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Four Functional Disciplines Needed on All Projects

All projects have a set of common characteristic by definition: they are temporary endeavors undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result. Because of this, they also have some common activities that must be executed. Such things as: developing the project plan, schedule, and budget . . . executing, controlling, and pre-planning the project . . . interviewing stakeholders . . . writing requirements . . . developing the product design . . . building components of the end product . . . verifying the end product meets the stakeholders’ expectations . . . conducting a change resistance assessment . . . developing the change acceptance strategy . . .  encouraging product adoption . . . closing out the project. While these are all activities that must be executed they are often not.

Successful projects have teams that ensure these activities are carried out with the highest degree of quality and these teams have individuals who fulfill the four functional disciplines required on projects. What are these functional disciplines? They are project management, business analysis, product development, and change management. Each of these disciplines has a formal knowledge base that is comprised of standardized roles and responsibilities, terminology, skills, and processes. Some of them even have trade associations and professional certifications.

During the life of a project, the individual that assume the role for each of these functional disciplines has different responsibilities during every phase of a project. Some phases require full time involvement and others none at all, depending on the discipline.

While medium to large size projects have the budget to warrant full time professionals during the life of the project, small sized projects do not have that luxury. Often the team members for smaller projects have to take on one or more of the functional roles for all the disciplines in order to achieve project success.

The Four Functional Disciplines

Let’s look in detail at the functional disciplines present on all projects. You will notice that there is some overlap between a few of them. This is not a duplication of effort; they are specialized contributions from different perspectives.

1. Project Management

Projects management is predicting, with as much certainty as is possible or required, the project’s scope, time, and cost at completion, and then embracing reality and influencing activities to meet those predictions.

The role of a project manager is broad and encompasses many aspects. Project Managers provide leadership and motivation, maintain focus and commitment, coordinate team member activities, and use resources efficiently and effectively. This ensures that the planning they perform, the activities they delegate, and the course corrections they make move the project closer to the negotiated end point.

The benefits of project management include: products delivered closer to the predicted scope, time, and cost; more trust in client relationships; better ability to make strategic decisions at the organizational level; cleaner management of stakeholder expectations; less unnecessary chaos for all team members; and increased productivity.

2. Business Analysis

Business analysis is acquiring knowledge of an organization’s structure, policies, and operations; identifying areas needing improvement; and recommending solutions that enable the organization to achieve its goals.

Business analysts must understand the business goals and objectives, as well as the background, of the organization. Their role is to identify cost saving opportunities, increase efficiencies, and decrease errors and issues. They have to be able to identify with business users at various levels to gather and validate information. In addition, business analysts need to identify the impact of a solution inside and outside of their organization.

Business analysis allows for higher quality description of what is needed, better results from end deliverables, and more efficient work during product development. It also ensures greater communication between the business unit and the product development team.

3. Product Development

Product development is creating products, tangible or intangible, with new or different characteristics that offer new or additional benefits to internal or external customers.

Domain experts are the individuals who fulfill the role of the product developers. Every project’s end deliverable requires a different set of domain experts based on the unique nature of the end deliverables. These experts have to have the domain knowledge to advise the project manager when needed, develop their portion of the product as specified, and integrate their work with the work of the other domain experts.

The benefits of product development are short and sweet. Products are developed in a much more efficient way and at a higher level of quality. This results in a shorter development cycle.

4. Change Management

Change Management is effectively supporting the implementation of a change within an organization so as to minimize stress and ensure its sustainability.

The change manager’s role is to ensure acceptance, adoption, and sustainment of the required behaviors for the product or service to have the desired impact on the organization. Change managers ensure the overall change is clear, resistance is identified, and the change strategies are developed and effectively implemented. Often change managers have communication, learning, and reward specialists available on an as needed basis throughout the change.

Change management shortens and diminishes the dip in performance that results from a change. It also sustains the change, making it less likely that things will revert back to the status quo.

For most organizations, if they focus a little attention on the project management role, they are happy. The other roles remain totally ignored or underdeveloped. As a result they live with partial project success. This is a shame as there are tons of resources available to help organizations recognize and develop these other disciplines. Doing so does not necessarily mean adding more staff. Sometimes existing staff can learn the new skills and play dual roles on project teams. The cost of project failures is too great to not invest in acquiring these functional disciplines. Your help is just a Google search away.

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