What are the key concepts of project management, and how do they apply to different types of projects?
Photo by Carlos Muza / Unsplash

What are the key concepts of project management, and how do they apply to different types of projects?

Project managers require communication, organization, problem-solving, and leadership skills. They must manage multiple projects, motivate teams, and communicate with team members, clients, and managers. The key focus areas include project phases, methodologies, challenges, and skill enhancement.

PROJECT

To successfully manage a project from start to finish, an understanding of project management principles is crucial. Firstly, it is important to comprehend the context of a project. A project is a temporary undertaking that aims to create a unique product, service, or result. In the real world, projects are comprised of interrelated tasks with defined start and finish times, all working together towards a common objective. Best practices for projects share two key characteristics: they are temporary with a definite start and finish, and the product or service they create is significantly different from others in the same category. By adhering to these principles, project managers can ensure that their projects are completed efficiently, on time, and within budget.

PROJECT MANAGEMENT

According to the PMBok Guide, project management involves applying knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet project requirements. In simpler terms, it is a department within an organization that collaborates with other departments to focus on project activities throughout the project life cycle to achieve the objectives of a defined product or service within the set time, budget, scope, and quality. Project management involves planning, organizing, and controlling the organization’s services to achieve short-term objectives that contribute to the overall vision and business plan. The project manager works with all key stakeholders to deliver project outcomes.

To achieve an agreed level of project success, top management must commit to the project outcomes, and internal and external stakeholders must passionately support the project. Best practice project management involves a cross-organizational focus with different but critical roles for project sponsors, project managers, and project teams. It is essential for all critical stakeholders to understand each other’s roles and responsibilities concerning project outcomes and the achievement of corporate goals for strategic success.

The key roles in project management are the project sponsor, project manager, and project team member. The project sponsor is accountable for the project, approves the project proposal, assists the project manager in creating the project brief and initial project plan, ensures crucial business resources are available, supports the project manager in resolving risks and issues, reviews the project regularly, formally accepts the project deliverables, ensures the organization recognizes project achievements, and approves all changes to scope, schedule, and budget.

The project manager produces the project brief and preliminary project plan, ensures the project’s needs and expectations are fully understood and documented, develops the project plan, manages the day-to-day activities of the project, motivates and directs the project team, recognizes team member contributions, monitors team performance, prepares regular project status reports, manages risks and issues, raises requests for proposed changes to the project’s scope, ensures a Post Implementation Review is conducted and reported, and ensures the project deliverable is appropriately handed over.

The project team works under the guidance of the project manager, contributes technical expertise as required, cooperates within the task to meet project deliverables, and may include internal or external members, such as consultants and contractors.

MANAGEMENT BY PROJECTS

In order to effectively accomplish the overall strategic objectives of the organisation, a project-based management approach will be implemented. This approach entails considering all business activities as projects and managing them accordingly, which includes overseeing ongoing operations within the organisation. By adopting this method, the organisation will be able to ensure that all projects are aligned with its overall goals, and that resources are allocated in a manner that maximises efficiency and effectiveness. This will ultimately help to enhance the organisation's performance and position it for long-term success.

PROJECTS

When it comes to managing a team and completing tasks, it's important to understand the differences between project activities and regular operations. Project activities are unique, temporary endeavors with specific goals and objectives that require a team to work together to achieve them. On the other hand, regular operations are ongoing, routine tasks that keep an organization running smoothly.

To foster a dynamic team environment in project activities, it's essential to encourage open communication, collaboration, and a shared sense of purpose. This can be achieved through team-building activities, regular meetings, and clear communication about project goals and expectations.

Project activities can also be a catalyst for positive organizational change. By working together to achieve a common goal, team members can learn new skills, develop a sense of ownership and accountability, and build stronger relationships with one another. This can lead to increased morale, productivity, and a more positive work culture.

Flexibility is another key benefit of project activities. Unlike regular operations, projects often require teams to adapt to changing circumstances and adjust their approach as needed. This can help team members develop their problem-solving skills and learn to be more adaptable in the face of uncertainty.

Finally, having a fixed start and end date for project activities can provide clarity and structure for team members. This helps ensure that everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goals. It also allows for better planning and resource allocation, which can help ensure project success.

OPERATIONS

Within this particular section, we shall delve into the crucial operational aspects that pertain to ensuring a successful and efficient workflow. This involves establishing a well-structured and organized approach that is centered around specific objectives. Additionally, it is essential to prioritize continuous enhancement and improvement to ensure that our products or services remain consistent and of high quality. Furthermore, fostering a stable team dynamic is crucial to maintaining a positive and productive work environment. Finally, guaranteeing continuous support to our team members is essential to ensure that we are working towards our goals as a cohesive unit.

