Why is project management needed?
I have five different answers to this question. Perhaps you can think of some other answers.
- The world is complex and ever-changing.
Much of the developed world is characterized by cultural diversity and high
geographic migration. Organizations are impacted by changes in
employment practices (layoffs, hiring, and employee turnover) and
attitudes toward work (reduced company loyalty and increased emphasis
on quality of life in non-work-related activities). Technology
continues to advance. Companies drive towards process improvement in
order to better satisfy customers and increase profitability.
Project management also has a large service component. Companies are
increasingly outsourcing projects that used to be performed internally.
Training is one example.
In response to these changes, organizations constantly launch initiatives to meet customer
requirements or simply to survive. These initiatives often result in
projects that are ill-conceived and that have unrealistic completion
dates. Employees assigned to oversee these projects frequently have
insufficient experience, expertise, and time.
Project management is an ideal approach to optimize these expectations in a
rational and reasonable way. Unfortunately, there are still far too
many people who do not have an appreciation of project management and
the benefits it can provide.
- Many people are unfamiliar with project management subject matter.
I have often heard this statement:
Isn’t project management just common sense? All we need for our projects is
software and a technical person to form and lead a team.
Studies indicate that a very high percentage of projects do not meet their
original objectives as defined by schedule, cost, and performance. It
takes a great deal of knowledge, training, and effort to effectively
plan, implement, and control a project.
- The cost of failure is high.
When projects are not successful, the consequences are often significant.
Projects that result in high cost overruns and extreme delays generate
employee frustration and customer dissatisfaction. Poorly managed
projects related to new product introductions, computer system
conversions, and building construction open the door for competitors
and even set the stage for organizational insolvency.
- The scope is wide.
There are more projects currently taking place than at any other time in
history. Company consolidations (mergers and acquisitions), new
releases of computer software, research proposals, international
business, off-shore manufacturing start-ups, telecommunication
improvements, new construction, and urban renewal represent popular
- The time to market is short.
Customers are demanding newer and better products and services in less time and
at a lower cost. Working harder or hiring a few more people does not
meet these demands. A different structural approach, which includes
self-directed work teams, virtual corporations, and employees working
from remote locations, is part of the solution. Progressive thinking,
which examines what is currently being done and how it can be done
better, is another way to improve projects.
An Overview of Project Management
Project management is a very timely topic for these times. It is a field that
is finally starting to come into prominence. Many project management
professional societies are emerging.
The Project Management Institute (PMI) is the premier project management
professional organization in North America. If you are interested in
preparing for and taking the Project Management Professional (PMP)
examination, be sure to obtain A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK).
This guide is the essential resource to increase your knowledge of key
PMP concepts. You can purchase this excellent reference directly from
PMI or from other booksellers for a modest cost.
Some universities and colleges offer undergraduate and graduate degrees in
project management. Many organizations recognize the importance of
project management by establishing and training full-time professional
Despite the recent focus on project management, it is not a new topic. Project
management was used to build pyramids in Egypt and Mexico and roads and
aqueducts in Rome.
Project management is straightforward. It has universal application, ranging
from building an undersea transportation route (the Chunnel connecting
England and France) to planning and holding a fifty-year high school
reunion. Any organization can use project management. I know of
projects that were successfully conceived by a one-person consulting
firm, as well as by a federal housing authority agency.
A Situational Approach
Successful projects use a situational approach. I remember a team at a nearby firm
who worked on two projects during a sixteen-month period. The first
project was an unqualified success, but the second project exceeded the
scheduled due date by 80 percent and overran the budget by $75,000.
During the closure process for the second project, team members
divulged that they used the same techniques as they did for the first
project. Unfortunately, the second project required a different
Project management creates change. Anyone who comes into contact with a project
is affected. The severity of the change depends on the nature of your
project and the size of your organization. Project management also requires change. Since each project is different, personnel who may have never worked together before now support a unique project plan.
A Firm Foundation
All successful projects are erected upon a firm foundation formed through
the use of objectives, planning, leading, motivating, controlling,
reporting, and negotiating. There are no shortcuts. When you use a
“just do it” action-oriented approach for your projects, you probably
need to re-work your results. The saying, “Those who fail to plan, plan
to fail,” is certainly appropriate for project management.
I hope that this introduction is increasing your awareness of the
importance of project management. My hunch is that you already know it
is an important topic, otherwise, you probably would not be taking this
Programs and Tasks Versus Projects
Early in my career, I remember when my boss would visit me and announce, “I
have a project for you.” Since I was a cooperative and obliging
subordinate, I gladly accepted the assignment. The assignment was
typically something as basic as reviewing a few standard reports to
determine what products had been sold in the past few weeks.
Now that I know more, I consider what my boss called a project to be a task.
Task, program, management, planning, project—what is the difference, and does it really matter?
- Programs: Programs are generally larger in scope than projects and do not have a definitive end. For example, Popularizing Soccer in the United States is a program, and so is The War on Drugs. Within these programs, a number of projects are possible. An example pertaining to the soccer program may be a research project to determine what marketing mix variables would appeal to designated soccer target markets.
- Tasks: Tasks can be secondary and support projects, or they can exist as part of ongoing operations. Tasks are often completed by an individual and may not be complex or need to be integrated with other tasks.
Terminology and Definitions
One of the major challenges with project management is to create common understanding. Standard definitions and terminology are needed. It is confusing when textbooks are contradictory.
I own a textbook that uses an important project management term, Earned Value, to define a method to measure overall project performance. Another textbook uses the same term as a synonym for budgeted cost of work performed, a variable mentioned in the first textbook as an element of earned value. In this case, one author is using earned value to define earned value.
Hopefully, as PMI emerges as a recognized authority for project management, standardized terminology will be developed to help clearly define such terms.