This post was originally published on February 26, 2016 and was updated with new information on January 30, 2020.
Integrated project management (IPM) is a ubiquitous term in project management literature. You’ve likely come across it dozens of times in your career as a project manager.
It is a weighty term; the IPM approach impacts much of what we think of when we think of project management.
Yet, despite its ubiquity, integrated project management is seldom well understood. You might have a general idea of its implications and core tenets, but the details escape you.
Like so many concepts in the creative world, it can be downright difficult to separate the multitudinous ideas that get bandied about daily.
So really, what does IPM actually mean?
In this article, I’ll give you a clearer definition of integrated project management. I’ll share the core concepts and help you adopt IPM practices in your work.
I. What is Integrated Project Management?
Integrated project management is the collection of processes that ensure various elements of projects are properly coordinated.
It establishes and manages the involvement of all relevant stakeholders and resources, according to defined processes devised from your organization’s set of standard processes.
Finally, it involves making trade-offs among competing objectives and alternatives to meet or exceed needs and expectations.
Integrated project management aims to work at an organizational scale. Far too often, project management knowledge remains siloed in individual departments at a business. How IT manages its projects is rarely shared with the Product team’s approach.
“The lack of proper communication inside the company is the main cause of a situation in which everyone builds his or her own “island of knowledge about project management”...an integrated approach and a general view of the organization enable effective development in project, program, and project portfolio management.”
Which is to say, integrated project management describes a way to understand, collect, share and implement project management knowledge and best practices across the organization.
Sounds simple enough, right? Putting it into practice, however, presents a challenge.
In the next section, I’ll share some more details on the integrated project management approach.
II. Why You Need Integrated Project Management
As a project manager, you need to be able to keep your team motivated and directed throughout each project. Leveraging integrated project management software helps to keep the process on track and aligned with the intended scope
Here are four reasons why you need integrated project management:
1. Improves Scope Definition
Ideally, you will define the solution and intended direction before beginning work on the project. This allows you to have a few ideas of how to arrive at the end result, and will keep the entire team in the loop when you need to define the project scope.
With integrated project management, when the original scope is defined, it can be clearly communicated to your team. And when the customer decides that the scope needs to change slightly, you can make these changes seamlessly without disrupting the original project flow.
This can help avoid scope creep, and can keep the project on track for deadlines and budgets.
2. Keeps Communication Open
Along with project scope, communication is an extremely important aspect of any project.
When the direction is defined, it needs to be communicated to the team. And when it changes, that communication needs to take place as soon as possible.
With integrated project management, not only is the project scope given prominence, but it allows for constant communication between team members. When tasks are completed, the next responsible party is notified to begin work.
And when your team members need to discuss their plan of attack on any given deliverable, it can be accomplished within the integrated project management system.
3. Improves Schedule Monitoring
When you have defined the project scope, the next step is to go through and set up schedules and deadlines. Within integrated project management, you can set up the interdependent deliverables, and allow for the communication to happen between each group as the project evolves.
Scope changes don’t require an entirely new time frame, but can be accounted for as they arise and the project schedule can be adjusted to accommodate the changes. This can help you still arrive at the final deadlines on time, and avoid any costly re-work issues.
4. Assess and Provide Feedback
Finally, with integrated project management, you can help drive the final project deliverables to meet deadlines and budget constraints without requiring an untoward amount of input on your behalf. When tasks need to be nudged, you can initiate it without feeling that your team would get the wrong impression.
At the same time, you can monitor the status of your tasks and give praise where it is due, without making anyone else feel that they have been an inadequate team member.
This can be very useful when it seems like your team morale needs a boost, or perhaps some of your team needs a slight ego check. Whether things need to be sped up or kept in check, with integrated project management you can take care of both monitoring and assessing the situation at the same time.
III. Key Components of Integrated Project Management
Although the implementation is subjective depending on the size and scale of your organization, theoretically speaking, integrated project management has the following key components:
1. Project Charter
The project charter is usually the first step in integrative management. This is a statement of the scope, objectives and participants in a project.
The project charter is "ground zero" for the project. It provides all stakeholders an initial delineation of the roles and responsibilities of different resources. It also outlines the objectives of the project and identifies the key stakeholders.
Finally, the project charter defines the authority and responsibilities of the project manager.
2. Project Scope
Developing the project scope is usually the second step after outlining the project charter. This is where you specify the goals and objectives of the project.
To recap, goals are long-term aims of the project (such as "increasing social shares"). Objectives are narrower and define exact milestones (such as "implement social sharing buttons").
Think of the project scope as the document outlining the broad ambitions and specific targets you hope to achieve with the project.
3. Project Management Plan
The project management plan documents all other plans and processes associated with the project. Think of it as the "plan that defines all plans". In this plan, you'll document all activities you need to define, prepare, integrate and coordinate subsidiary plans together.
