The Project Proposal
The aim of this lecture is to present an approach to defining a project and to creating a formal project proposal document.
Objectives and Learning Outcomes
At the end of the lecture, students should:
Be able to list the contents required in a formal project proposal.
Be able to distinguish between an aim and an objective.
Be able to state the difference between high-level and low-level project objectives.
Be able to specify for each high-level project objective, a set of activities needed to achieve that objective, together with a set of resulting deliverables.
Be able to link the production of a well-defined project proposal with clear objectives as a contributory factor to eventual project success.
In order to ensure that an academic project may commence with every chance of being brought to a successful conclusion, a number of activities should be considered critical. These include:
Undertake initial investigation of the problem area
Formulate a project proposal
Carry out a literature review
Select and apply appropriate methods in a rigorous or semi-rigorous manner
Apply project management and risk assessment methods
Apply validation checks at appropriate points in the project
The first of these has already been dealt with in earlier lectures. This lecture will describe the project proposal and its contents. We will discuss each of the other activities in later lectures.
The Project Proposal
By now, you should have a firm idea of the computing project that you wish to undertake. Even if you haven't, you should now know how to go about creating a short-list of project ideas, and how to evaluate the appropriateness and associated risk of each candidate project before finally choosing one to carry out. Once this is done, and the supervisor accepts the project idea, it is advisable to plan and set out the details of the specific project that will be undertaken. This will include the activities required and their associated deliverables. These and other project details are set out in a formalised project proposal. The purpose of the project proposal is to specify the project that will actually be carried out by stating a clearly understood set of objectives and a specific method or approach that will be adopted to achieve them.
As Cornford and Smithson point out, "There is only a limited time to work on a project, and it is important that, as far as possible, a direct path is taken that will result in a completed and coherent body of work within the time available" [Cornford and Smithson, 1996]. It is particularly important that you are able to specify completely, a body of work that can be carried out and completed in the time available to you. Too often, student projects fail to achieve their stated objectives, and implementations are left incomplete, either because the student has failed to define the scope of the project, or because they have not made any serious attempt to match the project scope to the time they will actually have available to spend on their project. Projects must be clearly scoped in terms of their size and complexity, and the project topic must be well defined. We choose to adopt the following format for a project proposal [Cornford and Smithson, 1996].
Format for a Project Proposal
A project proposal is a formal definition of the specific project to be undertaken. It includes the following sections:
A good project title should attract a reader's interest as well as encapsulating the essence of the work carried out in the project.
Describe in half a page the area of study and the scope of the project e.g. what the project will be concerned with (and what it won't include).
Give five to eight key words or key phrases that you could use to initiate a literature search using a library subject catalogue and the internet.
These are the specific project objectives that together form the overall project. Expand these objectives in terms of the activities that you need to undertake in order to complete each objective, and the expected deliverables.
List the required computing resources: hardware, software packages etc. List also, the people or organisations that you will need to gain information or help from.
Include bibliographic references to some books, academic papers and journal articles that will act as a starting point for your literature search.
The project proposal is a required deliverable and should be submitted formally by the deadline given in the project calendar set by the School of Computing and Mathematical Sciences). When you have completed a draft project proposal containing the information outlined above, you should present it to your supervisor for their comments. Your supervisor can assess your project proposal before it is finalised, to determine whether your proposed project is achievable in the time available, whether it is coherent and complete, and whether it fits within the guidelines for acceptable projects for your degree programme.
The content required in each section of the project proposal is in most cases, fairly self-explanatory. There is one section however that can cause some confusion for students who have no previous experience in completing an academic project - the section that requires the project objectives to be defined. For this reason, we will take the precaution now, of explaining what we mean by the objectives for an academic project (as distinct from those normally associated with the phases of a systems development project for example).