2.3 Overview of Project Management

2.3.1 Introduction to Project Management

Even if you are not a project management specialist, you will want to incorporate some of the basic techniques and tools into your work in order to deliver your political finance remit successfully. The key stages and components of project management are set out in the diagram below.

What is a project?

A project is a temporary or time-limited piece of work, which aims to produce some specific new products, outcomes or services within a defined period. For example, you may want to institute an e-filing system to replace paper transmission of annual and election finance reports. You will need a budget for the development of the e-filing system, and a team to deliver it. The beneficial changes to be served by an e-filing system might be improved reliability of data and faster publication of data in a searchable, downloadable manner.

What is project management?

Project management is a way of managing a time-limited piece of work from inception through to completion. The purpose is to achieve the project’s deliverables (products and outcomes) in a controlled way, on time and within budget. Project management includes everything from the earliest planning of the project through to learning lessons from the experience of running the project after it has been completed. As highlighted in the diagram above, there are four main stages in managing a project: Pre-planning and start-up, initiation, delivery and closure.

What is the value of using project management?

It gives you greater control and oversight of the work while it is in progress, and the ability to make informed decisions about any changes that arise during delivery. This leads to a much greater likelihood that you will achieve the intended benefits of your project and reduces the chances of your organisation wasting time and money during delivery.

How do I know if a particular piece of work is a project or not?

To work out whether something should be managed as a project, consider:

  • Is it a new piece of work – something that you’ve not done before?
  • Will the piece of work bring about change?
  • Does it need a distinct budget?
  • Will it take longer than a couple of weeks to complete the work?
  • Is there a hard deadline?
  • Is there any uncertainty about the products needed and the level of quality required?
  • Is there a degree of local or national political interest in the work?
  • Is the piece of work going to be complex?

If your answer to most of the above questions is yes, then it’s probably best to run that piece of work as a project. This does not mean you have to use all project management tools; their use will likely depend on the scale and importance of the project. However, using at least some of them will reduce the risk of the work not being delivered fully, the intended benefits not being achieved, the timeline not being met, or the available budget or staff capacity being exceeded. In addition, some of the project management techniques and tools can be very useful for managing your day-to-day activities.

Do I need formal training in a particular system such as PRINCE or Agile in order to do project management?

No. This guide sets out some principles that will help you to manage projects effectively without any particular training.

However, you may benefit from formal training if you run projects frequently or need to manage an especially complex project or programme (a programme being a set of projects). There are many training providers who provide such training.

What tools are used in project management?

There are a number of standard tools used throughout the various phases of project management to help ensure the success of your undertaking. We have identified key tools for each project phase and we delve more deeply into risk management in a later section.

2.3.2 Components of project management

Stages of a project

Projects fall naturally into stages, and each stage has its own components.

Stage one: Pre-planning and start-up

During stage one, you will be confirming whether the project is worthwhile and whether it is viable for your organisation to go ahead with it. Therefore, stage one may not lead on to stages two, three and four. It’s important to invest some time at the outset understanding what the project will involve if it goes ahead, so that an informed decision can be made about whether it should.

Stage one includes the following components:

