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Project Management - A Primer
Project management is an essential function for any business or organization that wants to grow and be successful. At its most basic level, project management is about getting things done in a structured, manageable way through 'applied common sense'.
In this article we explore what a project is, the main elements of a project, the key activities that a project carries out and the most popular project management frameworks. By the end you should have an understanding of the basic principles of project management and the benefits it can deliver. We'll explore:
- What a project is
- The main elements of a project
- The main activities of a project
- The main methods and frameworks used to deliver projects
What is a project?
A project is a temporary activity or piece of work with a defined beginning, middle and end that is designed to create change and is a benefit to the person or organization requesting the project. We'll break this statement down and examine each part of it. The main things to remember are:
- A project is a temporary activity or piece of work
- A project has a defined beginning, middle and end
- A project creates change
- A project is of benefit
More project management guides
Read more of our helpful, expert guides to successfully managing a project:
Introduction to project management - The main concepts of project management
How project management can help your small business - How project management can help your small business launch new products, services and processes
The main objectives of project management - The things project management should accomplish
The project management plan - One of the most vital aspects of getting a project right
What is a project baseline? - How to baseline a project
Resource scheduling and planning - Making sure the right people do the right things at the right time
‘What If?’ scenarios - A critical part of risk and issue management
Project portfolio management - For when just managing one project isn’t enough
Communications management for projects - Getting your project messages read and acted on
The right project management software - Essential to running a project well
Get project management experience - Want to break into the field? Here are some tips and tricks
Project management training - How to find the right training course for you
Project management consulting - Learn about consulting for project management
Choosing the right specialist - Make sure you get your money’s worth
A project is a temporary activity or piece of work
Whilst they may go on for a long time (some larger projects can take years or even decades), they are still intended to finish at some point in the future. This sets projects apart from standard 'business as usual' activities which carry on indefinitely.
A project has a defined beginning, middle and end
Normally set out in a project plan, a project will have a start date, a planned end date and various dates for milestones and project deliverables between the two dates.
A project creates change
The main function of a project is to deliver change. This could be a change in a business process, an addition to a business's offerings (e.g. a new product or service) or activities that change how an organization functions, normally to reduce risk or meet other needs.
A project is of benefit
Projects are designed to provide benefit to the person or organization requesting them. This could be through increased turnover and profit from new products and services, a reduction in cost due to more efficient business processes or cost avoidance due to managing and reducing the impact of possible risks.
What are the main elements of a project?
The main elements that go together to make up a project are:
A definition of what a project will deliver, based on the requirements of the business, organization or person. This is normally defined in the project initiation and planning documents.
How long a project will take to deliver what it sets out to do, i.e. meet its scope. The timescale is normally defined in the project plan.
The time, people, expenditure, effort and energy that will need to be expended to achieve the project. This is normally measured in financial expenditure and would include areas like payroll costs, capital expenditure (hardware, software etc.) and any other incidental costs.
The expected levels of quality that the project will deliver, based on all of the areas above (scope, timescale and resources).
What are the main activities in a project?
The main activities that make up a project are as follows:
- Agree with the organization and stakeholders exactly what the project is meant to do and what it is going to deliver.
- Agree with the organization and stakeholders how much the project it is going to cost, the scope of the project and how long it is going to take.
- Create and maintain a project plan and schedule that will ensure that the project delivers as agreed.
- Manage processes, tools, policies, people and relationships to deliver the project outcomes.
- Carry out project tasks and activities to create the desired changes and benefits.
- Provide regular reports and updates on how the project is progressing towards its goals and any changes associated with the project.
- Manage issues, risks and other impacts associated with the project.
- Avoid any impact on normal business operations.
- Deliver the agreed outcomes from the project to the agreed cost, quality, scope and timescales.
- Ensure that the organization gets what it needs from the project.
- Conduct a final review and close the project down.
What are the main methods and frameworks used to deliver projects?
There are many different frameworks and methodologies used to deliver projects and an organization may use one or more of these techniques on their various projects. Three of the most common frameworks are:
- 'Waterfall' or traditional project management.
- Agile / lean project management.
- Six sigma / process analysis project management.
'Waterfall' or traditional project management
This is the standard form of project management used by a majority of organizations. These types of projects are managed around a set of clearly defined 'phases' known as:
- Requirements gathering and initiation.
- Release and installation.
In waterfall projects, each step is normally completed and verified before moving on to the next step. This framework is often used for larger projects that need a high level of control to succeed.
Agile / lean project management
Agile project management focuses on rapid development, deployment, testing and iteration. There are normally several iterative cycles in agile projects. Each cycle is based on building a solution that is 'just good enough', releasing it, getting people to test it and using the feedback to refine the next release.
This cycle continues until the project delivers an outcome that is fit for purpose. The agile project framework is often used in software companies for rapid deployment, especially to design online applications.
Six sigma / process analysis project management
Six sigma project management is designed to improve existing business processes or to create new processes. It relies on extensive measurement of business processes and then analyzes those processes to understand how improvements can be made.
The normal phases of a six sigma project are: define, measure, analyze, improve and control. The six sigma method is most effective when used on well-understood but under-performing business processes.
Start out right as a project manager
What are you looking forward to most about being on a project team?
It's essential that any organization or business that wants to be successful has a robust project management process in place.
Learning about project management, what it does and the skills that are needed is a great way for people involved in business to directly contribute to the overall health of their organization.