What is Project Management?

I have heard that Projects are the lifeblood of a corporation.  So that would mean that Project Managers and the project management function are extremely important to companies.  Project Manager’s guide the process that builds our infrastructure, creates our favorite apps, and plans our corporate outings.

The day-to-day business of a company is referred to as steady state. For example, CarMax is a retailer of automobiles and KBR is an engineering company.  Every day they have to perform functions to support their core mission.  If CarMax does not purchase, clean, repair, and sell cars they will go out of business and in the same way if KBR does not win deals to engineer buildings, roads, and other large structures, they will go out of business. This is their steady state. But if these companies and countless others do not engage in Projects then they will ultimately lose market share in any event and lose business to other companies that innovate and find new ways to conduct business. Projects result in companies having new product lines; like Apple and the iPhone.  Projects result in more efficient ways to do things; like Uber. Projects result in innovations; like Verizon 5G.  And the list is endless…

So let us talk about Projects, Project Managers and the Project Management Function. It all starts with a project. A project is a temporary endeavor with a specified goal.  Someone that has a specific business problem or an opportunity that they want to realize usually commissions a project.  This point in interesting, although a project might be said to be ‘for’ a business unit, the commissioning of the project is usually by a person (one person).

Unlike routine business operations (steady state) that happen on a regular basis, a project has a starting point and a projected end date. There are one or more goals of a project and it is the work of the project team that eventually produces the desired outcome.

Project management is the process of guiding a team of people, internal and external to a company towards the achievement of the projects goals considering and understanding the constraints of the project. Constraints to a project include:

Cost – How much money or other financial vehicles that can be used to achieve the project’s goals?

Time – The specified duration of the project. For example, the delivery of the next generation electronic vehicle or the dictates of time by some government reporting regulation that has a implement-by date.

Scope – What are the particular things that will be provided at the end of the project? These are usually referred to as deliverables and there are concrete things like buildings and software applications and there are some not so concrete things like good will and risk reduction. For the most part deliverables are tangible and measureable.

Quality – What are the key characteristics of the deliverables that make them function in an exemplary way?  Every field of endeavor defines quality differently, it might be based on aesthetic beauty or it might be based on longevity, sturdiness, or any other factor that qualifies the quality.

Benefit – What is the measurable impact this project will have once delivered to the client? Will it resolve a business problem as stated when the project was commissioned or will it provide some other benefit that helps to promote the client and the business?

Risk – What are the factors that can cause the project to fail?  Risk is defined as some particular exposure to harm or loss.  Risk is always around in projects and the effective management of risk often determines whether a project is successful or not; Success meaning that the stated objectives of the project were met or accomplished.

Every project requires the careful balancing of constraints and finding opportunities to work more efficiently at every stage.

Key Terms

While there are many terms and phrases that get used in the project management process, here are a few that are absolutely essential:

Client / Customer – The person or persons who will directly benefit from the project.  The Client plays a critical role in the project management process. During the execution of most projects there are issues, roadblocks, and external factors that impeded the project.  It is at  these times that the Client along with the project team must work together to make decisions to move the project along.

Constraints – These are limitations placed on the project team and hamper the swift execution of the project.  For example if the goal of a new product development project is to increase year end sales then it should be obvious that the end of the year is a constraint.  If the project goals are met in February of the following year then the project is a failure. A project team needs to be aware of these limitations so they can effectively execute the project.

Deliverable – A Deliverable is some tangible thing that the project team produces.  During the execution of a project a project team can product many deliverables. Boeing project teams product jetliners but they can also deliver new navigation systems, electronics, and wiring harnesses along the way to producing an airline. Other examples of deliverables include a building, a bridge, a computer program, a ship, among many others.

Milestone – An event marked in a project schedule that typically indicates a key deliverable or an important component of a deliverable has been completed. It is often used as a checkpoint that the team uses to make sure the project is on track.

Phase – The grouping of certain tasks and activities related to a project. It typically represents a stage in the project lifecycle.

Project Manager – The person responsible for leading the project from start to finish. They create the project plan, help to define roles and responsibilities of the project team, and monitor progress. The most important function, in my opinion, of a project manager is to organize, direct, and control the various issues that arise during the execution of the project.  Projects are delayed by an accumulation of unaddressed issues. Projects fail when they are not managed on a day-to-day basis. It is the responsibility of the Project Manager to deliver the project’s goals on time, on budget, and within quality requirements.

Project Team – All the people assigned to work on some portion of the project. Each member is responsible for delivering his or her assigned work. They should be uniquely qualified to do the work that they are assigned. For example, a qualified engineer, with the proper experience, can be assigned an engineering task but not an accounting task. In like fashion a Java developer should not be asked to manage the budget/ accounting function of the project

Requirements – In traditional project the Requirements define the goals of the project.  Consider a project to build a new motor vehicle. The requirements could include – the vehicle must be electric, the vehicle must have a maximum speed of 150 MPH, and the vehicle must float and be amphibious. It is a description of the characteristics of project deliverables. In a software development project, it could include a list of the specific features you want the program to have.

Stakeholder – Someone who has an interest in the outcome of a project. This includes but is not limited to the client/customer.

Task – A Task is a unit of work that needs to be completed to reach project goals. It usually needs to be completed by a set deadline. Tasks have dependencies.

So that concludes some of the more notable terms when discussing the project management function.

Projects are necessary and critical to corporations.  Project Managers play a leadership role in guiding, directing and controlling all the resources of a project.  The project management function is what corporations use in the execution of projects.  I hope someone finds this article useful to get a basic understanding of projects, project manager’s and the project management function.  If you have questions about how to increase the likelihood of a successful project then you’ll have to wait for my next article. 

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