What is project management?

Project management refers to the application of methodologies, knowledge, tools and processes for successful project planning and execution. Project management intelligently uses teams and resources to complete project activities within time, cost, and scope.

The project goal is defined by the client or stakeholder, and the project manager uses project management methodologies to create a plan that defines the allocation of resources, tasks, milestones, and results needed to meet stakeholder requirements.

The plan must be adapted to a triple constraint or project management triangle, which refers to the time, cost, and scope constraints that apply to each project. This concept is the foundation for project management, so managers must pay special attention to the schedule, budget, and structure of job analysis during the planning phase.

Projects are often planned, executed and monitored with the help of project management software. This vital tool keeps projects on track and teams productive.

Project management for project planning and exicution

History and development of project management

To answer the question "What is project management?" it is important to understand its history. You might think of project management as a relatively new discipline, but in fact, people managed projects even before the Great Wall of China, before the Roman aqueducts, before the Giza pyramids, and probably even earlier. It is unthinkable to think that the pyramids were built in an ad hoc way. Instead, you can bet that there were plans, schedules, teams, budgets, and everything we would recognize today as project management.

A more standardized discipline of project management began to really emerge in the 1950s. Until then, many industries had implemented structured management and production processes. Henry Gantt’s Gantt chart was already in use and was a popular scheduling choice, and Dupont Corporation upgraded its scheduling knowledge by developing a critical path method in 1957, helping people understand which task on the project has the least flexibility on a given date.

Since the 1950s, people have been managing projects for years, often using custom methods and designing processes themselves. This changed when the Project Management Knowledge Guide (PMBOK® Guide) of the Project Management Institute (PMI) was accredited as an ANSI standard in 1998, although PMI was established a few years ago in 1969.

Major changes in project management have also taken place in recent years. First of all, there is now an ISO standard for project management (IS21500) that came out in 2012.

The knowledge base for project management is constantly growing. The 2017 edition of the PMBOK Guide (sixth edition) contains a section on the resource control process and updated sections on project supervision and work, control scheduling, control costs, quality control, and procurement of controls.

In 2016, PMI introduced a completely new set of competencies for PMP certifications and PDU requirements called the Talent Triangle. Traditionally, project management experts (PMPs) have been required to demonstrate basic skills in technical project management. They are now required to demonstrate broader business management skills such as strategy and customer relations or leadership skills such as coaching and emotional intelligence. Current project managers are challenged to look more like mini-executives, with the ability to be both tactical and strategic experts across the project spectrum.

Definition of project

A project is a series of tasks that need to be performed in order to achieve a certain outcome. A project can also be defined as a set of input and output data needed to achieve a specific goal. Projects can range from simple to complex and can be managed by one or more people.

A project is a work that has a specific goal (or result) that needs to be completed within a given deadline, and upon completion, a product or service is created. Projects are unique in that they end, unlike other business functions that are regularly repeated or continued.

The project life cycle consists of five phases: launch, planning, execution, monitoring and control, and closure. Depending on the industry, objectives and stakeholder requirements, different types of project management methodologies will be used to manage these five phases and achieve a successful outcome.

Project management methodologies

There are many project management methodologies and frameworks designed for project management. Which methodology you should apply depends entirely on the type of project you will undertake. The point of choosing a project management methodology is to maximize the use of resources and time.

It should be borne in mind that although there are a number of methodologies to choose from, there is no such thing as the "best" methodology. Accordingly, there will be no methodology that is perfect for use for each individual project. Projects differ in scope and requirements, which means that the right implementation methodology will also differ.

Here are some of the most popular:

Waterfall

A traditional methodology that is sequential and requirements-oriented, with each phase of the project being completed before moving on to the next. A waterfall model is a linear approach to performing a job. You get to stakeholder requirements, put together a design, build a solution, test and implement it, and then move it into the maintenance phase.

  • Good for: projects for which the requirements are clear or small changes are expected along the way.
  • Avoid when: you don’t really know how you’re going to get the end result, and the requirements aren’t clear.

Agile

Manage project with agile project management

A frame that prefers a faster and more flexible mode of operation, as opposed to a waterfall. It is iterative and incremental in response to changing requirements. Agile is often used in software projects, but is increasingly common on other types of projects, such as marketing.

It involves iterative work in short bursts called "sprints". The work is time-limited and the team performs as much as it realistically can before moving on to the next set of requirements. Agile principles have been used to develop methods like scrum, extreme programming, crystals, among others.

  • Good for: projects you want to accomplish quickly and build them iteratively.
  • Avoid when: you work in a traditional environment and the change of agile methods is not yet complete or even understood.

