Plan ahead

The what, who, how, when, and where of project management

Practical Welding Today January/February 2002
January 24, 2002
By: Richard A. Dunbar

Technological advances have influenced the welding industry heavily. Computerized equipment, precision robotics, positioning devices, and new and refined welding processes have given new tools to welding engineers, technicians, and craftsman welders.

Technological advances have influenced the welding industry heavily. Computerized equipment, precision robotics, positioning devices, and new and refined welding processes have given new tools to welding engineers, technicians, and craftsman welders. Applying these innovations, however, is a challenge.

This new wave of advancement opens doors for new options and approaches to construction and fabrication, which require strategic management and more thorough planning. Project management (PM) has moved to the forefront as a possibility for organizing all phases of the welding industry.

PM is a well-organized, planned, and controlled way to execute work. It can be applied to a welding project, a new product, a design change, or a new plant or welding department layout.

Manufacturing plants and construction firms approach PM first by forming cooperative cross-functional teams. Team members can include engineering, purchasing, sales, marketing, accounting, human resources, functional management, and quality control staff members; machine operators; and practical craft welders. A typical team comprises seven to 10 individuals identified by corporate staff based on their specific areas of expertise.

When a company's chief executive or owner identifies a project to be done, he or she appoints a manager from within the company or hires an outside professional project manager. This individual serves as coordinator and has a broad latitude of authority. Collectively, the team writes a charter that states the purpose and goal of the project. This includes or evolves into a scope statement, or objective.

Any undertaking requires a plan. A clear plan contains definitions of what, who, how, where, and when. An itemized list of core tasks, commonly called a work breakdown structure (WBS), includes the following:

  • What. The work objective, or scope statement, gives a concise description of what to accomplish. The principal of the organization establishes the project goal. The team, through a project manager's guidance, elaborates. This identifies what the team will do.
  • Who. The team is who will accomplish the project. Corporate staff appoints team members for skill in their field of practice. Assignments produce results by integrating skill combinations. The team leader outlines a clear definition of roles and responsibilities. Each team member takes ownership of specific tasks.
  • How. This phase of a project requires strategic planning. The team must brainstorm and present various scenarios. Team members can use such methodologies as comparative approaches, scoring models, and alternatives, while keeping in mind the project objectives and results.

    The group may need outside assistance from vendors, consultants, industrial trade unions, and professional associations. Top management must establish and approve a budget for this assistance.

    The team now has to identify dependencies and restraints, considering all aspects of the company's operation. At this stage the team might find value in analyzing business strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT). The project manager is responsible for project construction and design and for maintaining focus while tracking and monitoring results. Tasks are detailed into a WBS.
  • Where. Team members perform some tasks on-site, while others might be done with outside assistance. Each team member must account for his tasks and their execution, whether done in-house or by a supplier.
  • When. Realistic time allotment and scheduling are essential for positive project performance. Time coding identifies tasks that must be done sequentially and those that can be done simultaneously. Team members draw from past experience and benchmark similar endeavors when creating a timeline. The sequence for completing tasks is reflected in the WBS.


Teamwork requires continual communication. The team must establish a solid, operational information structure that is compatible with general company procedures. This structure essentially contains the framework and rules that describe how it will transmit, classify, organize, share, and use information.

Interaction and plan execution depend on sharing and exchanging information. Information movement may be through direct contact, phone, e-mail, fax, memo, and other internal mailing modes.

Project Life Cycle

PM has five distinct phases of activity that overlap. They are:

1. Starting Phase. During this phase, top management expresses what is to be accomplished, then designates the project manager and team members. This phase covers the "what" and "who" in the WBS.

2. Planning Phase. The second phase includes the participation of all project stakeholders, or individuals who participate in the project or have a stake in the outcome in a financial, resource, or advisory capacity. This phase defines the "how," "when," and "where" of the WBS.

3. Execution Phase. This phase coordinates people and resources to follow the WBS. These are the controlling processes that lead to project completion.

4. Closing Phase. The closing phase ensures that the team met the project objectives and the originating principal is satisfied with the end results. A formalized acceptance of the project brings it to an orderly end.

5. Finishing Phase. A project is not completed until it's documented. A company can profit from experience by taking time for a closeout, which documents how all aspects of the assignment were completed. These records should be retained because they can be an invaluable reference for future projects.


Adrian Abramovici, "Maestro, Please!" PM Network, March 2001, pp. 55-57.

W. Edward Back and Karen A. Moreau, "Information Management Strategies for Project Management," Project Management Journal, Vol. 32, No. 1 (March 2001), pp. 10-18.

Alex H. Cunningham, "Real-time Strategic Planning," The FABRICATOR, December 2000, p.57.

Project Management Institute, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (Upper Darby, Pa: The Project Management Institute, 1996).

S. H. Haeckel and R. Nolan, "Managing by Wire," Harvard Business Review (1993), pp. 122-123.

Neal Whitten, "How to Institutionalize Improvements in Your Organization," PM Network, August 2000, p. 23.

Richard A. Dunbar

Contributing Writer
Welding Engineering Associates Inc.
Dunbar is a consultant for metals joining applications, project management, automation, sales, and marketing. Welding Engineering Associates is a group of consultants, manufacturer representatives, and project managers specializing in industrial welding, brazing, metals joining, and related automated processes.

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