Top tips for successful project management

Aston Business School’s new Professional Managers’ Award programme includes project management as one of its core subjects.
By way of a prelude to its launch in the autumn, Dr Prasanta Dey, Professor of Operational and Information Management at Aston, examines project management challenges and provides an eight-step approach to help organisations deliver successful outcomes.

I was inspired to research the project management topic – in particular how we measure the success of a given project - by my experience as a senior project manager overseeing large-scale construction projects within India’s fast-growing oil industry.

Projects such as these invariably involve a large degree of technical complexity, adherence to sensitive environmental and social issues, substantial amounts of capital, and the involvement of a great many stakeholders. Working within such a challenging environment, delivering a project to schedule, on budget and quality assured, is never certain. In fact, in many cases, project failure is the outcome.

And the reasons for failure are numerous, but generally can be categorised as:

  • Uncertainty over design conditions expected upon completion
  • Environmental events beyond human control
  • Limited availability of necessary resources
  • Economic and political upheaval caused by changes in government.

More specifically, projects often suffer from organisations paying insufficient attention to supply chain integration, relationship management, project planning, and social concerns.

Achieving project management success

My research suggests that the chances of achieving project management success can be greatly enhanced by the application of an eight-step troubleshooting method - in essence, a tool for measuring an organisation’s ‘project management maturity’.

Step 1: Identify critical success factors - characteristics, conditions or variables that individually and collectively have a major impact on the project’s success.

Step 2: Use critical success factors to capture the perceptions project team members have about their project management practices and performance.

Step 3: Conduct a sample survey of members of the project team, ideally those with more than five years’ project management experience, which is representative of the organisation as a whole.

Step 4: Analyse survey data statistically and summarise project performance.

Step 5: Organise interviews and focus groups with selected project team members to identify issues and challenges involved in achieving superior performance against each critical success factor, and capture senior project executive perceptions on project management maturity whilst validating the outcomes of earlier surveys.

Step 6: Propose means for improvement and prioritise improvement projects using criteria brainstormed for this purpose by senior executives.

Step 7: Implement the improvement projects in a planned manner, involving and consulting all relevant stakeholders as necessary.

Step 8: Measure project management performance again, using the project management perception survey, to determine whether substantial improvement has been achieved.

Continuous improvement

This step-by-step approach is user-friendly and sufficiently flexible to be applied to any project.

Its overarching purpose is to foster a culture of continuous quality improvement that adds value to any organisation, regardless of the industry and location it operates in.

Aston Business School’s Professional Managers’ Award career development programme gets underway this autumn. To find out more and to discover how the award could help you and your organisation, please visit: www.aston.ac.uk/prof-mgr-award/, email abs_exec_dev@aston.ac.uk or call 0121 204 3160.