The project as a system

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A project is concerned with creating a new system and/or transforming an old one and is itself a system.

Systems, subsystems and environments

A simple definition of the term system is 'a set of interrelated parts'. A system will normally be part of a larger system and w ill itself comprise subsystems.

Outside the system there will be the system's environment. This w ill be made up of things that can affect the system but over w hich the system has no direct control. In the case of Brightmouth College, the bankruptcy of the main supplier of IT equipment would be an event happening in the system's environment.

Identify the possible subsystems of the installed Brightmouth College payroll Exercise 1.5 system.

What important entities exist in the payroll system's environment?

Open versus closed systems

Open systems are those that interact with the environment. Nearly all systems arc open. One reason that engineered systems and the projects to construct them often fail is that the technical staff involved do not appreciate the extent to which systems are open and are liable to be affected by outside changes.


This is w here a subsystem is working at its optimum but is having a detrimental effect on the overall system. An example of this might be where software developers deliver to the users a system that is very efficient in its use of machine resources, but is also very difficult to modify.

Sociotechnical systems

Software projects belong to this category of systems. Any software project requires both technological organization and also the organization of people. Software project managers therefore need to have both technical competence and the ability to interact persuasively w ith other people.

A convenient way of accessing this OU material is in D. Incc. H. Sharp, and M Woodman, Introduction to Software Project Management and Quality Assurance, McGraw-Hill. 1993.

1.7 What is management?

The Open University suggest that management involves the following activities:

• organizing - making arrangements;

• staffing - selecting the right people for the job. for example;

• directing - giving instructions;

• monitoring - checking on progress;

• controlling - taking action to remedy hold-ups;

• innovating - coming up with new solutions;

• representing - liaising with users etc.

Exercise 1.6

Paul Duggan is the manager of a software development section. On Tuesday at l().(K) am he and his fellow section heads have a meeting with their group manger about the staffing requirements for the coming year. Paul has already drafted a document 'bidding' for staff. This is based on the work planned for his section for the next year. The document is discussed at the meeting. At 2.(X) pm Paul has a meeting with his senior staff about an important project his section is undertaking. One of the software development staff has just had a road accident and will be in hospital for some time. It is decided that the project can be kept on schedule by transferring another team member from less urgent work to this project. A temporary replacement is to be brought in to do the less urgent work but this might take a week or so to arrange. Paul has to phone both the personnel manager about getting a replacement and the user for whom the less urgent work is being done explaining why it is likely to be delayed.

Identify which of the eight management responsibilities listed above Paul was responding to at different points during his day.

The results of this survey by H. J. Thamhain and D. L. Wilemon appeared in June 1986 in Project Management Journal under the title Criteria for controlling software according to plan".

Another way of looking at the management task is to ask managers what their most frequent challenges are. A survey of software project managers produced the following list:

• coping with resource constraints (83%);

• communicating effectively among task groups (80%);

• gaining commitment from team members (74%);

• establishing measurable milestones (70%);

• working out project plan agreement with their team (57%);

• gaining commitment from management (45%);

• managing vendors and sub contractors (38%).

The percentages relate to the numbers of managers identifying each challenge. A manager could identify more than one.

Similar lists appear in the computer trade press, for example in the 27 August 1998 edition of Computing

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Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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