Life is full of projects. But what exactly is a ‘project’ as defined in today’s working world, and how has project management become a prominent industry unto itself?
You might think of a project as simply a distinct task that needs to be performed and completed. But according to the US-based Project Management Institute (PMI), one of the key organisations in this area, a project is a ‘temporary endeavour undertaken to create a unique product, service, or result’.
So while we ‘project manage’ every day – going through the necessary steps to shop and make a meal, or get the kids to and from school – officially, project management (PM) is the discipline and process of developing and achieving organisational goals – and arranging, acquiring and managing various resources to achieve those goals. It is both a tool and a discipline, designed to divide projects into manageable portions and stages so they’re easier to control, and provide a structure for contributors to work under.
A project manager is therefore someone employed exclusively to achieve that purpose. Project managers are responsible for making sure that projects are completed to a high standard, on time and within budget.
Project managers differ from other kinds of managers, in that they often oversee a range of business areas towards the completion of a goal that is relatively short-term and discrete, rather than permanent or ongoing. Whereas a design manager for a shoe company will manage operations in the design department, a project manager for the development of a new pair of shoes in that company will manage staff across design, marketing and manufacturing, until the new design is completed.
To be a good project manager, you need to be a good problem-solver, an effective team leader, a fantastic communicator and be assiduously organised. You need good people skills, as your job pivots on good communication with all stakeholders and team members – and enough enthusiasm to keep you and your team motivated.
Project management has become an industry in its own right, with its own unique language. Different approaches have emerged over time, but most involve establishing a plan, communicating with stakeholders and managing resources, time and cost, as well as conducting regular reviews.
Up until a few decades ago, large and small-scale projects in project-driven industries like engineering, construction, architecture, telecommunications and computing were undertaken without a systematic, templated approach to get them underway and completed as efficiently and quickly as possible. Nowadays, professional project managers utilise specialised PM software in order to keep on top of every detail, and ensure all involved are on the same page.
It’s common for methodologies to group processes into a structure that incorporates project initiation, planning, production, monitoring and closing. This kind of approach is generally classified as ‘traditional’, and favours sequential instructions with clear milestones to reach. It’s generally acknowledged that this approach works best when the goal is predictable and not subject to change. Hence their use and origins in the construction industry, where changes to the product after the fact are impossible or difficult to implement.
‘Agile’ methodologies also exist for projects that require a more flexible, adaptive approach. They approach projects less as an entirely pre-planned procedure, and more as a series of smaller tasks and goals that are completed as the situation calls for them, and which can be adapted to changing conditions and requirements.
One of the most common methodologies for project management is the Project Management Book Of Knowledge (PMBOK), which can be classified as a traditional, process-based approach that is globally recognised. It provides a set of useful general guidelines and standards for PM that can be applied to any industry, broadly accepted as best practice in the profession. The Project Management Institute (PMI) offers project management courses based on the PMBOK methodology.
While many people slip into project management from technical or administrative roles, more and more businesses seek specialised PM professionals who possess a formal qualification and training.
By taking a project management course, you will develop a set of valuable and transferable skills that you can take to any industry. You’ll learn how to create organisational documents, determine client business needs and translate them into technical requirements, apply project integrative processes, manage project risk, implement change management processes, and design, manage and close complex projects. You’ll also learn to use project management software and develop key data collection skills. In short, you’ll learn to think like a project manager and will emerge ready to tackle projects of all shapes and sizes.
Interested in getting involved in project management? Check out our project management courses.