IMPORTANCE OF PROJECT MANAGEMENT

Effective project management is a critical aspect of any successful endeavour. By implementing strategic planning and meticulous oversight, project managers can ensure that all tasks are completed in a timely and cost-efficient manner. The ultimate objective is to enhance the overall quality of the final product or service while minimizing any potential risks or setbacks. Through careful organization, streamlined workflows, and diligent monitoring, project managers can increase productivity, boost profitability, and deliver outstanding results.

RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN MANAGEMENT DISCIPLINES

To effectively manage an organization, it's crucial to have a thorough understanding of the core management disciplines, which include general management, technical management, and project management. In particular, project management is a critical component of successfully executing organizational goals. To excel in this field, it's important to comprehend the principles of project management, including the key differences between functional management and project management. Moreover, a deep understanding of management and organizational behaviour is essential to navigate complex organizational structures. In this context, the role of the project manager is pivotal, and it's important to appreciate the qualities and functions required to lead a team effectively. By mastering these skills, you can become a successful project manager and play a vital role in helping your team achieve its objectives.

IMPORTANT MILESTONES OF PROJECT MANAGEMENT

1914:   Gantt Chart developed for production scheduling at the Frankford Arsenal

1930’s:   US Air Corp’s Materiel Division sets up a project office function to monitor the development and progress of aircraft manufacture

1951:    Bechtel used the term ‘Project Manager’ as assignment of responsibilities to one person (Transmountain Oil Pipeline in Canada)

1955:   US Navy created a ‘Special Projects Office’ to develop the Fleet Ballistic Missile, Polaris

1957:   The Special Projects Office developed PERT (Program Evaluation   Review Technique) to manage the hundreds of contractors

1958:  Civil & Civic (in Aust ) marketed itself as a project manager to external clients, taking full responsibility for the execution of all phases of projects, from inception to completion.

1959:  CPM (Critical Path Method) developed by Integrated Engineering   Control Group with a group at Remington Rand Univac. CPM cut turnaround times by 25%.

1959:  Harvard Business Review recognises Project Management as a distinctive management discipline.

1964:  PDM (Precedence Diagramming Method) developed by Stanford   University’s Civil Engineering Department on behalf of the US Bureau of Yards and Docks.

1970’s:

  • PM systems adopted outside construction and defence
  • Environmental issues addressed as part of project delivery
  • Organisations recognised the importance of effective upfront planning for the successful delivery of projects
  • Establishment of the first professional bodies for project management (PMI in USA and AIPM in Australia)

1980’s:

  • Introduction  of Time, Cost & Quality equation
  • Increase in ‘green issues’ as project focus
  • Proliferation of personal computers
  • Introduction of ethics, standards and accreditation

1990’s:

  • ‘Management by Projects’
  • TQM (Total Quality Management)

2000’s

  • Increased emphasis on risk management
  • Project Management Maturity Models developed

Referenced from: Fundamentals of Project Management, Rory Burke, Chapter2

ROLES OF PROJECT MANAGERS

The project manager’s principal role is that of integrator and communicator just because the project manager can view the project and how it fits the organisation’s overall plan. Irrespective of the lack of clear communications channels, the project manager ensures that all stakeholders are properly informed of the project status. The project manager also fills the role of team leader. Another critical role for a project manager is that of a decision-maker. The specific decisions may vary according to the type of project and the stage of the project’s life cycle at which the project manager must make the decision. Still, in any event, the project manager must take them. Decision making is not unique to project managers. Still, it is a vital role that impacts significantly on the project as a whole. The project manager also expects to fill the role of a climate builder or creator. The project manager should create a supportive climate, to begin with, so that the project manager can avoid negative conflict and unrest.

