In many career areas, the project management skillset is mostly an add-on to a primary expertise. This is not a good or bad thing—it’s just a fact of which to be aware. So how does a proud project manager handle such an environment to advance his or her career?
Integration management is one of the most critical items within a project. A lot of work is spent on developing different elements of a project--risk management, developing the WBS, developing accurate estimates, etc., but none of that can be fully leveraged without solid integration management. Integration management is the glue that connects everything else together and helps to ensure that the project is being managed effectively and efficiently. Integration management has two key elements--the project plan and change control.
The project plan
Many PMs think of a project plan as the schedule that is developed to manage the work--a Gantt chart and not much more. In reality you should think of a project plan as a book with many chapters. One of those chapters contains a Gantt chart (the chapter on schedule management), but there are also chapters on risk, quality, budget, communication, and all of the other elements of the project that PMs have to be concerned with. There should also be areas in the plan dedicated to the charter, the project management approach that is going to be used, stakeholder commitments and details of the project scope and major deliverables.
Project integration management requires you to develop and execute this plan, making sure that the plan describes how all of the team members are going to work together on each of their different elements to complete a cohesive approach, and then executing that plan to make those actions reality. For example, it’s not sufficient to assign a task to an individual and allow them to work independently. The PM needs to ensure that the person assigned the work understands how to communicate with colleagues, what the expectations for quality are, how their work contributes to the overall goals of the project, etc. That’s where project integration management comes in to the picture--by providing the complete picture for the project--connecting all of the elements together.
A well-developed project plan will make a PM’s job much easier during the execution of the project. Team members and stakeholders will be able to use the project plan as their guide and the PM will be free to concentrate on dealing with unexpected issues, proactively addressing potential challenges and generally leading the team. There will doubtless be times when project execution stumbles and the PM will need to step in to address a problem, but if the plan has been developed appropriately then it can provide support for the problem resolution--likely the issue was caused by a misunderstanding of what was expected or a failure to align actions with the plan.
However, many PMs fail to develop a consolidated plan, or fail to engage team members and stakeholders in the process. That can easily lead to a failure to understand expectations and/or a disagreement with an approach that was imposed without discussion. This in turn will result in the PM spending all of their time reacting to problems rather than proactively guiding the team, dramatically reducing their effectiveness and damaging their relationship with their resources and stakeholders--it’s that important.
The second key element of integration management is change control. Change is an inevitable aspect of project execution, and it’s not a bad thing. However, it does need to be effectively managed and controlled to ensure that:
- The change is fully understood
- The impact of the change is assessed and the different options to incorporate are identified
- That the right solution is recommended and approved
- That the change is integrated (if approved) into the project
Change control is considered to be part of integration management because of the fact that changes have such wide ranging potential impacts. It’s unusual that a change will impact only one part of the project; more commonly it drives a need to make multiple adjustments to the project to ensure that an approved change is accommodated in a way that minimizes the disruption while ensuring that all elements of the change are incorporated.
This ties back to the concept of the project management plan. A change that is approved will impact multiple items within the plan, and the PM needs to ensure that all of those elements are updated individually and that they still work effectively together as a cohesive whole--that the change hasn’t caused “the glue” to come apart, if you will.
As project managers, we spend a huge amount of time working with our teams to ensure that all of the different elements of our projects are planned properly. We ensure that estimates are as accurate as possible, that the scope is clearly defined and agreed to, etc. It is vitally important that we spend just as much time working on integration management--the process of developing and executing the overall plan that ensures that each of those individual elements of a project work together to deliver success. It’s also vital to ensure that when changes occur they are incorporated into every element of the project, not just scope and schedule.
Andy Jordan is President of Roffensian Consulting Inc., an Ontario, Canada-based management consulting firm with a comprehensive project management practice. Andy always appreciates feedback and discussion on the issues raised in his articles and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Andy is also on Twitter at RoffensianPM.