what is project management

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!