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Issue 21

Phases and processes in the structure of a project

Augustin Onaciu
Project Manager
@Fortech
MANAGEMENT

In most software projects, except perhaps those of small size, project managers use well known methodologies. These can be represented by dedicated systems - PMBOK (Project Management Body of Knowledge) or PRINCE2 - but they may also be replaced by methodologies specific to a particular organization. Although these approaches have a number of differences regarding orientation and use specific terminology, all have a few key points: the projects are delivered in stages and these stages involve the use of some common project management processes.

In this context, the stages or phases of a project are crucial for a project manager. Organizing things in stages, the project manager ensures that the services or products delivered at the end of each phase are as intended and at the same time, the project team members are ready for the next phase of the project.

Next I will summarize the general phases of a project, as well as some practical aspects from experience, gathered from the developed projects and from the relations with team members, clients and other stakeholders in the project.

Establishment of the project strategy

In this first phase of the project lifecycle, business requirements are defined and proposals regarding the approach and methodologies to be used in the project are made. Essentially, this stage has the purpose to obtain approval regarding the business strategy that validates the intended approach. Furthermore, it is recommended for the project team to review the business requirements at the end of each stage of the project, to ensure they are still valid and current.

Analysis and preparation

Consistent interaction with the client and / or shareholders, alongside the collaboration with team members is a key issue of this stage and defines activities that may include:

  • "Decomposition" of project components in a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS);
  • Recruitment of a project team or extension of an existing one (if applicable);
  • Establishment of a project plan and intermediate stages. Involvement of the team members in the detailing of plans for intermediate stages gives them a sense of responsibility and ownership for these phases, assuring a more dedicated attitude;
  • Establishment of a collaboration program with the support teams (IT, operations, etc.).

Architecture and design

The aspects involved in this phase relate to defining and creating items to be delivered, having the project strategy and the business requirements as a starting point. At this stage, depending on the size of the project, it is also important to have the contribution of a business analyst, who can work with the client to establish the design elements and details related to the architecture.

If changes are needed at process level, the usage of a Flow Chart or Swim Lane Diagram is indicated, to create a graphical representation of the process. At this point, all efforts should be focused on analyzing and considering potential risks, before starting the actual development. Problems detected in time are almost always easier to approach in the design stage than after the start of the development.

The realization of a complete and well-documented design stage provides, to some degree, security regarding the compliance of the services or products to be delivered. Just the same, an incomplete design phase often leads to failure regarding objectives and customer expectations.

In case of projects with identified risks of technical nature, alongside other elements generating uncertainty, it is recommended to consider a stage for feasibility analysis, to prove the validity of the product by developing a simplified prototype (demo).

Development and testing
Once the project has undergone a complete analysis and design in sufficient detail, the project team can start the development of the project components. The detailing of various processes and potential approaches to these phases are not the subject of this article, being a subject to be elaborated in detail.

Preparation and validation
The objective of this stage is the preparation for product launch. This phase can involve:

  • preparation of user guides;
  • provision of a support plan;
  • transfer of the data to client systems;
  • identification of the elements that will ensure the efficiency of the project after launch;
  • validation of project objectives.

Support and Feedback

Providing support during the transition of the project from the project team to the client team is the focus of this stage. In many cases, for various reasons the project team may be reallocated to new projects too quickly, once the project has been delivered, thus the awareness of the benefits or potential problems arising after delivery, for reasons not necessarily related to the project team, diminishes.

Monitoring of project benefits is very important for team morale and can help promote the project or establish future action points, to ensure the success of future initiatives.

Closing the project

Although this stage is not among the most anticipated or desired phases of the project, it should be done with utmost responsibility in order not to interfere with other initiatives that might reflect negatively in the organization. During this phase the following are required:

  • completion and storage of project documentation;
  • realization of an analysis after the project launch, so that the project team can use the gathered experience in the future;
  • reallocation of team members on projects in which they can contribute and use the gathered knowledge and experience.

During all these stages, a number of specific processes of project management can be identified. These are:

  • Management of the stages - in this process it must be ensured that the conditions for the completion of each phase are met. In this process the understanding of elements to be delivered at the end of each phase is essential.
  • Planning - planning is needed for the entire project, from the beginning, and then a detailed planning for each phase. It must be ensured that the project has the necessary resources, the methodologies, the tools to support each phase, so that the project can be delivered on time, on budget and in compliance with the agreed quality standards.
  • Control - keeping the purpose and costs under control, and proper management of time, risks and benefits are essential. The creation of reports containing information relevant to the status and progress of a project is a common practice.
  • Team management - a project manager is also responsible for the management of the project team. Projects normally require the formation of a team of people who have different skills and knowledge, and the project manager must be able to define the composition of the team, keeping a balance and also covering potential training needs.
  • Communication - in every phase of the project, the establishment of the person or persons responsible for the communication with team members, management and / or shareholders is essential. Inadequate and inefficient communication is a common problem in the various projects.
  • Integration - many projects are not independent, but are parts of more complex systems that represent important parts of a business. The interaction between the current project and the rest of the components or existing initiatives should be carefully considered.

Therefore, the careful approach of all these phases of the project lifecycle is very important for the project"s success and, consequently, for the quality of the product offered to the customer (internal or external) and also for the satisfaction and evolution of the teams.

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