What Is Project Management? A Quick Introduction to the Essentials
What is a project?
A project is a temporary endeavor that’s initiated to meet a goal during a specific timeframe, like building a new office park during a span of 11 months or marketing a new smartphone before and after its release. Whether it involves a product or service, successful projects are always completed on time and under budget.
All businesses and government agencies have projects to tackle to varying degrees. Here are a few examples that show how diverse projects can be:
- In construction, projects may include repairing older bridges and worn-out roads, building a new skyscraper, or upgrading an airport terminal or railway station.
- In technology, projects may include the development of websites, applications, and enterprise software.
- In entertainment, projects may include filming a new movie or developing a new video game series.
Last Updated March 2021
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What is project management, and what is the role of a project manager?
Project management is the process of initiating, planning, monitoring, and closing the work carried out by a team, ensuring that all project objectives are met within the constraints of scope, time, and cost.
Before a project begins, a project manager (PM) is assigned to lead a team of skilled people from different departments. While carrying out the project is a group effort, the PM is typically accountable for its success or failure.
As the leader, the PM plans how the team will perform work on the project and achieve objectives. This individual prioritizes the project’s tasks in order of importance and value, dividing them into smaller, measurable pieces called work packages. The work packages are then allocated to team members with the appropriate skills to create the deliverables of the project.
Because the PM spends a great deal of time communicating with the team, strong soft skills are essential for this role.
One of the major challenges a PM typically faces involves minimizing risks so that the project is completed on time and meets the planned budget. The PM achieves this by:
- Closely monitoring the project’s progress.
- Ensuring the team meets all milestones.
- Looking out for variances.
- Keeping the project on track.
To successfully complete a project, the PM must manage different knowledge areas. This includes:
- Integration Management: Developing the project management plan, initiation planning, and coordinating all aspects of the project
- Scope Management: Gathering project requirements and identifying the work required to complete the project and its deliverables
- Schedule Management: Evaluating the time required to complete all the tasks of the project and developing the project schedule
- Cost Management: Adding all the costs to complete the project and developing the project budget
- Quality Management: Setting the standards and criteria the project needs to fulfill
- Resource Management: Acquiring the human and material resources required to complete the project’s activities
- Communications Management: Fulfilling information needs and providing updates to the stakeholders about the project’s progress
- Stakeholders Management: Gaining the support of the people involved in the project and looking after their interests
- Risk Management: Evaluating the negative threats and positive opportunities the project can face during its life.
- Procurement Management: Purchasing goods and services from external vendors and suppliers.
What are the different processes of project management?
Project management processes refer to the different stages a project goes through. The five stages in a project life cycle are discussed below.
Stage 1: Initiation
This is the start of a project. After defining the goal at a broad level, the team will conduct a feasibility study to determine if the project is worth pursuing. During the initiation stage, a business case is prepared, explaining why the project should be launched.
Stage 2: Planning
During the planning stage, a project manager works to identify the details of a project, including its scope, time, and cost, how the project will be managed, what material and human resources are needed, and how the team will achieve the project’s objectives.
The PM also identifies potential risks during the planning stage, crafting contingency plans that address each one in case it does indeed surface.
Stage 3: Execution
During the execution stage, the project, under the PM’s direction, performs the work required to complete the project’s deliverables. Should any risk crop up, it’s wise to initiate a response plan to curb or eliminate its impact on the project.
Stage 4: Monitoring and controlling
This stage involves tracking and reviewing the project’s performance. In case there are any variances from the original plan, the project needs to be brought back on track by implementing corrective actions.
Stage 5: Closing
During this stage, the project is complete and is formally closed by the PM. They then hand the final product over to the customer. After storing the project documentation and data, the team can reflect on the lessons learned during the project.
What are the different methodologies and approaches to project management?
Let’s take a look at some of the most popular methodologies and approaches in project management used today.
Traditional project management
Traditional project management is common with projects where the objectives, needs, and requirements are clearly defined. It typically follows a plan-driven approach where the scope, time, and cost are fixed and set as a baseline at the beginning of the project. The project team sticks closely to the project plan and aims to complete the project within the budget and schedule that was originally defined.
Using this approach, projects are managed in phases, where work is completed in a linear sequence by moving from one stage to the next. This approach has been used extensively for construction-related projects, like constructing a new building or bridge.
You can implement changes on the project, but they must go through a process of due diligence before being implemented. The overarching goal is to protect the project and prevent any unnecessary changes that would hurt the project’s objective.
Agile is a project management methodology that caters to fast-paced and constantly-changing environments. This is especially true for software projects where customer requirements and market conditions can evolve rapidly. Agile teams work in close communication with customers and get regular feedback to ensure the product meets the requirements.
Work is performed in sprints, or cycles of work where the team develops the product’s features. After each sprint, the team reprioritizes its list of tasks and evaluates how it can improve its performance during the next sprint. Unlike traditional project management, the entire team is responsible for the success or failure of the project when implementing the agile method.
Agile focuses on developing and delivering the most important product features early on instead of waiting to release the entire project toward the end of its life. Most importantly, the project is always open and adaptable to change. Scrum is the most popular agile framework in project management because it allows for the managing of complex, multi-tiered projects with product delivery in increments, promoting collaboration between small cross-functional teams.
As the term suggests, Hybrid blends both agile and traditional project management approaches. It combines the flexibility of the agile approach and the discipline of conventional project management.
While you can use sprints and iterations from the agile approach to complete the project work, you can also use traditional project management to keep your schedule, budget, and deliverables fixed.
Combining the two approaches helps ensure:
- You’re always working on developing the highest value items while having the ability to shift priorities when required,
- That your team delivers the products with efficiency while keeping in mind the project’s boundaries.
Project Management Institute (PMI)
Headquartered in Pennsylvania with offices worldwide, the Project Management Institute is a professional association established in 1996. Its flagship publication, the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK), includes standard terminology and guidelines for project managers. The organization hosts certificate courses, conferences, and an online knowledge base well respected by project management professionals. The PMBOK is available in 11 languages.
If you would like to learn more about managing projects and becoming a project manager, check out my Project Management Fundamentals Crash Course.
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