Project management manual offers guide for success

Our success or failure as professional organizations and as businesses depends largely on how well we manage our projects. Regardless of the firm’s success in marketing services, designing sound and aesthetically pleasing works, and honing technical skills, we are doomed to failure without sound management of our projects.

One way that many firms seek to improve project management effectiveness is by compiling their best practices and tools into a manual for the firm. The following is one perspective on how the project management manual can be organized.


A project management manual is intended to guide project managers. But, more importantly, it is to guide project management at all levels of the team, recognizing that each participant has a part in a project’s success. At a minimum, each person must manage their time, the quality of their work, and effective written and graphic communications with others.

The manual should be flexible enough to suit individual styles in meeting the objectives of project management. It is clear that as each manager may become most effective with the application of his or her individual style, so may each project require a slightly different set of tools to accomplish its objectives.

However, the objectives of project management remain the same: Serving client needs for quality, on time and within budget, while also assuring the firm’s commitment to client service, profitability and individual aspiration.

This manual presents a set of proven project management techniques and tools to assure that:

  • project managers and the project team have a guide to carry out responsibilities and maximize effectiveness.
  • there is consistency presented to our clients in the provision of services and to firm management in meeting the expected performance in execution, quality and profitability of our work.
  • new techniques can be incorporated into the firm’s knowledge base as they are developed and proven effective over time. This should not be a static document.
  • there is a rational and consistent format for evaluation of the project and individual performance.
  • knowledge transfer from prior to subsequent projects is facilitated.


Every firm may define project management and the associated responsibilities differently. One simple way to organize a PM Manual would be with the following chapter headings:

1. Introduction

This chapter would include the stated purpose of the manual, the firm’s philosophy on management, a description of the project management process, and a description of the project manager’s role in the project, and the firm.

2. Project management defined

This chapter would define the goals of project management, the duties and responsibilities of the manager, as well as basic management concepts and definitions.

3. Initiate the project

This chapter would define how the firm initiates projects both externally and internally and the associated tools and process. It would include:

  • project definition in terms of scope and goals
  • the process of executing the contract
  • procedures for setting up the project internally with accounting, marketing, IT, file systems, etc.

4. Develop the project work plan

This chapter would define how to:

Plan the project: Break down the overall project scope into manageable components, which can be further addressed as assignable tasks as work progresses. Identify deliverables and their format. Prepare the project’s internal budget and schedule. It would include:

  • a detailed project definition, including project goals (internal and external).
  • schedule development (both client schedule and internal design coordination schedule).
  • financial planning, including budgets, goals, and contingencies.
  • risk assessment and planning

Organize the project: Define staffing requirements for each phase of service, identify appropriate team members, including the owner’s representative and consultants. Verify selected staffing availability and coordinate their current responsibilities with the project schedule while assigning duties and responsibilities.

  • project organization (Manpower/Staffing Plan)
  • detailed project assignments
  • individual staff workload review
  • resource leveling techniques

5. Direct the project (implement the work plan)

This chapter would define how to coordinate activities of all project participants, astutely monitoring their progress and using effective communication to promote efficiency and thoroughness, assure services delivered are appropriate to contract obligations and provide evaluation of performance.

  • project meetings & communication
  • project documentation
  • managing the team (task meetings, motivation, coaching, and delegation)
  • financial management (tracking progress, invoicing, and collections

6. Control the project

This chapter would define quality assurance and quality control processes. Through the use of various control techniques such as design reviews, progress reports, estimates and milestone reviews and delegation, control:

  • design and technical quality
  • project cost
  • internal financial budget
  • monitoring earned value
  • invoicing and Collections
  • schedule
  • client satisfaction

7. Close the project

This chapter would define the firm’s process related to completing the project.

  • project Closeout procedures
  • financial closeout
  • post project review
  • document Retention
  • capture of best practices
  • information for marketing department

8. Appendices

This chapter would include additional topics/resources related to project management.

A. Project communications (verbal, written, electronic, phone, etc.)

B. Business development overview and PM responsibilities

C. Contracts & negotiations

D. Project manager skill development: Leadership, teambuilding, mentoring, facilitating, negotiating, managing complex projects, public speaking, managing change, dealing with difficult people, etc.

E. Forms and standards templates.

We must acknowledge that manuals, procedures, organizational structures, systems and other tools are not the creators of a high level of performance or a substitute for thinking and ingenuity. The realization of project management objectives is wrought by effective leadership, experience, sound thinking, motivation and dedication.

About the author

Donald C. Simpson, AIA, LEED AP, is the director of operations for KPS Group, Inc., located in Birmingham, Alabama. He also serves as a member of the Advisory Group for the AIA Practice Management Knowledge Community and the AIA Best Practices Committee.

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