Friday, May 18, 2012

Project Management Concepts Through Interview Questions for Project Managers - Part 1

The aim of this series of articles is to introduce project management concepts. Interview questions one may face for project Manager position are used as a vehicle to introduce these concepts. This is the first part of the series and introduces the preliminaries. The series is going to be in ten parts, and each article in the series will discuss five questions that you may get asked and explain the related questions. Concepts introduced should help you prepare for PMP certification that is often required for a Project Manager position.
The very first question could well be what would be the definition of a project? A project is not like the regular set of activities of an organization. For example a biscuit/cookie factory will have a set of activities defined that are required to produce a specific type of biscuit/cookie. These would be the manufacturing activities. Whereas, if it were decided to create a different kind of packaging for the product that will be taken up as a project activity. The set of activities defined to generate a new packaging will be a onetime project. However, when the packaging is created and approved, the set of activities added/existing activities modified, to create the packaging becomes part of the manufacturing process. In general, the set of activities/tasks that are taken up to create a specific result, product or a process could be defined as a project. By definition these are temporary, one-time activities unlike the everyday manufacturing activities.
If you were asked to provide some examples of a project, it could go as follows. The re-design of the cookie packaging is certainly a project. Another example would be the kind of activities that were scheduled for creating the new product, the Microsoft Surprise tablet. This is also an example of a project that may have related projects. This product project gave rise to a project for the design of the liquid magnesium deposition process for a lightweight yet very strong enclosure for the product. Designing and building a laptop with the latest and the greatest processor released by their manufacturer, creation of an airport for a city are some other examples.
What do you understand by project management? This is a question you would typically face early in the interview. When a project is launched its scope, budget allocations, and required quality levels of the outcome are defined. Necessary resource allocations are made. Risks associated are assessed. The project manager and the project team have to ensure the goals are met at the right quality levels and within the given time and budget. To do so, they need to depend on a range of knowledge and skills. Using the knowledge and the skills, to balance the often conflicting demands of projects, is project management.
The kind of activities required at the beginning of a project and when it closes will, intuitively, be different. Do projects have life-cycle phases? That is a question that is asked often in the opening set of questions. The answer is yes, of course. The kinds of activities required are quite different. The project needs to start with a planning phase that will define how the project will get done. Actually executing the plan and monitoring the progress needs to be part of the project execution phase. If progress should start drifting out of expected variations, corrective actions are required. This is part of the execution phase. Finally, there will be a set of distinct activities that take care of closing the project properly. Recording what has been learnt and modifying documents/ organization's processes accordingly is part of this phase. These documents as a whole are often referred to as an organization's process assets. These could be typically; the way estimates are done; forms to be used; specific data to be captured for a project history; etc.
Projects, Programs and Portfolios are terms often heard in context of project management. What are the differences between them? Program as mentioned beforehand, is more than one project related in some way. The design of the tablet is a program that contains at least two projects. One of them is the process development for the enclosure made of vaporized magnesium. The other project in the program would be design and development of the electronics for the system. A collection of projects taken up to achieve a set of related purposes is a portfolio. A typical fighter plane development would be a portfolio of projects that take care of the airframe, the jet engines, the armaments to go with it, etc.

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