Tools & Templates

What is project management?

Project management is inevitable for most leaders. Sooner or later your company will have to implement something new, and you'll need some essential tools to help you create a better perspective of the process from idea to product.

Since Harry Gantt invented the Gantt chart in 1916, many different project management methods have been developed. You've probably already heart about SCRUM, PRINCE2, Agile project management and the Waterfall method, just to mention a few.

These methods take on project management in different ways and each have their own justification depending on which type of project you have to manage, your organization and probably also personal preferences. Even though the methods handle project management in very different ways, they also have various elements in common.

It is this “broad perspective” we'll take in this article, where we'll examine at what project management really is.

Definition: What is project management?

In this article we follow the definition that is applied in “A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge” (PMBOK Guide). The PMBOK Guide is by some considered the project manager's bible, and once you go deeper into working with project management, you cannot ignore this very comprehensive work containing more than 600 pages.

The PMBOK Guide describes project management as the process of applying the necessary knowledge, the necessary skills, tools and techniques according to a number of project activities with the purpose of achieving your project goal.

In other words, project management is the process of leading a project and anyone involved towards the project’s goal. Never mind if the project is big or small. Constructing a new bridge is one of the big ones, while a brand new recipe for dinner is one of the (very) small. Nonetheless, they are both examples of projects. As long as what you are about to do is an assignment that affects your daily routines, it is a project, and a certain amount of systematics and (project) management may be necessary to turn it into a success.

What characteristics does every (successful) project share?

When I write successful in parenthesis, it is because it's obviously possible to manage a project without going through all of the five process groups listed below (once or several times). But if you skip one or more of these, the chances of a successful project drops.

If we return to the PMBOK Guide, we will see that the assignments in a project can be arranged in five so-called process groups. A process group is a group of processes that contain a specific type of assignments that must be completed once or more during the length of the project.



An example of a project phase arranged in the five process groups


The five project process groups:

  1. Initiation. The processes that are required for defining a new project or a new phase in an existing project. The purpose is to create agreement among the stakeholders of the project about what to expect, visibility surrounding scope and goals, and finally to show how the project can deliver these goals.

  2. Planning. Determine the scope of the project, define its goals and make a plan for achieving these. The purpose is to describe the strategy, the tactics and the actions that can turn the company into a success.

  3. Executing. The processes that are conducted to complete the assignments you have determined in the project plan. Including coordinating people and resources and managing all stakeholders’ expectations.

  4. Monitoring and controlling. The processes that involves keeping an eye on, assessing and arranging the project’s progress and achievements. This means finding areas where action is necessary and initiate those actions.

  5. Closing. The processes that are required to formally close the project. For instance, providing customer approval, evaluations of the project, documentation and freeing the team’s resources for other assignments.

The five process groups can be completed once or several times during a project depending on how complex it is and how much time it takes.