project management definition

Why Project Management?

A Look Back: Project Management

The practice of project management (PM) goes all the way back to the Ancient Egyptians, as they coordinated the construction of the great pyramids. Project management practices existed over thousands of years, through a multitude of political systems and cultures, and served a variety of purposes. Across them all, the features and problems encountered are similar, regardless of industry, organizational type, project complexity level, project cost, or even project size.


In 1917, the first major project management tool, the Gantt chart, was creation by Henry Gantt. A Gantt chart is a type of bar chart that aids in project planning and coordination because it visually depicts large amounts of (mostly schedule-related) information.  Below is a small example of a Gantt chart to show just a minimal portion of an overall project Gantt:



In the 1950’s, Project management tools were refined further with the development of the Critical Path Method (CPM) and the Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT). I will cover the specific details of the CPM and PERT in future posts, but for now, just wanted to point out that these three amazing project management tools are still around and in use today, with the only difference being that today, we utilize these tools via software programs and applications rather than manually with pencil and paper (thank goodness)!


The largest initial use of project management stemmed from civil engineering and the construction industry, and the same principles have been used during the World War II period and beyond in areas of military weapons systems, oil company projects, chemical company projects, National Air and Space Agency (NASA) projects (such as Apollo), and many, many others. More recent areas that are applying the basic project management principles include the information and technology (IT) systems, industrial products, financial endeavors, real estate development, marketing and research and development (R&D). There are very few areas that could NOT apply the principles of project management, frankly, but the levels of complexity will likely vary a great deal.


The Pitfalls of Project Management

Ever hear the saying “if it was easy, everyone would be doing it”? Well, as much as I hate to say this, the same holds true for project management. Instead of actually learning and applying the concepts and principles, many organizations fake it. Gasp! Yes, I called them out. And to be even more controversial, I’m also going to tell you that there are many “credentialed” project managers out there who don’t actually have a clue how to manage a project. Now, before you curse at me, please hear me out.


I have spent over 25 years in the project management space, and I am also a “credentialed” project manager. I have worked in both the public and private sectors and, in many cases, I was the one responsible for writing the job requirements and qualifications of incoming staff (whether direct employees or work to be outsourced). I used to always require that any candidates to be considered, also must be “credentialed” as a Project Management Professional (PMP) – the credential that comes from the Project Management Institute (PMI).  While I have a great deal of respect for the PMI and their mission, I have learned that even people with the PMP credential often don’t know how to manage true projects (sadly). I then tried to expand my requirements for future job candidates by stating the requirement as “credentialed with PMP or equivalent”, thinking that perhaps other certifications would prove more beneficial. They didn’t. I ended up scrapping the credentialing requirement all together and instead, went with very specific requirements that spoke to the exact skills and experience needed for each job area. For instance, if I needed someone who knew how to handle develop and execute a project charter, then that’s what I put. If I needed a project schedule expert, then I would state that I needed someone familiar with the Critical Path Method of scheduling and the use of xyz software tool (Microsoft Project, Primavera, etc.) to incorporate the task dependencies and capture lag time, lead time and understanding the kind of schedule relationships needed (start-to-start, start-to-finish, etc.). I used specificity as my description to help weed out those who didn’t have the actual experience needed, or who weren’t willing to go learn it and immediately implement.


The reason I shared my story and experience there was to display one pitfall for actually using project management in your organization – it almost always increases complexity and requires up-front knowledge.  This makes it especially challenging if you send a bunch of “workers” off to obtain project management training without holding the same expectations of the leadership team – the very team the newly training workers are to report to. If the leadership team hasn’t also been properly educated, the workers will be coming back and providing reports that will sounds like a foreign language to the leadership team. When you embrace project management, it needs to be embraced as a culture shift – not easy to do, but those organizations that have taken the “all in or nothing” leap have found great success.



