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What is Project Management?

There are a lot of theories out there about the definition of project management. But what is project management in practice?  What do we need to know as managers in order to implement successful projects?

Let's start with the basics....

Humans beings are natural problem-solvers. When a problem stands between us and our aims, hopes, ambitions and aspirations we utilize all our resources to come up with a system and achieve our goals. Through projects we attempt to solve the problems which currently prevent our objectives from becoming a reality.  

What is a project?    

A project is  a temporary endeavor that aims to produce a solution to a problem, a new strategy to implement an action plan with tangible results etc. All projects are similar in structure. The all have the following elements:

- a defined life-cycle with a start-date and an end-date

- specific objectives of what needs to be achieved

- established allocated budgets and resources

- defined outcomes with indicators to measure success

Regardless the size and the complexity of a project, planning is the heart to its success and it sets the the framework for its future. Good planning is made possible  through project management. 

What is Project Management?

Project management is the process and the tool that combines and optimizes all the needed resources to successfully complete the project and receive the expected outcomes/deliverables. Project management involves overall planning, action planning -specific activities, timelines, responsibilities as well as expected outcomes. Project management brings together a set of tools and techniques to strategise, implement and monitor the project. 

Project management process goes through the following stages:

1. Initiation 

2. Planning

3. Implementation

4. Monitoring

5. Evaluation/Closing

What is Project Management in real life again?

There are two general approaches to project management.

Bottom-up approach (participatory): stakeholders identify and analyze the need, the possibilities to fill the gaps or generate new ways to improve a situation. A proposal is submitted after the feasibility stage.

Top-down approach (directive): management assigns the project to the project manager.

Although more time consuming, the bottom-up project model is the best approach as it shifts the power to where the need and the potential is. It gives ownership to all the stakeholders involved and it also provides opportunities for them to make decisions during all the project management steps.

This approach also strengthens commitment and accountability and it develops sustainable values. Read more about Employee Empowerment. 

The top-down approach dictates the needs and the ways to tackle them. Management decides who will be in charge, how the project will be implemented, with what resources and timeframes. 

This approach does not offer the same values as the first one, but it does provides quicker solutions.

The project stakeholders may not actively participate in all project management stages but there are  opportunities for them to remain in an advisory role or support the evaluation process.

Manager's Key Guidelines to Successful Project Management:

Regardless the approach; top-down or bottom-up, the majority of the project components are developed, implemented and monitored by the project manager. 

Here's a set of guidelines to support your project journey:

- Ensure the goals of the project are concrete, realistic and tangible. The SMART tool is very helpful.

- Develop an action plan with specific activities, timelines, responsibilities, resources needed, expected outcomes and indicators.

- Identify project stakeholders: A stakeholder is anyone who has an interest, or an influence or is directly effected by the project. It's important to recognize them and  their roles right from the beginning of the project. A stakeholder analysis would be the best tool to do this.

- Recognize project challenges, constrains and threats: identifying project limitations and challenges from the beginning makes it easier to deal with them when the time comes. It also helps to have a contingency plan if things don't go as planned. 

- Define project budget: Break down all project-costs and identify how much admin costs, delivery cost, outsourcing cost etc. This way you will be able to monitor the budget properly.

- Identify project resources, skills, capabilities, physical, intellectual assets - Develop an inventory of resources, skills etc. It's important to recognize and work with the assets of the project. This is a great way to re-cycle internal talents and expertise and bring them to a different level.

- Identify tools and techniques to plan,implement,monitor and evaluate the project

- Communicate- Communication is vital in project management. You need to define and justify your project to your clients, partners, funders. You must find ways to have them buy-in and support the project. Keep everyone updated with the what's going on, involve them and their expertise in planning and implementation as much as possible. Keep written record of  everything, no matter how time consuming!

Related Articles:

Project Management Basics

Basic Management Skills

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