Scrum

Scrum is a short meeting and sprint approach to project management

An approach used in agile project management that focuses on teams, daily stand up meetings and sprints, which are short repetitions of work.

Scrum is a short “sprint” approach to project management. It is ideal for teams of up to 10 people, and is often associated with two-week cycles with short daily meetings, known as daily scrum meetings. Scrum operates in an agile framework and consists of time frames, collaborative team interactions, product backlogs, and feedback cycles.

  • When to use it: Like agile, scrum has also been used extensively in software development, but proponents note that it is applicable in any industry or enterprise, including retail, event planning, or any project that requires some flexibility. Yet it requires strict roles.

Lean

Lean is a way of eliminating waste and thus increasing value. Furthermore, lean focuses on key processes to continuously have a positive impact on value.

Lean lately means several things, since the emergence of the Lean Startup movement, which favors an iterative approach to product development and involves bringing end users early and often for project delivery feedback.

Traditionally in project management, Lean is a way of removing waste in processes and ensuring that the people involved work together effectively. It also simplifies handovers between teams, eliminating delays. A common feature of this kind of work is working on only one project at a time.

  • Good for: process improvement projects and critical initiatives to focus on.

Kanban

Visual approach to project management

Kanban is a visual approach to project management. The name literally means "billboard" in Japanese. Developed on the production line of Toyota factories in the 1940s, the concept is a very visual method that aims to provide high-quality results by creating an image of the work process so that bottlenecks can be identified at the very beginning of the development process.

It helps to manage during the work by placing tasks on the Kanban board where the workflow and progress are clear to all participants. Kanban helps improve inefficiency and has been used to plan lean production in Agile projects.
With the dawn of visual planning boards in software in our time, like Trello, there are now new uses for Kanban tools and Kanban methods.

Agile teams use Kanban boards to embark on user stories and to plan backlogs in software development.

Six Sigma

Introduced by engineers who worked at Motorola in the mid-1980s, Six Sigma works to improve quality by recognizing what doesn’t work in the project. It implements quality management, including empirical statistics, and employs staff who are expert in these disciplines. There is also a Lean Six Sigma that adds a lean methodology for waste disposal.

  • When to use it: This methodology works best in larger organizations that want to improve quality and efficiency using a data-based methodology.

Who is the project manager?

The project manager is a professional in the field of project management. Project managers are responsible for planning, procuring and executing a project in any company that has a defined scope, start and defined end; regardless of industry. Project managers are the first point of contact for any questions or disagreements arising from different departments in the organization.

Project managers play a major role in planning, executing, monitoring, controlling and closing projects. They are responsible for the overall scope of the project, the project team, resources and the success or failure of the project.

Tasks of the project manager

A proffesional in the field of project management

A project manager is a person whose task is to plan and execute a project. As noted, there are many ways to manage a project - and depending on the methodology used, the project manager can act in very different ways.
However, most project managers share common roles and responsibilities.

Some of the more traditional duties of a project manager include the following:

  • Project scope: Defining the work required to complete the project.
  • Task management: Planning tasks and defining their results.
  • Resource management: Efficient use of people, capital, materials and all other resources.
  • Team management: Gathering and leading a team.
  • Scheduling Management: Consists of analyzing the duration of activities to create a project plan. Once the execution phase begins, the status of the project must be monitored to update the basic schedule.
  • Quality management: Establishment of quality policy for project results and implementation of quality assurance and control procedures.
  • Cost management: Estimating costs and creating a budget.
  • Stakeholder Management: Meeting stakeholder expectations and communicating with them throughout the project life cycle.
  • Risk management: Identifying, monitoring and minimizing project risk.
  • Status Reporting: Track progress and performance by generating reports and other documentation.

Project management software

A tool for easier management of project

Project management software is a platform that assists managers in planning, monitoring, and reporting on projects; it helps teams manage their work and collaborate. Good software empowers project teams so they can manage all the details that go into a successful project.

Examples of project management software for a wide market

Project management software is most often tailored to a wide audience, ie it is applicable to all industries.

Any such software for a wide market must have several key functionalities in order to be useful and create added value, and these are: Lists and status of tasks; Schedules and appointments; Sharing and saving documents; Reporting.

There are many such software on the market, and some of the best known and most used are:

Examples of project management software for specific industries

There are also software solutions on the market that specialize in a specific industry or business and as such offer benefits and features that make project management in that industry significantly easier and are therefore much more useful than software for the broad market.

Some of the examples of software intended for various industries are:

Monograph - project management software developed for architects.
BIM 360 - online software designed for the construction industry.
airSlate - software with an agile approach intended for the healthcare industry.
MachineDesk - software solution for production management in machining.

