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Project Management For Dummies®

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Projects have been around since ancient times. Noah building the ark, Leonardo da Vinci painting the Mona Lisa, Edward Gibbon writing The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Jonas Salk developing the polio vaccine — all projects. And as you know, these were all masterful successes. (Well, the products were a spectacular success, even if schedules and resource budgets were drastically overrun!)

Why, then, is the topic of project management of such great interest today? The answer is simple: The audience has changed and the stakes are higher.

Historically, projects were large, complex undertakings. The first project to use modern project-management techniques — the Polaris weapons system in the early 1950s — was a technical and administrative nightmare. Teams of specialists planned and tracked the myriad of research, development, and production activities. They produced mountains of paper to document the intricate work. As a result, people started to view project management as a highly technical discipline with confusing charts and graphs; they saw it as inordinately time-consuming, specialist-driven, and definitely off-limits for the common man or woman!

Because of the ever-growing array of huge, complex, and technically challenging projects in today’s world, people who want to devote their careers to planning and managing those projects are still vital to their successes. Over the past 30 to 35 years, however, the number of projects in the regular workplace has skyrocketed. Projects of all types and sizes are now the way that organizations accomplish their work.

At the same time, a new breed of project manager has emerged. This new breed may not have set career goals to become project managers — many among them don’t even consider themselves to be project managers. But they do know they must successfully manage projects to move ahead in their careers. Clearly, project management has become a critical skill, not a career choice.

Even though these people realize they need special tools, techniques, and knowledge to handle their new types of assignments, they may not be able or willing to devote large amounts of time to acquiring them, which is where this book comes into play. I devote this book to that silent majority of project managers.

About This Book

This book helps you recognize that the basic tenets of successful project management are simple. The most complex analytical technique takes less than ten minutes to master! In this book, I introduce information that’s necessary to plan and manage projects, and I provide important guidelines for developing and using this information. Here, you discover that the real challenge to a successful project is dealing with the multitude of people whom a project may affect or need for support. I present plenty of tips, hints, and guidelines for identifying key players and then involving them.

But knowledge alone won’t make you a successful project manager — you need to apply it. This book’s theme is that project-management skills and techniques aren’t burdensome tasks you perform because some process requires it. Rather, they’re a way of thinking, communicating, and behaving. They’re an integral part of how we approach all aspects of our work every day.

So I’ve written the book to be direct and (relatively) easy to understand. But don’t be misled — the simple text still navigates all the critical tools and techniques you’ll need to support your project planning, scheduling, budgeting, organizing, and controlling. So buckle up!

I present this information in a logical and modular progression. Examples and illustrations are plentiful — so are the tips and hints. And I inject humor from time to time to keep it all doable. My goal is that you finish this book feeling that good project management is a necessity and that you’re determined to practice it!

Of course, I want you to read every single word, but I understand your life is busy and you may have time to read only what’s relevant to your experience. In that case, feel free to skip the sidebars. Although the sidebars offer interesting, real-life stories of my own experiences, they’re not vital to grasping the concepts.

Within this book, you may note that some web addresses break across two lines of text. If you’re reading this book in print and want to visit one of these web pages, simply key in the web address exactly as it’s noted in the text, pretending as though the line break doesn’t exist. If you’re reading this as an e-book, you’ve got it easy — just click the web address to be taken directly to the web page.

Foolish Assumptions

When writing this book, I assumed that a widely diverse group of people would read it, including the following:

I assume that you have a desire to take control of your environment. After reading this book, I hope you wonder (and rightfully so) why all projects aren’t well managed — because you’ll think these techniques are so logical, straightforward, and easy to use. But I also assume you recognize there’s a big difference between knowing what to do and doing it. And I assume you realize you’ll have to work hard to overcome the forces that conspire to prevent you from using these tools and techniques.

Finally, I assume you’ll realize that you can read this book repeatedly and learn something new and different each time. Think of this book as a comfortable resource that has more to share as you experience new situations.

Icons Used in This Book

I include small icons in the left margins of the book to alert you to special information in the text. Here’s what they mean:

remember I use this icon to point out important information you need to keep in mind as you apply the techniques and approaches.

tip This icon highlights techniques or approaches you can use to improve your project-management practices.

warning This icon highlights potential pitfalls and danger spots.

