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Project Management

There's a strong management to team-based designing. Here are some helpful hints.

Project management is the discipline of planning, specifying, coordinating, organizing, facilitating, supervising, monitoring and verifying all the tasks that must be performed to carry out a project (i.e. reaching an identified goal).

Design usually occurs in teams, and there are always multiple stakeholders in any product develop process. So the social aspect of design – how the stakeholders interact with one another – is very important. Project management often has to account for the social interactions and relationships that exist among stakeholders.

What is Project Management?

Project management is:

  • is a major component of any long-term, non-trivial task or process;
  • has a definite start and end;
  • is a framework for the quantitative evaluation of work performed on tasks & processes (e.g. via Gantt and Pert charts)

Project management must ensure that a project meets:

  • all customer requirements;
  • budget constraints;
  • time constraints;
  • performance constraints (on the project workers; efficiency, effectiveness, etc.)
  • ensures proper documentation of the project is prepared and kept.

Project Management Tasks

There are 4 primary tasks of project management:

  • Planning: defining objectives, listing tasks, estimating work and duration, determining interdependent tasks, scheduling tasks & resources. This can easily be done with a Gantt Chart (see below).
  • Directing: assigning tasks, reviewing criteria for successful task completion
  • Controlling: reviewing and reporting progress, replanning in light of problems, reviewing completed work, resolving issues, closing projects.
  • Administering: developing and implementing policies and processures for project management


Every project must have a goal: a point toward which the effort of the project is directed.

All goals should be SMART goals:

  • Specific: well-defined; all stakeholders must have a basic knowledge of the whole project.
  • Measurable: know when you've reached the goal; have the means to measure how close to the goal you are and how far you've “travelled” to get there.
  • Agreed Upon: all stakeholders must agree on the goals before the project kicks off.
  • Realistic: can the goals be achieved with the available resources?
  • Time-framed: always track and know how much time you've spent and how much time is left.

When Project Management Fails...

When PM fails, one of the requirements above will fail – usually the budget or the time constraints will be violated. Some of the reasons that PM can fail include:

  • Poor definition of requirements and objectives: Have you and your teammates clearly articulated what you must accomplish and what is required to accomplish it?
  • Poor planning and review efforts: Are you using a planning technique (e.g. Gantt) and are you systematically reviewing progress in relation to this plan?
  • Poor communications: If a team member doesn't understand what the rest of the team is doing, it's unlikely that he'll be able to do his own job. The communication problem might be technical (mail server failures, lost memos, etc.) but they easily be human interaction problems.
  • Lack of consensus: All stakeholders must agree on the goals of a project and the means of achieving those goals. Disagreements must be treated quickly, fairly, and without prejudice. This doesn't mean everyone must accept the project manager's decisions. It means that (a) the project manager must listen carefully to all the stakeholders, and facilitate reaching a consensus, and (b) stakeholders who disagree must be willing to set their problems aside for the good of the project (depending on the severity of the disagreement).
  • Inadequate work breakdown structure: Have you clearly articulated the tasks and activities that need to be performed? Ideally try to break down tasks so that they are manageable and specific responsibility can be assigned and accomplished independent of other ongoing activities but at the same time can be integrated back into the total project and measurable in terms of progress.
  • Starting/completing activities out of sequence: Have you carefully prioritized your work and associated activities? Does the sequencing make sense and can you see how one step will lead to the next?
  • Unforeseen technical (or other) problems: Are you confident that you have done the background research necessary to know the technical challenges posed by your project? Do you know which problems people have encountered on similar projects? Will there be a Union strike? What effect will a snowstorm have on meeting project deadlines?


Scheduling deals with making, maintaining, and sticking to a schedule of how and when particular parts of your project will be done. Scheduling evolves over time. You will not be able to write out a perfect – or even complete – schedule at the beginning of a project. You will only be able to block out major tasks for your project until you study enough about the design process.

For example, you might only start the term with three major tasks

  • study the problem,
  • design a solution, and
  • write up the final report.

That's fine. But you can't just do each of these tasks straightaway, because they're each very complicated. As you broke down the project into these three tasks, you'll have to break each of these tasks into subtasks. You need to break the tasks down finely enough that you for each subsub…subtask, you can see how to proceed directly and estimate how long it will take to do.

For instance, one of the subtasks that might be part of “study the problem” could include:

  • Find 10 existent products as different as possible from one another that are our “competition”: Notice how specific this task is; notice also how it is easy to enumerate the ways one can execute this task and estimate how long it will take to perform.

In order to keep track of your schedule, you can use a Gantt Chart.

Refer to a brief tutorial on Gantt charts for further explanation.

You will have to read and understand the information on these pages in order to use Gantt Charts.

Finally, you may prepare and maintain your Gantt Charts using pen and paper, however you are strongly encouraged to use some computer-based tool to create and maintain your Chart. If you have access to Microsoft Project, you may choose to use that. However, there is a freely available add-in for Microsoft Excel, called ProjeX, that lets you build Gantt Charts with Excel. Another such template is available from vertex42. There's also a YouTube video of how to create a Gantt Chart with Excel 2007.

Other available free or FOSS tools for Gantt Charts include (but no promises on the robustness of these packages):

  • Gantter online web-based Gantt chart application
  • Gantt2 (software in zip format)
  • APlan (software in zip format for download)
  • GANTTlet (java)

You should revisit your Gantt Chart every two weeks, and make sure (a) it is still accurate and modify it as appropriate if not, and (b) that you are sticking to the schedule.

Tips and Tricks

It's the simple and obvious things that will mess you up. To avoid these kinds of mistakes, always leave time to take care of the simple and obvious things. Some of these are discussed here.

At the end of every meeting, take the time to do the following (from here).

  1. What are the next actions that need to be taken to reach our goal?
  2. Who will be responsible for each of those actions?
  3. By when must those actions be completed?

And absolutely, positively don't forget to record the answers to these questions and make sure that every member of your team knows them.

design/project_management.txt · Last modified: 2020.03.12 13:30 (external edit)