project management

This definition is part of our Essential Guide: Next generation Agile: Guide to continuous development

Project management is the discipline of using established principles, procedures and policies to manage a project from conception through completion. It is often abbreviated as PM.

Project management oversees the planning, organizing and implementing of a project. A project is an undertaking with specific start and end parameters designed to produce a defined outcome, such as a new computer system. A project is different from ongoing processes, such as a governance program or an asset management program.

The project management plan is expected to effectively and efficiently guide all aspects of a project from start to finish, with the ideal goal of delivering the outcome on time and on budget. A project plan often begins with a project charter, and it is expected to identify potential challenges in advance and handle any roadblocks as they arise in order to keep the project on schedule.

Responsibilities of a project manager

Business leaders recognize project management as a specific function within the organization and hire individuals specifically trained in this discipline -- i.e., project managers -- to handle their organization's project management needs.

Project managers can employ various methods and approaches to run projects, generally selecting the best approach based on the nature of the project, organizational needs and culture, the skills of those working on the projects, and other factors.

Managing a project involves multiple steps. Although the terminology for these steps varies, they often include:

  • Defining project goals;
  • Outlining the steps needed to achieve those goals;
  • Identifying the resources required to accomplish those steps;
  • Determining the budget and time required for each of the steps, as well as the project as a whole;
  • Overseeing the actual implementation and execution of the work; and
  • Delivering the finished outcome.

As part of a strong project management plan, project managers implement controls to assess performance and progress against the established schedule, budget and objectives laid out in the project management plan. This is often referred to as the project scope.

Because projects often require teams of workers who do not typically work together, effective project management requires strong communication and negotiation skills. Project managers also need to work closely with the multiple stakeholders who have interests in any given project, another area where strong communication and negotiation skills are essential.

Project management methodologies

There are various methodologies that project managers can employ to manage projects. Different PM methodologies include:

  • Agile: A methodology used for speed and flexibility, which features short delivery cycles.
  • Critical Chain Project Management (CCPM): An approach that focuses on the use of resources, rather than on timelines.
  • Critical Path Method (CPM): A step-by-step PM technique.
  • PRINCE2: Originated and still widely used by the U.K. government to manage projects, this approach has also been adopted by private industry internationally.
  • Waterfall: A management style that is sequential in nature.

There are other methodologies as well, some of which are used almost exclusively for certain types of projects. For example, Rapid Application Development (RAD) is most often used in software development to encourage the quick development of applications, while still maintaining high quality. There are also methodologies that bring to the forefront specific values. For example, the PRiSM methodology focuses on sustainability and integrates that idea into project phases to reduce negative environmental and social effects. Other approaches include: joint application development (JAD); the fountain model; the spiral modelbuild and fix; and synchronize-and-stabilize.

Some project managers use hybrid approaches. In doing so, they often incorporate other frameworks and methodologies into their PM methodologies. For instance, Six Sigma, which was originally developed at Motorola and is designed to eliminate waste and improve processes, can be adopted for PM. Similarly, the Agile methodology employs Scrum, a management process featuring short sprints to get chunks of work done.

How to build a Gantt chart.

A number of charting methods, such as the Gantt chart and PERT chart, have been developed as tools to create a graphic representation of a project plan and its current status. Multiple PM software options are available to project managers to aid in monitoring project tasks and project.

This was last updated in August 2016

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