The Project Management Institute (PMI) identifies nine areas of knowledge that every project manager must grasp to be prepared to deliver great project services to clients. During the past decade, the PMI has become the standard bearer for project management theory and knowledge, and managers (and hiring managers) take the designations of these knowledge areas seriously. For IT professionals seeking new employment, or for consultants looking to nail that next gig, fluency in these project concepts can move you ahead of the competition.

I’ll give you a brief look at the most critical element in the PMI project management toolkit: the PMBOK knowledge areas.

Last in a series

This is the final installment of a three-part series on PMI standards in an IT environment. Previous articles in this series discussed the growth of PMI standards among IT projects and applying PMI’s processes to IT consulting.

Resistance to planning
Many clients and managers still disrespect the project process and continue to differentiate between “planning” and “doing.” Those managers and clients often see getting past the planning phase to the “plugging stuff in” phase or the “writing lines of code” stage as the first goal of any project. Especially in crunch projects, risk management, quality management, or communication management are the first tasks to be jettisoned.

An outside agency such as PMI can remind clients that, just like the new building or the new plant, IT projects are engineering exercises that require a structured approach. The best consultants I’ve known never hesitate to use the influence of an outside agency or analyst to help clarify a client’s understanding of proper project approaches and disciplines.

The nine knowledge areas
The PMI knowledge areas are:

  1. Project Integration Management
  2. Project Scope Management
  3. Project Time Management
  4. Project Cost Management
  5. Project Quality Management
  6. Project Human Resource Management
  7. Project Communications Management
  8. Project Risk Management
  9. Project Procurement Management

One of the first things we should recognize from this list is that these elements are not optional. Let’s look at the knowledge areas in more detail.

Project Integration Management
As the name implies, this knowledge area incorporates all the others, requiring project managers to be able to look at project activities from both a tactical, day-to-day viewpoint and a larger, more strategic perspective.

For consultants, there is a danger of getting so bogged down in the administrative details that we lose sight of the overall goals and the business point of the project. Some project managers go so far as to become “project bureaucrats,” spending more time updating Gantt charts than actually working with their teammates and clients to ensure that project objectives are being met. I’ve known project managers who would lock their doors for the entire workday, fiddling around with the project plan while their teams struggled with every project issue that came up. Remember that project management is about leadership and vision as well as project administration.

This knowledge area also includes the integration of the finished project with the ongoing operations of the organization. This is an area in which, in my observation, too many IT service firms fail: We deliver great technical solutions but don’t spend the required amount of time training the client, building processes and operating procedures around the new system, or preparing the client to support their new system. Integration implies both using all the PMI knowledge areas to deliver a complete project and preparing the client to use that product within their culture and environment.

Project Scope Management
Scope is the central contract between the consultant and the client. Incomplete or inadequate scope planning and management is one of the key causes of project failure, rework and “free work,” and damaged relationships between clients and consultants. Ensuring that the exact work and deliverables required to achieve the client’s goals are included in the scope is the project manager’s key role at the beginning of the relationship, and all PMs must know how to elicit the scope from clients and their stakeholders, verify and validate that scope, and closely manage changes to the scope throughout the life of the project.

For some IT service firms, the urgency of creating new business drives them to try to shortcut the scoping process. I’ve had IT consultants tell me that their managers or sales teams call them up or, worse, drop them an e-mail with the message that the client needs a new network, and they need a scope of work document by the next day. A one-line description of a project is not a scope of work, and consultants need time and interaction to develop a meaningful scope document. Shortcuts at this stage of the process are the most dangerous. Without a clear and detailed contract between the parties, all kinds of misunderstandings are likely.

Project Time Management
The time management knowledge area incorporates all the actions required to ensure that projects are delivered in a timely fashion. From identifying the tasks and activities required to deliver the complete scope, to sequencing them and estimating their duration, time management requires project managers to develop a clear and realistic schedule of events, and then manage to that schedule.

Project Cost Management
To manage the cost equation of our projects, we must plan resources, from staffing to equipment and software. We must develop a clear estimate of the costs involved, including not just labor costs but materials, third-party services like subcontractors, and miscellaneous expenses such as travel and facilities. We must then create a budget that sets expectations for the investment required to achieve the results desired. Finally, we must have a disciplined cost control program so that costs are measured and managed as we deliver value.

Project Quality Management
Quality is a separate discipline and requires the same attention as the more traditional project elements of scope, cost, and time. Planning for the quality of the deliverables, from redundancy and disaster-resistance to robustness and speed, is a central function of the project manager and his or her subject matter experts.

Quality management functions include the development of a cost/benefit analysis to guide our tradeoffs and compromises. It requires us to design tests and walkthroughs into the project plan, so that quality is addressed throughout the delivery rather than as an after-the-fact “quality review.” It requires that we inspect, test, sample, and pilot our system elements to ensure that they consistently meet the needs and expectations of the client.

Project Human Resource Management
In this knowledge area, we create a strategy for attracting, selecting, motivating, and managing all the people involved in the project, from the delivery team to the stakeholders and sponsors. Project managers must think about the right organizational structure for their project team, and then attract the right players and motivate them to achieve. The best PMs also accept responsibility for developing their teammates, so that the next crop of PMs or subject matter experts is geared up.

Project Communications Management
This is another area that often gets short shrift in compressed projects, to the detriment of the end result. Experienced project managers understand that creating a compelling marketing message for the project, preparing the user community to accept and embrace the new technology, and keeping stakeholders and sponsors informed and involved throughout the life of the project are key success factors.

Project Risk Management
Many project ills could be avoided if project managers and team members did a better job of accessing and preparing for risks. Identifying the possible risks that could affect our project and looking beyond the technical to the organizational or political is the project manager’s essential role. Working with the team to rank those risks, either through qualitative or quantitative methods, and then deciding how to mitigate or avoid them, is the central task of risk management. Project management is all about the identification of and preparation for risk. After all, if there were no risks, there would be no need for project management; we’d just gather a bunch of folks and go do the project.

Risk management has a lot of emotional baggage surrounding it. Salespeople often are hesitant to talk about risk with their clients. “Don’t mention risk,” they’ll often tell consultants. “It’ll make the client nervous and make it look like we ‘re not confident we can deliver.” Consultants, too, often have emotional reactions to conversations about risk. “Don’t you believe I can do this?” they’ll ask PMs that mention project risks. Good project managers know that they need to educate and reassure their teams (and clients) about the risk process and help them understand that risk management is an essential element of any project discipline.

Project Procurement Management
Most systems projects require the purchase and installation of hardware and software, as well as the use of subcontracted or third-party resources. Procurement management is the art of soliciting those products and services, selecting the best provider and material, and ensuring that contracts are drawn and enforced fairly and effectively. The best-run project can often be derailed by external providers or product availability, so the disciplined management of this element is crucial.

Bottom line
Understanding these areas of knowledge is critical for every project manager and consultant. Knowing that they have been codified and accepted by the PM community is another important point; I find that I use this attribute over and over to assure clients that I’m not just trying to prolong the project (and my billings), but that I’m actually doing what I must to ensure a successful engagement.

It’s unfortunate but true that with many consulting clients, we’re still in the era of convincing them that project management is a defining success factor. Having these standards and understanding and applying them creates an environment for success in each project and incrementally builds an awareness in the world of IT clients that only through the use of structured disciplines will we reach the objective of consistent, repeatable, successful IT implementations.