What Is Project Management Anyway

The Guide to the PMBOK defines project management as follows:

Project Management is the application of knowledge, skills, and techniques to project activities in order to meet stakeholder needs and expectations from a project.

So project management is using a set of tools and techniques to manage projects. But it isn't fair to use the words you are defining as the definition. We had better first talk about what a project is and then see if we can come up with something better.

There are certain areas of expertise that are required for a project team to manage projects in the most effective way. These are: the Guide to the PMBOK, applicable standards and codes for the project, technical ability, general management ability, human resource skills, and the project surroundings.

Standards and Regulations

A standard is an agreed upon set of rules that are designed to achieve the optimum degree of order in the desired results. These are usually published by some authority on the subject. An example of a standard would be the octane ratings of gasoline used in their manufacture.

A regulation is a set of rules issued by some government agency. Regulations lay down a set of rules that are mandatory for compliance to this agency. Examples of regulations are occupational health and safety regulations.

Aproject is a temporary endeavor undertaken to provide a unique product or service. That is the definition from the Guide to the PMBOK. The word temporary means that any project done must have a beginning and an end. A project generally begins when some sort of official document proclaims the project to have an official life. This document, the project charter, usually creates some means of collecting the cost and expenses of the project. Often the end of the project is when all of the project goals have been met and all of the work of the project has been accomplished. Some projects will end when for various reasons it has been decided to abandon the project or stop work on it. This is generally because the goals of the project cannot be achieved practically.

Some distinction is made between the terms project and program. Most project managers feel that the project management profession can manage projects of any size and that the methodology that is used to manage them all is nearly the same, with modifications made to accommodate different sized projects. The methods used in the project management process are the same. While discussing the difference between projects and programs it would be well to note that there is a hierarchy of endeavors of this type starting at the largest, the strategic plan, followed by the portfolio, the program, the project, and even the subproject.

Most projects will have the characteristic of being developed through what is called ''progressive elaboration'' in the Guide to the PMBOK. This simply means that projects are progressively developed. For example, the project scope is only broadly defined in the beginning of the project. As the project progresses the scope becomes more clearly defined and more detailed. Ultimately a baseline is developed to define the scope of the project in a detailed way.

According to the Guide to the PMBOK, a program is a group of projects managed in a coordinated way to obtain benefits not able to be obtained by managing them separately. Programs are generally ongoing. This definition is familiar when we speak of very large programs, but all projects are really subprojects of larger projects or are composed of subprojects. From the perspective of a subproject manager, he or she is in charge of his or her own project. From the perspective of the manager of these managers, he or she is responsible for his or her own project. The difficulty of this definition is that there is no clear distinction between the size of a project and that of a program. It is also true that in some organizations, programs may even be considered to be subprojects of other projects. All of this goes to show that project management is not a strict science but has some artistic aspects to it as well. We will see that there are many differences in terminology throughout the project management profession. PMI has made a remarkable effort to try to separate and standardize terminology.

When we speak of portfolio management, we are talking about a number of projects that are grouped together to help meet strategic business goals. In this way projects that advance the strategic goals of the company are included together, and an effort is made to ensure that each project not only is justified on its own merits but that it also supports the strategic goals of the organization.

It is important to realize that the end of the project is not the same as the end of the goods or services that the project produces. A project to build a nuclear power plant usually ends when the goal of building the plant and making it operate at some expected level of production has been achieved. The plant continues to operate, far into the future, even though the project has ended. Although the project itself may come to an end from the standpoint of the project manager and the project team, it is important to understand that the effects of the project may continue for much longer. Life cycle costs can frequently be incurred over the useful life of the project. These costs include warranty repair work and project liability and many others. Since the project is usually closed when these costs occur, they must be recognized by the project team and allowed for as future costs by management.

The project team, the project manager, and upper management of the company must also consider the project environment. The social environment must be understood. This is how the project affects people and how their wishes and desires will affect the project. In some projects the political environment is important. This will determine the effect of local customs, regulations, and laws that will affect the project. Lastly, the physical environment is important. The project must be done within the bounds of the physical environment in which it takes place and under the conditions present.

The word unique in our definition means that the good or service that the project provides is to some extent different from anything that has been produced before. However, unique does not mean that the project is completely unique but that it is to have certain parts that are unique and that those parts are unique enough to require a planning process to organize the effort to be done.

Many projects build on the results of other projects and have many things in common with projects the organization has done in the past. A project is unique because there is something that sets each project apart from others. If it were not for this it could not be a project. Instead, it would be a routine repetition of something done before and would not require many of the project management tools and techniques.

Projects are ''progressively elaborated,'' which means that the products of a project are progressively developed throughout the project. The goals and objectives are stated at the beginning of the project. These goals and objectives are elaborated on and made clearer and become more detailed as the project progresses. Initially the project will be broadly defined. As time passes and more about the project becomes known the definition of the project becomes clearer and more specific.

From this, the idea that project management can be used to do almost anything comes easily to mind. Of course, those of us in project management sometimes like to think that members of our profession can manage projects better than anyone else.

Projects are always going to be temporary endeavors, because they are intentionally put together for the purpose of accomplishing something. Once this ''something'' has been accomplished, the resources that were put together for this purpose can be assigned to other projects. This means that the people and resources that can be brought together for a project can be the right ones, and the project team can be formed specifically for the purpose of that project.

In modern project management, project teams bring together resources as they are required. One of the great advantages of project management is its ability to form multi-disciplined project teams of the right people at the right time. The obvious advantage of this is that scarce skills can be brought to a project when needed.

Projects always have limited resources, but sometimes there are projects where the cost and amount of resources seem to be unlimited. Projects like the Apollo Project in the 1960s and the Manhattan Project in the 1940s come to mind, but even these projects had some resource constraints on them. To the project manager who is trying to get a project completed with scarce or unavailable resources this might seem like a wonderful way to manage a project, but these types of projects usually come with severe schedule requirements.

The person or organization that has something at stake in the results of a project we call the ''stakeholder.'' Projects will always have more than one stakeholder, and each of the stakeholders will have different needs and expectations.

The ''client'' or ''sponsor'' is the main stakeholder in the project. Without this stakeholder the project probably would not go forward. This person or organization usually puts up the money for the project and has the most interest in its success.

So, we can now understand the PMBOK definition, ''project management is the application of the tools and techniques that are necessary to satisfy the expectations of the stakeholder or stakeholders of the project.''

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