Beyond the Book

In addition to the material in the print or e-book you’re reading right now, you can access free companion materials online. Simply navigate to and search for “Project Management For Dummies Cheat Sheet.” From there you’ll be able to read or print several useful articles about confirming your project’s justification, developing meaningful project objectives, developing achievable project schedules, eliciting and sustaining commitment for projects, holding people accountable, and avoiding common project pitfalls.

Where to Go from Here

You can read this book in many ways, depending on your own project-management knowledge and experience and your current needs. However, I suggest you first take a minute to scan the table of contents and thumb through the parts of the book to get a feeling for the topics I address.

If you’re new to project management and are just beginning to form a plan for a project, first read Parts 1 and 2, which explain how to plan outcomes, activities, schedules, and resources. If you want to find out how to identify and organize your project’s team and other key people, start with Part 3. If you’re ready to begin work or you’re already in the midst of your project, you may want to start with Part 4. Or feel free to jump back and forth, hitting the chapters with topics that interest you the most.

The most widely recognized reference of project-management best practices is A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), published by the Project Management Institute (PMI). The sixth and most recent edition of PMBOK (PMBOK 6) was published in 2017. The Project Management Professional (PMP) certification — the most recognized project-management credential throughout the world — includes an examination (administered by PMI) with questions based on PMBOK 6.

Because I base my book on best practices for project-management activities, the tools and techniques I offer are in accordance with PMBOK 6. However, if you’re preparing to take the PMP examination, use my book as a companion to PMBOK 6, not as a substitute for it.

As you read this book, keep the following points in mind:

No matter how you make your way through this book, plan on reading all the chapters more than once — the more you read a chapter, the more sense its approaches and techniques will make. And who knows? A change in your job responsibilities may create a need for certain techniques you’ve never used before. Have fun and good luck!

Part 1

Getting Started with Project Management


Discover what project management is all about and whether you have what it takes to be a successful project manager.

Check out the documents you need to assess a project’s feasibility and desirability, including the business case, the project charter, the preliminary stakeholder register, and the preliminary assumptions list. Consider how the data generated from a preliminary needs assessment, a feasibility study, and a cost-benefit analysis generate information needed to support the decision of whether to consider a proposed project further.

Find out how to identify people who may need to be involved in your project, and decide whether, when, and how to involve them. After you know who should be involved, determine who has the authority, power, and interest to make critical decisions along the way.

Think about the big picture of what your project is trying to accomplish (and why). Then get the scoop on writing a scope statement to confirm the results your project will produce and the constraints and assumptions under which everyone will work.

Outline the work you have to do to meet the expectations for your project, and find out how to break that work down into manageable chunks.

Chapter 1

Project Management: The Key to Achieving Results


check Defining a project and its four phases

check Breaking down project management

check Identifying the project manager’s role

check Determining whether you have what you need to be successful

Successful organizations create projects that produce desired results in established time frames with assigned resources. As a result, businesses are increasingly driven to find individuals who can excel in this project-oriented environment.

Because you’re reading this book, chances are good that you’ve been asked to manage a project. So, hang on tight — you’re going to need a new set of skills and techniques to steer that project to successful completion. But not to worry! This chapter gets you off to a smooth start by showing you what projects and project management really are and by helping you separate projects from non-project assignments. This chapter also offers the rationale for why projects succeed or fail and gets you into the project-management mindset.

Determining What Makes a Project a Project

No matter what your job is, you handle a myriad of assignments every day. For example, you may prepare a memo, hold a meeting, design a sales campaign, or move to new offices. Or you may make the information systems more user-friendly, develop a research compound in the laboratory, or improve the organization’s public image. Not all these assignments are projects. How can you tell which ones are and which ones aren’t? This section is here to help.

Understanding the three main components that define a project

A project is a temporary undertaking performed to produce a unique product, service, or result. Large or small, a project always has the following three components:

  • Specific scope: Desired results or products. (Check out Chapter 4 for more on describing desired results.)
  • Schedule: Established dates when project work starts and ends. (See Chapter 6 for how to develop responsive and feasible project schedules.)
  • Required resources: Necessary number of people and funds and other resources. (See Chapter 7 for how to establish whom you need for your project and Chapter 8 for how to set up your budget and determine any other resources you need.)

remember As illustrated in Figure 1-1, each component affects the other two. For example: Expanding the type and characteristics of desired outcomes may require more time (a later end date) or more resources. Moving up the end date may necessitate paring down the results or increasing project expenditures (for instance, by paying overtime to project staff). Within this three-part project definition, you perform work to achieve your desired results.


