Even though Rome wasn’t built in a day, it might have been completed more quickly if the early Romans had used project management to coordinate the city’s construction. Raising a city out of the Italian hillside is only one example of a task that could benefit from project management. The tools and techniques of this discipline are frequently used in the engineering, construction, and technology industries. Project management can also be applied to other types of projects: planning a neighborhood party, building a chicken coop, designing a mobile phone app, or running a Presidential election campaign.
As can be seen from these examples, projects vary in size and complexity. However, all projects share two characteristics: they are temporary; and they lead to a unique product. Temporary means that a project has a definite start and end. Building a chicken coop is not a repetitive activity, unless you plan on starting a chicken farm. If successful, the chicken coop project results in a unique product — the coop itself. Not all products are tangible, though. Products may also be services or results, such as a website that offers online gaming, or an election poll.
Project Management in Practice
Project management is not new. In fact, many project management methods seem like common sense. Organizing a neighborhood event and overseeing the creation of the Hubble telescope actually require similar techniques: planning, communication, supervising people, budgeting, and others. By coordinating the activities of the neighbors, you’re able to pull off a successful party. Likewise, NASA and other organizations use more structured project management methods to achieve their business goals
Projects proceed from start to finish through a series of stages. This is called the project lifecycle. Each stage has a set of project management processes associated with it. A process is a series of activities that lead to an outcome. Making coffee is a process. You start with the coffee machine and the beans, and follow a set of steps to brew the coffee. Project management functions in the same way, with the end result being the successful completion of the project.
A project starts with an initial idea — “a way to help people exercise while away from home” — and moves through its lifecycle to reach the end product — “a mobile phone exercise app.” The project stages apply to both large and small projects, regardless of the type of organization or industry. Traditional project management is broken down into five stages: initiating; planning; executing; monitoring and controlling; and closing. Each stage is represented by a set of processes — also known as process groups.
During the first stage, the project manager works with the organization’s leadership and other people to clarify the business need. This is a key step. After that, a project management team develops a detailed plan for how the project will be completed and monitored. This includes identifying key players, setting up a schedule of tasks, and developing a budget. The project plan serves as a guide for the execution and closing of the project. To ensure success — and to minimize distractions — the project is carefully monitored by the project manager.
A process is more than just a series of activities. It functions like a machine. Raw materials go in one end and are transformed to produce a final product. Each stage of a project works in the same way: knowledge, experience, and data are changed by the activities of project management. The end result of this transformation is the completion of the project’s goal, such as a successful Presidential campaign.
Project management, then, is a collection of processes that move the project forward. Some of these involve management activities, such as guidelines for coordinating the project team or communicating with the organization’s leadership. Other tools involve physical documentation: spreadsheets, documents, or other tracking methods. Project managers use various types of software to track the many aspects of a project. These range from standard office computer programs to multi-site web-based project management packages.
Projects don’t happen by themselves. For example, your neighbors might be able to pull off a party with each person doing his or her own thing. But what if everyone brings hamburgers and no buns? Having one person — a project manager — to coordinate the details could prevent that from happening. That person isn’t responsible for buying all of the food, though. The project manager oversees the planning and execution of the party to ensure its success.
In addition to guiding projects through each stage, project managers have many other roles. They interact with the organization’s leadership, other managers, and members of the project team. They track resources, monitor the schedule, and watch for signs that the project is in danger of falling behind schedule or going over budget. Training for project managers ranges from workshops to graduate-level programs. In addition, the Project Management Institute serves as an excellent resource for new and experienced project managers.
Not all projects are the same. Building a chicken coop is a different from running a Presidential election campaign. Project environments also vary. The computer software industry tends to be fast-paced, with an emphasis on new and cutting-edge technologies. The construction industry, however, builds products that are likely to last for decades.
Given this variability in the size and complexity of projects, as well as the differences of each organization’s environment, there is not one type of project management that fits all situations. Even when using traditional project management methods, project managers choose the best tools and techniques for the project. This intelligent application of project management ensures that the project succeeds with a minimal amount of excess effort. Other types of project management, however, have evolved to fit specific types of projects or environments. One example of this is agile project management. This variation of the traditional form is used in software development, which often requires a more rapid and flexible way to develop products.