10 Introduction to Project Management

Chapter Objectives

Define the elements of project management as they relate to OER.

Introduction

This section will provide a basic introduction to the elements of project management.  If you are familiar with project management theories this may be a review for you.  If you would like more information please see the further resources at the end of this section, there are some excellent in-depth guides out there with open licenses.

The term “project” is used many different ways in popular culture, from describing everyday tasks (planning a garden, hanging a picture, running errands) to large scale enterprises (building a house, constructing a new road, etc.). However, when professional Project Managers talk about projects, they have a more narrow definition of projects and project management.

Definition of a Project

Project Defined

A project is a temporary endeavor designed to produce a unique product, service, or result. Projects have a defined beginning and end (usually time-constrained, and often constrained by funding or deliverables), are undertaken to meet unique goals and objectives, typically to bring about beneficial change or added value. The temporary nature of projects stands in contrast with business as usual (or operations), which are repetitive, permanent, or semi-permanent functional activities to produce products or services. In practice, the management of these two systems is often quite different, and as such requires the development of distinct technical skills and management strategies.

Project Management Defined

One of the priorities of the Project Management Institute (PMI) during the 1980s was to define project management and develop it as a profession. Out of that effort came the PMI’s development of “A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK)”, and several project management certifications based on that body of knowledge. Both of these have helped to promote the understanding and development of the project management field. Defining project management, and substantiating it as a profession, brought about the question of its purpose. Intense discussions resulted in a compromise to define project management as:

“the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.”[1]

Be aware that PMI’s definition is not the only view of what project management entails. Jack Meredith and Samuel Mantel[2] discussed project management in terms of producing project outcomes within the three objectives of cost, schedule, and specifications. According to this view, project management is the application of everything a project manager does to meet these parameters. This approach to defining project management shares PMI’s focus on the project outcomes in terms of requirements, but Meredith and Mantel later added a fourth aspect of project management—the expectations of the client.

PMI’s definition of project management provides a good understanding of project management, but it does not help us understand project success. For that, we must include the client. If it is assumed that the client is the one who defines project requirements, then maybe project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to meet client requirements. This definition focuses on expectations rather than project specifications.[3]

Project Manager

Just like the term “project,” the role of project manager is used very loosely in common parlance. The authority of project managers can vary greatly from one organization to another. True project managers have the responsibility of the planning, execution, and closing of a project.

Project managers focus on the goals of the project. Project success is connected to achieving the project goals within the project timeline. Project managers apply project management tools and techniques to clearly define the project goals, develop an execution plan to meet those goals, and meet the milestones and end date of the project. A project manager needs a different set of skills to both define and successfully execute projects. Because projects are temporary, they have a defined beginning and end. Project managers must manage start-up activities and project closeout activities. The processes for developing teams, organizing work, and establishing priorities require a different set of knowledge and skills because members of the project management team recognize that it is temporary.

Project managers create a team that is goal focused and energized around the success of the project. Project team members know that the project assignment is temporary because the project, by definition, is temporary. Project team members are often members of organizational teams that have a larger potential to affect long-term advancement potential. They seldom report directly to the project manager and the success or failure of the project might not affect their reputations or careers the same way that the success or failure of one of their other job responsibilities would. Therefore, project managers create clear goals and clear expectations for team members and tie project success to the overall success of the organization. Project managers are goal directed and milestone oriented.

Albert Einsiedel[4] discussed leader-sensitive projects and defined five characteristics of an effective project leader. These characteristics were chosen based on some assumptions about projects. These assumptions include the project environment, which is often a matrix organization that results in role ambiguity, role conflict, and role erosion. The project environment is often a fluid environment where decisions are made with little information. In this environment, the five characteristics of an effective project leader include the following:

  • Credibility – the project manager is coming into an established organization and must have a reputation or presence of credibility to receive the respect and support of the client and team.
  • Creativity as a problem solver – projects are never “business as usual”.
    Tolerance for ambiguity – a project manager can often be unfamiliar with the kind of work the client does and needs to be able to adapt and move the project forward, even if all aspects of the company aren’t understood perfectly.
  • Flexible management style – a project manager is constantly dealing with new people and environments and must adjust accordingly. They do not have the luxury of an established rapport with their project associates.
  • Effective communication – because of the ambiguous nature of projects, good communication skills are crucial in understanding what is expected by the client and being able to convey that vision to the project team.

Hans Thamhain[5] researched the training of project managers and based on his findings created a taxonomy wherein the qualities of a project manager are categorized into the following three areas:

  • Interpersonal skills – These skills include providing direction, communicating, assisting with problem solving, and dealing effectively with people without having authority.
  • Technical expertise – Technical knowledge gives the project manager the credibility to provide leadership on a technically based project, the ability to understand important aspects of the project, and the ability to communicate in the language of the technicians.
  • Administrative skills – These skills include planning, organizing, managing, overseeing, and coordinating the work.

Traditionally, the project manager has been trained in skills such as developing and managing the project scope, estimating, scheduling, decision making, and team building. Although the level of skills needed by the project manager depends largely on the complexity of the project, the people skills of the project manager are increasingly more important. The skills to build a high-performing team, manage client expectations, and develop a clear vision of project success are the type of skills needed by project managers on more complex projects. “To say Joe is a good project manager except he lacks good people skills is like saying he’s a good electrical engineer but doesn’t really understand electricity.”[6]

Project Stakeholders

Project stakeholders include anyone with an interest in a given project or anyone who may have a positive or negative influence on the project.  This topic was explored previously, please refer back to this chapter for a refresher: https://openedadvocates.pressbooks.com/chapter/stakeholders-and-messaging/

 


  1. Project Management Institute, Inc., A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide), 4th ed. (Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute, Inc., 2008), 6.
  2. Jack R. Meredith and Samuel J. Mantel, Jr., Project Management: A Managerial Approach(Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2006), 8.
  3. Russell W. Darnall, The World’s Greatest Project (Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute, Inc., 1996), 48–54.
  4. Albert A. Einsiedel, “Profile of Effective Project Managers,” Project Management Journal 18 (1987): 5.
  5. Hans J. Thamhain, “Developing Project Management Skills,” Project Management Journal 22 (1991): 3.
  6. Russell W. Darnall, “The Emerging Role of the Project Manager,” PMI Journal (1997): 64.

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