Project Managers plays roles of, Strategist (for the efficient use of project resources), Negotiator (to procure resources to support the project), Organiser (to integrate the team to act as a focal point for the management of the project), Leader (who recruit and provide oversight over the planning and execution of resources to support the project), Mentor (By providing counselling and consultation to members of the project team), Motivator (by creating an environment that maximises the team’s performance), Controller (by maintaining oversight over the efficacy with which resources are being used to support project objectives), Diplomat (by building and maintain alliances with project stakeholders to gain support for the project). Further down, the project manager combines skills and experience that characterises the profile through:

  • Project Manager Tools and Methods
  • Technical (Industry) Skills
  • Knowledge & Awareness of Project Environment
  • Basic Business & Management Skills
  • Leadership
  • Team and People Skills

PROJECT MANAGER MATURITY LEVELS

By aligning the Project Manager to a scale of maturity five levels:

Level 1: Technical Manager

  • Qualifications/Experience in a technical discipline
  • Superficial understanding of project management principles
  • Ad-hoc use of some project management tools

Level 2: Project Management Awareness

  • Some basic training in project management
  • General knowledge of project management terminology
  • Acknowledgement of the need for standard processes
  • Regular use of core project management tools

Level 3: Project Focussed Project Manager

  • Formal studies in project management
  • Recognition of the need to pro-actively manage
  • Adoption of standard templates and processes

Level 4: Integrated Project Manager

  • Formal qualifications/award in project management
  • Consistent use of standard methodology
  • Pro-actively manages all aspects of the project
  • Consistently applies general management skills to the internal and external project environments

Level 5: Continuous Improvement

  • Acts as mentor/coach to the project team
  • Regularly participates in professional development activities
  • Actively contributes to the organisation’s continuous improvement process.

Other Roles and Responsibilities within a Project

Program Manager

  • Accountable for the project and other projects that might be run concurrently
  • May act as the Project Sponsor or Project Champion

Project Sponsor

  • Is the lowest level in the organisation with authority to start and stop the project (aligns with Delegated Authorities Policy)
  • Provides the funding and resources for the project
  • Authorises or rejects scope changes
  • Is the first escalation point

Line / Functional Manager

  • Supports project staff
  • May facilitate the provision of budget and resources
  • Is not necessarily the Project Sponsor

Project Team Members

  • Contribute specific skills project to support the project delivery
  • Often provide technical input within the project
  • Are governed by the leadership structure administered by the Project Manager

Operations Staff

  • Support the Project Manager through Administrative Assistance as required.
  • Perform an ongoing role across multiple projects.
  • Often provide support in areas such as accounting, human resources management, general administration and IT support.

Just a history, the project management carrier started its development in the 50s and 60s as the perceived need to maintain a strong defence capability during the Cold War. The aim was to establish the importance of the USA in Space research and capacity. The need to develop increased ‘speed to market’ for consumer goods increased the complexity of project requirements, which grow in the influence of ‘people power’ and the impacts on project delivery, which flatter management structures within organisations and helps the development of faster and easier global communications, which resulted in the establishment of virtual project teams with members dispersed across the globe. These developments meant that traditional functional management structures with specialist managers overseeing specialist teams were no longer appropriate to deliver complex projects.

SKILLS THAT EXPERTISE PROJECT MANAGERS

Project management is a complex process that requires a deep understanding of the project's goals, resources, and overall progress. A project manager's primary responsibility is to manage the project and delegate technical work to other team members, while maintaining a comprehensive view of the project's status and ensuring its success.

In order to effectively manage a project, project managers must possess a broad range of skills and knowledge. Technical skills are crucial for understanding and mastering the specific activities involved in the project, while human skills are necessary for building collaboration and working effectively with team members. Conceptual skills are also important for understanding the project's broader political and social context, as well as its relationship to the organization as a whole.

Robert L Katz's three-skill approach to management provides a helpful framework for understanding the skills required for successful project management. Technical skills are essential for understanding the technical aspects of the project, while human skills are necessary for building strong relationships with team members and stakeholders. Conceptual skills are required for understanding the project's broader context and how it fits into the organization's goals and objectives.

Overall, project managers must be skilled in managing comprehensive professional teams and possess a range of technical, human, and conceptual skills in order to ensure project success. Effective project management requires careful oversight of resources, collaboration with team members and stakeholders, and a deep understanding of the project's goals and objectives. By mastering these skills, project managers can ensure that their projects are completed on time, within budget, and to the satisfaction of all stakeholders involved.

To perform their role the Project Manager requires the skills:

TechnicalHumanConceptual•Technical Awareness
•Budgeting
•Estimating Time•Leadership
•Management
•Listening & Communication
•Negotiating
•Conflict Management
•Personal Time Management
•Team Building•Organising
•Planning
•Problem Solving
•Analysis
•Decision Making

REFERENCES:

  • Katz, RL 1974, ‘Skills of an effective administrator’, in Business Classics: Fifteen Key
  • Concepts for Managerial Success, Harvard Business Review, 1991, USA, pp. 23-35

BEING A GOOD SPECIALIST DOES NOT MEAN BEING A GOOD MANAGER

It has been common in the industry that specialists with more excellent experience are promoted to managerial positions expecting to bring good fruits, but that’s not true. Considering project management, the successful transition from specialist to manager requires recognising the necessity to learn new skills and then work to develop them. That’s the moment in the career of most professionals; if they are to progress further, they must complete the evolution from specialist to manager. Some are successful and advance to executive positions, whereas others struggle in their new roles despite being competent specialists.

