Chapter 1: Project management basics

In this chapter, you’ll learn the project management basics — what it is, why it’s useful, and its role in the modern, distributed workforce.

What is a project?

A project is a series of tasks that must be completed in order to accomplish a predefined objective. Organizations of all types and sizes undertake projects that range in complexity, timeframe, and resources.

A project is different from a process, which is a series of steps that produce a certain outcome, usually on a repetitive, continuous basis. 

By contrast, a project has the following four characteristics:

  1. Creates a new, tangible output: The main goal of a project is to create something new, whereas a process serves to maintain a function or service.
  2. Is time-bound: A project always has a predetermined start and end date.
  3. Exists outside normal business routines: A project is a distinct activity that occurs beyond day-to-day business operations.
  4. Has boundaries: A project is bound by several factors, such as time, cost, resources, and deliverables. Learn more about the triple constraint of project management below.

What is project management?

Project management (PM) refers to the way you organize, oversee, and complete your project and deliver value. Successful PM requires specific knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to effectively execute the project within given parameters, like timeline and budget.

While project management shares many qualities with the following practices, it is important to understand the differences among them: 

  • Task management: Oversees the completion of individual tasks, rather than managing how tasks fit together.
  • Project coordination: Refers to the day-to-day management of related tasks, and any necessary organization and communication involved in project delivery.
  • Process management: While a project has a defined end point, a process is ongoing, and requires continuous management and optimization. 
  • Program management: Refers to managing multiple projects that make up a program and drive toward strategic objectives. May include managing dependencies across projects, allocating resources, and prioritizing efforts. 

Industries of all types and sizes depend on project management to deliver successful projects. Likewise, all departments within an organization can benefit from using a formalized PM method to stay organized, collaborate more efficiently, and increase effectiveness. 

 

To learn more about specific PM methodologies, read Chapter 3. For more on how project management benefits certain industries and departments, read Chapter 7.

 

Why is project management important?

Project management is critical to completing projects on time, under budget, and with maximum efficiency. Effective PM also helps you to better manage the project team and other critical resources. 

But the importance of PM extends beyond simply executing a project. Effective project management helps the entire organization deliver more value by streamlining processes, improving collaboration, and reducing distractions that can lead to wasted time, money, and resources.

 

What are the goals of project management?

The main goal of project management is to deliver project outcomes that align with your organization’s strategic objectives. PM also aims to develop reliable processes for effectively building and executing a set of deliverables.

Other goals of project management include the following:

  • Increased productivity
  • Improved collaboration
  • Alignment of project and organizational goals 
  • Better managed and allocated resources
  • Stronger culture of teamwork
  • Increased visibility into the work getting done
  • Reduced risk and setbacks

The project manager plays a big part in delivering on these goals. To learn more about the project manager’s roles and responsibilities, read Chapter 6.

The triple constraint theory

In project management, the triple constraint theory states that three critical limitations — scope, time, and cost — impact a team’s ability to complete a project. Project managers need to maintain control over these three factors in order to successfully execute.

The three constraints are defined as follows:

  • Scope: All tasks and processes that are required to meet project objectives.
  • Time: The schedule you set to execute the project.
  • Cost: How much money the project will cost to accomplish.

The triple constraint theory is sometimes also referred to as the Iron Triangle or the Project Management Triangle. This framework is important to project success because it acts as a guardrail against scope creep.

The job of the project manager is to balance the three limitations — by increasing or decreasing cost, adjusting the schedule, or eliminating or adding deliverables — in order to deliver on the project. Remember that all three constraints impact each other, so it’s critical to think through the effect of any choice.

That said, most teams find the triple constraint useful as it empowers the project manager to make informed changes based on unforeseen circumstances.

Project portfolio management

Project and portfolio management (PPM) is a strategy for evaluating and prioritizing potential projects. While project management is about successfully executing projects, PPM is about selecting the right projects at the right time, as part of a larger portfolio.

The goal of PPM is to increase efficiency by creating a streamlined process to assess each potential project. Then, you prioritize projects that will provide the most value, have the greatest potential for success, and align with overall business goals. When implemented well, PPM enables teams and organizations to focus on the most valuable projects.

The evolution of project management

Modern project management leverages tools to create reliable processes and automate repetitive tasks. In general, modern approaches to project management are characterized by increased flexibility, collaboration, and efficiency.

Project management became a formalized concept in the early twentieth century, and has evolved alongside technology and work norms. In 2001, the Agile methodology was created, which disrupted traditional PM by taking a much more flexible, iterative approach to getting work done. (You’ll learn more about all the different PM methodologies in Chapter 3.)

More recently, the increase in remote work has posed new challenges — and offered new freedoms — to project management. The main changes include the following:

  • Increased asynchronous communication: With fewer real-time, face-to-face interactions, teams don’t rely on immediate responses to keep working.
  • More variability in schedules: Remote work makes it possible to be online at different hours, whether due to having team members in different time zones or simply accommodating people’s busy schedules.
  • Increased reliance on cloud-based tools: These tools provide visibility into work and task status, even when people can’t be together in person.

You’ll learn more about the roles, challenges, and best practices for the modern PM in Chapter 6.