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POV: The Project Pyramid

Nov 1, 2006 12:00 PM, By Bradley A. Malone


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Project management has become key to companies that achieve long-term customer satisfaction, increased profit, employee morale, and quality improvement. Many companies treat project management as a person, not as a process. They usually assign their best troubleshooter or lead technician as project manager, since that person can pull a project out of the fire. This strategy relies on the individual's ability to be a reactive problem-solver and doesn't foster proactive planning and up-front communication. A project manager's key role is to keep primary elements in balance, which does not exactly mean perfection.

A project can be viewed as a pyramid with five interrelated elements that must be kept in balance. The project manager's role is somewhat like a newspaper reporter's job — constantly asking questions of key individuals to find answers to make the project viable. Project managers must also be aware that although they may think their views are important, the most important opinions belong to the client.

The first element on the project pyramid is the scope of the deliverable — whether it is a videoconference room, a home theater, a boardroom, or an auditorium. The questions to be asked are, “What are we delivering?” and “What are we not delivering?”

The second element is time. Two main issues arise here: The first is, “How will this deliverable be designed, installed, commissioned, trained, etc.?” It is an activity-based question, and the project manager needs to rely on the company's functional managers and process owners for those answers. The second question is, “How long will it take to deliver this project?” The duration is often determined by the client.

The third element is the cost associated with the resources and materials needed to accomplish the project's deliverables. First ask, “Who is needed to fulfill this project?” That determines the skill set and competence required. Secondly, “What materials are required (plasmas, cabling, microphones, racks, control systems, etc.)?” The third question is, “How much?” pertaining to both the amount of man-hours needed, as well as the quantity of materials required. In my experience with the AV marketplace, the effort actually required to fulfill a project is often underestimated, or collapsed with the duration (time) element.

The fourth element, quality, makes up the volume of the pyramid, and is dependent upon, and impacted by, all previous variables: scope, time, and cost. How well do the deliverables have to function? What are the performance specifications for reliability, maintainability, availability, and ease of use? How good are the processes used to design, install, test, train, and commission the products and services to be delivered? Are there standards, procedures, or guidelines in place that are followed, or do individuals do their assigned work in their own way? How good are our human resources? Have they been well trained, and are they rewarded for performing in compliance with established standards? How high quality are the materials being used? Does each individual piece meet the desired quality specifications, or will the ultimate deliverable suffer because components and functions are a mix-match of capabilities?

The fifth element is risk, which makes up the foundation of the project. Ask, “How sure are we regarding the outcome of this particular project?” The more similar a project is to previous projects, the more predictable the outcome should be, and therefore, the project ought to have a sense of stability. The more unique a given project is, the less predictable the outcome and the weaker the foundation. In order to make the project more stable, the project manager will typically have to revise one of the other elements — increase cost, increase time, decrease quality, or decrease scope.

A project manager must have flexibility in at least one or a combination of scope, time, or cost. This flexibility is determined by prioritizing the three elements. In the AV marketplace, scope and time are often fixed or constrained by the client, as is the ultimate price. But price does not equal cost. The price may be fixed at the beginning of the project by the sales organization, but the project manager must have flexibility in the costs of the project, especially with regard to the amount of effort required by project team resources. The more unique the project, the wider the variance threshold required by the project manager.


Bradley A. Malone, PMP, president of Twin Star Consulting Company, has managed numerous large hardware, software development, and integration projects.



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