What is Project Management?

More specifically, what is a project? It’s a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result.

A project is temporary in that it has a defined beginning and end in time, and therefore defined scope and resources.

And a project is unique in that it is not a routine operation, but a specific set of operations designed to accomplish a singular goal. So a project team often includes people who don’t usually work together – sometimes from different organizations and across multiple geographies.

The development of software for an improved business process, the construction of a building or bridge, the relief effort after a natural disaster, the expansion of sales into a new geographic market — all are projects.

And all must be expertly managed to deliver the on-time, on-budget results, learning and integration that organizations need.

Project management, then, is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.

It has always been practiced informally, but began to emerge as a distinct profession in the mid-20th century. PMI’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) identifies its recurring elements:

Project management processes fall into five groups:

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

Project management knowledge draws on ten areas:

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

All management is concerned with these, of course. But project management brings a unique focus shaped by the goals, resources and schedule of each project. The value of that focus is proved by the rapid, worldwide growth of project management:

  • as a recognized and strategic organizational competence
  • as a subject for training and education
  • as a career path

Who are Project Managers?

They are organized, passionate and goal-oriented who understand what projects have in common, and their strategic role in how organizations succeed, learn and change.

Project managers are change agents: they make project goals their own and use their skills and expertise to inspire a sense of shared purpose within the project team. They enjoy the organized adrenaline of new challenges and the responsibility of driving business results.

They work well under pressure and are comfortable with change and complexity in dynamic environments. They can shift readily between the “big picture” and the small-but-crucial details, knowing when to concentrate on each.

Project managers cultivate the people skills needed to develop trust and communication among all of a project’s stakeholders: its sponsors, those who will make use of the project’s results, those who command the resources needed, and the project team members.

They have a broad and flexible toolkit of techniques, resolving complex, interdependent activities into tasks and sub-tasks that are documented, monitored and controlled. They adapt their approach to the context and constraints of each project, knowing that no “one size” can fit all the variety of projects. And they are always improving their own and their teams’ skills through lessons-learned reviews at project completion.

Project managers are found in every kind of organization — as employees, managers, contractors and independent consultants. With experience, they may become program managers (responsible for multiple related projects) or portfolio managers(responsible for selection, prioritization and alignment of projects and programs with an organization’s strategy).

And they are in increasing demand worldwide. For decades, as the pace of economic and technological change has quickened, organizations have been directing more and more of their energy into projects rather than routine operations.

Today, senior executives and HR managers recognize project management as a strategic competence that is indispensable to business success. They know that skilled and credentialed practitioners are among their most valuable resources.

Does this describe you? Interested in a career in project management?

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