The Project Life Cycle

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Most projects go through similar stages on the path from origin to completion. We define these stages, shown in Figure 1-2, as the project's life cycle. The project is born (its start-up phase) and a manager is selected, the project team and initial resources are assembled, and the work program is organized. Then work gets under way and momentum quickly builds. Progress is made. This continues until the end is in sight. But completing the final tasks seems to take an inordinate amount of time, partly because there are often a number of parts that must come together and partly because team members "drag their feet" for various reasons and avoid the final steps.

The pattern of slow-rapid-slow progress toward the project goal is common. Anyone who has watched the construction of a home or building has observed this phenomenon. For the most part, it is a result of the changing levels of resources used during the successive stages of the life cycle. Figure 1-3 shows project effort, usually in terms of person-hours or resources expended per unit of time (or number

Termination Era

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Life Cycle Organizations

of people working on the project) plotted against time, where time is broken up into the several phases of project life. Minimal effort is required at the beginning, when the project concept is being developed and is being subjected to project selection processes. (Later, we will argue that increasing effort in the early stages of the life cycle will improve the chance of project success.)

If this hurdle is passed, activity increases as planning is done, and the real work of the project gets underway. This rises to a peak and then begins to taper off as the project nears completion, finally ceasing when evaluation is complete and the project is terminated. While this rise and fall of effort always occurs, there is no particular pattern that seems to typify all projects, nor any reason for the slowdown at the end of the project to resemble the buildup at its beginning. Some projects end without being dragged out, as is shown in Figure 1-3. Others, however, may be like T. S. Eliot's world and end "not with a bang but a whimper," gradually slowing down until one is almost surprised to discover that project activity has ceased. In some cases, the effort may never fall to zero because the project team, or at least a cadre group, may be maintained for the next appropriate project that comes along. The new project will then rise, phoenix-like, from the ashes of the old.

The ever-present goals of meeting performance, time and cost are the major considerations throughout the project's life cycle. It was generally thought that performance took precedence early in the project's life cycle. This is the time when planners focus on finding the specific methods required to meet the project's performance goals. We refer to these methods as the project's technology because they require the application of a science or art.

When the major "how" problems are solved, project workers sometimes become preoccupied with improving performance, often beyond the levels required by the original specifications. This search for better performance delays the schedule and pushes up the costs.

At the same time that the technology of the project is defined, the project schedule is designed and project costs are estimated, lust as it was thought that performance took precedence over schedule and cost early in the life cycle, cost was thought to be of prime importance during the periods of high activity, and then schedule became paramount during the final stages, when the client is demanding delivery. This conventional wisdom turns out to be untrue. Recent research indicates that performance and schedule are more important than cost during all stages. The reality of time-cost-performance trade-offs will be discussed in greater detail in Chapter 3. In Chapter 7 we also note that not all projects have a life cycle that looks like Figure 1-2, a fact that is not only contrary to well-established conventional wisdom, but also has far-reaching implications about how resources should be allocated to projects having different types of life cycles.

It would be a great source of comfort if one could predict with certainty, at the start of a project, how the performance, time, and cost goals would be met. In a few cases, routine construction projects, for instance, we can generate reasonably accurate predictions, but often we cannot. There may be considerable uncertainty about our ability to meet project goals. The crosshatched portion of Figure 1-4 illustrates that uncertainty.

Figure 1-4 shows the uncertainty as seen at the beginning of the project. Figure 1-5 shows how the uncertainty decreases as the project moves toward completion. From project start time, t0, the band of uncertainty grows until it is quite wide by the estimated end of the project. As the project actually develops, the degree of uncertainty about the final outcome is reduced. (See the estimate made at t,. for example.) A later forecast, made at t2, reduces the uncertainty still more. It is common to make new forecasts about project performance, time, and cost either at fixed intervals in the life of the project or when specific technological milestones are reached. In any event, the more progress made on the project, the less uncertainty there is about the final goal achievement.

Note that the focus in Figures 1-4 and 1-5 is on the uncertainty associated with project cost—precisely, the uncertainty of project cost at specific points in time.

Figure 1-4: Estimate of project cost: estimate made at project start.


Figure 1-4: Estimate of project cost: estimate made at project start.


Project Life Cycle Uncertainty

Without significantly altering the shapes of the curves, we could exchange titles on the axes. The figures would then show the uncertainty associated with estimates of the proiect schedule, given specific levels of expenditure. The relationship between time and cost (and performance) is emphasized throughout this book. Dealing with the uncertainty surrounding this relationship is a major responsibility of the project manager.

The Space Shuttle Program was initiated by NASA in the early 1970s as a follow-on to the highly successful Apollo Manned Lunar Landings. At the time of its proposal, the Shuttle was expected to cost $10-13 billion to develop. However, the U.S. Congress reduced the development funding to $5.2 billion since this was meant to be a highly cost-effective program, using almost entirely well-estab-lished technologies, off-the-shelf items, and a reusable space vehicle. Fearing a cancellation of the Space Shuttle Program if they pointed out the developmental problems they faced, NASA acquiesed to the inadequate $5.2 billion budget.

This philosophical perspective of a cost-effective project became a major problem for NASA who was used to conducting highly ex-

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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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