Project management methodologies – from GANTT charts to PRINCE2™

Published: 07th October 2008
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A high-level understanding of key project management approaches and methodologies is helpful to anyone understand the different possible levels with which IT and business projects can be approached; the success or failure of projects will, to a large extent, depend on deployment of approaches and tools that are appropriate to the size, complexity and nature of the project.



GANTT charts



A Gantt chart is a widely used tool for planning and managing complex projects. It is the basis of many widely available project management tools, starting with Microsoft Project. A Gantt chart enables both parallel and sequential activities to be time-lined and scheduled, resources allocated, and dependencies identified. It is useful as a tool against which progress can be monitored. Gantt charts are, typically, very detailed.



CPM



Critical Path Method ('CPM') - sometimes known as Critical Path Analysis ('CPA') - is one of the more common project management tools. It is a technique that uses circle and arrow diagrams to analyze the tasks between project initiation and completion, provides input to project schedule planning and resource allocation, and identifies those activities that are most important or essential to the project but have the least amount of scheduling flexibility (the 'mission-critical' tasks) and then plans the project and estimates project duration based on the activities that fall along the 'critical path.' Activities that lie along the critical path cannot be delayed without delaying the finish time for the entire project. Projects planned with CPM are usually represented graphically, with a diagram showing how each activity on the critical path is related to the others. This enables everyone, both within and outside the project, to understand the project dependencies, and supports monitoring of progress toward project goals.

In more complex projects, those that involve many tasks - some of which have multiple dependencies - and multiple tasks in parallel, the critical path is the path that is the longest between initiation and completion. The technique enables a project manager to identify which tasks could, if necessary, be delayed as part of a remediation effort and, where an acceleration in a project is required (to hit a specific deadline, for instance) it enables the project manager to focus on the specific tasks that need to be accelerated for the final project end-date to be moved up.



Many software tools are based on CPM; one of the weaknesses of CPM is that it deals with task dependencies, whereas key project management issues (particularly in software development projects) are resource dependent even more that they are task dependent: unless the resource base is infinite, the number of tasks that can be scheduled in parallel is limited by resource availability and, if there is any deviation in planned resource availability, it can have immediate knock-on effects on the project time-line.



PERT



Program Evaluation and Review Technique ('PERT') is a variant of CPM (although it was developed by the US Navy at about the same time as the US private sector was developing CPM) and is a technique that is most useful for estimating and planning large, complex projects that have many variables. One of its key concepts is the management of those variables: it assumes that the times scheduled for individual tasks on the critical path might be adventurously optimistic and provides a simple mathematical method (assigning numbers to the best case, the nominal case and the worst case for any task estimate and then producing an expected duration for the task as well as a standard deviation) of assessing the different impacts (on time-lines and resources, as well as outcomes and contract commitment dates) that different outcomes might have. This technique enables the project manager to plan in advance for possible critical path deviations based on the probability of mission-critical tasks completing on time.



PRINCE2™



PRINCE ('Projects in Controlled Environments') is a project management methodology for organizing, managing and controlling projects. It was developed by the UK's Office of Government Commerce (OGC) and is now the UK government's standard for managing IT projects. It has also been widely adopted outside the public sector and PRINCE2 (http://www.itgovernance.co.uk/prince2.aspx), the current version, was developed to make the methodology more generic and capable of application in a wide range of environments, including non-IT ones. It is widely understood and therefore provides a common language for all project participants, including customers, suppliers and stakeholders.



PRINCE2 is an easily tailored, scalable, process-based approach to project management. It is driven by the project's business case, which should be reviewed through the project period to ensure that changing business requirements are still going to be met. A project is divided into separate manageable stages, with fully described roles and responsibilities that reflect the skills and competences of the organization as well as the project complexity. Project planning is product-based; project plans are focused on delivering results ('products'), and each process is defined with its key inputs and outputs, together with specific activities and objectives.

PRINCE2 is designed to be used in any project environment, and in any sector. Within a PRINCE2 environment, tools such as CPM, Gantt charts and PERT will be routinely used. The methodology works best in environments where project team members have been trained and are PRINCE2 qualified. Critically, customers (the users of the system being developed/product being produced) and third party suppliers must all have a thorough understanding - at all hierarchical levels - of their roles and responsibilities as well as of the complete PRINCE2 process if they are to make their own mission-critical contribution to a successful outcome.


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