Although a few fortunate individuals intuitively pick up the ability to manage, the great majority of those who successfully make the transition do so by recognising that they must learn new skills.

The transition from technical specialist to project manager requires skills in managing staff, building productive connections with fellow managers, clients, and strategic partners to support the organisation acquire its strategic goals.

Motivation and leadership skills are necessary for practical staff management. A project manager’s ability to uplift project teams reaches from their capability to administer rewards and penalties. Project managers who manage poorly tend to be over-dependent on punishment to get results; this usually creates more problems than solves. On the other hand, good leaders are not afraid of punishment or discipline, yet, they learn to use rewards to encourage team fellows. They do this by identifying individual requirements, redesigning jobs or setting challenging goals.

The absence of leadership skills has differing impacts in different situations. Poor project managers see leadership as nothing more than giving orders when handling people outside their profession. They usually get a submission but at the expense of a less powerful or confident team

and often lose productivity. When they manage experts from their discipline (engineers in teams or lawyers in a group), they go to the other extreme and delegate to the point of the action of renouncing or rejecting their responsibility. The most challenging part of the shift is the need for project managers to build productive relationships with their fellow managers, contractors and clients, many of whom are from different disciplines.

Specialists often work in isolation.

They have notable independence and are generally left alone to focus on their task; consequently, they develop their terminology and degrade other project management functions such as risk management or communications management by usually labelling them just ‘admin‘.

Life as the project manager could not be more different; each day brings a creek of interruptions and the continuing need to negotiate (or compete for resources) with other managers. Good project managers are prepared to accept that their technical expertise is only one of the many vital competencies to ensure business success. They quickly pick up the skills needed to communicate with their equivalents, contractors, clients and contribute as equal team members.

By contrast, poor managers adopt a mindset of chauvinistic defensiveness and self-righteous intolerance of criticism by locking themselves in their office to get some ‘real work’ done without being bothered by ‘admin’. Consequently, they are excluded from critical discussions of the project’s liability, team, and careers.

Another element of the transition to the project manager is the requirement to make strategic decisions. Experts may be given autonomy regarding working on the project or dealing with a contractor. Still, they do not generally decide which projects they work on or which clients they will have. On the other hand, project managers spend much of their time making (or contributing to) these critical decisions. Strategic decision-making requires an ability to step back and see the big picture. After a career focussing on their discipline, some professionals find this difficult to achieve. As a result, they tend to micro-manage their team, getting so lost in technical details that they completely lose sight of the big picture.

The good news for aspiring project managers is that leaders can learn all these skills. Once learned, leaders should regularly practise them until they are applied automatically. Technical experts or professionals who wish to become project managers first need to develop strategic and people management skills and manage relationships and then seek out every opportunity to demonstrate that they can apply them. Suppose a permanent project management position is not available. In that case, temporary jobs such as filling in for a project manager on leave may provide that opportunity.

From technical expert to the project manager is not a promotion – it is a career change.

HOW MUCH TECHNICAL TRAINING DOES A PROJECT MANAGER NEED?

From: PM Network – May 1998

John P Sahlin is a graduate of the US Naval Academy and is the manager of training and consulting at Project Control, an international project management consulting and software company in Annapolis, Md.

As a Project Management Consultant, I have encountered organisations with narrow definitions of project management; definitions that basically describe a projectised functional manager or a technical lead – project managers who are directly involved with produce development and who are more like the technical expert on the team, with a few scheduling / reporting responsibilities.

This definition of project management caused me to re evaluate my resume. Do I have the technical expertise to be a project manager in today’s world? I do not have a technical degree, but I have significant management training, including trail-by-fire training in project management. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge describes a relationship among general management techniques, project management techniques, and application area knowledge (technical skills), but does not discuss the depth of technical knowledge a project manager must have in order to be successful.

With the wide array of industries making use of project management, it is unlikely that there will be any consensus on the depth of technical knowledge required. Despite this, a few general rules apply across all application areas.

Never Tell Your Team How to Perform a Task.