For example, you might have separate plans for engineering and design teams. The communication protocols, knowledge-sharing processes, risk management processes, etc. for each of the two teams will be defined and integrated into the project management plan.
4. Project Execution
The project management plan is just that - a plan. You also need to direct and manage the execution of the project.
'Project Execution' defines the processes for executing individual components in the project plan. This is activity-centric and aligns with the project's key objectives and milestones. Measurement of activity velocity and performance becomes vital in project execution.
5. Project Monitoring
In the execution stage, you measure the performance of the project. However, this performance doesn't exist in isolation; you need to measure it against an established baseline. The baseline is defined in the initial project plan.
This is the prime aim of Project Monitoring. In this phase, you compare the project performance against your baseline on an ongoing basis. If there is a severe negative deviation from the baseline (the acceptable deviation is, again, defined in the project plan), you can modify the project accordingly.
6. Change Control
Circumstances and requirements change as the project progresses. Some resources become unavailable, some teams hold up delivery, and some stakeholders request additional changes. How you deal with these changes is defined by the Change Control document.
This document is critical for getting stakeholders to buy into project integration. In complex projects with multiple stakeholders, resistance and conflicting interests are inevitable. When you’re making tradeoffs, a central document that establishes norms for managing stakeholder requests becomes extremely useful.
Beyond dealing with changes, this document also defines the criteria for evaluating change requests and measuring their impact on the project performance. If a change request is deemed disadvantageous for the organization or the project, it can be rejected, delayed or deferred.
IV. How Integrated Project Management Builds Better Agencies
In order to build a winning agency, it’s important to use flexible, integrated options that optimize your agency’s workflow and manage cross-departmental tasks and deliverables. Integrated management ensures that the various elements of your agency’s projects are properly coordinated.
Some of its key agency-focused benefits include:
1. Leverage opportunity information based around your sales processes
Integrated project management tracks projects by converting important information from the sales process to project records. From routing files to creating schedules, having a continuity of information saves a considerable amount of administrative time for your project team once they receive the handoff from sales.
Integrated project management considers all of your scheduled projects, but also identifies sales opportunities and projects awaiting approval. The result? A detailed revenue projection that’s based around your agency’s unique sales process.
2. Define projects based around your service delivery mode
All projects have a clearly defined start and end date that is measured by milestones and deliverables. Not only does integrated project management ensure that necessary information is delivered on time, it captures necessary information in relation to project tasks so that your team can update both external stakeholders and internal resources.
In short, integrated project management keeps track of all your project’s cross-departmental assets and resources.
3. Utilize your resources to their capability
Integrated project management also ensures that your project team is being utilized as efficiently and effectively as possible. By providing your entire team with a bird’s-eye view of your project—from inception to completion—and managing workflow and workloads, integrated management ensures that your agency is working at full capacity.
4. Utilize—and customize—project templates
Think of integrated project management as the playbook for your projects. Robust project management software enables you to create workflows for specific types of projects. By defining checklists based around your unique requirements, project templates facilitate internal communication and standardize the process of creating future projects.
5. Reduce departmental confusion and focus on results
Ultimately, integrated project management brings together functions found across your agency’s numerous departments.
Integrated project management software stores all of the important information in a convenient, Web-accessible system. It produces work documents and reports at the click of a mouse. And it keeps everyone in your agency on the same page.
This brigs us to the final part of the IPM puzzle - how do you succeed with it?
V. How to Succeed With Integrated Project Management
The above section describes the components that make up an integrated approach to project management.
To actually succeed with this approach, however, there are a few ideas and concepts you should know.
Tailor Your Organizational Processes
Tailoring your processes around each project is inarguably the first step in implementing IPM. The processes that are tailored around your agency’s established procedures are known as the project’s “defined process”.
In real world terms, this means understanding the project’s requirements and overall expectations. Then factor in the project’s costs, schedules, risks, staffing and other factors that determine the project’s overall success. Usually, you’ll define all of these in the project charter.
Once you have a clear idea of what the project demands, you can consider your organization’s established procedures. Pick out procedures that align with the project’s requirements. Use this to create your project management plan.
Outlining a defined process will help predict, assess, and manage all necessary factors that will inevitably affect your project.
An integrated approach to project management requires the approval and cooperation of multiple teams across several departments. You’ll have to deal with dozens of stakeholders - a key project management skill - and their objections and concerns.
One of your first tasks, therefore, is to get stakeholder buy-in.
You’ll want to do this after developing the project charter and scope documents. This will help you (and stakeholders) to understand:
- Key stakeholders you need to get buy-in from.
- Scale of the project to get stakeholders excited about the project.
