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Why Project Management Matters

Nov 30, 2007
When I tell people that I'm a Project Manager, I often get an initial "Oh....neat!" response which is usually followed by a comment that is something along the lines of "So....what exactly do you do?" Occasionally if I'm speaking with a Software Developer I may get a mild snarl, a clear sign they've had experience working with a poor project manager; a topic I will address in future articles.

What this tells me is that not only is there a ways to go before the practice of Project Management is understood; but even further to go before it is valued more widely than it is now. For how can something be properly valued if it isn't truly understood?

This is of course not to say that the practice of Project Management isn't widely appreciated in many organizations. Indeed, a large number of companies have implemented Project Management Offices, the Project Management Institute is exploding in popularity, and it certainly seems that the number of Project Management openings out-numbers the supply of Project Managers. However, it is often times larger organizations that have adopted this practice, and in an economy where just under half of the work-force is employed by small businesses there are a significant number of organizations that have never used Project Managers, and even more employees that have never worked with a Project Manager. Ironically, it is small businesses that could quickly and painlessly reap the benefits of Project Management.

So what exactly is Project Management an what does a Project Manager do? According to the Project Management Institute (PMI) "a project is a unique temporary endeavor, with a set beginning and end." and that "More formally, PMI defines project management as 'the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to a broad range of activities in order to meet the requirements of a particular project.'" This second part may not tell you much without diving further into the subject; but let's focus on the former for now. In order to understand Project Management, it is critically important to understand that a project is a unique, temporary endeavor with a specific objective. Project Management is not Operations. And while a specific operational objective may be a project, and a project upon completion may be handed over to operations, the two are distinctly different.

Now that we're clear on what a Project is, we can move onto the more formal definition quoted above. Essentially, this is saying that Project Management is the methodology used to achieve the objective of a project. Therefore, a Project Manager is someone that has the necessary "knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques" to manage a unique endeavor and ensure that it meets it's objectives.

Even knowing all this, it still may not be clear to you what exactly a Project Manager does. A project manager is a little like the manager of a baseball team. They make sure that the objective is clear, that it is understood by everyone on the team, that all parties (stakeholders) have had input into the project, that all the required work is understood, that each team member knows what they are responsible for, ensures that risks are identified and contingency plans have been created, verifies that all work is being completed on schedule, etc, etc, etc. The list of course goes on and on. The reason I like using the analogy of the baseball manager though is because when some people hear what a Project Manager does, they feel they shouldn't even need a project manager. They initially think that if everyone on their team did their job the project would be successfully completed even in the absence of a Project Manager. This can only be true however in the same way that a baseball team doesn't need a manager to play a baseball game. It could be done, and they might even win some games, but they won't win the World Series. The same is true with projects. In the absence of a Project Manager there are certainly some items that will be accomplished; it is certain however that there will be delays, cost overruns, quality will suffer, and that the end result may be quite different than what the project called for. Ultimately, Project Management matters for the same reason management matters in baseball; because whether it's a baseball game or introducing a new product or service, winning matters.
About the Author
Andrew Wicklander, PMP, is the CEO of Ideal Project Group. Ideal Project Group offers professional project management services for companies ranging from small software development firms to large international enterprises. www.idealprojectgroup.com
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