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What is Project Management?

In this Project Management Guide for Beginners, we talk a lot about project management alongside its various strategies, methodologies, and processes. But this is the place in the guide where we define what it is and give you key terms as well as a basic overview.

Definition: What Does Project Management Mean?

What is project management and how does it help an organization meet its goals? Project management, according to the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide), is the application of skills, tools, and techniques to project activities in order to meet project requirements. It is the act of managing all aspects of a project, from team to tasks to tools. This is why project management is important: without it, you're relegating your project to chance or chaos, neither of which is ideal. But when you engage in it, there are specific processes and practices that must take place in order for it to be successful.

Purpose: Why Project Management is Needed

Why is project management so important? Because nothing ever gets done without first building a project plan, and no project plan ever gets executed without the proper environment or the proper processes. Project management then is the action that helps create and execute that project plan. It applies managerial and interpersonal skills to the process of successfully bringing a project from conception to completion according to stated requirements.

Context: What You Need to Know About Project Management

What does project management entail? Here we tackle the context of project management:

Project Processes

Projects are done using processes — which are defined as "actions that bring about results." And because the Guide to the PMBOK recognizes 47 different project management processes, it became easier to group them into 5 basic process groups and 10 knowledge areas that typical projects have. We tackle those in our About PMBOK page.

Project Management Phases

Project management is necessarily done in phases, in order to improve control and quality. This means a large project is broken down into more manageable stages, each with a specific deliverable, and done in a specific sequence. At the end of each phase, a review is typically conducted on the deliverable as well as the performance of the project team. This helps the team ascertain whether the project proceeds to the next phase or undergoes revision. It also determines how to improve the performance of all involved.

Project Life Cycle

Collectively, all the phases of a project make up the project life cycle. There are many different project phases and types of project life cycles, depending on the industry and the particular project. A project life cycle for software development, for example, would be vastly different from one for construction.

Project Stakeholders

Project management actively involves individuals and even organizations whose interests are affected by the project. These are called project stakeholders. Managing stakeholders is one of the key skills that a project manager needs.

Process: How Does Project Management Work?

The project manager, alongside team members and key stakeholders, draw up the entire project plan, which entails identifying objectives, as well as clarifying scope and budget. Then these items are executed by project team members in a collaborative, often iterative process that allows for changes and constant improvements. Project managers must employ general management skills to facilitate project work. Skills that come into play here include: strategic planning, accounting, communication, research and development, organizational behavior, time management, plus the multitude of managerial soft skills pertaining to leadership, motivation, and conflict resolution. If you're asking "what does project management involve?"

We outline some of the more typical events that a project goes through below:
  • Kick-off meeting: tell the team the goals and high-level objectives, lay out what details you have
  • Stakeholder analysis: find out who will be most affected by the project so they can be consulted
  • Project scope definition: identify all requirements, deliverables, and scope
  • Work Breakdown Structure (WBS): divide the project phases into manageable chunks of work that can be more easily handled
  • Risk management planning: identifying and planning for the most probable risks that a project may hit within the project life cycle
  • Project review/lessons learned: doing a debriefing at the close of a project in order to glean lessons learned that can be added to the organization's knowledge base or best practices

Further Reading

Check out all the project management blog posts in the Wrike blog.