© John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

FIGURE 1-1: The relationship between the three main components of a project.

Although many other considerations may affect a project’s performance (see the later section “Defining Project Management” for details), these three components are the basis of a project’s definition for the following three reasons:

  • The only reason a project exists is to produce the results specified in its scope.
  • The project’s end date is an essential part of defining what constitutes successful performance; the desired result must be provided by a certain time to meet its intended need.
  • The availability of resources shapes the nature of the products the project can produce.

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, 6th Edition (PMBOK 6), elaborates on these components by

  • Emphasizing that product includes both the basic nature of what is to be produced (for example, a new training program or a new prescription drug) and its required characteristics (for example, the topics that the training program must address), which are defined as the product’s quality
  • Noting that resources refers to funds, as well as to other, nonmonetary resources, such as people, equipment, raw materials, and facilities

PMBOK 6 also emphasizes that risk (the likelihood that not everything will go exactly according to plan) plays an important role in defining a project and that guiding a project to success involves continually managing tradeoffs among the three main project components — the products to be produced and their characteristics, the schedule, and the resources required to do the project work.

Recognizing the diversity of projects

Projects come in a wide assortment of shapes and sizes. For example, projects can

  • Be large or small
    • Installing a new subway system, which may cost more than $1 billion and take 10 to 15 years to complete, is a project.
    • Preparing an ad hoc report of monthly sales figures, which may take you one day to complete, is also a project.
  • Involve many people or just you
    • Training all 10,000 of your organization’s staff in a new affirmative-action policy is a project.
    • Rearranging the furniture and equipment in your office is also a project.
  • Be defined by a legal contract or by an informal agreement
    • A signed contract between you and a customer that requires you to build a house defines a project.
    • An informal promise you make to install a new software package on your colleague’s computer also defines a project.
  • Be business-related or personal
    • Conducting your organization’s annual blood drive is a project.
    • Having a dinner party for 15 people is also a project.

remember No matter what the individual characteristics of your project are, you define it by the same three components I describe in the previous section: results (or scope), start and end dates, and resources. The information you need to plan and manage your project is the same for any project you manage, although the ease and the time to develop it may differ. The more thoroughly you plan and manage your projects, the more likely you are to succeed.

Describing the four phases of a project life cycle

remember A project’s life cycle is the series of phases that the project passes through as it goes from its start to its completion. A phase is a collection of logically related project activities that culminates in the completion of one or more project deliverables (see Chapters 4 and 5 for more on project deliverables). Every project, whether large or small, passes through the following four life-cycle phases:

  • Starting the project: This phase involves generating, evaluating, and framing the business need for the project and the general approach to performing it and agreeing to prepare a detailed project plan. Outputs from this phase may include approval to proceed to the next phase, documentation of the need for the project and rough estimates of time and resources to perform it (often included in a project charter), and an initial list of people who may be interested in, involved with, or affected by the project.
  • Organizing and preparing: This phase involves developing a plan that specifies the desired results; the work to do; the time, cost, and other resources required; and a plan for how to address key project risks. Outputs from this phase may include a project plan that documents the intended project results and the time, resources, and supporting processes needed to create them.
  • Carrying out the work: This phase involves establishing the project team and the project support systems, performing the planned work, and monitoring and controlling performance to ensure adherence to the current plan. Outputs from this phase may include project results, project progress reports, and other communications.
  • Closing the project: This phase involves assessing the project results, obtaining customer approvals, transitioning project team members to new assignments, closing financial accounts, and conducting a post-project evaluation. Outputs from this phase may include final, accepted, and approved project results and recommendations and suggestions for applying lessons learned from this project to similar efforts in the future.

