What is Project Management?

There are as many schools of thought about what Project Management is as there are projects that need to be managed (that’s a lot, by the way). Many believe that project management is about someone owning the checklist of activity that needs to be done. Then, their job is to go through the organization hounding people for status and updates so they can check off the items on their list. Others believe project management is where the document curator resides. This is the person who comes into meetings, serves as “the scribe” and then forwards email after email to everyone with relentless, never-ending threads of meaningless dribble. Still, others believe that project management is about someone who came from a technical background that can jump in any time the team gets stuck and save the day.

None of the above are correct. What then, is Project Management?

Rather than get bogged down in the technical details and job description of what a project manager does and what would be considered project management, we will focus more on the “spirit” of project management. We’ll take a step back from the day-to-day operational aspect of what a project manager does and take a look at the big picture.

Simply put, project management is the glue that holds everything together. Big statement? Sure. Accurate? Yes! Anyone that has been successful in a project manager position or worked in a Project Management Office that was effective knows what that means. It means the upper executives that are removed from the day to day details of the project will look to this group for their level of comfort within an organization. If this person(s) is calm, cool, and collected then the executives take that as an indicator that “it’s all good” within the area of the company where project work is underway. If there is some agitation, friction, or angst coming from this department…then the executive knows they need to dig in a bit further to see what is going on.

Project Management that is done well has the pulse of what is going right and what is going wrong and echoes it back to anyone that is astute enough to listen.

But how can you get a pulse of everything that is going on? If you focus on the following five areas and view these as the principles of what project management is, you will quickly garner the respect and confidence of those around you.

What is Project Management?

What is Project Management?

#1. Communication

Communication is at the top of the list if you want to know what project management is about. Project Managers are the central repository of any and all information related to the project. A project manager is not expected to have all the answers, especially in a technical environment, but they will know where they can get the answers.

What’s more, a project manager that is a great communicator will, as a rule of thumb, never just forward information on to others without adding some value to the information beyond “FYI”. They will help others understand why this information is important, what impact this will have on the project, why this is a good thing or a bad thing, and what action is expected of the person that is receiving this information.

#2. Collaboration

This is a critical area that can make or break a project manager. Project Management is about not taking sides, but rather making the right decisions. Your team will appreciate the fact that you make objective decisions for the good of the project based upon input from all.

#3. Teamwork

The word “teamwork” is fraught with too many cute and meaningless cliché’s (who can ever forget “there is no “I” in “Team”?). The way we work is changing and even our definition of Team is changing. The new teamwork can be defined as a group of people with certain skill sets and expertise coming together for brief periods of time to accomplish a common objective….and then disband to potentially come together again (or not) on the next project.

Project Management is about managing these new teams. It’s about getting people up to speed fast, establishing trust quickly, and then delivering results…all within a fraction of the time it used to previously take.

#4. Resolution

You can be assured that something will go wrong on your project. You can have all the communication, collaboration and teamwork in the world…but something will go wrong. It’s the nature of the beast. Project Management is about bringing these problems to resolution quickly.

Project Management is not about pointing fingers, affixing blame, or tracking down the culprit. It’s about taking the high road and getting the problem fixed…first. Then, if there’s a deeper problem that needs to be addressed, perhaps a team member’s performance, project management is about resolving those issues with discretion and good judgment.

#5. Celebration

And finally, project management is about celebrating a job well done. There’s nothing like a group of people with different backgrounds, functions, and skill sets coming together for a brief period of time and accomplishing something great. How you celebrate is up to you. It may be just the quiet inner satisfaction you receive from knowing a job has been done well, to getting everyone together for a fling. Take some time to pause, reflect, and appreciate each other. You’ll be renewed and energized for your next project.

Are there other definitions that would answer the question “what is project management?” No doubt. But, don’t let yourself get caught in the details of the tools, procedures, and methodologies. These will all change over time. However, remembering that the spirit of project management is in communication, collaboration, teamwork, resolution, and celebration will ensure you can keep up with these changes as they occur.

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