For many years, I have had to repeatedly answer questions on what projects are and what the disciplined practice of project management is and I thought to write a quick and short primer here. This is no way exhaustive, but aimed at answering some of the questions many have about the discipline and possible help frame the next set of questions and help readers set about finding answers to this questions.
Project management (PM) is not the fine art of using Microsoft projects, IBM jazz or similar. Those are tools, used in managing projects – and are collectively referred to PMIS – project management information systems. In most mature environments, project administrators are saddled with tending to these systems. And sincerely, it isn’t a bad place to start to cut your PM teeth, but if you stop there, then don’t take yourself seriously or anybody at that who refers to you as a project manager. You are not one, you are simply a project administrator.
What then is project management?
Project management is the disciplined management approach to creating value for the enterprise.
Projects are temporary endeavours aimed at creating business value by:
- taking advantage of new technology – to extend the business’ capability to break into a new target market and/or extend reach within an existing market, introduce efficiency and/or block leakages;
- meeting new regulatory requirement;
Projects do not continue perpetually – continuous and repeatable activities collectively constitute business operations.
It is a project if:
- Has a start and an expected completion dates (dates can shift forward or backwards but isn’t infinite or open ended). The planned start and finish dates and the specific units of work planned to be delivered by stated dates in between these constitutes the schedule.
- Has specific outcomes or problem to solve or opportunity to take advantage of – which can vary from a single outcome to several many related outcomes. E.g. a project’s sole outcome may be to deliver a stadium or delivering several many payment options for various customers of a business. The agreed, expected outcome is often referred to as the project’s scope!
- Has specific associated costs. Costs are arrived at using several tools, including those that allow a project team to compare the planned work to those completed in other projects and thus derive comparable costs for each identified element and sum these up to get to a final project; in some instances, business decide how much they can afford to spend on a project in advance.
The Associated cost of delivering a project is referred to as the budget and the process of creating one is the budgeting process.
The above constitutes the iconic triple constraints that enforces discipline in project management: scope, schedule and cost.
If the project team does their work as agreed and chartered in the project scope document, there is a huge chance that the output of the project will meet the quality requirements expected of the project. Otherwise, most project teams are saddled with determining in the scope development effort what the expected quality is and ensures that their delivery meets these requirements.
Who is involved in projects?
Generally, the people involved in a project are collectively regarded as stakeholders. But no two stakeholders are created equal. For example, some people want for the project to fail – either because they have a competing product (yes, your businesses, competition) or because the output of the project affects them negatively (sometimes communities in which a new petroleum rig will be sited); and positive stakeholders as the sponsor (the person whose political power is at stake should the project fail and/or who can break open political doors within the business to ensure the project team succeeds), the project manager, also often referred to as the product owner is responsible for holding the team accountable as well as managing expectations of all stakeholders (you see why tending to PMIS isn’t quite project management); then come project team members- often a group of specialist saddled with working together or in isolation to create constituting components or sub-components of the expected project outcome. Then comes the customer – colleagues at work who will use the outcome of the project or consumers external to the business delivering the project who will consume the outcome of the project (e.g, the city government who owns the stadium that is built, and in some cases, soccer lovers who will use the stadium).
Determining stakeholders and their needs often contributes to whether or not a project succeeds. Imagine, taking advise from negative stakeholders and factoring those into your work without knowing that those stakeholders don’t want the project to succeed? Or not knowing the power your sponsor wields and struggle and suffer alone in getting some organisational resources key to the project assigned to you on time. Or failing to carry important stakeholders along as required only to find out you may have missed important input from them and having to do a lot of expensive reworks – which you may not have budget for?
There are several project management frameworks and toolsets. Some of which include but in no way limited to the following:
- Project Management Institute’s Project Management Body of Knowledge – a set of recommended best practices for managing projects and project teams.
- PRINCE2 – created by the office of Government Commerce, HM Government of the UK and now managed by Axelos
- Agile with its various flavours including but not limited to:
1. I am a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) by the Project Management Institute (PMI) and a professional member of Project Management South Africa, and have been a practitioner for more than a decade.
2. Cover image copied without permission from this website.