Within the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK) guide, project management processes are presented as discrete components with well-defined interfaces. That’s nice in theory. However, in reality – most project managers understand that project processes, components, tasks, and deliverables actually overlap and interact in ways that are never really dealt with in the PMI standards guidebook.
Primarily, project integration management is concerned with ensuring that the elements making up a project are properly coordinated so that project goals are achieved. The key is coordination, integration, and efficient team work. Using project integration management, all the pieces of a complex project plan need to fit together achieving a sort of balance between project time, project cost, and overall quality. The project manager, therefore, is left with the responsibility of handling the chores of integration management while understandably needing to make tradeoffs between competing or conflicting project (and executive management) objectives.
Most experienced PM practitioners know there is no single way to manage a project. They apply their PM knowledge, skills, and processes in whatever way is necessary to achieve these project objectives and – ideally – finish with a successful completion of the project or projects they are managing.
Of course, the project manager has tools at their disposal to do this. Tools and templates exist for managing project budgets, capturing requirements, building test and use cases, and creating many project planning deliverables (such as design documents, communication plans, risk management plans, project charters, etc.). There are boundless ways to manage resource usages and prepare resource forecasts and there are now hundreds of project management task scheduling tools in existence – many free – so, gone are the days of being tied to Microsoft Project as the PM’s only real option for managing teams, tasks, deliverables, and the customer.
But what are we really doing? Will tools make the project manager successful at integrating all of the tasks, information, and processes within a project to arrive at a successful project deployment? No. Will PMI certification ensure that this will happen? While it may help by giving a project manager nice tools and a knowledge baseline reference to ‘get it done’ the answer is still really ‘no’. Projects don’t flow perfectly. They often aren’t well defined. It takes experience across many projects, it takes a project manager who can make good decisions on the fly, and it takes a leader who is grounded yet flexible, to successfully deliver on projects that are often subject to requirements changes, moving timelines, and pressure from outside entities that weren’t initially part of the project plan.
Focus on the end goals of the project and proper utilization of the resources available – including the skilled project team and willing project customer – are key ingredients to project success and the successful integration management of all the deliverables, information and processes on any given project that flow from one phase to the next.
As stated earlier, project integration focuses on the streamlined flow of information, activities, tasks, and deliverables from phase to phase and process to process. The reality of the projects we all manage on a daily basis is that there rarely – if ever – is a streamlined flow. The challenge for the project manager then, is to manage projects with the real-world mentality and viewpoint, being able to adjust, coordinate, and control overlapping deliverables and information flows and handle competing and conflict requirements and constraints. Communication, as always, is key, and information dissemination to the team and customer is essential.