Project Smart ~ Exploring trends and developments in project management today

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Introduction to Project Management

~ By Duncan Haughey

Hand moving a chess piece

Project management in the modern sense began in the early 1950s, although it has its roots further back in the latter years of the 19th century. The driver for project management was businesses realising the benefits of organising work around projects and the critical need to communicate and co-ordinate work across departments and professions.

Many organisations don't employ full-time project managers and it is common to pull together a project team to meet a specific need. While many people may not have formal skills in a project methodology, taking a role in a project team is an excellent learning opportunity and can improve a person's career profile.


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, Gantt charts and PERT 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 the chance of success

Project management is often summarised in a triangle (see Figure 1). The three most important factors are time, cost and scope, commonly called the triple constraint. These form the vertices with quality as a central theme.

Project management triple constraint diagram
Figure 1: The triple constraint
  • Projects must be within cost
  • Projects must be delivered on time
  • Projects must be within scope
  • Projects must meet customer quality requirements

More recently, this has given way to a project management diamond, with cost, time, scope and quality the four vertices and customer expectations as a central theme (see Figure 2). No two customer expectations are the same so you must ask what their expectations are.

Project management diamond diagram
Figure 2: The project management diamond

Project Phases

A project goes through six phases during its life:

  1. Project Definition: Defining the goals, objectives and critical success factors for the project
  2. Project Initiation: Everything that is needed to set-up the project before work can start
  3. Project Planning: Detailed plans of how the work will be carried out including time, cost and resource estimates
  4. Project Execution: Doing the work to deliver the product, service or desired outcome
  5. Project Monitoring & Control: Ensuring that a project stays on track and taking corrective action to ensure it does
  6. Project Closure: Formal acceptance of the deliverables and disbanding of all the elements that were required to run the project

Project Manager's Role

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 must 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 or 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

Project Manager's Skill Set

A project manager must have a range of skills including:

  • Leadership;
  • People management (customers, suppliers, functional managers and project team);
  • Effective communication (verbal and written);
  • Influencing;
  • Negotiation;
  • Conflict management;
  • Planning;
  • Contract management;
  • Estimating;
  • Problem solving;
  • Creative thinking; and
  • Time management

Project managers bear ultimate responsibility for making things happen. Traditionally, they have carried out this role as mere implementers. To do their jobs they needed to have basic administrative and technical competencies. Today they play a far broader role. In addition to the traditional skills, they need to have business skills, customer relations skills, and political skills. Psychologically, they must be results-oriented self-starters with a high tolerance for ambiguity, because little is clear-cut in today's tumultuous business environment. Shortcomings in any of these areas can lead to project failure.

J. Davidson Frame

Barriers, Risk and Issues

Many things can go wrong in project management. These things are often called barriers. Here are some possible barriers:

  • Poor communication;
  • Disagreement;
  • Misunderstandings;
  • Bad weather;
  • Union strikes;
  • Personality conflicts;
  • Poor management; and
  • Poorly defined goals and objectives

A good project management discipline will not eliminate all risks, issues and surprises, but will provide standard processes and procedures to deal with them and help prevent the following:

  • Projects finishing late, exceeding budget or not meeting customer expectations
  • Inconsistency between the processes and procedures used by projects managers, leading to some being favoured more than others
  • Successful projects, despite a lack of planning, achieved through high stress levels, goodwill and significant amounts of overtime
  • Project management seen as not adding value and as a waste of time and money
  • Unforeseen internal and/or external events impacting the project

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.

Enjoyed this article? Now read 21 Ways to Excel at Project Management

Comments (2)

5/5 (2)
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Clock icon 22nd April 2015 5:45pm
Richard Williams says...
A very good start outlining the role and responsibilities of the PM. I think many people are unaware how much of an all encompassing role it is and the need to have the soft skills as well as some technical knowledge.
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Clock icon 30th October 2014 1:15pm
Mike New says...
I knew nothing about project management until I read this and I found it to be really helpful. It is written in clear, unambiguous language and jargon-free terms and I guess it could apply to any type of project. It's refreshing to find writing that is clean and puts things into context. I am much better informed now.

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