Systems project management

A project can be something as small as creating a blog like this one, or as big as designing a multimillion pound shopping complex. Whilst the size of the projects may be considerably different, and the components of each stage of the project life cycle varying, they all follow the basic ‘project life cycle’ structure

The Project Life Cycle

Project Life CycleDefine Project Goal

Defining the project can be easy if you know exactly what you want out of the project, however it is not always as easy as it seems. The first step in the stage of the cycle would be to identify a range of alternative projects or strategies that may be completely different (for project investment opportunities), and then to carry out a cost/benefit analysis on each project to assess the suitability of each project to the company’s needs. Depending on the scale of the project being undertaken, a feasibility study may be carried out, which will help to identify the feasibility of the project in a number of areas including; technical, operational, schedule, legal, and economic feasibility. If none of the projects appear to be feasible on analysis, figures may need to be reworked, or new alternatives identified.

Plan Project

Once a project has been decided on, the project manager will establish project teams and team member roles and responsibilities. They will also use project management software such as Program Evaluation and Review Techniques (PERT) to plan the project for timing purposes and to allocate resources accordingly.

CPM Example

PERT (also known as Critical Path Method [CPM]) is used mostly for planning and coordinating large-scale projects. Each element of the project development is put into a diagrammatic format whereby the arrows show which activities must be completed before the project continues e.g. activities C and D cannot be commenced until activity A has been completed. This helps managers to keep track of the development of the project and whether this in accordance with the planned timescale.

Click here to download a walk-through guide on using PERT/CPM

Carry Out Plan

As stated previously, there are numerous types of projects, and therefore the process by which the project is carried out will also vary. Here I will look at carrying out a plan for a systems project – this will follow the systems development cycle.

Systems Development CycleThis cycle, like the planning stage of the project development cycle, can be tracked using CPM/PERT. This is a very complicated, in depth process involving a lot of research and time, as ensuring that the correct system is chosen is extremely important.

Close Project

Closing the project ‘does what it says on the tin’ – the project manager will total up all the costs and figures associated with the projects development, invoicing and finally transferring the completed project to the client. The project should also be signed off as completed so no further costs are attributed to a finished project.

Evaluate Project

Evaluating a project can be as detailed or simple as you want it to be. However, there are three basic elements which tend to be incorporated into all evaluation processes; how has the project faired against the plan in terms of cost, quality and time? Depending on the thoroughness of the evaluation process, a project report will be produced to scrutinise the project for future comparison and development to improve efficiency and quality.

Cost-Quality-Time Triangle

CQT TriangleThe cost-quality-time triangle shows the common, direct relationship between these three factors. It makes managers and businesses consider the implications of what they consider to be most important. For example, they may want the project to be completed as quickly as possible, but this may mean costs are higher (e.g. due to increased staffing costs for working overtime), and quality may be lower as the project might have been rushed. Therefore, the triangle recognises that there is a trade-off between the elements to try and ensure there is a good balance of all three elements.

Risk In Projects

Risk is the danger of being exposed to harm, vulnerability or loss. It exists in all projects, as circumstances can change at an instance, therefore there needs to be some way to account for this risk. A risk matrix may be used to help make decisions which involve the element of risk for a project.


This matrix shows the four quadrants that risk can be categorised into. A risk appetite can be created from this to show the level of risk that a particular company is willing to take on a project.

Risk Appetite

A risk minimisation strategy is a strategy by which the company undertakes methods or procedures to try and minimise the amount of risk associated with a project. There are a number of different strategies, four of which can be translated from the above risk matrix and risk appetite tables; Transfer, Accept, Reduce, Avoid (acronym (TARA)


  • Transfer: have plans to transfer any costs associated with the risk e.g. insurance.
  • Accept: the consequences are low, therefore they should just accept a small amount of risk, however they may develop a contingency plan in response.
  • Reduce: lessen the probability or impact of the threat if it does occur.
  • Avoid: eliminate or prevent the risk from occurring.

However, there are some alternative risk minimisation strategies that can be employed in addition to those above.

  • Monitoring Strategy – keeping up-to-date with the project development to identify if any potential risks have or are likely to occur.
  • Contingency Planning – having an alternative strategy as a means to accommodate unexpected conditions.

Similarly, companies may also try to reduce risk by employing people (particularly managers) with a certain attitude towards risk i.e. risk-taking or risk averse.

Project Staff – Roles and Responsibilities

  • Project manager – planning, execution, closing, evaluating, accountability figure.
  • Project planner – sub-manager, in charge of project elements.
  • Cost estimator – estimating project costs for project quotes etc.
  • Time estimator – estimating project/element deadlines.
  • Ordinary staff – normal staff working on the project.
  • Line managers – manage staff involved.
  • Project sponsors – provide financial/technical support (funding), require to be kept up-to-date.
  • Steering committee – make strategic decisions involved in the project.

Roles of the Project Manager

The project manager must be able to;

  • Communicate with clients, managers, staff, consultants etc.
  • Maintain and mend relationships (important for sponsors)
  • Select appropriate staff for each project team.
  • Organise – links with their responsibility to plan, carry out and finish the project.

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