Project Management

by Alan Harpham, Tony Kippenberger, Graham Bosman

What is project management?

Managing projects is one of the oldest and most respected accomplishments of mankind.

Professor Peter Morris, The Management of Projects

The term ‘project management’ covers all the activities required to start, run and then close a project. So, what is a project?

A project is most easily described as a unique assignment or a ‘one-off’ activity, rather than normal day-to-day operations or ‘business as usual’. What makes it different is that it has a start date and an end date. But it also has a number of other features:

  • It has a clear purpose
  • It will use resources
  • It will cost time and probably money
  • It will involve a number or lots of people
  • It will be complex
  • In other words, it’s not a simple task, but a number of inter-related tasks
  • It involves a number of people who need to be informed what they are required to do
  • It will run over a period of time
  • It will go through a series of sequential stages, called a life cycle
  • It will deliver an output that the owner can then put to use to achieve a desired outcome for the organisation.

Of course, taken to an extreme, there are all sorts of minor activities that could fall within much of this definition – like making a cup of tea. However, the fact is that while making a cup of tea involves more than one activity, it is not usually considered complex enough, or important enough, to be called a project.

Experience has demonstrated that there is a significantly higher likelihood of success if we manage complex activities – those which have established timescales and defined outputs – as projects. Having a project manager responsible for achieving the outputs provides a focus, and also the tools, that are not found in alternative approaches to activity delivery.

Many activities in our personal, social and working lives can (and generally should) be run as projects: choosing and buying a new family car, having a new kitchen fitted, organising a wedding, producing a new brochure, arranging a leaving party (to pick a random mixture). So the disciplines of project management can be used to great effect in addition to what are seen as typical projects – like a new IT system or office relocation – or the mega-projects, such as building a power station or exploring a new oil field.

Project management is also increasingly applied to less tangible initiatives, such as marketing campaigns and organisational change initiatives, because of the benefits that the structure and discipline bring to the delivery of planned results.

Indeed, as the concept of project management has become widespread, more and more organisations – in all sectors of the economy – have adopted it as a way of undertaking a wide range of their activities. As a result, some have become very project-oriented.