  • Clearly identifying the change(s) the project aims to bring about, and who will benefit.
    • This may require discussion with senior people, or perhaps even a workshop involving a wider group. Your senior people will have a view as to whether the potential project is well aligned with your current corporate strategy and plans and will want to have a say about what the project needs to include. It is beneficial to get their views at an early stage.
    • For example, if you are considering developing an electronic reporting and disclosure database, your goal might be simply to comply with a legal obligation or to increase transparency of political finance. You might also want to simplify the entry and review process, reduce human errors caused by entering data manually, and allow for downloadable, searches of data, etc.
  • Understanding what main actions or stages or steps will be needed in order to make the benefits a reality.
    • This will form the foundation for your project plan, if the project goes ahead. It’s also a good time to test out with others your initial assumptions about the activities the project will entail.
    • In our electronic reporting and disclosure database example, this might include an analysis of governing legislative requirements, identifying socio-political challenges, consideration of system options etc.
    • This early thinking about the stages and steps will help you to test your assumptions, particularly in relation to the length of time the different stages of the project are likely to take. There is often a risk that plans are unrealistic, and projects are then delayed. It is important to start with the end-point of the project (particularly where you have a hard deadline to meet) and then plan from that date backwards, with realistic timescales for each stage of work. This enables you to confirm whether your intended approach is feasible or whether compromises must be made to meet the deadline.
  • Ensuring you really understand what your beneficiaries need and want.
    • This may require some research or meetings with stakeholders. You want to avoid running a project, successfully delivering the planned benefits, and only then finding out that your stakeholders actually needed something else.
    • Consultation, for example, with political parties, candidates, investigative journalists, civil societies and other state institutions may help inform your thinking about what is needed from an electronic database.
  • Agreeing what products or outputs the project should produce at each stage.
    • This will deepen your understanding of the project and the resources you will need. It will also inform your later thinking about how and when to communicate your progress, since your products may include material you are going to publish, or issue.
    • It is a good idea to refer back to the change your project is intended to bring about, and to check that the products or outputs you are identifying will indeed achieve that change.
  • Estimating the resources required to deliver the project (staff time and a realistic budget).
    • Once you have a better understanding of your project’s aims, benefits, main stages, and key outputs, you will be better placed to estimate the resources you need.
    • It can be easy to underestimate the resources needed to design, develop and implement an electronic database and careful consideration should be given to ensuring that a detailed and generous analysis is undertaken. Some less obvious costs include those associated with testing the system, data migration, back-up servers and ongoing maintenance costs.
  • Identifying any potential obstacles, risks, interdependencies or other potentially conflicting work that could affect the timeline or the viability of the project.
    • This early thinking will help you to write your risk log for stages two and three of the project. It will also help you to make a sensible proposal in your business case about when the work should start and finish, and to identify other teams or individuals you will need to involve in, or inform about, the project.
    • One of the key challenges for the implementation of an electronic database system is the electoral cycle. The timing for key stages of the project must take into account election campaign activity. For example, seeking input from political parties just before annual reports are due will likely be non-productive. Likewise, launching the system during an election campaign period or in the middle of a reporting cycle should be avoided.
  • Considering what options are available to you in terms of how to bring about the intended change.
    • it is usually a good idea to present more than one option for the project to decision-makers, and to explain in your options appraisal what the impact would be of not doing the project at all. There are, for example, web based and software based electronic filing systems and you may want to assess the pros and cons of each type given your country context.
    • You may also want to consider options for how the system will be developed, e.g., using internal expertise and resources or retaining an external supplier. If the latter, you will want to explore the market and obtained some comparable quotes and then assess which supplier is the best fit for you project.
  • Development of a business case to inform a formal decision about whether to commence the project, sometimes called ‘greenlighting’.
    • A well-informed business case is the main product of stage one. It’s essential to have an agreed business case to guide your more detailed project preparations. The business case will set out the reasons for the project, the intended benefits, the options for proceeding with the project, your interdependencies, working assumptions and constraints, your intended timeline for delivery, the resources required to run the project, and a list of stakeholders and project team members.

You may also find it useful to decide on a design axiom for your project at this stage, using the iron triangle, and to include this in your business case. The principle of the iron triangle is that you need to decide which factors are the most important to you for this project – because you can’t have it all ways. In short, fast work at a bargain price will not be of superb quality; fast work of high quality will not be cheap; and high-quality work at a bargain price will take a while. So you should ask yourself what are your two most important ‘must haves’? Is high quality paramount? Is it vital to keep the cost down? Do you need quick results? Which of those three will you give up?

You should decide at this early pre-planning stage which two factors you would like to prioritise, as this will help you to be realistic in your planning. Here is a diagram summarising the iron triangle:

  1. Top tips for managing projects (Tool 1 - Top tips for managing projects.pdf)
  2. The iron triangle (Tool 2 - The iron triangle.pdf)
  3. Template: identifying benefits (Tool 3 - Template: Identifying benefits.pdf)
  4. Template: project resource requirements (Tool 4 - Template: Project resource requirements.pdf)
  5. Template: business case (Tool 5 - Template: Business case.pdf)
Stage two: Initiating the project

Stage two follows once a business case has been approved. You should not start initiating your project until it has approval, since this may prove to be a waste of your time and resources. Initiation may take several weeks to complete and will require more in-depth conversations with those involved.

During stage two you will be establishing a firm foundation for the project. You will bring together your project team, and any other staff who should have early input or be sighted on the existence of the project. Using the development of an e-filing system as an example, your project team would probably include members from a variety of departments including party and election finance, IT, legal, finance and communications. You will prepare the key project documents that you will then use to run the project throughout its life, such as a project plan and a risk and lessons learned log. And you will be seeking answers to the following questions to ensure that your project plan and documentation is thorough and clear:

  • Are we clear about why we are doing the project, the benefits, and the methods we will use to achieve them?
  • What is in scope? What is not?
  • What are the quality and timing requirements for our deliverables?
  • What risks or issues are we going to encounter, and how can we mitigate them?
  • How will we monitor and control the project?
  • Have we thoroughly estimated the budget, and is it in place?
  • Who will be involved in decision-making in relation to the project?
  • Who needs information and communications, and when?
  • Do we have all the skills we need to complete the project?
  • Who is on the project team, and have they been freed up from other duties so that they have the time needed to perform their project tasks?
  • Is our project plan complete? Is it realistic?

