken will therefore be increased as project activities will occur in a consistent and controlled manner and capital and resources allocation will be efficiently performed.
As such, risk management is important to projects because it provides a framework, through which the project activities can take place, improves decision making, planning and prioritizing, contributes to the efficient allocation of project resources and optimizes operational efficiency of overall project (KMPG 2002).
The fundamental goal of risk evaluation is to be able to reduce or altogether, eliminate risk (Lycett et al, 2004). Once the risks involved in the project have been identified and subsequently classified according to their frequency of occurrence and the impact that their occurrence may have on the overall project, risk resolution activities should be undertaken.
However, in most cases, the project team only has a vague idea as to the nature of the risk. As such, further research on the risk should be carried out for the project team to have an intimate understanding of the same.
Some risks are inevitable in the project and they should therefore be accepted as a part of the project. The project team should however anticipate these risks and have measures put in place for dealing with the same. Some risks are deemed as being too high and for the project to proceed favorably, measures must be taken to mitigate the same and establish contingency plans in case the risks arise. These are the steps that should be followed in risk management: Research, acceptance, reduction and elimination (Barney & Bennett, 2000).
Strategic alignment of projects
Archibald (1988) reiterates that project management has over the years been useful in ensuring the efficiency and subsequent success of projects. The author further states that project management has helped many managers formulate and implement various strategies which ultimately guarantee the success of a project.
However, Anderson and Merna (2003) argue that the failure of most projects is as a result of poor strategic planning during the implementation phase. In addition, Cicmil et al (2006) reiterate that on average, 80% of failed projects are as a result of the managers failure to map out clear procedures and priorities regarding to a given project.
According to Aalto (2000), strategic alignment of project refers to the process through which organizations select the projects to be accomplished within a particular period of time and prioritize their completion according to the available resources and their ability to remain aligned with the organizational resources.
Thiry (2002) further contends that other organizations group their projects using a managerial framework. This enables the organization to space the projects accordingly thereby minimizing and chances of rippled failure (Maylor et al, 2006).
Maylor et al (2006) define project strategy as the unique approaches a project utilize so as to achieve the set strategies of an organization. To this effect, project strategy acts as a link between the proposed project plans and the organizations strategies.
The authors further assert that the project strategy provides the rules that govern the behavior of the project team and ensures that they meet the deadlines within the given timeframe and budgetary allocation.
However, it should be noted that there is a very distinct difference between project management strategy and project strategy. Anderson and Merna (2003) assert that project strategy refers to the executive plan that aims at achieving the set objectives of a given project while project management strategy refers to the strategic approaches used to manage a given project.
In other words, project strategy refers to the directions that the senior management gives the project managers in order to meet the organizational objectives while project management strategy are the procedures, plans and policies that see the project to the end (Artto et al, 2008).
Inherent problems to project management
Measuring project progress is essential in all projects since it gives the project team and manager control. However, there must be measurement metrics and unity between the strategies formulated by the project sponsors, the organization and the project managers which make use of project deliverables to measure progress.
Morris & Jamieson (2005) state that it is the role of the project manager to give detailed specifications to the team as regarding to the methodology and techniques that are to be employed during the collection and retention of project metrics. When there are many projects being conducted for the same organization, the project team may develop some conflicts of allegiance since there is no single strategy that can effectively be used for different projects.
In addition, the business world is characterized by a high degree of dynamicity. To this effect, the organizational objectives may change in order to conform to the market and competition trends. If the projects are aligned to meet the organizational objectives, they may fail in the event of a drastic change (Hodgson & Cicmil, 2006). This may lead to losses of an unprecedented scale.
Consequently, the organization may end up loosing the trust and respect from the sponsors as well as a great market since the projects would be rendered useless.
In regards to costs, projects often require a large amount of capital. If the project management team is inefficient, they may fail to follow the policies and procedures set by the senior management. This would subsequently lead to great losses that cannot be easily recovered. In addition, if the strategies stipulated by the senior management are inefficient, this would lead to the failure of the whole organization.
Also, as Crawford (2005) explains, each project must have some unforeseen risks. This fact makes project very unpredictable. With this in mind, aligning projects with the organizations objectives may prove to be costly since failure of a project affects the overall performance of the organization.
The project manager is expected to come up with a project plan which should explicitly specify the processes to be used to measure and control the quality of the work and the resulting work products (Couchman et al 2008). To this effect, handling many projects at once may invariable lead to confusion and corrosion of set objectives thereby affecting the success of the project as well as the quality of the results yielded.
As Artto et al (2001) explain, some projects may require the attention of various departments within the organization. However, despite the fact that each department within an organization aim at achieving a common organizational goal, each has a set of departmental goals that have to be met. Bearing this in mind, cases where members from different departments may tacitly try to influence the project decisions such that they favor their departments.
Project management tools that ensure successful alignment of projects
To ensure success in projects, there are vital tools that can be used to monitor and control the progress at each stage. This is especially important because most of sizable projects are complex and very sensitive. As such, any mistake no matter how tiny may lead to the failure of the project (PMI, 2004).
Gant charts are used to asses the progress of a project. The X axis is the time scale over which the project will run and task is represented as a single horizontal bar. Activities which can run concurrently can be plotted on the same Y-axis while those that are dependent on the completion of others can not begin before the others complete (Jenkins, 2006).
As such, each stage can be marked and the expected date of completion highlighted so that all members know what to do and when to do it. This ensures that the project resources are efficiently utilized which in turn avoids wastage of finances and resources.
Pert charts are used to indicate project milestones and dependencies. They are also used to calculate the critical path which is the set of tasks which have to be completed in time for the project to beat the deadline (Larsen, 2005). Pert charts show the longest path from start to finish. The milestones are marked as nodes with numbers and the critical path is from activity 0-2-4-6-9-10. Any delay in any of these activities will lead to delay in entire project.
Most biotechnological projects require calculations and equations. There are various formulas that can be applied to come to an answer. Most projects fail because they lack options and if the main methodology fails, the project is therefore wasted. The pert charts provide the project team with options from which the most efficient can be applied.
Project management is an essential part of any substantial project and it involves planning, identification of risks and progress tracking. Risk management which involves addressing the risks attached to the project activities, is crucial to the success of a project.
In the end, it is the project manager’s obligation to assess the risks and make decisions as to the path that the project takes (The Institute of Risk Management, 2002). Due to the popularization of project management in the business realms, care should be taken by project managers to ensure that projects are successful.
Even though the concept of project alignment is still at it’s preliminary stages, business entities should make an effort towards implementing it in their operations. Not only does it offer a competitive advantage to businesses, but it also improves productivity and performance within the organization. This is mainly due to the fact that the projects are synchronized with the organizations objective. As such, the success of a project also means the success of the organization in general.
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