The Benefits of Project Management

While there are some up-front knowledge requirements, those organizations that have implemented the use of project management typically have better customer relations, shorter overall delivery times, higher employee morale (I want to elaborate more on this, later), lower costs and higher profit margins, and higher quality and reliability. BAM! Which of these would you NOT want your organization to have? So, yes, the up-front knowledge leap can feel a bit scary and intimidating at first, but with so many benefits, isn’t it obvious why the majority of successful organizations utilize some form of project management to improve their bottom line?


Let’s talk about employee morale, specifically. It’s no secret that happy employees are more productive employees. So, why would proper use of project management result in morale improvement? This one is easy for me, because I’ve been in environments that “claimed” to be project management heavy (in other words, they ‘faked it’ and failed, badly), and others that truly did utilize project management practices. Those that truly used PM practices were happier because the project information was much more transparent, obvious, and there was no question as to who was responsible for what, when they were responsible and accountable for it. There was no question as to who would be working on which elements, or how those elements all fit into the bigger picture – these were all broken out in the planning stage of project management. There was no question as to “why” any of the projects were undertaken, because the objectives were clearly stated in the project charter – before the project even officially began! Who made decisions, when decisions would be made, how decisions would be implemented – these were all thought through before-hand and were part of the project management office’s governance, or the greater organization’s governance processes. Again, clear and concisely defined so that this information was transparent for all to see and understand. Team charters were used to clearly depict who was doing what, how communication would take place (frequency, location, platforms to use, etc.), how to handle conflicts, and much, much, more. Having obstacles addressed up-front


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Project Management: What is a “Project”? 1

Project Management

What is a Project?

While this may seem fundamental, it really is core to what many organizations must understand before they put their strategy into full-blown implementation mode. Why? Well, if you intend to implement your strategy through the use of project management (regardless of the project management method used), you first need to truly understand what a project is – and what it isn’t.


Simply put, a project is a distinct and temporary effort to be accomplished within a specific start and stop date.


That means that “projects” that haven’t determined specific answers to who, what, when, where, and how much…. Well, they are actually NOT projects. This may be hard to take, but it’s true. Quasi-projects may have some level of implied performance, cost and time constraints, but until there is specificity, these efforts are masquerading as “real” projects. The result of such masquerading? Serious delivery delays, cost overruns and dissatisfied customers. Ouch.


Project Management versus Operations Management

Have you seen personnel titled “project manager” walking around your organization? Sadly, there are many walking around with such a title that have no actual project training of any kind. I’m not saying you can’t pick up some books and learn project management – I believe you can learn anything you put your mind to, but most don’t because they don’t even realize that they aren’t truly managing “projects” – even if their title says they are.


Most often, I find this to be true in personnel that work operations, which is why I will start with explaining why anyone working operational objectives couldn’t possibly be a “project manager” – at least, not until the definition of project management is modified.  Operational management is essentially management that results in achieving the same objectives over and over, which is in direct conflict with project management because a project is a temporary endeavor that is unique – not something you achieve over and over. The only time I’ve truly seen “projects” within operational environments are when there are operational derivatives – projects that are intended to result in minor product or process changes.


Why Use Project Management for Strategic Implementation?

While there are many alternatives to implementation, few can be as effective as project management – yes, I may be biased. That being said, it isn’t any secret that the traditional hierarchical management methods are declining, while consensual management is increasing, along with an increasing reliance on systems engineering (enabling the use of successful systems). Rather than develop an organizational strategy and place it on a file server to just sit, project management is a way to take that strategy and strategically align all the work required (otherwise known as “scope”) to make the strategy a reality. The larger the strategy, the more complex the management of actually making it happen.


Implementing project management is the starting point in most successful organizations – I will not (yet) go into how to effectively manage multiple projects (programs) or entire project portfolios at this time. Without solid project management knowledge and skills in place, effective program and portfolio management are just meaningless words with nothing to back them up.


Like this post? This is the first of many project, program and portfolio management related posts that will be posted with resources, references, examples and case studies that will be blogged each week!