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An Introduction to Project Management

The need for project management has been driven by businesses that have realised the benefits of organising work around projects and the crucial need to communicate and coordinate work across departments and professions. One of the first major uses of project management, as we know it today, was to manage the US space programme. The government, military and corporate world have now adopted this practice.

Many organisations do not employ full time Project Managers and it is common to pull together a project team to address a specific need. Taking a role in a project team can be an excellent learning opportunity and can improve a person’s career profile.

Project management and projects are defined by the UK’s Association for Project Management as:

The process by which projects are defined, planned, monitored, controlled and delivered such that the agreed benefits are realised. Projects are unique transient endeavours undertaken to achieve a desired outcome. Projects bring about change and project management is recognised as the most efficient way of managing such change.

Projects almost always have the following characteristics:

  • Clear objective(s);
  • Constraints of cost, quality and time;
  • A fixed timescale;
  • A fixed budget;
  • A team of people;
  • Little practice or rehearsal;
  • Change and uncertainty;
  • Uniqueness.

Even if similar projects have been conducted several times they will still follow these characteristics and the uniqueness of a project may come from a new team of people, a different budget, new technology, a new customer/client etc.

Here is the main definition of what project management is:

  • Project management is no small task.
  • Project management has a definite beginning and end. It is not a continuous process.
  • Project management uses various tools to measure accomplishments and track project tasks. These include work breakdown structures and gantt charts.
  • Projects frequently need resources on an ad-hoc basis as opposed to organisations that have only dedicated full time positions.
  • Project management reduces risk and increases chances of success.
Project management is probably best summed up as the ‘process by which a project is brought to a successful conclusion’. A project is considered successful when it meets the criteria stated at its outset.

The greatest challenge of project management is the integration and control of the three principal interrelated components of each single project.

  • Projects must be within cost.

  • Projects must be delivered on time.

  • Projects must be in scope.

  • Projects must meet customer quality requirements.

The cost, time, quality triangle implies a tension between the three components such that if any one of the components was to be changed, then it would have an impact on one, or both, of the others.

More recently this has given way to a project management diamond with cost, time, scope and quality as the four vertices and customer expectations as a central theme. No two customer expectations are the same so you must ask what their expectations are.

To ensure a successful project it is important to understand and appreciate the project context/ environment. This refers to the influences which will affect the project both internally and externally. These can be political, environmental, social, technological, legislation and economic.

Every project goes through certain phases of development (The Project Life Cycle). The five main phases consist of Start Up, Definition, Planning, Execution and Close-out. A clear understanding of these phases permits managers and executives to control the project more efficiently.

Project management will allow you to break the project down into separate phases, ensuring that each phase is given appropriate time and consideration.

The role of the project manager is one of great responsibility. It is the project manager’s job to direct, supervise and control the project from beginning to end. Project managers should not carry out project work, managing the project is enough. Here are some of the activities that should be undertaken:

  • The project manager must define the project, reduce it to a set of manageable tasks, obtain appropriate resources and build a team to perform the work.

  • The project manager must set the final goal for the project and motivate his/her team to complete the project on time.

  • The project manager must inform all stakeholders of progress on a regular basis.

  • The project manager must assess and monitor risks to the project and mitigate them.

  • No project ever goes exactly as planned, so project managers must learn to adapt to and manage change.

A project manager must have a varied range of skills/qualities in order to be successful. Read our Top Ten Qualities of a Project Manager article to see what these are.

Many things can go wrong in project management. These can include: poor communication, misunderstandings, poor management, poorly defined goals and objectives, disagreement, bad weather etc.

A good project management discipline will not eliminate all risks, issues and surprises, but will provide standard processes and procedures to deal with them.

Project management is about creating an environment and conditions in which a defined goal or objective can be achieved in a controlled manner by a team of people.

Good project management will deliver your projects on time, on budget and on spec.

Why not test your Project Management knowledge with our quick introductory 12 question quiz. The quiz is based on APM definitions.Click here now to take the quiz.

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For further information about 20|20 Business Insight Project Management training courses or consulting services, follow these links:

Project Management training courses – full course list
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