Recognised as an essential capability for organisations to maximise value and reduce costs, project management has developed considerably over the past 20 years. Here’s our summary of what it is, where it comes from, and the principles which lie at its heart.
Project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to a broad range of activities to achieve a project’s desired results. A project is a specific temporary endeavour undertaken to achieve a particular aim.
The Latin word ‘projectum’ means ‘to throw something forward’ and that is what project management is all about – making things happen and moving companies forward.
Project management has existed for thousands of years. The Great Pyramid of Giza 2,550 BC; the Great Wall of China 221-206 BC; and the Roman Colosseum 80 AD all used project management techniques.
Project management is as much a way of thinking as it is a technical approach to any initiative that must deliver specific objectives within a certain timeframe and cost.
Today, project management is a professional discipline with a body of knowledge; a set of skills and competencies; and professional certification bodies (listed below).
The basic principles of project management
There are a number of significant principles which determine the success of a project. These are simple and well-known principles, however they are difficult to apply and are frequently ignored in project management practice.
- Precise business needs— successful projects are business-driven. There must be a reason for the project as this provides the basis for all decision-making
- Defined benefits— projects translate a business need into a business benefit. The ‘bottom line’ benefit must be defined in terms of source, timing and quantity
- Explicit plans— effective project planning allows people to work together in a coordinated way to achieve the project’s objectives. It is dependent upon an appropriate level of detail being presented in an appropriate way
- Agreed deliverables— a ‘deliverable’ is an unambiguous way of defining responsibilities in terms of outputs rather than inputs. Each phase or task within a project plan should have a tangible deliverable attached to it
- Proactive decision-making— project work has little momentum of its own, unlike routine work. All parties involved in a project have to take the initiative and proactively look for ways to drive and improve the project’s outcome
- Single point responsibility— in business, tasks are only completed successfully when people have unambiguous accountability. Single point responsibility for results is crucial, although the project manager is ultimately responsible for making the project happen
- Active follow-up— project planning has practical value only when it is used to help people do their work. It can also be used to identify problems while there is still time to overcome them. Project planning should be used throughout a project’s entire lifecycle to allocate tasks and monitor achievement
- Open communication— communication is the key to a successful project. By effectively communicating the project’s goals and issues, everyone involved can take the initiative and fully contribute with ideas and decisions
- Good teamwork— teamwork is absolutely critical but does not happen automatically. Projects often involve people from different parts of an organisation who may have competing priorities and different perspectives. The project manager is responsible for developing and encouraging teamwork
- Strong leadership— successful projects are usually led by people who are committed to the project’s objectives, with a clear view of where the project is going and how it will get there. Leadership skills are as important as technical project management skills.
The benefits of project management
Applying project management principles takes time, effort, disciplines and techniques. The results are there for the taking if you are prepared to put in the effort.
At the start of a project, the project management approach may not necessarily show immediate results but the investment always pays off in the long run. Project management adds value in a number of ways including the following:
- Maximising the benefits of the project by focusing everyone involved on the business need and working to improve the value of the result
- Advancing the benefits by minimising the time required and, wherever possible, achieving a phased delivery of results
- Optimising resources by ensuring that everyone knows what they have to do
- Minimising costs by ensuring that only essential work is completed
- Avoiding wasted time by communicating and running effective meetings that result in agreed actions – which are then completed
Millions of dollars can be saved on projects using project management principles and project management practice. It can dramatically accelerate beneficial change and greatly increase the satisfaction of everyone involved. When applied with sensitivity and adjustment, the benefits of project management far outweigh the time and energy invested in it.