Understanding what is project management comes hand in hand with understanding what a project is. Let’s start from the beginning and cover the basic definitions while giving some real life examples to improve our understanding of the matter.
1. What Is a Project? The Essentials of Project Management
To put it simply, a project is a unique and temporary endeavor, with a defined beginning and end, that aims at creating or changing a product or service. Since it is a unique endeavor, it requires special effort and customized planning.
Here are some examples of projects:
- An event or a party that will take place on a specific date and time;
- Substituting the software used by a company;
- Updating the entire computer system of a sector to improve its efficiency;
- Designing a new look for the website of a business;
- And many more examples…
The duration of a project can vary from days to months to even years. For example, while I write this post, I am mentally computing the huge amount of time I will have to dedicate to create all the content, update it, write the videos, record them, etc. This is a good example of a reasonable long-term project. Why? Because it has a defined beginning and end, it is unique, and it creates a product.
1.1 What Are the Constraints of a Project?
When you plan and execute a project, you have take into account several constraints. Generally, they boil down to three major categories:
- Scope or quality constraints: the project team has specific requirements regarding the output of the project, as well as its quality.
- Time or schedule constraints: the project team has a specific time period in which the project is expected to be successfully executed.
- Money or budget constraints: the project team has a specific amount of money and other resources allocated to the project.
The entire set of these major categories is called the triple constraint, and it is used as a framework to balance competing project demands (see more right below at “How to set priorities in a project?”).
As a project manager, the monitoring of the success of the project is your responsibility. You have to use a set of knowledge and skills that, combined with different project management tools and techniques, will allow you to guarantee the successful accomplishment of the project’s objectives. Therefore, it is essential to set priorities at the beginning and during the course of a project.
1.2 How To Set Priorities in a Project?
We all know that a project rarely runs smoothly and without any surprises regarding the aforementioned constraints. Usually, trade-offs are necessary between these three limitations in order to assure the continuity and the success of the project.
Many factors must be considered in the decision to modify or change any of these objectives. The priorities assigned to each constraint and the alternatives available will dictate what to modify or change in the project. Ideally, these priorities are set by the sponsor or the customer at initial phases of the project, but they can be reviewed during the execution of the project whenever it is necessary.
In order to set priorities correctly without ruining the entire project, it is necessary to deeply understand the relationships between the time, budget and scope constraints. While these trade-offs seem fairly intuitive at the surface level (for instance, a faster schedule requires more budget; a greater scope requires more time, etc.), the specific dynamics of these relationships vary greatly from project to project. By how much you must increase your employees’ payment in order to deliver the project two weeks before the deadline? How exactly does including new features in the scope of your project will impact its required budget? How will a budget reduction affect the product or service quality? Asking such questions is essential to gaining valuable insight into the actual relationships between project schedule, costs, and scope. At this stage we will focus on an overview of the matter, but we will return later on to deal with priorities in more details.
1.3 Projects and Processes
Projects are composed mostly of processes. These processes are nothing more than series of actions targeting a defined output. Project Management Processes serve to define, organize, execute and assess the work of the project by supporting the execution of the many processes that integrate it. In order to do that, they encompass multiple tools and techniques. Through our subsequent posts, we will explore in more details the different project management processes that are applicable to most projects.
1.4 What Is the Role of a Project Manager?
Now that we have a basic idea of what a project is, let’s spend some time to understand about the person who will make everything possible: the project manager.
Simple enough, the project manager is the person who manages the project in order to achieve all of its objectives. In other words, the project manager is the link between the strategy and the project team which is responsible for more specific activities.
Since a project manager is responsible for assuring the successful coordination of the team, the role requires considerable interpersonal skills. Therefore, motivational skills are a must in order to build a strong team, resolve conflicts, communicate efficiently and quickly, and develop many other team leading activities. More on the role and tasks of the project manager in the upcoming articles!
1.5 What Is the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide)?
Finally, we cannot forget to mention the PMBOK Guide. The Project Management Institute (PMI) created and now updates regularly the PMBOK Guide to promote successful project management through standardized knowledge areas and processes, which are used to manage different projects from start to finish.
What we will be covering through a series of articles is based upon the recommendations of the PMI and from the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge. We will not cover every single aspect of the book, but we will try to offer a different, more pleasant way of learning its most important parts.
The PMBOK Guide presents several different and complementary practices that:
- Can (and should) be used most projects, most of the time;
- Are widespread and have proven efficacy on its applicability and usefulness;
- If used correctly, will enhance the success of a wide range of different projects.
2. What Next?
As you might have noticed, this section covers a lot of ground on presenting the big picture of the science of project management. Our next steps will be to cover each aspect with more details, following a logical order that will allow you to better understand how each different piece of a project fits together. So let’s not waste any more time and let’s start right away!