What is Project Management? [UPDATED]

There are many different interpretations—and misinterpretations—about what project management actually is. Many think “project manager” is just a fancy title for a coordinator, task manager, operations manager, or executive assistant.

An executive assistant schedules appointments, plans events, coordinates travel arrangements, pushes paperwork, and may fetch the occasional coffee. Operations involve overseeing ongoing, repetitive tasks and activities.

However, a real project manager involves managing a project from conception to successful completion and drives change.

What Does a Project Manager Actually Do?

According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), a project is defined as a “temporary endeavor, with a defined start and end. Real project management involves process, people, and data to bring a strategic objective, product, or vision to life or even solve a problem.”

So what does that mean? What does a project manager actually do?

Every business and organization has goals and objectives. However, many business owners and entrepreneurs are the creative masterminds behind the operation. They have big ideas but seldom know how to execute them or execute them without a plan. As a result, those ideas end up going nowhere.

Enter: project manager.

A project manager guides the project from design to delivery to ensure a project gets done on time and within constraints (cost, schedule/time, and quality). This is also known as the “iron triangle” of project management.

Project Management and Data

Real project management involves process, people, and data to bring a strategic objective, product, or vision to life or even solve a problem.

In fact, in today’s digitally-driven era, you can’t do project management without data. Data is used to help project sponsors, leaders, and even project managers make decisions, particularly during certain project phase gates.

Additionally, gathering and analyzing project performance data is also an ongoing, beneficial activity performed during the Monitoring and Controlling process group of project management.

Project Management is Really Project Leadership

Project management has shifted greatly from the principles used in the 1960s and 1970s to build airplanes and even the principles instituted by NASA. Today, project management is really project leadership.

There’s a big difference between a coordinator and a project manager. A project coordinator is often told what needs to be done or receives direction from a project leader, manager, or supervisor. Then, they organize tasks and activities into a timeline and make sure the work gets done on time.

Yes, project management includes these responsibilities. However, the biggest difference between a coordinator and a project manager is that the PM is in the “driver’s seat”, so to speak. They are responsible for gathering project requirements, identifying stakeholders, and figuring out what work needs to be done and building a complete project plan—not just a timeline or pretty Gantt chart—to bring the project to life. Project managers drive and lead projects, not the other way around.

There is also a distinct difference between a manager and a leader. A manager does just that: manage.

However, a good leader successfully demonstrates an excellent balance between managing the business side and the people side of a project.

A project leader not only works with team members and stands by them, but also encourages them to do their very best at what they do and beyond. This is where project managers apply their communication, negotiation, and “soft skills”.

A leader also encourages and welcomes open communication and healthy conflict within their team, and promotes a healthy environment for doing so. A project leader also understands the power of active listening and applies it to every situation.

Motivation and Moving Mountains

“Use soft words and hard arguments” – English Proverb

As project managers, we often find ourselves in the position of motivating project team members to adhere to tasks and due dates, communicate with us, and get us the answers we need so that we can do our jobs effectively.

To simplify and condense some of the tactics for the purposes of this article, these tactics fall under “stakeholder management”, which is one of the 10 project management knowledge areas:

  • Pushing others for the answers you need, which often means finding workarounds or asking other department members for answers and information by being positively assertive
  • Practicing effective communication, such as communicating the WHY and purpose behind a project or task, keeping in mind “what’s in it for me?”
  • Addressing issues, risks, and conflicts head-on rather than procrastinating or avoiding them because they are uncomfortable or we don’t know the answer or how to find it

In my professional experience, one of the most important skills that separates project managers from coordinators is resourcefulness.

As project managers, sometimes we have to act like detectives to seek and find information rather than waiting for the information and answers we need to drop into our laps. This might require “interviewing” stakeholders to determine the work involved, who should be involved or who is responsible for making decisions, receive a status update on a particular task or work activity, and even existing processes.

Who Should Be a Project Manager?

All in all, project management isn’t for the faint of heart. Project management tests your resilience. (Why do you think taking the PMP exam is so difficult? The PMI makes the questions on the exam long, difficult, and complex for a reason: to test your resilience.)

Project management requires a level of patience, persistence, and tenacity that is difficult to achieve, and not everyone is equipped with.

However, being a project manager can be an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling job. It has the power to completely transform organizations and truly make a difference.

The Value of Project Management: How Can Project Management Help Your Business?

Now that you understand more about project management as a whole and what a project manager actually does, you can begin to recognize the value of project management, and how a project manager might be able to help you in your own organization.

In the world of business, everything comes down to numbers and how well your organization communicates. Working with a project manager can produce real business results, boost efficiency, drive down costs, and even enhance your reputation.

By increasing the efficiency of your organization’s workflows and structure, you are also improving the customer experience as well as building long-term relationships with your customers. When you are able to effectively meet these goals, the results will be higher profits, happier customers, and a successful business.

If you’re looking for an experienced project manager who has worked with a number of businesses reach their target goals in a number of industries, then contact us today. We have experience helping businesses of all shapes, sizes, and scopes to manage client projects and reach organizational goals to drive results.