What defines project management?
Project management is the discipline (or art or science, depending who you talk to about it) of planning, organizing and managing resources with the goal of meeting specific objectives related to the project. These objectives are often referred to as constraints. Constraints generally involve a magic triangle with three points – scope, time and budget. A scope generally defines the common understanding among all project members and stakeholders and is a written document variously referred to as a statement of work, scope statement, project charter or project plan. The terminology used is affected by the size of the project. Most readers will be familiar with the concepts of time and budgets. The magic triangle of constraints can be manipulated to some extent during a project’s lifecycle and ultimately affect the quality of the project and its overall success or failure. Getting the goals, objectives, budget and schedule accurately forecast at the beginning of the project is the major factor in whether a project will succeed or fail.
Groups of projects are referred to as programs, and are directed by program managers, who often oversee groups of project managers as their primary job responsibility.
Projects generally have phases that can include: defining the project, planning the project, securing approval for the project, implementing the project and evaluating the project. The first three phases of a project do not always occur in the order in which they have been listed here.
Priorities and politics
It is a tendency of human endeavors that priorities vary among groups of people. Engineers will have a different set of values than financiers, for instance. One of the major roles, if not the most important role of a project manager is to juggle priorities among groups involved in any project. Additionally, a project manager must clearly communicate potential pitfalls and present a range of solutions and recommendations that will ensure the project stays within constraints and be judged successful during the evaluation phase. This aspect of project management is often referred to as risk management. Risk management should start early in a project’s lifecycle. This helps avoid major stumbling blocks to success as they are identified, prioritized and discussed early. Risks are reviewed often and their priority and mitigation adjusted based on changing conditions related to the project.
Stakeholders and deliverables
The project manager is often responsible to many stakeholders. Stakeholders are entities who have assumed a risk by approving the project and who have granted trust that the project manager will mitigate that risk and deliver a successful result based on deliverables. Deliverables are generally tangible and always measurable. Deliverables often stack or group. In information technology, a deliverable might be a report, a dashboard filled with a series of graphically displayed key performance indicators or an entire software product based on a combination of inputs, outputs and reporting tools. Deliverables for an IT hardware project might include a specific number of servers with a specific amount of redundancy and failover to be installed inside a data center. Stakeholders will hold a project manager responsible for defining deliverables and then ensuring each is met without breaking the magic triangle of constraints.
Whether or not a project is deemed successful is often based on a project manager’s ability to convey progress throughout the project’s life while simultaneously managing risk effectively.
For a more in-depth project management primer, watch this YouTube video: Project Management Fundamentals.