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Last updated on 2/11/21

Discover the Fundamentals of Project Management

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What is a project?

The PMBOK Guide (Project Management Body of Knowledge) 5th edition defines a project as:

a temporary endeavor with a beginning and an end which must be used to create a unique product, service or result.

A project is an undertaking to create a product, service, or result, in a finite time frame that has the following characteristics:

  1. A specific scope - knowing what you want to achieve before the project begins.

  2. An end date - projects are not supposed to go on indefinitely. It also has a start date.

  3. Associated resources - such as the people working on the project, the available funding, and other assets that are required (e.g. computers, servers, etc.)

Projects have a clearly defined end-date
Projects have a clearly defined end-date.

Let's consider how you can manage a project to achieve the desired outcomes and be on time and on budget.

What is project management?

The Project Management Institute (PMI) define project management as:

the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet the project requirements.

Because projects often bring together people from the organization who do not usually work together, potentially across multiple regions and time zones, it is often imperative to appoint a single person with the responsibility for co-coordinating and managing the overall progress of the project. This person is called the project manager.

The Project Manager is responsible for tracking project progress
The project manager is responsible for tracking project progress.

The best way to understand what product management entails is to examine the skillset of the project manager. The project manager must be able to:

  • Work in complex environments and see potential problems before they happen.

  • Motivate everyone to "buy in" and fully contribute to the project.

  • Organize the tasks of all team members.

  • Take responsibility for creating a plan to complete all necessary tasks within a specified budget and time frame. 

  • Communicate with team members and project sponsors.

  • Persuade those in the organization who control resources and the budget to contribute to the project.

  • Handle any problems that arise and manage any changes in a clear, logical fashion.

  • Encourage team members to review completed work and learn lessons retrospectively.

Project management is the discipline of contributing in the ways above to ensure that a project is delivered with all necessary features, on-time, and on-budget!

The triple constraint

Projects have constraints. The project manager is responsible for ensuring that the project is delivered within the constraints.

These constraints specify that:

  • Projects must be delivered within budget (cost).

  • Projects must be delivered before the deadline (time).

  • Projects should contain all the features required (scope).

  • Projects should function as expected (i.e. be of the required quality).

These constraints can be expressed as a triangle (where cost, scope and time are vertices and quality is in the middle).

The Triple Constraint of Project Management
The triple constraint of project management.

The project management diamond

More recently, the triple constraint has been expanded to have an extra element: expectations. It is possible to deliver a project that meets all of the requirements that have been set out, yet the customers can be disappointed when they receive the resulting product.

When you add the extra element of expectations, the triangle becomes a diamond (as shown below).

The Project Management Diamond
The project management diamond.

In particular, project managers are always trying to protect against an increase in scope. If the goal of a project is to create a product with five features, the project manager will try to prevent a sixth feature being added. If features are added, time and cost are both increased.

There may be times when a change in scope is required, but when this happens, it is considered an exceptional event. The stakeholders responsible for approving project cost and deadlines must be consulted and approve any changes.

The difference between product manager and project manager

A product is a good or service that is offered to customers.

A project is a set of tasks and activities that need to be planned. These tasks must have a set duration, start date, end date, and a related cost or budget.

The role of the product manager is more concerned with getting the product right. The product manager makes sure that the research, vision, and experience of the product is something that customers will value and buy, and also that the product has a valid business model. 

However, the role of the project manager is more concerned with making sure the that the project is sufficiently staffed with skilled personnel who have a robust, detailed plan to complete the project on time and within the budget. This plan will be monitored to make sure that any faltering in the completion of tasks will be noticed and addressed.

You can summarize this by describing the contribution of a product manager as "determining what product features are required" and the contribution of the project manager as "creating a plan and monitoring progress to get a set of product features built on-time and on-budget." 

Summary

  • A project is a temporary undertaking with a beginning and an end which must be used to create a unique product, service, or result.

  • The triple constraint illustrates how scope, time, cost, and quality are constraints for project management.

  • The project management diamond adds the notion of customer expectations to the triple constraint.

  • Product managers are focused on what product features are required. Project managers are focused on managing a set of resources to complete a set of tasks within a specified time frame. 

Additional resources

Example of certificate of achievement
Example of certificate of achievement