Modern organizations run on projects, but projects don’t just run successfully on their own. That’s why we have project managers.
So what is project management?
If you’re responsible for project management, you play a pivotal role in getting the project delivered as expected so the organization can realize its benefits. When it comes to different project management methodologies, you must wear many hats simultaneously. You have to be a prognosticator—able to predict the project’s scope, time and cost at completion—and you have to be a pragmatic influencer—able to embrace reality and stimulate the activities to meet those predictions.
Companies depend on their project managers to keep the forward momentum going and ensure meaningful progress is happening day in and day out throughout the duration of the project. So when asking what is project management, the answer covers a great deal of ground. Requiring excellent facilitation, communication, organizational and motivational skills, it’s a multi-faceted, multi-dimensional job.
Let’s take a closer look at each of the primary responsibilities of project management.
Project Management Responsibilities: 8 Key Elements
- Project Charter: When you’re planning initiatives and budgets for the year, the project charter helps you think through what’s to come and establish clarity around roles, responsibilities, milestones, and other expectations and objectives. But for ad hoc projects that will kick off within a few weeks or so, this is a step you can usually skip because the charter will inevitably have considerable overlap with the soon-to-be-developed project plan.
- Project Plan: A big part of what project management is; once a project is initiated, you need to set the context and define how it will be executed and controlled through to completion. With a purpose of documenting the time, cost and scope baseline, the project plan helps minimize project risk and keep it on track. No matter your project management methodologies, you must create and stick to the project plan. It’s also a living document that will necessarily have to be updated as the project progresses and more information becomes available.
- Project Scope: You have to know what your project entails to be able to manage it. That’s why defining and managing project scope from the outset is so important. While it’s often thought of just in terms of features and functions, project scope also encompasses the desired quality of the product or service. For example, is it going to be used in extreme conditions, or is it just for everyday office use? Those quality questions help you better articulate scope so you can better manage it.
- Project Approach: On the surface, when outlining all of what project management is, defining the project approach seems like a pretty straightforward task: it’s about describing the strategies the team will apply to get to the desired end result. But depending on the project, the organization and the project manager’s prior experiences, it’s not always as simple as that. Don’t fall into the trap of overthinking it. Use the roadmaps and best practices available to both augment the best fitting project management methodologies and to meet your project’s challenges.
- Risk Management: We regularly hear from directors wanting to shore up their project managers’ risk management skills after projects fail to be completed as expected. The root cause of these failures is usually unexpected events or risks. When asking what is project management, knowing how to deal with struggles is an often unexplored, but vital skill. But encountering unforeseen risks isn’t a sign of poor risk management; it’s a sign that the PM isn’t practicing good project management fundamentals.
- Work Breakdown Structure: Part science, part art, the work breakdown structure is one of the most important tools in project management. It’s a dynamic document that provides the foundation, framework and structure for nearly everything that happens in project planning. To make sure the work breakdown structure is useful, the key is finding the right level of decomposition, without breaking it down so far that it loses its purpose.
- Gantt Chart: When asking what is project management, we want to hear more about the Gantt chart. These bar charts have many applications, but in project management, a typical Gantt chart depicts the project schedule, i.e., tasks, major milestones and project duration. It doesn’t take any special software or skills to create a Gantt chart, nor does it conflict with any project management methodologies—and that’s why it’s so important to understand how it was created and when it was last updated. Charts with integrity are those that were produced following best practices and reflect today’s reality.
- Project Team Management: If the project team is doing all the work, then what is project management? What are PMs even doing all day? In fact, project team management is an essential responsibility that continues throughout the life of the project. Because you’re often leading without authority, you have to be able to build relationships to get things done while enabling the team to do its best work and managing the flow of skills and talent required. In some cases, project team managers will also have to find a balance between working in the project and on it.
It’s clear that these are not only critical individual responsibilities of project management—they’re also interconnected. So keep in mind, when it comes to being a successful project manager, especially in today’s project-intensive organizations, there is no one without the other. All are essential aspects of the job.