Project management is the science (and art) of organizing the components of a project, whether the project is development of a new product, the launch of a new service, a marketing campaign, or a wedding. A project isn’t something that’s part of normal business operations. It’s typically created once, it’s temporary, and it’s specific. As one expert notes, “It has a beginning and an end.” A project consumes resources (whether people, cash, materials, or time), and it has funding limits.
Project Management Basics
No matter what the type of project, project management typically follows the same pattern:
Defining the Project
In this stage the project manager defines what the project is and what the users hope to achieve by undertaking the project. This phase also includes a list of project deliverables, the outcome of a specific set of activities. The project manager works with the business sponsor or manager who wants to have the project implemented and other stakeholders — those who have a vested interest in the outcome of the project.
Planning the Project
Define all project activities. In this stage, the project manager lists all activities or tasks, how the tasks are related, how long each task will take, and how each tasks is tied to a specific deadline. This phase also allows the project manager to define relationships between tasks, so that, for example, if one task is x number of days late, the project tasks related to it will also reflect a comparable delay. Likewise, the project manager can set milestones, dates by which important aspects of the project need to be met.
Define requirements for completing the project. In this stage, the project manager identifies how many people (often referred to as “resources”) and how much expense (“cost”) is involved in the project, as well as any other requirements that are necessary for completing the project. The project manager will also need to manage assumptions and risks related to the project. The project manager will also want to identify project constraints. Constraints typically relate to schedule, resources, budget, and scope. A change in one constraint will typically affect the other constraints. For example, a budget constraint may affect the number of people who can work on the project, thereby imposing a resource constraint. Likewise, if additional features are added as part of project scope, that could affect scheduling, resources, and budget.
Executing the Project
Build the project team. In this phase, the project manager knows how many resources and how much budget he or she has to work with for the project. The project manager then assigns those resources and allocates budget to various tasks in the project. Now the work of the project begins.
Controlling the Project
The project manager is in charge of updating the project plans to reflect actual time elapsed for each task. By keeping up with the details of progress, the project manager is able to understand how well the project is progressing overall. A product such as Microsoft Project facilitates the administrative aspects of project management.
Closure of the Project
In this stage, the project manager and business owner pull together the project team and those who have an interest in the outcome of the project (stakeholders) to analyze the final outcome of the project.
Time, Money, Scope
Frequently, people refer to project management as having three components: time, money, and scope. Reducing or increasing any one of the three will probably have an impact on the other two. If a company reduces the amount of time it can spend on a project, that will affect the scope (what can be included in the project) as well as the cost (since additional people or resources may be required to meet the abbreviated schedule).
Project Portfolio Management
Recent trends in project management include project portfolio management (PPM). PPM is a move by organizations to get control over numerous projects by evaluating how well each project aligns with strategic goals and quantifying its value. An organization will typically be working on multiple projects, each resulting in potentially differing amounts of return or value. The company or agency may decide to eliminate those projects with a lower return in order to dedicate greater resources to the remaining projects or in order to preserve the projects with the highest return or value.