What is Project Management?

by Moira Alexander

Project management is an essential endeavor that can help companies of all sizes around the globe, in all industries, transform their businesses and effectively execute business strategy. Here are some of the project management basics as well as some of the other elements that work in sync with project management. Let’s start with some key definitions and then share key elements of project management including the project phases, project management knowledge areas, as well as what you need to know to be as successful and effective as a project manager.

What is a project?

The Project Management Institute (PMI), the world’s leading project management organization with over 500,000 global members Internationally, describes a project as “temporary in that it has a defined beginning and end in time, and therefore defined scope and resources. A project is also “unique in that it is not a routine operation, but a specific set of operations designed to accomplish a singular goal.”

What is project management?

The project phases and knowledge areas describe project management as “the application of specific processes, knowledge and skills, techniques and tools, as well as inputs and outputs that project managers and teams utilize to successfully meet project goals and deliverables.”

What is a project manager?

Every company will have a similar but slightly different project manager job description, but in general, the project manager is the key role behind project success. They are responsible for the guidance and support of stakeholders and for leading all of the activities throughout the planning, executing, monitoring, controlling, and closing of projects. Ultimately, they are accountable to stakeholders and sponsors for the success or failure of the project. There are two other key strategic-level project-related functions that should be mentioned – program management and portfolio management.

Program management

This is the process of managing multiple related projects with the goal of improving organizational performance.

Portfolio management

Portfolio management is the highest level of project management that is responsible for strategic execution.

What is a stakeholder?

A project stakeholder can be any “individual, group, or organization, who may affect, be affected by, or perceive itself to be affected by a decision, activity, or outcome of a project,” according to PMI.

What is a project sponsor?

This can be a person or group that initiates the project, supports the project manager and their team, champions the project, provides high-level guidance, and helps to resolve issues if the project manager encounters any difficulties.

To guide project managers towards successful project goal attainment,  the Project Management Institute has created the Project Management Body Of Knowledge (PMBOK), which is updated regularly, with the current edition being the 6th edition. The PMBOK outlines five project phases, sometimes referred to as project management process groups and the 10 Project management knowledge areas that are essential for successful project execution.


5 Project phases listed by the Project Management Institute

1. Initiating: This is the first phase where the project is defined, the scope is identified, and the feasibility of the project is determined. In this phase, the project team is formed, the project objectives are established, and the project charter is created.

2. Planning: In this phase, the project plan is developed, including the schedule, budget, and resources required. The project manager and team work together to determine the best approach for completing the project successfully.

3. Executing: This is the phase where the project plan is put into action. The project team works to complete the tasks and deliverables according to the project plan.

4. Monitoring and Controlling: In this phase, the project team tracks and monitors the progress of the project to ensure it stays on track. Any deviations from the plan are identified, and corrective actions are taken to get the project back on track.

5. Closing: This is the final phase of the project, during which the project is completed and delivered to the customer. The project team evaluates the project’s success and documents lessons learned to apply to future projects.

Project Management Institute’s 10 Project management knowledge areas  

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

Project, program, and portfolio managers are not always seen for the value they bring to companies. To truly be effective, these roles are not just intended to be ‘managers’ of projects but to play a vital leadership role. 

Four other core elements of successful project management

To be successful, there are other elements or disciplines that go hand-in-hand with leading and managing projects.

    1. Project management methodology selection
    2. Change management
    3. Project oversight and compliance

Without establishing working policies and managing processes that address issues around how your organization, just executing projects is unlikely to yield the best results. Managing change, ensuring there is sufficient oversight, and dealing with technology must be factored into your overall plan for meeting specified deliverables and desired outcomes. Here’s what you need to know about each of these elements – your people, and processes, technology.

Project management methodologies

project management professional project management jobs team members ongoing process corrective actions new skills gantt chart building blocks product manager various projects final deliverable career path routine operations dedicated team market research project initiation documentation waterfall project management large and complex projects project management courses traditional project management tools entire project documentation effective project management project managers work senior project manager role project management methodology project management skills successful project software development project success project team project life cycle project planning project documentation execute projects project plan five process groups project progress human resources project teams complete project critical path project manager roles larger projects project coordinator critical path method successful projects project's success project budget all the projects project requirements technical expertise project's objectives project professional initial planning risk management planning phase strategic objectives change management technical skills people management skills formal management entire team internal team key aspects day to day management job titles projects require raw materials early stages scope creep kanban board pre planning kanban boards agreed parameters skill sets decision makers desired results

Although there are numerous project management methodologies, the Agile methodology is the most discussed and adopted. It was originally adopted primarily within the software industry but is now deployed across almost every industry, from small businesses to large organizations. Agile methodology uses short development cycles called “sprints” and places a great amount of focus on continuous improvement. These 12 principles guide agile project management.

1. Customer satisfaction is always the highest priority and is achieved through rapid and continuous delivery.

2. Changing environments are embraced at any stage of the process to provide the customer with a competitive advantage.

3. A product or service is delivered with higher frequency.

4. Stakeholders and developers collaborate closely on a daily basis.

5. All stakeholders and team members remain motivated for optimal project outcomes, while teams are provided with all the necessary tools and support and are trusted to accomplish project goals.

6. Face-to-face meetings are deemed the most efficient and effective format for project success.

7. A final working product is the ultimate measure of success.

8. Sustainable development is accomplished through agile processes whereby development teams and stakeholders are able to maintain a constant and ongoing pace.

9. Agility is enhanced through a continuous focus on technical excellence and proper design.

10. Simplicity is an essential element.

11. Self-organizing teams are most likely to develop the best architectures and designs and to meet requirements.

12. Regular intervals are used by teams to improve efficiency through fine-tuning behaviors.

Agile Methodology helps organizations increase flexibility, productivity, and transparency. It produces higher-quality deliverables, decreases the risk of missed objectives, and increases stakeholder engagement and satisfaction.

Change management

Prosci, the leader in change management, refers to change management as the “people-side of organizations and focuses on ensuring that your whole team embraces your new direction or adopts and learns to use your new systems and processes.” Prosci developed the ADKAR Model. It is the industry standard for change management practitioners worldwide and is aimed at offering a “results-oriented approach for responding to a simple truth: company-wide change happens one person at a time.” Without an effective change management process in place, companies are unlikely to achieve full buy-in and cooperation from employees and other stakeholders.

Project oversight and compliance

Overseeing projects from the executive level requires an understanding of the organization and its goals, a high level of knowledge of project management, and restraint. Project oversight and compliance is an essential part of ensuring that projects are a success and potential risks are properly addressed. Companies must develop systems, personnel, and resources to perform and manage the assigned projects, ensure the projects have appropriate plans, and focus on the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) that indicate the project is meeting the approved plan.

Project management software and tools

There’s a saying about having the right tools for the job that holds true, especially when it comes to efficiently and effectively managing complex projects. Leveraging the best project management software for your business can make the difference between success or complete failure. 

Regardless of the size or complexity of your business, here are some tips that your business can use to evaluate and select the right online project management software that best suits your project and business requirements. Make sure to carefully keep in mind your broader business goals and needs, identify your strengths and weaknesses, and other factors when you evaluate online project management software.

Understanding these project management basics and some of these closely related elements is a good starting point before delving further into the power behind project management as a tool for business transformation.

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