What Is Project Management?

Project management involves planning and organization of a company's resources to move a specific task, event, or duty towards completion. It can involve a one-time project or an ongoing activity, and resources managed include personnel, finances, technology, and intellectual property.

Project management is often associated with fields in engineering and construction and, more lately, health care and information technology (IT), which typically have a complex set of components that have to be completed and assembled in a set fashion to create a functioning product.

No matter what the industry is, the project manager tends to have roughly the same job. A project manager helps to define the goals and objectives of the project and determines when the various project components are to be completed and by whom. They also create quality control checks to ensure completed components meet a certain standard.

Understanding Project Management

Generally speaking, the project management process includes the following stages: planning, initiation, execution, monitoring, and closing.

[Important: Different industries have developed project management methodologies or frameworks that are specific to their unique needs.]

From start to finish, every project needs a plan that outlines how things will get off the ground, how they will be built and how they will finish. For example, in architecture, the plan starts with an idea, progresses to drawings and moves on to blueprint drafting, with thousands of little pieces coming together between each step. The architect is just one person providing one piece of the puzzle. The project manager puts it all together.

Every project usually has a budget and a time frame. Project management keeps everything moving smoothly, on time, and on budget. That means when the planned time frame is coming to an end, the project manager may keep all the team members working on the project to finish on schedule.

Example of Project Management

Let's say a project manager is tasked with leading a team to develop software products. They begin by identifying the scope of the project. They then assign tasks to the project team, which can include developers, engineers, technical writers, and quality assurance specialists. The project manager creates a schedule and sets deadlines.

Often, a project manager will use visual representations of workflow, such as Gantt charts and PERT charts, to determine which tasks are to be completed by which departments. They set a budget that includes sufficient funds to keep the project within budget even in the face of unexpected contingencies. The project manager also makes sure the team has the resources it needs to build, test, and deploy a software product.

When a large IT company, such as Cisco Systems Inc., acquires smaller companies, a key part of the project manager's job is to integrate project team members from various backgrounds and instill a sense of group purpose about meeting the end goal. Project managers may have some technical know-how but also have the important task of taking high-level corporate visions and delivering tangible results on time and within budget.

Types of Project Management

Many types of project management have been developed to meet the specific needs of certain industries or types of projects. They include:

Waterfall Project Management

This is similar to traditional project management but includes the caveat that each task needs to be completed before the next one starts. Steps are linear and progress flows in one direction—like a waterfall. Because of this, attention to task sequences and timelines are very important in this type of project management. Often, the size of the team working on the project will grow as smaller tasks are completed and larger tasks begin.

Agile Project Management

The computer software industry was one of the first to use this methodology. With the basis originating in the twelve core principles of the Agile Manifesto, agile project management is an iterative process focused on the continuous monitoring and improvement of deliverables. At its core, high-quality deliverables are a result of providing customer value, team interactions and adapting to current business circumstances.

Agile project management does not follow a sequential stage-by-stage approach. Instead, phases of the project are completed in parallel to each other by various team members in an organization. This approach can find and rectify errors without having to restart the entire procedure.

Lean Project Management

This methodology is all about avoiding waste—both waste of time and resources. The principles of this methodology were gleaned from the Japanese manufacturing industry. The main idea behind them is to create more value for customers with fewer resources.

There are many more methodologies and types of project management than listed here, but these are some of the most common. The type used depends on the preference of the project manager or the company whose project is being managed.

Key Takeaways:

  • On a very basic level, project management includes the planning, initiation, execution, monitoring, and closing of a project.
  • Many different types of project management methodologies and techniques exist, including traditional, waterfall, agile, and lean.
  • Project management is used across industries and is an important part of the success of construction, engineering, and IT companies.