By setting and prioritising the project goals (milestones, control gates, and so forth), you are telling the members of your team what needs to be achieved. Leave it to the technical experts to decide how to accomplish the tasks. If we have learned nothing else from countless hours of team building exercises, we should learn that a group can brainstorm more effectively than an individual. It follows that leaving the how to the technical team is likely to result in an option you will not have considered by yourself.

Leaving the technical direction decisions to the experts does not hamper your ability to manage. In fact, be decentralising the technical issues, you improve your ability to manage.We are limited in the amount of information we can control. By passing the technical decisions to the technical leads, our energies are available to focus on the project’s strategic goals.

Know What You Don’t Know, and Know the Sources of That Information.

The most important lesson you can learn in project management is that you can’t know it all. Knowing the limits of your knowledge is invaluable to a manager. By recognising your limits, you can focus on the all-important task of identifying the sources of this knowledge.

These sources can take the form of media or members of your team. When identifying these sources of information, you must also consider the availability and veracity of those sources.

“I Don’t Know” is an Acceptable Answer.

In project management, unlike school, there is a penalty for guessing. By guessing, you endanger your reputation, as well as that of your entire team. By refusing to admit the limits of your knowledge, you risk the success of your project. More important, you risk losing the respect of your team. The leadership aspects of project management are often ignored, but integrity is your No 1 ally in organisations where you may not have direct authority (ie, functional or matrix organisations).

An important corollary to this rule is: Never answer the same question with “I don’t know” twice. If you don’t know the answer, find out what the answer is and don’t forget it. You can greatly improve team morale by showing the team that you are willing to learn and that you are enthusiastic about the project. Ignorance is forgivable, laziness is not.

Learn as Much as is Practical.

While no one expects you to be the expert in all fields, you should be able to speak intelligently about the technology involved with your project. You should be able to explain to your sponsor (or customer) why it is beneficial to choose a particular course of action. You may also have to make decisions based on reports from your technical experts. In order to weigh technical options, you must be able to understand them.

The down side of training is that it takes you away from your duties. When deciding what technical training to pursue, ask yourself if it will help you manage your team on your next project. If the training is unlikely to have any bearing on future projects, it is probably not worth taking you off your current project to pursue. Your primary responsibility as a manager is to lead your team – not to be the single point of contact for technical issues.

Know Enough to Avoid Getting “Snowed”.

It is a sad fact of human nature that we try to cover our faults or failures. We are tempted to conceal our blemishes with technical jargon and statistics. A project manager needs to have enough technical knowledge to week through the numbers and derive the true meaning of the reports.

An example of this issue is Earned Value reporting. I remember my first Quarterly Progress Review on a contract with the US Navy: I was representing the government project manager. The contractor building the system was giving an EVA presentation to the government project manager. Everyone’s eyes glazed over as the cost control expert rattled off a series of figures and acronyms. During a break, one of the contractor’s engineers asked me to explain the presentation his company had just given. I showed him that given the current performance figures (about 70 percent CPI and SPI) it was mathematically impossible to achieve their goal of 92 percent CPI and SPI by the end of the project. He looked at me and said, “So you’re telling me that we’re lying to you.” I just smiled.

Project Leadership.

These rules are not peculiar to project management. In fact, they are an application of general leadership skills I developed in the Navy. Little attention is paid to the leadership aspects of project management. Perhaps this is because the word leadership makes many of us think of Patton and his tanks, or Farragut at Mobile Bay. But leadership is not unique to the military; we can lead our project teams without being “command and control” martinets.

The best definition of leadership I have ever heard is the “art of getting people to do what they don’t want to, and making them think it was their idea in the first place.” Project leadership is the subset of project management that deals with interpersonal communications and relationships. This set of skills is used throughout the project lifecycle and in all process groups defined by the PMBOK Guide.

As project managers, we spend our careers communicating – with our team, to our customers, and with upper management. Our interpersonal communication skills are vastly more important to us than our specific technical knowledge. If we can successfully lead projects in one application area, we could take the lead in projects in other areas. A project manager in a software firm could make the transition to construction management with a relatively short learning curve by focusing on his or her ability to lead the project team to success – the technical skills are secondary.

Recommendations for Industry.

Moving into the next century, organisations need to redefine the term project management. The project manager must become more than a technical lead, enabling organisations to leverage the wealth of experience and leadership skills that can improve their quality, efficiency, and “bottom line”. In order to adopt the practices of project management, organisations need to place more value on the leadership (non technical) aspects of project management.

A PROJECT MANAGER DOES NOT need intense technical training. It is more important that project managers hone the leadership and management skills that are common to all application areas.

Comments