I am going to divide project management processes into four layers of project management. A rigorous and detailed project management approach will conduct a thorough application of project management processes in all four areas. More likely, you will select one or two to emphasize and treat the other areas of project management lightly.
These are the four layers, or aspects of project management, that are applied to plan and control projects:
· High-level project plan
· Detailed project plan
· Project risk management
· Project control
A rigorous and robust project management methodology will diligently apply all four layers. However, this will also take a great deal of project management effort. Normally, based upon project constraints and organizational culture, one or two of the layers are emphasized and the others are only addressed lightly.
Selecting Layers for Rigor and Emphasis
· High Level Plan. The high level project plan is quick and relatively easy. Its strength is communicating the big picture to managers and stakeholders. Its weakness is lack of detail. Use this approach when there are many stakeholders and alignment is likely to be a problem.
· Detailed Plan. The detailed plan provides clear instructions and expectations to project team members. Its weakness is that, when there are areas of high uncertainty, it must make numerous assumptions – some of which will be wrong. Then when changing the plan for the correct status of the assumption, many team members becomes confused and frustrated. Use this approach when there are many inexperienced team members and the work is well understood or defined.
· Risk Management. The project risk management layer emphasizes the uncertainty and unknown elements in the project and focuses on finding and responding to them. The weakness with this approach is that the team is regularly “fighting fires” and the plan changes frequently to accommodate the risk response. Use this approach when there are many high risk elements to the project or a high degree of project uncertainty.
· Project Control. The project control approach emphasizes pulsing and tracking project progress in real-time. The weakness of this approach is that it feels like micro-management to the team because the project manager is constantly checking on them. Use this approach on a very urgent project or when there is a limited or weak plan.
I have drawn the graphic of these layers as a set of concentric circles with gaps in them. Even if you apply the project management processes of a layer in rigorous and robust fashion, it may still miss something. And obviously if you only use a minimalist approach to one of the layers it will miss project problems. The likelihood of project success goes up as the rigor of each later is increased, but also, the project management effort and bureaucracy will be increasing. Therefore, the project team should decide, based upon the complexity of the project and proficiency of the organization and the team, which layers to emphasize.
As I mentioned, I try to do at least two of them well – which two varies based upon the project. And on large complex projects I will work hard at all four.