Project Integration Management 101

Project integration management is the coordination of each specific aspect of a large project. A project is more than just tasks, milestones, communications, and reports. Projects have a context; they aim to satisfy all requirements by balancing resources and fulfilling stakeholder’s expectations. In this way, Project Integration Management is the process of managing a project in its totality, including the tasks, milestones, communications, requirements, trade-offs, and resource decisions. In this way, integration management makes decisions that not only affect the project at hand, but have rippling effects within the team or organization in which this project exists.

Coordinating all elements of a project’s internal needs with the context in which this project exists within an organization is no small task, and requires hard and soft skills that run the gamut from meticulous organization to expert communication. To use an analogy, Project Integration Managers not only take responsibility as a Captain of their ship, but are also accountable for how that ship’s actions affect the remainder of the fleet. Since this is such a pivotal role in a project (and by extension, the organization), a Captain’s leadership and savvy are key to success in the role.

Project Integration Responsibilities

Essentially everything within the project (as well as the effects of the project) fall under project integration’s purview. This includes the project’s schedule, scope, cost, quality, resource management, risk, changes, and stakeholder communication. Since this net of responsibility is so wide, integration managers generally possess an equally impressive array of skills such as:

  • The ability to plan projects effectively and accurately
  • Organizing and communication with project members proactively and with a positive, inspiring tone
  • Leadership to own responsibility and find resolutions if (or when) obstacles arise
  • Creative approaches to problem solving
  • The ability to foster relationships to lean on when necessary
  • Critical analysis of data, timelines, and resources to project timelines effectively
  • A strong sense of scope and budget, as well as a process of assessing risk and managing change as it impacts resources within and across projects

Integration managers may need to make some tough decisions, such as deciding to continue an over budget, late project, as well as estimate how the resource ripples from this decision will impact other projects. Lastly, this will require strong communication to explain and justify this decision. 

Needless to say, the more that can be planned proactively and controlled to manage success, the less “clean up” this role will need to.

Tips for Successful Project Integration Management

There are a series of steps, protocols, and decisions that can be made before and during a project that makes the process of successfully managing the outlining and adjusting the project’s estimated timelines and impacts. Utilizing a Project Management solution such as Nifty will allow you to consolidate many of these actions and phases into a single environment to make management as easy as can be.

1. Create a Project Charter and Execution Plan

A Project Charter outlines the purpose and scope of the project, identifies potential risks, and defines the key stakeholders. Once the project goals and deliverables are identified, an Execution Plan can be created to define the project’s milestones, tasks, dependencies, and communication plan. Your Charter and Execution Plan are going to be the guiding beacons for this project.

Project phases are managed as milestones which are populated with Tasks. Dependencies are attributed on either the task level for linear dependencies, or on milestones for phase-based dependencies. This is the process you expect to follow as the project unfolds.

2. Manage Project Work and Resources

Making yourself available as a resource during the process of a project is vital to its success. The ability to follow your communication plan to ensure both individual tasks and overarching project questions shows coordination and leadership.

Utilizing specified communication avenues within your project will not only facilitate collaboration, but it will make it easier to account for communications as the project unfolds from a reporting standpoint. Effective communication decreases the likelihood that individual task deadlines are missed, thus improving the chances for an overall healthy project trajectory.

Be sure to utilize non-written forms of communication as well, such as progress automation, to proactively provide answers to the routine questions of “who’s working on what?” and “where do we stand in this project?”. Both written and visual methods of communication will be employed when reporting project status to stakeholders.

3. Manage Project Knowledge and Documentation

An increasingly popular pillar of integration management is the inclusion of Knowledge Management, which serves to ingest, record, and relay metadata regarding the project to the shareholders and members to improve project performance. This knowledge comes in two key  forms.

Content-Based Knowledge

An aggregation of project-relevant content in the form of documentation allows for asynchronous referencing of a knowledge source in order for project members and shareholders to seek information. Examples of content-based resources might be:

  • Estimation methods to predict costs and timelines
  • Workflow processes that have proven success
  • Recommendations from your organization’s PMO

This information should be stored within your project as a resource for those who wish to access it and utilize the accrued knowledge for improved performance and outcomes.

Collaborative-Based Knowledge

Conversational brainstorming and knowledge transfer sessions will generate ideas for project improvement based on collective tacit understanding of successful project components based on the respective experiences of the participatory members. This is a real-time effort that generates project specific suggestions based on experience gained from other projects.

4. Change Implementation

Whether at the behest of internal or external shareholders, it’s quite possible (if not likely) that some details of your project’s scope, cost, or timelines will change. Having a process in place to understand your current state, project the future state, and communicate the need for this change should be in place to lead to seamless change integration and steer your project away from turmoil.

Identify Your Current State

Understand what’s currently in place both within your project and in your organization. This includes the health and timelines of relevant projects, as well as the dedication of shared resources across these projects. If the change request is coming per an internal recommendation rather than external scope change, be sure to identify what is currently causing friction within the project.

Predict the Change Impact

This is where projecting the difference between the current project trajectory to the suggested change must take into account how this action (as well as inaction) will cause ripple effects in terms of cost, timeline resources, and profitability. You’ll need to be able to determine how necessary resources that might need to be pulled from one project can be supplemented so that other projects don’t face issues as an externality of your change. You can utilize the knowledge resources in your project as well as the guidance of other experienced project members or your PMO to assist in this step.

Communicate the Change

This step might have variations in meaning depending on what the change is and who is requesting it. While a client requesting a change to a project might create some headaches for how your resources are distributed across other projects, ultimately this will likely lead to increased profit.

That said, if this change is an internal recommendation, there might be some persuading to be done within your organization or with project stakeholders. This is where the interpersonal skills and relationship building that this role calls for are truly tested. There is typically an arc of denial, rejection, consideration, acceptance, and full integration that occurs should the change be effectively communicated and justified.

Either way, the idea of this step is to explain and/or justify the change clearly and effectively while predicting the impacts of this change to both this and other relevant projects.

Implementing the Change

Should your project shareholders agree that the change needs to be implemented, be sure to clearly communicate any updates and alterations to tasks, timelines, responsibilities, and deliverables to the members of the project while continuing to offer yourself as a resource. Be sure to update any knowledge documentation as well while preserving the initial documentation so the effects of the change can be examined following the conclusion of the project.

Learning, Adapting, and Improving

Few organizations on a whole are able to execute projects that go exactly as planned, so embrace the fact that being a good Project Integration Manager means that you’re constantly improving yourself in this role so that your current and future projects are as steady as can be. Some great ways to improve are:

  • Review previous projects–both successful and turbulent–to find trends that led to the positive and negative outcomes of those projects
  • Generate and revise knowledge resources accordingly so that these insights transition from tacit understandings to organizational knowledge that can be deployed in other projects, as you never know how another project may affect yours one day
  • Solicit feedback at the conclusion of a project from members and stakeholders about what went well and what could’ve gone better. Communication is an invaluable trait in this role

Process, documentation, communication, organization, and leadership are what define the best Project Integration Managers, so positive strides in these directions will assuredly help secure successful projects both now and in the future.