Project Management



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What Is Project Management?


A project is initiated to solve a specific problem. All projects have two essential characteristics [1]:

  1. Every project has a beginning and an end.
  2. Every project produces a unique outcome. The outcome could be tangible or intangible.

That makes managing projects different from managing ongoing operations, like manufacturing and other repetitive processes. Ongoing operations have the opposite characteristics of projects in that they have no end and they produce similar, often identical, outcomes.

Project Management

The PMBOK® Guide definition of project management is the “application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements”. [2]

As the pace of change increases in every aspect of our societies – e.g. government, businesses, start-ups, and non-profits – the ability to manage projects continues to grow in importance.

This means that people at every level – executives, managers, and team members – must be able to speak the language of project management. Likewise, also entrepreneurs are project managers: they start with an idea and create a company.

Project Life Cycle

A project life cycle represents the different phases of a project. It defines [3]

  • What work will be performed in each phase
  • What deliverables will be produced and when
  • Who is involved in each phase
  • How management will control and approve work produced in each phase.

Not all projects can simply be transferred into life-cycle phases. In addition, it might be possible for different definitions of life-cycle phases to exist, even in the same company. [4]

The PMBOK® Guide identifies five logically grouped processes that are used to manage projects. Even if some of them are predominant at certain phases of a project, they may come into play at any time. [2] The five process groups and some of the activities within these groups include:

Project Initiation

  • Prioritise project given resource limits
  • Recognize the benefits of the project
  • Prepare the documents to approve the project
  • Assign the core resources, including the project manager who will have the responsibility of the next steps

Project Planning

  • Define the work requirements
  • Define the quality and quantity of work
  • Define the resources needed
  • Schedule the activities
  • Evaluate the various risks

Project Execution

  • Negotiate on behalf of the project team
  • Direct and manage the work
  • Remove obstacles necessary to help the team succeed

Project Monitoring and Control

  • Track progress
  • Compare actual outcome to predicted outcome
  • Analyse variances and impacts
  • Make adjustments where necessary

Project Closure

  • Verify that all of the work has been accomplished
  • Close the project contractually
  • Close the project financially (charge numbers)
  • Do the administrative closure (paperwork)
  • Review the project. The purpose is to learn lessons that can be applied to future projects. Two questions should be asked: “What did we do well?” and “What do we want to improve next time?”

Successful Projects

The Definition of a Successful Project

There are different definitions for a successful project. One of them [1] lists three success factors. However, it is not enough to produce high quality but the project needs to solve the right problem as well.

  • Solves the right problem with high quality. The project scope needs to be fulfilled, and on top of this, the outcome of the project must meet the customer’s expectations for use. Quality is often difficult to define and measure. However, the results must be accepted by the customer and/or stakeholders.
  • On time. The project outcome is delivered according to schedule. Some projects can even be worthless if they are not on time.
  • On budget. The project meets forecasted cost estimates. Projects are investments, and they should always bring in more than what they cost the organization.

If you change one or more of these variables (schedule, budget or scope), the ones remaining will also be changed.

You must make sure everybody has the same definition of success. To avoid different views on what success means, you have to set realistic expectations with all the project’s stakeholders, manage these expectations throughout the project, and re-evaluate the target if necessary.

Seven Project Success Factors

The best project managers are also great leaders: they have vision, they motivate, they bring people together, and they accomplish great things. Even if this sounds challenging, project management is a skill that can be taught and learned.

Certain characteristics are consistently found on successful projects. Boiled down, they consist of the seven project success factors below. [1]

  • Agreement on the goals. Agreement among the project team, customers, and management on the goals of the project seems obvious. Yet many projects do not have clear goals.
  • An action plan with responsibilities. Every project should have a plan that shows an overall path and clear responsibilities. This plan can be used to measure progress during the project. It contains the details for estimating the people, money, equipment, and materials necessary to get the job done.
  • Constant, effective communication. There needs to be constant, effective communication among everyone involved in the project. A successful project is a result of people agreeing on goals and then meeting them. Success depends on the ability to come to agreement, coordinate action, recognize and solve problems, and react to changes.
  • A controlled scope. From the very start, the successful project manager will manage stakeholder expectations. This means ensuring that everyone involved understands exactly what can be accomplished within a given time frame and budget. This is an important, ongoing task throughout the project, especially if changes are introduced. Stakeholders must not only agree to the original scope of the project, but also understand any changes in scope.
  • Management support. Even the most enthusiastic, creative, and motivational project leaders will stumble if they do not have the management’s support. Project managers rarely have enough formal authority to make all the decisions it takes to complete a project. Therefore, they rely on people in traditional management roles to supply people and equipment, make policy decisions, and remove organizational obstacles.
  • Strategic alignment drives prioritization. The project is prioritized and sequenced relative to other projects in the organization, and therefore has been assigned resources that are sufficiently available to complete the project.
  • Technical competence and mature development practices. The team has up-to-date skills, and industry best practices are being used to clarify customers’ goals and to design, build, test, and deliver great products and services.

The first five factors can be achieved through the diligent, persistent use of the science of project management.

That is not to say that success comes without art – this encompasses political and interpersonal skills, making creative decisions when complete information is lacking, knowing intuitively when to delegate work, and more.

Project Manager Skills

The job description for a project manager can vary by industry and by organization. However, most project managers perform similar tasks regardless of these differences. [3] There are different ways to group the skills project managers need to be successful. One way of grouping these is as follows:

  • Soft skills. Effective communication, leadership, motivation, negotiation, conflict management, and problem solving. None of the project management techniques will be enough unless the manager wants to lead.
  • Project management. The discipline described more in this Insight. The larger the project, the more project management skills are required.
  • General management. Depending on the case, this can mean understanding for example financial management, procurement, sales, marketing, logistics, strategic planning, tactical planning, operations management, and/or organizational structure and behaviour.
  • Technical competence. Whether the technical competence is advertising, computer chips, or oil pipelines, the person leading the work needs to understand the work being performed. Project managers are more likely to be involved in technical decisions on small projects, but even on large programs, they need to have a decent understanding of the impact of decisions on the work being performed.

The order of importance of these skills depends on the project environment.

Project Management and Product Life Cycle

When developing digital products, a particular product’s life cycle needs to be considered. For example, if an agile development model is used, the project management processes and performance measures are different than in the waterfall development model.

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  1. Verzuh, Eric (2016). The Fast Forward MBA in Project Management (Fift Edition). John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Hoboken, New Jersey.
  2. Project Management Institute PMI (2013). PMBOK® Guide.
  3. Schwalbe, Kathy (2016). Information Technology Project Management (Eight Edition).
  4. Project Management Institute PMI (2017). PMBOK® Guide (Sixth Edition).