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Successful project implementation is complex and difficult. Project managers must pay attention simultaneously to a wide variety of human, financial, and tech nical factors—and they are often made responsible.; for project outcome without being given sufficient authority, money, or manpower.

Project-based work tends to be very different from other organizational activities. Projects usually have a specific goal or goals, a defined beginning and end, and a limited budget. Often developed by a team of Individuals with special expertise, projects usually consist of a series of complex tasks requiring high levels of coordination.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the project manager's job is characterized by role overload, frenetic activity, and superficiality. He or she needs tools that will help to identify critical issues and to prioritize them over the life of the project.

Project, management tools must acknowledge that the manager is of necessity a generalist as well as a specialist: he or she must know how to plan effectively and act efficiently. Unfortunately, the "dreamers" who are effective strategists often lack the operational skills to realize their plans. Likewise, project managers who are uncomfortable with planning prefer to address concrete, well-defined problems. Balancing the interplay between planning and action—strategy and tactics—may be a project manager's most important job.

Despite the fact that many project managers are uneasy with either the strategic or the tactical side of their work, project management research to date has generally failed to address this important issue. This article provides some conceptual tools designed to do so. It proposes ten project management "critical success factors." defines their relationship to one another, and describes how they fit into a strategic-tactical framework. In addition, it pinpoints errors likely to occur if strategy is well managed but tactics are not, and vice versa. Finally, it offers some pragmatic advice about strategic.and tactical project management.

The Project Life Cycle

The concept of a project life cycle provides a useful framework for looking at project dynamics over time. The idea is familiar to most managers; it is used to conceptualize work stages and the budgetary and organizational resource requirements of each stage (11. As Figure I shows, this frame of reference divides projects into four distinct phases of activity.

• Conceptualization. The initial project stage. Top managers determine that a project is necessary. Preliminary goals and alternative project approaches are specified, as are the possible ways to accomplish these goals.

• Planning. The establishment of formal plans to accomplish the project's goals. Activities include scheduling, budgeting, and allocation of other specific tasks and resources.

• Execution. The actual "work" of the project. Materials and resources are procured, the project is produced, and performance capabilities are verified.

• Termination. Final activities that must be performed once the project is completed. These include releasing resources, transferring the project to clients, and, if necessary, reassigning project team members to other duties.

As Figure I shows, the project life cycle is useful for project managers because it helps to define the level of effort needed to perform the tasks associated


Phase I Phase II Phase III Phase IV

conceptualization planning execution termination


Phase I Phase II Phase III Phase IV

conceptualization planning execution termination

Ufpre:iAdams and Barn<it: "Behavioral implications of the Project fnl ■ ¡e'" Pr'ie£' Management Handbook, ed. Cleland and King, ^pyright © 1983 by Van Nostrand Reinhold Co. Inc. Reprinted by

»mission of the publisher.

Figure 1: Stages in the project life cycle.

with each stage. During the early stages, requirements are minimal. They increase rapidly during late planning and execution and diminish during termination. Project life cycles are also helpful because they provide a method for tracking the status of a project in terms of its stages of development.

Project Critical Success Factors

In recent years the authors and other researchers have focused on identifying those factors most critical to project success and have generated both theoretical models and lists of "success" factors |2|. Through a recent study, we have developed and refined a set of critical success factors that we believe will make conceptual sense to managers, and that is general enough to be supported across a wide range of project types |3|. As we shall see, these factors fit into a broader framework that models the dynamic project implementation process. They have also led to the development of a Project Implementation Profile (PIP) that can be used to monitor and update the factors' status throughout a project's life. First, though, we should define the factors |4|.

• Project Mission. Initial clarity of goals and general direction.

• Top Management Support Willingness of top management to provide the necessary resources and authority or power for project success.

• Product ScheMe/Pians. Detailed specification of the individual action steps required for project implementation.

• Client Consultation. Communication and consultation with, and active listening to, all affected parties.

• Personnel. Recruitment, selection, and training of the necessary personnel for the project team.

• Technical Tasks. Availability of the required technology and expertise to accomplish the specific technical action steps.

• Client Acceptance. The act of "selling" the final project to its intended users.

• Monitoring and Feedback. Timely provision of comprehensive control information at each stage in the implementation process.

• Communication. Provision of an appropriate network and necessary data to all key actors in the project implementation.