- Project objectives to give stakeholders an idea of the tangible results expected from the project.
- Constraints and concerns that might flare up during the project. Addressing these can help reassure stakeholders and get them onboard.
Think of the project charter as a persuasive tool. Simply asking stakeholders to buy into the integrated approach is not enough; you need to show them the tangible benefits of the project and why they should care about it.
Project vs. Process Differentiation
The integrative approach to project management depends on organizing all processes and knowledge spread across the organization. To do this, however, you first need to delineate the differences between a process and a project.
A process, by definition, is an ongoing, changing activity. Processes are usually repeatable and thus, scalable.
A project, in the PM context, describes a multi-step activity with a definite end. Since a project is client-specific, it isn’t repeatable or scalable.
One of your core responsibilities is to figure out whether a task belongs to a process or a project. If it belongs to the former, it can be codified and integrated across teams and departments. In case of the latter, it remains localized within the project or team.
Prepare a Plan and Integrate It Into Your Project
Once you’ve considered the requirements for your project, develop a clearly defined project plan. As I mentioned earlier, your project plan is your roadmap to success. Quality Assurance, Risk Management, Resources, Documentation, Measurement Plan, and Issue Management are all factors to consider.
Luckily for you, project management software can help with this step, as it allows project managers to plan and monitor projects—from anywhere, at any time. The best software will create project timeline and tasks, monitor your resources, and provide you with the status updates needed to manage your project.
Establish Project Teams
Your resources are your most important asset—and optimizing your project teams can make or break a project’s success. Be sure to have specific organizational guidelines in place, including regular meetings and status reporting.
As you begin to implement a project plan, it’s crucial to consistently check that all resources are on the same page. Again, project management software helps automate many communication processes.
However, it’s important to make sure that your team is utilizing the software correctly. Pick a PM tool that offers adequate training to support your resources, such as Workamajig’s training videos.
Manage the Involvement of Stakeholders
Sure, your project teams are crucial to the actual execution of a project—but if stakeholders are not involved during every step, a project is for naught. It’s your responsibility as project manager to coordinate and communicate project updates to the various stakeholders.
Regular reviews and exchanges will help ensure that coordination occurs, and that everyone involved with the project is aware of its status. By defining your project’s defined process, you create formal interfaces with stakeholders that will help guide a project to success.
Use Project Portfolio Management Where Possible
No project exists in isolation. Even if it has separate teams, it is likely influenced by the rest of the organization.
Project portfolio management is the process of grouping similar projects and managing them as a portfolio of projects rather than in silos. Think of it as a management process for project management itself.
Portfolio management is particularly useful for larger organizations which might have dozens, even hundreds of ongoing projects at any time. Not all of these projects would align with the business’ long-term goals. With portfolio management, you can identify projects that can help you achieve your long-term strategic goals and manage them as a cohort.
Ruthlessly track time
Even though you’re working within the same organization, it’s important to stay on top of time tracking. You may bill hours directly to the requesting department, but even if you don’t, it’s quite useful to have a record of hours spent on each project and sub-task.
This can let you monitor workloads and manage lead time for projects. It is is even more important if you work with contracted employees or remote workers!
Use time tracking to its full capability by keeping track of billable hours by employee. This extends further to increase accountability through your entire team. If you have multiple projects in play, this allows you to track time for each individual task and determine which area might need some bolstering to meet deadlines.
On top of that, you can find a few features that operate literally upon one mouse click, making it easy for resources and management to track productivity.
Use reporting functions to their full capabilities
Any integrated project management software wouldn’t be complete without robust report capabilities. Other departments with your organization have dedicated software designed to complete specific functions.
This makes it imperative that your project management software integrates with all of these third-party programs to make use of the important data. With all of the information readily accessible, you can create robust reports that allow you and your upper-level management to stay informed about the status of each project.
This includes a lot of different reporting aspects. For example you may want to look at the financial status or task status on a project. You may also want to see any open assignments or see a percentage of general completeness. You can also create custom reports for each stakeholder, depending on the key points that they are interested in.
These reports can be created in real-time, so when you want up to the minute stats on your specific metrics, you aren’t looking at old data. When someone on your team updates the metrics within a report, they can update the report itself at a click of a button, so everyone can view the updated information instantaneously.
Integrated project management is the solution to haphazard management techniques and instinctive managerial actions. By understanding, sharing and codifying processes and knowledge across the entire organization, integrated project management brings a much-needed robustness to your project management approach.
With an integrated approach to project management, you build a project charter, sketch out the project scope and map the project plan. You closely monitor the project and measure its performance against an established baseline. You also have a fixed process for dealing with stakeholders and their requests.
Doing this gives you a broad understanding of each project and its requirements. It also helps you share knowledge and processes across projects, making for a healthier organization.