During this stage you will need to produce:

  • An assessment of risks and a risks log
    • These two documents are used to identify, assess and record risks, controls and mitigations. You may also want to begin tracking issues that will need to be resolved during this phase
  • A benefits realisation plan
    • This will set out how you will measure your projects benefits. This involves agreeing what the measures of success will be, what the baseline is against which you will be measuring, and how and when the measurement will be done.
  • A full product breakdown
    • This is a necessary step towards producing a complete project plan, and helps you to ensure you have accounted for all elements of the project in advance.
  • A full project plan
    • You will refer to and update your project plan on a daily basis, and it’s an incredibly useful way of keeping track of the work, especially if your project is long or has a lot of different deliverables.
  • A communications plan
    • This may be developed with the help of internal experts (e.g. your communications team), and will set out how and when you will communicate with different audiences about aspects of the project. It will identify the messages you will need to convey at different stages, and the channels you will use for different types of communication (e.g. emails, website, social media, newsletters, a specific publication).
  • A project initiation document (PID)
    • The PID is the main product of stage two, and will go to your Project Board for approval. It will bring together all of the information required to start delivering your project.
  1. Assessment of risks template (Tool 6 - Assessment of risks template.pdf)
  2. Template: risk log (Tool 7 - Template: Risk log.xlsx)
  3. Template: product breakdown (Tool 8 - Template: Product breakdown.pdf)
  4. Template: project plan (Tool 9 - Template: project plan.xlsx)
  5. Template: benefits realisation plan (Tool 10 - Template: Benefits realisation plan.pdf)
  6. Template: communications plan (Tool 11 - Template: Communications plan.pdf)
  7. Template: project initiation document (PID) (Tool 12 - Template: Project initiation document (PID).pdf)
Stage three: Doing the work

During this stage you will be delivering the work, in accordance with the project plan.

You should hold regular meetings with your project team throughout, and report regularly to your Sponsor and Project Board. If you are the project manager, it is a key part of your role to coordinate the work, communicate well throughout, and ensure that reporting is accurate and timely. Reverting once again to the electronic database example, it is critical that any external IT contractors are well integrated into the project team and interact continuously with the oversight body’s staff who are the experts on the legal framework and operational needs the system must address.

Your regular reports to the Project Board may be verbal or via a written standard checklist. What is important is that you keep them fully informed.

If changes occur mid-project, e.g., external events that influence or disrupt the project, you may need to seek permission for changes to made to your delivery timeline or other aspects of the project. As project manager, you should raise any such issues to your Sponsor and/or Project Board as soon as you are aware of them. For example, legislative reforms that alter political finance reporting requirements could have a significant impact on an electronic database project.

An issues log, where you list and track all issues that arise is a vital tool in the day-to-day management of the project. It enables you track and address all issues and questions that need resolution in a central location and, when reviewed regularly, helps identify problems that can undermine the successful delivery of the project and should be raised with your Sponsor and/or Project Board. The log should record when an issue was identified, who is responsible for managing it (issue owner), a description of the issue, its prioritisation, actions to be taken and when the issue was resolved or closed.

Changes are managed by reporting on any issues to the Project Board and making formal change requests when needed. For instance, if a supplier’s prices increase mid project, you may need to ask permission, via a change request, to spend slightly more money. If any major changes occur during the project, for example a governmental decision changes the whole focus of the project, then your project is said to be ‘in exception’. In other words, it has deviated, or will need to deviate, from the original plan significantly. In such instances, the project manager should produce an exception report setting out what has happened, and recommendations for the way forward, and present this to the Project Board without delay so that a decision can be made.

Your business case and your earlier iron triangle decision will be your guide if you need to make changes mid-project.

Throughout delivery of the project, you should keep a note of lessons you learn along the way. You also should continue to use your project plan, risk log actively, keeping them up to date. Any new risks or issues of concern should be reported to your Sponsor and Project Board.

  1. Active lessons log (Tool 13 - Active lessons log.xlsx)
  2. Issues log (Tool 14 - Issues log.xlsx)
  3. Exception report (Tool 15 - Exception report.pdf)
  4. Change request (Tool 16 - Change request.pdf)
  5. Project Board reporting checklist (Tool 17 - Project Board reporting checklist.pdf)
Stage four: Closing the project

It’s important that the project is clearly closed down and that any subsequent actions that need to be taken are allocated to someone.

During this stage you will produce an end of project report, explaining how the business case was met, the extent to which benefits were realised, and providing an account of any lessons learned which could be helpful for a future project.

Your project board will consider the report and will agree whether the project can now be closed.

  1. End of project and lessons learned report (Tool 18 - End of project and lessons learned report.pdf)