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The philosophy of project management

Stephen Bauld
The philosophy of project management

A project is simply a sequence of unique, complex and connected activities having one goal or purpose and must be completed by a set time, within budget and according to specifications.

Many projects suffer from poor leadership and management.

The objective of project management is to rectify this problem before it arises.

Project management recognizes all projects must be undertaken within the context of challenges, constraints and risks.

The goal of project management is to evaluate these challenges, constraints and risks; identify the series of options that arise from them; and analyze those options so as to recommend the best achievable solutions that are feasible in the circumstances.

Every project is unique, that is, different from every system, construction or development project that preceded it.

However, many of the features of even the most complex projects have a degree of similarity and thus the skills developed in managing one large project successfully can be modified to suit another project of similar size and scope.

Project management entails defining, planning, directing, monitoring and controlling the execution of the project at a minimum cost within a specified time frame.

To be carried out within budget and to meet performance expectations, a project must be executed within a specific time. The successful execution of any project may be considered as representing a goal. It is possible to subdivide the attainment of that goal into a series of steps or tasks.

While some of these tasks overlap, others will depend on the completion of prior tasks.

A project may therefore be compared to any productive process carried out by an organization and, as with any such process, it is necessary for the resources employed in carrying it out to be properly managed.

It follows that a critical step in project management is the identification of a person who will be responsible for overall oversight of the project.

The basic functions of this project manager include planning, staffing, organizing, scheduling, directing and controlling the project.

The project manager must have a complete understanding of the scope of the project and should ensure it has properly defined objectives.

The next step in project management is to isolate dependent and independent tasks and determine which tasks influence others and to determine the extent and impact of that influence.

Where one task (“B”) is dependent on the successful completion of task (“A”) any delay in completion of A will result in a delay in the start of B. If a third task (“C”) depends on the completion of B, then it too will be impacted.

Delay in commencement may result in standby charges and other unexpected costs, which throw the project off budget.

If delay can be anticipated, it may be possible to reschedule supply, and thereby reduce some of the costs from the delay in the completion of task A.

Measures may also be identified to correct the adverse effect in the completion of task A, so that the project is brought back on schedule and within budget.

The resources required to carry out the task must then be identified.

It will often be found that proper execution of the project depends on whether the assumptions underlying the project are accurate and whether all constraints on its execution have been identified.

If not, then additional resources will have to be arranged to address these aspects of the process.

Implied in the forgoing is the idea that to maximize benefit, a project management system must be in place before the start of a project, ideally, before the announcement of the project.

Experience teaches us that cost overruns and other problems frequently arise from a failure to achieve consensus on objectives and timetable before the project starts.

Stephen Bauld is a government procurement expert and can be reached at Some of his columns may contain excerpts from The Municipal Procurement Handbook published by Butterworths.

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