The Art of Project Management: Expert advice from experienced project managers in Silicon Valley, and around the world

How to manage a project

The essentials of project management in under 500 words

What’s a project?

A project is any endeavor that takes time and involves more than one person. Typically, we don’t call it a project unless it involves at least 3 to 5 people, and then we call them a team. A project requires communication, collaboration and coordination. A project also usually results in something being delivered to a 3rd party.

Five aspects of managing a project

1. Defining the parameters.
What are the inputs? What are the outputs? What are the rules?

2. Discovering the goals, limits and values.
Goals include requirements for the outputs and other things that you want to have as a result of the project.
Limits include things like how much money you can spend, how much time you have, and who is allowed to do what.
Values include the priorities among time, cost and quality; and what the people in the project want to get out of it.

3. Planning the work
Planning includes setting your own expectations and the expectations of others; and being prepared to deal with unforeseen events.

4. Reporting
Reporting means communicating about progress, problems, resources used, and results delivered.

5. Interacting
Interacting with team members and stakeholders to facilitate, encourage and moderate.

What is a successful project?

A. A successful project delivers the right outputs on time.

B. At the end of a successful project, the team is still improving and is ready to take on another project.

C. At the end of a successful project, we have learned something and improved how we define, discover, plan, report and interact.

How do projects fail?

A project that produces no output or produces the wrong output is a failure. Examples include products that get returned or software that causes problems for the customer.

A project that consumes excessive resources is a failure. A project that does not deliver results in time to be useful or valuable is also a failure.

A project that ends with a burnt out team who cannot take on another project is a failure.

How to head off failure?

Choose and keep the right team. Select people who have needed skills and are good at being part of a team. Remove people who don’t get along with the team.

Limit the scope of the project. Put your job on the line to keep the project down to a manageable size. Break the project into phases to limit the scope of the current work.

Verify correctness of the outputs with the customer. This means checking the requirements with the stakeholders at the beginning, and checking regularly that what has been done is still needed and expected by the stakeholders.

Iterate at regular intervals. This means delivering workable parts of the output in small increments and then re-checking the scope and priorities for the next increment.

Listen carefully at all times. Don’t presume anything without checking it. Tell people when they’re doing something right.


About the Author

John Levy helps business executives get predictable, consistent and innovative results from high-tech people in IT and product development. His clients include insurance and manufacturing companies as well as high-tech enterprises in software, computers and storage. John’s book on managing high-tech people, Get Out of the Way, was published in 2010. For more information visit his website, phone 415 663-1818 or email John has held engineering management positions with Quantum Corporation, Apple Computer, Tandem Computers, and Digital Equipment Corporation. He earned a Ph.D. in Computer Science from Stanford University, and holds engineering degrees from Cornell and Caltech. He is a named inventor or on seven U.S. patents related to computer design. He has been engaged as an expert witness in over 50 cases of patent litigation related to computer, software, storage and Internet technologies, and has been a technical advisor to two U.S. District Court judges. For two years, he co-produced a weekly radio show on technology and computers broadcast on KWMR in Point Reyes Station. He teaches regularly at the Fromm Institute for Lifelong Learning at the University of San Francisco, with courses titled, “The Digital Revolution in the Home,” and “Computers – the Inside Story.”
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