What is Project Management

what is project management - featured

When discussing with peers or on relevant platforms there seems to be some confusion about what is project management. This becomes also apparent when studying recruitment requirements for project managers in job offers.

Let’s start with a little joke:

A man enters a pet shop and notices a monkey for sale at $10.000. He asks the seller:
“Why is the monkey so expensive?”
“Well, he knows how to dig a hole with an excavator.”
A little bit further another monkey with a $15.000 price.
“And what can this monkey do for this amount of money?”
“He is an engineer.”
In the end the man also finds a monkey valued at $20.000:
“Incredible! Can you tell me now what can this monkey do? That is a lot of money…”
“Hmm… I do not know exactly what he does but the other monkeys call him Project Manager.”

In this article you will find:

  • Definitions for what is project management,
  • Definitions for what is a project,
  • Project management process groups according to the PMBOK®,
  • A project management process matrix,

Project management knowledge areas will follow in a later article.

What is Project Management and What is a Project?

Definitions by Project Management Institute (PMI™)

What is project management?

Project management is the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to project (plan) activities to meet project requirements. It is accomplished through the appropriate application and integration of the project management processes identified for the project. Project management enables organizations to execute projects effectively and efficiently.

What is a project?

A project is a temporary endeavor undertaken to create a unique product, service or result.

Definitions by Association for Project Management (APM)

What is project management?

Project management is the application of processes, methods, knowledge, skills and experience to achieve the project objectives.

What is a project?

A project is a unique, transient endeavor, undertaken to achieve planned objectives, which could be defined in terms of outputs, outcomes or benefits. A project is usually deemed to be a success if it achieves the objectives according to their acceptance criteria, within an agreed timescale and budget.

Definitions according to Wikipedia

What is project management?

Project management is the practice of initiating, planning, executing, controlling, and closing the work of a team to achieve specific goals and meet specific success criteria at the specified time.

What is a project?

project is a temporary endeavor designed to produce a unique product, service or result with a defined beginning and end (usually time-constrained, and often constrained by funding or staffing) undertaken to meet unique goals and objectives, typically to bring about beneficial change or added value. The temporary nature of projects stands in contrast with business as usual (or operations), which are repetitive, permanent, or semi-permanent functional activities to produce products or services.

After we clarified what is project management, let us go into more details. I believe that the PMBOK® gives a good understanding of project management and it is also widely used. Therefore, in the following I will refer to it.

Project Process Groups

The PMBOK® defines a number of processes and groups them in so called process groups. Those are a collection of one or more processes and can be understood as a chronological sequence of the project. The individual processes can repeat themselves, as we know from the so-called PDCA cycle. The process groups are:

  1. Initiating,
  2. Planning,
  3. Executing,
  4. Monitoring & controlling,
  5. Closing.

Details are provided further down.

Project Knowledge Areas

Further the PMBOK® defines so called knowledge areas. The knowledge areas represent complete sets of concepts, terms, and activities that make up a project management field, or area of specialization. The knowledge area are:

  1. Integration Management,
  2. Scope Management,
  3. Schedule Management,
  4. Cost Management,
  5. Quality Management,
  6. Resource Management,
  7. Communications Management,
  8. Risk Management,
  9. Procurement Management, and
  10. Stakeholder Management plus
  11. HSSE Management (in construction),
  12. Financial Management (in construction).

Process Matrix

The matrix below gives an overview how processes are are arranged in process groups and knowledge areas.

What is Project Management - the Process Matrix
Project Management Matrix PMBOK®

Initiating Process Group

Establishing the business case and defining project objectives are important tasks during the project initiating phase. Another important task is to identify stakeholders and collecting requirements. A first cost estimate is prepared as well as a milestone schedule and an initial risk analysis performed. Finally the project charter is prepared and the project manager appointed.

Contractors, which are concerned with the execution of the construction works, often consider the phase during which they prepare their bids for the contract as the initiating phase. Read here my thoughts on 9 steps how to start a new project.

Planning Process Group

The planning phase includes the preparation of various documents which, in their entirety, describe the foreseen project life cycle. Thus the result is a workable scheme that includes clearly defined and sequenced activities, the resources needed, cost estimates, the schedule and the strategies how to manage and control certain events.

In reality, however, the outputs of the planning phase often look different. Because many project managers believe they did a great job if they prepared a more or less comprehensive schedule and a cash-flow prediction. But leaving considerations how to deal with change, risk, quality for later is a common mistake. This happens because their focus is often mainly on technical considerations. Here are my thoughts on how to start later and finish sooner.

Executing Process Group

The project execution is about carrying out all the planned process while the project is now at full swing.

The core tasks are:

  • Direct and manage project works,
  • Manage project knowledge,
  • Manage quality,
  • Acquire resources,
  • Develop team,
  • Manage team,
  • Manage communications,
  • Implement risk responses,
  • Conduct procurement,
  • Manage stakeholder engagement,
  • Manage HSSE.

Monitoring & Controlling Process Group

It is important to constantly observe the progress of the project and to measure how the individual processes in each knowledge area perform against the plan. This is important because appropriate and quick reaction to arising issues is essential for maintaining and improving planned performance rates. Consequently making adjustments to the planning and questioning the performance of every single process is crucial.

Project Closing Process Group

The project closing process group is concerned with the handing-over of the project and obtaining acceptance, preparation of final accounts and records, project review and recommendations for taking up comparable future projects.


Knowledge areas will soon be available in the article continuation…

Also read about starting a new project


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