• Trouble Shooting. Ability to handle unexpected crises and deviations from plan.

A 50-item instrument has been developed to measure a project's score on each of the 10 factors in comparison to the over 400 projects studied here. The Project Implementation Profile provides a quantitative way of quickly profiling a project on these ten key factors.

As Figure 2 shows, we have developed a framework of project implementation based on the ten factors. This framework is intended to demonstrate that these ten factors are not only all critical to proiect success, but that there is also a relationship among the factors. In other words, these factors must be examined in relation to each other as well as to their individual impact on successful implementation. Conceptually, the factors are sequenced logically rather than randomly. For example, it is important to set goals or define the mission and benefits of the program before seeking top management support. Similarly, unless consultation with clients occurs early, in the process, chances of subsequent client acceptance will be lowered. In actual practice considerable overlap can occur among the various factors, and their sequencing is not absolute. The arrows in the model represent information flows and sequences, not causal or correctional relationships.

As Figure 2 shows, in addition to the seven fac?, tors that can be laid out on a sequential critical path,, three additional factors are hypothesized to play a more overriding role in the project implementation. These factors, monitoring and feedback, communica-. tion, and trouble shooting, must all necessarily bi present at each point in the implementation process. Further, a good argument could be made that these three factors are essentially different facets of the same general concern (i.e., project communication). Communication is vital for project control, for problem solving, and for maintaining beneficial contacts with both clients and the rest of the organization.

Strategy and Tactics

As one moves through the ten-factor model, it be' comes clear that the factors' general characteristics change. The first three (mission, top management support, and schedule) are related to the early, "plan'

Figure 2: Ten key factors of the Project Implementation Profile.

ning" phase of project implementation. The other seven are concerned with the actual implementation or "action" of the project. These planning and action elements can usefully be considered strategic—the process of establishing overall goals and of planning how to achieve those goals—and tactical—using human, technical, and financial resources to achieve strategic ends. Briefly, the critical success factors of P'oject implementation fit into a strategic/tactical breakout in the following way:

* Strategic: mission, top management support, project schedule/plans.

* Tactical: client consultation, personnel, technical tasks, client acceptance, monitoring and feedback, communication, trouble shooting.

Strategy and Tactics over Time while both strategy and tactics are essential for successful project implementation, their importance shifts as the project 'noves through its life cycle. Strategic issues are most 'mPortant at the beginning, tactical issues gain in importance toward the end. There should, of course, be continuous interaction and testing between the two— strategy often changes in a dynamic corporation, so regular monitoring is essential. Nevertheless, a successful project manager must be able to make the transition between strategic and tactical considerations as the project moves forward.

As Figure 3 shows, a recent study of more than 400 projects charted the shifting balance between strategic and tactical issues over the project's life cycle |5|. The "importance" value was measured by regression beta weights showing the relationships among strategy, tactics, and project success over the life cycle stages. During the two early stages, conceptualization and planning, strategy is significantly more important to project success than tactics. As the project moves toward the final stage, they achieve almost equal importance. Throughout the project, initial strategies and goals continue to "drive" or shape tactics

These changes have important implications. A project manager who is a brilliant strategist but an ineffective tactician has a strong potential for committing certain types of errors as the project moves for


Conceptualization Planning Execution Terminatior Stages

Figure 3: changes in strategy and tactics across the Project Life Cycle (n = 418).

ward. These errors may occur after substantial resources have been expended. In contrast, the project manager who is excellent at tactical execution but weak in strategic thinking has a potential for committing different kinds of errors. These will more likely occur early in the process, but may remain undiscovered because of the manager's effective execution.

Strategic and Tactical Performance Figure 4 shows the four possible combinations of strategic and tactical performance and the kinds of problems likely to occur in each scenario. The values "high" and "low" represent strategic and tactical quality, i.e., effectiveness of operations performed.

A Type 1 error occurs when an action that should have been taken was not. Consider a situation m which strategic actions are adequate and suggest development and implementation of a project. A Type 1 error has occurred if tactical activities are inadequate, little action is subsequently taken, and the project is not developed.

A Type II error happens if an action is taken when it should not have been. In practical terms, a Type II error is likely to occur if the project strategy is ineffective or inaccurate, but goals and schedules are implemented during the tactical stage of the proiect anyway.

High acceptance: misuse

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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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