For small projects, this entire life cycle can take just a few days. For larger projects, it can take many years! In fact, to allow for greater focus on key aspects and to make it easier to monitor and control the work, project managers often subdivide larger projects into separate phases, each of which is treated as a mini-project and passes through these four life-cycle phases. No matter how simple or complex the project is, however, these four phases are the same.

remember In a perfect world, you complete one phase of your project’s life cycle before you move on to the next one, and after you complete that phase, you never return to it again. But the world isn’t perfect, and project success often requires a flexible approach that responds to real situations that you may face, such as the following:

  • You may have to work on two (or more) project phases at the same time to meet tight deadlines. Working on the next phase before you complete the current one increases the risk that you may have to redo tasks, which may cause you to miss deadlines and spend more resources than you originally planned. If you choose this strategy, be sure people understand the potential risks and costs associated with it (see Chapter 9 for how to assess and manage risks).
  • Sometimes you learn by doing. Despite doing your best to assess feasibility and develop detailed plans, you may realize you can’t achieve what you thought you could. When this situation happens, you need to return to the earlier project phases and rethink them in light of the new information you’ve acquired.
  • Sometimes things change unexpectedly. Your initial feasibility and benefits assessments are sound, and your plan is detailed and realistic. However, certain key project team members leave the organization without warning during the project. Or a new technology emerges, and it’s more appropriate to use than the one in your original plans. Because ignoring these occurrences may seriously jeopardize your project’s success, you need to return to the earlier project phases and rethink them in light of these new realities.

Defining Project Management

Project management is the process of guiding a project from its beginning through its performance to its closure. Project management includes five sets of processes, which I describe in more detail in the following sections:

As illustrated in Figure 1-2, these five process groups help support the project through the four phases of its life cycle. Initiating processes support the work to be done when starting the project, and planning processes support the organizing and preparing phase. Executing processes guide the project tasks performed when carrying out the work, and closing processes are used to perform the tasks that bring the project to an end.


© John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

FIGURE 1-2: The five project-management process groups that support the four project life-cycle phases.

Figure 1-2 highlights how you may cycle back from executing processes to planning processes when you have to return to the organizing and preparing phase to modify existing plans to address problems you encounter or new information you acquire while carrying out the project work. Finally, you use monitoring and controlling processes in each of the four phases to help ensure that work is being performed according to plans.

remember Successfully performing these processes requires the following:

Starting with the initiating processes

All projects begin with an idea. Perhaps your organization’s client identifies a need, or maybe your boss thinks of a new market to explore, or maybe you think of a way to refine your organization’s procurement process.

Sometimes the initiating process is informal. For a small project, it may consist of just a discussion and a verbal agreement. In other instances, especially for larger projects, a project requires a formal review and decision by your boss and/or other members of your organization’s senior management team.

remember Decision-makers consider the following two questions when deciding whether to move ahead with a project:

  • Should we do it? Are the benefits we expect to achieve worth the costs we’ll have to pay? Are there better ways to approach the issue?
  • Can we do it? Is the project technically feasible? Are the required resources available?

If the answer to both questions is “Yes,” the project can proceed to the organizing and preparing phase (see the following section), during which a project plan is developed. If the answer to either question is a definite, ironclad “No,” under no circumstances should the project go any further. If nothing can be done to make it desirable and feasible, the decision-makers should stop all work on the project immediately. Doing anything else guarantees wasted resources, lost opportunities, and a frustrated staff. Flip to Chapter 2 for more information on the genesis of a project.

Outlining the planning processes

When you know what you hope to accomplish and you believe it’s possible, you need a detailed plan that describes how you and your team will make it happen. Include the following in your project-management plan:

  • An overview of the reasons for your project. (Chapter 4 tells you what to include.)
  • A detailed description of intended results. (Chapter 4 explains how to describe desired results.)
  • A list of all constraints the project must address. (Chapter 4 explores the different types of constraints a project may face.)
  • A list of all assumptions related to the project. (Chapter 4 discusses how to frame assumptions.)
  • A list of all required work. (Chapter 5 discusses how to identify all required project work.)
  • A breakdown of the roles you and your team members will play. (Chapter 11 explains how to describe roles and responsibilities.)
  • A detailed project schedule. (Chapter 6 explains how to develop your schedule.)
  • Needs for personnel, funds, and non-personnel resources (such as equipment, facilities, and information). (Chapter 7 illustrates how to estimate resource personnel needs, and Chapter 8 takes a close look at estimating non-personnel needs and developing your project’s budget.)
  • A description of how you plan to manage any significant risks and uncertainties. (Chapter 9 explains how to identify and plan for risks.)
  • Plans for project communications. (Chapter 14 discusses how to keep everyone who’s involved in your project up-to-date.)
  • Plans for ensuring project quality. (Chapter 13 covers how to track progress and maintain control of your project throughout its life cycle so as to achieve success.)

tip Always put your project plans in writing; doing so helps you clarify details and reduces the chances that you’ll forget something. Plans for large projects can take hundreds of pages, but a plan for a small project can take only a few lines on a piece of paper (or a tablecloth!).

