Article: What Is Project Management?

Oct. 19, 2011

This article is the first in a “what is”-series about different business areas.
A lot of people know what project management is on a brief level. In this article we will bring a bit more clarity to what project management is and also some information about a few of the more popular methodologies.

Project Management is a group of processes in combination for planning and organizing activities that should be performed to achieve a goal, as well as scheduling who should perform them.

A Project is a temporary collection of the activities that should be performed to achieve the goal.
The project is in most cases connected to a start and stop in time but can also be continuous until the project goal is reached.

In a project you have a Project Manager who is responsible of planning the activities, connect resources to the activities and make sure to keep the project team together. It is also the project manager who is responsible for reporting project progress to whoever ordered the project or to any other stakeholder.

In smaller projects the scope of responsibility for the project manager is usually decided by the part who orders the project. The larger the project is, the more common it is that there are several groups of people between the original ordering part and the project manager.
The name Project Manager is used in most traditional approaches, but can be different in other methodologies.

Depending on what kind of project you are running and how you wish to run a project there are different guidelines, also called project methodologies or project approaches.
Examples of approaches are:

Traditional Project Management

The traditional project management approach is something that most people have been in contact with at some stage.
In this approach you move through different stages, starting from the Initiation phase through different phases until you get to the Completion phase.

After the Initiation phase is the Planning phase. This is where a lot of time is spent to define what should be completed in the project. During the planning and also the execution of the project activities are in a lot of cases planned in a Gantt-chart where you can see dependencies between activities, length of activities and responsibilities in a nice graph.

This approach is sometimes criticized since there can be long time from the planning phase to the completion phase. Due to the long time, reality of what should be delivered is therefore sometimes changed since a lot of surrounding parameters are changed.

Agile Project Management

An Agile project management approach is created from software development to make the software development project more flexible. In this case you set up the overall goal for the project and prioritize to do the most important activities first.

One of the most popular agile methods is called Scrum. In scrum you build up a backlog of activities and put the most important on top. Each phase are called sprints and after each sprint the project team should have some result to present. Each sprint is normally between 2 and 6 weeks which makes the project possible to switch focus quickly to be able to meet new requirements.

This kind of project management approach was initially designed to work for product development but is lately used for other types of projects, even outside the software department.
In Scrum the roles are called Product Owner, who is responsible for the prioritization of the product activities to be sent into a sprint, and Scrum Master, who is more like the Project Manager. A scrum master is the person making sure that the Scrum process is being followed and also protects the team from interruptions and having more work added, so called scope creep. A product owner represents the customer and can be said to be the "voice of the customer".

There are several different project management methodologies, usually designed to have either the the traditional approach or the agile approach as base.
Among the traditional approaches you will for instance find RUP (Rational Unified Process), PRINCE2 and Waterfall.
Among the more agile approaches you will, besides Scrum, also find XP (Extreme Programming) and RAD (Rapid Applications Development).

For whatever approach you are choosing to work with it is hard to plan and communicate without having a Project Management Software. There are different types of project management software recommended depending on what kind of approach you are using. A few project management software support more than one project approach, but most are focused on trying to support one approach the best possible way.

Some functionality that is important when looking for the Project Management Software that is best for you is to understand what kind of planning you want to do, what the project structure should look like as well as how you wish to communicate in the project team and what sort of reports you wish to have from the software.