5 stages of the project life cycle

5 stages of project life cycle in project management

Because all projects have a life cycle, they all go through a series of stages. If you manage to understand these five stages, then you will have a good understanding of what project management is.

Phase 1: Project initiation

This is the initial stage of your project when you need to prove that the project has value and is feasible. This phase involves the creation of a business case, to justify the need for the project, and a feasibility study showing that it can be carried out within a reasonable time and cost.

This is also the time to draft a project charter, a document that specifies exactly what the project will provide. The project summary has a very similar purpose. Their main difference is that the project charter is part of the PMBOK framework, and the project document is in line with the PRINCE2 methodology.

This phase of the project culminates with an initial project meeting, where you bring together the team, stakeholders and other relevant parties to outline the project objectives, schedule, processes and communication chain.

Phase 2: Project planning

The second phase is project planning, which happens after the project is approved. The delivery of this phase is a project plan, which will be a guide for the execution and control phases. The project plan must include each component related to project execution, including costs, risks, resources and deadlines.

During this phase, the work required to complete the project, known as the project scope, is defined using the Work breakdown structure (WBS). The WBS project is divided into activities, milestones and results. This allows project managers to create schedules and assign tasks to their team members.

Project managers often visualize their project plan using a Gantt chart, which represents the order of tasks and their interdependence. This gives you a roadmap for work until the project is completed. There are various schemes and techniques of project planning, such as Gantt charts, CPM, WBS or PERT that facilitate the development of a project plan.

Phase 3: Project execution

The third phase is the execution of the project, where most of the work takes place. This is the phase where you complete project activities and milestones to produce results to the satisfaction of the client or stakeholder following the plan created in the previous phase.
Along the way, the project manager will reallocate resources as needed to keep the team working. It will also work on identifying and mitigating risks, resolving problems, and embedding any changes.

Phase 4: Monitoring and control of projects

The fourth phase is the monitoring and control of the project, which occurs simultaneously with the project execution phase. It includes monitoring the progress and performance of the project to ensure that it stays within deadlines and within budget. Quality control procedures are applied to guarantee quality assurance.

The biggest problems in a project are usually related to three things - time, cost and scope, which is collectively called the triple constrains. The main goal of this phase is to establish tight control over the project to ensure that these areas do not derail.

Phase 5: Closing the project

The fifth phase is the closing of the project, in which the final results are presented to the client or stakeholder. Once approved, resources are released, documentation is completed and everything is checked out. At this point, the project manager and team can conduct a summary to assess the lessons learned from the project and learn from experience.

Depending on the project, the closure phase may also involve handing over supervision to another team, such as the operations management team. In this case, it is the job of the project manager to ensure that such a transition takes place smoothly.

The triple constrains

The triple constraint, also known as the project management triangle, refers to the time, scope, and cost limits that apply to each project. The project management processes responsible for controlling these constraints are scheduling management, cost management, and scope management.

There are many tools and techniques used to track these important variables:

Time

Project managers must estimate the time required to complete a project using tools such as PERT charts or the critical path method. This must be done during the project start-up and planning phase of the project in order to create a schedule covering the duration of all activities. Once the execution phase begins, project status must be monitored to make changes to the baseline schedule.

Scope

The scope applies to all work required to complete the project and must be identified at the planning stage using a work breakdown structure. If the scope is not properly defined at the beginning of the project, it can be expanded during the execution phase due to unplanned activities. This is known as scope crawling and can cause projects to fail.

Cost

Many costs are associated with the project. Project managers are responsible for estimating, budgeting and controlling costs so that the project can be completed within the approved budget.

You can see how important the triple limit is for any project. The three points of this triangle always affect each other. If you fail in time, you will need to adjust the scope or cost. The same goes for other points

The success of any project rests on these three pillars, but there are other internal and external factors that could affect a project.

Conclusion

Project management is the primary tool for executing a business plan, organizing business processes and achieving the strategic ambitions of entrepreneurs. Project management helps determine in detail which tasks will be executed, who will be involved in executing the tasks, and when the tasks should begin and end.

Typically, projects progress in steps or in stages; however, other approaches to fast, interactive project management are also widely used. Several tools can be used to manage the project and communicate time and status, including task logs, WBS, and Gantt charts.

Projects fail for many reasons. It is the responsibility of management to determine whether the inherent risks in the project can be accepted and whether the project can be initiated or postponed.
Project management is not a solution used when a problem arises, but a crucial tool in the endless process of business growth and renewal. It allows the entrepreneur to reduce and eliminate inherent risks and increase the potential for success of new and ongoing operations.

Klara Markotić
Content Creator at MachineDesk with a particular interest in marketing and social media.
marketing@machine-desk.com