Complex cross-media marketing campaigns require a well-organized symphony of coordination and scheduling. Formal project management techniques can greatly increase the timeliness, efficiency, and profitability of a direct marketing campaign. With so many moving parts, it makes sense to leverage traditional project management techniques to command control and guarantee speed-to-market.
In nearly every aspect of our lives, we organize tasks into simple to-do lists. A typical day can be filled with chores and activities identified by an objective and a due date. A formal project—no matter how small—shares common characteristics with larger and more complex projects. In each case, the organization and structure of project management offers the framework necessary for these projects to succeed—on time and within budget. Project management can be scaled to match the scope and complexity of a project. The overall methodology and discipline, as defined in this paper, has become the main ingredients in the recipe for success.
What is Project Management?
A project can be defined as a series of interrelated tasks with a clearly identified timeline and predetermined costs. Larson & Gray (2011) describe a project as a temporary endeavor with an established objective (pg. 5). Moreover, a project has a start date and an end date, predetermined costs, and involves doing something never before realized. The predetermined timeline encompasses a project life cycle. Overseeing the project life cycle is the foundation for project management.
Project management is the coordination and day-to-day direction throughout the stages of a project life cycle. Specifically, project management is the planning, organizing, and directing of tasks and resources for a relatively short-term objective (Hanford, 2010). With an ever-changing, competitive, and fast-paced environment, it is imperative for businesses and organizations to leverage project management for effectively monitoring initiatives and ensuring success.
Speed to market is sometimes the competitive edge that a company needs to make the leap from market follower to market leader.
Project management offers an organization the ability to have higher success rates with lower uncertainty and costs associated with a project (Manu, 2007). In short, project management means an overall product life cycle can be reduced resulting a competitive advantage for an organization. Project management is an important tool for businesses to translate strategies and objectives into realities.
The Project Life Cycle
The individual phases of a project are organized into a project life cycle. The project life cycle is comprised of several stages. The number of stages varies based on the type of project or specific industry (Larson & Gray, 2011, pg. 7). The basic project life cycle consists of four stages: defining stage, planning stage, executing stage, and closing stage. Project life cycle management is a granular approach for controlling the logical sequence of activities as defined by a project scope.
Undefined requirements, miscommunication, and lack of sponsorship all contribute to failed projects. A structured project life cycle approach supports a clearly defined scope and objectives while offering the best chance for achieving the project goals. A large percentage of projects fail to deliver because organizations often downplay the importance of project life cycle management. Regardless of the methodology, organizing a project into stages and identifying a project plan derived from a comprehensive project life cycle guarantees success.
During the defining or planning stage, a project undergoes an initiation process. Part of the initiation process includes the challenging task of defining the overall business opportunity (Westland, 2007, pgs. 3-4). In some cases—as it relates to innovative technology-centric projects—the business opportunity can be subjective. The trailblazing Apple iPhone project in 2007 redefined the traditional project life cycle methodology to include a significant research and development initiative to help prove the business opportunity. Without the ability to draw upon previous experience, and particularly market acceptance, Apple’s definition of the business opportunity surrounding the iPhone was assumed (Müller, 2010).
An innovative product, such as the Apple iPhone, requires a unified approach to project management. One slight misstep in any of the project life cycle stages could be the difference between a history-making product launch and an overall corporate embarrassment. Regardless of the chosen methodology, every project life cycle includes a planning phase as the first stage of the project. As proven time and time again by companies such as Apple—planning, research, and critical thinking in the early stages of a project makes for a more effective execution stage. Apple’s 10-to-3-to-1 approach to product research results in a single product design from which a formal project life cycle is developed (Walters, 2008). Critical thinking and research is mandatory in the development of a project life cycle. The planning stage of a project is the foundation for all subsequent stages. Schedules, budgets, and resources are determined at this stage of the project life cycle. A miscalculated budget or misaligned resources can be fatal to a project and devastating to a company and its reputation.
Once designed, planned, and accepted by management, a project must be organized. Three common project management structures used to implement projects are: functional organization, dedicated project teams, and matrix structure (Larson & Gray, 2011, pg. 65). Projects do not fit within the normal framework of an organization. A project by definition has a predetermined time to live, and therefore in conflict with an organization’s day-to-day management of ongoing activities.
The structure and organization required for effective project management is alien to many traditional companies. Regardless, the organization must adopt a structure that will have the least impact on corporate culture. Integrating a project into the existing management framework of an organization provides a high level of flexibility. One notable downside to organizing projects within the functional organization is the pace at which the project moves. Projects take longer to complete when communication follows normal management channels.
