What is Project Management?

By: Kaplan Financial Education
March 22, 2019
Illustration representing the varying roles of a project manager

Project management is an often overlooked skill set that is crucial to an organization's success. Poor project management can stifle productivity, kill creativity, and decrease worker satisfaction. In this article, we will explain project management basics and offer some tips to help you successfully develop a project plan. 

Project Management Basics

In order to understand what project management is, it is useful to break down the meaning of both terms.

A project can be defined as a temporary effort made up of a set of related activities undertaken with limited constraints to achieve a unique set of goals or objectives. A project is not ongoing, unchanging, or repetitive.

Management is the process of setting and achieving goals for the project through planning, organizing, directing, and controlling tasks. Essentially, project management is the process by which a project is managed.

Stages of Project Management

The project management process has five distinct steps, which are broken out below:

  1. Initiating: In this initial stage, the project and high-level goals are defined. The implementations team is given authority and resources for the project and stakeholders are identified.
  2. Planning: In this second stage, the project tasks are defined including what will be delivered, who will be delivering it, and when it will be delivered. Costs, resources, schedules, and dependencies will be defined. Implementation, monitoring, and adjustment procedures will also be outlined at this point. All stakeholders will agree to the project plan in this stage.
  3. Executing: In this third stage, the project manager implements the plan as written and agreed upon.
  4. Managing and Controlling: In this fourth stage, the project manager continues executing the plan, including updating and changing the plan as necessary. This is not a static process, but requires ongoing changes to all aspects of the plan as well as monitoring the implementation in order to identify when changes must be made.
  5. Closing:In this final stage, the planned delivery is complete. Input is provided for subsequent projects. Some common questions to ask in this stage include: What processes should be changed in the future and why? What lessons did we learn from this project?

Project Plan Tips

The process of creating the project plan is just as important as the plan itself. The project plan defines what will happen in the project, what will be delivered, and how it will be implemented. It also defines how the team will monitor work, make changes, and communicate.

The process of creating the project plan allows all stakeholders to participate, discuss, and understand the project. The intention of the process is to discover problems or misunderstandings upfront, identify risks, and negotiate solutions. A good project manager ensures that all stakeholders not only understand the plan, but also agree to it. Planning is not just about agreement, but about reaching an understanding.

It is also important to avoid all ambiguity in the plan. Ensure that your project plan uses a process that highlights misconceptions, different ideas, and misunderstandings upfront. Work through those situations so that all stakeholders understand and agree to the plan.

Negotiations with Stakeholders

The key to creating a successful project plan is getting the buy-in of all stakeholders. Below are two ways to get a better understanding of each stakeholder's investment in the project.

  • Ask why: Get clarity on your understanding of the stakeholder’s position. It is also helpful in enabling you to reach agreement when there are conflicts about project requirements. Asking why may help your stakeholders formulate their own opinions more clearly as well.
  • Ask about priorities: This will help you understand how strongly your stakeholders feel about the importance of each requirement. This will also help you prioritize which requirements are essential for the project and which requirements can be declared outside the scope of the project.