project management

Project management is the discipline of using established principles, procedures and policies to successfully guide a project from conception through completion.

Often abbreviated as PM, project management requires the application of those principles and procedures as well as tools and technologies to ensure that a project can be completed in a way that meets all articulated outcomes, from spending limits to end-goal objectives.

The project management plan is expected to effectively and efficiently guide all aspects of a project from start to finish, with the ideal goal of delivering the outcome on time and on budget.

A project plan often begins with a project charter, and it is expected to identify potential challenges in advance. Risk management is needed to anticipate and handle any roadblocks or surprises that arise so that the project keeps on schedule.

Project management commonly involves overseeing teams from multiple functional areas within an organization as well as overseeing teams and workers from multiple organizations who are expected to work together for part or all of the project's duration to reach the common goal.

Project managers, thus, need to be able to communicate effectively across many disciplines and inspire unity of action among many workers in order to deliver a successful project.

History of project management

A project is an undertaking with specific start and end parameters designed to produce a defined outcome, such as implementing a new computer system. A project is a temporary endeavor, and as such is different from ongoing processes, such as a governance program or an asset management program.

People have been managing projects throughout history, although it wasn't until the mid-20th century that the art and science of shepherding a project from beginning to end became a formal management discipline.

Several key events in the second half of the 20th century helped formalize project management. The International Management Systems Association, a federation of dozens of existing PM associations from around the world and later renamed the International Project Management Association, was founded in 1965 to promote project management as a profession.

The Project Management Institute, or PMI, was founded soon after, in 1969, with the same goal of promoting project management. It also trains project management professionals and, today, it awards numerous certifications to professionals who complete and demonstrate specific aptitudes within the project management discipline.

Another leading PM authority, the Association for Project Management (APM), was founded in 1972 as a professional certification enterprise aimed at advancing the field.

Various project management frameworks arose in conjunction with the establishment of these organizations during the 20th century. In addition to the traditional waterfall approach, which breaks projects into sequential steps, the late 20th century also saw the establishment of the agile project management approach, Scrum and Projects in Controlled Environments, or PRINCE. Those three approaches were established in the 1980s, with the PRINCE2 method appearing in the mid-1990s.

Additionally, PMI published its highly influential and well-respected A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge in 1987.

Elements of project management

A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge divides project management into five processes:

  1. Initiating
  2. Planning
  3. Executing
  4. Monitoring and controlling
  5. Closing

Additionally, project management professionals identify multiple discreet areas they must manage as part of their roles and responsibilities. They commonly identify 10 such areas to manage as:

  1. Integration
  2. Scope
  3. Time
  4. Cost
  5. Quality
  6. Procurement
  7. Human resources
  8. Communications
  9. Risk
  10. Stakeholder

Project management vs. operations management

Operations management and project management both involve the effective allocation of resources to deliver outcomes in the most efficient and most effective manner possible and at the highest levels of quality possible given the resources assigned to the endeavors.

Operations management is also focused on delivery of outcomes.

However, operations management differs from project management in its ongoing nature; operations management focuses on the continual delivery of the same products or services, and it does that using repeatable processes and the same project teams.

Project management vs. product management

Organizations value project management for its ability to keep projects on task and on budget and for its focus on completing projects to established outcomes.

Organizations in the 21st century increasingly adopted product management as a complementary discipline.

Although both disciplines focus on managing business endeavors, their roles are different. As already established, project managers manage projects -- temporary endeavors that have predetermined start and end points. Product managers, on the other hand, are responsible for an entire product and own its success as well as the maintenance of it through its entire lifecycle.

Responsibilities of a project manager

Business leaders recognize project management as a specific function within the organization and hire individuals specifically trained in this discipline -- i.e., project managers -- to handle their organization's project management needs.

Task management

Project managers can employ various methods and approaches to run projects, generally selecting the best approach based on the nature of the project, organizational needs and culture, the skills of those working on the projects, and other factors.

Managing a project involves multiple steps. Although the terminology for these steps varies, they often include:

  • Defining project goals
  • Outlining the steps needed to achieve those goals
  • Identifying the resources required to accomplish those steps
  • Determining the budget and time required for each of the steps, as well as the project as a whole
  • Overseeing the actual implementation and execution of the work
  • Delivering the finished outcome

As part of a strong project management plan, project managers implement controls to assess performance and progress against the established schedule, budget and objectives laid out in the project management plan. This is often referred to as the project scope.

Because projects often require a project team or teams of workers who do not typically work together, effective project management requires strong communication and negotiation skills. Project managers also need to work closely with the multiple stakeholders who have interests in any given project, another area where strong communication and negotiation skills are essential.

Project management methodologies

There are various methodologies that project managers can employ to deliver a successful project. Different PM methodologies include:

  • Agile: A methodology used for speed and flexibility, which features short delivery cycles.
  • Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM): An approach that focuses on the use of resources, rather than on timelines.
  • Critical Path Method (CPM): A step-by-step PM technique.
  • PRINCE2: Originated and still widely used by the U.K. government to manage projects, this approach has also been adopted by private industry internationally.
  • waterfall: A management style that is sequential in nature.

There are other methodologies as well, some of which are used almost exclusively for certain types of projects. For example, Rapid Application Development (RAD) is most often used in software development to encourage the quick development of applications, while still maintaining high quality. There are also methodologies that bring to the forefront specific values. For example, the PRiSM methodology focuses on sustainability and integrates that idea into project phases to reduce negative environmental and social effects. Other approaches include: joint application development (JAD), the fountain model, the spiral model, build and fix, and synchronize-and-stabilize.

Hybrid approaches in project management

Some project managers use hybrid approaches. In doing so, they often incorporate other frameworks and methodologies into their PM methodologies. For instance, Six Sigma, which was originally developed at Motorola and is designed to eliminate waste and improve processes, can be adopted for PM. Similarly, the Agile methodology employs Scrum, a management process featuring short sprints to get chunks of work done.

A number of charting methods, such as the Gantt chart and PERT chart have been developed as tools to create a graphic representation of a project plan and its current status. Multiple PM software options are available to project managers to aid in monitoring project tasks and project.

This was last updated in December 2018

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