Project Characteristics

The selection and assignment of the most appropriate personnel at different locations within the same company constitutes one of the most critical skills in the project manager’s arsenal. In some international projects, personnel originate from different countries, cultures, educations, employment, and possess a range of different skills. With all those differences, they must work together to complete the work in a specific time and definite target.

The project manager has to coordinate the deployment of avail­able personnel, and the range of skills they bring, to accomplish project goals on time and and on budget. This skill has become increasingly important as most projects bring together so many different disciplines. In construction projects, for example, there is a team for constructing the reinforcing concrete (for example); other teams for finishing the work, such as plumbing and electri­cal installations — and every branch entails deployment of its own specialized technologies and skills, which it is the project manager’s job to coordinate. On the project manager’s shoulders devolves the requirement of ensuring the highest-quality work on time.

Two drivers contend for the project manager’s attention: that of cost and that of time. Only one of these can be the project’s main driver, and the responsibility falls on the shoulders of the project manager to find the right balance in each project. It is inevitably a balancing act because the selection of the main driver in each project is not determined by the project manager alone but by dis­cussion and consultation between the project manager, its director, its sponsor, and other major stakeholders.

In some projects, reducing cost is the major factor whereas meet­ing the time target(s) is a subordinate consideration. For example, in the building of houses, mosques, churches, museums, and other projects that have a social aspect, the owner’s investment may not be significantly affected by some extension of the time needed for the project’s completion. On the other hand, with hotel construc­tion projects, or oil and gas extraction and-or refinery construction projects, the owners projected profits are extremely sensitive to unanticipated extensions of the completion date. For example, if the gain of production from an oil/gas project project is 50,000 bar­rels of oil per day, with an oil price of $80, every day that can be saved gains the owner $4,000,000; the owner of a hotel under con­struction will similarly be concerned to minimize losses in room rental revenues arising from project completion delays. It is the responsibility of the project manager to ensure both that all staff working on the project are kept fully aware of the main driver and its importance in material terms such as these, and to find ways that work teams involved in the design or execution of the proj­ect are encouraged to provide their own proposals, recommenda­tions, and action steps that strengthen the ability and resolve of the entire workforce to are in the same direction of the project driver in reducing the time or cost.

At the same time, in each specific case, it falls to the project manager to figure out how best to balance how specific proposals affect the constraints of the cost/time tradeoff. For example, dur­ing a housing project, a proposal might come up from the engi­neers to use a type of cement to provide a rapid setting to reduce the time of construction, but it will increase the cost. Is this pro­posal acceptable? Certainly, it will not be accepted. On the other hand, consider the case of the construction of an oil or gas plant or new offshore platform, in which a proposal comes forward to use materials that are the cheapest, but require extra time to import from abroad which will delay the project some days. Is this pro­posal acceptable? Of course, this proposal is unacceptable, but if the same proposal was raised in the other project like residen­tial, administration buildings or any similar projects, the proposal would indeed be excellent and acceptable.

These simplified but not unrealistic examples underline the importance of the clearest possible lines of communication being maintained between the project manager and the various person­nel. No matter whether the driver happens to be time or cost, it is the driver sets the direction and if everyone involved in a project works hard, but in different directions, that effort becomes wasted. The same caveat applies to dealings between the project manager and elements outside but involved with the project, such as suppli­ers and contractors, so that their proposals in the supply materials and construction should be embraced and adjusted according to the criteria driving the project overall.

Project characteristics can be summarized as follows:

• A project has a specific target.

• A project is unique and cannot be replicated with the same task and resources expecting to give the same results.

• The focus is on the owner requirements and his or her expectations from the project.

• It is not routine work, but there are some tasks that are routine.

• A project consists of a number of activities that contribute to the project as a whole.

• There is a specific time in which to finish a project.

• A project is complex in that it works by a number of individuals from different departments.

• Project managers must be flexible to cover any change that occurs during the project.

• There are uncertainty factors such as the performance of individuals and their skills for some of the unfamil­iar work or unknown external influences that may not have happened before.

• The total cost is defined and has a limited budget.

• A project gives unique opportunities to acquire new skills.

• It gives impetus to the project manager to learn to work under changing circumstances, as the nature of the project is to change.

• There are risks with each step of the project, and the project manager should manage the risks to reach the project goal at the end.