In contrast, organizing projects as dedicated teams eliminates the extra layers of management and streamlines communication. The results are faster turn-around times and a unified project team. The cost of a dedicated team, however, sometimes outweighs the benefits. A matrix arrangement leverages the advantages of functional organization and dedicated teams approaches to create a hybrid structure. The three different matrix forms are: weak matrix, balanced matrix, and strong matrix (Larson & Gray, 2011, pgs. 73-74).
Organizational culture is a company’s fingerprint in the industry. Organizational culture is the defining characteristic of a company—it cascades across all projects. An organization’s culture is many times a reflection of its leaders. Leadership is crucial in an organization. A project manager is in a position of leadership. There is a distinct difference between project management and project leadership. As the leader of a project, a project manager can exercise leadership by inspiring and motivating the teams, and by understanding the bigger picture.
Sponsorship is vital in a project. A project sponsor is one of many stakeholders with an active interest in a project. The project sponsor is the liaison between the project manager and the executives. In certain cases when it becomes necessary to acquire more resources or change direction, a project sponsor would most likely be responsible for final approval. Successful projects share a common trait. They all have a strong and common bond between the project manager and project sponsor. Open communication between these two individuals is essential.
The five-stage team development model provides the framework for project managers to build an effective team. The five stages defined by Larson & Gray (2011) include: forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning (pgs. 377-378). The goal of a project manager during the team-building phase of a project is to develop a cohesive group of individuals with a positive synergy. In an idea situation, a project manager would draw upon a pool of unlimited resources to choose candidates with strong compatibility and cohesion. In lieu of a perfect world, project managers yield to the effectiveness of the five-stage model to develop his or her team.
Before the project team begins the five-stage development process, a recruiting and selection process must take place. Choosing the most capable individuals for a project team ensures success (Kristoff, 2008). A project manager must understand the specific needs of the project before selecting individuals for the project team. Additionally, a project manager should consider the schedule and be sensitive to the pace at which each team member performs. Some team members, while a perfect match for a particular task, might not work comfortably at a pace required by the project timeline.
Objectives, deliverables, and milestones are the first three elements of a project scope. Defining the project objective is the single most important step in developing a project scope.
A well-defined project scope is used to establish a priority matrix. The priority matrix is an effective tool for establishing project priorities. Once the priorities are determined, the project manager can create a work breakdown structure (WBS). The work breakdown structure is a detailed outline of the project. Creating a hierarchical framework of the elements within a project provides a project manager the ability to manage specific costs and efforts associated with each deliverable or subdeliverable.
Project deliverables are known as work packages. Work packages are the most granular level of a work breakdown structure. The project is at the highest level, followed by the deliverables. Each deliverable can have one or more subdeliverables. The work packages of a project can be managed, tracked, and budgeted independently. This allows a project to easily be distributed across virtual teams if necessary. A project manager needs to be aware, however, of work packages that are on the project’s critical path. Any time delays or constraints to tasks on the critical path will affect the overall timeline.
Project Management Software
There are several software packages to help organize and manage projects. Microsoft Project, for example, offers all of the tools and reporting that a project manager would need to handle even the most complex projects. In situations where several projects are running concurrently as part of an overall program, a project manager can manage the project portfolio. Project management software makes if possible to create a work breakdown structure, estimate and manage schedules and costs, and monitor activities.
Managing risks is an important aspect of project management. Project management software provides mechanisms for assessing risks. Change control is often an area for exposing project scope creep. The change control management features in Microsoft Project help track changes and report the cost and time impact a change will have on the overall project. Large integrated projects will benefit from the use of project management software. The reporting capabilities alone will justify the costs.
Project management structure, methodology, and techniques can be applied to any type of project—no matter the size. Every project shares the common characteristics of a beginning and end date, defined set of deliverables, and an overall objective. Project management brings organization and framework to the project to help ensure success. While every aspect of traditional project management may not apply to all projects, the basic principles remain effective and relevant for every situation. Marketers are not exempt from the challenges of budgets, timelines, and competing priorities. Apply project management techniques to gain a competitive edge.
Hanford, M. (2010). Program management: different from project management. Retrieved March 5, 2011, from http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/rational/library/4751.html
Kristoff, S. (2008). Building a successful project team. Retrieved March 7, 2001, from http://www.suite101.com/content/building-a-successful-team-a41946
Larson, E., & Gray, C. (2011). Project management: the managerial process. New York: McGraw-Hill/Irwin
Manu, K. (2007). The importance of project management in organizations. Retrieved March 7, 2011, from http://www.articlesbase.com/leadership-articles/the-importance-of-project-management-in-organizations-246928.html
Müller, C. (2010). Apple’s approach towards innovation and creativity. Munich: GRIN Publishing GmbH
Walters, H. (2008). Apple’s design process. Retrieved March 6, 2011, from http://www.businessweek.com/the_thread/techbeat/archives/2008/03/apples_design_process.html
Westland, J. (2007). The project management life cycle. Philadelphia: Kogan Page