Managing public safety communications projects benefit from taking a project lifecycle approach, which consists of five stages and requires a disciplined approach to success. The Project Management Book of Knowledge Guide (PMBOK®Guide)1 defines these stages as: 1) Initiating Process, 2) Planning Process, 3) Executing Process, 4) Monitoring and Control Process, and 5) Closing Process. To successfully implement your technology project, you should understand these key stages.
The Department of Homeland Security Office of Emergency Communications refers to system lifecycle planning as the sum of all recurring and one-time nonrecurring costs over the full lifespan or a specified period of a service structure or system. It includes purchase price, installation costs, operating costs, maintenance and upgrade costs, and remaining residual or salvage value at the end of ownership or its useful life.
SEARCH can assist with your project lifecycle needs through its years of experience in providing technical assistance and training/education, and developing resources to help organizations manage public safety and justice agency technology projects of all sizes.
Steps in the Project Lifecycle
The first step of the project lifecycle, initiating, helps get the project off to a good start and creates an environment of shared understanding and engagement with key stakeholders. Develop a project charter from the start—it should provide the business case, authorize the project (committing resources for it), and identify key stakeholders and governance. From there, the project moves on to the planning stage—one of, if not the most important stages in the project lifecycle.
Project planning begins with engaging an experienced, capable project manager, who can bring the key stakeholders together to confirm the project’s objectives and secure commitment of resources. The project management plan that emerges should clearly articulate the objectives, milestones, and resources that the project requires to succeed. The project manager should ensure that the plan receives proper review by the project’s governance structure, and that it remains a current, relevant document for all stakeholders throughout the project.
Thoughtful, careful planning at the right level of detail is a critical success factor for any technology project. Project planning is not to be confused with a Schedule or Milestone Plan, i.e., GANTT Chart (a chart that defines the schedule for the project). A project management plan has many elements and factors, to include:
- Defined Scope
- Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)
- Cost/Budget Plan
- Resource Plan (material and labor)
- Communications Plan
- Risk Management Plan
- Procurement Plan
The level of detail or depth for each element will depend on the size, cost, visibility, and risk of success for your technology project. For example, a low-cost, high-risk and high-visibility project may require a more detailed communications plan to keep key internal and external stakeholders informed of the progress and risks of the project.
Risks can play a big role in the planning process. With proper project planning, projects can greatly mitigate significant risk, such as:
- Key stakeholders not understanding the goals, objectives, milestones, and timelines of the project
- Key resources, such as staff or technology investments, not being available when needed
- Difficulty in measuring and communicating progress
- Lack of coordination between key project participants
Executing the project can only begin once proper planning is complete. The project manager now begins to assemble the project team and focuses on actuating the project plan. The project is now moving ahead and resources, procurements, installations, documentation, etc. are all being executed—however, this does not suggest that all elements are as planned. This is where the project manager must manage stakeholder expectations and provide the bridge between the project technical objectives and business objectives.
Managing expectations is only part of the equation—monitoring and controlling the project—is required to ensure the project stays within the constraints identified in the planning stages of the lifecycle. However, a project management plan is not a perfect prediction of how the project will go, nor is it a set of precise instructions to be followed without consideration of circumstances that arise during the project. The value of planning is in the disciplined thinking it requires: what is this project trying to achieve, and what is the current understanding of the steps (activities, investments, and so on) required to achieve it? The most successful projects recognize that the business context and environment in which a project operates will change constantly – and therefore the plan must evolve along with them. Successful projects also recognize that it is important to avoid over-planning – that it is best to do the right amount of planning; to identify key objectives, milestones, and resources; and to plan frequent and well-communicated updates to the plan as the project unfolds.
Now the project is done and everyone is ready to move onto the next project—but a missed opportunity awaits those who do not take the time to formally close the project. How well did your plan projections meet your actuals? Were you under-, over- or right-on with your budget? Understanding the lessons learned on your project will help you in the future with planning and projections for the next technology project. Additionally, the project must be transitioned from the project implementation team to the operational aspect of the organization.
Project lifecycle management does not always guarantee success, because as we all know in the public safety field there are many unforeseen circumstances that can arise in the course of a project. What does hold true is that public safety technology projects have proven to be more successful when we plan and follow this methodology.
- All Projects Require a Plan: Read this short excerpt from the Law Enforcement Tech Guide
- What is a Project Plan: Read this short excerpt from the Law Enforcement Tech Guide
Need advice on project lifecycle management for your agency’s or jurisdiction’s project? Want resource materials? SEARCH is here to help through a variety of tools, resources and publications.
View or download these SEARCH Public Safety Issue Briefs:
- Improving Life Cycle Management Through IT Service Management, which examines both the traditional and Information Technology Service Management (ITSM) approaches to life cycle management, and why it is important to engage in a continual improvement process. It reveals how managing public safety services using elements of ITSM can increase service quality, reliability, and operational efficiency.
- The “Accidental” Project Manager. Public safety operations, communications, or first responder personnel may find themselves in the position of managing an IT project for their organization—sometimes with little or no preparation. This brief examines this trial-by-fire nature of project management and outlines how to effectively manage this reality.
- Free Project Management Tools. As budgets diminish, public safety project managers must find new ways to manage projects with fewer resources. Free project management tools can support capital and noncapital public safety projects. This brief provides an overview of free project management tools, and summarizes how to use them to support public safety projects.
Listen to these SEARCH podcasts that address aspects of project management and lifecycle planning:
- The ‘Accidental’ Project Manager (mp3)
- Lifecycle Planning (mp3)
- Best Practices in Managing Advanced Communications System Lifecycles (mp3)
- Why Regional Communications Plans Can Help Improve Systems Planning and Operations (mp3)
- Project Communications with Multiple Stakeholder Groups (mp3)
View or download Create a Project Plan, an excerpt from SEARCH’s Law Enforcement Tech Guide: How to plan, purchase and manage technology
View or download this SEARCH presentation, Strategic Planning 101: Critical Success Factors and Surefire Ways to Fail! (ppt)
View or download a Sample Project Plan
1 Project Management Institute “A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK®Guide) – Fourth Edition, Project Management Institute, Inc., 2008.