Hello readers, welcome back to our project management series. In our last article, we manage to explore the skill set required by a project manager (hard skills and soft skills) to achieve efficiency project efficiency. We analyzed the differences between the skill set and what skill set is required for a particular project. You can find the link here. In this article, we would be analyzing the benefits of understanding our project environment and its relationship with project’s success.

Have you ever analyzed the role of the project environment in the success of a project? We all know the primary function of a project manager is to complete the project within cost, scope and schedule so once again we ask ourselves, how does the project environment assist the project manager in fulfilling these duties? The project environment is broad and is more complex than the physical (geographical) environment where the project takes place. It includes the cultural, organizational and social environments surrounding the project. We seek to understand the project environment so we can influence the project result in a positive direction.

The project environment can be analyzed from various perspectives. For the purpose of this article, we would analyze the project environment from three perspectives, which are:

  1. Project time environment
  2. Internal Project environment
  3. External project environment

It is important to mention that the project environment is dynamic and has a high probability to change during a projects life cycle. It is the duty of the project manager to analyze, understand and identify changes in the project environment and adapt to the changes as they occur during the cause of a project.

PROJECT TIME ENVIRONMENT

Fig 1. Relationship between the project time phases

The project time environment is best described using the project phases. The project phases, as we all know are the initiation, planning, execution and closure. The figure above shows the relationship between these phases.

For easy analysis, in explaining the project time environment, the production of an everyday product (mobile phone) has been used. The table below shows the various processes that are carried out in each of the project phase when manufacturing a mobile phone.

Initiation

Planning

Execution

Closing

  • Identify consumers need
  • Perform feasibility studies
  • Align with organizational goals
  • Identify alternatives
  • Determine market structure and competitors
  • Define
  • Develop and selection of conceptual design
  • Detailed design of selected concept
  • Develop cost plan
  • Develop schedule plan
  • Detailed risk analysis
  • Determine what would be produced in-house and what would be contracted
  • Select contractors and subcontractors
  • Design contract document and sign Agreement
  • Select project team members
  • Final review of production drawings
  • Procure necessary equipment
  • Begin manufacturing operations
  • Monitor and control production
  • Monitor and control the supply chain
  • Check for planned and unforeseen risk
  • Testing and verification of performance
  • Review acceptance by management
  • Settle all accounts
  • Close all contracts
  • Review processes used
  • Document lesson learned
  • Reassign or disassemble project members
  • Close all project records

Table 1. Process required for the manufacturing of mobile phones

Each of the project phases can be broken down and treated as individual projects. While the senior management and project manager mostly handles the project initiation, when subdivided, it can be characterized as a full project. It is temporary; time bound and sets out to achieve a specific goal. All these characteristics also apply to the other phases of a project (planning, executing and control). In the project time environment, the successful completion of each project phase is a major milestone and usually marks the opening of the next phase. Due to the high rate of dependency, the success of the execution phase would be tied to the success of the planning phase, also a delay in one of the project phases would lead to a delay in all of the other phases causing a disruption of the project time environment.

Project phase, environment and communication: Since the project phases are highly related to the environment. Each project phase can be described as a project environment. It is now time for us to see the relationship between these environment and communication. As we all know, the more people required in a project, the more the communication channel required and the more difficult it is to manage the communication channels. Below is the formula for calculating the communication channel

No of channels required = [N (N-1)] / 2 where N = No of people.

From the diagram in fig xxx above, we should realize that at the beginning of the project life cycle, fewer people were required which gradually increases and peaks at the at the execution phase before a sharp decline is realized during the project closure phase. This simply means that more communication channels would be established during project execution leading to a more complex communication management process. The least amount of communication channel is recorded during the initiation and project closure phase. The chat in figure xxx can also be used as a resource chat.

As earlier mentioned, since the project phases are mostly dependent on the success of the previous phase, then it becomes very important for the project manager to ensure the success of the execution phase. This is because the execution phase is actually the phase where the product of the project is being manufactured. Also, experience has shown that one of the major challenges that face the project closure phase is the ability to ensure the project team members do not run out of steam to engage in a proper project closure. There is generally a struggle between ensuring team members loyalty to the project and reducing the team’s size when there is not enough work to cater for all members.

If at any point in time during the project the planning was inadequate due to a lack of understanding of the project time environment; this can lead to budget and time overrun even if the project is in its final stage.

INTERNAL PROJECT ENVIRONMENT

The study of the internal project environment focuses on understanding the leadership structure, organizational culture, organizational structure and the organizational policy and politics that is adopted within an organization while implementing a project. This spans across all the various phases of the project lifecycle (initiation, planning, execution, monitoring &control and close-out). The organizational culture often determines the internal project environment. The nature of project might affect the internal project environment sometimes, but this is largely related to the external project environment.

Leadership Structure: Effective leadership is the ability to bring people of various skills and background together and coordinate them to achieve a common goal. It is the function of the leader to establish the organizational vision, develop the corporate strategy and motivate the employees in achieving the organizational goal. The strategic role leadership plays in an organization implies that the overall success of a project is dependent on the leadership style of the organization. This is because it sets the pace for the organizational performance, determines the type of project that the company undertakes and how it is implemented.

Organizational culture: The organizational culture refers to the way operations are carried out within the organization. As project managers, the organizational process asset (OPA) is a very good starting point when trying to understand the culture within an organization. The OPA is a comprehensive database where information about previous projects is stored. Information on the database includes, but is not limited to, organizational processes, template, policies, procedures, lessons learnt, historical information, etc. The information in the OPA gives the project manager an inroad to the organizational culture. Although the project organizational culture is not rigid, improper understanding or deviation from the organizational culture without a buy in from the management can jeopardize the success of a project.

Organizational structure and politics: The organizational structure highlights the chain of command in the company. Who do you report to and who reports to you? What kind of project environment is it? Is it a functional, projectized or mixed environment? Who are the company shareholders? Etc. These questions and more can help in determining the way the organization is structured. The aim of knowing the organizational structure is to understand the command chain, recognize the stakeholders at various levels, realize their interest and develop a plan to satisfy the interest of the various stakeholders. The organizational politics on the other hand helps in explaining the reason why some decisions are taken. For example, in one of our previous articles, we explained the project selection criteria (http://resources.intenseschool.com/pmp-series-project-selection-criteria/). These criteria were based on profitability and return of investment. However, as a result of organizational politics, organizations embark on some projects that are not profitable. This could be to increase organizations public relations, strategic reasons, personal (intrinsic), and so on. It is, however, important for us as project managers to understand the reason for which a project was undertaken, as it would help us in deciding the best way to approach the project.

Conclusion:

In this article, we set out to analyze the project environment and how a proper understanding of the project environment can lead to the success or the failure of a project. We divided the project into three parts, which were project time environment, internal project environment and external project environment. We were able to explore the first two parts and in the next article we would explore the external project environment.

Hope to see you soon and do not forget to drop any comments you have in the comment box.

References and further reading

  1. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge: PMBOK Guide. Project Management Institute.
  2. Wikipedia.