The success of your project depends on the clarity and accuracy of your plan and on whether people believe they can achieve it. Considering past experience in your project plan makes your plan more realistic; involving people in the plan’s development encourages their commitment to achieving it.

warning Don’t let the pressure to get fast results convince you to skip the planning and get right to the tasks. Although this strategy can create a lot of immediate activity, it also creates significant chances for waste and mistakes.

tip Be sure your project’s drivers and supporters review and approve the plan in writing before you begin your project (see Chapter 3). For a small project, you may need only a brief email or someone’s initials on the plans. For a larger project, though, you may need a formal review and sign-off by one or more levels of your organization’s management.

Examining the executing processes

After you’ve developed your project-management plan and set your appropriate project baselines, it’s time to get to work and start executing your plan. This is often the phase when management gets more engaged and excited to see things being produced.


Preparing to begin the project work involves the following tasks (see Chapter 12 for details):

  • Assigning people to all project roles: Confirm the individuals who’ll perform the project work and negotiate agreements with them and their managers to make sure they’ll be available to work on the project team.
  • Introducing team members to each other and to the project: Help people begin developing interpersonal relationships with each other. Help them appreciate the overall purpose of the project and explain how the different parts will interact and support each other.
  • Giving and explaining tasks to all team members: Describe to all team members what work they’re responsible for producing and how the team members will coordinate their efforts.
  • Defining how the team will perform its essential functions: Decide how the team will handle routine communications, make different project decisions, and resolve conflicts. Develop any procedures that may be required to guide performance of these functions.
  • Setting up necessary tracking systems: Decide which system(s) and accounts you’ll use to track schedules, work effort, and expenditures, and then set them up.
  • Announcing the project to the organization: Let the project audiences know that your project exists, what it will produce, and when it will begin and end.

remember Suppose you don’t join your project team until the actual work is getting underway. Your first task is to understand how people decided initially that the project was possible and desirable. If the people who participated in the start of the project and the organizing and preparing phases overlooked important issues, you need to raise them now. When searching for the project’s history, check minutes from meetings, memos, letters, emails, and technical reports. Then consult with all the people involved in the initial project decisions.


Finally, you get to perform the project work! The performing subgroup of the executing processes includes the following tasks (see Chapters 14 and 15 for more details):

  • Doing the tasks: Perform the work that’s in your plan.
  • Assuring quality: Continually confirm that work and results conform to requirements and applicable standards and guidelines.
  • Managing the team: Assign tasks, review results, and resolve problems.
  • Developing the team: Provide needed training and mentoring to improve team members’ skills.
  • Sharing information: Distribute information to appropriate project audiences.

Surveying the monitoring and controlling processes

As the project progresses, you need to ensure that plans are being followed and desired results are being achieved. The monitoring and controlling processes include the following tasks (see Chapter 13 for specific activities):

  • Comparing performance with plans: Collect information on outcomes, schedule achievements, and resource expenditures; identify deviations from your plan; and develop corrective actions.
  • Fixing problems that arise: Change tasks, schedules, or resources to bring project performance back on track with the existing plan, or negotiate agreed-upon changes to the plan itself.
  • Keeping everyone informed: Tell project audiences about the team’s achievements, project problems, and necessary revisions to the established plan.

Ending with the closing processes

Finishing your assigned tasks is only part of bringing your project to a close. In addition, you must do the following (see Chapter 16 for a discussion of each of these points):

  • Get your clients’ approvals of the final results.
  • Close all project accounts (if you’ve been charging time and money to special project accounts).
  • Help team members move on to their next assignments.
  • Hold a post-project evaluation with the project team to recognize project achievements and to discuss lessons you can apply to the next project. (At the very least, make informal notes about these lessons and your plans for using them in the future.)