The purpose of this article is to discuss a variety of project management tools that are available to project managers. The specific tools that will be discussed are a budget, work breakdown structure (WBS), network diagram, and risk management plan. Included will be descriptions of these tools, along with a brief explanation of the relationship of these tools to applications that automate these processes.
“The budget is the amount and distribution of money allocated to a project” (Wideman). A budget is a tool that the project manager uses throughout the term of the project. Initially, resources are allocated and tasks are assigned within the frame of the budget. As the project progresses, the project manager may need to make adjustments in order to stay within budget.
Microsoft Excel can be used to create budgets and produce reports, although this program would be best suited to smaller and simpler projects. Budgets and reports can be manually created using the formulas available in Microsoft Excel, or templates could be downloaded. Microsoft Project would be a better program to use for larger or more complex projects. Microsoft Project allows the project manager to view budgeted and actual costs, create cost reports, analyze budget status, and manage project costs.
Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)
The work breakdown structure (WBS) is a hierarchical structure that breaks down the project as a whole into separate tasks and determines the duration of those tasks. The WBS is a tool that enables project managers to define independent tasks, allocate resources, and assign responsibility to appropriate parties. Common forms in which the WBS can be found are diagrams, tables, or outlines.
WBS diagrams, tables, or outlines can be created using Microsoft Excel software. In addition, task lists such as a WBS can be imported from Microsoft Excel worksheets into Microsoft Project. This can be particularly helpful, because Microsoft Project offers many benefits to the project manager during the process of creating and using the WBS. For example, Microsoft Project enables the use of WBS codes, which “are alphanumeric codes that identify each task’s unique place in the outline structure of your project. WBS codes can be used for reporting schedules and tracking costs” (Give Order to Your Project Plan with Work Breakdown Structure Codes).
A network diagram is defined as “a graphic display of the activities to be performed to achieve the overall project work scope, showing their sequence and activities” (Gido & Clements, p. 454). The network diagram is a tool that provides information to the project manager that a WBS does not; primarily the dependencies among tasks and task sequence. The project manager can use the network diagram to determine which tasks are dependent upon one another and which tasks can be performed concurrently by different people or project teams.
Microsoft Project can be used to create, edit, view, and print network diagrams. The network diagram view in Microsoft Project displays the tasks in flowchart format. “The Network Diagram view in Microsoft Office Project 2003 shows the dependencies between tasks in a graphical manner. A box (also called a node) represents each task, and a line connecting two boxes represents the dependency between two tasks” (Create a Task on the Network Diagram (PERT Chart)).
Risk Management Plan
A risk management plan is a system used by project managers to identify, assess, and respond to project risks “in order to minimize the likelihood and impact of the consequences of adverse events on the achievement of the project objective” (Gido & Clements, p. 80). A thorough risk management plan will consider project management risks, resource risks, client risks, technical risks, and other risks appropriate to the specific project.
Microsoft Project, Microsoft Office, and Microsoft Excel can all be used in conjunction to help the project manager create a risk management plan. “To start the risk identification process, you can use Microsoft Office Project Professional 2003 to identify those areas of your project that might be potential problems. Then, you can use templates in Microsoft Office Excel 2003 and Microsoft Office Word 2003 to create a Risk Management Plan, thereby reducing any potential problems and preparing for any contingency” (Give Order to Your Project Plan with Work Breakdown Structure Codes).
Project managers have several tools available to them, each with the purpose of helping the project manager ensure a successful project. These tools can be developed and maintained manually. However, manual creation and upkeep is no longer a necessity. Many software applications have been created which can be used to automate these processes. Some of the more commonly known programs have been distributed by Microsoft Corporation, such as Excel, Word, and Project. However, there are many additional software applications available. Using these applications in conjunction with the various tools is a great help to any project manager.
Gido, J. & Clements, J. P. “Successful Project Management.” (3rd ed.). Mason, OH: Thomson South-Western.
“Create a Task on the Network Diagram (PERT Chart).” Microsoft website. URL: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/assistance/HP453045391033.aspx
“Give Order to Your Project Plan with Work Breakdown Structure Codes.” Microsoft website. URL: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/assistance/HA010211751033.aspx
Wideman, R. M. “Project Breakdown Structure – to – Project Cost Management.” URL: http://www.maxwideman.com/pmglossary/PMG_P10.htm