What is project management and why do I even need it?

What is project management?

Do you know if you are a project manager? Do you even know what a project is? If the answer is “no” to either question, you are in good company. Many people do projects without knowing it. And because of that, they do not enjoy the benefits that a project management approach brings. Doing a project without using a project management approach is a little like putting on a five-course gourmet meal with little knowledge and no training. You may succeed through sheer dint of your own efforts and determination. But the experience will be fraught with lots of rework and maybe tears. That is what most “accidental” project managers experience. Yet, it doesn’t take much to improve the situation greatly.

Understanding the principles of project management, understanding the project life cycle and the processes that should occur within each phase of the life cycle, and using the right tools and techniques greatly enhances your chances of success and improves the whole experience. Project management is not rocket science. It is simply a well-established framework of principles and processes. This framework provides a structured systems approach to a project that helps you focus on what you need to, when you need to.

Project management brings certainty in the uncertain world of projects:
the certainty of knowing what you need to do, when and how to do it.
Think of it as already having the bricks to build your house
rather than having to make the bricks first.

A project management approach

Using a project management approach starts with knowing that you are, indeed, managing a project. Projects and day-to-day operations have many characteristics in common: they use resources which are frequently limited; they are planned, controlled and executive; they are performed to meet the requirements of the organization. However, projects have specific characteristics that make them different from “business as usual”.

The PMBoK Guide – the project management standard written by the Project Management Institute (PMI) and adopted by the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM), in consultation with industry, as the Australian standard – defines a project as temporary and unique. A project is finite: it has a definite start and a definite end. It is unique: it produces something different every time. Even similar projects are unique because of the differences in the client, the team, the environment, the circumstances and so on.

A project’s DNA

The DNA of a project is made up of ten core elements. Every project has these elements to a greater or lesser degree: 1) scope, 2) schedule, 3) budget, 4) stakeholders, 5) communications, 6) quality, 7) risk, 8) human resources, 9) procurement and 10) integration. Each of these elements occurs throughout the project life cycle with the focus being on different elements at different stages of the life cycle. Overarching these ten elements are the all-important processes of defining your project: the project output (what you will produce); the project outcome (what benefits will come from the project); the project requirements (what your stakeholders want and expect); the project goals (high level statements of what you will achieve) and the project objectives (measurable actions to achieve the project output). These concepts are easy to understand, and many people already have a lot of knowledge they can apply. The magic is in understanding the “why” (the principles) and the “how” (the processes).

The next question is which tools to use. For many of the processes, simple templates are great time savers. They remind you of what needs to be considered. For other processes, there are project management techniques that help such as the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) and the Critical Path. The WBS is a hierarchy of deliverables (those things you must produce in support of the final output). Think of the WBS as an organization chart of deliverables. It is the basis for identifying all the tasks that need to be done. The Critical Path is the longest sequence in your project where you have no float/slack (the wriggle room in the project). This sequence is critical because it dictates the end of your project. If any task on the critical path is delayed your project completion is delayed. The Critical Path is calculated – you do not put things on the critical path. With a complex project, the calculations can be mind-blowing. This is where software is a saviour.

Project management software

In days gone past, project managers had a limited choice of software. Now, they are spoiled for choice. There are too many options to discuss in this article. My knowledge lies with MS Project which has served me well over many years. However, what you get depends on what you need and your budget. The magic is in getting your computer to do the hard calculations for you and giving you the information you need to make good project management decisions.

With knowledge of project management and skilled use of supporting tools and techniques, doing projects can be fun.

Enjoy the journey!

Pamela Beddow
MS Office & Project Management Expert

Having been a senior executive (Wing Commander) in the Royal Australian Air Force, Pam is an experienced leader, manager and project manager. She is a highly experienced and qualified  Microsoft Office Master (Excel, Word, PowerPoint, Access), a Microsoft Certified Technology Specialist (MS Project) and a business programmer.  If you would like to read more about Pamela and her workshops on Essemy, click this link.